November 11, 2012
With Eye on Aid, Syria Opposition Signs Unity Deal
By NEIL MacFARQUHAR and HALA DROUBI
DOHA, Qatar — Syrian opposition factions signed a tentative agreement on Sunday to create an umbrella organization, paving the way for international diplomatic recognition as well as more funding and improved military aid from foreign capitals.
After three days of haggling at a luxury hotel here, opposition negotiators agreed to the new coalition and then elected as its president Sheikh Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib, a former imam of the historic Umayyad mosque in Damascus and a respected national figure within Syria. “Today in Doha is the first time the different factions of the Syrian opposition are united in one body,” said Riyad Farid Hijab, a former Syrian prime minister and the highest-level defector from the Damascus government. “So we ask the international community to recognize the Syrian opposition as the representative of the Syrians.”
The umbrella organization was designed to subsume the Syrian National Council, a previous attempt at unification that has appeared increasingly marginalized as Syria has descended into civil war. That group’s authority was undercut when it failed to attract sufficient support from key minorities, religious and tribal figures, businessmen, and, most important, rebel units conducting the fighting against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
The hope among Western countries is that the new coalition, called the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, can give local opposition councils the legitimacy to bring fighters under their authority. That would give an important countervoice to the well-armed jihadist commanders who in many places have set the pace of the fighting and created worries that Islamists will gain a permanent hold.
An important change in the new agreement is that revolutionary councils from 14 Syrian provinces now each have a representative, though not all live in Syria. The hope is that will bind the coalition to those inside the country.
Perhaps the most important body the new group is expected to form is a Revolutionary Military Council to oversee the splintered fighting organizations and to funnel both lethal and nonlethal military aid to the rebels. It should unite units of the Free Syrian Army, various militias and brigades in each city and large groups of defectors.
Before the ink was even dry on the final draft, negotiators hoped that it would bring them the antiaircraft missiles they crave to take on the Syrian Air Force. The United States and Britain have offered only nonmilitary aid to the uprising.
A similar attempt by the Syrian National Council to supervise the military never jelled. Organizers said funding was too haphazard. Eventually foreign governments like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are financing and arming the rebels, found their own favorite factions to deal with.
Foreign leaders — notably including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton — urged this unification largely so they could coordinate their efforts and aid through a group of technocrats. Once it receives international recognition, the coalition is supposed to establish a temporary government.
Burhan Ghalioun, a former head of the old Syrian National Council, praised the coalition as a vital step toward getting the world more involved with Syria.
“I think the difference will start to show right away on the ground as the people will feel that there is a political power that represents them, and one body that unites its opposition,” he said. “We expect international recognition in regional and international forums.”
He described Sheikh Khatib as an important rallying figure for the new group: “He’s a national figure and symbol since the beginning of the revolution.”
The delegates elected as vice presidents Riad Seif, 66, a Syrian businessman and dissident who organized the unification effort, and Suhair Atassi, a descendant of a famous political family and a woman who held one of the last open political discussion groups in Damascus. Moustafa al-Sabagh, a businessman who helped the diaspora organize a considerable humanitarian relief effort, was named secretary general.
As it begins to engage with the opposition group, the international community is expected to follow a pattern of “sequencing” — steps to ensure that the coalition lives up to its promises as foreign backers offer incentives of increased aid. But such a relationship involves a kind of Catch-22 that damaged the Syrian National Council: The foreign backers want to see the new organization functioning almost like a government in exile before they extend it the money and weapons promised, but coalition members said they needed at least some of that aid to function.
For example, the coalition was promised that if it created the institutions entailed in the agreement, it could assume the Syrian seat in the Arab League. An international conference in Morocco by mid-December will be the first test for wider recognition.
“In a way, the hard work starts now, to agree on all the details and the structures of this coalition,” said Maurizio Massari, Italy’s Middle East envoy.
A raft of Western and other diplomats, who had been sitting around the hotel lobby over long lunches as the negotiations dragged on, expressed relief that an agreement had been reached. “We have crossed the Rubicon,” said Jon Wilks, the British envoy to the Syrian opposition.
An element driving the changes, diplomats said, is the desire of Mrs. Clinton to consolidate the opposition before she leaves office, expected by January. It was Mrs. Clinton who inaugurated the unusually public showdown with the Syrian National Council, announcing in late October that it should be replaced.
Given the distrust and ancient feuds among members of the Syrian opposition, there was no guarantee that the agreement would hold. But the fact that the death toll of the civil war has reached almost 200 Syrians a day was an important factor. As a reminder of that, the Qataris decorated the massive meeting hall with huge pictures of Syrians, some wounded, standing in the rubble of their homes and neighborhoods.
“The people meeting here and serving the revolution with negotiations should go inside and bow to the people serving the revolution with their blood,” said Adnan Rahmoun, a fighter with the Free Syrian Army who slipped out of Idlib to attend the meeting. The agreement “meets the aspirations of the Syrian people,” he said.
But not all activists were convinced.
“Even the Baath Party itself is great when you read its program,” said Omar Badran, an activist from northern Syria, referring to Syria’s ruling party. “But then you come to the application of it and the reality of it. That’s what matters.”
Some of the last holdouts said they suspected that the agreement was a sly way for the international community to negotiate with Mr. Assad about a transition to a new government. So one clause in the agreement specifically bars such talks.
That would seem to put the emphasis on a military solution to the crisis. But one aim of Western capitals is to create an opposition that has more of a critical mass to put pressure on the Assad government to stop fighting. In Geneva in June, at least some key countries — the United States, Britain and France — signed off on an agreement that speaks to a negotiated transition.
Over all, the coalition broadens the opposition’s base, with officials saying it represents about 90 percent of opposition groups, up from an estimated 70 percent behind the old council. It is to include an assembly of up to 60 members, with major opposition figures filling at least nine seats. Up to five are reserved for Alawites, a crucial constituency because they are from the same Shiite Muslim minority as President Assad and the core of the military. The Muslim Brotherhood officially has only one seat.
Those who helped negotiate the agreement said that they were keenly aware of the failings of the Syrian National Council, and that the reality of Syria would make this experience different.
“There is a realization that the situation inside Syria is reaching a point of no return,” said Yaser Tabbara, a Chicago lawyer who helped negotiate the coalition agreement. “This whole situation of controlled chaos cannot be sustained.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: November 11, 2012
An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of the British envoy to the Syrian opposition. It is Jon Wilks, not John Wilkes.
12 November 2012 - 04H54
US declares support for united Syrian opposition
AFP - The United States declared its support for the united Syrian opposition after various groups opposed to the government of President Bashar al-Assad decided to come together following talks in Doha, Qatar.
"We look forward to supporting the National Coalition as it charts a course toward the end of Assad's bloody rule and the start of the peaceful, just, democratic future that all the people of Syria deserve," State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.
November 12, 2012
Syrian Jet Strikes Close to Border With Turkey
By SEBNEM ARSU
GAZIANTEP, Turkey — A Syrian MIG-25 jet bombed the rebel-held town of Ras al-Ain a few yards from the Turkish border on Monday, Syrian witnesses said.
The attack demolished at least 15 buildings and killed many civilians, Nezir Alan, a doctor who witnessed the bombing, said. Local officials, quoted by The Associated Press, said at least six people were killed, but Dr. Alan said the toll was higher.
“We pulled bodies of 12 people from the rubble and are now trying to reach bodies of 8 others,” he said in a telephone interview. “There are around 70 injured, 50 of whom were in critical condition, and they are being transferred to Turkish hospitals across the border.”
Turkish fighter jets were seen in Turkish airspace shortly after the explosion, and a Syrian helicopter hovered above Ras al-Ain, which is only few yards from Ceylanpinar, a Turkish border town, Syrian witnesses said. “The plane appeared in seconds, dropped a bomb and killed children. Here is total chaos,” Dr. Alan said.
Ambulances were rushed to Ceylanpinar, Haber Turk, a private news television station, reported.
Windows of shops and houses in Ceylanpinar were shattered, and people on both sides of the border were seen running in panic, while military vehicles raced down streets as a huge cloud of smoke hung over the area, Haber Turk footage showed minutes after the explosion.
There were no immediate reports of any deaths or injuries on the Turkish side of the border.
Clashes in Ras al-Ain have intensified in recent days, prompting thousands of Syrians to seek refuge in Turkey.
Civilians in Ceylanpinar and other nearby towns were advised not to travel in areas close to the border.
Five Turkish civilians were killed in October when a Syrian shell landed in Akcakale, another border town about 75 miles west of Ceylanpinar, an act that prompted the Turkish Parliament to revise engagement rules and allow the military to retaliate in case of a direct threat from the border region.
The Turkish Army has increased its deployment along the 550-mile border with Syria since June, after Syria shot down a Turkish military jet, straining already tense relations between Ankara and Damascus.
The Turkish government is also considering asking NATO to station Patriot missiles in its border region to counter potential attacks from Syria.
Syrian Kurds flee to Turkey in terror
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, November 11, 2012 19:03 EST
Thousands of Kurds have fled Syrian army attacks on the strategic town of Ras al-Ain on the Turkish border, running for their lives after their homes were shelled and the corpses of fighters left strewn on the streets.
With nothing but the clothes on their backs, grandparents, women and children rushed to the border and, when their numbers turned to thousands, Turkish soldiers opened the gates and offered them refuge.
Ras al-Ain is one of just two Turkish border crossings still controlled by the Syrian army. Rebels fighting to bring down President Bashar al-Assad have captured four others while a seventh is controlled by Kurdish militia.
Samira Rushi and her four children were among the thousands who left. Now they are living with 150 people, mostly neighbours from the predominantly Kurdish town, in a single home tucked away in a back alley in the Turkish town of Ceylanpinar.
From a neighbour’s rooftop, they can see Ras al-Ain, nestled on a hillside in the distance. When night falls and they huddle together, sleeping 13 to a room, they are kept awake by the sound of artillery and gunfire which raged on into Sunday.
“There were bodies on the ground, houses were destroyed and after that, we left. My home was destroyed in the shelling,” said Rushi.
Now she worries about her husband and the other neighbours who stayed behind to look after their homes and “help anyway they can” to defeat Assad and the regime they despise.
More than 11,000 Syrians fled into neighbouring countries in the space of 24 hours — 9,000 of them into Turkey in the face of deadly fighting between rebels and the army in the northeastern province of Hasakeh.
The United Nations warns that the number of Syrian refugees in the region will reach 700,000, and the head of its humanitarian efforts said those in need of emergency aid in Syria would rise to more than four million early next year.
Turkey has shouldered a huge burden. The latest exodus brings the number of registered Syrian refugees in the country to more than 120,000.
Samira and other refugees who spoke to AFP in Ceylanpinar spoke movingly of how Turkish soldiers granted them shelter.
“The soldiers opened the gate and said welcome and helped us very much,” said Amira Taboush, a mother of five children. “And the people in this area have helped us very much, they are Kurds,” she added.
“Thank you Erdogan for helping us,” interrupted another woman, standing in the kitchen next to crates of vegetables donated by Kurdish Turkish neighbours.
Analysts say that like their Iraqi brethren, Syrian Kurds, could find in the government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan a valuable ally.
Last month, US magazine The Atlantic predicted that if a de facto Kurdish autonomous zone emerges in northern Syria as a result of the 20-month war, Turkey could prove a natural ally.
While Ankara has been hostile to an independent Kurdish state, its calculations could be changed by the prospect of chronically unstable Sunni Arab neighbours, and the need to counter Iran’s Shiite axis, the magazine said.
Many religiously motivated Sunni Arab rebels in neighbouring province Aleppo look on the Kurds as collaborators with the Assad regime and have clashed with Kurdish militia, but refugees from Ras al-Ain claim to be at one with the rebel cause.
They complain about years of marginalisation, abuse and discrimination at the hands of the Assad government and say that in their town, Kurdish militia work closely with the Free Syrian Army, the main Arab-led rebel group.
“Bashar is filth, filth, filth. He is very bad with the Kurds. He doesn’t let us learn (our language and culture) and when some Kurds finish university, they can’t find work in the government,” said Taboush.
Despite opposition claims that Ras al-Ain had fallen, refugees said the town was still divided 50-50 between the army and the rebels, and fighting flared anew on its outskirts early Sunday, the Syruian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Over the weekend, Kurdish residents backed by militia peacefully took control of a string of towns in the northeast leaving just two major cities in Hasakeh province under central government control, the Britain-based watchdog said.
A similar deal granted Kurdish villages unprecedented freedoms in governing their own affairs in Aleppo province in the northwest, but has fueled rebel accusations of collusion.
When it comes to the future, Ras al-Ain refugees are clear what they want — peace, return to their homes and an independent Kurdistan.
When Quchar Mustafa, 55, fled to Turkey, she and her daughter took it in turns to carry her handicapped son, Mohammed. His arms and legs withered, he lies on the floor, immobile on his back.
“My first hope is that Bashar goes and the regime goes and that people live in peace and safety,” she says in Kurdish. “Then we want an independent state — a country and justice for the Kurdish people.”
12 November 2012 - 13H35
Charities launch $34 mn appeal for Syrian refugees
AFP - The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies launched an emergency appeal Monday for 32.3 million Swiss francs ($34.1 million, 26.8 million euros) to help up to 170,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey.
"The Turkish Red Crescent Society is extending its existing response to prepare for the onset of winter and to increase its assistance to up to 170,000 displaced people over the coming months," the IFRC said in a statement.
The extra cash was expected to last for six months, Simon Eccleshall, IFRC head of disaster and crisis management, told reporters in Geneva.
He acknowledged though that it was "not unimaginable that (the emergency aid) figure will need to increase," adding: "We will be regularly revising contingency plans (and perhaps) the emergency appeal."
"The numbers are significant in Turkey," he said, pointing out that as of November 5, 110,649 Syrians were registered in camps in Turkey -- more than double the number in July.
Turkey currently counts 14 camps, all but one of which are tent camps, and three others are under construction to accommodate the steady influx, according to the IFRC.
The extra aid would go to providing winter assistance to the around 100,000 camp-dwellers, as well as emergency food and non-food assistance to up to 20,000 people at the Turkish-Syrian border, Eccleshall said.
"The number of people congregating on the Syrian side of the border fluctuates day to day," he said.
He pointed out that the Turkish Red Crescent would assist only people on the Turkish side, but that since the border was "quite open" many Syrians crossed over to pick up aid before heading back to their towns or villages in Syria.
Contingency stocks for an extra 50,000 people were also included in the appeal, he said.
The emergency appeal would especially focus on providing cooking stoves, heaters, blankets and other winter items for Syrian refugees in the country as the cold sets in, as well as food and blankets to the people at the border, IFRC said.
At the end of last week, the UN's refugee agency said some 11,000 Syrians had fled to neighbouring countries in the space of just 24 hours -- 9,000 of them to Turkey.
Counting that mass exodus, more than 408,000 Syrians have now been registered as refugees in neighbouring countries, according to the UNHCR.
The UN expects that number to soar to more than 700,000 by early next year.
More than 37,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising erupted in March 2011, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
« Last Edit: Nov 12, 2012, 08:03 AM by Rad »
Obama to Palestinian leader: U.S. opposes U.N. membership
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, November 11, 2012 16:55 EST
US President Barack Obama told Mahmud Abbas on Sunday that his administration opposes a Palestinian bid for non-state membership of the UN, the Palestinian leader’s spokesman said.
“There was a long telephone conversation between president Mahmud Abbas and Barack Obama,” Nabil Abu Rudeina told AFP. “Obama expressed the opposition of the United States to the decision to go to the UN General Assembly.”
Abbas explained “the reasons and motives for the Palestinian decision to go to the UN … including the continued (Jewish) settlement activity and Israeli aggression against citizens and property,” Abu Rudeina said.
Israel and the United States are both opposed to the Palestinian plan, insisting that a Palestinian state can only result from peace negotiations, which have been suspended for the past two years.
11/12/2012 12:57 PM
Luxembourg Foreign Minister: 'Israel Must Halt Settlement Construction Entirely'
Israeli settlement construction is a hindrance to peace with the Palestinians, Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn argues in an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE. Building must be suspended before negotiations can begin, he says. He also believes the UN should provide the Palestinians with observer status.
On Tuesday, the foreign ministers of the European Union, including Guido Westerwelle of Germany, are scheduled to conduct their first-ever joint meeting with their counterparts from the Arab League. At the meeting, top European and Arab diplomats are expected to discuss the civil war in Syria as well as the stalled Middle East peace process. Among the most contentious issues to be addressed is that of Israel's policy of settlement-building in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Last Tuesday, the Israeli government said it would move forward with the construction of 1,200 houses in East Jerusalem and on the West Bank. Catherine Ashton, the European Union's high representative for foreign affairs, issued a statement expressing Europe's "deep regrets" over the development. "Settlements are illegal under international law," Ashton wrote. "The EU has repeatedly urged the government of Israel to immediately end all settlement activities in the West Bank, including in East Jerusalem, in line with its obligations under the roadmap." In Berlin, too, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the development is a "hindrance" to the peace process.
In the run-up to Tuesday's meeting in Cairo, SPIEGEL ONLINE spoke to Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn about the recent developments in the region.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Israel just bombed Syrian positions for the first time in decades after Syrian mortar shells struck the Golan Heights on Thursday. Is there a threat that the civil war will spill over into the neighboring country?
Asselborn: I don't think so. The Israeli military reacted very level-headedly to the Syrian shells. Turkey also showed similar understanding for the chaotic situation in Syria several weeks ago. Nonetheless, Israel should also consider that the Syrian shells landed in the Golan Heights, which is not considered to be Israeli territory under international law.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Violence is also escalating in the Gaza Strip.
Asselborn: No one can or should justify violence -- not even if it originates with Palestinians in Gaza. But you also have to address the reasons behind such violence. Anyone who knows Gaza knows the kind of pressure cooker the place is. Peace and security for Israel cannot be achieved through walls and fences nor with tanks and rockets. In the interest of the Palestinian as well as Israeli children, a prospect for peace needs finally to be created.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has offered to meet the Palestinian president immediately in Ramallah or Jerusalem for peace talks. Why are the Palestinians rejecting this offer?
Asselborn: Because it is just lip service. The Israeli settlement policy is an affront to every Palestinian because it is a constant provocation. The number of Jewish settlers in the areas occupied by Israel is growing faster than the Palestinian birth rate -- calculations by the United Nations show that. The Israeli government is permitting the construction of apartments on land where they do not belong. There are roads that only settlers are allowed to use and separate streets for the Palestinian people. In addition, the number of violent acts perpetrated by settlers increased by 32 percent during the past year. Many of the perpetrators go unpunished.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: At the beginning of his term in office, Netanyahu announced an eight-month moratorium on construction -- a step that put him under domestic political pressure. Why didn't Abbas take advantage?
Asselborn: That was no true freeze on settlement activity, because construction that had already been approved could still be carried out. You can't expect the Palestinians to negotiate under these circumstances. Israel must halt settlement construction entirely -- and then negotiations can begin. If things continue to proceed as they do now, the Palestinians will soon have no chance left for a connected national territory.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: But the Palestinians also continue to provoke the Israelis. Abbas intends to apply for observer status at the United Nations.
Asselborn: That is an absolutely justified request and not a provocation. It is often forgotten that the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine of 1948 provided for two states -- Israel next to an Arab state. After the Palestinians failed in their bid last year to be recognized as a state by the UN Security Council, Abbas announced he would follow the Vatican model and apply for the status of an observer state at the General Assembly. He even offered to formulate the resolution together with the Israelis, but Netanyahu refused.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Does the European Union support this effort?
Asselborn: At the very least, the EU will try to speak with one voice. The common position cannot be that we all say "no." Even an abstention by all 27 EU member states would be meaningless in my view. I assume that a few will abstain but that the rest will vote with a "yes."
SPIEGEL ONLINE: It is hard to imagine the German government doing anything that Israeli so flatly rejects.
Asselborn: The fact that the German government is concerned about the interests of the Israeli state is a historical mandate. But in Berlin, one should not equate the interests of the Israeli people with those of the Netanyahu government. Israeli security will only improve dramatically if the Palestinians get their own state. The two-state solution is not a gift to the Palestinians. It is the basis for peace in Israel.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: How are things looking in London and Paris?
Asselborn: It appears that France and Great Britain are tending towards a yes. That will hopefully have an influence on the German position.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: The Dutch have also traditionally supported the Israelis. Has that changed with the new government in The Hague?
Asselborn: I have the impression that the Dutch are acting in a more open-minded and forward-thinking manner on the Palestinian matter then they have previously.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: The Israelis fear that observer status at the UN would give the Palestinians the right to sue Israeli politicians and military officers at the International Criminal Court.
Asselborn: International law applies to all people. As a country that adheres to the rule of law, Israel shouldn't have a problem with that. It appears to me that Netanyahu has another reason to oppose an upgrade of the Palestinians' status at the United Nations. In practical terms, this upgrade in international recognition would be a step toward an independent state. Netanyahu doesn't want that.
Interview conducted by Christoph Schult
U.S. on edge over Human Rights Council election
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, November 12, 2012 7:10 EST
The United States has launched a last-minute scramble for votes to secure its spot on the UN Human Rights Council in an election Monday.
US diplomats are said to be “nervous” as they compete with Germany, Greece, Ireland and Sweden for three seats among 18 on the panel to be picked by the United Nations General Assembly.
The 47-member council has taken on a steadily higher profile since it was created six years ago, but the Western nations group is the only one that will hold a competitive poll for seats.
In the run-up to the election, rights groups criticized the behind-closed-doors deals by Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe that will see countries such as Pakistan, Venezuela and Ethiopia guaranteed seats. Russia, China and Cuba, often taken to task for their rights records, will leave the council at the end of the year.
The Geneva-based council’s new importance could be seen by the stepped up lobbying for spots.
Germany sent Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle to New York this week to press his country’s case.
“This is really a key issue, human rights, for us,” Westerwelle told a reception for UN ambassadors.
“This is important for the German government, important for the chancellor, important for my work as foreign minister,” he said.
The Human Rights Council should not be a venue for making “sweeping allegations,” the minister added. “Developed countries do not have a monopoly on safeguarding human rights.”
“We want to act as a bridge builder. Cooperation not confrontation is the motto which guides our action.”
The United States, coming to the end of its first three-year term on the council, has had to launch an all-out campaign for votes because of its late decision to seek a second seat.
“The United States has a strong diplomatic machine. They are lobbying in every capital and in New York, but all the others started first so they are nervous,” said one UN diplomat.
“Despite its highly effective engagement in the Human Rights Council, the US faces a tough yet healthy competition,” said Philippe Bolopion, a United Nations specialist for Human Rights Watch.
Hillel Neuer, executive director of the UN Watch monitoring group, said the United States had been “polling last” in some unofficial surveys.
In a pitch for ballots, Susan Rice, US ambassador to the United Nations, highlighted Washington’s stance on human rights at a reception for other envoys this week.
The United States made a 30-point list of pledges in a statement to council members that emphasized US action to get a special investigator named on rights in Iran, as well as domestic US legislation on the rights of gays and lesbians.
The United States committed “to be a strong advocate for all people around the world who suffer from abuse and oppression and a stalwart defender of courageous individuals across the globe who work, often at great personal risk, on behalf of the rights of others,” said the statement.
While all 193 UN members will decide the western group’s representation, the other seats were picked in advance in regional conclaves.
Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya and Sierra Leone will join for Africa; Japan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, South Korea and United Arab Emirates for Asia; Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela for Latin America and the Caribbean; and Estonia and Montenegro for Eastern Europe.
The regional groups “have pre-cooked this election by offering as many candidates as they have been allotted seats, making a mockery of the standard driven process envisioned by the General Assembly when it created the Human Rights Council,” said Bolopion.
“This means that questionable candidates such as Ethiopia, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates or Venezuela, to name a few, will join the council without even having to make the case that they “uphold the highest standards” of human rights, as required under the General Assembly resolution that established the council.”
The new nations will take up their seats on January 1.
« Last Edit: Nov 12, 2012, 08:10 AM by Rad »
November 11, 2012
Tunisia Battles Over Pulpits, and Revolt’s Legacy
By NEIL MacFARQUHAR
KAIROUAN, Tunisia — On the Friday after Tunisia’s president fell, Mohamed al-Khelif mounted the pulpit of this city’s historic Grand Mosque to deliver a full-throttle attack on the country’s corrupt culture, to condemn its close ties with the West and to demand that a new constitution implement Shariah, or Islamic law.
“They’ve slaughtered Islam!” thundered Dr. Khelif, whom the ousted government had barred from preaching for 20 years. “Whoever fights Islam and implements Western plans becomes in the eyes of Western politicians a blessed leader and a reformer, even if he was the most criminal leader with the dirtiest hands.”
Mosques across Tunisia blazed with similar sermons that day and, indeed, every Friday since, in what has become the battle of the pulpit, a heated competition to define Tunisia’s religious and political identity.
Revolution freed the country’s estimated 5,000 officially sanctioned mosques from the rigid controls of the previous government, which appointed every prayer leader and issued lists of acceptable topics for their Friday sermons.
That system pushed a moderate, apolitical model of Islam that avoided confronting a dictator. When the system collapsed last year, ultraconservative Salafis seized control of up to 500 mosques by government estimates. The government, a proponent of a more temperate political Islam, says it has since wrested back control of all but 70 of the mosques, but acknowledges it has not yet routed the extremists nor thwarted their agenda.
“Before, the state suffocated religion — they controlled the imams, the sermons, the mosques,” said Sheik Tai’eb al-Ghozzi, the Friday Prayer leader at the Grand Mosque here. “Now everything is out of control — the situation is better but needs control.”
To this day, Salafi clerics like Dr. Khelif, who espouse the most puritanical, most orthodox interpretation of Islam, hammer on favorite themes that include putting Islamic law into effect immediately, veiling women, outlawing alcohol, shunning the West and joining the jihad in Syria. Democracy, they insist, is not compatible with Islam.
“If the majority is ignorant of religious instruction, then they are against God,” said Sheik Khatib al-Idrissi, 60, considered the spiritual guide of all Tunisian Salafis. “If the majority is corrupt, how can we accept them? Truth is in the governance of God.”
The battle for Tunisia’s mosques is one front in a broader struggle, as pockets of extremism take hold across the region. Freshly minted Islamic governments largely triumphed over their often fractious, secular rivals in postrevolutionary elections. But those new governments are locked in fierce, sometimes violent, competition with the more hard-line wing of the Islamic political movements over how much of the faith can mix with democracy, over the very building blocks of religious identity. That competition is especially significant in Tunisia, once the most secular of the Arab nations, with a large educated middle class and close ties to Europe.
The Arab Spring began in Tunisia, and its ability to reconcile faith and governance may well serve as a barometer for the region.
Some analysts link the assertive Tunisian Salafi movement to what they consider a worrying spread of violent extremism across North Africa — including an affiliate of Al Qaeda seizing control of northern Mali; a murderous attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya; a growing jihadi force facing Israel in the Sinai; and a mob looting an American school and parts of the United States Embassy in Tunis.
Senior government officials said the various groups share an ideology and are in contact with one another, suggesting that while they are scattered and do not coordinate their operations, they reinforce one another’s agendas. There have been several episodes of jihadists caught smuggling small arms from Libya to Mali or Algeria across Tunisia, for example, including two small trucks packed with Kalashnikovs and some manner of shoulder-fired missiles or grenades in June, said Ali Laarayedh, the interior minister.
President Moncef Marzouki and several ministers blamed the domestic spread of Islamic extremism on the ousted government, saying it created a vacuum by gutting traditional religious education over the past 50 years. Mr. Marzouki estimated that the number of violent extremists was only about 3,000, but he acknowledged that they were a growing menace to national security.
Aside from a few “zealous” leaders, most are misguided youths, said Mr. Laarayedh, the interior minister. Critics find their potential for violence unsettling, and repeated episodes — security forces shot dead a young Salafi in a confrontation last week — play havoc with the image of a country dependent on tourism.
The government, dominated by the Renaissance Party, is struggling to contain the problem without resorting to the brutal methods of the toppled dictatorship. It has jailed about 800 Salafis, said Samir Dilou, the human rights minister, and arrests of those advocating violence accelerated after protesters looted the American Embassy compound on Sept. 14 in response to a video mocking the Prophet Muhammad.
The word Salafi encompasses a broad spectrum of Sunni fundamentalists whose common goal is resurrecting Islam as practiced by the Prophet Muhammad when he founded the faith in the seventh century. Salafis range from peaceful proselytizers to those who spread Islam by force.
In Kairouan, 100 miles south of Tunis, Salafis control 5 of the city’s 35 mosques, said Sheik Ghozzi, the Grand Mosque’s prayer leader.
“The Salafis find themselves empowered because they have not faced any resistance from the government,” said Sheik Ghozzi, 70, a slight man wearing a short-cropped gray robe. Without a “strict” reaction, along with dialogue, they will become “a danger to the state,” he said.
The Grand Mosque, a sandstone citadel, reflects the martial origins of Kairouan, the capital of the first Muslim army to capture North Africa. It is Tunisia’s oldest mosque.
Sheik Ghozzi and other critics accuse the extremists of pushing a far less tolerant version of Islam than that long practiced in Tunisia. Salafi prayer leaders recruit young men to die fighting in Syria, he said, although Islam forbids killing other Muslims.
Salafis repeatedly try to chase tourists from the Grand Mosque; have threatened to level the popular shrine of Sidi Sahbi, a companion of the Prophet Muhammad buried here, although so far they have only fought with worshipers trying to pray there; and imported Saudi Arabian clerics who demanded that Tunisians confront the West. At some mosques, traditional prayer leaders were threatened with beatings or even death if they did not leave, Sheik Ghozzi said. In others, the locks were changed to bar them.
In a few towns, the struggle degenerated into brawls with sticks and fists. The Salafists have also enforced Islamic law on their own. In Sidi Bouzeit this September, a group of about 70 Salafists sacked the only hotel in town that sold alcohol, shattering its outdoor fountains by heaving full cases of beer into them.
“They want their own imams who use their words, who speak their language,” Sheik Ghozzi said. “They want someone who calls for jihad, who tells them to go fight in other countries, who curses the Shiites and who calls on them to go out to defend the Koran by force.”
It was worshipers who asked Dr. Khelif not to return after that first Friday, Sheik Ghozzi said.
But Dr. Khelif, 60, a pediatrician and the son of a famous Grand Mosque imam, said only misguided Tunisians consider his preaching somehow foreign.
“Islam is the Islam that was revealed to the prophet — it was not Islam revealed to my father or any other Tunisian father,” he said, speaking in his clinic, pictures of the Grand Mosque mingled on the walls with Walt Disney characters. Dr. Khelif, who has grown a long, shaggy white beard and assumed the duties of prayer speaker at another mosque since the revolution, denied that any Salafi preachers occupied mosques by force. Worshipers are free to pray elsewhere, he noted.
In a show of strength, the Salafi movement organized a huge rally at the Grand Mosque last May, drawing tens of thousands of followers from around Tunisia who voiced frustration at the slow pace of applying Islamic law.
But Nourredine Khadmi, the minister of religious affairs, said that his ministry was in the process of evaluating potential new imams and that he had appointed some 2,000 imams since January. “By winter, everything will be stable,” he said in an interview, though last spring he predicted it would be by August.
“It is a difficult problem to resolve,” said Abdelfattah Mouru, a Renaissance Party founder and himself the victim of several physical attacks by young Salafis. “You need either public opinion or a public force. You cannot dispatch the police into the mosques to put them in order, it is impossible, it is both immoral and against the religion.”
In Tunis in October, five men set fire to the shrine of Leila Manoubia, a 13th-century saint. Young Tunisian women wrote their names on the walls if they wanted to get married or pregnant. Salafis condemn such prayers as idolatry, although who attacked the shrine remains unconfirmed.
“I want Tunisia to be a place where a woman can wear a veil or not, where we can pray or not,” said Asma Ahmadi, 34, who said she started visiting the shrine at age 15 and considers it as much about tradition as religion.
“They are trying to break the mystical balance between tradition and religion in Tunisia,” she said. “They are trying to burn our identity to replace it with something we don’t know.”
12 November 2012 - 13H47
'World's workshop' China aims to reinvent itself
AFP - China's Communist leaders are promising to revolutionise the world's second largest economy and move on from being the world's workshop, but economists say the monumental task faces major hurdles.
Outgoing President Hu Jintao said GDP would double in a decade and pledged a "transformation of the economic growth model" in his report to the nation at the five-yearly Communist Party congress under way in Beijing.
China's rulers must maintain growth in the economy to justify their claim to legitimacy -- and avoid the spectre of social unrest.
But while selling cheap manufactured goods to the West and spending billions on infrastructure has delivered an economic miracle in recent years, the model is seen as unsustainable in the longer term, and growth is already slowing.
"We should speed up the creation of a new growth model and ensure that development is based on improved quality and performance," Hu said, adding China would seek to become an innovative technology giant as low-cost manufacturing relocates elsewhere.
The country also needs to make domestic consumption a pillar of the economy, a joint report by the government and the World Bank said in February -- endorsed by Xi Jinping, who is expected to take over as party leader from Hu this week.
But the changes could have enormous human costs in terms of job losses, which in turn could fuel unrest -- anathema to the ruling party. And training unqualified workers to compete with Western economies is a gigantic task.
A few Chinese manufacturing sectors have been able to compete directly with Western firms, including those in communications and high-speed trains.
China is also said to be developing a domestic airliner that could challenge Boeing and Airbus for sales.
But for now the economic boom remains firmly dependent on a cheap workforce, an undervalued currency and artificially low interest rates, Michael Pettis, finance professor at Peking University, told AFP.
"To be profitable in China does not require technological innovation. What matters is access to cheap credit and government connections," Pettis said.
Labour-intensive industries, such as textiles and shoes, have already begun to leave for less-developed cheaper nations including Indonesia and Vietnam.
"China will remain a manufacturing powerhouse but much of the lower end will be transferred to lower-wage countries in Asia, but also possibly to Latin America and Africa," said Jean-Pierre Lehmann, director of the Evian Group, a think tank.
China's new economic goals may mean fewer of the huge investment projects the government prioritised in recent years, such as airports, highways and high-speed trains.
Fixed-asset investment -- from infrastructure to housing -- accounted for more than half of gross domestic product last year, though it has been growing at a slower pace.
As China places less importance on exports, future growth will also be more dependent on household spending, which made up less than 40 percent of GDP in recent years.
Top economic planning official Zhang Ping said at the weekend that domestic consumption contributed more to GDP growth than investment in the first nine months of the year.
But consumption will have to grow faster to make up for any investment slowdown. And limited social safety nets in China mean households save around half their incomes in case of crises or to send their children to university -- a major brake on consumption spending.
Peking University's Pettis said: "I think we should expect a sharp slowdown in GDP growth over the next decade," as China tries to realign the economy.
With China a key driver of global growth that could have significant negative effects on the rest of the world.
Beijing was saying, "We no longer want to be the Christmas ornament capital of the world, we're happy for those low skill, low value-added, low wage jobs to go to other countries," said Andy Rothman, China economist for CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets in Shanghai.
"The biggest impact is going to be felt by people who have been exporting raw materials to China," he said, citing Australia, Brazil and Indonesia.
But there will be winners as well as losers, he added. "This is actually good for more developed economies like Germany or the United States who are shipping more complicated, advanced machineries to Chinese factories."
Reforms can be "fairly painful" in the early stages and can cause short-term unemployment "even if long-term gains are significant", said Ben Simpfendorfer, managing director of Hong Kong-based consultancy Silk Road Associates. But he added that imports from the rest of the world should increase.
If China can fulfil Hu's promises, about half of the population -- around 700 million people -- will join the middle class by 2020 with annual income between $7,000 and $23,000, the Boston Consulting Group said in a report.
On a purchasing power parity basis China is expected to overtake the United States as the world's biggest economy in 2016, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development said Friday.
But even then per capita gross domestic product will still be only a quarter of the US.
2 November 2012 - 13H45
China to reveal new leaders Thursday
AFP - China's Communist Party will on Thursday unveil the new set of top leaders who will run the country for the next decade, one day after its week-long congress ends, officials said Monday.
The widely expected timing was confirmed to AFP by staff organising press coverage of the congress under way in Beijing, which is held every five years.
President Hu Jintao, who has been in power ten years, is widely expected to hand over the reins of the ruling party to his vice president, Xi Jinping.
The leadership -- decided in back-room horse-trading between party factions -- is revealed to the nation when members of the Politburo Standing Committee march out in a line before the cameras at Beijing's Great Hall of the People.
Party staff told AFP the new standing committee, now consisting of nine members, would "meet the press" on Thursday. The party had thus far not officially confirmed the timing.
Xi is widely expected to march out in first position on the committee, indicating he is the new party leader. He will then formally be named the country's president next March by China's rubber-stamp parliament.
Xi's fellow standing committee member, Vice Premier Li Keqiang, is also strongly expected to move up in the committee's pecking order and be put on track to be named premier in March, replacing incumbent Wen Jiabao.
They would take over at a challenging time when the powerhouse economy is suffering a rare slowdown and there are growing demands for change from the country's vocal netizens.
If things go according to tradition, Xi and Li would expect to be in office for 10 years.
However, the standing committee is typically tweaked each five years with a shuffling of lower-ranking members. The membership of the rest of the committee to be unveiled Thursday remains a matter of speculation.
In a speech opening the congress last Thursday, Hu extolled the country's achievements during his term. But he also delivered stark warnings about the need to address festering problems of corruption, environmental degradation and public pressure for democracy.
He said corruption could prove "fatal" to the party and even cause its collapse, adding that the all-powerful party must change China's "political structure and make the people's democracy more extensive".
Such warnings by top leaders are not new and are often meant to assuage public anger. But critics say little actual progress has been made on such problems and the party's iron-clad control on politics has strengthened under Hu.
Authorities are careful to prevent anything upsetting the carefully stage-managed proceedings in Beijing. Hundreds of activists have been put under house arrest in the lead-up to the congress, rights groups say.
A range of other security measures also have been put in place in the capital, such as ordering taxi drivers to lock their back windows -- apparently to prevent passengers from throwing out flyers with political messages.
12 November 2012 - 09H18
China not 'serious' in Tibet immolations probe: Dalai Lama
AFP - The Dalai Lama said Monday that China is more interested in criticising him than finding the reason behind a spate of Tibetan self-immolations threatening to mar the Communist Party's leadership change.
The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader told reporters in Japan that Beijing is not looking "seriously" at the protests taking place across the country during the highly choreographed meeting.
"The Chinese government should investigate the cause (of the incidents). China does not look into it seriously and tries to end (the incidents) only by criticising me," he said, according to a Kyodo News report in Japanese.
The comments come after seven people set themselves on fire in a week and are thought to be the Dalai Lama's first on the issue since the Communist Party congress began in Beijing last Thursday.
On Saturday an 18-year-old Tibetan died after setting himself ablaze in front of a monastery in northwestern China's Gansu province, the state-run Xinhua news agency said.
Sixty-nine people have set themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule of Tibet since 2009, of whom 54 have died, the India-based Tibetan government-in-exile said before the latest incident.
But the immolations have gained pace in recent months and particularly in the past week as the Communist Party opened its sensitive congress on Thursday to pass the baton of power to the next generation of party apparatchiks.
The party has sought to project an image of national unity during the highly stage-managed gathering amid unrest in minority areas.
The escalating protests have been aimed at undercutting the facade, according to representatives of the Tibetan government-in-exile in India.
On the sidelines of the congress on Friday, officials from the Tibetan Communist Party angrily denounced the Dalai Lama and overseas Tibetan "separatists" for orchestrating the immolations to breed unrest.
"The Dalai Lama clique and overseas Tibetan separatists have been sacrificing other people's lives for their own secret political aims," said Losang Gyaltsen, vice-chairman of the Tibet region's government.
The Dalai Lama is nearing the end of a 12-day visit to Japan, a country to which he is a regular visitor and where he has a sizeable following.
He was in Okinawa in the country's far south on Monday, but was due to return to Tokyo on Tuesday, where he was expected to speak to a cross-party group of parliamentarians.
More than 100 lawmakers are expected to attend the speech, said the secretary of opposition party member Hakubun Shimomura, who will jointly host the meeting, adding that politicians will establish a Tibet support group.
Tokyo formally recognises Beijing's position that Tibet is a part of China and in a nod to this, the government bars its officials from meeting the Dalai Lama during his frequent visits.
China criticises Japan for allowing the visits, which it says give the saffron-robed monk a platform for views it considers unacceptable.
During a trip here in November last year the 77-year-old said Tibetans faced "cultural genocide" under Beijing's hardline rule, which he blamed for a wave of self-immolations at the time.
"Chinese communist propaganda create a very rosy picture. But actually, including many Chinese from mainland China who visit Tibet, they all have the impression things are terrible," he told journalists in Tokyo.
"Some kind of policy, some kind of cultural genocide is taking place."
Tibetan anger at Beijing's control has simmered for decades but burst into violent rioting against Chinese rule in the Tibet regional capital Lhasa and across the Tibetan heartland in southwestern China in March 2008.
The violence left 20 people dead, according to the government, while exiled Tibetans put the figure at 203, and prompted a massive security clampdown across Tibetan areas that remains to this day.
Many Tibetans accuse China of cultural, religious and political oppression. They are also angered by Beijing's repeated vitriol directed at the Dalai Lama, who is deeply revered by Tibetans.
China insists most Tibetans are happy and touts its efforts to bring economic development to the region.
Despite the coming leadership change, political analysts say no rethink of Tibet policy is expected as Beijing fears any hint of indecision could further embolden restive minority groups.
November 11, 2012
Wave of Evictions Leads to Homeless Crisis in Spain
By SUZANNE DALEY
SEVILLE, Spain — The first night after Francisco Rodríguez Flores, 71, and his wife, Ana López Corral, 67, were evicted from their small apartment here after falling behind on their mortgage, they slept in the entrance hall of their building. Their daughters, both unemployed and living with them, slept in a neighbor’s van.
“It was the worst thing ever,” Mrs. López said recently, studying her hands. “You can’t image what it felt like to be there in that hall. It’s a story you can’t really tell because it is not the same as living it.”
Things are somewhat better now. The Rodríguezes are among the 36 families who have taken over a luxury apartment block here that had been vacant for three years. There is no electricity. The water was recently cut off, and there is the fear that the authorities will evict them once again. But, Mrs. López says, they are not living on the street — at least not yet.
The number of Spanish families facing eviction continues to mount at a dizzying pace — hundreds a day, housing advocates say. The problem has become so acute that Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has promised to announce emergency measures on Monday, though what they may be remains unclear.
While some are able to move in with family members, a growing number, like the Rodríguezes, have no such option. Their relatives are in no better shape than they are, and Spain has virtually no emergency shelter system for families.
For some, the pressure has been too much to bear. In recent weeks, a 53-year-old man in Granada hanged himself just hours before he was to be evicted, and a 53-year-old woman in Bilbao jumped to her death as court officials arrived at her door.
Yet at the same time, the country is dotted with empty housing of all kinds, perhaps as many as two million units, by some estimates. Experts say more and more of the evicted — who face a lifetime of debt and a system of blacklisting that makes it virtually impossible for them to rent — are increasingly taking over vacant properties or moving back into their old homes after they have been seized.
Sometimes neighbors report such activities. But often, experts say, they do not. It is a temporary and often anxious existence. But many see no alternative.
The Rodríguezes fell behind in their payments trying to help their daughters, who both lost their jobs and have three children between them. Their daughters had come to live with them after being evicted themselves. “I could not let my children and my grandchildren starve,” said Mrs. López, who used to work as a cleaner in a home for the elderly.
No one tracks the number of squatters. But Rafael Martín Sanz, the president of a real estate management company, says squatting has become so common that some real estate companies are reluctant to put signs on the outsides of buildings indicating that an apartment is available.
“The joke is that half the people touring apartments that are on the market are actually just picking out which apartment they want to squat in,” he said.
Most of the evictions take place quietly, with embarrassed families dropping the keys off at the banks. But in some working-class neighborhoods, there are weekly clashes with the police and bank officials, as housing advocates and volunteers try to resist the evictions.
In Madrid’s Carabanchel neighborhood, a crowd protesting outside a basement apartment recently shouted “shame on you” to a cluster of bank and court officials who had come to evict Edward Hernández and his family. But Mr. Hernández’s lawyer, Rafael Mayoral, sized up the picture and predicted he would be able to negotiate a postponement. The crowd of supporters, he said, outnumbered the police officers.
Mr. Hernández, 38, who worked in construction, bought the apartment for $320,000 in 2006, but he lost his job three years later, he said. He thought he had negotiated with his bank to pay less for a while. But one day, he said, he got a letter saying that his apartment had been auctioned.
Mr. Hernández and his wife have their eye on an empty apartment they intend to occupy. Failing that, the couple will have to split up, he said. His wife would go back to live with her mother, who is behind in her own mortgage payments and already housing her other adult children. Mr. Hernández would live with his brother, who lives with his young family in a studio apartment.
By the end of the morning, bank and court officials had agreed to postpone Mr. Hernández’s eviction for six weeks. He still faces a debt of more than $330,000, more than he paid for the apartment. In Spain, mortgage holders are personally liable for the full amount of their mortgages. Then penalty interest charges and tens of thousands of dollars in court fees are added at foreclosure. Bankruptcy is no answer, either — mortgage debt is excluded.
Trying to stem the flow of homeless, the Spanish government has asked the banks to adhere to a code of conduct that protects, to some degree, the very poorest Spaniards, and many of the banks have signed on. But advocates say that the code offers relief to such a narrow slice of homeowners — those who have no working adults in their household and who paid less than $260,000 for their homes — that it is unlikely to have much effect.
Elena Cortés, the councilor for public works and housing for Andalusia, the region that includes Seville, said that during the boom years the government rarely built any low-income housing. On top of that, the country has never had much rental property. Now, as families are evicted they have nowhere to turn. In a written statement, Spain’s banking association, the A.E.B., said banks were looking to avoid evictions whenever they could through negotiation.
The Rodríguezes began living in the luxury block, Corrala Utopía, in May with only a few belongings, a move that was organized by members of the 15-M movement, the name given to people who became organized after the countrywide protests that began on May 15 last year. One member of the group, Juanjo García Marín, said the property was chosen because it was mired in legal proceedings that might give the families more time to stay there.
Neighbors have given them furniture, and donations of food arrive most days. On a recent evening, Mrs. López was using a generator to keep her lights on and her refrigerator running. Others in the building also have generators, but some cannot afford the gasoline to keep them running.
After dinner, Mrs. López’s 13-year-old grandson arrived, announcing that he needed a place to do his homework. His mother’s apartment upstairs had no lights.
Rachel Chaundler contributed reporting.
12 November 2012 - 13H35
Spain freezes home evictions for two years
AFP - Spain's AEB banking association on Monday announced it would freeze for two years the eviction of people from foreclosed homes.
The association decided last Thursday "to freeze evictions during the next two years due to extreme necessity." The announcement came after two suicides by desperate home owners within a fortnight unleashed anti-bank protests in the streets.
Top world economies ‘to struggle until 2014′
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, November 12, 2012 7:00 EST
Leading world economies will struggle with weak growth until 2014 at least mainly because of strains in the European and US economies, credit agency Moody’s warned on Monday, cutting its outlook for next year.
But growth in emerging economies is also likely to slow down, Moody’s said in an update on global risks on Monday.
And this outlook could be threatened, possibly severely, if one or more of the downside risks such as unexpectedly deep recession in the eurozone, tough US budget action, or threats to oil supplies materialise.
Another threat to the outlook was “the potential for a hard landing in major emerging markets, including China, India and Brazil,” Moody’s said.
The revision of the outlook concerned the G20 (Group of 20) leading economies in the world.
In these countries “we expect only a gradual strengthening in growth over the coming two years,” the agency said.
“Fiscal consolidation and volatility in financial markets will continue to weigh on business and consumer confidence, while heightened uncertainty hampers spending, hiring and investment decisions.”
Moody’s said it expected real growth of output in the 20 countries of about 1.3 percent in 2012 and 1.6 percent in 2013 and then 2.0 percent in 2014.
The figure for 2013 was about half a percentage point less than Moody’s had estimated in August.
“We continue to expect the G-20 emerging economies to outpace other countries in the G20. But growth prospects for emerging economies have also moderated, reflecting the further deceleration in world trade and the lack of significant new impetus from domestic demand.
“Overall, we expect real GDP (gross domestic product) growth in these economies to be little over 5.0 percent in 2012, slightly weaker than our August forecast. We expect growth to pick up gradually to around 5.5 percent in 2013, and 5.75 percent in 2014,” the report estimated.
Moody’s said that these leading economies had continued to slow down in recent months, partly as a consequence of the global imbalances which had developed before and after the eruption of the financial crisis in 2007.
The term global imbalances refers to the accumulation of balance of payments and trade surpluses by some, mostly emerging, economies, and the rise of external and budget deficits in the United States and Europe.
So far the rebalancing had been “relatively muted” with “unsustainable imbalances eroding only gradually in several regions.”
Slow progress in dealing with structural problems and “headwinds” which were slowing the growth of trade coupled with volatile flows of capital, had caused Moody’s to revise its outlook downwards, the agency said.
“The risks to our forecasts remain skewed to the downside,” Moody’s warned.
Profile: Olli Rehn, austere guardian of budgetary discipline
9 November 2012
Les Echos Paris
Popular in his home country of Finland and much feared elsewhere in Europe, the European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs maintains a low profile. However, with the introduction of new supervisory rules for budgets, his emerging role as a key player in Europe’s economic governance will make it difficult for him to avoid the limelight.
Renaud Honoré | Anne Bauer
French politicians who like to blame “Brussels” for unpopular decisions should consider broadening their vocabulary by citing the name of “Olli Rehn.” The largely unknown Finnish Commission Vice-President has become a key player in European governance – a fact most recently highlighted by his 7 November exposé of growth forecasts for Europe. Modest to the point of self-effacement, Olli Rehn does not make much of his prerogatives.
“I do not have superpowers,” he points out to Les Echos. “I am politically responsible before the European Parliament and my legitimacy is solely based on a European treaty. The decision to reinforce economic governance was taken by member states and parliament, my task is simply to ensure that the member states practice what they preach.”
Largely unnoticed by the public, the last few months have been marked by a paradigm shift. With the approval of last year’s reform of the Stability and Growth Pact – the measures referred to as the six-pack in Brussels jargon – the European Commission now plays an essential role in economic management. When a country fails to toe the line of budgetary orthodoxy (3% deficit and 60% public debt) or adopt corrective measures that are deemed to be adequate, Brussels can now take advantage of a streamlined procedure for imposing fines.
And once they have been singled out, member states will have virtually no hope of escaping punishment: to mount a successful appeal, the member state in question would have to gain the support of a qualified majority on the European Council, which is virtually impossible.
A low profile that is almost excessive
It will not be easy for bad pupils to beg for support from other member states. What’s more, the new texts have given Olli Rehn’s staff a brief to identify emerging “macroeconomic imbalances” in member states, like the loss of competitiveness in France or warning signs of a property bubble in the Netherlands. Once an imbalance has been identified, Brussels can issue one of its much-talked about “recommendations” and demand that the member state in question produce an action plan to correct it.
And all of this is just the beginning! In 2013, Brussels’ supervisory role will be further reinforced by the entry into force of the fiscal compact, which imposes the “golden rule” of budgetary management. Finally, another legislative text that is still being discussed by parliament, the so-called two-pack, will give Brussels greater oversight of national budgets and allow it to view economic plans before they are adopted by national parliaments.
However, Olli Rehn is keen to downplay its ultimate impact: “Bear in mind, there will not be a veto, just the right to give an opinion.” In the context of his increasingly predominant role, Olli Rehn’s insistence on keeping a low profile is at times almost excessive.
In Tim Geithner’s recently published telephone schedules, it is interesting to see who the US Secretary of the Treasury calls to discuss the euro crisis. In the first semester of 2012, he spoke around 20 times with Christine Lagarde of the IMF, and had a similar number of talks with the ECB’s Mario Draghi. His contact with Olli Rehn was much less extensive, in fact he only phoned him four times.
Future contender for the Finnish presidency
To those that know him from his time as Commissioner for Enlargement (2004-2010), his discretion does not come as a surprise. Olli Rehn was born in Finland, and national character counts for something in his manner. When they are in Brussels, the Finns themselves delight in telling a joke about the difference between the Finnish introvert and the Finnish extrovert: the introvert looks at his shoes, while the extrovert looks at your shoes...
As a political leader, Rehn remains very attached to his home country. That is where he earned his spurs, notably as the prime minister’s head of cabinet in the 1990s. Today, the Greeks, the Portuguese and the Irish, like to grumble about the “men in black” or highly placed officials from the IMF and the Commission who have posted on site to ensure the correct administration of the bitter potion of austerity. But back then, the “men in black” were threatening to come to Helsinki.
“Finland was in a very serious recession. I know what it is like to have the IMF on your doorstep. In 1992, to make sure that the books were square and to avoid international aid, we had to redo the budget for the following year four times over a period of a few weeks,” says Olli Rehn. Well respected in his home country and regularly tipped as a future contender for the Finnish presidency, Rehn never misses an opportunity to speak of his love for Finnish traditions like the sauna.
In early October, to combat the rise of the populist political party, the True Finns, and to address his compatriots’ reluctance to help out the “club Med” countries, Rehn published the Eye of the Storm, a book which recounts the euro crisis and offers an ardent defence of Europe. “That is my contribution to the debate for Europe and for Finland,” he explains.
A case by case approach
In an unusual initiative, profits from the sale of the book will be distributed to junior league soccer clubs – a testament to Rehn’s passion for football. A Manchester United fan, he tells us, “I first became familiar with Europe through sport,” before enumerating a list of clubs from across the continent.
The Finnish commissioner has deep-rooted economic convictions, which are more in line with the standard position in Northern Europe than they are with calls for the rapid introduction of debt sharing through the launch of eurobonds. On the frontline of the euro crisis over the last three years, Rehn has remained a proponent of austerity. As a “Mister 3%”, he is not very receptive to arguments voiced by politicians and economists who favour a more flexible austerity, nor is he convinced by the latest IMF studies which have highlighted the manner in which austerity can contribute to a recession.
An opponent of alternative economic medicine, the commissioner prefers high-dosage therapies that cause the patient to suffer, but offer the prospect of a faster cure. In the Brussels control tower, the recovery of Latvia, which is well on its way to being a candidate for the euro, is often contrasted with the prolonged agony of Greece, which has needed increasingly harsh medicine.
At the same time, Olli Rehn insists that the fiscal compact is far from stupid and that it does include a margin of appreciation for countries in the grip of recession. Moreover, since the start of the summer Rehn and his team have granted additional delays to Portugal and also to Spain. In short, the commissioner is in favour of a case by case approach and opposed to a generalised postponement of efforts that must be made. And so armed, he is well-prepared to deal with a full range of political pressures.
8 November 2012
Veidas VilniusLithuania: The KGB still walks among us
Twenty-two years after it was dismantled, the KGB continues to rouse passions in Lithuania. The publication of the names of former employees of the Soviet security agency has exposed some politicians and officials. Are they still a threat to the state?
The KGB – the intelligence service of the Soviet Union – was dismantled in October 1991. Ever since, each publication of a new document – lists of reservists or KGB agents, or testimonies on the activity of Soviet agents – by the Genocide and Resistance Research Centre in Lithuania (LGGRTC) provokes a flood of reactions: the centre’s website (www.genocid.lt
) very quickly freezes up under the heavy traffic of visitors. Fifty years from now the story of the KGB will no longer interest the wider world, but it still affects the lives and relationships of many Lithuanians today, not to mention the former Soviet security agents who have gone into politics or risen high in the civil service.
This time around, the publication of the list of management staff in the regional offices of the KGB has unleashed a flood of new passions. The name of the director of the Criminal Police Bureau, Algirdas Matonis, was on it, as were the names of many people currently occupying important positions. Until now, their past had been wholly hidden from Lithuanian society.
Since the end of World War II, more than 100,000 people have worked for the KGB in Lithuania. In 1990 about 6,000 Lithuanians were KGB agents. A large majority of them escaped the lustration – the ‘purification’ – and consider their past to be a secret. About 1,500 former employees have chosen to admit to their collaboration and so have their relationship with the Soviet security agency filed as ‘state secrets’, under the terms proposed by a law enacted in 1999. Among those who admitted it, many worked for the KGB well before 1990.
Election candidates caught up by their KGB past
There are no precise data to quantify how many former KGB employees are working in the civil service. According to Arvydas Anušauskas, who chairs the parliamentary National Security and Defence Committee, a thousand Lithuanian agents were still working for the KGB when it was dismantled in 1991. Some have since retired, and nearly 200 of them have found jobs in the public service. Following the adoption of the 1999 law restricting the employment of former KGB agents and employees in the civil service, only a few dozen have won legal authorisation to retain their positions.
Terese Burauskaite, director of the Genocide and Resistance Research Centre in Lithuania, has been analysing the KGB archives for many years and says that the country’s higher ranks of the civil service include some officials who worked for the KGB and never admitted it. To prove that in court, though, is not easy. “We researchers have enough evidence at hand, because we consider their activity as a whole, but the legal system takes a different approach. Not all the documents that we have available necessarily constitute serious legal evidence. These are copies of papers without signatures, rough drafts, notebooks. We know that the material is genuine, and we can read the names in it, but that’s not enough for it to be used as evidence in a court of law,” she regrets.
In the last general election several candidates were caught up by their past as KGB agents. One famous chemist had to admit that he had collaborated with Soviet security. But while he said that this collaboration had gone on for just a year, it was proved that it had taken in a whole decade. Several politicians’ names show up on the lists of KGB reservists published recently by the Research Centre, and at least seven of the reservists are members of the Social Democratic Party, which won the parliamentary elections on October 28 and will form the next government. The best known of them is the former foreign minister and current ambassador in Latvia, Antanas Valionis. The restrictions (under the 1999 Act) imposed on former KGB employees ran out in 2009. This means that, today, the former KGB employees may take up any position at all in the public service.
No Lithuanian worked voluntarily with the KGB
Still, Arvydas Anušauskas does not think there is much to worry about. “If, through this law, a person lost his job at the Public Prosecutor’s Office, what are his chances of finding a job again ten years later? His skills and knowledge are no longer valuable,” he says.
The documents reveal that no Lithuanian worked voluntarily with the KGB. As Terese Burauskaite explains, a new employee was either baited with the carrot or threatened with the stick. And that was why the majority of former KGB employees welcomed the chance to come clean. According to the Centre’s Director, those who never confessed have lost their peace of mind forever, because they can never be sure that their relationship with the KGB will not be exposed one day.
Is there still something to fear from the spectre of the KGB? Asked about the former KGB officers who may still be passing on information to Russia, Arvydas Anušauskas gives an abstract answer. The hypothesis cannot be rejected, he says, but it’s also impossible to respond more concretely. It cannot be denied that former KGB agents in Russia and Lithuania remain in touch, help each out with professional issues and share information. “As Putin put it, 'former' KGB agents do not exist. From this point of view, he’s right,” says the Conservative deputy.
On the walls of the former KGB HQ in Vilnius, now a museum, are the names of Lithuanians executed by the Soviets.
In the USA...
November 11, 2012, 8:15 am
At War - Notes From the Front Lines: Did Vietnam Change the Way We Welcome Veterans Home?
By TIM HSIA
Today's generation of veterans return home to perhaps the most pro-veteran environment in decades. Many large companies actively recruit and employ veterans, and the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill provides benefits for higher education and vocational training to help veterans make the transition. Organizations such as the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion are entirely focused on veteran issues, and many other nonprofit organizations are assisting veterans in their transition to the civilian life.
Part of the motivation for this all-out effort may be guilt, as veterans have done what the vast majority of Americans did not want to do. But a more likely reason for the positive reception is that Americans feel embarrassed and guilty for how Vietnam veterans were treated when they returned home.
The coverage of Vietnam veterans in the history books, news media and movies almost unwaveringly emphasizes not only the fighting overseas and callous decisions by government leaders, but also the divisions on American soil. They portray the returning Vietnam veteran as an isolated individual who had only a fragile connection to the rest of American society.
Today's military still lives in the shadow of the Vietnam War. The issues we confront today are legacies from Vietnam: how to successfully recruit and manage an all-volunteer force, wage counterinsurgency versus conventional warfare, mitigate collateral damage and civilian casualties, and the military's relationship with the rest of American society.
The Vietnam War casts an equally large shadow over American society. The Vietnam War exposed underlying racial issues, whether the elite had to serve, the role of the media, and distrust toward government.
In my own interaction with veterans of different eras, I have found Vietnam veterans to always be the most understanding and sympathetic of the issues that younger veterans experience. These feelings are present on the national stage as well. Many of the biggest proponent of veterans' issues have been Vietnam-era veterans: Eric Shinseki, former Army chief of staff, currently serves as secretary of veterans affairs; Senator Jim Webb of Virginia, a former Marine Corps officer and secretary of the Navy, and a major proponent behind the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill; and Senator John McCain of Arizona, a former Navy pilot who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
This Veterans Day, most communities will focus their celebration on the recent veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. But it would be a travesty if there were not a full acknowledgment and appreciation of Vietnam-era veterans. Today's veterans would face a much more challenging transition to civilian life without their experiences then or their efforts to help new veterans today.
Tim Hsia is pursuing a J.D./M.B.A. at Stanford. He is currently in the Army Reserves as an R.O.T.C. instructor at Santa Clara University, which offers training for Stanford cadets. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense or the United States government.
Veterans struggle with benefit claims thanks to missing war records
By Pro Publica
Monday, November 12, 2012 8:42 EST
A strange thing happened when Christopher DeLara filed for disability benefits after his tour in Iraq: The U.S. Army said it had no records showing he had ever been overseas.
DeLara had searing memories of his combat experiences. A friend bled to death before his eyes. He saw an insurgent shoot his commander in the head. And, most hauntingly, he recalled firing at an Iraqi boy who had attacked his convoy.
The Army said it could find no field records documenting any of these incidents.
Over the last decade, millions of military field records from Iraq and Afghanistan have been lost or destroyed, making it difficult for some soldiers to prove their combat experiences and obtain medical benefits or other veteran awards and services. Our reporting found a few reasons behind the problem:
System failure: In a string of critical reports, historians said Army units were losing their own history by failing to keep adequate field records. The U.S. military began relying on computer records during the Gulf War, introducing major gaps in recordkeeping as the old-style paper system fell apart. The Army then introduced a centralized system for collecting electronic field reports, but units have failed to submit records there.
Security concerns: Some military commanders ordered units to purge computer hard drives before redeploying to the United States, destroying any classified field records they contained.
Leadership: Disagreements among military officials have also led to lack of coordination in record-keeping. “The Army would say it’s Centcom’s responsibility… Centcom would say it’s an Army responsibility,” said one Archivist. Recordkeeping took a backseat to wartime demands: “Something just had to fall off the plate, there was so much going on,” a former Centcom records manager said.
» Are you a veteran who can’t obtain your military field records? Tell us your story.
Timeline of Petraeus scandal scrutinized as Benghazi hearing looms
By Matt Williams, The Guardian
Sunday, November 11, 2012 13:19 EST
The dramatic downfall of CIA chief David Petraeus has given rise to political intrigue in Washington as a drip-feed of details concerning his clandestine affair mixes with serious questions over the timing of the resignation.
Over the weekend it emerged that his relationship with biographer Paula Broadwell was discovered by FBI agents while they investigated harassing emails she allegedly sent to a second woman, the identity of whom has yet to be revealed.
The scandal comes at a particularly sensitive time. Petraeus had been due to give evidence before a Congressional body this coming Thursday concerning the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi in which four Americans were killed, including America’s ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens.
It is now thought that Petraeus will not attend the session, robbing politicians of the opportunity to question an “absolutely necessary witness”, according to Peter King, chairman of the House homeland security committee.
White House and intelligence officials have suggested that there is no connection between the timing of Petraeus’s resignation and the evidence session on the Benghazi attack.
But in Washington, questions are being asked as to why the FBI appeared to have sat on the information it uncovered regarding the affair before handing it on to other authorities some time later.
Intelligence officials have suggested that Petraeus was first questioned over the nature of his relationship with Broadwell a fortnight ago.
But it was only on the night of the presidential election that national intelligence director James Clapper was notified of the affair. It is thought that Clapper then advised the CIA chief to resign.
Even then, it was not until the next day that the White House was informed of the situation. It then took a further day before newly re-elected President Barack Obama was told that his intelligence chief was to tender his resignation.
Meanwhile, the Senate intelligence committee only heard about the matter on Friday, just hours before the CIA director announced he was to step down.
Further confusing the time-line of events were reports on Sunday that leading House Republican Eric Cantor had been informed by an FBI whistle-blower of the brewing Petraeus scandal two weeks ago.
If true, it would raise the prospect that the affair had become known in Washington circles before Friday’s resignation.
House Republican King said on Sunday that the account of who knew what and when “doesn’t add up”, saying that there were a lot of unanswered questions.
The FBI had an “obligation” to tell the president as soon as they had identified a possible security breach, he told CNN’s State of the Union.
Meanwhile, other politicians said that Petraeus may still be compelled to give evidence concerning the 11 September attack in Benghazi.
“We may well ask him,” Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told Fox News Sunday.
Congress is keen to question the former four-star general over what the CIA knew in advance of the assault, and importantly, what it had told the White House in regards to the nature of the terrorist threat.
In the run-up to last week’s election, senior Republicans accused the White House of misleading Americans over claims that it was not made aware of requests to bolster security in advance of the assault.
It is on this point that Petraeus was expected to be questioned at Thursday’s Congressional hearing. Following his resignation, it is thought that his former deputy, Michael Morell, will testify before Washington in his place as acting director of the CIA.
Morell is slated to meet with Congressional figures on Wednesday to discuss the Petraeus affair in a bid to curtail lingering suspicions over the timing of the resignation.
The political fall-out from Friday’s resignation comes amid a personal crisis for a man often referred to as the leading American military mind of his generation.
In the days following his announcement to step down, a steady flow of leaks to the US media have given more detail to the affair that cost Petraeus his job.
The makings of his downfall were in a series of apparently vicious emails sent by his lover — a 40-year-old former Army reservist who co-authored All In, a fawning biography of the CIA chief — to a second woman.
It is thought that the threatening nature of the missives led the recipient to seek the protection of the FBI.
An investigation of Broadwell’s personal email account uncovered letters of an explicit nature between her and Petraeus, who has been married for the past 38 years to his wife Holly.
It was then that agents approached the CIA chief directly. Having eliminated the threat of a security breach, it was decided that no further action would be taken by the FBI.
But the damage to Petraeus’s reputation was clear, and having consulted with Clapper, the decision to resign was made.
In a letter to staff explaining his move, the now outgoing CIA boss said: “Such behaviour is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organisation such as ours.”
Others close to Petraeus had an even more blunt assessment of the scandal. “He screwed up, he knows he screwed up,” said Steve Boylan, a retired army officer and Petraeus’s former spokesman.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2012
November 11, 2012
Officials Say F.B.I. Knew of Petraeus Affair in the Summer
By SCOTT SHANE and CHARLIE SAVAGE
WASHINGTON — High-level officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Justice Department were notified in the late summer that F.B.I. agents had uncovered what appeared to be an extramarital affair involving the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, David H. Petraeus, government officials said Sunday.
But law enforcement officials did not notify anyone outside the F.B.I. or the Justice Department until last week because the investigation was incomplete and initial concerns about possible security breaches, which would demand more immediate action, did not appear to be justified, the officials said.
The new accounts of the events that led to Mr. Petraeus’s sudden resignation on Friday shed light on the competing pressures facing F.B.I. agents who recognized the high stakes of any investigation involving the C.I.A. director but who were wary of exposing a private affair with no criminal or security implications. For the first time Sunday, the woman whose report of harassing e-mails led to the exposure of the affair was identified as Jill Kelley, 37, of Tampa, Fla.
Some members of Congress have protested the delay in being notified of the F.B.I.’s investigation of Mr. Petraeus until just after the presidential election. Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California and the chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, said Sunday that her committee would “absolutely” demand an explanation. An F.B.I. case involving the C.I.A. director “could have had an effect on national security,” she said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I think we should have been told.”
But the bureau’s history would make the privacy question especially significant; in his decades-long reign as the F.B.I.’s first director, J. Edgar Hoover sometimes directed agents to spy improperly on the sex lives of public figures and then used the resulting information to pressure or blackmail them.
Law enforcement officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the investigation, defended the F.B.I.’s handling of the case. “There are a lot of sensitivities in a case like this,” said a senior law enforcement official. “There were hints of possible intelligence and security issues, but they were unproven. You constantly ask yourself, ‘What are the notification requirements? What are the privacy issues?’ ”
A close friend of the Petraeus family said Sunday that the intimate relationship between Mr. Petraeus and his biographer, Paula Broadwell, began after he retired from the military last year and about two months after he started as C.I.A. director. It ended about four months ago, said the friend, who did not want to be identified while discussing personal matters. In a letter to the C.I.A. work force on Friday, Mr. Petraeus acknowledged having the affair. Ms. Broadwell has not responded to repeated requests for comment.
Under military regulations, adultery can be a crime. At the C.I.A., it can be a security issue, since it can make an intelligence officer vulnerable to blackmail, but it is not a crime.
On Sunday, the same Petraeus family friend confirmed the identity of Ms. Kelley, whose complaint to the F.B.I. about “harassing” e-mails, eventually traced to Ms. Broadwell, set the initial investigation in motion several months ago. Ms. Kelley and her husband became friends with Mr. Petraeus and his wife, Holly, when Mr. Petraeus was head of the military’s Central Command, which has its headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. Ms. Kelley, who volunteers to help injured service members and military families at MacDill, has been photographed with the Petraeuses at social events in Tampa.
“We and our family have been friends with General Petraeus and his family for over five years,” Ms. Kelley and her husband, Scott Kelley, said in a statement released Sunday. “We respect his and his family’s privacy, and want the same for us and our three children.”
The statement did not acknowledge that it was Ms. Kelley who received the e-mails, which was first reported by The Associated Press.
The involvement of the F.B.I., according to government officials, began when Ms. Kelley, alarmed by about half a dozen anonymous e-mails accusing her of inappropriate flirtatious behavior with Mr. Petraeus, complained to an F.B.I. agent who is also a personal friend. That agent, who has not been identified, helped get a preliminary inquiry started. Agents working with federal prosecutors in a local United States attorney’s office began trying to figure out whether the e-mails constituted criminal cyber-stalking.
Because the sender’s account had been registered anonymously, investigators had to use forensic techniques — including a check of what other e-mail accounts had been accessed from the same computer address — to identify who was writing the e-mails.
Eventually they identified Ms. Broadwell as a prime suspect and obtained access to her regular e-mail account. In its in-box, they discovered intimate and sexually explicit e-mails from another account that also was not immediately identifiable. Investigators eventually ascertained that it belonged to Mr. Petraeus and studied the possibility that someone had hacked into Mr. Petraeus’s account or was posing as him to send the explicit messages.
Eventually they determined that Mr. Petraeus had indeed sent the messages to Ms. Broadwell and concluded that the two had had an affair. Then they turned their scrutiny on him, examining whether he knew about or was involved in sending the harassing e-mails to Ms. Kelley.
It was at that point — sometime in the late summer — that lower-level Justice Department officials notified supervisors that the case had become more complicated, and the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section began working on the investigation as well.
It remains unclear whether the F.B.I. also gained access to Mr. Petraeus’s personal e-mail account, or if it relied only on e-mails discovered in Ms. Broadwell’s in-box. It also remains uncertain exactly when the information about Mr. Petraeus reached Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and Robert S. Mueller III, the F.B.I. director. Both men have declined to comment.
But under the Attorney General Guidelines that govern domestic law enforcement officials, agents must notify F.B.I. headquarters and the Department of Justice whenever they are looking at a “sensitive investigative matter,” which includes cases “involving the activities of a domestic public official.”
F.B.I. agents interviewed Ms. Broadwell for the first time the week of Oct. 21, and she acknowledged the affair, a government official briefed on the matter said. She also voluntarily gave the agency her computer. In a search, the agents discovered several classified documents, which raised the additional question of whether Mr. Petraeus had given them to her. She said that he had not. Agents interviewed Mr. Petraeus the following week. He also admitted to the affair but said he had not given any classified documents to her. The agents then interviewed Ms. Broadwell again on Friday, Nov. 2, the official said.
Based on that record, law enforcement officials decided there was no evidence that Mr. Petraeus had committed any crime and tentatively ruled out charges coming out of the investigation, the official said. Because the facts had now been settled, the agency notified James R. Clapper, the director of national intelligence, about 5 p.m. on the following Tuesday — Election Day.
Meanwhile, the F.B.I. agent who had helped get a preliminary inquiry started, and learned of Mr. Petraeus’s affair and the initial concerns about security breaches, became frustrated. Apparently unaware that those concerns were largely resolved, the agent alerted the office of Representative Eric Cantor, Republican of Virginia, the House majority leader, about the inquiry in late October. Mr. Cantor passed on the agent’s concerns to Mr. Mueller.
Officials said Sunday that the timing of the notifications had nothing to do with the election, noting that there was no obvious political advantage for either President Obama or Mitt Romney in the news that the C.I.A. director had had an affair; Mr. Petraeus is highly regarded by both Republicans and Democrats. They also said that Mr. Cantor’s call to the F.B.I. on Oct. 31 had not accelerated or otherwise influenced the investigation, which they said had never stalled.
F.B.I. and Justice Department officials knew their handling of the case would ultimately receive immense scrutiny and took significant time to determine whom they were legally required to inform, according to a senior law enforcement official.
“This was very thought-through,” the official said.
The law requires that the Senate and House intelligence committees be kept “fully and currently informed” of intelligence activities, which conceivably might cover an investigation into a possible compromise of the C.I.A. director’s e-mail account and the possession of classified documents by Ms. Broadwell.
But Justice Department and F.B.I. rules, designed to protect the integrity of investigations and the privacy of people who come under scrutiny, say that investigators should not share potentially damaging information about unproved allegations or private matters unless it is critical for the investigation.
Glenn A. Fine, the inspector general for the Justice Department from 2000 to 2011, said it appeared that the F.B.I. was “legitimately following a lead” about possible criminal wrongdoing or a security breach.
“Some have said the F.B.I. was out to get the C.I.A.,” said Mr. Fine, who is now a partner at the law firm Dechert LLP in Washington. “That might have been true 20 years ago. But it is hard to believe that is going on today.”
John Prados, a historian and an author on intelligence and its abuses, said the case “posed several dilemmas for the F.B.I.” that would have prompted agents and their bosses to proceed gingerly.
“Petraeus is a very important person, so they would want to be crystal clear on exactly what happened and what the implications were,” Mr. Prados said. “There was probably a sense that it had to be taken to top bureau officials. And bureau officials probably thought they had better tell the White House and Congress and the D.N.I., or they might get in trouble later,” he added, referring to the director of national intelligence.
But if the security issues were resolved and no crime had been committed, Mr. Prados said, there was no justification for informing Congress or other agencies that Mr. Petraeus had had an affair.
“In my view, it should never have been briefed outside the bureau,” he said.
Reporting was contributed by Michael S. Schmidt, Eric Schmitt, Mark Mazzetti and Michael R. Gordon.
November 11, 2012
Amid Upheaval, Obama Loses ‘Source of Stability’
By DAVID E. SANGER
WASHINGTON — President Obama has begun searching for a new Central Intelligence Agency director at what many administration officials say is an especially awkward time: in the midst of investigations about the killing of the American ambassador in Benghazi, Libya; at a crucial moment in the covert war against Iran; and just as the administration is considering a more active role in Syria.
In each of those arenas, David H. Petraeus, who resigned on Friday because of an extramarital affair with the author of a highly flattering book about his military career, provided Mr. Obama with both experience and political cover. A hero among Republicans for his service in Iraq and Afghanistan — and his occasional public disagreements with the president over troop withdrawals — Mr. Petraeus had just returned from a long trip to Libya and the Middle East when news of the scandal broke.
The trip was a reminder, one senior administration official said on Sunday, of the depth of the relationships the retired general had nurtured throughout a long military career in the region, which Mr. Obama was relying on.
“He’s pretty critical to everything we’ve got on the table,” the official said. “At a moment when there is about to be a lot of turnover, Petraeus was going to be a source of stability.”
Even before Mr. Petraeus’s arrival at the intelligence agency, where he redecorated the director’s suite with guns and other memorabilia from his days in Iraq and Afghanistan, the C.I.A.’s influence in Washington was growing considerably.
Its covert drone program became Mr. Obama’s weapon of choice to attack Al Qaeda in the tribal areas of Pakistan. And the agency became responsible for the broad attacks on Iran’s nuclear complex code-named “Olympic Games,” which included the first use of American cyberweapons against another state. Increased use of C.I.A. paramilitary forces brought the agency closer than any time in decades to its roots, in the clandestine operations run by the Office of Strategic Services in World War II.
Mr. Petraeus, by his own account, was initially an uneasy fit at the agency, but later became accustomed to its non-hierarchical structure. “The C.I.A., thanks to its seasoned and highly educated work force, does not need a heavy hand on the reins,” Mr. Petraeus said in a speech in September. “A light touch is generally all that is required.”
Several current and former officials of American intelligence agencies said they believed that Mr. Obama might move quickly to nominate Mr. Petraeus’s deputy, Michael J. Morell, as his replacement. That would put the agency’s most respected intelligence analyst at the head of the organization. Mr. Morell is of the “light touch” school, and clearly the favorite inside the headquarters of the agency in Langley, Va.
The president could also choose the man inside the White House who is considered by many to be overseeing the entire American intelligence infrastructure from his basement office in the West Wing of the White House: John O. Brennan, a retired C.I.A. operative who once headed the agency’s station in Saudi Arabia.
By all accounts, both Mr. Brennan and Mr. Morell have developed strong relationships with Mr. Obama over the past four years; both were central players in the operation to find and kill Osama bin Laden, and both have been at the core of the covert program to undermine Iran’s nuclear program.
They would be, in the words of one former official who has worked with them both, “comfortable choices for a president who has had his differences” with a sprawling intelligence apparatus that Mr. Obama has said was often too slow to give him what he needed in his first term, and at other times went beyond its role to try to affect policy making.
Mr. Morell is a soft-spoken onetime intelligence analyst. He was President George W. Bush’s intelligence briefer, and he was omnipresent in the White House after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He frequently could be spotted at a Starbucks in Waco, Texas, near Mr. Bush’s ranch, sipping his coffee between briefings.
Michael V. Hayden, the C.I.A. director who promoted Mr. Morell to chief of the analytic branch, the directorate of intelligence, said on Sunday that “that was the job of his dreams.”
But he made the switch to the Obama administration seamlessly, and, with Mr. Petraeus on the road frequently, was a near-constant presence in the White House Situation Room. “He would be a steady-as-you-go choice,” Mr. Hayden said.
Mr. Brennan would be more controversial. He was considered for the job four years ago, when Mr. Obama was first elected. But he withdrew when some human rights advocates accused him — unfairly, he said — of supporting or tolerating the use of torture while he was a top aide to George J. Tenet, the C.I.A. director from 1997 to 2004. Similar accusations have dogged many other agency veterans.
Bruce Riedel, who worked for 30 years at the C.I.A. and is now at the Brookings Institution, said he thought Mr. Brennan would be at the top of the list of candidates to replace Mr. Petraeus.
“He’s got the president’s confidence,” Mr. Riedel said. “He knows as much about intelligence as anyone I know.” Mr. Reidel said he thought the claims of support or tolerance for torture that had blocked Mr. Brennan’s way before would probably not be an obstacle any longer. “After four years, no one doubts John’s determination and ability to fight terrorism without using torture,” he said.
But by many measures, Mr. Brennan is already effectively the most senior intelligence official in Washington; some say he even overshadows the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr. As C.I.A. director, he would be reporting to Mr. Clapper, but his personal relationship with Mr. Obama might test that reporting structure.
There are a range of other choices, officials said. One is to attempt to install the current national security adviser, Thomas E. Donilon, who has been deeply involved in a range of covert programs and has frequently described himself as one of the country’s best-informed intelligence officials.
But again, he might view the C.I.A. job as something of a demotion; currently, he is overseeing the administration’s biggest geopolitical initiatives from his corner office at the White House. He could also face confirmation difficulties, dating back to his days as a senior executive at Fannie Mae, the troubled government-sponsored mortgage financing agency that is now a ward of the Treasury Department.
Representative Mike Rogers, Republican of Michigan, is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a former F.B.I. official and could sail through confirmation hearings and give a bipartisan air to the administration’s efforts, as Mr. Petraeus did. So could Michael E. Leiter, the retired director of the National Counterterrorism Center, who has often challenged the intelligence world’s orthodoxies.
Scott Shane contributed reporting.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: November 12, 2012
An earlier version of this article misstated the name of the C.I.A.’s World War II-era predecessor. It was the Office of Strategic Services, not the Office of Secret Services.
November 11, 2012
G.O.P. Strains to Define How to Close Gap With Voters
By KEVIN SACK and SARAH WHEATON
For four years, the leader most capable of unifying the fractious Republican Party has been Barack Obama.
Now the Republicans find their divisions newly revealed in the raw. By exposing the party’s vulnerability to potent demographic shifts, the 2012 results have set the stage for a struggle between those determined to rebrand the Republicans in a softer light and those yearning instead for ideological purity.
But before acceptance comes denial. And the party’s first challenge, it seems in the immediate aftermath, is to find common ground simply in diagnosing the problem. Though some leaders argued that basic mathematics dictates that the party must find new ways to talk about issues like immigration, abortion and same-sex marriage, others attributed Republican losses to poor candidate choice, messaging missteps and President Obama’s superior political operation.
“We continually crank out moderate loser after moderate loser,” said Joshua S. Treviño, a speechwriter in George W. Bush’s administration who now works for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative group. He said Mitt Romney was part of a “pattern” of Republican nominees, preceded by John McCain, Bob Dole and George H. W. Bush, who were rejected by voters because of “perceived inauthenticity.”
By contrast, Ralph Reed, the longtime Republican strategist and chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, said he would redouble efforts over the next four years to recruit women, Latinos and young people as grass-roots organizers.
“I certainly get the fact that your daddy’s Republican Party cannot win relying singularly on white voters and evangelicals alone — as critical as I believe those voters are to a majority coalition,” Mr. Reed said. “The good news for conservatives is there are many of those who have not always felt welcome in our ranks who share our values.”
The re-election of Mr. Obama, despite the flagging economy and ambivalence about his leadership, left questions that Republicans may sort out only over time, starting with the direction set by the party’s majority in the House and the run-up to the 2016 campaign.
Can the Republicans shore up their weaknesses purely with tonal changes on issues like abortion, immigration and same-sex marriage, along with a repackaging of conservative fiscal policy? Will it require real moderation on social and economic positions that the Tea Party movement and the conservative base consider inviolate?
Or is an embrace of unyielding conservatism required to rally an electorate that has grown cynical about candidates who shape-shift after the primaries?
The debate is already roiling, with early markers laid in postelection news conferences and on the Sunday talk shows. On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Carlos Gutierrez, a Romney adviser and a commerce secretary under George W. Bush, blamed the loss “squarely on the far right wing of the Republican Party.”
Countered Gary L. Bauer, the socially conservative former presidential candidate, “America is not demanding a second liberal party.”
The Republican National Committee is undertaking a two-month series of polls, focus groups and outreach meetings about its message and mechanics, with added focus on Latino subgroups like Cubans, Mexicans and Puerto Ricans. Introspection will also be on the agenda when the Republican Governors Association convenes on Wednesday for a three-day meeting in Las Vegas.
“The question really is how do we set the best tone in delivering our conservative message so that it becomes attractive to more people,” said Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia, the association’s chairman. “Looking at how young voters and minority voters are voting, it’s an unsustainable trajectory.”
In addition to losing both the popular and electoral votes for president, the Republicans lost nearly every swing state. Although the race was far closer than in 2008, Mr. Romney won two million fewer votes than Mr. McCain did against Mr. Obama that year.
Democrats, once fearful of losing the Senate, gained one seat there and four in the House. They also added seats in state legislatures.
The Republicans’ only bright spot, other than maintaining the House majority, came in governors’ races. They picked up a long-elusive seat in North Carolina, bringing their total to 30, the most by either party in 12 years.
The longer-term concerns for Republicans were revealed in exit polling. While Mr. Romney won the votes of 59 percent of whites, 52 percent of men and 78 percent of white evangelicals, Mr. Obama claimed 55 percent of women, 60 percent of voters under 30, 93 percent of African-Americans and more than 70 percent of Latinos and Asians.
Although the president’s majority shrank nationally, he won a larger proportion of Latino and Asian votes than in 2008. Among Latinos, Mr. Romney’s share of the vote fell 17 percentage points below the 44 percent won by George W. Bush in 2004.
Perhaps most ominous, the Latino share of the total vote rose to 10 percent from 8 percent in 2004, and the Asian share rose to 3 percent from 2 percent. The electorate is now 28 percent nonwhite, more than double the figure from two decades ago. That growth is certain to continue; in 2011, births to nonwhites outnumbered births to whites for the first time.
“It’s stunning that Republicans won the white vote by 20 points and still lost,” said Alan I. Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University who writes about polarization. Unless Republicans reverse the trend, he said, the rising strength of Latinos could doom the party’s ability to map a winning electoral strategy. Colorado and Nevada could soon join California and New Mexico as noncompetitive states for Republicans in presidential elections, with Florida not far behind.
“And eventually Texas,” Dr. Abramowitz added. “Not 4 years or 8 years from now, but in 12 or 16 years Texas is going to become a swing state. And if Texas becomes a swing state, it’s all over.”
Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster, noted that Mr. Romney did better than Mr. McCain among white voters, and won independents by 5 percentage points, all to no avail.
“It is patently obvious that unless Republicans do better among nonwhite voters, they will cease to be a viable national political party,” Mr. Ayres said. “Obviously, doing something on immigration-related issues, like the Dream Act, is a start. But we’re also going to have to address the fact that younger people tend to be less conservative on a number of hot-button social issues.”
The imperative to reach Latinos may put pressure on Congressional Republicans to compromise with Mr. Obama on a bill that provides illegal immigrants, or at least those who arrived in the United States as children, with a path to legal status. Senate leaders in both parties announced on Sunday that they were renewing negotiations to seek a deal.
But the Republicans will also have to overcome the tone set by Republican-led states that have enacted tough new measures aimed at catching illegal immigrants. Latinos will never vote Republican, said Mr. Treviño, the former Bush speechwriter, “if they think your political party just doesn’t want you as a neighbor.”
Republican officials said that meant aggressively recruiting Hispanic candidates like Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Senator-elect Ted Cruz of Texas, both sons of Cuban immigrants. And they said it required stressing common values, like opportunity, social conservatism and support for small business.
“The conservative movement should have particular appeal to people in minority and immigrant communities who are trying to make it,” Mr. Rubio said after the election, “and Republicans need to work harder than ever to communicate our beliefs to them.”
Mr. Rubio will be a featured speaker on Saturday at a fund-raiser in Iowa being hosted by Terry E. Branstad, the state’s Republican governor.
Ryan R. Call, the state Republican chairman in Colorado, where Hispanics made up 14 percent of those who voted there last week, said the party had to find a way to stand firm on conservative principles while finding a “proactive response” on issues like immigration and gay rights.
“We can’t simply be the party of no,” he said.
But the party’s staunchest conservatives, including leaders of the Tea Party movement, are not ready to yield. Many, including House incumbents from safe districts and deep-pocketed financiers, hold outsize influence in the party.
The conservative strategist Richard A. Viguerie kicked off a news conference in Washington on Wednesday by declaring that “the battle to take over the Republican Party begins today.” He added, “Never again are we going to nominate a big-government, establishment Republican for president.”
Mike Huckabee, a former Republican presidential candidate and current Fox News host, said in an interview that shifts in the party’s approach to social issues would be difficult “because those are not political issues, they’re deeply held moral positions by the people who hold them.”
Similarly, Senator Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, a fiercely antitax Republican, said in an interview that the election results gave him little incentive to compromise on fiscal principles, including in the coming negotiations with Democrats over deficit reduction.
“We’ve been offering solutions,” Mr. Toomey said, “and the people who voted for those solutions were re-elected.”
November 9, 2012
Races in Arizona Still Hang in the Balance
By FERNANDA SANTOS
PHOENIX — Three days after the election, the outcome of several races remained a mystery in Arizona as officials struggle to count a record number of early and provisional ballots, many of them cast by voters who believed they had registered but whose names were not on the voter rolls at the polling place.
On Thursday, Secretary of State Ken Bennett revealed the magnitude of the situation: 631,274 votes remained uncounted, he said, more than in any presidential election in memory and enough to anger voting- and immigrant-rights advocates, who have called on the Justice Department to investigate. (By Friday, there were 524,633 uncounted ballots. There are 3.1 million registered voters in the state.)
The advocates, who have been staging nearly continuous protests outside the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center, where most of the votes are being tallied, have raised accusations of disenfranchisement, saying the same Latino voters they worked so diligently to register may have been disproportionately affected. Based on accounts they have been collecting since before the polls closed, among the 115,000 voters who cast provisional ballots in Maricopa County on Tuesday were many first-time minority voters who signed up to get their ballots by mail, but never did.
“We’re concerned that some of the barriers we’re seeing fell heavily on Latino and African-American voters,” said Monica Sandschafer, acting coordinator for One Arizona, a coalition of nonprofit groups working to increase voter participation among working families.
Volunteers took to the phones on Friday at the offices of Unite Here, which represents hospitality workers, calling Latinos on the early-voting registry to find out if they got their ballots in time to vote by mail. Meanwhile, the Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union wrote a letter to the county recorder, Helen Purcell, saying the “public confidence in the voting process” was at stake.
The uncertainty has also unsettled candidates and campaign staffs, prompting at least one of them — Mark Napier, the Republican candidate for sheriff in Pima County, which had 80,735 uncounted votes on Wednesday — to rescind his concession.
“I was down by 7,400 votes on election night,” Mr. Napier said. “I assumed it was over, but this election could change.”
Three Congressional races remained too close to call on Friday, and there were also some misgivings about the outcome of several other races. One of them was the United States Senate race, where, as of Friday, Jeff Flake, a Republican congressman, was ahead of his Democratic challenger, Richard H. Carmona, by 78,775 votes, according to unofficial results posted by the secretary of state.
Mr. Carmona conceded on Tuesday; on Friday, in a message to supporters, he wrote, “We will take every necessary step to make sure all of our supporters’ ballots are counted.”
Activists say that they believe, based on what they have heard from people in the field, that provisional ballots tended to be used most often in Hispanic and black neighborhoods. But that cannot be verified until all the ballots are counted, and officials in each of Arizona’s 15 counties have until next Friday to do that.
Matt Roberts, a spokesman for Mr. Bennett, said that all valid votes would be counted. Advocates and elected officials are worried, though, that voters who had to cast conditional provisional ballots because they forgot to bring identification to the polls, as state law requires, may not know they have to present their ID at the county elections office by Wednesday for their vote to count.
“You should do it not just for the Democrats or the Republicans, or for the Hispanic voters and the black voters. You should do it because it’s the right thing to do,” State Representative Ruben Gallego, a Democrat, said at a protest on Friday.
Deborah Curtis, a poll observer at Xavier College Preparatory in Central Phoenix attending the same protest, said she saw a black voter being told she could drop off her early ballot only in her neighborhood precinct, although early ballots can be left at any polling place.
“I wondered how many other people were told the same thing,” Ms. Curtis said.
On Thursday night, more than a hundred people — activists, high school students who are too young to vote but worked for months to register voters, and voters who said they were forced to use provisional ballots at the polls — joined hands in a human chain and prayed outside the election center, a squat brick building on a desolate stretch of downtown, next to the train tracks and across the street from a jail.
Friday morning, they marched five blocks along Third Avenue to the county recorder’s office, where they delivered a petition with at least 20,000 signatures, demanding answers. Outside, on small pieces of paper, they left messages taped to a wooden board. One of them read, “We have rights.” Another read, “Justice.”
November 10, 2012
Political Racism in the Age of Obama
By STEVEN HAHN
THE white students at Ole Miss who greeted President Obama’s decisive re-election with racial slurs and nasty disruptions on Tuesday night show that the long shadows of race still hang eerily over us. Four years ago, when Mr. Obama became our first African-American president by putting together an impressive coalition of white, black and Latino voters, it might have appeared otherwise. Some observers even insisted that we had entered a “post-racial” era.
But while that cross-racial and ethnic coalition figured significantly in Mr. Obama’s re-election last week, it has frayed over time — and may in fact have been weaker than we imagined to begin with. For close to the surface lies a political racism that harks back 150 years to the time of Reconstruction, when African-Americans won citizenship rights. Black men also won the right to vote and contested for power where they had previously been enslaved.
How is this so? The “birther” challenge, which galvanized so many Republican voters, expresses a deep unease with black claims to political inclusion and leadership that can be traced as far back as the 1860s. Then, white Southerners (and a fair share of white Northerners) questioned the legitimacy of black suffrage, viciously lampooned the behavior of new black officeholders and mobilized to murder and drive off local black leaders.
Much of the paramilitary work was done by the White League, the Ku Klux Klan and other vigilantes, who destroyed interracial Reconstruction governments and helped pave the road to the ferocious repression, disenfranchisement and segregation of the Jim Crow era.
D. W. Griffith’s 1915 film, “The Birth of a Nation,” which played to enthusiastic audiences, including President Woodrow Wilson, gave these sensibilities wide cultural sanction, with its depiction of Reconstruction’s democratic impulses as a violation of white decency and its celebration of the Klan for saving the South and reuniting the nation.
By the early 20th century the message was clear: black people did not belong in American political society and had no business wielding power over white people. This attitude has died hard. It is not, in fact, dead. Despite the achievements of the civil rights movement, African-Americans have seldom been elected to office from white-majority districts; only three, including Mr. Obama, have been elected to the United States Senate since Reconstruction, and they have been from either Illinois or Massachusetts.
The truth is that in the post-Civil War South few whites ever voted for black officeseekers, and the legacy of their refusal remains with us in a variety of forms. The depiction of Mr. Obama as a Kenyan, an Indonesian, an African tribal chief, a foreign Muslim — in other words, as a man fundamentally ineligible to be our president — is perhaps the most searing. Tellingly, it is a charge never brought against any of his predecessors.
But the coordinated efforts across the country to intimidate and suppress the votes of racial and ethnic minorities are far more consequential. Hostile officials regularly deploy the language of “fraud” and “corruption” to justify their efforts much as their counterparts at the end of the 19th century did to fully disenfranchise black voters.
Although our present-day tactics are state-issued IDs, state-mandated harassment of immigrants and voter-roll purges, these are not a far cry from the poll taxes, literacy tests, residency requirements and discretionary power of local registrars that composed the political racism of a century ago. That’s not even counting the hours-long lines many minority voters confronted.
THE repercussions of political racism are ever present, sometimes in subtle rather than explicit guises. The campaigns of both parties showed an obsessive concern with the fate of the “middle class,” an artificially homogenized category mostly coded white, while resolutely refusing to address the deepening morass of poverty, marginality and limited opportunity that disproportionately engulfs African-American and Latino communities.
At the same time, the embrace of “small business” and the retreat from public-sector institutions as a formula for solving our economic and social crises — evident in the policies of both parties — threaten to further erode the prospects and living standards of racial and ethnic minorities, who are overwhelmingly wage earners and most likely to find decent pay and stability as teachers, police officers, firefighters and government employees.
Over the past three decades, the Democrats have surrendered so much intellectual ground to Republican anti-statism that they have little with which to fight back effectively. The result is that Mr. Obama, like many other Democrats, has avoided the initiatives that could really cement his coalition — public works projects, industrial and urban policy, support for homeowners, comprehensive immigration reform, tougher financial regulation, stronger protection for labor unions and national service — and yet is still branded a “socialist” and coddler of minorities. Small wonder that the election returns indicate a decline in overall popular turnout since 2008 and a drop in Mr. Obama’s share of the white vote, especially the vote of white men.
But the returns also suggest intriguing possibilities for which the past may offer us meaningful lessons. There seems little doubt that Mr. Obama’s bailout of the auto industry helped attract support from white working-class voters and other so-called Reagan Democrats across the Midwest and Middle Atlantic, turning the electoral tide in his favor precisely where the corrosions of race could have been very damaging.
The Republicans, on the other hand, failed to make inroads among minority voters, including Asian-Americans, and are facing a formidable generational wall. Young whites helped drive the forces of conservatism and white supremacy during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but now most seem ill at ease with the policies that the Republican Party brandishes: social conservatism, anti-feminism, opposition to same-sex marriage and hostility to racial minorities. The anti-Obama riot at Ole Miss, integrated 50 years ago by James H. Meredith, was followed by a larger, interracial “We Are One Mississippi” candlelight march of protest. Mr. Obama and the Democrats have an opportunity to bridge the racial and cultural divides that have been widening and to begin to reconfigure the country’s political landscape. Although this has always been a difficult task and one fraught with peril, history — from Reconstruction to Populism to the New Deal to the struggle for civil rights — teaches us that it can happen: when different groups meet one another on more level planes, slowly get to know and trust one another, and define objectives that are mutually beneficial and achievable, they learn to think of themselves as part of something larger — and they actually become something larger.
Hard work on the ground — in neighborhoods, schools, religious institutions and workplaces — is foundational. But Mr. Obama, the biracial community organizer, might consider starting his second term by articulating a vision of a multicultural, multiracial and more equitable America with the same insight and power that he once brought to an address on the singular problem of race. If he does that, with words and then with deeds, he can strike a telling blow against the political racism that haunts our country.
Steven Hahn is a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of “A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration.”
« Last Edit: Nov 12, 2012, 08:58 AM by Rad »
3 November 2012 - 09H59
Palestinians begin work to open Arafat grave: source
AFP - Palestinians on Tuesday began work to open the grave of the late Yasser Arafat ahead of an exhumation of his body for a murder probe, a source close to his family told AFP.
"Today they started removing concrete and stones from Arafat's mausoleum and the work will last for almost 15 days," the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"There are several phases," he said, referring to the operation to open the tomb ahead of a visit by French, Swiss and Russian experts to forensically test Arafat's remains over suspicions he was poisoned with the radioactive substance polonium.
"It starts with the removal of stone and concrete and cutting the iron (framework) until they reach the soil that covers the body, which will not be removed until the arrival of the French prosecutors, Swiss experts and Russian investigators," the source said.
On Monday, Arafat's mausoleum, which is located at the Muqataa presidential headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah was screened from public view with blue tarpaulins ahead of the operation to open the grave.
Work to actually begin taking samples is expected to start at the end of the month after the French and Swiss delegations arrive on November 26, officials have said.
"Because of Arafat's position and his status, no-one will be allowed, under any circumstances, to photograph his body while the samples are taken," the source told AFP.
Arafat died in a military hospital near Paris on November 11, 2004 and with French experts unable to say what had killed him.
Many Palestinians are convinced he was poisoned by Israel.
French prosecutors opened a murder inquiry in August after Al-Jazeera television broadcast an investigation in which Swiss experts said they had found high levels of radioactive polonium on Arafat's personal effects.
At the weekend, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said Russia would also be helping the investigation, although he did not specify in what role.
Polonium is a highly toxic substance rarely found outside military and scientific circles.
Dalai Lama urges Japan to investigate Tibet immolations
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, November 13, 2012 7:20 EST
The Dalai Lama urged Japanese lawmakers Tuesday to visit Tibet to find out the reasons for a spate of self-immolations, after Beijing accused him of instigating the deadly protests against Chinese rule.
The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader was addressing around 130 parliamentarians including Shinzo Abe, a former premier and the recently re-elected leader of the main opposition.
“I request some parliamentary groups, ‘Visit Tibet’,” including areas where Tibetans have died in “very sad” self-immolations, the Dalai Lama told the meeting in Japan’s diet, or parliament.
“Perhaps the (Chinese) authorities, leaders of China, I think, may get the true picture” of self-immolations if foreign lawmakers report what is actually happening there, the 77-year-old added.
Two Tibetans died in separate self-immolations Monday, taking to nine the number of people who have set themselves on fire in the last week in protest at Chinese rule.
Reports of their deaths came hours after the Dalai Lama urged the Chinese government seriously to investigate the incidents, saying it is more interested in criticising him than finding the reason behind them.
In response, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei accused the spiritual leader Monday of encouraging the suicides.
“It is against the national laws of China and Buddhist doctrines and the Dalai Lama is instigating these people to take this path of no return,” Hong told a regular briefing.
“And he is trying to sacrifice other people’s lives to achieve his goal of Tibetan independence and what he has done should be severely condemned.”
Hong also accused the Dalai Lama, who denies he seeks Tibetan independence, of colluding with Japanese right-wing anti-China forces through his comments in Japan.
The immolations have gained pace in recent months in the run-up to the Communist Party congress, which started on Thursday in Beijing.
Ahead of the Dalai Lama’s speech, Abe, the frontrunner in the race to become prime minister in upcoming general elections, called on fellow lawmakers to use diplomatic means to help stop the immolations.
“I promise to continue to support Tibet and do my best to change the situation in Tibet in which (people) are oppressed,” the hawkish conservative said.
The lawmakers adopted a statement strongly urging China to improve its “unlawful suppression of human rights against Tibetans and Uighurs”.
Tokyo formally recognises Beijing’s position that Tibet is a part of China and the government bars its officials from meeting the Dalai Lama during his frequent visits.
But China criticises Japan for allowing the visits, which it says give the saffron-robed monk a platform for views it considers unacceptable.
Abe’s stance will likely come under scrutiny for its possible implications for Sino-Japanese relations, already strained by a row over the sovereignty of islands in the East China Sea.
11/12/2012 02:42 PM
Not Just on the Fringes: Far-Right Attitudes Increase in Germany
Right-wing extremist attitudes are on the rise in parts of Germany, particularly in the east, according to a study released on Monday. Young people appear to be at the highest risk, the researchers warn. They are calling for greater social engagement and educational programs to combat the problem of xenophobia.
As Germany continues to grapple with the fallout of the discovery of the murderous far-right terrorist group the National Socialist Underground (NSU), researchers have come to the "unsettling" conclusion that right-wing extremist thought has increased in the country.
Just last week, federal prosecutors formally charged the last surviving member of the neo-Nazi NSU, which is suspected of committing 10 murders, two bomb attacks and 15 armed robberies in the last 12 years. The case shocked Germany when it broke last year, bringing the issue of right-wing extremism to the forefront of public debate. Though some argue that it exists only on the fringes of society, the researchers behind the study released on Monday conclude that these attitudes are widespread throughout Germany.
Starting in 2006, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, which has ties to the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), began publishing "Movement in the Middle," a series of biannual nationwide surveys the organization calls a "barometer of current anti-democratic attitudes in Germany."
Since the publication of the last results in 2010, the foundation has registered an increase of right-wing extremist attitudes from 8.2 to 9 percent across the country, with xenophobia found to be the most prevalent manifestation, a prejudice held by 25.1 percent of the population. The development demands attention, the researchers say.
"Action at all levels -- whether it is in education work, the media, civil society or democratic parties -- is urgently needed," the report says. "Because the approval that right-wing extremist messages receive within the German population is unsettling for a number of reasons."
Young People at Risk
The study, based on surveys conducted in the summer of 2012, found that the prevalence of right-wing extremist attitudes varied greatly according to region. Compared to 2010, western German states actually showed a slight reduction, down from 7.6 percent to 7.3 percent overall. But there was a strong jump in the states that belonged to the former East Germany, up from 10.5 to 15.8 percent, the highest level ever measured by the researchers, who say it continues to rise.
According to their estimation, the region's weak economy is largely to blame. When it comes to anti-foreigner sentiment, the study found that some 20 percent of western Germans hold such attitudes, compared to 39 percent of people in the east. Since 2004, that figure has fallen from about 25 percent in the west, but risen from one-quarter of all people in the east.
Unlike the results of previous surveys, this time young people from eastern Germany aged 14 to 30 showed a higher level of approval for things like a right-wing authoritarian dictatorship, chauvinism, social Darwinism and the trivialization of National Socialism, than those over the age of 60. And while on a national average every eleventh German has anti-Semitic attitudes, levels were higher in eastern Germany than in the west for the first time.
"It is especially worrying that the study shows a new generation of right-wing extremism," the authors write. While in the past young people were considered to be less susceptible to these ideas, now it is exactly this group that stands out. "The structural problems in eastern Germany, which have still not been adequately addressed even 20 years after reunification, are reflected here, as is this generation's feeling that they are not needed," they add.
Still, the researchers warned against classifying the problem as an eastern German one, explaining that socio-economic structures have far more influence than location. Big cities like Hamburg and Berlin, for example, showed more heartening results than rural areas. People from urban areas with more immigrants, it turns out, exhibited greater tolerance.
For the first time, the study included respondents who did not have German citizenship, finding that these people often feel politically and socially marginalized. It is "not surprising," the study says, that immigrants showed lower levels of right-wing extremist attitudes.
Education a Key Factor
"The basis for right-wing extremist attitudes in Germany remains high," the study's authors conclude. While they were optimistic in 2010 that strengthened social structures would be enough to combat such a development, this time their conclusion is "more cautious," they add.
Another factor behind the trend seems to be a measurable "erosion of solidarity" within society, which results in the marginalization of not just immigrants, but also those struggling to get by in society like the unemployed and homeless.
Education is the leading "protective factor" against the further spread of right-wing extremist thought, though. According to the study, people who complete university-track secondary education programs are far less likely to hold such views than those who do not. More civic and educational programs are needed to combat this issue, the study concludes, and it also calls on the media to remember its responsibility to release balanced reports on these issues.
13 November 2012 - 13H35
Somali parliament endorses new government
AFP - Somalia's new parliament endorsed on Tuesday all 10 ministers appointed by the prime minister, approving one of the smallest ever cabinets for the war-ravaged nation.
Two women are among the 10, including Somalia's first female foreign minister, Fowsiyo Yusuf Haji Adan, who hails from the self-declared independent state of Somaliland.
"Lawmakers have endorsed the new cabinet with a majority vote, 219 members out of the 225 who attended the session gave the 'yes' vote to the new cabinet," said parliament speaker Mohamed Osman Jawari.
Three others rejected the cabinet, and three abstained.
"The lawmakers have endorsed the new cabinet, and now they have to face the difficult tasks ahead," lawmaker Aweys Al-Qarni told AFP.
The new government faces tough challenges as it seeks to install order in a country racked by decades of war, and with Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab insurgents vowing to overthrow the Western-backed administration.
Somalia has been in political chaos and deprived of an effective central government since the fall of President Siad Barre in 1991.
The new administration led by President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud -- who took office in September -- ended eight years of transitional rule by the corruption-riddled government.
Israel plans ‘dramatic’ settlement expansion in West Bank
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, November 12, 2012 18:10 EST
JERUSALEM — Israel is preparing for a huge expansion of the Itamar settlement in the northern West Bank, the Peace Now settler watchdog said on Monday.
The plan, which has yet to be approved, would see Itamar expanding five-fold from 137 homes to 675.
According to Peace Now spokesman Lior Amihai, a defence ministry committee was to convene on Wednesday to start preparing plans for adding 538 homes.
“We see this as very dramatic,” he told AFP. “To enlarge it to 675 is to enlarge the settlement to almost five times its size.”
The defence ministry said the meeting was primarily about approval for buildings already in place, and stressed that plans for new construction had not yet been approved.
“Regarding construction beyond what exists now, the defence ministry must provide further approval,” it said in a statement. “There is currently no approval for any further construction.”
Although several further stages were required until permission to build could be granted, the scheme appeared to be more than theoretical, Amihai said.
“If the defence ministry just wanted to authorise the existing buildings it would not need to make such a grandiose plan,” he said.
In March 2011, an Israeli couple and their three young children living in Itamar were killed in a grisly murder, with two Palestinians convicted for the attack.
Since then, settler leaders have been pushing for the settlement to be expanded, media reports said.
Observers also suggested the plans to enlarge the settlement could be linked to an upcoming Palestinian bid, forcefully opposed by Israel and the United States, to secure upgraded membership at the United Nations.
In November 2011, Israel decided to speed up construction in annexed east Jerusalem and other areas to punish the Palestinians for winning membership in the UN cultural agency UNESCO.
Last Tuesday, Israel published tenders for 1,213 new settler homes in east Jerusalem, prompting the Palestinians to say it made them more determined to seek greater UN status.
November 12, 2012
Afghan Warlord’s Call to Arms Rattles Officials
By GRAHAM BOWLEY
HERAT, Afghanistan — One of the most powerful mujahedeen commanders in Afghanistan, Ismail Khan, is calling on his followers to reorganize and defend the country against the Taliban as Western militaries withdraw, in a public demonstration of faltering confidence in the national government and the Western-built Afghan National Army.
Mr. Khan is one of the strongest of a group of warlords who defined the country’s recent history in battling the Soviets, the Taliban and one another, and who then were brought into President Hamid Karzai’s cabinet as a symbol of unity. Now, in announcing that he is remobilizing his forces, Mr. Khan has rankled Afghan officials and stoked fears that other regional and factional leaders will follow suit and rearm, weakening support for the government and increasing the likelihood of civil war.
This month, Mr. Khan rallied thousands of his supporters in the desert outside Herat, the cultured western provincial capital and the center of his power base, urging them to coordinate and reactivate their networks. And he has begun enlisting new recruits and organizing district command structures.
“We are responsible for maintaining security in our country and not letting Afghanistan be destroyed again,” Mr. Khan, the minister of energy and water, said at a news conference over the weekend at his office in Kabul. But after facing criticism, he took care not to frame his action as defying the government: “There are parts of the country where the government forces cannot operate, and in such areas the locals should step forward, take arms and defend the country.”
President Karzai and his aides, however, were not greeting it as an altruistic gesture. The governor of Herat Province called Mr. Khan’s reorganization an illegal challenge to the national security forces. And Mr. Karzai’s spokesman, Aimal Faizi, tersely criticized Mr. Khan.
“The remarks by Ismail Khan do not reflect the policies of the Afghan government,” Mr. Faizi said. “The government of Afghanistan and the Afghan people do not want any irresponsible armed grouping outside the legitimate security forces structures.”
In Kabul, Mr. Khan’s provocative actions have played out in the news media and brought a fierce reaction from some members of Parliament, who said the warlords were preparing to take advantage of the American troop withdrawal set for 2014.
“People like Ismail Khan smell blood,” Belqis Roshan, a senator from Farah Province, said in an interview. “They think that as soon as foreign forces leave Afghanistan, once again they will get the chance to start a civil war, and achieve their ominous goals of getting rich and terminating their local rivals.”
Indeed, Mr. Khan’s is not the only voice calling for a renewed alliance of the mujahedeen against the Taliban, and some of the others are just as familiar.
Marshal Muhammad Qasim Fahim, an ethnic Tajik commander who is President Karzai’s first vice president, said in a speech in September, “If the Afghan security forces are not able to wage this war, then call upon the mujahedeen.”
Another prominent mujahedeen fighter, Ahmad Zia Massoud, said in an interview at his home in Kabul that people were worried about what was going to happen after 2014, and he was telling his own followers to make preliminary preparations.
“They don’t want to be disgraced again,” Mr. Massoud said. “Everyone tries to have some sort of Plan B. Some people are on the verge of rearming.”
He pointed out that it was significant that the going market price of Kalashnikov assault rifles had risen to about $1,000, driven up by demand from a price of $300 a decade ago. “Every household wants to have an AK-47 at home,” he said.
“The mujahedeen come here to meet me,” Mr. Massoud added. “They tell me they are preparing. They are trying to find weapons. They come from villages, from the north of Afghanistan, even some people from the suburbs of Kabul, and say they are taking responsibility for providing private security in their neighborhood.”
Still, there have long been fears about the re-emergence of the warlords, after more than a decade of efforts by Afghan officials and their Western allies to build up an inclusive national government and co-opt some of the factional leaders’ influence by bringing them into it.
One senior Western official in Kabul saw Mr. Khan’s actions as the start of a wave of political positioning before the 2014 transition and said it bore close watching. The allies want to avoid any replay of the civil war in the ’90s that led hundreds of thousands of Afghans to flee. A renewed civil war would undo much of what the West has tried to accomplish.
Mr. Khan is one of the towering figures of the resistance against the Soviets and the Taliban, and his power base in Herat Province, along the border with Iran, has remained relatively thriving throughout the war, despite a recent rise in kidnappings and militant attacks.
After years of consolidating power in the ’80s and early ’90s, he was forced to flee Herat after the Taliban took the city. After the northern coalition and American-led invasion drove out the Taliban in 2001, he was restored as governor of Herat. But he was removed by President Karzai in 2004, prompting violent demonstrations among his supporters.
He continues to exert strong influence in the western regions today, and he clashes regularly with the current governor, Daud Shah Saba, Western officials say.
Mr. Khan called a gathering of thousands outside Herat city on Nov. 1, in a district called Martyrs’ Town, which he established in the ’90s to give free housing and land to the families of slain mujahedeen. A video clip of the meeting, attended by many influential regional figures, featured Mr. Khan criticizing the international coalition for disarming the fighters but then failing to make Afghanistan secure.
“They collected our cannons and tanks and they turned them into a pile of garbage,” he told the crowd. “In return, they brought Dutch, German, American and French girls, they brought white soldiers from Europe and black soldiers from Africa in the hope of securing Afghanistan, but they failed.”
After the public criticism that he was creating an armed opposition to the government, Mr. Khan insisted at his news conference in Kabul on Saturday that he was not rearming his followers or opposing the security forces, but rather wanted the mujahedeen to work with the army and the police as a sort of reserve force, warning them, for example, if they saw signs of Taliban infiltration.
“This does not mean we are rebelling against the government,” he said. “We are struggling for 30 years to build this government, and we are not allowing this government to be toppled.”
Still, such an auxiliary role is exactly what was envisioned for the Afghan Local Police, organized and trained at great cost by American Special Operations forces in recent years.
In Herat, Mohammed Farooq Hussaini, one of the region’s most prominent mullahs, said that people were looking to their traditional leaders to protect them, and still possessed weapons if they ever had to fight.
His own family told a story of spreading Taliban influence, he said: his son-in-law, a pharmacist, recently joined the insurgency. “There are two to three weapons in each house in Herat and other provinces, and not only men but also women are ready to fight against the Taliban and other terrorists,” he said.
A mujahedeen fighter, Saeed Ahmad Hussaini, a member of the provincial council in Herat, said that if the United States had not yet recognized its failure in Afghanistan, the Afghan people certainly had.
“We have rescued this nation twice from the hands of invaders and oppressors, and we will rescue it once more if needed,” he said. “People cannot tolerate the whippings and beatings of the Taliban.”
Habib Zahori and Jawad Sukhanyar contributed reporting from Herat, Afghanistan, and an employee of The New York Times from Kabul.
U.S. reviewing Afghanistan withdrawal
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, November 12, 2012 19:52 EST
ABOARD A US MILITARY AIRCRAFT — President Barack Obama’s advisers are weighing how many troops to keep in Afghanistan after 2014 and will make a decision within a “few weeks,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Monday.
The commander of NATO and US troops in Afghanistan, General John Allen, has submitted a range of recommendations that are being studied by top officials at the White House and the Pentagon, Panetta told reporters aboard his plane.
“General Allen has worked on several options that we are now reviewing and working with the White House on,” said Panetta, en route to Australia for a week-long trip to Asia.
“And my hope is that we’ll be able to complete this process within the next few weeks.”
He added: “I’m confident that we’re going be able to get to the right number for the post-2014 enduring presence.”
Although Washington has committed to pulling out the bulk of the 68,000 US troops now in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the United States also has promised to keep a follow-on force on the ground under an agreement with Kabul.
But President Barack Obama has yet to say how many troops would stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014, and any future force would require difficult negotiations with the Afghan government to resolve legal issues and access to bases in the country.
Panetta said Allen’s list of options for post-2014 looks at how to carry out a mix of missions including counter-terrorism, training and logistical support or “enabling capability.”
The recommendations focus on “how you respond to each of those missions,” he said.
Once Obama decides how many troops to keep in the country after 2014, Allen is due to issue recommendations on the pace of the planned troop drawdown from the current level of 68,000, officials said.
Allen is expected to submit his advice on the drawdown later this month.