In the USA...
10/23/2012 04:42 PM
Detox Man versus KSM: The 9/11 Prosecutor's Quest for Transparency
By Matthias Gebauer
Pre-trial hearings in the prosecution of 9/11 mastermand Khalid Sheikh Mohammed began last week at the US base at Guantanamo. Chief Prosecutor Mark Martins hopes to create as fair a trial as possible, despite the death penalty being almost a foregone conclusion. But the challenges are daunting and the American government is making his task difficult.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed achieved a first minor victory at 9:46 on Wednesday morning. Three muscular US soldiers, all inexplicably wearing blue latex gloves, led the defendant into air-conditioned Courtroom 2 on the US base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Surrounded by the soldiers, Mohammed, the chief planner of the 9/11 attacks, looked almost like a dwarf.
The defendant took his time. It's a moment he had long been waiting for. Slowly, he sat down on a low leather chair in the first of the five rows of the dock. Then he turned to face the visitors' gallery behind him, a gentle smile on his face.
The scene could only be interpreted to mean that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, widely known simply by his initials KSM, wants to be seen. The trial is his last propaganda campaign, he leaves no doubt of that. On that morning in court, the man the New York Post called the "9/11 beast" was for the first time wearing a camouflage vest over his long, white robe.
For the slight defendant, who with his henna-dyed beard and turban, looks increasingly like his former comrade Osama bin Laden, the vest is a statement. To this day, he sees himself as a warrior locked in a bitter struggle against the United States.
Since this spring, Mohammed, together with his four alleged accomplices, has been waging what may ultimately be his last battle at Camp Justice, a collection of container-style structures erected specifically for the terrorism trial. For the second time, the US government is seeking to convict the masterminds of the 9/11 conspiracy here in Guantanamo, far from the United States, 11 years after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
As former President George W. Bush did in 2008, the administration of current President Barack Obama leaves no doubt that the trial of the century will end with death sentences. But the verdict is no longer the main story in the whitewashed, windowless, high-security courtroom. The focus has shifted to various aspects of the trial itself, from the defense attorneys' request that it be broadcast on television worldwide, to the media's call for more transparency and the question as to whether the government will allow a reasonably fair trial. After the first hearings since the 13-hour arraignment in May, this seems unlikely.
The 9/11 mastermind took every opportunity to bark his opinions about the proceedings into the microphone. On Tuesday, he told the judge that he could not expect justice from the court. Then he lowered his gaze to documents and newspapers on his table. During last week's hearings, Mohammed abruptly began speaking on Wednesday afternoon, attacking the government and offering his advice for a full six minutes. The military commission, he said, should not let itself be distracted by the "crocodile tears" shed over the dead of 9/11, and added that the real evildoers were in the White House and not in the Guantanamo courtroom.
"When the government feels sad for the death or killing of 3,000 people who were killed on Sept. 11," Mohammed said, it should consider the millions that it kills in the name of national security. "Because your blood is not made of gold and ours is made out of water." In the visitors' room, the victims' families stare at the defendant in horror. Reading from a piece of paper, Mohammed said: "Every dictator can put on this definition … as he chooses to step on every definition in this world, every person and every law and every constitution." He continued: "Many can kill people under the name of national security, and torture people under the name of national security, and detain children under the name of national security."
Then he turned to Bin Laden's death. "I don't want to be long, but I can say the president can take someone and throw him in the sea under the name of national security," he continued.
The Cordial Prosecutor
Some of Mohammed's accusations are absurd and arrogant, and yet they also reflect the problems in this case, which, if all goes according to plan, will only begin in earnest next summer before Colonel James Pohl's military tribunal. The past is still creating difficulties for the prosecutors. The fact that the defendants were kept imprisoned for many years, as well as the details of torture in secret CIA prisons, are to be kept out of the 9/11 trial -- one of the reasons that there is a button in the courtroom that the government can use to turn off the audio transmission. When that happens, journalists and family members in the visitors' room can no longer hear what defendants or attorneys are saying.
Nevertheless, Washington wants to make sure that the upcoming trial looks clean. President Obama has already failed to close Guantanamo as promised; it is now all the more important that the trial be a success. Obama has appointed Brigadier General Mark Martins as chief prosecutor, an ascetic type who only allows himself a few hours of sleep a night and runs 10 kilometers (about 6 miles) a day. Martins is at pains to defend the resumption of military trials for Guantanamo detainees and to insist to the world that they are fair. Almost every evening, he speaks to the few journalists who have been flown in, cordially addressing them by their first names.
The 52-year-old attended the United States Military Academy at West Point and, like President Obama, is a graduate of Harvard Law School -- the two were even there at the same time. Now he faces the most difficult mission of his career. Dubbed the "Detox Man" in the US press, Martins' task is to wipe out the toxic legacy of the Bush era. The general prefers to characterize his work as a "tough challenge."
On a recent, humid afternoon outside of Washington D.C., Martins is sitting in his office, the location of which he prefers not to divulge for security reasons. There is no sign, not even an American flag, to indicate that this is where the country's highest-ranking terrorist prosecutor is based. Since Martins arrived in October 2011, uniforms have been banned at the office. He wants everyone to look like ordinary lawyers who are involved in a perfectly ordinary case.
Even the harshest critics of the military tribunal admit that Martins has made some changes, taking steps toward injecting transparency into the military courts set up for the 9/11 plotters. He reformed the commission, and granted the defendants a better defense by allowing them to be represented by civilian attorneys. He also promised to exclude evidence obtained through torture or hearsay.
But even under Martins, some of the absurdities of the case persist. For instance, the government requested last week that previously published documents about the 9/11 plot and the ensuing investigation be withheld from the defense. Furthermore, the jury -- to be made up of soldiers -- is to remain anonymous for security reasons.
Martins is sitting in a leather armchair beneath a copy of President Obama's 2009 executive order banning torture. By using new evidence, he says, he wants to finally close the chapter on 9/11. Martins has a plan: In the place of the confessions obtained at CIA "black sites," he only wants to present material to the court that a so-called "clean team" from the FBI obtained after KSM and the others were flown to Guantanamo in 2006 -- material which is "untainted" by torture, sleep deprivation or other brutal methods used on the detainees.
If the government has its way, the period between the defendants' arrest and their transfer to Guantanamo in 2006 will not even be mentioned in public hearings, once the trial finally starts. And even if torture methods like waterboarding, which the CIA employed 183 times with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed alone, are now banned, officials here say that any revelation could be harmful to national security.
Tuna or Cheese?
General Martins doesn't like to talk about torture either, just about "misconduct by some in the administration."
Such statements bring a weary smile to David Nevin's face. The 63-year-old has been Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's civilian lawyer since 2008. On the evening after the hearings, he was standing in shorts and a T-shirt in front of O'Kelly's, an Irish pub on the base. It has become a gathering place for the Guantanamo traveling court, which has to be flown in from Washington for every hearing, earning it the nickname "the flying circus of Gitmo."
The Idaho native is a formidable opponent for prosecutor Martins. Nevin has also had a storybook career. In the last 30 years, he has repeatedly and successfully worked for defendants that the public had already written off as guilty, earning him the nickname "Velvet Shiv."
Nevin refuses to accept the government's insistence on keeping torture of the defendants out of the trial. "My client was abducted and tortured with the government's consent, and now he is to die at its behest," he says. "How can torture not play a role in the trial?"
Unlike other defendants, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is cooperating with Nevin, but the US government has ordered Nevin to say nothing at all about his client or their interactions. This explains why the attorney isn't even able to reveal whether his client prefers to eat tuna or cheese sandwiches, or what he says when the two men talk about soccer. Anything KSM tells Nevin is "presumptively classified." After all, the government insists, it could jeopardize national security.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
Former Goldman Sachs director faces sentencing
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, October 23, 2012 17:01 EDT
NEW YORK — Rajat Gupta, the ex-Goldman Sachs director found guilty of insider trading, was to be sentenced Wednesday and wants the judge to have him do charity work in Rwanda rather than time in a US prison.
Gupta, 63, faces between eight and 10 years behind bars if prosecutors get their way. He was convicted in June of spilling boardroom secrets to his friend Raj Rajaratnam, the former Galleon hedge fund tycoon who was sentenced last year to 11 years prison, also for insider trading.
In addition to his place on the Goldman Sachs board, Gupta once headed the renowned consultancy McKinsey & Co, and was a director of Procter & Gamble, making him one of the most successful Indian-born businessmen in the United States.
With his conviction after a three-week trial, he became the biggest scalp for fellow Indian immigrant Preet Bharara, the chief federal prosecutor for Manhattan who has made a name for himself with a crackdown on Rajaratnam’s insider trading network.
But defense lawyer Gary Naftalis is asking Judge Jed Rakoff for leniency — and suggesting an unusual alternative to prison.
Citing Gupta’s longtime involvement in charity, particularly in fighting AIDS, malaria and other diseases afflicting developing countries, Naftalis suggested the ruined Wall Street figure be sent to work with the poor in Rwanda.
He would work alongside the US aid organization CARE USA in rural districts, performing community service “that could potentially provide great benefits to large numbers of Rwandans desperately in need of help, and which Mr. Gupta is uniquely situated to perform. Moreover, it would require Mr. Gupta to confront significant hardships.”
Another suggestion by the defense is for Gupta to work in New York with Covenant House, which helps the homeless.
However, prosecutors said in their own pre-sentencing letter to Rakoff that “a significant term of imprisonment is necessary to reflect the seriousness of Gupta’s crimes and to deter other corporate insiders in similar positions from stealing corporate secrets and engaging in a crime that has become far too common.”
“Gupta’s crimes are shocking,” the prosecution said, stressing that Gupta had had access to insider information precisely because he was so trusted.
Prominent public figures, including former UN secretary general Kofi Annan and Microsoft founder Bill Gates, have come to Gupta’s aid, writing to the court to take into consideration his previous good works.
According to his lawyers, Gupta has already been punished enough to deter others in his position, simply by virtue of his stunning fall from grace.
“His once sterling reputation, built over decades, has been irreparably shattered, and his business and philanthropic accomplishments tainted,” the memorandum to Rakoff read.
Walmart legal troubles mount as Black Friday walkout looms
Walmart has been hit with a class action lawsuit in the midst of a threatened employee walkout on Black Friday, one of the busiest, most profitable shopping days of the year. Will worker troubles have an impact, or is this old hat for Walmart?
By Schuyler Velasco, Correspondent / October 23, 2012
Walmart workers aren’t happy, and they’re letting their employer know it.
In the midst of worker strikes in several cities and the looming threat of a mass employee walkout on Black Friday (one of the busiest shopping days of the year), the world’s largest retailer has been hit with a class action lawsuit affecting temporary and part-time workers in the Chicago area.
The filing accuses Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. and two temporary staffing agencies in the region – Labor Ready Midwest Inc. and QPS Employment Group, Inc. – of breaking minimum wage and overtime laws for temp workers by making them show up early and work through lunch breaks. The lawsuit also alleges that Walmart failed to pay contracted workers the requisite four hours minimum in wages.
Requests for comment from Wal-Mart Stores were not immediately returned.
The legal action comes at the tail end of what has been a tumultuous month for Walmart's perpetually rocky relationship with its workers. On Oct. 4, 71 employees at Walmart's Pico Rivera, Calif., store in the Los Angeles area participated in a day-long strike that spread to several metropolitan areas, including Chicago, Dallas, Miami, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. Additionally, a group of 200 workers staged a protest outside Wal-Mart Inc.'s Bentonville, Ark,, headquarters during the company’s annual investors meeting.
That wave of protests culminated in the Black Friday ultimatum: Walmart listens, or the workers walk. “It would be chaos in the stores,” says Evelin Cruz, a manager in the photo department at the Pico Rivera store. She’s been with Walmart 8-1/2 years and makes $13.20 per hour. “Last year, our store alone made $1.2 million in sales [on Black Friday]. They would lose out on this.”
Missing employees on such a high-traffic shopping day could lead to “dangerous situations, understaffed floors,” says Evan Yeats, a spokesman for the Making Change at Walmart campaign and the communications director for the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), based in Washington. “It’s a symbolic day, and it’s also a day when Walmart needs their workers the most.”
What do they want?
Walmart employees aren’t unionized, but those taking action are doing so through OUR Walmart, a support organization backed by unions and advocacy groups including the UFCW and the National Organization for Women (NOW). According to Mr. Yeats, OUR Walmart has helped workers file over 20 lawsuits against the retailer for unfair or unlawful labor practices, including switching workers’ shifts without their knowledge, reducing hours, and unwarranted disciplinary actions “all the way up to termination of workers and everything in-between.”
The chief complaint driving the most recent rash of strikes, including the Black Friday ultimatum, alleges that Walmart is retaliating against workers who strike or join up with OUR Walmart with unfair disciplinary action, reduction in hours, and even firing. Venanzi Luna, a seven-year Walmart employee and company shareholder now working as a manager at the deli counter in the Pico Rivera store, says that the retaliation started immediately when she joined OUR Walmart.
“I never had an attendance problem, but they started checking my attendance, and all of the sudden call me into the office because they say I have 19 absences. So they gave me a verbal warning for ‘stealing company time.’ Then they made me go to coaching for being disrespectful to associates. I didn’t know what they were talking about but they said they had it ‘all on camera.’ ”
Ms. Luna has since become a prominent figure in the worker movement, helping lead the Pico Rivera workers in their initial walkout and penning a now-closed petition on change.org that calls for the removal of Walmart's leadership. It garnered 19,237 signatures.
In addition to stopping the retaliations and respecting workers’ right to free speech and assembly, OUR Walmart members would like to see the retailer offer more dependable work schedules, affordable healthcare for full-time workers, and a living wage ($13 per hour minimum).
“Walmart has been advertising that they are a family-oriented company. And if this is how family is treated, then I would rather not have a family at all,” says Ms. Cruz.
What’s at stake?
What does Walmart have to lose in all of this? The retailer, which generated about $258 billion in revenue last year, has pointed out in public statements in response to the strike that OUR Walmart workers make up a tiny sliver of its 1.4 million employees. What’s more, employee troubles are nothing new for Wal-Mart: In 2008, it paid $640 million to settle a rash of class action lawsuits accusing the company of withholding worker wages. Currently, Walmart is also facing accusations from its Mexican subsidiary that it forked over billions in bribes to Mexican officials so it could more quickly open stores.
Still, the worker walkout could have an impact, argues David S. Meyer, a professor of sociology and political science at the University of California in Irvine who studies large protest movements.
“I don’t expect that they actually want to walk out. And I’m sure Walmart doesn’t want them to walk out.” he says.
“This is an attempt to put the issues of working people back on the national agenda. Plus, if they’re able to persuade some people not to go to work or shop at Target instead, Walmart loses a small percentage of what it makes on Black Friday, and that matters. It doesn’t have to be completely successful in order to make an impact.”
Walmart is a consumer-focused company, whose main selling point is price, he adds. “But there are some customers who want more than that. This may ward some people off.”
Another thing that might put people off: added turmoil on an already frenzied shopping holiday. “It’s chaos,” Luna says “Last year my manager was hiding behind me because he was being overwhelmed. It gets really bad. People would be fighting.”
Imagine that with a staff shortage.
October 22, 2012
Settlement Eases Rules for Some Medicare Patients
By ROBERT PEAR
WASHINGTON — Tens of thousands of people with chronic conditions and disabilities may find it easier to qualify for Medicare coverage of potentially costly home health care, skilled nursing home stays and outpatient therapy under policy changes planned by the Obama administration.
In a proposed settlement of a nationwide class-action lawsuit, the administration has agreed to scrap a decades-old practice that required many beneficiaries to show a likelihood of medical or functional improvement before Medicare would pay for skilled nursing and therapy services.
Under the agreement, which amounts to a significant change in Medicare coverage rules, Medicare will pay for such services if they are needed to “maintain the patient’s current condition or prevent or slow further deterioration,” regardless of whether the patient’s condition is expected to improve.
Federal officials agreed to rewrite the Medicare manual to make clear that Medicare coverage of nursing and therapy services “does not turn on the presence or absence of an individual’s potential for improvement,” but is based on the beneficiary’s need for skilled care.
Judith A. Stein, director of the nonprofit Center for Medicare Advocacy and a lawyer for the beneficiaries, said the proposed settlement could help people with chronic conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, spinal cord injuries and traumatic brain injury. It could also provide relief for families and caregivers who often find themselves stretched financially and personally by the need to provide care.
“As the population ages and people live longer with chronic and long-term conditions,” Ms. Stein said, “the government’s insistence on evidence of medical improvement threatened an ever-increasing number of older and disabled people.”
In many cases, she said, the denial of coverage led to a denial of care because most people cannot afford to pay for these services on their own.
Neither she nor Medicare officials could say how much the settlement might cost the government, but the price of expanding such coverage could be substantial.
Dr. Lynn Gerber, director of the Center for Study of Chronic Illness and Disability at George Mason University in Virginia, called the settlement “a landmark decision for Medicare recipients with chronic illness and especially those with disability.”
“Disability frequently accompanies many chronic conditions,” Dr. Gerber said, “and we often have no cures, so people are likely to experience progressive disability. Rehabilitation, physical and occupational therapy and skilled care are incredibly important in maintaining a person’s functional ability, performance and quality of life.”
The lead plaintiff, Glenda R. Jimmo, 76, of Bristol, Vt., has been blind since childhood. Her right leg was amputated below the knee because of blood circulation problems related to diabetes, and she is in a wheelchair. She received visits from nurses and home health aides who provided wound care and other treatment, but Medicare denied coverage for those services, saying her condition was unlikely to improve.
Another plaintiff, Rosalie J. Berkowitz, 81, of Stamford, Conn., has multiple sclerosis, but Medicare denied coverage for home health visits and physical therapy, on the ground that her condition was not improving. Her family said she would have to go into a nursing home if Medicare did not cover the services.
The proposed settlement, negotiated with lawyers from the Justice Department and the Department of Health and Human Services, was submitted last week to Christina C. Reiss, the chief judge of the Federal District Court in Vermont. If she approves it, as expected, she would have authority to enforce it for up to four years.
Asked about the proposed settlement, Robert D. Reischauer, a public trustee of the Medicare program, said: “Unquestionably that would increase costs. How much, I can’t say.” Other independent experts expressed similar views.
While the settlement is likely to generate additional costs for the government, it might save some money too. For example, physical therapy and home health care might allow some people to avoid more expensive care in hospitals and nursing homes.
Charles S. Miller, a Justice Department spokesman, and Erin Shields Britt, a spokeswoman for the Health and Human Services Department, said government lawyers had no comment.
The changes will apply to the traditional Medicare program and to private Medicare Advantage plans. They apply to people 65 and older, as well as to people under 65 who qualify for Medicare because of disabilities.
The Obama administration initially urged the judge to dismiss the lawsuit. Medicare officials denied that they had a formal policy requiring beneficiaries to show their conditions would improve.
However, in a separate lawsuit in Pennsylvania, Medicare officials argued the reverse. In order for Medicare to cover skilled nursing care, they said in a legal brief, “there must be an expectation that the beneficiary’s condition will improve materially in a reasonable and generally predictable period of time.”
The same standard, in nearly identical language, is found in guidelines used by some Medicare contractors, which review and pay claims on behalf of the government. In a typical case, Medicare terminated coverage of skilled nursing care and physical therapy for an 81-year-old woman because she had “exhibited a decline in functional status.”
Under the settlement, the federal court in Vermont will certify a nationwide class of more than 10,000 Medicare beneficiaries whose claims for skilled nursing and therapy services were denied before Jan. 18, 2011, when the lawsuit was filed. Many of them will have an opportunity to have their claims re-examined under the revised standards.
Plaintiffs in the case include the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Parkinson’s Action Network, Paralyzed Veterans of America and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, an advocacy group.
Neither the Medicare law nor regulations require beneficiaries to show a likelihood of improvement. But some provisions of the Medicare manual and guidelines used by Medicare contractors establish more restrictive standards, which suggest coverage should be denied or terminated if a patient reaches a plateau or is not improving or is stable. In most cases, the contractors’ decisions denying coverage become the final decisions of the federal government.
October 23, 2012
Sterility Found Lacking at Drug Site in Outbreak
By ABBY GOODNOUGH
BOSTON — The compounding pharmacy blamed for a deadly national meningitis outbreak repeatedly failed to follow standard procedures to keep its facility clean and its products sterile, Massachusetts officials said Tuesday, painting a harrowing picture of a company that flouted crucial rules as it hurried to ship drugs around the country.
One finding in particular stands out: the pharmacy, the New England Compounding Center, shipped some orders of the drug implicated in the outbreak without waiting for the final results of sterility testing. And while company records indicate the tests found no contamination, regulators said they were skeptical of the company’s methods.
Records suggest that the company failed to sterilize products for “even the minimum amount of time necessary to ensure sterility,” said Dr. Madeleine Biondolillo, director of the Bureau of Health Care Safety and Quality at the Massachusetts Public Health Department.
The findings raise questions about whether the meningitis outbreak could have been averted, or reduced in magnitude, had proper procedures been followed.
“This was preventable,” said Eric S. Kastango, president of Clinical IQ, a consulting firm that counsels compounding pharmacies. “They failed to properly sterilize this medicine that had to be sterilized. That’s huge.”
Mats used to trap dust and dirt just outside the company’s clean rooms were “visibly soiled with assorted debris,” according to a report released Tuesday by the state’s Board of Registration in Pharmacy, and hoods in the sterile compounding area were not properly cleaned. A leaking boiler next to a clean room “created an environment susceptible to contaminant growth,” Dr. Biondolillo said during a news conference at the State House here.
Investigators are also looking into “the environmental conditions surrounding the business,” she said, including a recycling center on the same property in Framingham, Mass., and owned by the same family. At the same time, the state and the Food and Drug Administration are investigating two related drug companies, Ameridose of Westborough and Alaunus Pharmaceutical of Framingham, which have many of the same owners.
All three companies list Barry Cadden, the chief pharmacist, and his brother-in-law, Gregory Conigliaro, as managers, according to company filings with the state. Mr. Conigliaro’s brother, Douglas, is also involved in the business and, through his wife, Carla, appears to be a major shareholder in the companies, according to state records.
New England Compounding has suspended operations and laid off most of its employees.
The meningitis outbreak has been tied to three lots of a steroid, methylprednisolone acetate, produced at New England Compounding that were contaminated with a fungus. In all, New England Compounding shipped more than 17,000 vials of the suspect drug, which was used mainly for spinal injections aimed at easing back and neck pain.
So far, 304 people in 17 states have contracted meningitis, and 23 have died.
Dr. Biondolillo stressed that the root cause of the outbreak has yet to be determined
Gov. Deval Patrick, speaking at the news conference here, said he had directed the state pharmacy board to “immediately start periodic, unannounced inspections of compounding pharmacies that prepare sterile and injectable medication.” There are 25 such pharmacies in Massachusetts, he said, adding that state rules governing them “have not kept pace with an industry that’s changing rapidly.” Although the F.D.A. can inspect compounding pharmacies and issue warnings, the agency says states have ultimate jurisdiction.
Mr. Patrick said that from now on, compounding pharmacies in the state would be required to submit annual reports on “production, volume and distribution of medication.” That way, he said, the state could better identify compounders that were acting more like manufacturers.
Mr. Patrick added that the state was moving to permanently revoke the licenses of New England Compounding and its three principal pharmacists, including Mr. Cadden.
In a statement released after the news conference, Paul Cirel, a lawyer for New England Compounding, said the state pharmacy board had “numerous opportunities, including as recently as last summer, to make firsthand observations” of the company’s facilities and operations.
“Based on that history,” Mr. Cirel said in the statement, “it is hard to imagine that the board has not been fully apprised of both the manner and scale of the company’s operations. N.E.C.C.’s transparency in dealing with the board since inception in 1998 demonstrates its good-faith intention to operate in compliance with the requirements of its license.”
Dr. Biondolillo said there was no indication “at this moment in our investigatory process” that the pharmacy board had done anything wrong.
New England Compounding has a troubled history. It began receiving complaints less than a year after it was established in 1998. Many of the violations involved selling medicine in bulk without a prescription for an individual patient. But there were also more serious violations. For example, state health officials threatened action against the pharmacy in 2004, after the company “failed to comply with accepted standards” when mixing methylprednisolone acetate, the same steroid that has been the source of the company’s current trouble.
In 2006, the pharmacy agreed to inspections and improvement measures to avoid harsher regulatory action, and an outside investigator was brought in to ensure its practices were in compliance. A more recent complaint, made this March, about the potency of a solution used in eye surgery, remains under investigation. But none of the company’s infractions led to its having to suspend operations until now.
Mr. Kastango took issue with an inspection of New England Compounding conducted by the state last year, which found virtually no problems, according to state records released Monday. He said that inspection “seemed to be sort of a drive-by cursory thing.” The inspection report, he said, did not mention that sterility test reports had been reviewed. And it did not involve a new inventory of narcotics.
Sabrina Tavernise contributed reporting from Washington, and Andrew Pollack from Los Angeles.
October 23, 2012
Standard of Living Is in the Shadows as Election Issue
By DAVID LEONHARDT
WASHINGTON — Taxes and government spending. Health care. Immigration. Financial regulation.
They are the issues that have dominated the political debate in recent years and have played a prominent role in this presidential campaign. But in many ways they have obscured what is arguably the nation’s biggest challenge: breaking out of a decade of income stagnation that has afflicted the middle class and the poor and exacerbated inequality.
Many of the bedrock assumptions of American culture — about work, progress, fairness and optimism — are being shaken as successive generations worry about the prospect of declining living standards. No question, perhaps, is more central to the country’s global standing than whether the economy will perform better on that score in the future than it has in the recent past.
The question has helped create a volatile period in American politics, with Democrats gaining large victories in 2006 and 2008, only to have Republicans return the favor in 2010. This year, economic anxiety, especially in industrial battlegrounds like Ohio, is driving the campaign strategies of both President Obama and Mitt Romney.
The causes of income stagnation are varied and lack the political simplicity of calls to bring down the deficit or avert another Wall Street meltdown. They cannot be quickly remedied through legislation from Washington. The biggest causes, according to interviews with economists over the last several months, are not the issues that dominate the political debate.
At the top of the list are the digital revolution, which has allowed machines to replace many forms of human labor, and the modern wave of globalization, which has allowed millions of low-wage workers around the world to begin competing with Americans.
Not much further down the list is education, probably the country’s most diffuse, localized area of government policy. As skill levels have become even more important for prosperity, the United States has lost its once-large global lead in educational attainment.
Some of the disconnect between the economy’s problems and the solutions offered by Washington stem from the nature of the current political debate. The presidential campaign has been more focused on Bain Capital and an “apology tour” than on the challenges created by globalization and automation.
But economists and other analysts also point to the scale of the problem. No other rich country — not Japan, not any nation in Europe — has figured out exactly how to respond to the challenges. “The whole notion of the American dream,” said Frank Levy, an M.I.T. economist, “described a mass upward mobility that is just a lot harder to achieve right now.”
For the first time since the Great Depression, median family income has fallen substantially over an entire decade. Income grew slowly through most of the last decade, except at the top of the distribution, before falling sharply when the financial crisis began.
By last year, family income was 8 percent lower than it had been 11 years earlier, at its peak in 2000, according to inflation-adjusted numbers from the Census Bureau. On average in 11-year periods in the decades just after World War II, inflation-adjusted median income rose by almost 30 percent.
Matching the growth rates of the postwar period — when the country was poorer, when harsh discrimination against women and minorities was receding and when the rest of the world was weaker — is probably impossible. Yet there is still a vast difference, both economically and politically, between incomes that are rising modestly and not at all.
Historically, periods of economic stagnation have tended to bring pessimism, political turmoil and a lack of social progress, said Benjamin Friedman, an economic historian and the author of “The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth.” The political volatility and partisan rancor of the last several years seem to fit the pattern.
The recent stagnation has also led, economists say, to confusion and even scapegoating about the real sources of the problem. The causes that can seem obvious, and that often shape the political debate, are not necessarily the correct ones.
Take immigration, especially illegal immigration. Whatever other problems it may cause, evidence suggests that it has not played a significant role in the income slump.
It may have caused a slight decline in the wages of native-born workers without a high school diploma (and maybe not even that). But most illegal immigrants lack the skills to compete with the bulk of native workers, according to research by Giovanni Peri, Chad Sparber and others. Notably, incomes in some states with large immigrant populations, like California, have risen faster than in states with relatively few immigrants, like Ohio.
The minimum wage, similarly, appears to play only a minor role in the income slump. It has risen faster than inflation since 2000, even as overall pay at the bottom of the income distribution has not. And the size of the federal government also looks like a dog that is not barking: Washington collected taxes equal to 15.4 percent of gross domestic product last year, down from 20.6 percent in 2000.
A second group of much-cited forces have indeed played a role in middle-class stagnation and inequality, many economists argue, just not as big a role as automation, globalization or education.
Health care costs have grown sharply over the last decade, leaving employers with less cash to use on salaries. Labor unions have shrunk; all else equal, unionized workers earn more, often at the expense of corporate profits. Tax rates have fallen more for the affluent than for anyone else, directly increasing the take-home pay of top earners and indirectly giving them more incentive to earn large amounts.
But many of these factors are particular to the United States, while globalization and automation are obviously universal forces.
One of the more striking recent developments in economics has been economists’ growing acceptance of the idea that globalization has held down pay for a large swath of workers. The public has long accepted the idea, but economists resisted it, pointing to the long-term benefits of trade. “That is starting to change only in the face of very strong evidence over the past decade,” said Edward Alden of the Council on Foreign Relations.
In particular, job growth and wage growth have been weaker in sectors exposed to global competition — especially from China — than in sectors that are more insulated.
Automation creates similar patterns. Workers whose labor can be replaced by computers, be they in factories or stores, have paid a particularly steep price. The American manufacturing sector produces much more than it did in 1979, despite employing almost 40 percent fewer workers.
Workers with less advanced skills have also suffered disproportionately. The pay gap between college graduates and everyone else is near a record. Despite the long economic slump — and the well-chronicled struggles of some college graduates — their unemployment rate is just 4.1 percent.
What is the solution to this thicket of economic forces?
That question is the one that Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney are trying to convince voters that they can best answer. They both accept that the government and the market have a role, but they put a different emphasis on those roles.
It is hard to see how either globalization or automation can be stopped. The proposed solutions instead tend to involve managing them.
If the economy can be made to grow fast enough, incomes can still rise across the board, as they did when the unemployment rate fell below 5 percent in the 1990s and briefly below 4 percent in 2000. If educational attainment rises, more people will be able to get jobs that benefit from technology and global trade, rather than suffer from it. And if inequality continues to soar, the government could choose to use the tax code to ameliorate it — a solution that Democrats favor and Republicans say will hurt economic growth.
Maybe the biggest reason for optimism is that there is still a strong argument that both globalization and automation help the economy in the long run. This argument remains popular with economists: Trade allows countries to specialize in what they do best, while technology creates opportunities to extend and improve life that never before existed.
Previous periods of rapid economic change also created problems that seemed to be permanent but were not. Neither the cotton gin nor the steam engine nor the automobile created mass unemployment.
“When technology reduces the need for certain kinds of labor, we know that some inventive people will one day come along and find a way to use that freed-up labor making things that other people want to buy,” said Mr. Friedman, the economic historian. “That’s what in the long run made the Luddites wrong.”
He added, “How long does it take the Luddites to be wrong — a few years, a decade, a couple of decades?”
Perhaps just as important, what happens to the workers who happen to be living during a time when the Luddite argument has some truth to it?
October 23, 2012
Strident Anti-Obama Messages Flood Key States
By JEREMY W. PETERS
BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. — To turn on the television, open the mail or drive down the highway here is to watch conservatives test the boundaries of how far they can go to disqualify President Obama.
Along the Interstate that connects the beach towns of Florida’s east coast, giant billboards show the president, whom some on the far right have falsely accused of being Muslim, bowing to a Saudi king. Another blares “Stop Obama!” and shows a nuclear warhead with “Iran” painted on it aimed at Israel, a particularly potent message with this area’s many Jewish voters.
In one commercial that started running this month, a wealthy businessman and Hungarian immigrant named Thomas Peterffy laments how socialism shackled his native country. “And that’s what I see happening here,” he says. “That’s why I’m voting Republican and putting this ad on television.”
And a new anti-Obama DVD is dropping into voters’ mailboxes, claiming that the president is the love child of an illicit relationship between his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, and Frank Marshall Davis, a Communist Party loyalist. The back story of the DVD offers the latest example of how secretive forces outside the presidential campaigns can sweep into battleground states days before the election.
This summer, a group of well-financed conservative activists had an idea for what they hoped would be a last-minute game changer in the presidential race. They would put out a DVD that made a compelling case against Mr. Obama in battleground states, sending it to voters through a carefully targeted direct mail campaign or as an insert in Sunday newspapers in the weeks before Election Day.
They went to the unusual length of arranging a focus group to test anti-Obama films. Conducted by Frank Luntz, the well-known Republican research analyst, a 30-person focus group looked at three choices: Dinesh D’Souza’s “2016: Obama’s America,” which theorizes that the president’s political beliefs were shaped by the radical “anticolonial” views of his Kenyan father; “The Hope and the Change,” a softer critique of the president that features interviews with disaffected former Obama supporters; and “Dreams From My Real Father,” which posits the implausible theory that the president’s real father is Mr. Davis, and that Mr. Davis indoctrinated him with Marxist views early on.
Republicans have struggled in this election with two powerful and competing impulses: to hammer a president they dislike intensely with a strong indictment of his record, but to be restrained enough to win over independent voters, who generally like Mr. Obama. Those who commissioned Mr. Luntz’s research, according to people with firsthand knowledge of their motives, wanted to determine whether any of these films would do the trick and be worth backing. Mr. Luntz declined to say who commissioned his research.
“The Hope and the Change,” directed by Stephen K. Bannon and produced by Citizens United, the conservative political advocacy group, tested highest with focus groups and is running on local cable stations. It was shown here just before Monday’s debate.
Many conservatives also loved Mr. D’Souza’s film and wanted it to have wider distribution. It tested poorly, however, and Mr. Luntz warned his clients that it could undermine their cause.
Focus groups were revolted by “Dreams From My Real Father,” with its conspiracy theory paranoia and dubious evidence. It compares photos of the president and Mr. Davis, noting that they have similar noses and freckles. It also purports to have uncovered nude photos of Mr. Obama’s mother in a bondage magazine.
Mr. Luntz’s clients were not surprised. Their thinking was, “I want to know if it’s as bad as I think it is,” Mr. Luntz said.
But even though no major Republican activists stepped forward to finance its distribution, voters in Ohio and Florida have reported receiving the DVD.
The film is the work of Joel Gilbert, whose previous claims include having tracked down Elvis Presley in the witness protection program and discovering that Paul McCartney is in fact dead.
Mr. Gilbert will not say where he received the money to distribute his movie — he claims to have sent out four million copies. “It’s a private company, so we don’t disclose who’s part of it,” he said. He also blamed the mainstream media for not looking deeper into the story he uncovered, telling The New York Times, “I hope you’re not angry or jealous that I beat you to it and might win the Pulitzer Prize.”
His work has already received a lot of attention in corners of the conservative media, including on the radio programs of Monica Crowley and Michael Savage.
One voter from Stuart, Fla., who received the “Dreams From My Real Father” DVD in the mail last week said she was appalled, confirming Republicans’ worst fears about the film.
“I thought, well, I’ll take a look and see what it is,” said the voter, Judy Cindrick. The DVD was addressed to her husband, who was not affiliated with either party on his state voter registration. “But then it got to the part about the president’s mother, and I was like, O.K., I can’t even watch this anymore. This is just something a bunch of crackpots put together.”
October 24, 2012
Amid Cutbacks, Greek Doctors Offer Message to Poor: You Are Not Alone
By LIZ ALDERMAN
ATHENS — As the head of Greece’s largest oncology department, Dr. Kostas Syrigos thought he had seen everything. But nothing prepared him for Elena, an unemployed woman whose breast cancer had been diagnosed a year before she came to him.
By that time, her cancer had grown to the size of an orange and broken through the skin, leaving a wound that she was draining with paper napkins. “When we saw her we were speechless,” said Dr. Syrigos, the chief of oncology at Sotiria General Hospital in central Athens. “Everyone was crying. Things like that are described in textbooks, but you never see them because until now, anybody who got sick in this country could always get help.”
Life in Greece has been turned on its head since the debt crisis took hold. But in few areas has the change been more striking than in health care. Until recently, Greece had a typical European health system, with employers and individuals contributing to a fund that with government assistance financed universal care. People who lost their jobs received health care and unemployment benefits for a year, but were still treated by hospitals even after the benefits expired.
Things changed in July 2011, when Greece signed a supplemental loan agreement with international lenders to ward off financial collapse. Now, as stipulated in the deal, if people are unable to foot the bill after their benefits expire, they are on their own, paying all costs out of pocket.
About half of Greece’s 1.2 million long-term unemployed lack health insurance, a number that is expected to rise sharply in a country with an unemployment rate of 25 percent and a moribund economy, said Savas Robolis, director of the Labor Institute of the General Confederation of Greek Workers. A new $17.5 billion austerity package of budget cuts and tax increases, agreed upon Wednesday with Greece’s international lenders, will make matters only worse, most economists say.
The changes are forcing increasing numbers of people to seek help outside the traditional health care system. Elena, for example, was referred to Dr. Syrigos by doctors in an underground movement that has sprung up here to care for the uninsured. “In Greece right now, to be unemployed means death,” said Dr. Syrigos, an imposing man with a stern demeanor that grew soft when discussing the plight of cancer patients.
The development is new for Greeks — and perhaps for Europe, too. “We are moving to the same situation that the United States has been in, where when you lose your job and you are uninsured, you aren’t covered,” Dr. Syrigos said.
The change is particularly striking in cancer care, with its lengthy and expensive treatments. When cancer is diagnosed among the uninsured, “the system simply ignores them,” Dr. Syrigos said. He said, “They can’t access chemotherapy, surgery or even simple drugs.”
The health care system itself is increasingly dysfunctional, and may worsen if the government slashes an additional $2 billion in health spending, which it has proposed as part of a new austerity plan aimed to lock down more financing. With the state coffers drained, supplies have gotten so low that some patients have been forced to bring their own supplies, like stents and syringes, for treatments.
Hospitals and pharmacies now demand cash payment for drugs, which for cancer patients can amount to tens of thousands of dollars, money most of them do not have. With the system deteriorating, Dr. Syrigos and several colleagues have decided to take matters into their own hands.
Earlier this year, they set up a surreptitious network to help uninsured cancer patients and other ill people, which operates off the official grid using only spare medicines donated by pharmacies, some pharmaceutical companies and even the families of cancer patients who died. In Greece, doctors found to be helping an uninsured person using hospital medicines must cover the cost from their own pockets.
At the Metropolitan Social Clinic, a makeshift medical center near an abandoned American Air Force base outside Athens, Dr. Giorgos Vichas pointed one recent afternoon to plastic bags crammed with donated medicines lining the dingy floors outside his office.
“We’re a Robin Hood network,” said Dr. Vichas, a cardiologist who founded the underground movement in January. “But this operation has an expiration date,” he said. “People at some point will no longer be able to donate because of the crisis. That’s why we’re pressuring the state to take responsibility again.”
In a supply room, a blue filing cabinet was filled with cancer drugs. But they were not enough to take care of the rising number of cancer patients knocking on his door. Many of the medicines are forwarded to Dr. Syrigos, who set up an off-hours infirmary in the hospital three months ago to treat uninsured cancer patients Dr. Vichas and other doctors in the network send his way.
Dr. Syrigos’s staff members consistently volunteer to work after their official shifts; the number of patients has risen to 35 from 5. “Sometimes I come home tired, exhausted, seeing double,” said Korina Liberopoulou, a pathologist on site one afternoon with five doctors and nurses. “But as long as there are materials to work with, this practice will go on.”
Back at the medical center, Dr. Vichas said he had never imagined being so overwhelmed with people in need.
As he spoke, Elena appeared, wearing a pleated gray head wrap and a loose plum blouse. She was coming for drugs to help her cope with the aftermath of chemotherapy she had recently received from Dr. Syrigos.
Elena said she was left without insurance after quitting her teaching job to care for her cancer-stricken parents and a sick uncle. By the time they died, the financial crisis had hit Greece and, at 58, it was impossible for her to find work.
She said she panicked when she was found to have the same type of breast cancer that killed her mother: the treatments would cost at least $40,000, she was told, and her family’s funds were depleted. She tried to sell a small plot of land, but no one was buying.
Her cancer spread, and she could not find treatment until a few months ago, when she sought out Dr. Vichas’s underground clinic after hearing about it through word of mouth. “If I couldn’t come here, I would do nothing,” she said. “In Greece today, you have to make a contract with yourself that you will not get very sick.”
She said she was dismayed that the Greek state, as part of the bailout, had pulled back on a pillar of protection for society. But the fact that doctors and ordinary Greeks were organizing to pitch in where the state failed gave her hope in her bleakest hours. “Here, there is somebody who cares,” Elena said.
For Dr. Vichas, the most powerful therapy may not be the medicines, but the optimism that his Robin Hood group brings to those who have almost given up. “What we’ve gained from the crisis is to come closer together,” he said.
“This is resistance,” he added, sweeping his eyes over the volunteers and patients bustling around the clinic. “It is a nation, a people allowed to stand on their own two feet again with the help they give each other.”
Dimitris Bounias contributed reporting.
10/25/2012 01:09 PM
The World from Berlin: 'Euro-Zone Plans to Fix Greece Have Failed'
Greece says it has been granted an extra two years to meet austerity targets. The EU and IMF deny it. According to press reports, Athens needs an extra 20 billion euros in aid. It is difficult to determine exactly what might come next for the country, but commentators say it is clear that Europe is at a crossroads.
What is going on in the never-ending negotiations between Greece and its international creditors? That depends largely on who you ask. If you ask Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, Athens on Wednesday was given an additional two years to reach its budgetary target of reducing new lending below the EU-mandated maximum of 3 percent. Instead of 2014, Greece would have a new deadline of 2016.
If you ask German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and other major creditors, however, such a delay has in no way been finalized. "I cannot confirm that," said Schäuble on Wednesday when asked about Stournaras' claim, delivered in a speech before the Greek parliament. He insisted, again, that no decisions would be made until the completion of a report currently being assembled by the troika, made up of the European Commission, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
A spokesperson for the IMF also said that no final decision had been made on granting an extra two years to Athens for making necessary budget cuts.
The problem is, though, that it is becoming increasingly difficult to believe the denials. European newspapers on Wednesday were full of reports that a draft "Memorandum of Understanding" included the two-year delay. Furthermore, Germany's business daily Handelsblatt, citing an unnamed senior euro-zone source, reported that Greece would need an additional €16 billion to €20 billion in aid. The sum was consistent with previous reports, including one in SPIEGEL in late September, on how much a two-year delay might cost.
'Makes Sense for Greece'
To be sure, Chancellor Angela Merkel will not be looking forward to pushing an additional aid package for Greece through parliament in Berlin. The country has already been the beneficiary of two aid packages worth a total of €240 billion, and parliamentarians made it clear when the second one passed in March that no more charity would be forthcoming.
But Merkel and Schäuble have both lately seemed to be preparing the groundwork for a softer approach to Greece. Merkel visited Athens last week and pledged solidarity, while Schäuble said it seemed likely "that we can come to agreement on a policy that makes sense for Greece."
Stournaras' speech focused on the €13.5 billion cuts the Greek government agreed to on Wednesday, additional austerity measures necessary to trigger the release of a €31.5 billion aid tranche the country badly needs to retain liquidity through the end of the year. He said that, if Greece had not been granted an extension, then an austerity package of €18 billion would have been necessary.
Still, just what the final agreement with Greece will look like remains unclear. The Handelsblatt also reports on Thursday that the country's creditors will once again cut the interest rate due on the tens of billions of euros the country has borrowed from its euro-zone partners and the IMF. The period of the emergency loans will also be extended; the paper quotes a senior euro-zone official as saying the goal was a "substantial" reduction in the country's debt load. That report has not been denied -- at least not yet.
German media commentators on Thursday also take a closer look at what is going on in Greece.
Center-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"The government in Athens has shown that it is determined to help save the country by instituting reforms. Berlin and Brussels have recognized that. What the experts have preferred not to discuss openly, however, is that the two-year delay for Athens does not change the fact that Greece will need another debt haircut to make its debt load manageable. And this time, it is public creditors who will be forced to surrender a portion of their capital. That won't be cheap, but a Greek insolvency would be more expensive. And it is not just about euros and cents. It is about the social costs as well. Greece has become a kind of impoverished pariah state in Europe, something the European Union cannot afford. The consequences of five years of recession can already be seen: unemployment, poverty and political extremism."
Conservative daily Die Welt writes:
"Greece's credit conditions are once again being softened. The German government continues to insist that there is, as yet, no written agreement, but the Greek finance minister has already triumphantly announced that a deal has been reached allowing Athens an extra two years to achieve its budgetary targets. He speaks like someone who knows he cannot lose."
"In the present situation, however, leniency might actually be the correct course of action. Greece lost valuable time in the spring because of the new elections and no matter how hard it tries, the country cannot achieve the goals it originally set for itself. And the delay was worth it; Greece now has a government that is more serious about austerity. That is an argument in favor of leniency. Another argument in favor is the fact that Greece's euro-zone partners have also made mistakes. At the beginning, they insisted to interest rates that were too high and they focused exclusively on austerity to the detriment of reforms that would stimulate economic growth. As such, some of the responsibility for the fact that Greece has made so little progress since the spring of 2010 can be shared by Berlin, Paris and Brussels."
Left-leaning daily Die Tageszeitung writes:
"The two-year delay reveals the depth of Greece's misery, and the helplessness of its so-called saviors. Experts and creditors alike have reached a dead end; their plans to fix Greece have failed. Indeed, they need a two-year break at least as badly as does the increasingly fragile government in Athens. Germany in particular needs more time. One year is already reserved for the campaign and the general elections scheduled for next fall. In the run up to the vote, Merkel would like calm on the euro front."
"There are, after all, new facts that Merkel's government has thus far insisted upon ignoring. For one, the International Monetary Fund has recalculated and found that the austerity measures have had a much more detrimental effect on the country's real economy than had been previously thought. The deeper the cuts, the greater the collapse of both the economy and tax revenues -- essentially eliminating the benefits derived from the cuts. Most experts also now agree that Greece will never be able to get back on its feet without another significant slashing of debt. But Berlin has thus far been deaf to such concerns and will only confront reality after the election. How nice that we will now have two years of peace."
10/25/2012 12:44 PM
A Surge of Serbs and Macedonians: Germany Seeks to Halt Influx of Balkan Asylum Seekers
With a massive surge in asylum applications from people of the Roma minority from Serbia and Macedonia, Germany's interior minister is calling for new rules to expedite processing these cases. Although many come to the EU for better economic opportunities, they also face racial discrimination at home, advocacy groups say.
After observing an extreme rise in the number of asylum seekers from Serbia and Macedonia in recent weeks, Germany's interior minister is calling for tighter rules for processing the applications.
"Those who originate from safe countries, should be provided with reduced cash benefits in the future," Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, a conservative with Bavaria's Christian Social Union party, told the daily Die Welt.
Two weeks ago, Friedrich advised Germany's federal states that they could better defend themselves against the flood of applicants by providing vouchers for food and services rather than cash benefits to the asylum seekers, many of whom are of the Roma minority.
In December 2009, members of the border-free Schengen zone, which includes most European Union member states, lifted visa requirements on a number of Balkans nations, leading to a surge in the number of people entering into the EU from countries like Serbia and Macedonia.
Friedrich is demanding expedited procedures for approving or rejecting asylum applications. He said the right of appeal in Germany's legal system would make a fast-track, 48-hour process like Switzerland's impossible, but he would still like to see decisions on asylum made in the fastest possible way. Currently in Germany, the asylum process can take months to complete, and during that time food, accommodation and financial support are given to applicants.
"The huge inflow of Serbian and Macedonian citizens must be stopped immediately," Friedrich said earlier this month. "The quicker this happens, the less right they will have to state funds. Visa-free travel must not lead to abuse of the asylum rules. This will strain the readiness of Germans to help the truly needy and persecuted."
In order to deal with the flood of new asylum applications, Friedrich has ordered 60 new workers to be assigned to processing the cases at the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees in Nuremberg. "We need to ensure that the cases are processed swiftly," the interior minister said.
Friedrich has also ordered a review into whether a visa requirement should be imposed on both countries again. "We have to review the visa waiver program for Serbia and Macedonia," he said.
Ninety Percent of Applications Rejected
In September, the number of people from the two countries applying for asylum in Germany grew dramatically, with 1,395 coming from Serbia compared to 496 the previous month and 1,040 Macedonians compared to 620 in August. Earlier this month, Germany's mass-circulation Bild reported that from Oct. 1 to Oct. 10 alone, 1,841 Serbians and 591 Macedonians applied for asylum. It is believed that most of the applicants are seeking residence in Germany for economic reasons. In recent years, the paper reported, Germany has rejected 90 percent of asylum applications from these countries.
Criticism of the influx hasn't been the exclusive realm of conservatives, either. In a recent interview with public radio station SWR, Michael Hartmann, the center-left Social Democratic Party's expert on domestic policy issues said the government must take tougher action to fight against economically motivated migration.
It's not a new problem for Germany either. A spokesperson for the agency said that spikes in asylum seekers from Serbia and Macedonia had also occurred during the past two years, but never with the numbers being seen now. Overall, Germany saw a surge in asylum applications in September of 27.7 percent relative to August, for a total of 6,691 applications.
The problem is not exclusive to Germany. A similar phenomenon is also being witnessed in Belgium, Sweden and France. At Thursday's EU meeting, the European Commission is expected to report on the effect the visa waiver program has had on the influx of people from Balkan states. The debate over whether the visa waiver should temporarily be lifted is also expected to be on the agenda.
In the run-up to the meeting, the interior ministers of German, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Austria and the Netherlands have requested a suspension clause that would enable visa requirements to be reimposed. The proposal could be approved at Thursday's meeting.
For many of the Roma coming to Germany this autumn, the flight may have as much to do with the cold as it does economics. "Their aim is to survive the winter and come back in time for the spring," Zoran Sajikovic, a Roma member of the local council in the Serbian town of Leskovac told news agency Reuters. Leskovac noted that the €350 a Roma could get in support during the asylum process in Germany is greater than the €160 a month he earns as a school teacher.
But Roma rights groups complain that criticism of the surge in migration in Germany is driven by prejudice. "They have a right to an examination of their application, in which the racist discrimination in their home countries is fully considered," a joint statement by the German refugee rights group Pro Asyl and German Roma groups read, according to Reuters.
Sweden grants undocumented children access to school
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 24, 2012 15:50 EDT
Undocumented children in Sweden will be allowed to go to school as of July 1 next year, the Swedish government announced on Wednesday after striking a deal with the opposition Green Party.
“Children without a residency permit will have the right to education” from kindergarten to secondary school, it said in a statement.
Sweden’s use of personal identity numbers has essentially barred children of illegal immigrants from public education, and schools have been required to contact police if registration requests were made for an undocumented child.
The new law scraps that requirement, but schooling will still not be mandatory for children of illegal immigrants.
“All children have the right to go to school … and their right (to do so) will become legal,” Education Minister Jan Bjoerklund said at a press conference.
For undocumented children, going to school “means being normal, (it brings) stability, routines to an often precarious existence,” said the Green Party’s spokeswoman on immigration, Maria Ferm.
The government will provide an annual budget of 50 million kronor (5.7 million euros or $7.4 million) starting in 2014, to help the municipalities where the children go to school. Half the annual amount has been set aside for next year.
Between 2,000 and 3,000 children will be affected by the new law, according to Bjoerklund.
The Netherlands expands parental rights for LGBT families
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 24, 2012 16:12 EDT
Dutch kids may soon be able to have three or more mothers or fathers after the government said it was seeking to enshrine parenting rights for the Netherlands’ 25,000 children in gay families.
“The justice ministry is going to investigate and see what the possibilities are for recognising three parents or more per family,” ministry spokesman Wiebe Alkema told AFP on Wednesday.
The left-wing Green party, but also the Liberal VVD and the Labour PvdA parties that won last month’s parliamentary election, requested the report with a view to amending a lesbian parenting bill currently before parliament.
The Netherlands was the first country to legalise gay marriage in 2001 and when a gay or lesbian couple has a child, another parent is by biological necessity involved.
But, said Green MP Liesbeth van Tongeren, it is also essential to recognise the rights of non-biological parents, including step-parents.
“Currently parenthood in the eyes of the law is almost always the consequence of biological parenthood,” her party said in a statement, stressing that “this does not represent the diversity of families in the Netherlands.”
“Often enough, the father of a child with lesbian parents also plays a role in the life of the child,” she said.
“How a family lives is more important than the biological lineage,” Van Tongeren added. “The bill should take into account what’s best for all concerned.”
There is currently no legal recognition in the Netherlands for a child’s step-parents or for sperm donors who would like to be involved in the life of their child.
Junior justice minister Fred Teveen noted in parliament however that there were potentially many practical objections to changing the law and that he would await the report’s conclusions.
Official statistics say that by the end of 2010, 14,813 homosexual couples were married in the Netherlands, where around a million of the country’s 16.7 million inhabitants are homosexual, according to gay rights group COC.
Mayans demand an end to 2012 doomsday myth
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 24, 2012 20:39 EDT
GUATEMALA CITY — Guatemala’s Mayan people accused the government and tour groups on Wednesday of perpetuating the myth that their calendar foresees the imminent end of the world for monetary gain.
“We are speaking out against deceit, lies and twisting of the truth, and turning us into folklore-for-profit. They are not telling the truth about time cycles,” charged Felipe Gomez, leader of the Maya alliance Oxlaljuj Ajpop.
Several films and documentaries have promoted the idea that the ancient Mayan calendar predicts that doomsday is less than two months away, on December 21, 2012.
The Culture Ministry is hosting a massive event in Guatemala City — which as many as 90,000 people are expected to attend — just in case the world actually does end, while tour groups are promoting doomsday-themed getaways.
Maya leader Gomez urged the Tourism Institute to rethink the doomsday celebration, which he criticized as a “show” that was disrespectful to Mayan culture.
Experts say that for the Maya, all that ends in 2012 is one of their calendar cycles, not the world.
Gomez’s group issued a statement saying that the new Maya time cycle simply “means there will be big changes on the personal, family and community level, so that there is harmony and balance between mankind and nature.”
Oxlajuj Ajpop is holding events it considers sacred in five cities to mark the event and Gomez said the Culture Ministry would be wise to throw its support behind their real celebrations.
More than half of Guatemala’s population of nearly 15 million are from indigenous groups of Mayan descent.
The Mayan calendar has 18 months of 20 days each plus a sacred month, “Wayeb,” of five days. “B’aktun” is the larget unit in the time cycle system, and is about 400 years. The broader era spans 13 B’aktun, or about 5,200 years.
The Mayan culture enjoyed a golden age between 250 AD and 900 AD.
Easter Island statues ‘walked’ into position, say experts
By David Batty, The Guardian
Thursday, October 25, 2012 1:05 EDT
Experiment reveals how giant stone statues may have been put into resting places without wheels or animals
For hundreds of years they have gazed inscrutably upon the most remote island in the world, standing with their backs to the Pacific Ocean as if defying attempts to understand their enigma. But the mystery of how the giant stone statues of Easter Island came to their resting places without wheels or animals may finally have been unravelled – they walked.
The seemingly unlikely proposal comes from a team of local and US anthropologists and archaelogists who have conducted experiments that suggest the statues, called moai by the islanders, could have been “walked” upright down a path by teams pulling them with ropes.
The successful demonstration at Kualoa Ranch in Hawaii with a three metre tall, 4.35-tonne concrete replica moai, captured on video by Nature magazine, offers an alternative to the traditional hypothesis that the 887 statues, which stand as high as 32 feet and weigh up to 80 tons each, were rolled across the island, now know as Rapa Nui, on wooden logs.
A team of 18 people attached three ropes to the replica moai’s head, with two groups pulling forward on either side and one group at the rear steering the statue and preventing it from toppling over. Chanting “heave-ho”, they managed to shuffle the statue 100 metres in under an hour.
The study, led by Carl Lipo, from California State University, Terry Hunt, from the University of Hawaii, and archaelogist Sergio Rapu Haoa, the former Easter Island governor, looks at the moai that were successfully placed on stone pedestals and those that the original islanders apparently abandoned on road sides during their journey from the stone quarry where they were carved.
Their research, published in the Journals of Archaeological Science, suggests the abandoned moai fell over from upright positions, with one showing signs of attempts to return it to an upright position, which would contradict the popular theory that they were rolled on logs.
“The figure is usually shaped from the top down leaving a narrow ‘keel’ connecting it to the bedrock,” the three experts write. “Statues were ‘walked’ out of the pit through excavated openings to moai roads.”
The experiment followed the publication last year of Hunt and Lipo’s book, The Statues that Walked: Unraveling the Mystery of Easter Island, which led a US television programme to ask the pair to put their theory to the test.
But Jo Anne Van Tilburg, director of the Easter Island Statue Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, decried the demonstration as a stunt.
The archaelogist, who has previously conducted experiments that show moai can be moved horizontally on logs, told Nature magazine that the model statue used in the Hawaii study was not an accurate replica and so the study’s findings were irrelevant.
A previous similar experiment by another team in 1986 was halted after large chips of stone chipped off the bases of the statues while they were being walked. The damage caused by the stress of upright movement appeared to rule out walking as the likely method used to transport the moai.
The moai represent the ancestors the early Rapa Nui people worshipped as part of their religion. The dominant theory is that they were a statue-making cult who felled the island’s once-luxurious palm forest to build devices to move the stone statues. With the loss of trees, civil war broke out and, reportedly, cannibalism became common.
By the time the island, due west of Chile, was accidentally “discovered” by Europeans on Easter Sunday in 1722, it was entirely treeless and the population had fallen to between 1,000 and 2,000, down from a peak of about 15,000 a few centuries earlier. This ties into the story of the island being an example of an ecosystem transformed into an ecological disaster zone by human over-exploitation.
© Guardian News and Media 2012
[Moai on Easter Island via Shutterstock.com.]
October 24, 2012
Russian Opposition Figure Says Abductors Threatened His Children
By ELLEN BARRY
MOSCOW — A jailed Russian opposition leader who disappeared from Kiev, Ukraine, on Friday was held for three days by men who threatened to kill his children if he did not sign a lengthy confession, according to an interview published on Wednesday.
The activist, Leonid Razvozzhayev, who had visited a United Nations office in Kiev for advice on seeking political asylum, reappeared on Sunday night outside a Moscow courthouse. In an interview with The New Times, a magazine, he said he had been held in a tumbledown house and not allowed to eat, drink or use the bathroom for three days.
“They told me, ‘If you don’t answer our questions, your children will be killed,’ ” Mr. Razvozzhayev said in the interview. “They said that legally I didn’t exist, and anything could happen to me.” After he signed the confession, he said, his captors delivered him to the authorities in Moscow.
Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for Russia’s top federal investigator, has said that Mr. Razvozzhayev turned himself in voluntarily and did not report any “torture, abduction or any other unlawful actions.” He said investigators would look into the report.
The Russian authorities have accused Mr. Razvozzhayev and other opposition leaders of plotting mass riots and of seeking financing from Georgia to help topple the government of President Vladimir V. Putin. It was a measure of the case’s resonance that Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, said the Kremlin would have no comment on Mr. Razvozzhayev’s allegations.
“The Kremlin hardly can, or should, comment on this matter,” Mr. Peskov told journalists on Wednesday. “This is a case that involves investigative organs, prosecutors, judges, lawyers and human rights advocates.”
The whereabouts of Sergei Udaltsov, another defendant in the case, were unknown on Wednesday. Mr. Udaltsov said via Twitter that he had taken “precautionary measures” to avoid being abducted in a similar way, but that he intended to report voluntarily for interrogation in the case later this week. Mr. Udaltsov’s wife and children have left Russia for Ukraine.
Both Mr. Udaltsov and Mr. Razvozzhayev are members of Left Front, a radical leftist movement that joined forces with liberal and nationalist activists in a wave of antigovernment protests that began last year. The most recent protest, in September, included a stronger Communist presence and emphasized socioeconomic demands like a freeze in utility costs and pension reform. Mr. Udaltsov has cultivated relationships with leaders of the Communist Party, to whom he refers as allies.
“You know, when serious processes begin in society, a lot of things change, and much has changed since December,” Mr. Udaltsov said in an interview with The New York Times in September. “The most surprising things happen — people who did not socialize suddenly begin to socialize.” Moderate opposition groups that have long cooperated with the Kremlin, he said, “start to act much braver.”
In his interview with The New Times, Mr. Razvozzhayev said his interrogators had asked him about plans to establish a leftist party in Russia, and whether activists would work within a legal framework. He said they also pressed him on whether they were collaborating with “Western special services.”
October 25, 2012
As Transition Nears, China Names New Military Leaders
By JANE PERLEZ
BEIJING — China announced the promotions of five generals this week, shaping the top leadership of the rapidly modernizing military as it becomes a more dominant player in Asia and challenges United States dominance in the region.
Even as the Chinese economy slows, the military is likely to remain well financed, analysts say. The new leaders are expected to push ahead with developing naval and air power that can rival the United States and with cyberwarfare capabilities, which the Chinese see as a new and effective way to project power.
The new appointees will almost certainly become members of the Central Military Commission, a 12-member body that oversees the Chinese military and that is undergoing major changes as members reach mandatory retirement age.
The jockeying for vacant positions has by all accounts been fierce, with much of it riding on personal allegiances to President Hu Jintao or Vice President Xi Jinping. Mr. Xi is expected to succeed Mr. Hu as Communist Party leader at the 18th Party Congress, due to open on Nov. 8, and as president next year. The full slate of commission members will be unveiled at the Party Congress.
Mr. Hu is chairman of the commission, and one of the big questions hovering over the Congress is whether he will yield this post to Mr. Xi, or hold on to it for another two years.
Based on family connections and his own professional experience, Mr. Xi has stronger ties to the military than Mr. Hu, and analysts say that in many respects the military considers him one of their own. Whether that means Mr. Xi will rein in the military or give it greater scope as China asserts what it calls its territorial rights in the South China Sea and the East China Sea over the next decade will be one of the most important strategic questions facing the country as it enters its new leadership phase, they say.
Among those promoted was Gen. Ma Xiaotian, a former fighter pilot who will become head of the air force, a service that is now coming to the fore after long being relegated to a back seat.
The Chinese Air Force is now “seeking to create the kind of air power that can rival the U.S., and to create similar stealth, precision strike and long-range strike capabilities,” said Anthony H. Cordesman, the senior military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “It is developing similar enablers in terms of refueling, electronic warfare systems, airborne command and control, and satellites.”
Earlier this year, General Ma accompanied China’s defense minister, Liang Guanglie, on a visit to Washington.
Gen. Zhang Youxia, who has publicly criticized the military for its lack of combat experience, was promoted to be director of the General Armament Department, which oversees procurement and research.
General Zhang, one of the few senior commanders who does have battlefield experience, is said by Chinese military scholars to have been wounded during China’s 1979 conflict with Vietnam. In 2009, he was quoted in People’s Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece, as saying: “The fires of war are burning throughout the world. In this area, the gap between the Chinese military and foreign militaries is growing by the day. This is a real problem.” Before his promotion, he was commander of the Shenyang Military Region.
The commander of the Beijing Military Region, Gen. Fang Fenghui, was promoted on Thursday to chief of the general staff, the Defense Ministry said. The former political commissar of the Guangzhou Military Region, Zhang Yang, was named director of the political department, and the former commander of the Nanjing Military Region, Gen. Zhao Keshi, was promoted to head the logistics department.
The new commission will almost certainly be overseeing China’s development of cyber warfare, an area that China views as particularly advantageous, and relatively inexpensive, said Kevin Pollpeter, China Project Manager for Defense Group Inc., a Washington-based firm that specializes in China’s national security issues.“Cyber allows China projection ability it can’t get with other weapons,” Mr. Pollpeter said at a recent conference in Washington on China’s military.
So far, the Defense Ministry has not announced who will command the all-important Second Artillery Corps, home to the land-based ballistic and cruise missile units opposite Taiwan. Also yet to be announced is the new commander of the navy, another rapidly expanding branch of the military. The commanders of the Second Artillery Corps and the navy both sit on the Central Military Commission.
Two other posts — the commission’s vice chairmen — also remain to be announced. These positions are filled by senior generals who run the day-to-day operations of the military under the civilian party leadership.
Bree Feng contributed research.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: October 25, 2012
An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of China’s defense minister. He is Liang Guanglie, not Liang Guangli.
Russia claims Syria rebels have U.S.-made Stinger missiles
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 24, 2012 22:28 EDT
MOSCOW — Syrian rebels battling the regime of President Bashar al-Assad have shoulder-launched missile systems, including US-made Stingers, Russia’s top general claimed Wednesday, prompting a strong denial from Washington.
Russian chief of staff General Nikolai Makarov, whose country is the Damascus regime’s top arms supplier and has refused to back the opposition, said it was not clear who had delivered the weapons.
“We have information that the rebels fighting the Syrian army have shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles of several states, including Stingers made in the United States,” he said quoted by the Interfax news agency.
“We need to still find out who has delivered them,” he said.
The United States vehemently disputed the allegation, challenging Moscow to provide proof.
“We have provided no Stingers of any kind to Syria, nor will we,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. “If the Russian Federation has evidence of Stingers in the hands of the opposition, we’d like to see it”.
Makarov said it was possible that these and other weapons could have been delivered to the rebels from abroad on several means of transport, including passenger planes.
“For this, all kinds of transport could be activated, including civil aviation. This is a serious matter,” Makarov said.
US broadcaster NBC News reported in July that the rebel Free Syrian Army had obtained two dozen surface-to-air missiles (man-portable air-defence systems known as MANPADS), delivered via Turkey.
“The Americans say that they have not delivered anything to the rebels,” said Makarov.
“But we have reliable information that the Syrian rebels have foreign-made MANPADS, including American ones.”
Nuland, meanwhile, noted that of all the images Washington has seen of MANPADS and MANPAD-like equipment in Syria “has been exclusively of a Soviet Warsaw Pact vintage – the SA-7 type vintage.”
“We have not seen evidence of Stingers,” she said.
Makarov’s comments come as Russia is under sustained pressure from the West, Turkey and Assad’s foes in the Arab world to cut its military cooperation with the Syrian regime.
Turkey earlier this month forced a Syrian Air passenger plane en route from Moscow to Damascus to land in Ankara on the grounds it was carrying an illegal Russian cargo for Syria.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the cargo confiscated by Ankara before the plane was allowed to leave was “war equipment”. Russia has insisted the cargo was perfectly legal radar technology.
President Vladimir Putin last week defended Russia’s right to trade weapons with whomever it wanted, so long as sales did not break any sanctions from the UN Security Council where Moscow has a permanent, veto-wielding seat.
“In all other cases, no one can on any pretext dictate to Russia or any other state with whom and how it should trade,” Putin said.
Moscow has refused to take sides against Assad, condemning the West and Turkey for making clear their support for the rebels battling his regime.
October 25, 2012, 8:18 am
Netanyahu’s ‘Crazy’ Talk Seen Threatening Israel’s Nuclear Ambiguity
By HARVEY MORRIS
LONDON - Israel will face mounting pressure to acknowledge the existence of its nuclear weapons arsenal as an unintended consequence of its government's belligerent stance towards Iran, according to a former Israeli intelligence chief.
Ami Ayalon, former head of the Shin Bet domestic security agency, says, "The world won't let you have nuclear ambiguity if you act crazy."
In an interview with Rendezvous during a visit to London, Mr. Ayalon said Israel's special status was at risk as a result of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's threats of military action against Iran's nuclear plants if sanctions failed to persuade Tehran to abandon its alleged ambition to build a bomb.
Mr. Ayalon is among a number of serving and former defense and intelligence chiefs who have challenged the wisdom of threatening Iran with a unilateral strike.
His latest warning came shortly after Finland announced it would host an international conference soon to debate turning the Middle East into a nuclear weapons-free region. The Israeli government has said it is against such a meeting, at which the issue of Israel's own unacknowledged nuclear arsenal is certain to be raised.
"Mr. Netanyahu has been playing the role of irresponsible player in the region," with his threats against Iran, according to Mr. Ayalon. "That raises the questions: Does he mean it? And what is the price?"
Israel would pay a huge price if it decided to go it alone against Iran, he said. If, however, it failed to take action after Mr. Netanyahu's threats, it would end up looking like a paper tiger. In any event, "the ambiguity of Israel's nuclear status is at risk."
Under a long-standing policy, Israel refuses to acknowledge it has nuclear weapons, relying on the often-repeated mantra that it would not be the first country to introduce such weapons into the region. Unlike Iran, Israel is not a member of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
Following up an argument he put to Israeli military officers at a counter-terrorism conference last month, Mr. Ayalon said Israel had been allowed to maintain its policy of nuclear ambiguity as long as it acted as the "responsible adult" in the region.
Mr. Netanyahu had succeeded in grabbing the attention of the United States with his aggressive stance against Iran and had managed to turn the Iranian nuclear issue into a major issue in the U.S. presidential campaign.
"But after the U.S. elections, this issue of the Middle East as a nuclear-free zone will be back on the table," he said.
Doubts have been raised over whether the Helsinki conference will actually take place as planned by the end of this year. Iran has been invited, while Mr. Netanyahu's office has said he is against holding the U.S.-backed meeting.
"They're convinced that if we close our eyes we can keep hiding behind blessed ambiguity," wrote Reuven Pedatzur in Haaretz, commenting on the Israeli stance.
"In Jerusalem, as always," he wrote, "any mention of Israeli nuclear weapons produces a Pavlovian response. 'No, no, no - there's nothing to talk about and nobody to talk to.'
"In Jerusalem they're still adhering to ambiguity, which for those who are not restricted by censorship has long been an absurd fiction."
October 24, 2012
The Island Where People Forget to Die
By DAN BUETTNER
In 1943, a Greek war veteran named Stamatis Moraitis came to the United States for treatment of a combat-mangled arm. He’d survived a gunshot wound, escaped to Turkey and eventually talked his way onto the Queen Elizabeth, then serving as a troopship, to cross the Atlantic. Moraitis settled in Port Jefferson, N.Y., an enclave of countrymen from his native island, Ikaria. He quickly landed a job doing manual labor. Later, he moved to Boynton Beach, Fla. Along the way, Moraitis married a Greek-American woman, had three children and bought a three-bedroom house and a 1951 Chevrolet.
One day in 1976, Moraitis felt short of breath. Climbing stairs was a chore; he had to quit working midday. After X-rays, his doctor concluded that Moraitis had lung cancer. As he recalls, nine other doctors confirmed the diagnosis. They gave him nine months to live. He was in his mid-60s.
Moraitis considered staying in America and seeking aggressive cancer treatment at a local hospital. That way, he could also be close to his adult children. But he decided instead to return to Ikaria, where he could be buried with his ancestors in a cemetery shaded by oak trees that overlooked the Aegean Sea. He figured a funeral in the United States would cost thousands, a traditional Ikarian one only $200, leaving more of his retirement savings for his wife, Elpiniki. Moraitis and Elpiniki moved in with his elderly parents, into a tiny, whitewashed house on two acres of stepped vineyards near Evdilos, on the north side of Ikaria. At first, he spent his days in bed, as his mother and wife tended to him. He reconnected with his faith. On Sunday mornings, he hobbled up the hill to a tiny Greek Orthodox chapel where his grandfather once served as a priest. When his childhood friends discovered that he had moved back, they started showing up every afternoon. They’d talk for hours, an activity that invariably involved a bottle or two of locally produced wine. I might as well die happy, he thought.
In the ensuing months, something strange happened. He says he started to feel stronger. One day, feeling ambitious, he planted some vegetables in the garden. He didn’t expect to live to harvest them, but he enjoyed being in the sunshine, breathing the ocean air. Elpiniki could enjoy the fresh vegetables after he was gone.
Six months came and went. Moraitis didn’t die. Instead, he reaped his garden and, feeling emboldened, cleaned up the family vineyard as well. Easing himself into the island routine, he woke up when he felt like it, worked in the vineyards until midafternoon, made himself lunch and then took a long nap. In the evenings, he often walked to the local tavern, where he played dominoes past midnight. The years passed. His health continued to improve. He added a couple of rooms to his parents’ home so his children could visit. He built up the vineyard until it produced 400 gallons of wine a year. Today, three and a half decades later, he’s 97 years old — according to an official document he disputes; he says he’s 102 — and cancer-free. He never went through chemotherapy, took drugs or sought therapy of any sort. All he did was move home to Ikaria.
I met Moraitis on Ikaria this past July during one of my visits to explore the extraordinary longevity of the island’s residents. For a decade, with support from the National Geographic Society, I’ve been organizing a study of the places where people live longest. The project grew out of studies by my partners, Dr. Gianni Pes of the University of Sassari in Italy and Dr. Michel Poulain, a Belgian demographer. In 2000, they identified a region of Sardinia’s Nuoro province as the place with the highest concentration of male centenarians in the world. As they zeroed in on a cluster of villages high in Nuoro’s mountains, they drew a boundary in blue ink on a map and began referring to the area inside as the “blue zone.” Starting in 2002, we identified three other populations around the world where people live measurably longer lives than everyone else. The world’s longest-lived women are found on the island of Okinawa. On Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula, we discovered a population of 100,000 mestizos with a lower-than-normal rate of middle-age mortality. And in Loma Linda, Calif., we identified a population of Seventh-day Adventists in which most of the adherents’ life expectancy exceeded the American average by about a decade.
In 2003, I started a consulting firm to see if it was possible to take what we were learning in the field and apply it to American communities. We also continued to do research and look for other pockets of longevity, and in 2008, following a lead from a Greek researcher, we began investigating Ikaria. Poulain’s plan there was to track down survivors born between 1900 and 1920 and determine when and where individuals died. The approach was complicated by the fact that people often moved around. That meant that not only were birth and death records required, but also information on immigration and emigration.
The data collection had to be rigorous. Earlier claims about long-lived people in places like Ecuador’s Vilcabamba Valley, Pakistan’s Hunza Valley or the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia had all been debunked after researchers discovered that many residents didn’t actually know their ages. For villagers born without birth certificates, it was easy to lose track. One year they were 80; a few months later they were 82. Pretty soon they claimed to be 100. And when a town discovers that a reputation for centenarians draws tourists, who’s going to question it? Even in Ikaria, the truth has been sometimes difficult to nail down. Stories like the one about Moraitis’s miraculous recovery become instant folklore, told and retold and changed and misattributed. (Stories about Moraitis have appeared on Greek TV.) In fact, when I was doing research there in 2009, I met a different man who told me virtually the exact same story about himself.
The study would try to cut through the stories and establish the facts about Ikaria’s longevity. Before including subjects, Poulain cross-referenced birth records against baptism or military documentation. After gathering all the data, he and his colleagues at the University of Athens concluded that people on Ikaria were, in fact, reaching the age of 90 at two and a half times the rate Americans do. (Ikarian men in particular are nearly four times as likely as their American counterparts to reach 90, often in better health.) But more than that, they were also living about 8 to 10 years longer before succumbing to cancers and cardiovascular disease, and they suffered less depression and about a quarter the rate of dementia. Almost half of Americans 85 and older show signs of Alzheimer’s. (The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that dementia cost Americans some $200 billion in 2012.) On Ikaria, however, people have been managing to stay sharp to the end.
Ikaria, an island of 99 square miles and home to almost 10,000 Greek nationals, lies about 30 miles off the western coast of Turkey. Its jagged ridge of scrub-covered mountains rises steeply out of the Aegean Sea. Before the Christian era, the island was home to thick oak forests and productive vineyards. Its reputation as a health destination dates back 25 centuries, when Greeks traveled to the island to soak in the hot springs near Therma. In the 17th century, Joseph Georgirenes, the bishop of Ikaria, described its residents as proud people who slept on the ground. “The most commendable thing on this island,” he wrote, “is their air and water, both so healthful that people are very long-lived, it being an ordinary thing to see persons in it of 100 years of age.”
Seeking to learn more about the island’s reputation for long-lived residents, I called on Dr. Ilias Leriadis, one of Ikaria’s few physicians, in 2009. On an outdoor patio at his weekend house, he set a table with Kalamata olives, hummus, heavy Ikarian bread and wine. “People stay up late here,” Leriadis said. “We wake up late and always take naps. I don’t even open my office until 11 a.m. because no one comes before then.” He took a sip of his wine. “Have you noticed that no one wears a watch here? No clock is working correctly. When you invite someone to lunch, they might come at 10 a.m. or 6 p.m. We simply don’t care about the clock here.”
Pointing across the Aegean toward the neighboring island of Samos, he said: “Just 15 kilometers over there is a completely different world. There they are much more developed. There are high-rises and resorts and homes worth a million euros. In Samos, they care about money. Here, we don’t. For the many religious and cultural holidays, people pool their money and buy food and wine. If there is money left over, they give it to the poor. It’s not a ‘me’ place. It’s an ‘us’ place.”
Ikaria’s unusual past may explain its communal inclinations. The strong winds that buffet the island — mentioned in the “Iliad” — and the lack of natural harbors kept it outside the main shipping lanes for most of its history. This forced Ikaria to be self-sufficient. Then in the late 1940s, after the Greek Civil War, the government exiled thousands of Communists and radicals to the island. Nearly 40 percent of adults, many of them disillusioned with the high unemployment rate and the dwindling trickle of resources from Athens, still vote for the local Communist Party. About 75 percent of the population on Ikaria is under 65. The youngest adults, many of whom come home after college, often live in their parents’ home. They typically have to cobble together a living through small jobs and family support.
Leriadis also talked about local “mountain tea,” made from dried herbs endemic to the island, which is enjoyed as an end-of-the-day cocktail. He mentioned wild marjoram, sage (flaskomilia), a type of mint tea (fliskouni), rosemary and a drink made from boiling dandelion leaves and adding a little lemon. “People here think they’re drinking a comforting beverage, but they all double as medicine,” Leriadis said. Honey, too, is treated as a panacea. “They have types of honey here you won’t see anyplace else in the world,” he said. “They use it for everything from treating wounds to curing hangovers, or for treating influenza. Old people here will start their day with a spoonful of honey. They take it like medicine.”
Over the span of the next three days, I met some of Leriadis’s patients. In the area known as Raches, I met 20 people over 90 and one who claimed to be 104. I spoke to a 95-year-old man who still played the violin and a 98-year-old woman who ran a small hotel and played poker for money on the weekend.
On a trip the year before, I visited a slate-roofed house built into the slope at the top of a hill. I had come here after hearing of a couple who had been married for more than 75 years. Thanasis and Eirini Karimalis both came to the door, clapped their hands at the thrill of having a visitor and waved me in. They each stood maybe five feet tall. He wore a shapeless cotton shirt and a battered baseball cap, and she wore a housedress with her hair in a bun. Inside, there was a table, a medieval-looking fireplace heating a blackened pot, a nook of a closet that held one woolen suit coat, and fading black-and-white photographs of forebears on a soot-stained wall. The place was warm and cozy. “Sit down,” Eirini commanded. She hadn’t even asked my name or business but was already setting out teacups and a plate of cookies. Meanwhile, Thanasis scooted back and forth across the house with nervous energy, tidying up.
The couple were born in a nearby village, they told me. They married in their early 20s and raised five children on Thanasis’s pay as a lumberjack. Like that of almost all of Ikaria’s traditional folk, their daily routine unfolded much the way Leriadis had described it: Wake naturally, work in the garden, have a late lunch, take a nap. At sunset, they either visited neighbors or neighbors visited them. Their diet was also typical: a breakfast of goat’s milk, wine, sage tea or coffee, honey and bread. Lunch was almost always beans (lentils, garbanzos), potatoes, greens (fennel, dandelion or a spinachlike green called horta) and whatever seasonal vegetables their garden produced; dinner was bread and goat’s milk. At Christmas and Easter, they would slaughter the family pig and enjoy small portions of larded pork for the next several months.
During a tour of their property, Thanasis and Eirini introduced their pigs to me by name. Just after sunset, after we returned to their home to have some tea, another old couple walked in, carrying a glass amphora of homemade wine. The four nonagenarians cheek-kissed one another heartily and settled in around the table. They gossiped, drank wine and occasionally erupted into laughter.
Dr. Ioanna Chinou, a professor at the University of Athens School of Pharmacy, is one of Europe’s top experts on the bioactive properties of herbs and natural products. When I consulted her about Ikarians’ longevity, she told me that many of the teas they consume are traditional Greek remedies. Wild mint fights gingivitis and gastrointestinal disorders; rosemary is used as a remedy for gout; artemisia is thought to improve blood circulation. She invited me to give her samples and later tested seven of the most commonly used herbs on Ikaria. As rich sources of polyphenols, they showed strong antioxidant properties, she reported. Most of these herbs also contained mild diuretics. Doctors often use diuretics to treat hypertension — perhaps by drinking tea nightly, Ikarians have gently lowered their blood pressure throughout their lives.
Meanwhile, my colleagues Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain set out to track down the island’s 164 residents who were over 90 as of 1999, starting in the municipality of Raches. They found that 75 nonagenarians were still alive. Then, along with additional researchers, they fanned out across the island and asked 35 elderly subjects a battery of lifestyle questions to assess physical and cognitive functioning: How much do you sleep? Did you ever smoke? They asked them to get up and down from a chair five times and recorded how long it took them to walk 13 feet. To test mental agility, the researchers had subjects recall a series of items and reproduce geometric shapes.
Pes and Poulain were joined in the field by Dr. Antonia Trichopoulou of the University of Athens, an expert on the Mediterranean diet. She helped administer surveys, often sitting in village kitchens to ask subjects to reconstruct their childhood eating habits. She noted that the Ikarians’ diet, like that of others around the Mediterranean, was rich in olive oil and vegetables, low in dairy (except goat’s milk) and meat products, and also included moderate amounts of alcohol. It emphasized homegrown potatoes, beans (garbanzo, black-eyed peas and lentils), wild greens and locally produced goat milk and honey.
As I knew from my studies in other places with high numbers of very old people, every one of the Ikarians’ dietary tendencies had been linked to increased life spans: low intake of saturated fats from meat and dairy was associated with lower risk of heart disease; olive oil — especially unheated — reduced bad cholesterol and raised good cholesterol. Goat’s milk contained serotonin-boosting tryptophan and was easily digestible for older people. Some wild greens had 10 times as many antioxidants as red wine. Wine — in moderation — had been shown to be good for you if consumed as part of a Mediterranean diet, because it prompts the body to absorb more flavonoids, a type of antioxidant. And coffee, once said to stunt growth, was now associated with lower rates of diabetes, heart disease and, for some, Parkinson’s. Local sourdough bread might actually reduce a meal’s glycemic load. You could even argue that potatoes contributed heart-healthy potassium, vitamin B6 and fiber to the Ikarian diet. Another health factor at work might be the unprocessed nature of the food they consume: as Trichopoulou observed, because islanders eat greens from their gardens and fields, they consume fewer pesticides and more nutrients. She estimated that the Ikarian diet, compared with the standard American diet, might yield up to four additional years of life expectancy.
Of course, it may not be only what they’re eating; it may also be what they’re not eating. “Are they doing something positive, or is it the absence of something negative?” Gary Taubes asked when I described to him the Ikarians’ longevity and their diet. Taubes is a founder of the nonprofit Nutrition Science Initiative and the author of “Why We Get Fat” (and has written several articles for this magazine). “One explanation why they live so long is they eat a plant-based diet. Or it could be the absence of sugar and white flour. From what I know of the Greek diet, they eat very little refined sugar, and their breads have been traditionally made with stone-ground wheat.”
Following the report by Pes and Poulain, Dr. Christina Chrysohoou, a cardiologist at the University of Athens School of Medicine, teamed up with half a dozen scientists to organize the Ikaria Study, which includes a survey of the diet of 673 Ikarians. She found that her subjects consumed about six times as many beans a day as Americans, ate fish twice a week and meat five times a month, drank on average two to three cups of coffee a day and took in about a quarter as much refined sugar — the elderly did not like soda. She also discovered they were consuming high levels of olive oil along with two to four glasses of wine a day.
Chrysohoou also suspected that Ikarians’ sleep and sex habits might have something to do with their long life. She cited a 2008 paper by the University of Athens Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health that studied more than 23,000 Greek adults. The researchers followed subjects for an average of six years, measuring their diets, physical activity and how much they napped. They found that occasional napping was associated with a 12 percent reduction in the risk of coronary heart disease, but that regular napping — at least three days weekly — was associated with a 37 percent reduction. She also pointed out a preliminary study of Ikarian men between 65 and 100 that included the fact that 80 percent of them claimed to have sex regularly, and a quarter of that self-reported group said they were doing so with “good duration” and “achievement.”
During our time on Ikaria, my colleagues and I stayed at Thea Parikos’s guesthouse, the social hub of western Ikaria. Local women gathered in the dining room at midmorning to gossip over tea. Late at night, after the dinner rush, tables were pushed aside and the dining room became a dance floor, with people locking arms and kick-dancing to Greek music.
Parikos cooked the way her ancestors had for centuries, giving us a chance to consume the diet we were studying. For breakfast, she served local yogurt and honey from the 90-year-old beekeeper next door. For dinner, she walked out into the fields and returned with handfuls of weedlike greens, combined them with pumpkin and baked them into savory pies. My favorite was a dish made with black-eyed peas, tomatoes, fennel tops and garlic and finished with olive oil that we dubbed Ikarian stew.
Despite her consummately Ikarian air, Parikos was actually born in Detroit to an American father and an Ikarian mother. She had attended high school, worked as a real estate agent and married in the United States. After she and her husband had their first child, she felt a “genetic craving” for Ikaria. “I was not unhappy in America,” she said. “We had good friends, we went out to dinner on the weekends, I drove a Chevrolet. But I was always in a hurry.”
When she and her family moved to Ikaria and opened the guesthouse, everything changed. She stopped shopping for most groceries, instead planting a huge garden that provided most of their fruits and vegetables. She lost weight without trying to. I asked her if she thought her simple diet was going to make her family live longer. “Yes,” she said. “But we don’t think about it that way. It’s bigger than that.”
Although unemployment is high — perhaps as high as 40 percent — most everyone has access to a family garden and livestock, Parikos told me. People who work might have several jobs. Someone involved in tourism, for example, might also be a painter or an electrician or have a store. “People are fine here because we are very self-sufficient,” she said. “We may not have money for luxuries, but we will have food on the table and still have fun with family and friends. We may not be in a hurry to get work done during the day, so we work into the night. At the end of the day, we don’t go home to sit on the couch.”
Parikos was nursing a mug of coffee. Sunlight sifted in through the window shades; the waves of the nearby Aegean could be barely heard over the din of breakfast. “Do you know there’s no word in Greek for privacy?” she declared. “When everyone knows everyone else’s business, you get a feeling of connection and security. The lack of privacy is actually good, because it puts a check on people who don’t want to be caught or who do something to embarrass their family. If your kids misbehave, your neighbor has no problem disciplining them. There is less crime, not because of good policing, but because of the risk of shaming the family. You asked me about food, and yes, we do eat better here than in America. But it’s more about how we eat. Even if it’s your lunch break from work, you relax and enjoy your meal. You enjoy the company of whoever you are with. Food here is always enjoyed in combination with conversation.”
In the United States, when it comes to improving health, people tend to focus on exercise and what we put into our mouths — organic foods, omega-3’s, micronutrients. We spend nearly $30 billion a year on vitamins and supplements alone. Yet in Ikaria and the other places like it, diet only partly explained higher life expectancy. Exercise — at least the way we think of it, as willful, dutiful, physical activity — played a small role at best.
Social structure might turn out to be more important. In Sardinia, a cultural attitude that celebrated the elderly kept them engaged in the community and in extended-family homes until they were in their 100s. Studies have linked early retirement among some workers in industrialized economies to reduced life expectancy. In Okinawa, there’s none of this artificial punctuation of life. Instead, the notion of ikigai — “the reason for which you wake up in the morning” — suffuses people’s entire adult lives. It gets centenarians out of bed and out of the easy chair to teach karate, or to guide the village spiritually, or to pass down traditions to children. The Nicoyans in Costa Rica use the term plan de vida to describe a lifelong sense of purpose. As Dr. Robert Butler, the first director of the National Institute on Aging, once told me, being able to define your life meaning adds to your life expectancy.
The healthful plant-based diet that Seventh-day Adventists eat has been associated with an extra decade of life expectancy. It has also been linked to reduced rates of diabetes and heart disease. Adventists’ diet is inspired by the Bible — Genesis 1:29. (“And God said: ‘Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed . . . and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for food.’ ”) But again, the key insight might be more about social structure than about the diet itself. While for most people, diets eventually fail, the Adventists eat the way they do for decades. How? Adventists hang out with other Adventists. When you go to an Adventist picnic, there’s no steak grilling on the barbecue; it’s a vegetarian potluck. No one is drinking alcohol or smoking. As Nicholas Christakis, a physician and social scientist at Harvard, found when examining data from a long-term study of the residents of Framingham, Mass., health habits can be as contagious as a cold virus. By his calculation, a Framingham individual’s chances of becoming obese shot up by 57 percent if a friend became obese. Among the Adventists we looked at, it was mostly positive social contagions that were in circulation.
Ask the very old on Ikaria how they managed to live past 90, and they’ll usually talk about the clean air and the wine. Or, as one 101-year-old woman put it to me with a shrug, “We just forget to die.” The reality is they have no idea how they got to be so old. And neither do we. To answer that question would require carefully tracking the lifestyles of a study group and a control group for an entire human lifetime (and then some). We do know from reliable data that people on Ikaria are outliving those on surrounding islands (a control group, of sorts). Samos, for instance, is just eight miles away. People there with the same genetic background eat yogurt, drink wine, breathe the same air, fish from the same sea as their neighbors on Ikaria. But people on Samos tend to live no longer than average Greeks. This is what makes the Ikarian formula so tantalizing.
If you pay careful attention to the way Ikarians have lived their lives, it appears that a dozen subtly powerful, mutually enhancing and pervasive factors are at work. It’s easy to get enough rest if no one else wakes up early and the village goes dead during afternoon naptime. It helps that the cheapest, most accessible foods are also the most healthful — and that your ancestors have spent centuries developing ways to make them taste good. It’s hard to get through the day in Ikaria without walking up 20 hills. You’re not likely to ever feel the existential pain of not belonging or even the simple stress of arriving late. Your community makes sure you’ll always have something to eat, but peer pressure will get you to contribute something too. You’re going to grow a garden, because that’s what your parents did, and that’s what your neighbors are doing. You’re less likely to be a victim of crime because everyone at once is a busybody and feels as if he’s being watched. At day’s end, you’ll share a cup of the seasonal herbal tea with your neighbor because that’s what he’s serving. Several glasses of wine may follow the tea, but you’ll drink them in the company of good friends. On Sunday, you’ll attend church, and you’ll fast on Orthodox feast days. Even if you’re antisocial, you’ll never be entirely alone. Your neighbors will cajole you out of your house for the village festival to eat your portion of goat meat.
Every one of these factors can be tied to longevity. That’s what the $70 billion diet industry and $20 billion health-club industry do in their efforts to persuade us that if we eat the right food or do the right workout, we’ll be healthier, lose weight and live longer. But these strategies rarely work. Not because they’re wrong-minded: it’s a good idea for people to do any of these healthful activities. The problem is, it’s difficult to change individual behaviors when community behaviors stay the same. In the United States, you can’t go to a movie, walk through the airport or buy cough medicine without being routed through a gantlet of candy bars, salty snacks and sugar-sweetened beverages. The processed-food industry spends more than $4 billion a year tempting us to eat. How do you combat that? Discipline is a good thing, but discipline is a muscle that fatigues. Sooner or later, most people cave in to relentless temptation.
As our access to calories has increased, we’ve decreased the amount of physical activity in our lives. In 1970, about 40 percent of all children in the U.S. walked to school; now fewer than 12 percent do. Our grandparents, without exercising, burned up about five times as many calories a day in physical activity as we do. At the same time, access to food has exploded.
Despite the island’s relative isolation, its tortuous roads and the fierce independence of its inhabitants, the American food culture, among other forces, is beginning to take root in Ikaria. Village markets are now selling potato chips and soda, which in my experience is replacing tea as the drink of choice among younger Ikarians. As the island’s ancient traditions give way before globalization, the gap between Ikarian life spans and those of the rest of the world seems to be gradually disappearing, as the next generations of old people become less likely to live quite so long.
The big aha for me, having studied populations of the long-lived for nearly a decade, is how the factors that encourage longevity reinforce one another over the long term. For people to adopt a healthful lifestyle, I have become convinced, they need to live in an ecosystem, so to speak, that makes it possible. As soon as you take culture, belonging, purpose or religion out of the picture, the foundation for long healthy lives collapses. The power of such an environment lies in the mutually reinforcing relationships among lots of small nudges and default choices. There’s no silver bullet to keep death and the diseases of old age at bay. If there’s anything close to a secret, it’s silver buckshot.
I called Moraitis a few weeks ago from my home in Minneapolis. Elpiniki died in the spring at age 85, and now he lives alone. He picked up the phone in the same whitewashed house that he’d moved into 35 years ago. It was late afternoon in Ikaria. He had worked in his vineyard that morning and just awakened from a nap. We chatted for a few minutes, but then he warned me that some of his neighbors were coming over for a drink in a few minutes and he’d have to go. I had one last question for him. How does he think he recovered from lung cancer?
“It just went away,” he said. “I actually went back to America about 25 years after moving here to see if the doctors could explain it to me.”
I had heard this part of the story before. It had become a piece of the folklore of Ikaria, proof of its exceptional way of life. Still, I asked him, “What happened?”
“My doctors were all dead.”
This article is adapted from new material being published in the second edition of “Blue Zones,” by Dan Buettner, out next month from National Geographic.
Editor: Dean Robinson
In the USA...
October 24, 2012
E-Mails Offer Glimpse at What U.S. Knew in First Hours After Attack in Libya
By ERIC SCHMITT
WASHINGTON — A series of three leaked e-mails sent by State Department officials beginning shortly after the fatal attack began on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, last month — including one that alerted the White House Situation Room that a militant group had claimed responsibility for it — stirred new debate on Wednesday about the Obama administration’s shifting positions on the cause of the attack.
The first e-mail, sent about a half-hour after the assault began, said the State Department’s regional security officer in Tripoli, Libya, had reported that the mission in Benghazi was under attack, and that “20 armed people fired shots.”
An e-mail 49 minutes later said the firing at the mission “has stopped and the compound has been cleared,” while a response team was trying to find people.
In the next message, 1 hour 13 minutes after the second, the embassy in Tripoli reported that a local militant group, Ansar al-Shariah, had claimed responsibility through postings on Facebook and Twitter.
In the hours after the Benghazi attack, American spy agencies intercepted electronic communications from Ansar al-Shariah fighters bragging to an operative with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Al Qaeda’s North African arm. But Ansar al-Shariah has publicly denied having anything to do with the attack.
A White House spokesman, Jay Carney, with President Obama on Air Force One on Wednesday, said the e-mails, reported by Reuters, were unclassified and among “all sorts of information that was becoming available in the aftermath of the attack.”
The e-mails surfaced as the Tunisian government confirmed it had arrested a Tunisian man reportedly linked to the attack, which killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans on Sept. 11.
A spokesman for the Tunisian Interior Ministry, Tarrouch Khaled, told The Associated Press that the suspect, Ali Harzi, 28, was in custody in Tunis. Mr. Khaled did not provide details.
Some Republicans have criticized the United States ambassador to the United Nations, Susan E. Rice, for stating five days after the attack that it had resulted from a spontaneous mob that was angry about an anti-Islamic video, even though some intelligence reports and witness accounts indicated a terrorist attack. Ms. Rice said she had based her comments on unclassified talking points prepared by the Central Intelligence Agency.
The issue seemed to die down after Mitt Romney did not press Mr. Obama on the matter in their debate on Monday night.
On Wednesday, three Republican senators, John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, criticized Mr. Obama in a letter, saying the series of e-mails “only adds to the confusion surrounding what you and your administration knew about the attacks in Benghazi, when you knew it, and why you responded to those tragic events in the ways you did.”
Intelligence officials say the gap between the talking points and the contemporaneous field reports illustrates the lag between turning often contradictory and incomplete field reporting into a finished assessment.
Administration and intelligence officials made that point again on Wednesday in trying to put into context the e-mails sent by the State Department operations center to scores of officials at the Pentagon, the State Department and the White House.
“You know, posting something on Facebook is not in and of itself evidence, and I think it just underscores how fluid the reporting was at the time and continued some time to be,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters in Washington.
October 24, 2012
Shifting Mood May End Blank Check for U.S. Security Efforts
By SCOTT SHANE
WASHINGTON — Last week, a Bangladeshi student was charged in an F.B.I. sting operation with plotting to blow up the Federal Reserve Bank in New York. A Somali-American man was convicted of sending young recruits from Minneapolis to a terrorist group in Somalia. In Libya, extremists responsible for the killing of four Americans last month in Benghazi remained at large.
The drumbeat of terrorism news never quite stops. And as a result, for 11 years since the Sept. 11 attacks, the security colossus constructed to protect the nation from Al Qaeda and its ilk has continued to grow, propelled by public anxiety, stunning advances in surveillance technology and lavish spending — about $690 billion over a decade, by one estimate, not including the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Now that may be changing. The looming federal budget crunch, a sense that major attacks on the United States are unlikely and new bipartisan criticism of the sprawling counterterrorism bureaucracy may mean that the open checkbook era is nearing an end.
While the presidential candidates have clashed over security for American diplomats in Libya, their campaigns have barely mentioned domestic security. That is for a reason: fewer than one-half of 1 percent of Americans, in a Gallup poll in September, said that terrorism was the country’s most important problem.
But the next administration may face a decision: Has the time come to scale back security spending, eliminating the least productive programs? Or, with tumult in the Arab world and America still a prime target, would that be dangerous?
Many security experts believe that a retrenchment is inevitable and justified.
“After 9/11, we had to respond with everything we had, not knowing what would work best,” said Rick Nelson, a former Navy helicopter pilot who served in several counterterrorism positions and is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “That’s a model we can no longer afford, financially or politically.”
Michael V. Hayden, who led both the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks, agrees that the time will come for security spending to be scaled back and believes that citizens need to decide when that should happen. Personally, he would wait a while longer.
“I would stand fast for now,” said Mr. Hayden, who is an adviser to Mitt Romney.
In the view of most specialists, the danger to United States territory from Al Qaeda and its allies is far less than it was in 2001. Al Qaeda’s leaders have been relentlessly hunted, its ideology was rejected by most of the young Muslims who led the Arab revolts, and its recruits in the United States have been few. Of more than 160,000 homicides in the country since Sept. 11, 2001, just 14 were carried out by Qaeda sympathizers in the name of jihad.
Some of the credit is no doubt due to domestic security efforts, which cost $470 billion in federal money, $110 billion in state and local budgets and $110 billion in private-sector spending from 2002 to 2011, according to John Mueller, a political scientist at Ohio State University. That money has paid for an alphabet soup of new agencies: the Department of Homeland Security, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the National Counterterrorism Center, the Terrorist Screening Center and many others, each with a supporting cast of contractors. Old agencies like the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. have bulked up, and a record 4.8 million people hold security clearances.
Any move to trim the counterterrorism bureaucracy will face daunting opposition. Some Americans will worry that cutbacks could put them at risk. Members of Congress will fear being labeled soft on terrorism. Lobbyists will fight to protect the lucrative domestic security sector.
For years, counterterrorism programs have been met mostly with cheerleading on Capitol Hill, despite billions spent on programs that turned out to be troubled or ineffective: “puffer” machines for airport screening that were warehoused, a high-tech surveillance program on the border with Mexico that was shut down, costly machines to sniff city air for biological weapons that produced too many false positives.
No previous Congressional criticism of counterterrorism programs, however, has been quite so scathing as a bipartisan Senate subcommittee report this month on more than 70 “fusion centers” nationwide, created to help federal, state and local authorities share threat information. The two-year investigation found that the centers had failed to help disrupt a single terrorist plot, even as they spent hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars and infringed on civil liberties.
But the reaction to the report illustrated why it will be difficult to cut even marginal programs. Senior senators, the Department of Homeland Security and a half-dozen law enforcement groups rushed to criticize the report and defend the centers, which, not coincidentally, provide jobs and spending in every state.
Philip B. Heymann, a Harvard law professor and a former deputy attorney general, said that after every war there had been an adjustment that shrank the security establishment and eased wartime controls to restore the balance of power between the government and the citizenry.
“If you want the America we built over 200 years, we always have to be looking for ways to ratchet back these controls when it’s safe,” said Mr. Heymann, who is writing a book on the subject. “If we tried, we could find a number of places where we could move back toward the normal of 2000 without reducing security.”
Like other intelligence officials after 2001, Mr. Hayden was whipsawed by public wrath: first, for failing to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks, and then, a few years later, for having permitted the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on terrorism suspects in the United States without court approval.
Perhaps, as a result, he often says that the American people need to instruct the government on where to draw the line. He told an audience at the University of Michigan last month, for instance, that while a plot on the scale of the Sept. 11 attacks was highly unlikely, smaller terrorist strikes, like the shootings by an Army psychiatrist at Fort Hood in Texas in 2009, could not always be stopped.
“I can actually work to make this less likely than it is today,” Mr. Hayden said. “But the question I have for you is: What of your privacy, what of your convenience, what of your commerce do you want to give up?”
A big problem for Mr. Hayden’s formula is government secrecy, which makes it tough for any citizen to assess counterterrorism programs, their value and their intrusion on people’s privacy. Ubiquitous new technology has made it far easier for agencies to keep watch on Americans, using cellphones that track location, Internet monitoring, video surveillance cameras, facial recognition software and license plate readers. And the government increasingly taps into the huge amounts of data that companies gather.
“I think the greatest threat to privacy these days is the enormous amount of data in the hands of private companies that could be misused — either by the government or by companies,” said John Villasenor, an electrical engineer at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studies the social impact of technology. “Today almost everything we do is recorded by default.”
Consider the counterterrorism databases that the F.B.I. has built, largely in secret, with names like Investigative Data Warehouse and Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force Data Mart. One public glimpse — a heavily redacted 2006 list of materials in the Data Mart obtained by Wired magazine under the Freedom of Information Act — suggests the sweep of information being gathered: sprawling data collections from dozens of government agencies, on subjects like suspicious bank transactions and lost passports; voluminous records from commercial data collectors like Acxiom, ChoicePoint and Accurint (which alone accounted for 175 million entries); even hotel guest records.
An F.B.I. spokesman, Christopher M. Allen, declined to provide a current list of data in the system. But he said F.B.I. rules gave “greater overall protections for privacy than the law requires” and were strictly enforced by bureau lawyers.
Such official assurances do not comfort civil libertarians. Marc Rotenberg, the executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington watchdog group, said that the easing of government incursions on privacy and rights that traditionally followed a war may not come this time, because the technology-driven “architecture of surveillance and security” remained in place.
“We’re still left with this largely unaccountable infrastructure,” Mr. Rotenberg said. “As long as we don’t begin to dismantle that, I’m not sure we will ever move past 9/11.”
October 24, 2012
Terrorism Suspect Threatens to Boycott His Trial
By CHARLIE SAVAGE
FORT MEADE, Md. — A Saudi man accused of helping to plot Al Qaeda’s attack on the destroyer Cole in 2000 told a military commission judge at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, on Wednesday that he would boycott his case if military guards forced him to wear chains as a condition of coming to court.
The defendant, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, stood behind a desk and delivered a monologue several minutes long about what he portrayed as bad treatment and unnecessarily “aggressive” security measures by prison guards. A car that takes him to court is uncomfortable and makes him vomit, he said, and belly chains hurt his “bad back.”
“I intend to attend all future sessions,” Mr. Nashiri said. “But if the guards do not treat me better, I have the right not to come. And let the world know that the judge sentenced me to death because I didn’t show up to court due to chains.”
Mr. Nashiri stayed in his cell on Tuesday during the first day of a pretrial motions hearing that was held at Guantánamo and shown to reporters here in suburban Maryland. He was compelled to attend on Wednesday by the judge, Col. James L. Pohl of the Army, for the purpose of being informed in person that he had the right not to attend such sessions, but that doing so could damage his defense.
Prosecutors have sought to compel Mr. Nashiri’s attendance, lest his absence from the trial raise a question about its fairness that could become the basis for an appeal after any conviction. Mr. Nashiri’s lawyers have argued that their client was tortured by the Central Intelligence Agency in ways that make the security steps associated with involuntarily attendance damaging to their client’s mental and physical health, and have asked for a medical evaluation.
The Cole bombing, near Aden, Yemen, in 2000, killed 17 Americans. Mr. Nashiri is one of several people accused of planning the attack. He was captured in 2002 and held in secret overseas C.I.A. prisons until 2006, when he was transferred to Guantánamo Bay.
The hearing on Wednesday played out against the approaching threat from Hurricane Sandy. It was forecast to hit southeast Cuba by Thursday morning. Colonel Pohl ordered the hearing to proceed, seeking to get through as many issues as possible before the storm intervened.
Richard Kammen, a civilian lawyer for Mr. Nashiri, urged the judge to throw out the charges. He argued that the United States was not at war in Yemen at the time of the bombing and did not go to war in response to it, so it was a peacetime crime that could be prosecuted in a civilian court, but not before a military commission.
But Anthony Mattivi, one of the prosecutors, argued that Congress and the executive branch had agreed that it was appropriate for tribunals to handle offenses like the Cole bombing as long as the military jury decides that the act took place “within the context of hostilities,” even if the United States was not yet at war.
The clean-shaven Mr. Nashiri wore a gray suit jacket over white clothing. He had short hair, wore no turban and put on his earphones to listen to a simultaneous translation.
His appearance was in striking contrast to that of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other defendants facing charges over the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. At their motions hearing last week, the five men generally refused to wear their earphones, so the military installed a speaker nearby to provide a low-volume translation. Mr. Mohammed wore a turban and a camouflage hunting jacket, and had long hair and a bushy beard dyed in a reddish hennalike color, in accordance with a custom in the Middle East.
It had been a mystery where Mr. Mohammed was getting the dye for his beard since he first appeared that way at his arraignment in the spring. As first reported this week by The Miami Herald, a Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, said Mr. Mohammed was using berries and fruit juices from his meals to stain his beard.
October 24, 2012
Reid’s Machine Powers Obama in Nevada Test
By ADAM NAGOURNEY
LAS VEGAS — Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. sat onstage before a crowd of culinary workers here the other morning, listening intently to a man who is not on the ballot but might hold the key to a victory for President Obama in economically ravaged Nevada.
“Mr. Vice President, let me give you some real numbers here,” Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader, said to union members who had screamed “Harry!” when he poked his head around a curtain. “These people and others have filled 26 field offices around Nevada and have made 3.2 million phone calls. Obama-Biden has 255 team leaders. Mr. Vice President, these folks have registered 70,000 new voters. Three hundred and twenty-five thousand door knocks.”
Mr. Reid has spent the last 10 years building a political machine that helped Mr. Obama win Nevada in 2008 and carried Mr. Reid to a re-election victory two years ago that stunned many pollsters. It is widely praised — even by Republicans — as one of the most effective voter-organizing and money-raising political organizations.
But the Reid machine is facing its biggest test yet.
Mr. Reid’s organization is a large reason that Mr. Obama is favored by many analysts to win narrowly in Nevada, despite what may be the worst economic climate in the nation and a sizable population of voters who, like Mitt Romney, are Mormons. Mr. Reid, who has long been strongly supportive of Mr. Obama in Washington — he maneuvered the president’s health care bill through legislative hoops to an unlikely victory in the Senate — has made it clear that he views a victory for Mr. Obama in his state as a personal mission. This reflects not only his admiration for the president but also his visceral dislike for Mr. Romney, expressed in constant needling and attacks for almost six months.
Even more ambitiously (and perhaps more problematically), Mr. Reid is determined, friends say, to lift Representative Shelley Berkley, a Democrat, to victory over Senator Dean Heller, a Republican, as he seeks to make sure that he does not return to Washington next year as the Senate minority leader.
Mr. Romney is campaigning here for two days this week — both he and Mr. Obama were in the state on Wednesday — backed up by a surge of new advertising, reflecting the importance that both he and the president have placed on this state’s six electoral votes.
In a contrast that has been noted by the Romney camp, the Nevada Republican Party has collapsed in a storm of factionalism and infighting between Tea Party conservatives and party regulars. A contingent of supporters of Representative Ron Paul of Texas, an unsuccessful Republican presidential candidate, ousted the party leadership in a showdown in the spring.
Mr. Romney’s campaign responded by building a parallel political organization, Team Nevada, to match the combined forces of the Reid organization and Obama for America, which built on what Mr. Reid had in place. Aides to Mr. Romney said they had made considerable progress. Hundreds of Romney volunteers, many bused in from Southern California and Utah, gathered recently outside the campaign’s headquarters at a Las Vegas shopping center before heading out in white vans to knock on doors in Clark County.
Still, the aides did not dispute the advantage that Mr. Reid had created for the president.
“Turnout is going to be important,” said Ryan Erwin, Mr. Romney’s senior adviser here. “And, candidly, the Reid machine and the Democrats have been better and more disciplined than we have been for the better part of a decade.”
For all the ways that presidential elections are portrayed as national affairs — and for all the technology that has transformed the relationship between candidates and voters — the basic get-out-the-vote mechanics that have empowered political organizations for 100 years remain critical in elections. (Or, at least, close elections. A good organization can, at best, add two or three percentage points to a candidate’s vote share, analysts said.)
The Reid army may be using modern tools — volunteers can be spotted walking through neighborhoods with iPads linked to headquarters, feeding and updating information on potential voters — but the intent is the same as ever: finding people who like your candidate and making sure they vote.
“Reid, working with various leaders of the Democratic Party, put together a very effective voting machine that’s gotten better every election,” said Eric Herzik, a professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Reno. “Reid is the conduit to money for candidates, he is a conduit to organized labor, and he has great relations with multiple groups around the state.”
Several early indicators have attested to the effectiveness of the Democratic machine, which draws on the state party, powerful unions like the culinary group Mr. Reid spoke to last week, and the staff members and resources the Obama campaign dispatched to this state.
Voter registration in Nevada closed earlier this month, leaving the Democrats with an edge of 90,000 voters over the Republicans, up from an advantage of 60,000 voters two years ago, the secretary of state’s office reported. (Mr. Reid understated the figure in his speech last week.) Democrats have substantially outpaced Republicans in early voting, another way to measure political organization.
The obstacles for Mr. Obama here are considerable. The state’s unemployment rate was 11.8 percent in September, a drop from 12.1 percent the month before but still the highest in the nation, and the state has been racked by mortgage foreclosures.
“I don’t think that anyone believes that Obama supporters are going to be as motivated this year as they were in 2008,” said Mason Harrison, the communications director for Mr. Romney’s campaign here.
In Mr. Reid, Republicans face an opponent who is fiercely combative and wily, with a command of the ebbs and flows of his state. He is loyal to those he likes (Barack Obama) and unrelenting against those he does not (Mitt Romney).
He has been one of Mr. Romney’s top tormentors, at one point claiming that he had failed to pay any federal income taxes for the past 10 years, an assertion that was debunked when Mr. Romney released information on two years of income taxes.
“The man who is leading the Republican ticket for president of the United States is giving used-car salesmen a bad name,” Mr. Reid said at the rally here.
Mr. Reid’s campaign to rebuild the Democratic Party was motivated by self-preservation after he almost lost re-election to John Ensign in 1998 and Republicans went on in 2002 to sweep every contested statewide office.
He displayed his ability to turn out voters in 2010 when he defeated his Republican opponent, Sharron Angle, by five percentage points, after many analysts — and polls — predicted that he was headed for defeat.
Mr. Herzik said he had followed Reid workers to observe their efforts in neighborhoods. “They are like dogs on meat,” he said.
Mr. Erwin, the Romney adviser, said that for all the work he and other Republicans had done to catch up, he did not dispute that characterization.
“We do know how to run Republican organizations here — for the first time since 2002, the Republican Party is strong,” he said. “But I don’t harbor any misconceptions that we’ve caught up to something that Democrats have built up over a decade.”
October 24, 2012
Politics Can be a Dirty Business. And Then There Are House Races in Florida ...
By LIZETTE ALVAREZ
MIAMI — In an election year awash with partisan fury, Florida can lay claim to some of the nastiest and most personal House battles in the country.
Near Orlando, a debate between two House candidates — one a Tea Party favorite, the other a Democratic firebrand — descended into name-calling and a command to “shut up.”
In Miami, Representative David Rivera, a Republican, is seeking re-election amid accusations of political skulduggery during the primary campaign and a criminal investigation into a separate matter.
Farther north, on the Treasure Coast, Representative Allen West and his Democratic challenger, Patrick Murphy, are thumping each other with television advertisements that portray Mr. Murphy as an irresponsible party boy (complete with a 2003 mug shot after a South Beach bar brawl) and Mr. West as a man with a tarnished military career.
“Nasty is the new normal in Florida,” said Dan Gelber, a former state senator and Democratic leader in the State Capitol who is not inclined to shirk from the state’s political tussles. “Politics here is very gutterlike. It’s like a very bad reality TV show that still gets very high ratings.”
Because elections are so tight and a small number of votes can decide races, each voter is highly coveted and doggedly targeted.
“It’s a true swing state, and a close state ignites people’s passions,” said Roger Stone, a longtime Republican consultant who lives in Miami Beach. Add to that the state’s mix of immigrants, many from countries well practiced in tainted politics, and New Yorkers, who are accustomed to delighting in political rumbles, and the result is not altogether unpredictable.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in South Florida.
Since he was elected to Congress in 2010, Mr. Rivera, one of three Republican Cuban-American House members from Miami, has been dogged by allegations of wrongdoing while he was a state legislator. On Wednesday he was charged by the Florida Commission on Ethics with 11 counts of filing fraudulent financial disclosure forms, misusing campaign funds and concealing a $1 million consulting contract with a Miami gambling business while he served in the State House.
Mr. Rivera, who was Senator Marco Rubio’s roommate when both were state representatives, called the charges false in a statement, but he is also confronting another series of damaging accusations.
The Miami Herald has reported that Mr. Rivera ran a puppet candidate in the Democratic primary against his Democratic challenger, Joe Garcia, who lost to Mr. Rivera in 2010. The candidate, Justin Lamar Sternad, a part-time hotel worker with no political experience, has told the F.B.I. that Mr. Rivera was secretly behind his race, The Herald reported. The newspaper said Mr. Rivera funneled as much as $43,000 to Mr. Sternad, who paid cash this summer for expensive campaign fliers attacking Mr. Garcia. A federal grand jury is investigating.
One witness in the case — a political operative who describes herself on Twitter as a “Republican Political Guru and Conservative Bad Girl!” — vanished hours before she was scheduled to talk to prosecutors. Mr. Rivera, who declined through his lawyer to comment, has said he has done nothing wrong and knows of no investigation.
“We are not going to respond to unfounded rumors and innuendo,” said his lawyer, Michael R. Band. But, he added, “it’s like a Carl Hiaasen novel.”
Analysts say Mr. Garcia stands a good chance of winning next month. And if so, he would be a new breed of Cuban-American in the House: a Democrat who supports travel by Americans to Cuba.
Meanwhile, his party has stepped back from Mr. Rivera.
“I know the Republicans are putting enormous pressure on him to drop out,” Mr. Stone said, adding that Mr. Rubio has been asked to intervene.
But Mr. Rivera, who was named the most corrupt member of Congress this year by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, a nonpartisan group in Washington, has refused to back down. Recently, he ran a television advertisement saying, inaccurately, that Mr. Garcia was “under investigation for breaking the law.”
Last week, Mr. Garcia counterpunched, starting a Web site,
davidriverafacts.com, delineating the accusations. An accompanying video warns: “The more we know, the worse it gets.”
Caustic races are nothing new to Alan Grayson, a brash, blunt Democrat from Orlando who was elected to the House in 2008, only to lose two years later to Daniel Webster, a Republican.
Known for provocation, Mr. Grayson described the Republican Party’s health care plan in 2009 as “die quickly.” He once compared former Vice President Dick Cheney to a vampire. And in 2010, he ran a television advertisement calling Mr. Webster “Taliban Daniel Webster” — Taliban Dan, for short — for his views on women and marriage, and his connection to a Christian group. The spot was widely criticized.
“I’m saying what a lot of other people are thinking and nobody else is saying,” Mr. Grayson said. “People should be allowed to see a doctor when they’re sick. If you work, you ought to have a pension, insurance, vacation and sick leave, and your taxes should be lower than Mitt Romney’s.”
“What the heck has happened?” he asked.
But Mr. Grayson, 54, a native New Yorker who put himself through Harvard as a janitor and night watchman, is back, running in a new Democratic-friendly district against Todd Long, a Tea Party activist who has lost two previous House races.
“This time we don’t have five and a half million dollars in vicious personal ads against me,” Mr. Grayson said, referring to the 2010 race as “an onslaught of sewer money.”
So far, Mr. Grayson has faced no ads paid for by Mr. Long. He has outraised Mr. Long by 55 to 1 and has run weeks of advertisements that, among other things, blasted Mr. Long for wanting to “dismantle” Social Security. Mr. Long backs a plan to privatize the program for people under 55 and raise the retirement age to 72.
Amid mentions of Aristophanes and hexadecimals on his online posts, Mr. Grayson also calls his opponent a “miscreant,” and does not shy away from poking at Mr. Long’s conviction for drunken driving and his divorce.
Without much money, Mr. Long, a Christian conservative who has said that he is also running against the Republican establishment, has little recourse but to lob his own word bombs.
“He’s a bully,” Mr. Long said. “His record is complete lies and meanness.”
A debate last month between the two candidates immediately deteriorated.
“The first thing I want you to know is if I go to Congress, I’m not going to be a character assassin,” Mr. Long said right away. “I’m not going to try to divide the nation, call Democrats names.”
“You know this is nonsense,” Mr. Grayson interjected.
“Don’t shout at me, Mr. Grayson,” Mr. Long said seconds later.
And so it went. Mr. Grayson called Mr. Long a liar. Mr. Long, angry at being interrupted, snapped at Mr. Grayson, “Hey, you can shut up.”
The atmosphere is no less heated in the tight race between Mr. West, an outspoken conservative, and Mr. Murphy, his 29-year-old Democratic opponent, who is fighting back hard in his first political race. Both are running in a new district that encompasses Martin County, St. Lucie County and a part of Palm Beach County.
In late September, Mr. West, a former Army lieutenant colonel and battalion commander, released a scathing television advertisement that juxtaposed his day on Feb. 16, 2003 (preparing his men for war in Iraq) with Mr. Murphy’s (getting into a drunken bar fight and “verbally assaulting a police officer”).
While Mr. Murphy was arrested that night for disorderly intoxication and possessing a fake driver’s license, the case was later dropped, and he has called it “the biggest mistake of my life.”
But Mr. Murphy retaliated a week later, telling voters in an ad that Mr. West was forced to leave the military. The military did charge Mr. West with aggravated assault in 2003 for using his gun to coerce an Iraqi during an interrogation, but it then decided against court-martialing him. Mr. West was fined $5,000 and relieved of his command.
The final Army report said Mr. West “performed illegal acts, merited court-martial, faced 11 years in prison,’ ” the ad says. Mr. West called the add “a smear.”
Carlos Harrison contributed reporting.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: October 24, 2012
An earlier version of this article mistakenly said Joe Garcia opposes the United States embargo on Cuba.
October 24, 2012
Romney Is Upbeat, but Math Is the Same
By JEFF ZELENY and ASHLEY PARKER
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Mitt Romney is savoring the energy surrounding his candidacy, talking with rising confidence about his ability to overtake President Obama in the closing days of the race.
He dwells far less on the biggest obstacle facing his campaign: the Electoral College.
A decade after taking the first steps in his quest to win the White House, Mr. Romney can finally see the presidency within his grasp, his advisers say. To many Republicans, he sounds more presidential than at any other moment of his campaign, a point that was not lost on his audience Wednesday in Nevada, when he declared: “If I’m elected — no, when I’m elected.”
But the swelling crowds and the fresh optimism among his supporters do not minimize the challenge confronting him across a wide landscape of battleground states, where Mr. Romney must win a series of individual statewide races, rather than a national contest. His room for error is so slight, one adviser said, the mathematics could be more daunting than the politics.
The enthusiasm gathering around Mr. Romney came into view on Wednesday as he traveled through Colorado, Nevada and Iowa, appearing before thousands of supporters as he fought to keep alive the sense that he had gained stature and credibility as an alternative to Mr. Obama at the debates and was on an upward trajectory.
Cultivating the image that he is a winner, his aides say, could be Mr. Romney’s best strategy for actually winning.
“I’m optimistic, I’m optimistic,” Mr. Romney told supporters Wednesday night in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, repeating the word throughout his rally. “Not just about winning — we are going to win, by the way, we’re going to do that. I’m more optimistic about the future for America.”
If that confidence is welcomed by Mr. Romney’s supporters, who far outnumber the crowds at most Republican rallies four years ago at this point, the mood is more guarded back at hisheadquarters in Boston, where the campaign is trying “not to get caught up in the moment,” in the words of one aide.
The Romney team is mindful that the new enthusiasm has not opened any new paths to winning 270 electoral votes. The campaign continues to keep an eye on trying to make a late run at Pennsylvania, advisers said, but it remains more of a last-ditch option.
The most efficient way for Mr. Romney to win still rests on the 18 electoral votes of Ohio, where he arrived Wednesday evening for a two-day visit that will take him to nearly every corner of the state. His fight to win Ohio — the highest priority of both campaigns this week — resembles a governor’s race more than a presidential campaign.
“It’s a game of inches in Ohio,” said Scott Jennings, the Ohio campaign manager for Mr. Romney. “We’re fighting for every inch of ground.”
The Republican and Democratic tickets have spent more time in Ohio than in any other state this month, with Mr. Obama scheduled to arrive in Cleveland on Thursday after having visited Dayton only two days earlier. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. finished a three-day swing on Wednesday and Representative Paul D. Ryan is opening a two-day tour on Saturday.
A Time Magazine poll released Wednesday showed Mr. Obama with a five-point edge over Mr. Romney in Ohio, 49 percent to 44 percent, which is within the margin of sampling error. Party strategists on both sides say the race appears to be remarkably close, but two senior Republican officials here said that they believed Mr. Obama had a slight advantage and that they worried that Mr. Romney’s gains had leveled off.
Advisers to Mr. Romney argue that they can win the election without winning Ohio, but it means that the campaign must perform nearly flawlessly in every other battleground. One aide referred to Ohio as “still the big nut to crack,” but a victory would probably mean that Mr. Obama’s Midwestern firewall of Iowa and Wisconsin also was highly vulnerable.
While Mr. Obama can win re-election by carrying Iowa, Ohio and Wisconsin, in addition to holding the other Democratic-leaning states across the country, Mr. Romney must capture more states. Even if he wins Ohio, Mr. Romney still must win Florida, North Carolina, Virginia — and one more state.
The outcome, advisers to both candidates said, could hinge to a large degree on the performance of both candidates over the next 12 days. At the debates, Mr. Romney’s strong showing exceeded expectations of even many of his supporters. His campaigning has been far more uneven throughout the year, and aides said they were bracing for the possibility of a gaffe.
But projecting confidence — and reminding voters of the debates — is now a central piece of Mr. Romney’s strategy. He told supporters on Wednesday that the Obama campaign was “slipping and shrinking,” a phrase that his aides say he intends to carry into Ohio.
“I’m not sure whether you’ve been watching TV, but we’ve had a number of debates lately. Have you noticed that?” Mr. Romney said, speaking to a crowd in Reno. “They have really propelled our campaign. We’re seeing that across the country.”
While both campaigns are still advertising in nine battleground states, advisers to both sides say that the most competitive fight is now taking place in seven: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin. A huge get-out-the-vote effort is under way in all states, with only a sliver of undecided voters remaining.
Stuart Stevens, a senior strategist for Mr. Romney, said the most effective way to harness the momentum gained over the last month was to keep talking about the future — beyond Election Day.
“It’s a status quo vs. a change argument,” Mr. Stevens said. “We feel very good about the predicate that’s been laid. People have heard their choices.”
Jeff Zeleny reported from Columbus, Ohio, and Ashley Parker from Reno, Nev.
Ozone hole over Antarctic 2nd smallest in two decades
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 24, 2012 22:29 EDT
WASHINGTON — The seasonal hole in the ozone layer above the Antarctic this year was the second smallest in two decades, but still covered an area roughly the size of North America, US experts said.
The average size of the Earth’s protective shield was 6.9 million square miles (17.9 million square kilometers), according to satellite measurements by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and US space agency NASA.
“It happened to be a bit warmer this year high in the atmosphere above Antarctica, and that meant we didn’t see quite as much ozone depletion as we saw last year, when it was colder,” said Jim Butler of NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in the Colorado city of Boulder.
The Antarctic ozone hole, which forms in September and October, reached its largest size for the season — 8.2 million square miles, roughly the combined area of the United States, Mexico and Canada — on September 22, NOAA said.
In comparison, the largest ozone hole recorded to date was one of 11.5 million square miles in the year 2000.
The ozone layer — which helps protect the Earth from potentially dangerous ultraviolet rays that can cause skin cancer and cataracts — began developing holes on an annual basis starting in the 1980s due to chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs.
CFCs, once commonly used in refrigerators and aerosol cans, now are almost non-existent thanks to an international treaty signed on September 16, 1987, amid global concern over widening holes in the ozone layer.
Still, it could take another decade before scientists detect early signs that the ozone over the Antarctic is returning, NOAA said.
The ozone layer above Antarctica likely will not return to its early 1980s state until about 2060, according to NASA scientist Paul Newman.
October 26, 2012
The Curse of Corruption in Europe's East
By DAN BILEFSKY
BUCHAREST — This summer, after the police arrived at the handsome villa of the former Romanian prime minister Adrian Nastase to arrest him on corruption charges, he apparently pulled out a revolver and tried to kill himself. Millions of Romanians watched on television as Mr. Nastase, 62, was carried off on a stretcher, a Burberry scarf wrapped around his neck. He survived, and one week later was behind bars.
But this is Romania, where everything, it seems, is a matter of dispute.
Anti-corruption advocates hailed Mr. Nastase’s downfall as a seminal moment in the evolution of a young democracy. Others have called his conviction for siphoning $2 million in state funds for his presidential campaign a show trial. Mr. Nastase’s opponents now allege that he faked a suicide attempt in an effort to avoid prison. His son Andrei Nastase, who was at the house at the time, said the accusation was absurd.
Whatever the truth, Adrian Nastase now occupies a cell measuring 4 square meters, or 43 square feet. On his jailhouse blog, he recently recounted how prisoners ate cabbage and potatoes, braved rats and had hot water for two hours twice a week.
Today, analysts here and abroad say the Nastase case has come to reveal as much about Romania’s political polarization and dysfunction as its halting steps toward greater democracy. It comes amid heightened fears in the European Union that its newest and weakest members are not up to the task of rooting out corruption that is a legacy of decades of Communist rule and, indeed, of weak governance before that.
Across Eastern and Central Europe and the Balkans, countries are experiencing a surge of instability that, analysts say, stems almost in equal parts from endemic corruption and the sometimes ham-fisted efforts to combat it in the context of bitter political rivalries.
The European Union, with 27 member nations, is so concerned about creeping lawlessness among its new members that Romania and its neighbor Bulgaria, which both entered in 2007, have not joined the bloc’s passport/visa-free travel area. On Thursday, the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, said concerns about corruption and fraud in Romania had prompted it to block E.U. development aid, potentially worth billions of euros.
In Croatia, which is set to join the European Union next year, former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader has been charged with embezzlement.
Romania, in particular, has struggled to overcome the aftermath of the ruthless, corrupt dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu. Over the past six years, 4,700 people have gone to trial on corruption charges, including 15 ministers and secretaries of state, 23 members of Parliament and more than 500 police officers.
To many, Mr. Nastase, a former member of the Communist elite who was prime minister from 2000 to 2004, is emblematic of a generation of still active politicians who assumed that power and influence could shelter them from the law. Once asked to account for his apparent wealth, he defiantly roared, “Count my eggs!” a Romanian slang word for genitals.
Monica Macovei, a former justice minister who is close to Mr. Nastase’s archrival President Traian Basescu, said that “There are too many people from the Communist era like Nastase who are still in power, and this has polluted the political class.”
She said the former Communist bloc was struggling to root out corruption, in part because in the push to join the European Union, the new member states of the east had rushed through judicial reforms it had taken Western Europe centuries to put in place.
Mr. Nastase’s suicide attempt, she said, was pure “theater.”
While few but Mr. Nastase’s closest allies — including the current prime minister, Victor Ponta — have sympathy for a man known as “Seven-Houses Nastase” by the Romanian news media because of his opulent lifestyle, some have questioned the zeal of his prosecution.
Mr. Nastase’s lawyers gave a litany of judicial abuses in his case, chief among them that the prosecution called 972 witnesses — more than in the Nuremberg trials — while the defense was permitted to call only 5. They said prosecutors had brazenly charged Mr. Nastase as leader of a party rather than as a former prime minister to avoid the required parliamentary approval of the charges.
Victor Alistar, head of the Romanian branch of Transparency International, an anti-corruption watchdog, said the lopsided nature of the prosecution raised questions about whether Mr. Nastase had received a fair trial, regardless of his reputation.
“If you are going to catch a big fish,” Mr. Alistar said, “you need to do it properly.”
Prosecutors said so many had testified against Mr. Nastase because the corruption was so widespread. During his trial, they charged that under Mr. Nastase’s influence, companies were pressured into taking part in a 2004 construction conference whose participation fees were used to help finance his failed presidential campaign in 2004.
He also received a separate three-year suspended prison sentence for blackmail and was acquitted of corruption in a case involving a suspicious $400,000 inheritance left to his wife.
All the while, Mr. Nastase has declared his innocence, calling the charges against him a preposterous “political game.” In court this month, Mr. Nastase asked that the week he had spent in a hospital after shooting himself be subtracted from his two-year sentence. The motion was rejected.
He declined to be interviewed. But his 26-year-old son, Andrei, a businessman, said in an interview that his father had been despondent after becoming the victim of a political witch hunt by Mr. Basescu, the president.
Andrei Nastase said in the interview that the notion that his father had faked his own suicide to escape prison was both hurtful and abhorrent. In August, the general prosecutor’s office said that Mr. Nastase’s “act” had been voluntary and that police had respected legal procedures.
“I saw with my own eyes — it was not a magic trick,” the younger Mr. Nastase said, showing blood residue on the back of his father’s silver-colored watch, which he now wears. “Mr. Basescu saw my father as a threat and these charges were created as a means to get him out of political life.”
The Romanian government recently drew European criticism for trying to influence Romania’s constitutional court after a failed effort to impeach Mr. Basescu, who himself was under fire for trying to influence prosecutors and judges.
Some analysts said Mr. Ponta, the prime minister and a former protégé of Mr. Nastase, had wanted to remove Mr. Basescu from office before he could target other senior officials in the Social Democratic Party.
In an interview, Mr. Ponta, who visited Mr. Nastase in hospital, said the attempted suicide had shocked him. Calling Mr. Nastase “the best prime minister Romania ever had,” he said the case showed how justice in Romania had become politicized.
Those skeptical about Mr. Nastase’s suicide attempt say he conspired with the police and doctors to fake a shot wound that might keep him from going to prison.
The anti-corruption agency is now investigating whether a doctor and three police officers colluded to help Mr. Nastase evade prison. Witnesses outside the villa on the evening of the apparent suicide attempt said they had never heard a gunshot. Mr. Nastase, an experienced hunter, is right-handed, but shot himself with his left hand.
Ioan Rus, then the interior minister, told Romanian reporters that he had spoken to Mr. Nastase on the eve of his arrest because he feared he would do something drastic. When Mr. Rus offered to spirit him out of his house in a police car to avoid a public arrest, Mr. Nastase declined, he said.
“‘This will never happen,”’ Mr. Rus said Mr. Nastase had told him. “‘I will never leave my home. I will decide by myself what’s to be done.”’
George Calin contributed reporting.