November 26, 2012
Pussy Riot’s Perky Antithesis
By SOPHIA KISHKOVSKY
MOSCOW — If the punk band Pussy Riot has become the poster child for Russian dissent in the era of Vladimir V. Putin, then Svetlana Kuritsyna is the very antithesis: a disarmingly direct, red-cheeked, 20-year-old Putin supporter from an impoverished rural region.
Pussy Riot — three of whose members were sentenced to prison for singing an anti-Putin song in a cathedral — became synonymous with outlandish behavior. Ms. Kuritsyna has stood out for her very normality and has become an accidental celebrity after an innocent, and somewhat inarticulate, video interview in which she glowingly praised Mr. Putin. It quickly became an Internet meme, drawing more than two million views on YouTube and leading to the ultimate prize of the modern media age: her own reality show.
But she and Pussy Riot have one thing in common, and that is an uncanny knack for dividing Russian passions. Since Ms. Kuritsyna stumbled into the limelight, media and protest circles alike have debated both the social significance of “Sveta,” and the plight of a naïve young woman thrown into a media and political circus.
She has been both mercilessly mocked for her earnestness, and held up as a provincial ideal. To some she is a stand-in for all that is wrong with Russia’s ill-guided and uninformed hinterland; to others, a symbol of what they see as the wrong-headed, belittling treatment of Russian women.
It all started with a journalist for Moskovskie Novosti, a Moscow newspaper, who was reporting on Nashi, the pro-Kremlin youth movement, and interviewed Ms. Kuritsyna after one of its demonstrations last December.
Her face framed by a white fake fur collar that made her look like a Russian doll, Ms. Kuritsyna said Mr. Putin’s United Russia party “has made very many achievements,” adding, ungrammatically in Russian: “We have started to dress more better.”
In the Putin era, she said, “We have begun to sow more land — vegetables, rye and all that.” “Medicine has gotten very good,” she added, and, clearly grasping for more good news, volunteered that “there are no problems with housing.”
Played over and over again on the Internet, her poor Russian and her praise of the Putin era was instantly derided by liberal Russian Web commentators and the opposition that formed last winter in protest at the manipulation of parliamentary elections in favor of Mr. Putin’s political allies.
But they launched her star. Ms. Kuritsyna became known simply as “Sveta from Ivanovo,” a region some 250 kilometers, or 155 miles, east of Moscow that was famous in the Soviet era as the “city of brides” because of the disproportionate number of women working in its main industry, textile production.
Then, the tables turned somewhat, with Ms. Kuritsyna being championed by some intellectuals and most feminists who came to her defense.
Eventually she was rewarded for her simple loyalty to Mr. Putin with the starring role in the TV show “Luch Sveta” — the title is a play on words with her name that means “Ray of Light” — which premiered in late July on NTV, a television channel run by Gazprom, the state-controlled gas monopoly, and often criticized by liberals as a mouthpiece for the Kremlin and a purveyor of trash programming for the masses.
NTV made no secret of exploiting Ms. Kuritsyna’s provincial roots. The show’s logo depicts her as a perky village milkmaid; several episodes have focused on her ample figure and advice on exploiting it from stars of Russia’s kitsch-laden pop and personality scenes.
In the first episode, Ms. Kuritsyna shrieked with delight at meeting Na-Na, a 1990s boy band whose lead members are now in their 40s. She listened intently as Bari Alibasov, the band’s 65-year-old producer, ogled her body and intoned, “You have very vivid, expressive tits,” adding: “In order to get ahead, you need to exploit them to the utmost.”
Further episodes featured men old enough to be her grandfather commenting on her most “vivid” feature. Sergey Zverev, a prominent celebrity stylist, ordered her to jump in front of him to check the bounce of her breasts and dyed her hair blonde as part of a makeover. Pyotr Listerman, known as matchmaker to the oligarchs, tried to help her find a billionaire husband — regarded as the ultimate dream of every girl from the impoverished provinces.
Wittingly or not, the program shed unusual public light on the plight of those regions when it showed Ms. Kuritsyna visiting her hometown of Privolzhsk, just outside Ivanovo. Her mother works as a spinning machine operator; she and others interviewed complained that their wages — at the equivalent of $100 to $200 a month — had long gone unpaid.
The journalist Oleg Kashin, who has gone from Kremlin apologist to a media symbol of the anti-Putin opposition after being brutally beaten by unknown assailants in 2010, condemned Ms. Kuritsyna as a cynical provincial careerist.
But Andrei Loshak, a television and magazine journalist who has criticized Mr. Putin’s rule and authored hard-hitting reports about hopelessness in provincial Russia, called for sympathy.
“I remember very well the eyes of girls in small towns that we would visit with our film crew,” Mr. Loshak wrote on Colta.ru, an opposition Web site. “You ask her the time or for directions. She answers something. But in her eyes you can read the plea. ‘Get me out of here, take me beyond the seas. Anywhere, just as far as possible from this hopelessness.”’
Some of his male colleagues, Mr. Loshak noted, exploited that despair, taking trips across Russia to combine “business with pleasure.” “It’s hard to accuse the girls they seduced of being sluts, or greedy,” he added. “The girls are just victims of crappy circumstances.”
Vera Akulova, a feminist, sees the treatment of Ms. Kuritsyna as typical.
“There is sexist commentary against any woman who becomes a notable figure in the public sphere in Russia,” she said. “In the Pussy Riot trial, the physical appearance of the defendants was also discussed. Public support and attention is given to each of them based strictly on the extent to which each of them corresponds to the prevailing standard of beauty.”
After gaining top viewer ratings over the slow summer period, “Luch Sveta” has since moved to a late-night slot and the segments have become even tackier. In October, Ms. Kuritsyna was seen filming a music video with a sex-film star.
Some opposition activists have held out hope that Ms. Kuritsyna’s experience in Moscow and in the national spotlight will bring her into their camp. Perhaps in the first step in that direction, NTV announced in September that it was trying out Ms. Kuritsyna as its parliamentary correspondent.
In her first foray to the State Duma, the lower house of Parliament, Ms. Kuritsyna took offense at opposition politician Gennady Gudkov, who was being stripped of his parliamentary seat that day by the United Russia party, for insulting her in a speech. But she accepted his apparently heartfelt apology after confronting him in a corridor.
The episode opened with her throwing a pie into the face of Yevgeny Gladin, the Moskovskie Novosti reporter who first made her famous, saying he had made her a laughingstock. Mr. Gladin walked off the show’s set with the words: “Sveta, good job! You’ll go far.”
In the USA...
Originally published Monday, November 26, 2012 at 10:44 PM
Former Fla. GOP leaders say voter suppression was reason they pushed new election law
A new Florida law that contributed to long voter lines and caused some to abandon voting altogether was intentionally designed by Florida GOP staff and consultants to inhibit Democratic voters, former GOP officials and current GOP consultants have told The Palm Beach Post.
By Dara Kam and John Lantigua
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A new Florida law that contributed to long voter lines and caused some to abandon voting altogether was intentionally designed by Florida GOP staff and consultants to inhibit Democratic voters, former GOP officials and current GOP consultants have told The Palm Beach Post.
Republican leaders said in proposing the law that it was meant to save money and fight voter fraud. But a former GOP chairman and former Gov. Charlie Crist, both of whom have been ousted from the party, now say that fraud concerns were advanced only as subterfuge for the law's main purpose: GOP victory.
Former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer says he attended various meetings, beginning in 2009, at which party staffers and consultants pushed for reductions in early voting days and hours.
"The Republican Party, the strategists, the consultants, they firmly believe that early voting is bad for Republican Party candidates," Greer told The Post. "It's done for one reason and one reason only. ... 'We've got to cut down on early voting because early voting is not good for us,"' Greer said he was told by those staffers and consultants.
"They never came in to see me and tell me we had a (voter) fraud issue," Greer said. "It's all a marketing ploy."
Greer is now under indictment, accused of stealing $200,000 from the party through a phony campaign fund-raising operation. He, in turn, has sued the party, saying GOP leaders knew what he was doing and voiced no objection.
"Jim Greer has been accused of criminal acts against this organization and anything he says has to be considered in that light," says Brian Burgess, Florida GOP spokesman since September.
But Greer's statements about the motivations for the party's legislative efforts, implemented by a GOP-majority House and Senate in Tallahassee in 2011, are backed by Crist — also now on the outs with the party — and two veteran GOP campaign consultants.
Wayne Bertsch, who handles local and legislative races for Republicans, said he knew targeting Democrats was the goal.
"In the races I was involved in in 2008, when we started seeing the increase of turnout and the turnout operations that the Democrats were doing in early voting, it certainly sent a chill down our spines. And in 2008, it didn't have the impact that we were afraid of. It got close, but it wasn't the impact that they had this election cycle," Bertsch said, referring to the fact that Democrats picked up seven legislative seats in Florida in 2012 despite the early voting limitations.
Another GOP consultant, who did not want to be named, also confirmed that influential consultants to the Republican Party of Florida were intent on beating back Democratic turnout in early voting after 2008.
In 2008 Democrats, especially African-Americans, turned out in unprecedented numbers for President Barack Obama, many of them casting ballots during 14 early voting days.
In 2011 Republicans, who had super majorities in both chambers of the Legislature, passed HB 1355, which curtailed early voting days from 14 to eight; greatly proscribed the activities of voter registration organizations like the League of Women Voters; and made it harder for voters who had changed counties since the last election to cast ballots, a move that affected minorities proportionately more than whites. The League and others challenged the law in court, and a federal judge threw out most of the provisions related to voter registration organizations.
Various voter registration organizations, minority coalitions and Democratic office holders are now demanding investigations either by state or federal officials.
On Oct. 26, The Post published a story citing a deposition by Florida GOP General Counsel Emmett "Bucky" Mitchell IV in litigation between Florida and the U.S. Justice Department over HB 1355. Mitchell described a meeting near New Year's Day 2011, in which he was approached by GOP staffers and consultants to write the bill that would become HB 1355.
He said the meeting had followed other conversations with those same GOP officials and consultants since the fall of 2010.
Crist said he was asked to curb early voting
Crist said party leaders approached him during his 2007-2011 gubernatorial term about changing early voting, in an effort to suppress Democrat turnout. Crist is now at odds with the GOP, since abandoning the party to run for U.S. Senate as an independent in 2010. He is rumored to be planning another run for governor, as a Democrat.
Crist said in a telephone interview this month that he did not recall conversations about early voting specifically targeting black voters "but it looked to me like that was what was being suggested. And I didn't want them to go there at all."
About inhibiting minority voters, Greer said:
"The sad thing about that is yes, there is prejudice and racism in the party but the real prevailing thought is that they don't think minorities will ever vote Republican," he said. "It's not really a broad-based racist issue. It's simply that the Republican Party gave up a long time ago ever believing that anything they did would get minorities to vote for them."
But a GOP consultant who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution said black voters were a concern.
"I know that the cutting out of the Sunday before Election Day was one of their targets only because that's a big day when the black churches organize themselves," he said.
GOP spokesman Burgess discounted Crist's statement to The Post.
"Charlie Crist speaks out of both sides of his mouth," he said.
Former Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning, a Republican, has spoken favorably about HB 1355, because he believes its 12-hour early voting days — the law previously limited them to eight hours a day — give voters more flexibility to vote before or after work.
"But reducing early voting days does not attack voter fraud and given the longer days, it certainly does not save money," Browning has said.
In a 2011 deposition in the litigation over HB 1355, Browning said that while he was always concerned with voter fraud, he did not see it as a large problem in the state and that was why he did not include any mention of it in his legislative goals for 2011.
"It wasn't an issue that rose to the level to place it in our package," Browning said.
Greer told The Post that people who attended the GOP's behind-the-scenes meetings on early voting included: Andy Palmer, former state GOP executive director, now a Tallahassee political consultant; Bret Prater, head of party development; Randy Enwright of Enwright Consulting, a veteran Tallahassee political consultant; Jim Rimes, former state GOP executive director and now a consultant with Enwright; Kirk Pepper, a former top aide to House Speaker Dean Cannon; and Rich Heffley, a former top aide to Crist.
The Post contacted all of them. GOP spokesman Burgess responded for Palmer and Prater and also for Frank Terraferma, director of state House campaigns, who had been named in the Bucky Mitchell deposition as attending the meeting about the drafting of 1355.
"If what Greer said had happened, that would be wrong and he should have fired those men," Burgess said. "Why didn't he fire them? They said they were never in any meeting with Jim Greer of that kind. They never had meetings of that kind."
The other four did not respond.
Ex-House speaker: Law meant to curb fraud
Cannon, who took over as House speaker in 2010, said he had no conversations about early voting with GOP strategists and that he believed HB 1355 was aimed at voter fraud.
"I don't recall anybody talking about some tactical advantage or need to curtail early voting," said Cannon, who has launched a lobbying business in Tallahassee since his term as a state representative ended this month.
But Crist, who extended early voting hours in 2008 by executive order to address long lines during that presidential election, said he was approached about early voting but told the GOP consultants and staffers that he would veto any proposed legislative changes that would reduce early voting.
"The people that worked in Tallahassee felt that early voting was bad, " Crist said. "And I heard about it after I signed the executive order expanding it. I heard from Republicans around the state who were bold enough to share it with me that, 'You just gave the election to Barack Obama."'
It wasn't until Gov. Rick Scott took office in January 2011 that the idea went anywhere. It passed the Legislature that session and Scott signed it into law.
"I assume they decided, 'It's 2011, Crist is gone, let's give it a shot,"' Crist said. "And that's exactly what they did. And it is exactly what it turned out to be."
Before signing the law, Scott said he wanted to make voting easier and to eliminate voter fraud. Recently, he asked Secretary of State Ken Detzner to look into problems with the November election and to recommend changes if necessary.
Purging of non-citizens off voter rolls discussed
Besides early voting, Greer said other issues discussed at the behind-the-scenes meetings were voter registration organizations, attempts to have Florida Supreme Court judges defeated at the polls and the purging of voters on the rolls who might not be U.S. citizens.
"There is absolutely nothing with their absolute obsession with retaining power that they wouldn't do — changing the election laws to reduce early voting, to keep organizations like the League of Women Voters from registering people, going after the Supreme Court justices," Greer said of his former colleagues.
HB 1355 greatly reduced the time voter registration organizations had to hand in registration applications and imposed hefty fines for any violation of the time guidelines, which forced the largest voter registration organizations to suspend activities, afraid they might incur fines they couldn't afford. The League of Women Voters suspended its activities in Florida for the first time in nine decades.
A federal judge subsequently struck down those parts of 1355 and registration organizations resumed their activities over the summer of 2012.
The Division of Elections under Scott also issued purge lists for non-citizen voters, which several county elections supervisors have criticized as being filled with errors. The attempted voter purge resulted in several lawsuits against Scott's administration, and nearly all of the state's elections supervisors abandoned the effort in the months leading up to the presidential election.
And the Republican Party of Florida waged a campaign to defeat three Supreme Court justices this fall. Voters chose to retain all three.
Dara Kam and John Lantigua write for The Palm Beach Post. Email: dara(underscore)kam(at)pbpost.com, john(underscore)lantigua(at)pbpost.com. Staff researcher Michelle Quigley and staff writer Christine Stapleton contributed to this story.
Originally published November 27, 2012 at 4:42 AM | Page modified November 27, 2012 at 6:14 AM
Obama to appeal to public on fiscal cliff
By KEN THOMAS
President Barack Obama plans to make a public case this week for his strategy for dealing with the looming fiscal cliff, traveling to the Philadelphia suburbs Friday as he pressures Republicans to allow tax increases on the wealthy while extending tax cuts for families earning $250,000 or less.
The White House said Tuesday that the president intends to hold a series of events to build support for his approach to avoid across-the-board tax increases and steep spending cuts in defense and domestic programs. Obama will meet with small business owners at the White House on Tuesday and with middle-class families on Wednesday.
The president's visit to a small business in Hatfield, Pa., that makes parts for a construction toy company will cap a week of public outreach as the White House and congressional leaders negotiate a way to avoid the tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to take effect Jan. 1. The trip will mark Obama's first public event outside the nation's capital since winning re-election.
Both sides warn the so-called "fiscal cliff" could harm the nation's economic recovery, but an agreement still appears far from assured. The White House and congressional Republicans have differed on whether to raise revenue through higher tax rates or by closing tax loopholes and deductions.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has pushed for raising additional revenue through the reducing of tax loopholes instead of raising tax rates on wealthy Americans. The White House has countered that the president will not sign legislation that extends current tax rates for the top 2 percent of income earners, or those households with incomes over $250,000.
Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, a conservative Republican who opposes Obama's plan to increase taxes on the wealthy, said that while a presidential visit to his state "is always welcome," he remains staunchly against Obama's strategy for avoiding the fiscal cliff crunch.
"The president seems absolutely determined to inflict a tax increase on the American people," Toomey told CNN on Tuesday. He said Obama and congressional Democrats must come up with cuts in entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.
Obama, only weeks after winning re-election, has signaled his intention to rally the public to pressure Congress to support his agenda, an approach that helped him win passage of a payroll tax cut extension and prevented interest rates on millions of federal student loans from doubling last summer.
Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said in an email to supporters after the election that the president's volunteer base was crucial to his re-election but said it was not aimed "just to win a campaign. We have more progress to make, and there's only one way to do it: together."
Following the election, Obama aides asked supporters to record YouTube videos discussing the need to have the wealthiest Americans pay more in taxes. Some of the people who shared their stories on YouTube planned to join Obama at the White House on Wednesday.
On Friday, Obama will tour and deliver remarks at The Rodon Group manufacturing facility in Hatfield, Pa., offering the company up as an example of a business that depends on middle-class consumers during the holiday season. The company manufactures parts for K'NEX Brands, a construction toy company whose products include Tinkertoy, K'NEX Building Sets and Angry Birds Building Sets.
Congressional Republicans, led by Boehner, have expressed openness to discussing additional revenue but oppose any plan that raises tax rates on the wealthy. They argue that the higher rates would also hurt some small businesses and hinder economic growth.
Republicans have called for changes to the tax code to eliminate tax breaks and loopholes that primarily benefit the wealthy. Several key Republican lawmakers have also said they would not be bound by a no-tax-increase pledge that they have adhered to in the past.
Boehner and GOP leaders planned to meet Wednesday with members of a bipartisan coalition of former members of Congress and business leaders that has advocated cuts in spending in major health care programs as well as changes in the tax code to raise more money but also to lower rates.
November 25, 2012
Fighting Fiscal Phantoms
By PAUL KRUGMAN
These are difficult times for the deficit scolds who have dominated policy discussion for almost three years. One could almost feel sorry for them, if it weren’t for their role in diverting attention from the ongoing problem of inadequate recovery, and thereby helping to perpetuate catastrophically high unemployment.
What has changed? For one thing, the crisis they predicted keeps not happening. Far from fleeing U.S. debt, investors have continued to pile in, driving interest rates to historical lows. Beyond that, suddenly the clear and present danger to the American economy isn’t that we’ll fail to reduce the deficit enough; it is, instead, that we’ll reduce the deficit too much. For that’s what the “fiscal cliff” — better described as the austerity bomb — is all about: the tax hikes and spending cuts scheduled to kick in at the end of this year are precisely not what we want to see happen in a still-depressed economy.
Given these realities, the deficit-scold movement has lost some of its clout. That movement, by the way, is a hydra-headed beast, comprising many organizations that turn out, on inspection, to be financed and run by more or less the same people; dig down into many of these groups’ back stories and you will, in particular, find Peter Peterson, the private-equity billionaire, playing a key role.
But the deficit scolds aren’t giving up. Now yet another organization, Fix the Debt, is campaigning for cuts to Social Security and Medicare, even while making lower tax rates a “core principle.” That last part makes no sense in terms of the group’s ostensible mission, but makes perfect sense if you look at the array of big corporations, from Goldman Sachs to the UnitedHealth Group, that are involved in the effort and would benefit from tax cuts. Hey, sacrifice is for the little people.
So should we take this latest push seriously? No — and not just because these people, aside from exhibiting a lot of hypocrisy, have been wrong about everything so far. The truth is that at a fundamental level the crisis story they’re trying to sell doesn’t make sense.
You’ve heard the story many times: Supposedly, any day now investors will lose faith in America’s ability to come to grips with its budget failures. When they do, there will be a run on Treasury bonds, interest rates will spike, and the U.S. economy will plunge back into recession.
This sounds plausible to many people, because it’s roughly speaking what happened to Greece. But we’re not Greece, and it’s almost impossible to see how this could actually happen to a country in our situation.
For we have our own currency — and almost all of our debt, both private and public, is denominated in dollars. So our government, unlike the Greek government, literally can’t run out of money. After all, it can print the stuff. So there’s almost no risk that America will default on its debt — I’d say no risk at all if it weren’t for the possibility that Republicans would once again try to hold the nation hostage over the debt ceiling.
But if the U.S. government prints money to pay its bills, won’t that lead to inflation? No, not if the economy is still depressed.
Now, it’s true that investors might start to expect higher inflation some years down the road. They might also push down the value of the dollar. Both of these things, however, would actually help rather than hurt the U.S. economy right now: expected inflation would discourage corporations and families from sitting on cash, while a weaker dollar would make our exports more competitive.
Still, haven’t crises like the one envisioned by deficit scolds happened in the past? Actually, no. As far as I can tell, every example supposedly illustrating the dangers of debt involves either a country that, like Greece today, lacked its own currency, or a country that, like Asian economies in the 1990s, had large debts in foreign currencies. Countries with large debts in their own currency, like France after World War I, have sometimes experienced big loss-of-confidence drops in the value of their currency — but nothing like the debt-induced recession we’re being told to fear.
So let’s step back for a minute, and consider what’s going on here. For years, deficit scolds have held Washington in thrall with warnings of an imminent debt crisis, even though investors, who continue to buy U.S. bonds, clearly believe that such a crisis won’t happen; economic analysis says that such a crisis can’t happen; and the historical record shows no examples bearing any resemblance to our current situation in which such a crisis actually did happen.
If you ask me, it’s time for Washington to stop worrying about this phantom menace — and to stop listening to the people who have been peddling this scare story in an attempt to get their way.
November 26, 2012
Efforts to Curb Social Spending Face Resistance
By ROBERT PEAR
WASHINGTON — President Obama’s re-election and Democratic gains in Congress were supposed to make it easier for the party to strike a deal with Republicans to resolve the year-end fiscal crisis by providing new leverage. But they could also make it harder as empowered Democrats, including some elected on liberal platforms, resist significant changes in entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.
As Congress returned Monday, the debate over those programs, which many Democrats see as the core of the party’s identity, was shaping up as the Democratic version of the higher-profile struggle among Republicans over taxes.
In failed deficit reduction talks last year, Mr. Obama signaled a willingness to consider substantial changes in the social safety net, including a gradual increase in the eligibility age for Medicare and limits in the growth rate of future Social Security benefits. An urgent question hanging over the new round of deficit talks is which of those changes Mr. Obama and Congressional Democrats would accept today.
While a potential change in calculating Social Security increases was part of the talks with Speaker John A. Boehner last year, the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, made clear on Monday that the administration was not considering changes to the retirement program as part of the deficit talks.
“We should address the drivers of the deficit, and Social Security is not currently a driver of the deficit,” Mr. Carney said.
Republicans insist that changes in the major entitlement programs be on the table in exchange for their willingness to accept increases in tax revenue. But Democrats have given no indication that they are willing to consider policy changes or savings of the magnitude demanded by Republicans. The underlying dispute highlights a reason the politics of the deficit are so thorny: even as many voters say they want Washington to reduce the budget deficit, they oppose many of the benefit cuts and tax increases that could help achieve that goal.
As the negotiations enter a crucial phase, influential outside advocacy groups like AARP and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare are weighing in, alerting their members to possible changes in the popular programs.
In the current negotiations with Congress over deficits and the debt, Mr. Obama said he would take a serious look at how to “reform our entitlements” because “health care costs continue to be the biggest driver of our deficits.” Unless Mr. Obama and Congress reach some agreement, tax increases and budget reductions will take effect automatically on Jan. 1.
Mr. Obama’s room for maneuvering is limited by several political factors. In the presidential campaign, for example, he attacked cost-cutting proposals by his Republican opponents and won support from millions of voters by promising to defend Medicare.
Moreover, since the Supreme Court upheld the new health care law in June, Mr. Obama has become skittish about cutbacks in Medicaid, the federal-state program for low-income people. The court said the expansion of Medicaid was an option for states but not a requirement. Cutting federal Medicaid payments to states could reduce the federal budget deficit, but could also cripple Mr. Obama’s efforts to persuade governors to expand the program, the foundation of his health care overhaul.
Even if Mr. Obama and Republican leaders in Congress could agree on savings in Medicare and Medicaid, the president would face resistance from some liberal members of his party who oppose cuts in the two giant health care entitlement programs. Medicare and Medicaid insure one-third of all Americans, account for more than one-fifth of the federal budget and are expected to grow much faster than the economy in the coming decade.
Two staunch liberals, Senators Tom Harkin of Iowa and John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, said in a letter to Mr. Obama that he should “reject changes to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security that would cut benefits, shift costs to states, alter the structure of these critical programs, or force vulnerable populations to bear the burden of deficit reduction.”
More than 40 House members, led by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, declare in a resolution that any deal on taxes and spending “should not cut Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security benefits.”
Republicans say the revenue to be gained from Mr. Obama’s tax proposals would be dwarfed by the growing costs of the benefit programs.
“You can’t raise taxes enough to solve the problem,” said the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. “Additional revenue should be tied to the only thing that will save the country in the long run, and that is reforming entitlements.”
Mr. Boehner said the newest entitlement — insurance subsidies for more than 20 million people under the health care law — should be “on the table” in negotiations. White House officials said the law should be given a chance to work before its budget is cut.
In talks with Congressional leaders, Mr. Obama is seeking $1.6 trillion in additional revenue over 10 years and $340 billion in health care savings. If he hopes to get a deal, lawmakers say, the additional revenue will have to come down and the health care savings may have to go up.
Mr. Obama and some Democrats in Congress say they are willing to squeeze savings from Medicare by trimming payments to drug companies, hospitals and other health care providers. They have generally ruled out structural changes that would increase costs for a typical beneficiary.
In the presidential campaign, Mitt Romney said Medicare should provide “less support” to wealthier beneficiaries, and that is an idea on which Mr. Obama and Congressional Republicans could perhaps agree.
Individuals with incomes over $85,000 a year ($170,000 for couples) already pay higher premiums for Medicare coverage of doctors’ services. For beneficiaries with incomes over $214,000 ($428,000 for couples), the monthly premium is more than $300 per person, about three times the standard premium.
Mr. Obama wants to increase premiums for high-income people and increase the number of beneficiaries who must pay higher premiums based on income.
Congress should “reduce the federal subsidy of Medicare costs for those beneficiaries who can most afford it,” the president said this year. House Republicans voted for a similar proposal last year.
Max Richtman, the president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, which represents beneficiaries, said this idea had been “pushed as far as it should be pushed.” Saddled with more and more costs, he said, high-income beneficiaries may eventually want to leave the program.
“If Medicare turns from an earned benefit into a welfare program,” Mr. Richtman said, “you will see support dissipate.”
Mr. Obama also wants to impose a surcharge on Medicare premiums for older Americans who buy the most generous private insurance to supplement Medicare. The White House and some economists say such Medigap insurance encourages the overuse of medical care because beneficiaries are shielded from most co-payments and other costs. But many beneficiaries are willing to pay for the extra protection, and major insurers derive substantial revenue from the product.
The politics of Medicaid are different.
As part of a deficit reduction plan unveiled in April 2011, when he delivered an address on fiscal policy at George Washington University, Mr. Obama proposed “Medicaid savings of at least $100 billion over 10 years.”
Liberal Democrats and health care providers expressed dismay, saying the changes would hurt children, older Americans, poor people and those with disabilities. Mr. Obama scaled back the proposals. In his budget in February, he proposed legislative changes that would save Medicaid $55 billion over 10 years, mainly by reducing federal payments to states.
In the wake of the Supreme Court decision, Mr. Obama is coming under pressure from his allies to drop these proposals.
Grayson: Walmart is ‘the largest recipient of public aid in the country’
By Stephen C. Webster
Tuesday, November 27, 2012 8:46 EST
Representative-elect Alan Grayson (D-FL) said Monday that he will put mega-retailer Walmart squarely in his sights during the next Congress for the company’s liberal use of public assistance programs to supplement their workers’ wages.
Speaking to Current TV host Cenk Uygur on Monday’s episode of “The Young Turks,” Grayson called Walmart “the largest recipient of public aid in the country,” saying their low wages force workers to take food stamps, housing assistance and Medicaid just to get by.
“The taxpayer pays for the earned income credit,” he said. “The taxpayer pays for Medicaid. The taxpayer pays for unemployment insurance when they cut hours down. And the taxpayer pays for other forms of public assistance like food stamps. I think the taxpayer is getting fed up of paying these things when, in fact, Walmart could give every employee its got, even the CEO, a 30 percent raise and still be profitable.”
He added that while the health care mandate in the Affordable Care Act will help, “that’s just the start.”
“In state after state after state, Walmart employees represent the largest group of Medicaid recipients, the largest group of food stamp recipients, and taxpayers shouldn’t have to bear that burden,” Grayson said. “It should be Walmart. So, we’re going to take that burden and put it where it belongs: on Walmart.”
Grayson, an outspoken progressive, was ousted from his congressional seat in 2010′s tea party wave. He regained a seat this November following redistricting in the state that put him in a more heavily Democratic district.
Supreme Court turns down appeal to prohibit recording of Illinois police
By Eric W. Dolan
Monday, November 26, 2012 19:49 EST
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to review a case regarding the monitoring of police practices in Illinois, allowing a lower court’s ruling to stand.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit temporarily block enforcement of the Illinois’ Eavesdropping Act earlier this year, ruling in Anita Alvarez v. ACLU of Illinois that it restricted “far more speech than necessary to protect legitimate privacy interests.” The law made it illegal to record police officers performing their public duties, with exemptions for law enforcement and the media.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois challenged the law in 2010, claiming it violated the First Amendment.
“The ACLU of Illinois continues to believe that in order to make the rights of free expression and petition effective, individuals and organizations must be able to freely gather and record information about the conduct of government and their agents – especially the police,” Harvey Grossman, Legal Director of the ACLU of Illinois, said in a statement.
The ACLU of Illinois is now seeking to have the law permanently blocked.
“We are hopeful that we are moving closer to a day when no one in Illinois will risk prosecution when they audio record public officials performing their duties,” Grossman added.
Susan Rice to meet with McCain to quell Benghazi conspiracy
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, November 26, 2012 19:56 EST
WASHINGTON — US envoy to the UN Susan Rice is to meet Senator John McCain on Tuesday in an apparent bid to defuse a bitter row over Libya that could hurt her chances of becoming the next secretary of state.
McCain has led Republican attacks against Rice, accusing her of misleading the public over the September 11 assault on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya that left Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead.
“My concerns are obviously that she told the American people things that were patently false, that were not true,” McCain said, confirming Tuesday’s meeting, which stoked speculation Rice is the frontrunner for the nomination.
US media reported that the closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill would take place at 9.30am (1430 GMT) and that Republican senators Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte would also attend, along with acting CIA director Mike Morell.
Several leading Republicans have vowed to oppose Rice’s elevation to become America’s top diplomat at all costs, but McCain, the party’s 2008 presidential nominee, has softened his criticism in recent days.
Asked on Fox News if Rice could change his mind, McCain said: “Sure. She can. I’d give everyone the benefit of explaining their position and the actions that they took. I’d be glad to have the opportunity.”
Republicans singled out Rice because she appeared on Sunday political talk shows five days after the Benghazi attack and said it was the “best assessment” of the US government that the strike was not pre-planned.
Rice said the assault appeared to have started from a “spontaneous” reaction by protesters angry at an amateur anti-Muslim video made on American soil, as had been the case in an earlier assault on the US embassy in Cairo.
President Barack Obama’s administration subsequently admitted the attack had been carried out by militants linked to Al-Qaeda, and State Department and FBI probes are currently under way to find out what happened.
Rice appeared to be largely absolved of blame when the office of the Director of National Intelligence confirmed the terms “Al-Qaeda” and “terrorism” had been removed from the “talking points” brief she was given.
In his first press conference after being re-elected, Obama rushed to Rice’s defense, accusing the Republicans of an “outrageous” attempt to “besmirch her reputation” and challenging them to go after him instead.
Rice broke her silence on the row last week, saying she had been the victim of “unfounded” Republican attacks.
“Let me be very clear. I have great respect for Senator McCain and his service to our country, I always have, and I always will,” Rice told reporters.
“I do think that some of the statements he made about me have been unfounded, but I look forward to having the opportunity at the appropriate time to discuss all of this with him,” she added.
Clinton is expected to leave office early in the New Year but Obama has kept everyone waiting to see whether he is willing to name Rice and risk a potentially tricky Senate confirmation process if Republicans dig in.
The other main contender for the role is thought to be Democratic Senator John Kerry, the influential chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who lost the 2004 presidential election to George W. Bush.
November 26, 2012
Justices Consider Definition of Supervisor in Job Discrimination Case
By ADAM LIPTAK
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court heard arguments on Monday about who counts as a supervisor under a federal employment discrimination law. The court also issued orders clearing the way for further challenges to aspects of President Obama’s health care law and rejecting an appeal concerning the insanity defense.
EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINATION The employment case was brought by Maetta Vance, who was the only black employee in the catering department of Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. She said another worker there had subjected her to racial taunts and veiled threats.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 allows some kinds of lawsuits only if the challenged conduct was that of a supervisor. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, in Chicago, which heard Ms. Vance’s suit, defines “supervisor” narrowly, limiting it to people with the power to hire, fire, demote, promote, transfer or discipline an employee.
Other courts consider a supervisor to be anyone with the power to direct an employee’s daily activities.
Justice Elena Kagan, perhaps reflecting on her experiences as dean of Harvard Law School, discussed the difference.
“Professors don’t have the ability to fire secretaries, but professors do have the ability to make secretarial lives living hells,” she said, suggesting that the Seventh Circuit’s approach was too limited.
Her point met with no resistance from the lawyers who argued the case. All of them, to the frustration of some of the justices, said a more flexible approach was warranted.
Justice Antonin Scalia told a lawyer for the university that the court had agreed to hear the case, Vance v. Ball State University, No. 11-556, “principally to decide whether the Seventh Circuit rule was right or not.”
“And you don’t even defend that,” he said. “So there is nobody here defending the Seventh Circuit.”
The lawyer, Gregory G. Garre, said that supporting briefs, including one from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, had defended the narrower definition.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. tried to test the limits of the more flexible approach, asking if a senior employee allowed to pick the music in a workplace was a supervisor.
“If you don’t date me,” he imagined such an employee saying to another, “it’s going to be country music all day long.”
Daniel R. Ortiz, a lawyer for Ms. Vance, said such conduct would not be severe enough to qualify.
Justice Scalia said “hard rock” might present a more difficult question. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. asked about Wagner’s operas.
Chief Justice Roberts said having to listen to music, all day long, that the listener found unpleasant could be more severe than being instructed that “you’re going to be cutting the celery rather than, you know, baking the bread.”
Justice Alito asked whether “chopping onions all day would be enough” to be considered severe, and Mr. Ortiz responded yes.
“How about chopping other things, just chopping?” Justice Alito continued. “You are the sous chef. You are going to be chopping all day every day. Would that be enough?”
It depends, Mr. Ortiz responded.
Some justices were unhappy about the posture of the case in a second sense, suggesting that Ms. Vance could not show that the employee whose conduct she challenged was her supervisor under any definition of the term.
HEALTH CARE LAW The court’s order on Monday in the health care case, Liberty University v. Geithner, No. 11-438, was largely a housekeeping matter. In June, on the day after the court rejected a challenge to the heart of the law in another case, it turned down Liberty’s appeal of a decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va.
The university asked the Supreme Court to reconsider, pointing out that its case concerned issues on which neither the Fourth Circuit nor the justices had ruled. In such circumstances, the Supreme Court often returns cases to the lower courts for further consideration in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in the related case.
In response to the rehearing petition, the federal government told the justices that it did not oppose the use of that procedure in the university’s case. The Fourth Circuit will now consider whether Congress had the constitutional authority to impose burdens on larger employers and whether the law impinges on religious liberty.
INSANITY DEFENSE Over the objections of three justices, the Supreme Court declined to decide whether the insanity defense is a constitutional requirement. Justice Stephen G. Breyer, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, wrote that the court should have heard the case of Delling v. Idaho, No. 11-1515, to consider whether Idaho and a few other states are free to impose criminal liability on people who are unable to appreciate the wrongfulness of their conduct because of mental illnesses like paranoid delusions.
National Briefing | Washington
Back-Pay Deal Approved for Indian Lands
By TIMOTHY WILLIAMS
The Obama administration approved a $3.4 billion settlement to Native Americans for the federal government’s mismanagement of money intended for American Indian landowners, the Interior Department announced Monday. The settlement stems from a class-action lawsuit filed during the Clinton administration that accused the federal government of failing to properly manage billions of dollars in royalties paid by mining, oil and timber companies for leases on Indian lands dating back more than 100 years. As part of the settlement, several hundred thousand Native Americans who own, or who formerly owned, land that had been leased to such companies will collect at least $1,000 each. American Indians with larger tracts of leased land will receive significantly more, the department said. The remainder of the money will be used for a Native American college scholarship program and to buy small parcels of land owned by individuals, but which will be returned to tribes.
November 26, 2012
Suit Planned Over Death of Man C.I.A. Drugged
By JAMES RISEN
WASHINGTON — Nearly 60 years after the death of a government scientist who had been given LSD by the Central Intelligence Agency without his knowledge, his family says it plans to sue the government, alleging that he was murdered and did not commit suicide as the C.I.A. has long maintained.
Eric and Nils Olson, whose father, Frank Olson, was the scientist, said they plan to file a lawsuit in United States District Court here on Wednesday accusing the C.I.A. of covering up the truth about Mr. Olson’s death in 1953, one of the most infamous cases in the agency’s history.
During the intelligence reforms in the 1970s, the government gave the Olson family a financial settlement after the C.I.A. was forced to acknowledge that Mr. Olson had been given the hallucinogenic drug nine days before his death. President Gerald R. Ford met with the Olson family at the White House and apologized.
At the time, the government said Mr. Olson had killed himself by jumping out of a hotel window in Manhattan. But the Olsons came to believe that he had been murdered to keep him from talking about disturbing C.I.A. operations that he had uncovered.
Mr. Olson’s sons said that their past efforts to persuade the agency to open its files and provide them with more information had failed, and that a court challenge is the only way to find out the truth.
“The evidence points to a murder, and not a drug-induced suicide,” said Eric Olson, Frank Olson’s older son, who has devoted much of his life to investigating his father’s death. When the government told his family that his father had committed suicide, “one set of lies was replaced with another set of lies,” he said.
Jennifer Youngblood, a C.I.A. spokeswoman, said the agency does not comment on pending court cases, but she noted that the C.I.A.’s most controversial episodes from the early cold war years, like Mr. Olson’s death, “have been thoroughly investigated over the years, and the agency cooperated with each of those investigations.”
The Olson case was one of the most explosive revelations about the C.I.A. during the post-Watergate investigations of the United States intelligence community in the mid-1970s, and was part of a series of disclosures about a C.I.A. program known as MK-Ultra, which included brainwashing, mind control and other human behavioral control experiments during the early days of the cold war.
Over the decades, the Olson case has gained a kind of pop culture status as one of the signature examples of government secrecy and abuse, and references to the death have been made in television, film, books and music.
“The C.I.A.’s wrongful conduct in this case continues under the present administration,” said Scott Gilbert, a Washington lawyer representing the Olson brothers. “I have met personally with senior agency officials who still refuse to acknowledge the truth and to provide us with all documents relevant to this matter.”
Frank Olson was a bioweapons expert working at the special operations division of the Army’s Biological Laboratory at Fort Detrick in Maryland. The C.I.A. worked jointly with the special operations division, researching biological agents and toxic substances.
In 1953, Mr. Olson traveled to Europe and visited biological and chemical weapons research facilities. The Olson family lawsuit alleges that during that trip, Mr. Olson witnessed extreme interrogations, some resulting in deaths, in which the C.I.A. experimented with biological agents that he had helped develop. Intelligence officials became suspicious of him when he seemed to have misgivings about what he had seen, the lawsuit contends. Eric Olson said Frank Olson also appeared to have deep misgivings about the use of biological weapons that was alleged in the Korean War.
A few months later, he attended a meeting with officials from both the special operations division and the C.I.A. at Deep Creek Lake, Md. Sometime during the meeting on Nov. 19, 1953, he was given a drink of Cointreau that had been secretly spiked with LSD by C.I.A. officials.
Mr. Olson returned home, and over the following weekend told his wife that he wanted to leave his job. Eric Olson said his mother later recalled that Frank Olson did not seem suicidal or psychotic that weekend, but was reflective about his work.
On Nov. 24, Mr. Olson told a colleague that he wanted to resign, according to the lawsuit. Instead, he and several C.I.A. officials traveled to New York, supposedly for a psychiatric evaluation. On Nov. 28, Mr. Olson fell to his death from his room in the Statler Hotel. His sons now express skepticism about the government’s official story that he had committed suicide because he was given LSD more than a week earlier.
In the 1990s, the family had Mr. Olson’s body exhumed and an autopsy performed, and the New York district attorney’s office later conducted an inconclusive investigation into the death.
Eric Olson says that his father’s death and its aftermath had devastating consequences for his family. He said his mother, who is now dead, suffered from alcoholism. “We want justice,” Mr. Olson said. “This has cost me an immense amount of time and years of my life.”
Move Over Star Wars: A Trilogy of GOP Cognitive Dissonance: 2008, 2012, 2016
By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson November 26th, 2012
The Republican Party has been pushing several major themes in recent years:
1) Government is the enemy. The Republican answer to government is corporations. Government is the enemy; corporations are your friend. Somehow, in the conservative mind, corporations we have no control over are preferable to government we can vote for – or against. Privatize everything. Privatize education, privatize healthcare, defense (Halliburton and Blackwater, anyone?). You name it, you can bring in corporations to rake in profits at our expense and to our detriment.
2)The Democrats grow government; the Republicans shrink government. This is the meme; it is also a lie. History shows that the “big government Democrat” is as much a myth as the “fiscally conservative” Republican. The GOP has done a good job of convincing voters that Democrats want the government to intrude in every aspect of your life; the Tea Party was a corporate-funded response to this narrative. Corporations stand most to gain from weak government. The People the most to lose. Interestingly, it is the GOP who, since Obama took office, have been passing all the intrusive legislation not only at the local and state level, but at the federal. The GOP wants a federal agent in every bedroom.
3) Democrats love to spend; Republicans are fiscally conservative. This is another myth that can be quickly burst by appeal to the history books (who voted in 1999 to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act that had protected our economy since 1933? Hint: Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas) led the way. If you look at the history of the past half-century or so, since Eisenhower, you will see that it is in fact Republicans who do all the spending, just as they are the Party that grows government (the two often go hand-in-hand). The narrative demands that Obama has added more to the deficit than like, every other president in history – like, ever. But the reality is the opposite. As David Frum has pointed out, “Accelerating economic activity is rapidly reducing the budget deficit. The deficit has contracted since 2009 at the fastest rate since the end of World War II, faster even than during the late 1990s boom.” Contrast this with the $4 trillion Bush added to the deficit (before the Wall Street bailout). Well, you wouldn’t know that from Fox News or Drudge or World Net Daily or Red State or Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform.
4) Culture and Society are Immoral. Without the Religious Right’s control of the Republican Party, the Culture War would not be in our dictionaries. Once upon a time, Republican supported many of the same things Democrats supported. Since the Grand Old Party became God’s Own Party, contraception and abortion have become immoral and a sign of depravity and wickedness. Homosexuality has become not just “yucky” but straight-out demonic, as in gay animal demons and the like.
5) The Democrats have destroyed our economy. This is the most laughable myth, given it was a Republican president running the show from 2001 through 2008 when the economy tanked (but see #6 below). President Bush waged two wars that he failed to fund and lowered taxes besides. He also de-regulated corporations and Wall Street. He gave full vent to trickle-down economics and America paid the price. The rich got richer, the poor got poorer, and our economy became the victim of unbridled capitalism. And don’t forget that $4 trillion Bush added to the deficit in just eight years, or who voted against the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999. In fact, Obama has saved the economy and at minimal cost to American taxpayers.
6) President George W. Bush never existed. Thus, everything that happened under the Bush administration happened under the Obama administration.
There are others. But I will work with these.
Now that the economy is improving, now that America is disengaging at long last from Bush’s two wars, and now that public opinion is comely down firmly on the side of socially liberal policies, it is anyone’s guess how the GOP will eventually react. I say eventually because everything going on now is part of the process of deciding on the future of the GOP.
We have stalwart conservatives wanting to double-down on their war against Planned Parenthood and contraceptives and abortion and marriage equality, even though polls show quite clearly that these policies fly directly in the face of prevailing (and growing) public opinion. The narrative is that President Bush is a baby-killer but as Sarah Jones wrote here the other day, “the total number and rate of reported abortions fell by 5% between 2008 and 2009.”
We have conservatives continuing to attack Obama over his handling of the economy. But as David Frum asked at CNN Opinion, how will the GOP respond if the economy booms?
Now, okay, we all know the Republicans have been successfully selling the idea that Obama is coming to take their guns and give them to black folks (along with their worldly wealth, apparently even though the red states where this thinking prevails are statistically moochers) even though nobody ever comes to take their guns. The meme sells because it’s what the racist bigots want to believe. Likely, given that social conservatives also see things in black and white and want to believe that Democrats and Obama kill babies, the actual statistics will be meaningless to them. They will simply block that reality away.
It’s that “low-effort” thinking conservatives are prone to, according to studies. Republicans love to make fun of the liberal brain, but really, it’s the conservative brains that are different (not quite fully functional might be a better way of looking at it).
Perhaps asking how Republicans will respond is the wrong question all together. Perhaps we ought to be asking, will reality factor into the Republican response. We already know there will be a response. They’re fighting over the proper reaction to Cognitive Dissonance II right now. If they don’t want Cognitive Dissonance III to be released in 2016, they need to have an answer.
I think they know that. I think there are moderates struggling to regain control of the Republican Party narrative (if not the extremist platform yet). Mother Jones addressed the issue of moderate Super-PACs doing just that.
Blame is falling everywhere: on Romney, on Fox News and the Drudge Report. But at no level is blame being attached to the ideas themselves. Blaming the purveyors of those ideas is like blaming the sneeze for your allergies. Fox News and Drudge would not exist without the thinking. Sure, they push the narrative but they are also symptoms of that brain defect we mentioned earlier.
Religious Conservatives insist they need to double down on the repressive social policies that lost them Election Day 2012. Look at the Ohio GOP’s response: We should go after Planned Parenthood again! They didn’t just miss the bus; they’d never heard of it. Really, there are no metaphors for this sort of thinking. You would think they would stop to ask themselves why they lost the women’s vote in 2012. But no, they have already decided, courtesy of Cognitive Dissonance, that all they need are younger, hipper, more likeable candidates that old wooden Romney.
The message can’t possibly be to blame so they won’t even look at what really needs to be changed. Which brings me back to my question of reality’s intrusion in their thinking. What form the GOP will take in 2016 is, at this point, anyone’s guess. We all have hopes and opinions.
But until enough Republicans signal that they realize the message and not the means of conveyance are to blame, we should not hold our breaths for a return to pre-Goldwater normalcy. They may need to take repeated drubbings before reality sinks in, not just the appearance of reality they are struggling with now.
Just as a person suffering from an addiction must realize they have a problem before they can address that problem, the Republican Party must realize that it has fastened an anchor to the elephant’s foot. History is going one way; the GOP is going another.
Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was partly right when he said, “The demographics race we’re losing badly [sic]. We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.”
But demographics are just another excuse. The claim that changing demographics are to blame is another avoidance tactic when it comes to the Republican message itself being the problem.
As Bill Maher put it, the “Republicans have the same problem as the Beach Boys. Their fans are dying.” As Jason Easley pointed out, “The average Fox News viewer is 65 years old. The average Rush Limbaugh listener is 66. ”
Is the answer then, simply waiting them out? Waiting for all the bigoted old white folks to die out? Sadly no. They got young ‘uns too, which they’re bringing up in Bible boot camps to hate everyone not like themselves, to take the same true/false template they apply to religion to all facets of life.
They may be outnumbered but they still control the GOP and they’re still, like it or not (and actually Christian or not), the face of Christianity in America, if only because mainstream Christians are the proverbial “silent majority.”
In time, i do believe the GOP will change, just as it began to change in 1964. In time, religious fundamentalists and corporate-funded pseudo-libertarians will lose control of the party. But it might not be in our lifetime. We’ll see what sorts of answers the Republicans come up with for 2016 and – more importantly – how well they sell them.
If you want to know how well the avoidance of reality has worked for the Republicans so far, think about who was behind the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act and who the Republicans blamed for it; the Republicans did it but they tried to pin it on Clinton, who acted on the threat of a Republican override of his veto.
Look at how no terrorist attacks took place on American soil during the administration of George W. Bush (9/11 anyone? but see Dana Perino and Rudy Giuliani).
Look at how Afghanistan became Obama’s War (Bush launched the invasion in 2001 while Obama was an Illinois State Senator).
Look at what Vice President Dick Cheney said in 2002, that “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter.” Then think about the Republican message since a Democrat took office: suddenly, deficits are the ONLY thing that matters.
Yeah. Don’t expect reality to intrude itself anytime soon.
November 27, 2012
Egypt Protesters Gather to Denounce Morsi in Scenes Recalling Uprising
By KAREEM FAHIM and DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
CAIRO — Tens of thousands of people filled the central Tahrir Square on Tuesday afternoon in an outpouring of rage at President Mohamed Morsi’s attempt to claim expansive new powers and at the role in politics played by his party, the Muslim Brotherhood.
An attempt by Mr. Morsi on Monday to soften his edict, by reaffirming his deference to Egyptian courts, did little to constrain the crowd, which some estimates put at hundreds of thousands of people. In scenes that were reminiscent of the popular uprising against President Hosni Mubarak, and that signaled the country’s current widening divides, the protesters dusted off old taunts for Mr. Morsi, the country’s first freely elected leader.
“Leave,” they chanted. “The people want the fall of the regime.”
The president’s opponents turned out large numbers in several other cities, and clashed at times with his supporters, including in Mahalla el-Kubra in the Nile Delta, where more than a hundred people were reportedly injured. The Brotherhood also reported attacks on several of its political offices.
Most significant, though, was the turnout in Tahrir Square, where Egypt’s secular-minded opposition appeared to have momentarily overcome its divisions, bolstering its numbers with new allies among people implacably opposed to the Brotherhood, in an effort to muster a serious, visible challenge to Egypt’s Islamist groups.
It remained unclear whether Tuesday’s numbers signaled a new movement, or a moment. Islamists have repeatedly won at the polls since the fall of Mr. Mubarak, and the Brotherhood has shown its ability to turn out large crowds with little difficulty.
On Tuesday, the Brotherhood mocked the gathering in Tahrir Square, dismissing the protesters as “remnants” of the Mubarak government on a television channel associated with the group and playing down their numbers on Twitter.
The taunts were ignored in Tahrir Square, where the crowd chanted, “The square is full without the Brotherhood.”
The gathering was prompted by an edict released by Mr. Morsi last week that his decisions would be above judicial review, a move that essentially removed the last check on his power, since Egypt’s Parliament had earlier been dissolved by the courts.
Though Mr. Morsi framed the decree as an attempt to insulate Egypt’s constitutional assembly from being dissolved by Mubarak-era judges, it was quickly attacked as a power grab and a worrying return to autocracy. On Monday, through his spokesman, Mr. Morsi again tried to explain his intentions, saying he would work within judicial precedents to hold back efforts to dissolve the constituent assembly, rather than putting his power above judicial scrutiny.
Even as Mr. Morsi tried to placate the country’s judges, Egyptian television on Monday showed the growing polarization of the country in split-screen coverage of two funerals, each for a teenage boy killed in clashes set off by Mr. Morsi’s edict.
“Now blood has been spilled by political factions, so this is not going to go away,” said Rabab el-Mahdi, an activist and professor at the American University in Cairo, adding that these were the first deaths that rival factions had blamed on one another and not on the Mubarak government’s security forces since the uprising began last year.
Despite Mr. Morsi’s attempts at clarification, opposition leaders went ahead with Tuesday’s protest. Some said that respect for the judiciary was now only a small part of their cause, and that their goal was to abort the current Islamist-dominated constituent assembly.
Many protesters treated the occasion as a referendum on Mr. Morsi’s leadership, saying he and his prime minister had failed to make important changes, like reforming the Interior Ministry.
“I voted for Mr. Morsi,” said Emad Abdel Kawy, 35, a computer engineer. “It seems like he doesn’t know what he’s doing. You expect a revolution to bring revolutionary actions. It didn’t happen.” And like many here, Mr. Abdel Kawy blamed the Brotherhood, which Mr. Morsi helped lead before becoming president.
“It’s clear he doesn’t make the decisions,” he said of Mr. Morsi. “The decisions come to him.”
The gathering brought together the revolution’s hardened activists with some of their former foes, including supporters of the Mubarak government, in an odd convergence. Yosra Mostafa, a 28-year-old activist, said she realized that some of Mr. Mubarak’s loyalists were simply looking for a way to return to power.
“I don’t mind being on their side to oust a dictator,” she said, speaking of Mr. Morsi.
The show of unity masked deep divisions between the opposition and other groups and even in them, Ms. Mahdi said.
“This is not a united front, and I am inside it,” she said. “Every single political group in the country is now divided over this. Is the decree revolutionary justice or building a new dictatorship? Should we align ourselves with felool,” the term for the remnants of the old government, “or should we be revolutionary purists?”
Yasser el-Shimy, an Egypt analyst at the International Crisis Group, argued that the persistence of protests against Mr. Morsi reflected in part the failure of the opposition to accept its own recent defeats, including in the parliamentary and presidential elections.
“It has never come to terms with these defeats, so it tries to delegitimize the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said.
As she walked on the square with her children Tuesday night, Mona el-Gazzar gave a different reason for the protest, saying, “We’ve learned how to say no.”
Mayy El Sheikh and Mai Ayyad contributed reporting.
11/28/2012 01:25 PM
Unrest in Egypt: Islamists Vow Demonstrations in Support of Morsi
By Raniah Salloum in Cairo
Egyptian President Muhammed Morsi seems unshaken by the massive protests that shook Cairo on Tuesday night. He has shown no interest in retreating from his recent power grab and the Islamist group Muslim Brotherhood is planning to hold even larger pro-Morsi demonstrations on Friday.
It didn't take long before it was almost impossible to get through Tahrir Square, in the heart of Cairo. People were streaming in from all sides. Hundreds of thousands responded on Tuesday to calls to demonstrate against Mohammed Morsi, Egpyt's Islamist president, and his recent power grab. New decrees issued by Morsi grant him almost unassailable new powers and give his controversial constitutional assembly, dominated by Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies, virtual immunity as well.
Morsi has succeeded in driving his people back into Tahrir Square after only five months in office. But this time, though he remains Egypt's first democratically elected president, demonstrators are marching in opposition to him rather than against deposed autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Teachers, lawyers and professors were among the protesters on Tuesday -- many of them had not been back to the square the February 2011 pro-democracy rallies that forced Mubarak out.
One man was carrying a poster bearing the image of a couch. The caption said "Ana Hisb al Kanabe," or "I am the Sofa Party," essentially shorthand for the silent majority. "But Morsi brings me back to the streets!" it said.
Today's Egypt is deeply divided. Opposition activists are concerned that the Muslim Brotherhood is laying the groundwork for a new dictatorship, and the mood of rage and the angry slogans on Tuesday evening were reminiscent of last year's revolution. "Down with the regime of the religious leader," some were chanting. Others preferred a quote from Gamal Abdel Nasser, the country's most famous former leader and staunch secularist: "One has no peace with the Muslim Brotherhood." One protester could be heard shouting: "Beat it means go -- or do you not understand that, Morsi?"
Answering to His People
Morsi must now find a response, and his choices are limited. Either he revokes his edicts or he mobilizes his own backers to launch counterdemonstrations. For the moment, it appears unlikely that the president will choose the first option. Indeed, Morsi has invested a lot of political capital in the decrees. Should he reverse them, the legitimacy of the constitutional assembly, which is dominated by Islamists, will also be called into question.
As such, the Muslim Brotherhood seems determined to pursue a course of confrontation. "The opposition thinks that the meaning of Tuesday lies in the number of protesters, 200,000 to 300,000," one Brotherhood tweet said. "But it should brace itself for the millions who will take to the streets for the new president!" A new date has not been set for the Brotherhood's demonstration, which had originally been planned for Tuesday.
The Brotherhood reiterates that even if Morsi only won the election by a slim margin, he won it all the same. They also insist that the make-up of the constitutional assembly mirrors that of the elected parliament, which a court dissolved in June.
Neither side seems interested in negotiating a compromise. Indeed, Essam el-Arian, deputy head of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the Muslim Brotherhood's political arm, made it clear on Wednesday morning that the decrees will not be lifted. Speaking with the broadcaster al-Jazeera, he stressed a claim that Morsi had already made: that the authoritarian powers the president had seized would only be temporary, lasting only 12 weeks until the new constitution was presented and voted on in a referendum.
A Growing Worry
Such assurances are not enough to placate the opposition -- especially because its membership on the body drafting the constitution has been steadily declining. The more members who withdraw in protest, the more influence the Brotherhood will have over its final wording.
All this has heightened worries that Egypt is headed toward a new phase of violence and clashes. On Tuesday, an upset young man on Tahrir Square named Mohammed pointed toward his right eye, which was bruised and swollen shut. "In Mansoura, where I come from," he said, "we have already had fights with Morsi supporters this week."
"The way out of this blockade is unclear," says Hisham Kassem, a political analyst who joined demonstrators on Tahrir Platz on Tuesday. "If Morsi refuses to compromise, it could lead to a civil war," he said, adding that this was a growing worry.
On Tuesday evening, Morsi opponents raided the Muslim Brotherhood's party headquarters in Alexandria and Mansoura, some three hours east by car, before setting them on fire. In Mahalla el-Kobra, a city in the Nile Delta, street fighting between Morsi backers and opponents left at least 100 wounded.
11/27/2012 04:18 PM
Former Arab League Head Amr Moussa: 'Egypt Has Never Been in Such a Critical State'
Thousands of protesters again took to the streets of Cairo on Tuesday in protest against far-reaching new powers President Mohammed Morsi has reserved for himself. Former Arab League General Secretary Amr Moussa told SPIEGEL ONLINE that the democratic process in his country is in grave danger.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: You had been scheduled to come to Hamburg on Monday for a joint event with SPIEGEL and the Körber Foundation to discuss the political situation in your country. Why did you cancel?
Moussa: I have to apologize for not being there. But the crisis Egypt is currently experiencing is escalating. In such a moment, I can't take the responsibility of leaving my country. Egypt has never been in such a critical state during my lifetime.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What do you find most disconcerting?
Moussa: For one, the fact that President Mohammed Morsi issued a constitutional decree out of the blue that contradicts the democratic process and grants him almost dictatorial powers. For another, while we have a constitutional assembly that is supposed to write a new constitution for Egypt, it is split into two fundamentally opposed camps: an Islamist one and another made up of patriots and democrats. The second camp has become much smaller because almost all liberals have left the assembly in protest.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: You have announced your intention to create a collective front in opposition to Morsi.
Moussa: Yes. Over the weekend I met with several leaders from the opposition camp. They accepted my proposal to create a National Salvation Front, which we officially launched on Saturday.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Has the Egyptian revolution failed?
Moussa: I would say the following: What is currently taking place in Egypt represents a grave danger to the process of democratization in our country. Public opinion has never been as polarized as it is today.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Would you go so far as to say that Egypt is heading towards a new dictatorship?
Moussa: It doesn't seem to have gone that far yet. But some of the decrees issued by the president are extremely problematic and grant him a worrying amount of power.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Given the situation, and given that the Egyptian opposition has traditionally been deeply divided, how promising is the new effort to create a joint movement?
Moussa: We are at the very beginning, but the chances are good. There is an Egyptian proverb: "Some problems are useful." The dilemma currently facing the country also offers an opportunity.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What do you think are the motives behind the president's move?
Moussa: That is a tough question. We don't know. Is it his advisors? Is it the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood? Or did he himself have this discreditable idea to endanger the separation of powers? I just hope that he comes to his senses because, as president, he should now the consequences his decrees have.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Were his moves predictable?
Moussa: No, not at all. I met President Morsi just recently and saw nothing to indicate he would move in this direction. Others who have met him recently say the same thing.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do Egyptian women now have to worry that their rights will be taken away?
Moussa: Women in Egypt are very concerned about the extremely conservative political values held by the Islamists. The debates in the constitutional assembly are a good example of this shift in values: They are talking about, for example, whether women should be legally subordinated to men.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Has the president, as he contends, really left the Muslim Brotherhood?
Moussa: Morsi remains a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. But he is also the president and as such is required to remain neutral. As Egyptian citizens, we hope that he is able to recognize where his priorities should be.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you share the opinion of Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei that "a civil war threatens to erupt in Egypt" should moderate powers not be given a voice, as he told SPIEGEL this week?
Moussa: Some Egyptians believe that the civil war has already begun. But we would like to avoid such a scenario at all costs. The president of the country is responsible for general security. He must demonstrate that he is the president of all Egyptians and doesn't privilege one part of the population over another.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you believe that the protests will become violent?
Moussa: I hope that reason prevails. Our opposition platform, in any case, calls for peaceful demonstrations; we are opposed to violence in all its forms.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What role should the West play?
Moussa: The West should stay in the background. This is purely an Egyptian crisis that we Egyptians have to solve ourselves.
Interview conducted by Volkhard Windfuhr
« Last Edit: Nov 28, 2012, 07:32 am by Rad »
Syrian rebels down helicopter for first time
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, November 27, 2012 18:06 EST
ATME, Syria — Syrian rebels downed an army helicopter for the first time Tuesday with a ground-to-air missile from newly acquired stocks in what a watchdog said could be a turning point in the 20-month conflict.
Meanwhile Russia, which has blocked UN resolutions critical of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, said it only has a “working relationship” with the Syrian president, and insisted special ties were a thing of the past.
A car bomb hit a regime security post near Damascus and clashes raged around the capital, as rebels further tightened the noose around the key northern city of Aleppo.
“It is the first time that the rebels have shot down a helicopter with a surface-to-air missile,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman said of the gunship that was on a strafing run near a besieged northwestern base.
The Sheikh Suleiman base, 25 kilometres (15 miles) west of Aleppo, is the last garrison in government hands between Syria’s second city and the Turkish border.
Amateur footage posted by activists on YouTube showed rebel fighters shouting: “We hit it, God is greatest,” as a helicopter plunged to the ground in a ball of flames.
The Observatory said the missile was part of a consignment newly received by the rebels that had the potential to change the balance of military power in the conflict.
Little more than a week ago, the rebels seized tanks, armoured vehicles, artillery cannons, 120-mm mortars and rocket launchers when they took the sprawling Base 46 military base, about 12 kilometres (eight miles) west of Aleppo.
The rebels, a ragtag bunch of military defectors and armed civilians, are still vastly outgunned, but analysts say they are now stretching thin the capabilities of Assad’s war machine and its air supremacy by opening multiple fronts across the country.
This was evident again on Tuesday, with a car bomb killing at least two soldiers at a military police checkpoint at Jdeidet Artuz near Damascus as the regime pursued insurgents south of the capital.
Battles also raged in Moadamiyet al-Sham and nearby Daraya, where a massacre in August killed more than 500 people, according to the Observatory.
In the north, the main battleground of the conflict, rebels seized a military post 15 kilometres southeast of Aleppo, tightening the noose around the city, both the insurgents and the Observatory said.
After hours of fighting, the rebels in the area said they had taken the post at the village of Al-Mintar, near Al-Safireh.
The operation was carried out by the Islamist group Ahrar al-Sham which fights alongside but is not part of the mainstream Free Syrian Army, they said.
Seventy soldiers were killed or captured, and the rebels seized six 23-mm cannons, rocket batteries and other weapons and ammunition, they added.
It came a day after insurgents took control of a dam in an area connecting Aleppo and Raqa provinces, leaving the regime with only the highway from Damascus to send reinforcements, according to Abdel Rahman.
Elsewhere, in Idlib province in the northwest, an aerial bombardment near an olive press killed at least five people, the Observatory said.
Rebel-held Maaret al-Numan was also bombed from the sky as clashes raged at the southern entrance of the strategic town on the Damascus-Aleppo road.
Damascus insists it is fighting foreign-backed “terrorists,” and state media published the names of 142 fighters from 18 countries who it said were killed alongside rebels.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of Russia, which has backed Damascus throughout the conflict, said in France that “there are no special or privileged relations with President Assad”.
“Such relations… no longer exist between our country and the current president,” Medvedev said. “We have had, and have, good working relations” with Damascus.
The Observatory said at least 87 people were killed across Syria on Tuesday, including 32 civilians. The watchdog has recorded a total of more than 40,000 deaths in the conflict.
November 28, 2012
Bombings Are Said to Kill Dozens Near Syria’s Capital
By HALA DROUBI and ALAN COWELL
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Syrian state media said on Wednesday that at least 34 people and possibly many more had died in twin car bombings in a suburb populated by minorities only a few miles from the center of Damascus, the capital, as the civil war swirls from north to south claiming ever higher casualties. One estimate by the government’s opponents put the death toll at 47.
There were also reports from witnesses in Turkey and anti-government activists in Syria that for the second successive day insurgents had shot down a government aircraft in the north of the country, offering further evidence that the rebels are seeking a major shift by challenging the government’s dominance of the skies.
“We watched a Syrian plane being shot down as it was flying low to drop bombs,” said Ugur Cuneydioglu, who said he witnessed the incident from a Turkish border village in southern Hatay Province. It was not clear whether the aircraft was a plane or a helicopter. “It slowly went down in flames before it hit the ground. It was quite a scene,” Mr. Cuneydioglu said.
Video posted by insurgents on the Internet showed a man in aviator coveralls being carried away from what activists depicted as the scene, although the footage could not immediately be independently verified. It was not clear if the man was alive. A voice off-camera says: “This is the pilot who was shelling residents’ houses.”
The aircraft was said to have been brought down while it was attacking the town of Daret Azzeh.
On Tuesday, Syrian rebels said they shot down a military helicopter with a surface-to-air missile outside Aleppo and they uploaded video that appeared to confirm that rebels have put their growing stock of heat-seeking missiles to effective use.
In recent months, rebels have used mainly machine guns to shoot down several Syrian Air Force helicopters and fixed-wing attack jets. In Tuesday’s case the thick smoke trailing the projectile, combined with the elevation of the aircraft, strongly suggested that the helicopter was hit by a missile.
Rebels hailed the event as the culmination of their long pursuit of effective antiaircraft weapons, though it was not clear if the downing on Tuesday was an isolated tactical success or heralded a new phase in the war that would present a meaningful challenge to the Syrian government’s air supremacy. In Damascus, the SANA news agency said the explosions in Jaramana outside the city at around 7 a.m. were the work of “terrorists,” the word used by the authorities to denote rebel forces seeking the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad. Photographs on the SANA Web site showed wreckage and flames in what looked like a narrow alleyway with cars covered in chunks of debris from damaged buildings. The agency said the bombings were in the main square of Jaramana, which news reports said is largely populated by members of the Christian and Druse minorities. Residents said the neighborhood is home to many families who have fled other parts of Syria because of the conflict and to some Palestinian families. The blasts caused “huge material damage to the residential buildings and shops,” SANA said.
The photographs on the Web site showed shattered windows at the Abou Samra coffee house and gurneys laden with injured clogging what seemed to be a hospital corridor.
SANA said two bombings in other neighborhoods caused minor damage. Activists reported that there were four explosions and said they were all “huge.”
Footage broadcast on Syria’s private Addounia channel and state television showed damage scarring gray, six-story apartment houses above tangles of wrecked cars as ambulances arrived to transport the wounded and rescuers played fire-hoses on the damage. The camera panned over bloodstained sidewalks.
The blasts seemed initially at least to shift the focus of the fighting from the north, where insurgents have claimed string of tactical breakthroughs in recent days, to areas ringing Damascus.
In the north in recent days, the insurgents also claimed to have seized air bases and a hydroelectric dam, apparently seeking both to expand their communications lines and to counter the government’s supremacy in the air.
The death toll from Wednesday’s bombings was not immediately confirmed. An activist group, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said that 29 people had died but revised the figure later to 47, of whom 38 had been identified. Of the 120 injured, the rebel group said, 23 people were in a serious condition, meaning that the tally could climb higher.
The explosions reflected the dramatic shift since Syria’s uprising began in March 2011 as a peaceful protest centered on the southern town of Daraa. It has since spread across the land in a full-blown civil war pitting government forces against a rebel army of Army defectors, disaffected civilians and what the authorities say are foreign jihadists.
Hala Droubi reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Alan Cowell from Paris. Sebnem Arsu contributed reporting from Istanbul, and Hania Mourtada from Beirut, Lebanon.
November 27, 2012
Sunni Leaders Gaining Clout in Mideast
By NEIL MacFARQUHAR
RAMALLAH, West Bank — For years, the United States and its Middle East allies were challenged by the rising might of the so-called Shiite crescent, a political and ideological alliance backed by Iran that linked regional actors deeply hostile to Israel and the West.
But uprising, wars and economics have altered the landscape of the region, paving the way for a new axis to emerge, one led by a Sunni Muslim alliance of Egypt, Qatar and Turkey. That triumvirate played a leading role in helping end the eight-day conflict between Israel and Gaza, in large part by embracing Hamas and luring it further away from the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah fold, offering diplomatic clout and promises of hefty aid.
For the United States and Israel, the shifting dynamics offer a chance to isolate a resurgent Iran, limit its access to the Arab world and make it harder for Tehran to arm its agents on Israel’s border. But the gains are also tempered, because while these Sunni leaders are willing to work with Washington, unlike the mullahs in Tehran, they also promote a radical religious-based ideology that has fueled anti-Western sentiment around the region.
Hamas — which received missiles from Iran that reached Israel’s northern cities — broke with the Iranian axis last winter, openly backing the rebellion against the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. But its affinity with the Egypt-Qatar-Turkey axis came to fruition this fall.
“That camp has more assets that it can share than Iran — politically, diplomatically, materially,” said Robert Malley, the Middle East program director for the International Crisis Group. “The Muslim Brotherhood is their world much more so than Iran.”
The Gaza conflict helps illustrate how Middle Eastern alliances have evolved since the Islamist wave that toppled one government after another beginning in January 2011. Iran had no interest in a cease-fire, while Egypt, Qatar and Turkey did.
But it is the fight for Syria that is the defining struggle in this revived Sunni-Shiite duel. The winner gains a prized strategic crossroads.
For now, it appears that that tide is shifting against Iran, there too, and that it might well lose its main Arab partner, Syria. The Sunni-led opposition appears in recent days to have made significant inroads against the government, threatening the Assad family’s dynastic rule of 40 years and its long alliance with Iran. If Mr. Assad falls, that would render Iran and Hezbollah, which is based in Lebanon, isolated as a Shiite Muslim alliance in an ever more sectarian Middle East, no longer enjoying a special street credibility as what Damascus always tried to sell as “the beating heart of Arab resistance.”
If the shifts seem to leave the United States somewhat dazed, it is because what will emerge from all the ferment remains obscure.
Clearly the old leaders Washington relied on to enforce its will, like President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, are gone or at least eclipsed. But otherwise confusion reigns in terms of knowing how to deal with this new paradigm, one that could well create societies infused with religious ideology that Americans find difficult to accept. The new reality could be a weaker Iran, but a far more religiously conservative Middle East that is less beholden to the United States.
Already, Islamists have been empowered in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, while Syria’s opposition is being led by Sunni insurgents, including a growing number identified as jihadists, some identified as sympathizing with Al Qaeda. Qatar, which hosts a major United States military base, also helps finance Islamists all around the region.
In Egypt, President Mohamed Morsi resigned as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood only when he became head of state, but he still remains closely linked with the movement. Turkey, the model for many of them, has kept strong relations with Washington while diminishing the authority of generals who were longstanding American allies.
“The United States is part of a landscape that has shifted so dramatically,” said Mr. Malley of the International Crisis Group. “It is caught between the displacement of the old moderate-radical divide by one that is defined by confessional and sectarian loyalty.”
The emerging Sunni axis has put not only Shiites at a disadvantage, but also the old school leaders who once allied themselves with Washington.
The old guard members in the Palestinian Authority are struggling to remain relevant at a time when their failed 20-year quest to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands makes them seem both anachronistic and obsolete.
“Hamas has always argued that it is the future of the changes in the region because of its revolutionary nature, that it is part of the religious political groups who have been winning the revolutions,” said Ghassan Khatib, an official at Birzeit University and former government spokesman.
The Palestinian Authority’s leader, Mahmoud Abbas, will address the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday to request that it recognize Palestine as a nonmember state. The resolution is expected to pass, but analysts view it as too little, too late in the face of the new regional mood.
At a busy Ramallah bakery, that mood was readily evident.
“If this situation continues, so what if Abu Mazen gets recognition, so what?” said Salah Abdel Hamad, 50, a teacher, referring to Mr. Abbas. “It will not bring any substantial change.”
The bakery’s owner dared hang in the window a mourning poster for Ahmed al-Jabari, the Hamas military chief whose assassination by Israel helped to set off the latest conflict.
“The resistance,” said Tha’er al-Baw, 23, referring to Hamas, “proved that they are much better than the negotiating camp. In the days of Arafat, we used to think peace could be achieved through negotiations, but nobody believes this now.”
Even before the conflict, the emir of Qatar visited Gaza, promising $400 million in aid. Qatar did not donate that sum just to have its investment bombed to smithereens every few years.
As Egypt’s president, Mr. Mubarak, who reviled the Muslim Brotherhood, was basically content to have Israel periodically smash Hamas, effectively the Brotherhood’s Gaza cousin.
Mr. Morsi changed little from Mr. Mubarak’s playbook, though his tone shifted. He sent his prime minister to lift morale. Ten foreign ministers, including those of Turkey and the newly Islamist government in Tunisia, also part of the new axis, visited Gaza during the fighting.
Egypt, Qatar and Turkey all want a more quiet, stable Middle East, which they have said repeatedly requires an end to the Israeli occupation. But the new Islamist governments do not talk about a two-state solution much, so analysts believe some manner of long-term truce is more likely.
“As Hamas moves closer to Turkey, Egypt and Qatar, it will be weaker as a ‘resistance’ movement because those three countries do not want a resistance movement,” said Talal Atrissi, a Lebanese academic specializing in Arab-Iranian relations.
Those countries will not supply arms, however, so Hamas will maintain contacts with Tehran. Khaled Meshal, the Hamas leader, told CNN that ties are “not as it used to be in the past, but there is no severing of relations.”
Where Hamas and Hezbollah were once allies, the fact that they are now at times at loggerheads illustrates the shift to the new Sunni axis.
A Western diplomat seeking to explain the changes recently drew a cross through the region, the meeting point representing Syria. Along the East-West line, he wrote “febrile crescent,” a play on the traditional “Fertile Crescent” used to describe the stretch of the Middle East where civilization began. The febrile crescent represents the volatile fault line between Sunnis and Shiites, with Syria the prize.
The other axis was labeled “Sunni Struggles,” representing the wrestling within the dominant Muslim sect over what governments and what ideology will emerge triumphant from the current political tumult. The deepest change, of course, is that the era of dictators seems to be closing.
“These are populist governments, which are much more attuned to the domestic public opinion than were previous regimes,” said Rashid Khalidi, an Arab studies professor at Columbia University. “Before the Arab revolutions you had a frozen situation where it was easy to see how things would go.”
11/28/2012 01:28 PM
Driven by Greed and Hatred: A Rebel Group's Quest to 'Liberate' Congo
By Jan Puhl and Thilo Thielke
The rebel group M23 wants to overthrow the government in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. At issue is the mineral coltan, which is used in mobile phones. The conflict could end up breaking the country apart.
Wearing a freshly pressed uniform, the victor stood on a grandstand above the penalty box in the football stadium in Goma, as thousands listened below. After his rebel group M23 had driven the last government soldiers out of Goma with mortars and machine guns last Tuesday, the men marched through the city singing, their ammunition belts slung casually across their torsos.
"You have nothing to fear," Colonel Jean Marie Vianney Kazarama told the crowd in the stadium the next day. "Work together with us and help us, and everything will be fine."
The eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been embroiled in war for the last decade and a half with rebels and government soldiers alike going on murderous rampages through the forested hills of the North Kivu and South Kivu provinces. The conflicts are partly triggered by the enmity between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups, and partly by competition over land, natural resources, mines and a lot of money.
But this time many things seem different. The M23 rebels are trying to gain the support of the local population. They are portraying themselves as a peacekeeping power that will finally bring calm and security to the region. For them, the important eastern city of Goma is the bridgehead from which they intend to capture the entire country. But if the group doesn't succeed, Congo could very well split apart.
Bitterly Poor Despite Resources
"The journey to liberate Congo has begun," Kazarama proclaimed at the stadium. "Are you prepared to follow us?" He plans to capture the cities of Bukavu and Kisangani and, finally, the capital Kinshasa, where he aims to depose President Joseph Kabila, who has been in power for 12 years.
The rebels will have to fight their way through 1,600 kilometers (994 miles) of jungle to reach the capital, which could take weeks or even months. But their prospects -- at least until this Tuesday, when there were conflicting reports that they would withdraw from Goma in response to demands from the African Union -- have recently seemed better than ever. The loss of Goma was a severe military setback for Kabila, whose power is also waning in the rest of the country.
In many places, people are demonstrating in the streets against the government. They hold Kabila responsible for the failures in Congo. The country, almost as large as Western Europe, is rich in natural resources, and yet it remains bitterly poor. Roads and railway lines have been destroyed, schools and universities are in miserable condition, and the army is a dilapidated mess, responsible for as many crimes as its opponents.
"Come join us," Kazarama said on Wednesday, in an appeal to soldiers in the regular army. "The government hasn't even paid you in a long time." There was a spot next to the platform where government soldiers and police officers who had decided to defect could deposit their weapons. As Kazarama spoke, the pile of weapons grew to impressive proportions: Kalashnikovs, pistols, grenade launchers, the entire arsenal of cheap guns with which Africa's dirty wars are usually waged.
Kazarama's people have promised all defectors that they will be fed and rearmed in training camps. By the end of last week, some 3,000 deserters had reportedly joined the rebels. If this continues, the president could very well lose his office and his life.
A 'Weak and Despised President
The soldiers who remain loyal to the president despite their defeat have withdrawn. They are transported along the bumpy, potholed dirt roads in the Kivu region in old Chinese trucks. They crouch on the truck beds, their uniforms torn, their bazookas rusty and their eyes red and swollen from drinking Primus beer.
Shots can be heard here and there as they pass through Beni, a city north of Goma. Local residents don't leave their mud huts, knowing full well how dangerous a defeated, frustrated and inebriated group of marauding soldiers can be.
A few brave souls had announced two demonstrations in Beni on Thursday morning. One group wanted to take to the streets against the M23 offensive, while the other intended to protest against the incompetent Kinshasa government. As a precaution the mayor, who is still siding with the government, forbade both protests. Instead, he sent his police force, dressed in gray uniforms and heavily armed, to patrol the dusty streets.
Nicaise Kibel Bel Oka stares out at the withdrawing soldiers through the barred windows of his office. The editor-in-chief of the newspaper Les Coulisses is living a particularly dangerous life at the moment. He and his staff of 11 journalists have often sharply criticized both the government and the rebels in his newspaper, earning him American broadcaster CNN's Free Press Award Africa in 2009.
Kibel Bel Oka is also a hero for the citizens of Beni. "Kabila is weak and despised among the population," he says. "He's corrupt and incompetent. How is he supposed to govern this country if even his army is turning its back on him?" Kabila's biggest sin, says Kibel Bel Oka, is that he did nothing to curb Rwanda's influence in Congo.
Congo's tragedy began in Rwanda, its neighbor to the east, a country with a strong military and an authoritarian government. In 1994, Hutu militias began attacking members of the Tutsi ethnic group, killing about 800,000 people in only 100 days. This genocide is Central Africa's original catastrophe.
A Tutsi army under current Rwandan President Paul Kagame drove the Hutu killers to the west and into the Congo jungles. With support from Uganda, the Rwandan army pursued the militias into Congo. The official justification for the incursion into Congolese territory was to protect Tutsi living in Congo.
But once they were in Congo, Rwandan troops joined forces with Congolese rebels and advanced to Kinshasa, where they overthrew dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997. Laurent Désiré Kabila, the father of the current president, was named president in his place.
But this didn't lead to peace, as the fighting continued between militias and government troops in eastern Congo. It was the beginning of a grueling civil war that has no winners, fueled by ethnic hatred and, most of all, by deadly greed. Eastern Congo is rich in minerals like coltan, which is used in mobile phones.
In fact, most of the world's coltan reserves are in eastern Congo. Militias forced villagers to work in the mines, where they scratch the coltan out of the earth with picks and shovels. The ore is then shipped to China and South Korea via Uganda and Rwanda.
It is hard to recognize any political objectives among the parties to the conflict, which in fact revolves around control of the mines -- a ticket to wealth. War has become part of everyday life, with the local population paying the price. Five years ago, aid organizations estimated the death toll at about 1,000 a day.
Congo in Danger of Being Destroyed
Even after officially withdrawing its troops, Rwanda remained involved, supporting various rebel groups with weapons, money and logistics. In 2006, Rwanda cooperated with the rebel group headed by General Laurent Nkunda, whose troops went on a terrible rampage -- a charge Rwanda denies to this day. International pressure eventually forced Rwanda to withdraw its support for Nkunda. He was arrested and, following a peace treaty in 2009, his troops were absorbed into the Congolese army.
Last spring, however, several hundred former Nkunda men, include those who had been accused of war crimes, deserted. They established the M23 group in the jungle, naming it after the date of the peace treaty, March 23, 2009. The core group consists of no more than 1,500 men, although no one knows the exact number. In any case, it is too weak to capture Kinshasa, which is why Kazarama is courting deserters from the regular army.
M23 maintains a camp on the border with Rwanda, and many of its members were probably trained in the neighboring country. Rwanda secretly supports the rebels, supplying them with weapons, uniforms, radios and navigation equipment.
But the evidence of Rwanda's warmongering is so clear that the United States, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Germany drastically cut development aid to Rwanda last summer. It was a first, because after the 1994 genocide the Rwandans were able to rely on the West's guilty feelings and were given generous reconstruction aid.
Editor-in-chief Kibel Bel Oka still doubts that the M23 rebels' march to Kinshasa will succeed, saying that it is too far, too dangerous and a logistically difficult proposition. The real threat in Kibel Bel Oka's view is that the country will break apart. While the weakened central government will hold the western portion of the country, M23 could take control of the mineral-rich east. "Rwanda would have achieved its goal. But we don't want that," he says.
There is only one problem: Rebels and regimes have never been concerned about what the Congolese want.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
November 27, 2012
Rebel Leaders in Congo Sending Mixed Signals on Pullout From Goma
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
NAIROBI, Kenya — Rebel leaders in the Democratic Republic of Congo sent out mixed signals on Tuesday, with some saying they were withdrawing troops from the strategic city of Goma, which they captured last week, while others maintained that such a pullout would occur only if the Congolese government met a lengthy list of demands.
On Tuesday night, Amani Kabasha, a rebel spokesman, said: “There are no conditions. We are withdrawing our troops starting tomorrow.”
But earlier Tuesday, Jean-Marie Runiga, head of the rebels’ political wing, said the rebels would leave Goma only if the Congolese government released political prisoners, investigated the murder of opposition supporters, dissolved the national election commission and convened a conference of opposition leaders and members of the Congolese diaspora — demands that the government immediately dismissed as a “farce.”
Perhaps equally worrisome, the Rwandan government said that 150 fighters from another renegade group crossed from Congo into Rwanda on Tuesday and attacked a village at dawn, setting off a battle with Rwandan troops. It was the first such incursion on Rwandan soil in years and added to the escalating tensions between Rwanda and Congo, neighbors that essentially went to war against each other twice in the 1990s.
Many Congo analysts have been expecting the rebels, who call themselves the M23, to eventually withdraw from Goma, one of the biggest cities in eastern Congo, because the rebels have only a few thousand troops and seem to be overstretched trying to defend all the territory they have seized in recent weeks.
Still, the capture of Goma severely damaged the credibility of President Joseph Kabila of Congo, setting off protests across the country, and it is not clear what his next move will be.
“This ain’t over yet,” said Jason Stearns, a well-regarded Congo analyst who runs a blog called Congo Siasa, or Congo politics.
“It will be difficult to find a compromise — the M23 deeply mistrust Kabila,” Mr. Stearns said, “while the Congolese government is wary of reintegrating their enemies yet again into the army.”
The M23 rebels began as a different rebel force — the National Congress for the Defense of the People or C.N.D.P. in French — before being integrated into Congo’s national army as part of a March 23, 2009, peace deal. This year, they reinvented themselves again into rebels, taking their name from the date of the unfulfilled peace accord.
Few analysts ever believed that the 2009 peace deal would stick because of the rebels’ links to Rwanda, which has a history of covertly fomenting rebellions in eastern Congo as a way to carve out a sphere of influence in one of the most mineral-rich areas of the world. Most of the M23’s top officers are Tutsi, the ethnic group that dominates Rwanda’s military and government, and the suspicion was that the Tutsi officers in the Congolese Army were actually taking their orders from Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, instead of Kinshasa, Congo’s capital.
The M23 rebels have made a major effort to promote non-Tutsi to civilian leadership positions, broadening their base of support and making them an even more pernicious threat to Mr. Kabila, who was already despised by many across Congo, suspected of stealing from public coffers while so many roads, bridges, hospitals and schools sink into rot.
A lingering question though is who actually is control of the organization. Despite handing out political posts to non-Tutsi like Mr. Runiga, who is referred to as “the president,” Tutsi military officers still call the shots. On Tuesday, it was the Tutsi officers who said that they were pulling out of Goma and that they would relocate their troops to 12 miles beyond the city, as called for in an agreement reached by several African heads of state trying to quell the Goma conflict.
The trouble with the M23 started this spring when Mr. Kabila, under pressure from Western governments, indicated he was going to arrest Bosco Ntaganda, a Congolese Tutsi general and former rebel commander nicknamed the Terminator, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges. The Congolese government also planned to shake up the power structure of the troops in eastern Congo, which the M23 rebels said was a violation of the original 2009 deal.
The troops then mutinied and took over town after town, culminating in Goma’s capture last Tuesday.
Several rebel fighters have said that they never planned to stay in Goma, a city of as many as one million people, because ruling it would be a headache. But even if the M23 rebels depart Goma, many of their agents are likely to remain. Goma’s police force has been heavily infiltrated, as evidenced last week by Rwandan-speaking police officers strolling around in brand-new uniforms. Veteran police officers said that they had no idea who the new commanders were and that they suddenly popped up on Goma’s streets as the rebel soldiers were marching into town.
“All of us have been disarmed,” said one police officer who was frightened to have his name published. He said that only the new Rwandan-speaking officers were allowed to carry guns.
France to Vote in Favor of Palestinians’ U.N. Bid
Majdi Mohammed/Associated Press
By SCOTT SAYARE and CHRISTINE HAUSER
Published: November 27, 2012
PARIS — Support in Europe for a heightened Palestinian profile at the United Nations grew on Tuesday when the French government said it would vote in favor of the Palestinians’ bid for nonmember observer status, embracing a move that Israel and the United States have opposed.
The announcement by France, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, is the most significant boost to date for the Palestinians’ hopes to be granted the enhanced status in the world forum, and with that greater international recognition. Russia and China, two other permanent members, have also thrown their weight behind the Palestinian bid.
The backing of France and other countries appeared calculated to provide diplomatic ballast to the Palestinian Authority’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, a moderate whose Fatah party governs in parts of the West Bank. The effort came after the militant group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, saw its credibility and standing with Palestinians rise after eight days of fighting with Israel.
But the French announcement was also a blow to Israel, whose diplomats have been working feverishly to try to ensure what they call a “moral majority” in the United Nations vote, meaning that even if a majority of nations voted in favor of the Palestinian bid, the major world powers would not.
The Palestinians said Tuesday that at least 12 European Union countries had confirmed that they were behind the Palestinian bid. With that support widening in Europe, Israeli officials acknowledged that the effort to gain a “moral majority” was crumbling.
Countries in the European Union are “slowly drifting toward support or abstention,” said Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius of France, speaking before the lower house of Parliament on Tuesday, said that on “Thursday or Friday, when the question is asked, France will reply, ‘Yes.’ ”
Though recognition at the United Nations would be viewed by many as an implicit recognition of statehood, the “concrete expression of a Palestinian state” can come only through negotiations “without conditions” between Palestinians and Israel, Mr. Fabius added.
Israeli officials also said they were not surprised by the French announcement. Ilana Stein, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said, “Of course, we remain in our opinion that this is a very harmful initiative by the Palestinians; our opinion has not changed.”
Muhammad Shtayyeh, the Palestinian special envoy for the United Nations bid, issued a statement from New York saying: “We are very thankful to France, and we call upon other European governments to announce their support for Palestinian freedom. This is long overdue.” The two other permanent members of the Security Council are the United States and Britain.
The vote on enhanced status is fraught with symbolism, and some analysts see it staying that way. It will fall on Nov. 29, the 65th anniversary of the United Nations decision to partition the territory of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states.
If approved, it will do nothing to relieve the unresolved issues at the heart of the Palestinian-Israeli disagreements.
“There is one basic reality,” said Robert M. Danin, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former State Department official. “The Palestinians still control less than half of the West Bank and will control less than half of the West Bank tomorrow and the day after until the Israelis decide otherwise.”
Last year, the Palestinians submitted an application to the Security Council to become a full member state of the United Nations, but the effort went nowhere; the United States made it clear it would veto the request.
The Palestinians still believe that broader recognition of their presence in the United Nations is a crucial step to a two-state solution. The draft resolution for the vote on status “reaffirms the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to independence in their state of Palestine on the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967.”
The Israelis are concerned that the Palestinians could use enhanced status to try to join other bodies, like the International Criminal Court, where they could pursue legal claims against Israel. Israeli officials also view the Palestinian bid for enhanced status as a nonmember state as a violation of previous accords.
“This is in stark contrast to their commitment to resolve issues through negotiations,” said Mark Regev, an Israeli government spokesman.
While any vote supporting greater Palestinian status at the United Nations could help Mr. Abbas, a moderate, Mr. Danin said the bid, if voted in, could lead to heightened tension with Israel.
“For the Palestinian Authority and President Abbas it is a symbolic victory that I think he feels he badly needs right now, particularly in the wake of the recent violence in Gaza, but more generally as well,” he said. “Originally he posited this as a tool in a strategy leading to renewed negotiations. In the short term it will have the opposite effect.”
Also on Tuesday, the remains of Yasir Arafat, the longtime Palestinian leader, were exhumed in Ramallah as part of an inquiry into whether he had been poisoned. The atmosphere was subdued, with his people more fractured and less certain of their future than when he was alive.
Meanwhile, responding to unconfirmed reports that Washington and Israel were pressing the Palestinians to include a clause in the resolution pledging not to seek membership in the International Criminal Court, Palestinian officials said they would accept no limits on their statehood.
One Palestinian official denied the reports and said that the American pressure had been directed more generally at getting the Palestinians to drop the whole process. He said that the Palestinians had invited the Americans and the Israelis to be involved in the drafting of the resolution several months ago, but that they refused.
Mr. Regev said only that there were “ongoing talks” between the Americans and the Israelis.
Malta, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Portugal have said they will vote for the measure, while Germany and the Czech Republic are among the countries that have opposed the bid, news agencies reported.
U.S. clashes with France over Palestinians status at UN
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, November 27, 2012 18:10 EST
WASHINGTON — The United States publicly disagreed with France, one of its closest allies, on Tuesday, after Paris said it would back a Palestinian bid for enhanced status at the United Nations.
“We obviously disagree with our oldest ally on this issue. They know that we disagree with them,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. “But it’s their sovereign decision to make, how to proceed.”
She confirmed that if a vote goes ahead as planned in the UN General Assembly this week, the United States will vote against the Palestinian request, which Washington regards as “a mistake.”
“We’re focused on a policy objective on the ground for the Palestinian people, for the people of Israel, which is to end up with two states that can live peacefully next to each other,” Nuland told journalists.
“Nothing in this action at the UN is going to take the Palestinians any closer to that … If there is a vote, we will vote ‘no’.”
France is the first major European power to voice approval of the Palestinian move to upgrade its current permanent observer status, while Britain has said it has yet to decide on its position.
The proposal is set to sail through as it has the backing of the majority of the UN’s 193 member states, with diplomats predicting that between 11 and 15 EU countries could back the Palestinian proposal.
Amid a flurry of US diplomatic efforts to try to head off a vote, Nuland also confirmed that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had been in touch with British Foreign Secretary William Hague on the issue.
“It’s, you know, a British call how they want to take this forward. They know exactly where we stand as well,” she said.
The US believes that the Palestinian move “inflames the situation between the parties, makes it harder for them to come to the table, makes the political situation harder between them,” she said.
November 27, 2012
Ex-Foreign Minister Heads Party to Oppose Netanyahu
By JODI RUDOREN
JERUSALEM — Calling herself “an answer to the contention that there is no one to vote for,” Tzipi Livni, Israel’s centrist former foreign minister, returned to politics on Tuesday after a six-month hiatus, heading a new party that she described as “an alternative, personal and ideological,” to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“I’ve come to fight for Israel,” Ms. Livni, 54, said in an impassioned 20-minute speech at the journalists’ union office in Tel Aviv. “I haven’t come to fight against but to fight for.” She said she would “fight for peace, a peace of the sober,” “for the Jewish Israel,” and “for the democratic Israel, a state in which all, but all of its citizens, with no difference of nationality and religion, are citizens with equal rights.”
Ms. Livni’s return, and her new party — the Movement — immediately shook up the center of Israel’s political spectrum, with eight members of Parliament from the Kadima Party she helped found in 2005 bolting to join her, heralding its likely demise. But in Israel’s coalition system of government, individual parties are less important than ideological blocs, and most recent polls have suggested that Ms. Livni and other existing opposition candidates will have a hard time taking enough votes from right-leaning and religious parties to prevent Mr. Netanyahu from winning a third term.
“The only thing that Livni is capable of doing is splitting the ‘left’ bloc, not increasing it,” Aviad Kleinberg, a professor of history at Tel Aviv University, wrote in a column in the Tuesday issue of the newspaper Yediot Aharonot.
Ms. Livni’s long-awaited announcement came the day after Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud Party completed a primary in which several moderate members were pushed toward the bottom of the list, with little hope of election, beaten out by ultranationalist candidates, including Moshe Feiglin. That rightward trend, some commentators said, could have a more fundamental effect on the campaign dynamic, leaving some centrist Likud voters shopping for alternatives.
To Nahum Barnea, a veteran and respected columnist, the primary showed Likud had “gone off the rails” and provided Ms. Livni with a “good starting point.”
“For the first time since elections were announced, it now seems as if there is no certainty that their results are a foregone conclusion,” Mr. Barnea wrote, also in Tuesday’s Yediot Aharonot. “Netanyahu is going to have to persuade the voter that he is going to form a responsible, levelheaded government for everyone.”
While the current leading left-center candidates — Shelly Yachimovich of the Labor Party and Yair Lapid of There is a Future — are emphasizing internal Israeli matters of socioeconomics and identity, Ms. Livni’s campaign is likely to center on the Palestinian conflict and other security issues. A statement from the Likud Party denounced Ms. Livni as an “eternal deliberator” who lacks diplomatic wisdom and broadcasts “military weakness to Israel’s enemies.”
Ms. Livni, a Tel Aviv-born lawyer and mother of two, was first elected to Parliament in 1999, with the Likud, and served in several ministerial posts under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon before becoming Ehud Olmert’s foreign minister in 2006. Under her leadership, Kadima in 2009 won the most seats in Parliament — 28 to Likud’s 27 — but she failed to form a government and refused to join Mr. Netanyahu’s. She led the opposition for three years, until her ouster in internal Kadima elections this spring.
On Tuesday, Ms. Livni harked back to her entry into politics, in 1995, when she said she looked at her 5- and 8-year-old sons and “decided that it was my duty to act in order for them to stay, after me, in a safe country.” She said she consulted her boys — now young men — again this fall, and they told her to “fight for us.”
As the younger son, a paratrooper, headed south as part of Israel’s air campaign against the Gaza Strip last week, Ms. Livni said she sent him a text message saying “that I decided to fight in my field, the political field, so that he, perhaps, would not have to fight in his field, the battlefield.”
Gruesome Kosovo probe held under tight security
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, November 27, 2012 17:59 EST
BRUSSELS — Visitors need 24-hour security clearance, grizzled Belgian guards man the entrance, no phones or cameras please: welcome to the latest, and probably the last, of the big Balkans war crimes probes.
The US diplomat and prosecutor leading the investigation into one of the most gruesome and politically sensitive affairs of the times — allegations of organ trafficking in the 1990s implicating Kosovo’s current leadership — has set up office not in the Balkans, but in Brussels.
Concerns about witness harassment and tampering of evidence are such that Clint Williamson, the 51-year-old American at the head of the European Union investigation, the most notorious inquiry to date, is taking no chances.
“Witness intimidation and witness protection is a big factor,” he told AFP in an interview.
“We’ve gone to great lengths to put this investigation in a secure posture,” said the former US ambassador-at-large for war crimes who in the 1990s worked as a trial attorney at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague.
At the heart of the matter are claims that ethnic Albanian rebels in Kosovo removed organs from Serb prisoners of war and sold them on the black market.
In the process, up to 500 people, mostly Serbs, were abducted, tortured and killed. These events took place in the chaos following the end of the Kosovo war in June 1999.
In a hard-hitting 2010 report, Council of Europe rapporteur Dick Marty alleged that senior Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) commanders — including current Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci — were involved.
The report said organs were taken from the bodies of prisoners held by the KLA in Albania. It also linked the KLA to mafia-style crime. Thaci and his government have denied the accusations and condemned Marty’s report.
Appointed to head the EU Special Investigative Task Force (SITF) set up a year ago to investigate Marty’s charges, Williamson said that to avoid leaks, intimidation, or even worse, none of his team was from the western Balkans.
“This is a fully internationalised effort,” he said. “We have taken steps to set up firewalls between us and other judicial bodies in Kosovo so it’s very very autonomous and separated.”
Why an American at the head of a European Union probe? Because he had 18 years in the Balkans and “a fairly unique background” both as war crimes prosecutor and as a diplomat able to work with governments “at the highest levels.”
Williamson, who declined to give details on evidence compiled so far by his team of 20-odd prosecutors, investigators and analysts, estimated it would take another two years to complete an inquiry that continues to poison the region.
“It really is a dark cloud,” he said. “Because these allegations have been levelled at the current prime minister of Kosovo and other individuals in high profile roles with the KLA, it has an impact on relationships in the region.”
To help investigators access witnesses in Albania, believed to be the scene of mass graves and defunct medical operating theatres, Williamson and President Sali Berisha drafted a law adopted by parliament enabling the SITF team to work in the country.
In Kosovo itself, the EU rule of law mission runs judicial and police affairs. Serbia’s new leaders too pledged to cooperate last month and Williamson recently travelled to Macedonia and Montenegro to seek judicial deals.
“It’s important for us to speak to witnesses in a confidential fashion and we have to work this out with governments in advance,” he said. “But we are also talking to them about the possibility of witness relocation.”
“This is an issue that has been difficult for other high profile Kosovo Albanian trials at the ICTY. There have been strong indications of witness intimidation so we’re very mindful of this.”
Williamson said though he was “happy with the progress” there were “definitely a lot of challenges involved.”
Crimes were 12 to 13 years old and evidence and witnesses spread across the region and beyond. “The passing of time is a problem.”
But the real question, he said, was whether witnesses who talked to Marty in his role as a rapporteur would be willing to participate in a criminal investigation and testify in court.
“So it’s hard to say whether our findings will be the same as what Marty produced,” he said. “It’s just much too early to determine if we’ll come to the same conclusions. The problem will be to obtain information usable in court.”
November 27, 2012
A New Leader Pushes a Different Side of Mexico
By ELISABETH MALKIN and RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD
QUERÉTARO, Mexico — They came looking for Andrés Cobos Marín, 22, with promises of financial security, a leg up over his peers, the life of his dreams.
But these were not the sort of recruiters who have made Mexico infamous, scouting hired guns and drug couriers for the criminal underworld. Quite the contrary, they were out hunting for talented young engineers with a knack for designing turbines and the like for this city’s growing aerospace industry.
“The companies are looking for us; we don’t have to go looking for them,” said Mr. Cobos, who starts work in January at a Spanish company even before he graduates next year.
It is the flip side of the Mexico that the world is familiar with: the one in which drug barons hang bodies from bridges, evade the law in elaborate hideaways and funnel billions of dollars in narcotics across the border and around the world.
In this other Mexico, taking hold in several pockets of the country like this one, high-skilled jobs are plentiful, industrial plants churn out increasingly sophisticated products and families adopt shades of middle-class life, with flat-screen televisions, new cars and homes a cut or more above those of their parents.
This more prosperous, parallel universe is what Mexico’s president-elect, Enrique Peña Nieto, highlighted when he met with President Obama on Tuesday as he seeks to shift relations with the United States toward improving the economy and loosening up trade.
Mr. Peña Nieto, who takes office on Saturday, discussed a range of issues with Mr. Obama, including negotiations on Mexico’s role in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement being worked out among Asian and Western Hemisphere nations.
Mr. Peña Nieto’s advisers are careful to say that they will continue to work closely with the United States on fighting drugs and organized crime, and he has promised Mexicans that he will reduce drug violence.
But Mr. Peña Nieto, who visits Canada on Wednesday, has made it clear that Mexico’s poor image abroad has slowed its growth. His team plans a strong push to “modernize” trade deals, speed up or add new crossings at the border for commerce, court foreign investment to take advantage of vast, newly discovered shale gas fields near the United States border and generate more quality jobs like the ones here in Querétaro.
“In the next years, the great challenge is to succeed in making these kinds of examples multiply very quickly,” Mr. Peña Nieto said this month.
Mexico fell into a deep recession in 2009 when American demand for Mexican-made imports collapsed. But the recovery under President Felipe Calderón has been notable, with growth expected to reach almost 4 percent this year, roughly twice that of the United States.
While Brazil is often thought of as Latin America’s economic marvel, Mexico’s economy outpaced Brazil’s last year and is expected to do so again this year. Business that had fled Mexico in favor of China has started to return, as the wage gap narrows and transportation and other costs rise. Auto manufacturing, for instance, is surging, with several new plants.
The Obama administration is not expected to let up on its security concerns — almost all of the administration members greeting Mr. Peña Nieto were from the security and foreign policy teams — but economic changes have already altered the relationship between the two nations in some concrete ways. Better opportunities for Mexicans at home, not just the flagging United States economy and stricter enforcement at the border, contributed to a significant slowdown in illegal immigration north in recent years.
A senior Obama administration official said Mr. Peña Nieto’s team made it clear from the start of talks after the July election that it would emphasize economic progress. But, the official said, “there will also clearly be things that we will want to see Mexico do, like accelerate judicial reforms, like being as open and as forward-leaning as possible on reducing human rights abuses when they occur, like ensuring that they do as much as they say they are going to do on corruption issues.”
Still, analysts suggested that Mexico’s president-elect was wise to play up a safer theme.
“The way to change the narrative is not to say, ‘Security is not as bad as it seems,’ ” said Christopher Wilson, a scholar at the Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington. “The way to change the narrative is to talk about other things that are going well, and the economy is a good story now.”
Still, Mexico is far from realizing the middle-class society envisioned nearly two decades ago when it signed the North American Free Trade Agreement with the United States and Canada.
A recent World Bank report on the expanding middle class in Latin America noted that although an additional 17 percent of the Mexican population had entered the middle class since 2000, class mobility was still low. Almost 30 percent of Mexican workers toil in the informal economy, without any benefits or protection, for employers who pay no taxes.
Mr. Peña Nieto insists that he wants to push forward with a number of long-stalled economic measures — several blocked in recent years by his own party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party — that experts say choke Mexico’s productivity. He has promised to rewrite the tax laws, open the state-owned oil sector to private investment and rein in Mexico’s powerful monopolies.
His party, moreover, agreed to sweeping changes to the labor code this month that analysts say could pave the way for formalizing thousands of jobs.
“With structural reforms we can do much more; the growth rate could go up by several percentage points,” said Gabriela Hernández, the president and chief executive of General Electric Mexico, which is building a campus in Querétaro that will eventually house 1,800 engineers.
In this city of about a million people, where highways lined with steakhouses and multiscreen theaters streak toward new hillside housing developments, there is confidence that Querétaro’s good run is just beginning. It has certain advantages, being off primary drug smuggling routes from Central and South America but on a main highway from Mexico City to the Texas border. People fleeing crime and congestion in Mexico City have flocked here, giving the state, also named Querétaro, a pool of well-educated workers.
In the past decade, the state has emerged as one of the safest places in Mexico and an industrial powerhouse for appliances, auto parts and now aerospace, which alone has attracted more than $1 billion in investments as multinationals like Bombardier Inc. build new factories.
“We have identified what our vocation is,” said Marcelo López, who has spent a decade working to attract companies to Querétaro as the state’s undersecretary for economic development. “Our strength is industry.”
Those industrial jobs have pushed Querétaro’s growth and raised salaries to among the highest in Mexico.
With labor and transportation costs rising for production in Asia, “a lot of manufacturers are saying, ‘How can we do this differently?’ ” said Pierre Beaudoin, the chief executive of Bombardier. “You have got states today recognizing this in Mexico.”
When Bombardier decided to develop its new Learjet 85 corporate aircraft, it spread manufacturing across Canada, the United States and Mexico, shipping parts from all three countries for final assembly in Wichita, Kan. Several Mexican states competed for this country’s piece, but Querétaro’s proposal, which included a plan to attract other aerospace suppliers to a new industrial park, as well as a training school, won. Now the company is speeding up new investments here.
Its Learjet plant is deceptively quiet as young engineers in jeans run tests on a new fuselage built of lightweight composite carbon fiber. At another Bombardier plant, the rattle of bolting and welding runs along the line of tail pieces as workers install electrical and hydraulic systems before the pieces are shipped off for final assembly in Toronto.
So far, Mr. Peña Nieto has not offered specifics on how successes here can be replicated across Mexico; border cities with robust manufacturing still became some of the most violent places in Mexico because the police and judicial institutions were too weak to stop criminal groups.
Mr. Peña Nieto, analysts said, will need to focus on both economics and security.
“The picture the United States has of Mexico is old, and it’s skewed toward the violence,” said Robert A. Pastor, director of the Center for North American Studies at American University in Washington. The economy is growing, and “if Peña Nieto can change the strategy on the cartels and reduce the violence, it will grow even faster.”
Elisabeth Malkin reported from Querétaro, and Randal C. Archibold from Mexico City. Ginger Thompson contributed reporting from New York.
November 26, 2012
French Center-Right Party Declares Sarkozy Protégé as Leader
By NICOLA CLARK
PARIS — After more than a week of wrangling over the outcome of its hotly contested party election, the leadership of France’s center-right opposition party on Monday confirmed Jean-François Copé, a right-leaning protégé of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, as the party’s new chief, staring down a last-minute legal challenge from his centrist rival, François Fillon.
In a statement, an internal commission of the party, the Union for a Popular Movement, declared Mr. Copé the winner by 952 votes, a far wider margin of victory than the 98 votes that it announced on Nov. 19. The commission, charged with both a recount and an investigation into allegations of vote-rigging, said it had decided to exclude several thousand ballots cast in precincts in and around Nice, on the French Riviera, as well as in Paris and the Pacific territory of New Caledonia, citing evidence that voting there had been tainted.
The disputed election has sown confusion and embarrassment across France and in particular within the already bruised party, known as the U.M.P. for its initials in French. The drawn-out battle, which has played out on live television and via social media networks, follows Mr. Sarkozy’s loss in the presidential race in May, and then the party’s defeat in legislative elections in June. Now, much like the Republican Party in the United States, the U.M.P. faces tough choices as it tries to redefine itself and work through a crisis of identity.
Mr. Copé was swift to seize the moment to call once more for party unity.
“I invite everyone to chose forgiveness rather than division, teamwork over personal ambition,” he said in a statement. “There is no winner or loser — just one family, the U.M.P. The time for internal squabbles is behind us.”
But Mr. Fillon refused to concede, calling the latest announcement a “power play” by a commission he has said is stacked with Copé loyalists. Mr. Fillon vowed to pursue his challenge of the result in civil court, asserting that he was in fact the winner, by 26 votes.
The tight leadership race between Mr. Copé, 48, and Mr. Fillon, 58, is as much a battle for the direction of the U.M.P. as for power. Mr. Copé wants to move the party further right to challenge the popularity of the far-right National Front and its leader, Marine Le Pen, while Mr. Fillon favors Gaullist, more centrist positions.
The ferocity of the U.M.P.’s civil war has stunned political commentators. Most agreed that the fight would leave lasting scars on the party, which for the last decade has united a vast swath of the political landscape, from the center to the anti-immigrant right. Few, however, were yet prepared to predict the party’s demise.
“It is like a death in slow-motion,” said Pascal Perrineau, director of the Center for Political Research at the Institut d’Études Politiques in Paris, also known as Sciences Po. “We have to wait a few days to see whether the suicide attempt is successful, or whether the corpse is still moving.”
Mr. Perrineau predicted that even if the U.M.P. survived, the episode might signal the end of a unified French right. That would create major hurdles against the Socialist government of President François Hollande — not to mention blunting efforts to build momentum before municipal and European parliamentary elections in 2014.
“The right is now several ‘rights’ that will be obliged in the coming years to find some way of approaching each other,” Mr. Perrineau said.
Alain Juppé, a widely respected former prime minister who failed to broker a compromise over the weekend, predicted that Monday’s declaration would not be end the matter. “I don’t think anything is settled,” he told reporters after the announcement.
Mr. Juppé had earlier urged Mr. Sarkozy, who has all but withdrawn from French public life since May, to intervene. “He is the only one today who has enough authority to possibly suggest a way out,” Mr. Juppé told French radio.
The former president, 57, reached out on Monday to both rivals, making a lengthy phone call to Mr. Copé and later hosting Mr. Fillon for lunch at his Paris offices. Mr. Sarkozy has no formal role within the U.M.P. but is widely believed to be weighing a 2017 presidential run, and has sought to remain neutral.
Claude Guéant, a close ally of Mr. Sarkozy and his former interior minister, did not exclude Mr. Sarkozky’s weighing in publicly at some point.
“We cannot continue this dizzying plunge into the abyss,” Mr. Guéant said in a radio interview. “I doubt that he wants to enter the fray. But it’s clear that something needs to happen.”
Meanwhile, others are simply calling for the election to be held again.
Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, a former environment minister who failed to garner enough endorsements to seek the U.M.P. leadership herself, announced on Monday that she had set up an online petition calling for a new election in order to restore the party’s “political legitimacy.” By late afternoon, the petition had garnered more than 16,500 signatures.
November 28, 2012
Blair Urges Britain to Retain Place in European Union
By STEPHEN CASTLE
LONDON — With power shifting towards the world’s emerging economies, Britain faces a “real and present danger” if it edges towards the exit of the European Union, its regional alliance of 27 nations, the former British prime minister, Tony Blair warned Wednesday.
Speaking to a business lobby group in London, Mr. Blair entered the fraught debate about his country’s place in the union with a speech arguing that the bloc was more important now than ever because it helped Britain leverage its influence within a changed geopolitical landscape.
Britons have rarely shown much enthusiasm for the idea of European integration, but in recent months discussion over Britain’s relationship with — or even membership in — the 27-nation European Union has intensified, with euroskeptics in the ascendancy.
Prime Minister David Cameron has said he wants to redefine ties with the European Union to create a looser bond based more clearly on its single economic market, and to put the outcome of that negotiation to the voters, possibly in a referendum.
And after almost three years of crisis for the euro, used by 17 of the bloc’s 27 members but spurned by Britain, there is more talk than ever before of a possible British exit from the union.
But Mr. Blair argued in his speech Wednesday that the logic of suggesting that the right response to the euro crisis was to leave the bloc was to cross a “chasm of error” and to advocate a policy that was “politically debilitating, economically damaging and hugely destructive of Britain’s long-term interests.”
“Our country faces a real and present danger by edging towards the exit,” Mr. Blair said.
Europe was an “absolutely essential part of our nation remaining a world power,” and it would be a “monumental error of statesmanship to turn our back on it,” he added.
Last week, Roger Carr, the president of the Confederation of British Industry, Britain’s biggest business lobby, warned of the growing risk that the country would leave the union and urged business executives who favor staying in the bloc to speak out.
Against that backdrop, the intervention of Mr. Blair, who is a supporter of close ties between Britain and the European Union, is a sign of the concern among Britain’s pro-Europeans that they may be losing the argument for membership by default.
In his speech Mr. Blair argued that, given the global shift of power from West to East, Britain’s influence could be maximized only through the collective heft of the European Union, which has a combined population of around 500 million.
Changes in the global economy have made the bloc more relevant than it was when Europe’s integration began 60 years ago as a project to reconcile a war-torn continent, Mr. Blair said in his speech to Business for New Europe, an organization lobbying for continued British membership of the bloc.
If it did quit, Mr. Blair suggested, Britain might spend the next 20 years trying to get back in.
“Power is shifting West to East,” he said. “China has emerged finally, with its economy opening up which will grow eventually to be the world’s largest. Its population is three times that of the whole of the E.U. India has over a billion people.”
Mr. Blair also argued that if Britain sought to renegotiate its membership terms at a time of economic crisis for the euro — as Mr. Cameron seems to want to do — other E.U. nations would “not thank us and will not accommodate us.”
Renegotiation was, he added, “the refuge of those who want to leave but want to persuade people this is merely and adjustment of our relationship.”
And, while being anti-Europe may be popular with voters at present, Mr. Blair said that “leadership is not about acceding to the short-term politics. Leadership is about managing the short-term politics in the pursuit of the right long-term policy.”
The issue of Europe, which has dominated British politics at regular intervals over recent decades, is probably most divisive within Mr. Cameron’s Conservative Party, where many lawmakers favor a referendum on British terms of membership and some ministers seem willing to contemplate leaving the bloc.
While it remains a small political force, the UK Independence Party, which wants Britain to leave the European Union, has gained enough momentum to threaten the seats of dozens of Conservative lawmakers in future elections. That threat has increased pressure on Mr. Cameron to take a tougher line on European Union policies.
Last week he took a hard-line stance in negotiating the next seven-year budget for the bloc, calling for a freeze in spending in real terms. Talks at a summit in Brussels ended in deadlock.
November 28, 2012
Portuguese Join Europe’s Chorus of Discontent
By RAPHAEL MINDER
Until a few months ago, Portugal was seen as a role model in the grinding euro zone crisis, adopting deep spending cuts and raising taxes to reduce its deficit without the outcry, protests and strikes that austerity policies have set off in other Southern European countries. International lenders praised the Portuguese government even as they arranged a 78 billion euro bailout for the country last year, following similar deals with Greece and Ireland.
But the belt-tightening helped push Portugal deeper into one of Europe’s longest recessions — and the Portuguese have now joined the ranks of Europe’s discontented, even coordinating a general strike with workers in neighboring Spain earlier this month.
The hard times have also created strains within the center-right coalition government of Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho. Still, the government managed to pass a stiff new austerity budget with steep tax increases on Tuesday, even as protesters demonstrated angrily outside the Parliament building.
Such protests and work stoppages have become much more common over the past year, as daily life for many Portuguese families has become a struggle to stay afloat. Pay is being cut for government and private-sector workers alike, the unemployment has risen to nearly 16 percent, retirees face higher health costs and students will pay more for tuition without any assurance that their degrees will lead to jobs. In fact, many graduates are packing their bags to emigrate instead.
11/28/2012 12:27 PM
The World from Berlin: 'Europe Hasn't Learned Lessons from Greece Crisis'
For the third time, European finance ministers this week have put together a package of aid measures for Greece and assured Europeans that the country is now back on track to financial health. But is it really? German commentators certainly don't think so.
Hedge fund managers, at least, are pleased. The deal struck late on Monday night between euro-zone finance ministers and the International Monetary Fund to reduce Greece's overall debt load includes a measure stipulating an Athens buyback of its own debt. Investors that bought Greek bonds for as low as 17 cents on the euro can now expect to sell them back to Athens for around 35 cents on the euro -- a tidy little profit.
Elsewhere, however, investors would appear to be unimpressed by the deal. Markets across the world were down on Wednesday and the euro lost value early against the dollar, with Greece cited -- along with US debt troubles -- as one of the reasons for the uncertainty. Investors, it would seem, see the Greece deal as yet another attempt by European leaders to muddle through the crisis rather than take steps toward a lasting solution.
"There remains the potential for this deal to fall apart in the medium term as there are a lot of moving parts and it is a long way away from the permanent fix that the IMF had been insisting upon," Gary Jenkins, managing director of Swordfish Research, which focuses on international bond markets, told the Associated Press. "It is just one more big kick of the can down the road."
The deal envisions reducing Greece debt load from the 190 percent of gross domestic product it is expected to peak at next year to 124 percent of GDP by 2020. In 2022, it is hoped that it will drop down to 110 percent. The International Monetary Fund had been demanding a partial Greek default that would have slashed the country's debt faster and, ultimately, further. But such a measure proved politically unpalatable in Germany and other euro-zone capitals.
Instead, euro-zone finance ministers and the IMF came up with a package of measures including interest rate reductions on aid loans, an extension of payback periods and a return of profits earned by national banks on Greek bond buys via the European Central Bank. In addition, Greece is to buy back some of its debt for well below face value, assuming that private investors are willing to sell.
The deal also, for the first time, will cost Germany real money. Next year alone, in fact, it will result in a revenue shortfall of some €730 million ($944 million).
German commentators on Wednesday are unconvinced that the measures will really put Greece back on the path to solvency. Indeed, say most, it is a blatant move to simply buy more time.
The Financial Times Deutschland writes:
"It is difficult to take seriously this newly found compromise between euro-zone member states and the International Monetary Fund…. Hardly anyone doubts any longer that in the long term Greece will require a debt cut and will remain cut off from capital markets and dependent on the international community for aid. It is a realization that European citizens should be made aware of. Such a result from the euro zone-IMF negotiations would have been a long overdue act of political integrity."
"A long-range framework for the reduction of Greek debt? Forget about it. Instead, particularly in Germany, the illusion is being maintained that the whole thing won't really cost taxpayers much."
Left-leaning daily Die Tageszeitung writes:
"In the third year of the Greece crisis, one should be able to expect from Europe a clear, coherent and lasting strategy. But the plan that the Euro Group presented on Tuesday is neither clear nor coherent, never mind lasting."
"Europe can't do it; that is the inkling that is slowly spreading following the nth crisis summit in Brussels. Whereas Greece has to keep suffering, other countries that suffered immensely, like Iceland, have gotten back on their feet. Indeed, the debt crisis in Iceland was even worse, and the Reykjavik government had to solve it all by itself."
"Three years since the beginning of the crisis, Europe still hasn't learned any lessons, even though it has long been clear what has to be done. A debt cut is necessary, and not just for Greece. Austerity has to be suspended wherever such measures are hurting the economy. And Southern Europe needs an economic stimulus program worthy of the name."
Center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"Little Greece is in the eye of the euro-crisis storm. All hopes that one could simply isolate and ignore the country have been in vain. If Europe wants to hold onto the euro, it must also hold onto Greece. And if it holds on to Greece, it must also be prepared for aggravation and costs. Because that is the price for putting the common currency back on a path of stability."
"Time offers the last hope, which is why it is almost negligent to accuse Germany and other creditor countries of procrastinating Greek insolvency. Those who argue for an immediate insolvency or debt cut must explain why it would be better for Germany to start anew."
"No, time has become the ersatz currency in this crisis. Buying time was the only way to put together the aid packages, the fiscal pact, the first Greek debt haircut and the packages to bail out Portugal and Ireland. Only time can give us hope that other crisis-stricken countries will be able to reform themselves and become competitive enough to help finance Greece many years into the future. Germany cannot do it on its own."
"Accusations that the German government is juggling with interest rates so as to avoid a debt cut prior to general elections are an insult to German voters. Most will have long since understood that Greece will end up costing German taxpayers a bundle."
Conservative daily Die Welt writes:
"The fact that the German parliament has the last word has nobody in Southern Europe concerned. The Bundestag will approve the deal in the name of European solidarity. The fact that it includes measures that will for the first time carry real costs apparently doesn't bother anyone. It has long been clear that taxpayers would eventually be asked to foot the bill. The costs of turning the euro zone into a transfer union, however, are still being played down. The finance minister, in any case, is still acting as though Greece will one day be able to pay back its debts. But it is a red line that will have to be crossed in the not-too-distant future."
Business daily Handelsblatt writes:
"The package agreed to by the euro group on Monday night … is exactly the mix that Schäuble's and Merkel's economic advisor Lars-Hendrik Röller has been supporting from the very beginning. And they are also measures that are intended to avoid a debt cut. But has the problem now been solved? Not even close. Schäuble and Merkel are taking a major risk. The compromise will carry Merkel's government just far enough to reach election day in the fall of 2013. But it remains unclear if it can carry Greece beyond that. Since the very beginning of the Greece crisis, the chancellor and her finance minister have been forced to regularly retreat from positions held, and they have had to pay a high price for doing so. Their political and moral credibility are at stake."
-- Charles Hawley
11/28/2012 10:38 AM
There's a Hole in the Budget...What the Greece Deal Means for German Finances
Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble insisted on Tuesday that the new deal aimed at slashing Greece's debt load won't cost German taxpayers. It will, however, deny Germany billions in expected revenues. And the feared debt cut may be just around a not-too-distant corner.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble is a clever orator. In comments to the press on Tuesday, he first made sure to praise Greek reform efforts before turning to the most recent measures passed to prop up the heavily indebted country. Then he said that the new aid package, aimed at reducing Greece's overall debt load and giving the country two extra years to meet its budget deficit reduction targets, won't cost German taxpayers a penny.
It is a bold statement. And one that leaves plenty of room for interpretation. Particularly given Schäuble's follow up. Berlin, he said, will suffer a "reduction of revenues."
It is a typical Schäuble formulation: a bit ambiguous and slightly misleading. But the numbers are clear enough. Germany will forego some €730 million ($944 million) in revenues in 2013 as part of the deal hashed out on Monday night in Brussels between euro-zone finance ministers and the International Monetary Fund. It is a compromise that avoids, for now, the kind of debt haircut that Berlin had been so opposed to. But it marks the first time that the crisis in Greece will have a direct effect on the German budget.
The deal clears the way, finally, for the payout of the long-awaited next tranche of emergency aid for Athens. Whereas that tranche was originally to be €34.4 billion, euro-zone finance ministers lumped it together with the next chunk of aid due and approved the payout of €43.7 billion. Before it can be delivered, however, German parliament must approve the plan pushed through on Monday night, which it is expected to do on Friday. Parliaments in Finland and France also have to clear the deal, but neither is expected to block it.
Still, the package of measures counters years of assurances from German leaders that efforts to bail out Greece wouldn't weigh on state finances. It includes interest rate cuts and maturity extensions on emergency aid loans, resulting in a €130 million annual hole in the German budget.
In addition, euro-zone countries agreed to return to Greece profits accrued to national central banks from European Central Bank purchases of Greek sovereign bonds. The money, projected to total €10 billion between now and 2030, is to be paid into a fund to help Athens service its debt. Germany's share of the total is €2.7 billion, with €599 million of that due in 2013. Germany's Bundesbank must first approve the plan.
Greece is also to embark on a debt buy-back program which will see the country purchase its own bonds back from private investors. Because the value of those bonds has dropped below face value, it is another way for Athens to reduce its overall debt. Euro-zone finance ministers plan to gather again on December 13 to evaluate the efficacy of that program.
The grocery list of mini-measures had become necessary because of Berlin's continued refusal to consider the kind of debt haircut that the International Monetary Fund had been demanding. Few believe that Greece will be able to return to financial health without such a partial default, but Chancellor Angela Merkel's government isn't prepared to take such a step less than one year away from the next general elections scheduled for autumn 2013. Euro-zone finance ministers had instead demanded that Greece be given until 2022 to reduce its debt load closer to the 120 percent of gross domestic product identified by the IMF as manageable. The IMF had insisted on the original plan of reducing the country's debt load to the 120 percent level by 2020.
The new measures, it is hoped, will reduce the country's debt level to 124 percent of GDP by 2020 and to 110 percent by 2022. Currently, the country's sovereign debt load is projected to stand at an unsustainable 190 percent of GDP in 2013.
But for all of Schäuble's resistance to the idea of a debt cut for Greece, Berlin is no longer excluding the possibility out of hand. Such a move, the Merkel administration made clear, is not possible with aid payments to Greece continuing. Once those aid payments stop at the end of 2014, however, the possibility could be revisited.
A debt haircut of 50 percent, as had been discussed, would have cost Germany a hefty €17.5 billion, a loss that Berlin was not eager to take. Merkel's CDU was at pains on Tuesday to counter the impression that its opposition to a debt haircut was primarily motivated by concerns about next year's elections. "When there are legal barriers to a debt cut, then there can't be such a cut after general elections either," said Wolfgang Bosbach, a senior CDU parliamentarian. "The legal landscape won't change with the election."
The opposition, though, wasn't buying that interpretation. "The debt cut cannot be avoided," said Frank-Walter Steinmeier, floor leader for the opposition Social Democrats. "It has merely been postponed to a period following the election."
Coastal cities in danger as sea levels rise faster than expected
By Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian
Tuesday, November 27, 2012 20:48 EST
Sea-level rise is occurring much faster than scientists expected – exposing millions more Americans to the destructive floods produced by future Sandy-like storms, new research suggests.
Satellite measurements over the last two decades found global sea levels rising 60% faster than the computer projections issued only a few years ago by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The faster sea-level rise means the authorities will have to take even more ambitious measures to protect low-lying population centres – such as New York City, Los Angeles or Jacksonville, Florida – or risk exposing millions more people to a destructive combination of storm surges on top of sea-level rise, scientists said.
Scientists earlier this year found sea-level rise had already doubled the annual risk of historic flooding across a widespread area of the United States.
The latest research, published on Wednesday in Environmental Research Letters, found global sea-levels rising at a rate of 3.2mm a year, compared to the best estimates by the IPCC of 2mm a year, or 60% faster.
Researchers used satellite data to measure sea-level rise from 1993-2011. Satellites are much more accurate than tide gauges, the study said.
The scientists said they had ruled out other non-climatic causes for the rise in water levels – and that their study demonstrated that researchers had under-estimated the effects of climate change.
“Generally people are coming around to the opinion that this is going to be far worse than the IPCC projections indicate,” said Grant Foster, a US-based mathematician who worked on the paper with German climatologist Stefan Rahmstorf.
The implications are serious – especially for coastal areas of the US. Large portions of America’s Atlantic and Pacific coasts are regarded as “hotspots” for sea-level rise, with water levels increasing at twice the rate of most other places on the planet.
Scientists previously had expected a global sea-level rise of 1m by the end of the century. “But I would say that if you took a poll among the real experts these days probably they would say that a more realistic figure would be more than that,” Foster said.
“The study indicates that this is going to be as bad or worse than the worst case scenarios of the IPCC so whatever you were planning from Cape Hatteras to Cape Cod in terms of how you were preparing for sea-level rise – if you thought you had enough defences in place, you probably need more,” Foster said.
A study published last March by Climate Central found sea-level rise due to global warming had already doubled the risk of extreme flood events – so-called once in a century floods – for dozens of locations up and down the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
It singled out the California cities of Los Angeles and San Diego on the Pacific coast and Jacksonville, Florida, and Savannah, Georgia, on the Atlantic, as the most vulnerable to historic flooding due to sea-level rise.
Sandy, which produced a 9ft storm surge at Battery Park in New York City, produced one example of the dangerous combination of storm surges and rising sea level. In New York, each additional foot of water puts up to 100,000 additional people at risk, according to a map published with the study.
But tens of millions of people are potentially at risk across the country. The same report noted that more than half of the population, in some 285 US cities and towns, lived less than 1m above the high tide mark.
“In some places it takes only a few inches of sea-level rise to convert a once in a century storm to a once in a decade storm,” said Ben Strauss, who directs the sea-level rise programme at Climate Central.
Large swathes of the mid-Atlantic coast, from Virginia through New Jersey, also faced elevated risk of severe flooding, because of climate change, he said.
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