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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1072743 times)
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« Reply #3915 on: Jan 08, 2013, 08:18 AM »

Tunisia frees suspect in Benghazi attack on U.S. consulate

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, January 7, 2013 18:20 EST

A court in Tunis on Monday ordered the release of Ali Hamzi, a Tunisian suspected of involvement in the deadly attack on the US consulate in Libya last September, his lawyer Abdelbasset Ben Mbarek said.

The ruling came after Hamzi, 26, was interrogated by four FBI agents and a translator in Tunisia last month, in the absence of a defence lawyer, with Mbarek describing the methods used during the interrogation of his client as “scandalous.”

“He has returned to his family,” the lawyer told AFP.

“If he had been implicated in the attack, he would not have been released,” he said, adding that his client remained under judicial control because he was still charged with belonging to a terrorist group.

Hamzi was detained while trying to enter Turkey after the September 11 attack on the US mission in Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi, in which the ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed.

He was deported back to Tunisia in October, where he was charged with belonging to “a terrorist group based abroad.”

He had refused to be interrogated by FBI agents.

Tunisia’s justice ministry has defended its right to cooperate fully with the United States in combatting terrorism.
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« Reply #3916 on: Jan 08, 2013, 08:28 AM »

China anti-censorship protest attracts support across country

Anger over China's draconian censorship regulation prompted by propaganda authority's interference with newspaper's editorial

Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing, Monday 7 January 2013 16.48 GMT   

Hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the headquarters of a southern newspaper on Monday in a rare display of public anger over China's draconian censorship regulations.

Many held signs calling for greater press freedom and expressing support for the newspaper's editorial employees, some of whom have gone on strike against the provincial propaganda authority's interference with a recent editorial.

"I feel the ordinary people must awaken," demonstrator Yuan Fengchu told the Associated Press outside of left-leaning newspaper Southern Weekend's office in Guangzhou. "The people are starting to realise that their rights have been taken away by the Communist party and they are feeling that they are being constantly oppressed."

Late last week, employees at Southern Weekend – also known as Southern Weekly – wrote an open letter to the provincial propaganda department demanding the resignation of one of its highest-ranked officials, Tuo Zhen. They accused Tuo of surreptitiously revising the editorial, which urged China's leaders to adopt a constitutional form of governance.

"In this era where we see growing open-mindedness, his actions are muddle-headed and careless," said the letter, which was briefly posted to the internet before it was taken down by censors.

The public weighed in quickly and forcefully. Prominent intellectuals have rallied behind a strongly worded open letter denouncing top party officials. Widely circulated pictures on microblogs show large groups of young people holding up handwritten anti-censorship messages and grappling with police. Many of the paper's journalists have gone on strike, according to unsubstantiated online accounts.

This incident could mark the "first time in more than two decades that the editorial staff of a major newspaper have openly staged a strike against government censorship," reported the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.

The newspaper's supporters extend far beyond Guangzhou. Pictures posted online show demonstrators at a pedagogical university in Nanjing holding up handwritten signs that say: "Go Southern Weekend!" One widely circulated photograph shows a woman holding a sign reading: "I may not agree with every word you say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it." Some demonstrators carried chrysanthemums, a Chinese symbol of lamentation.

"In other cities, we've seen people march, but most of the time they are protesting environmental pollution or people's livelihood issues," one protester, Guangzhou-based writer and activist Wu Wei, said. "Here they are asking for political rights, the right to protest. The Southern Weekly incident has provided an opportunity for citizens to voice their desires."

How the Communist party's newly appointed top leader, Xi Jinping, manages the backlash could be indicative of his leadership style and attitude towards dissent. Calls for transparency and honest politics have become a definitive mark of Xi's early tenure, and analysts have expressed hope that he will spearhead political reform. Yet, so far, China's censorship apparatus has responded to the controversy with characteristic heavy-handedness. Propaganda authorities have commandeered the newspaper's microblogs and forbidden other media outlets from reporting on the conflict. The terms "Southern Weekend" and "New Year's Greeting" have been blocked on Sina Weibo, the country's most popular microblog with more than 400m users.

"No matter whether these people are happy or not, common sense is that it is impossible to have the kind of 'free media' they dream of under China's social and political reality today," said an editorial in the Chinese-language version of the state-run Global Times. The Communist party mouthpiece People's Daily offered a cryptic warning on its Sina Weibo account: "Tonight stars and clouds are changing, temperatures are drastically dropping, with a piercing cold," it said. "People need to be careful wherever they go, and be aware of their feelings."

Southern Weekly's original editorial, headlined: China's Dream, the Dream of Constitutionalism, urged China's leaders to adhere to the country's 1982 constitution – a bold proposition in China, given the document's promises of free speech and freedom of assembly. The revised column, with the headline: We are Closer than Ever Before to Our Dreams, was about half the length of the original, brazenly pro-Communist and laden with factual and typographical errors.

An open letter signed by 18 prominent Chinese intellectuals castigated Guangdong propaganda officials for spurning the ideals of reform and opening, a 1980s-era ideology which Guangdong – perhaps China's most enlightened province because of its proximity to Hong Kong – holds especially dear. It reiterated Southern Weekly's calls for Tuo Zhen to step down.

Authorities' control over the media in Guangdong has ramped up in recent years, according to Zhang Ming, a political science professor at Renmin University in Beijing and one of the letter's signatories. "It has reached the point that they can't even run the newspaper," he said.

Two famous Chinese actors – festival darling Li Bingbing and Yao Chen, who has over 31m followers on Sina Weibo – have expressed support for the paper on their microblogs; their posts have been forwarded tens of thousands of times. Celebrity blogger Han Han wrote: "My support today is not only for my favourite newspaper and its respectable editors and journalists, but also for the media and media people who are in even worse situations and receive worse treatment." The post has since been deleted.

The controversy may have also exacerbated divisions within the newspaper group, as Communist party-affiliated overseers come to loggerheads with more independent-minded staff. While the newspaper's official Weibo account asserted that Southern Weekend editors had penned the revised New Year's editorial, it didn't take long for staff members' individual Weibo accounts to repudiate the claim.

"Southern Weekly statement that its Weibo account was taken away was retweeted 21,372 times in 13 minutes. Then the statement was gone," tweeted Yang Guobin, a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania.


Chinese activist held incommunicado under new secret detention law

Zhu Chengzhi, who is charged with 'inciting subversion of state power' is believed to be first person to be held under law   

Reuters in Beijing, Tuesday 8 January 2013 09.20 GMT   

A Chinese man who agitated for an investigation into the suspicious death of an activist has been detained at an unknown location, his lawyer said on Monday, describing him as possibly the first to be held under a controversial new law that allows secret detention.

Authorities in Shaoyang city in central Hunan province told family members of Zhu Chengzhi, 62, last Friday that he would be put under "residential surveillance" under "Article 73", Zhu's wife, Zeng Qiulian, told Reuters by telephone on Monday. Article 73 legalises detaining people in secret.

The detention comes a day after China said it would reform its system of forced labour camps this year, marking a first step toward legal reform promised by the new Communist party chief, Xi Jinping.

Article 73 legalises a practice that began in earnest in 2011. Fearing that anti-authoritarian uprisings across the Arab world could inspire challenges to Communist rule, the government unlawfully held dozens of activists, including artist Ai Weiwei, for weeks or months in secret detention.

The new law allows police to detain people they suspect of crimes related to state security, terrorism or serious corruption in a designated location.

Families would be notified within 24 hours, but police are not required to disclose the whereabouts of the person detained and can deny access to a lawyer.

Police had charged Zhu with "incitement to subvert state power" after he posted photos online following the death of his friend, Li Wangyang, who was found in a hospital ward in Shaoyang, his neck tied with a noose made from cotton bandages.

Authorities said it was suicide – a verdict that angered thousands of scholars, lawyers and activists.

"They told me they were moving him to a hotel," his wife, Zeng, said, adding that police declined to disclose his whereabouts.

The Shaoyang public security bureau was not available for comment.

Liu Xiaoyuan, Zhu's lawyer, said he believed Zhu was the first Chinese person to be held under the secret detention laws. The justice ministry was not available for comment.

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« Reply #3917 on: Jan 08, 2013, 08:30 AM »

January 7, 2013

Japan Is Weighing Raising Military Spending


TOKYO — Japan’s new conservative government announced a review of national military strategy on Monday that analysts said was aimed at offsetting China’s growing military power and that may increase defense spending for the first time in a decade.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered his government to replace the nation’s five-year military spending plan and to review defense guidelines adopted in 2010 by the left-leaning Democratic Party, which his party defeated in elections last month. Those guidelines called for gradual reductions in defense spending, and in the size of Japan’s military, particularly in the number of tanks and infantry members.

Mr. Abe had promised during the election campaign to strengthen the military to defend Japan’s control of islands in the East China Sea that are also claimed by China.

Mr. Abe did not release details of his intent on the military revisions, but news reports said the replacement plan would probably reverse the Democrats’ cuts, starting with a 120 billion yen, or $1.4 billion, increase in the military budget in the 2013 fiscal year, which begins in April. That would be the first increase in Japanese military spending since 2002, as the nation has tightened its belt during a long economic decline.

The reports said the new spending plan, proposed by members of Mr. Abe’s governing Liberal Democratic Party, would seek to increase the number of ground troops, strengthen air and sea defenses around the disputed islands, and buy new early-warning aircraft to guard against Chinese intrusions near the islands, as well as missile launchings by North Korea.

The reports said the plan could also include financing for a feasibility study on acquiring Osprey aircraft, American vertical-takeoff transport planes whose introduction last year to a Marine airfield on Okinawa set off protests. The Osprey can fly farther and faster than Japan’s current helicopters, allowing its troops to more easily reach the disputed islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

Despite a decade of defense cuts, analysts said Japan last year had the world’s sixth-largest military budget, spending 4.65 trillion yen, or $53.3 billion, on defense. Japan has one of the largest and most advanced militaries in Asia, though it has kept a low profile to avoid stirring bitter memories of its early-20th-century empire building.

Mr. Abe’s efforts to raise Japan’s military profile in the region are intended not only to bolster his nation’s declining influence, but also to help an economically ailing ally, the United States, counter China’s rising military prowess.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: January 7, 2013

A previous version of this article gave an incorrect dollar equivalent for Japan’s 4.65 trillion yen in defense spending last year. It was equivalent to $53.3 billion, not $5.3 billion.
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« Reply #3918 on: Jan 08, 2013, 08:32 AM »

Silvio Berlusconi renews rightwing alliance ahead of Italian elections

Former PM announces his party's support for Northern League, raising fears election will yield no outright winner

Lizzy Davies in Rome, Monday 7 January 2013 18.26 GMT   

The former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has renewed an alliance with his erstwhile coalition partners in the Northern League, raising the chances that next month's election will yield no outright winner and yet more political instability.

In a move unlikely to reassure the markets, the 76-year-old media magnate said that if the rightwing coalition won he would prefer to serve as finance minister rather than prime minister. The position, he said, "would allow me to demonstrate once again that I have no political ambitions". Given Berlusconi's latest poll ratings, such an outcome is improbable.

"The premier will be decided if we win," he told Italian radio, explaining that he would stand as the coalition's "leader of moderates" and that his People of Freedom (PdL) party would support Roberto Maroni, de facto head of the regionalist League, as governor of the Lombardy region around Milan, one of the country's chief battlegrounds.

The League, which campaigns for greater fiscal autonomy for northern Italy and tighter controls on immigration, had been holding out against an alliance with Berlusconi, insisting it would only lend him its support if he vowed not to use it to run for a fourth term as prime minister.

Reflecting the drawn-out negotiations, Berlusconi unveiled the deal by declaring "Habemus papam" – a term usually reserved for the announcement of a new pope. He had signed an agreement with Maroni in the early hours of Monday morning, he said.

According to an opinion poll published on Sunday in the Corriere della Sera, the united forces of Berlusconi's PdL and the League are on course to win only 26%-28% of the vote on 24-25 February, despite the billionaire politician's repeated declaration that he will again exceed 40%.

The centrist coalition led by the technocrat prime minister Mario Monti stands to win about 14%-15% of the vote, according to the poll, with the comedian Beppe Grillo's Five Star Movement on 13-14%.

A centre-left bloc led by the Partito Democratico (PD) is far ahead on 38-39% but Berlusconi's announcement threatens the possibility of an outright victory for the party and its leader, Pier Luigi Bersani.

The PD looks set to dominate in the lower house of parliament, but could be blocked in the Senate by the rightwing coalition. That prospect could result in the PD seeking the services of Monti to form a governing coalition, a scenario that would please the markets and other EU leaders, many of whom want the former European commissioner to stay at the helm of Italy as it continues to battle the eurozone crisis and recession.

Since declaring his intention to take part in the election in order to keep Italy on the road to fiscal discipline and economic recovery, Monti, 69, has abandoned much of his studiously apolitical image.

He has engaged in multiple television and radio interviews and even a live Twitter Q&A session in which – to the dismay of some supporters – he used smiley emoticons and the thoroughly unprofessorial exclamation "wow!" He has also sharpened his criticism of Berlusconi, describing him as politically and personally volatile and drawing attention to the former prime minister's often contradictory statements.

But Berlusconi, whose party supported the technocratic government until November, has returned the criticism, calling Monti a "minor leader" and questioning his credibility. On Monday, Berlusconi reiterated his criticism, telling Italian television his successor's decision to continue in politics was "immoral".

"When he [Monti] was made prime minister he said – and he told me this, too – that once his mandate had expired, he would no longer be a political player. In a year of government, he has not produced any necessary reform and all the economic indicators are negative. My judgment of Monti is very negative," he said.

An alliance with the Northern League is likely to shift Berlusconi's coalition further to the right. Within hours of the alliance's unveiling, it emerged that one of the football fans suspected of shouting racist chants at Kevin-Prince Boateng during last week's Pro Patria v Milan match was a local councillor and leghista [League supporter]. The League rejects all charges of xenophobia or racism.
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« Reply #3919 on: Jan 08, 2013, 08:36 AM »

Balkans: Milorad Dodik offers asylum to Kosovo Serbs

7 January 2013

“I am offering Kosovo Serbs a place in Republika Srpska (RS)." Milorad Dodik's announcement was thought so important that Blic gave it a bigger headline than Serbian Patriarch Irinej's Christmas message — most Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas on January 7. In an interview with the Serbian daily, the President of the Serbian entity of Bosnia has advocated the simple partition of Kosovo.

Directly interfering in Serbia’s relations with its former province, the RS strongman declared that “both Serbia and Kosovo will have to definitively identify their territory, because Serbs and Albanians are apparently unable to live together.” Dodik is therefore proposing that the North of Kosovo, which is home to the bulk of the minority Serb population, be incorporated into Serbia, and that Serbs living to the south of the river Ibar who cannot be rehoused in Serbia, move to the Serbian entity in Bosnia, where he is pledging to provide them “with land and aid to build houses and farms.”

Arguing that the EU will ultimately demand that Serbia recognise the independence of Kosovo as a condition for accession to the European Union, the Bosnian Serb President criticised Brussels for making Serbia “a candidate country without setting a date for negotiations” and insisted that “Europe will not want Serbia while a permanent solution for Kosovo has yet to be found.

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« Reply #3920 on: Jan 08, 2013, 08:37 AM »

Climate change, debt and inequality ‘threaten financial stability,’ according to World Economic Forum report

By Larry Elliott, The Guardian
Tuesday, January 8, 2013 8:12 EST

Ahead of Davos 2013, World Economic Forum calls on policymakers to step up their efforts to tackle the three big dangers cited by a panel of 1,000 experts

Persistent economic weakness is sapping the ability of governments to tackle the growing threat of climate change and threatens a global “perfect storm” of intertwined financial and ecological collapse, the World Economic Forum warned.

Ahead of its annual meeting in Davos later this month, the WEF used its annual Global Risks report to call on policy leaders to step up their efforts to tackle the three big dangers cited by a panel of 1,000 experts: severe income disparities, the indebted state of governments and rising greenhouse gas emissions.

“These global risks are essentially a health warning regarding our most critical systems”, said Lee Howell, the report’s editor. “National resilience to global risks needs to be a priority so that critical systems continue to function despite a major disturbance.”

The report showed that for the second year running, the widening income gap, chronic fiscal imbalances and greenhouse gas emissions were seen as the three most likely threats to emerge over the coming decade. Of those risks deemed likely to have the biggest impact on the global community, a major systemic financial failure and a water supply crisis were again deemed to be the most serious, followed by chronic fiscal imbalances, food shortage crises and the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

Howell said the fact that the key risks in 2013 were the same as they had been in 2012 reflected a sense that policymakers were failing to get to grips with the threats. “There is a feeling that we are not making progress”, he said at the launch of the report in London. “We are not seeing the state leadership necessary to tackle these risks.”

While praising the attempts by countries such as Switzerland, Singapore, Australia and China to improve their resilience, the WEF said the immediate challenge of coping with economic problems was making governments reluctant to address the long-term threat of climate change.

“Continued stress on the global economic system is positioned to absorb the attention of leaders for the foreseeable future”, the report said.

“Meanwhile, the Earth’s environmental system is simultaneously coming under increasing stress. Future simultaneous shocks to both systems could trigger the ‘perfect global storm’ with potentially insurmountable consequences.

“On the economic front, global resilience is being tested by bold monetary and austere by bold monetary and austere fiscal policies. On the environmental front, the Earth’s resilience is being tested by rising global temperatures and extreme weather events that are likely to become more frequent and severe. A sudden and massive collapse on one front is certain to doom the other’s chances of developing and effective, long-term solution.”

Each year, the WEF asks its panel of experts to compile a list of the 50 key risks. The 2013 study showed how views had changed since the start of the global financial crisis in mid 2007. At the start of that year, the five risks most frequently cited were a breakdown of critical information infrastructure, chronic disease in developed countries, an oil price shock, a hard landing in China and an asset price collapse. The five risks deemed likely to have the biggest impact were an: asset price collapse, retrenchment from globalisation, interstate and civil wars, pandemics and an oil price shock.

Social media threat

The report cited two other causes for global concern: a false sense of security over health and digital wildfires.

“Huge strides forward in health have left the world dangerously complacent. Rising resistance to antibiotics could push overburdened health systems to the brink, while a hyperconnected world allows pandemics to spread”, the WEF said.

It added that the internet could be the source of global panic. “Social media allows information to spread around the world at breakneck speed in an open system where norms and rules are starting to emerge but have not yet been defined. While the benefits of our hyperconnected communication systems are undisputed, they could potentially enable the viral spread of information that is intentionally or unintentionally misleading or provocative.”

© Guardian News and Media 2013
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« Reply #3921 on: Jan 08, 2013, 08:40 AM »

Mozambique smelting profits should not fill foreign coffers, say campaigners

UK government and World Bank among investors accused of benefiting disproportionately from lucrative Mozal smelter

Mark Tran, Tuesday 8 January 2013 07.00 GMT   

Tax campaigners are calling on Britain, the World Bank and private investors to return "excessive" profits from a flagship aluminium smelting project in Mozambique started as part of a recovery programme after the country's civil war in the early 1990s.

According to a report by Jubilee Debt Campaign in the UK, the Tax Justice Network and Justica Ambiental (Friends of the Earth Mozambique), the Mozal smelter – the biggest private-sector project investment in the former Portuguese colony – has benefited foreign interests much more than the people of Mozambique.

The report calculates that foreign investors, governments and development banks have received an average of $320m (£199m) a year from the smelter, in contrast to the Mozambique government's $15m. In other words, for every $1 paid to the Mozambique government, $21 has left the country in profit or interest to foreign governments and investors.

"It is scandalous that a project with so much international development funding has yielded large profits for foreign governments and multinational companies, but very little for Mozambique," said Tim Jones, policy officer at Jubilee Debt Campaign. "The UK government, World Bank and others should hand their excess money back to the people of Mozambique, and support a renegotiation of the amount of tax the smelter pays."

The Mozambique government and development institutions saw Mozal as a catalyst for foreign investment to rebuild a shattered country. The project, a smelting facility to produce aluminium for export, was the first major foreign investment project in the country.

To attract foreign investors, the Mozambique government exempted Mozal from taxes on profit and VAT, levying only a 1% turnover tax, while allowing all profit from the smelter to be taken offshore. BHP Billiton, the mining group, owns 47% of Mozal, while Japan's Mitsubishi owns 25%. The other two equity investors are the Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa (24%) and the government of Mozambique (4%). Mozal began operating on the outskirts of Maputo, the capital, in 2000, followed by an extension – Mozal II – in 2003-04.

The project is responsible for 30% of the country's official exports, and uses 45% of the electricity produced in Mozambique. In all, $2.2bn was invested to build Mozal, half from equity investors and half from loans from development institutions including the World Bank's private-sector arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the EU's European Investment Bank and the Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC), the UK's development finance institution.

According to the report, Britain provided $53m of loans from CDC and guaranteed $145m of loans through UK Export Finance. The UK government has received $88m in interest on the CDC loan, as well as repayment. The report estimates that, in total, the CDC and other public institutions made more than $120m a year out of the smelter, eight times more than the $15m received annually by the Mozambique government.

CDC said it played no part in determining the tax arrangements put in place before Mozal, responsibility for which lay with the government. "We believe the terms of the loans to be reasonable given the conditions in Mozambique in 1998," said CDC. "At the time, neither increased production nor rising aluminium prices were a given, especially considering the recent political upheaval in the country and a moribund aluminium market. Fortunately, over the 13-year duration of the loans, increased production at Mozal combined with a dramatic rise in the price of aluminium generated $45.6m of additional performance-related payments to CDC."

BHP Billiton made an average profit from the smelter of $114m a year between 2005-06 and 2011-12, more than seven times the sum made by the Mozambique government. In a response to the report, BHP said Mozal has made a significant contribution to Mozambique in the past decade. It said Mozal trained thousands of workers and that 93% of its employees are now from Mozambique. "The smelter's success has encouraged others to invest in the country," said BHP. "The government is a shareholder and receives a proportional share of dividends."

BHP said the smelter's agreements with government were designed to secure the investment required to deliver broad benefits such as employment and attract other foreign investors, not to maximise tax revenues. The report said maximisation of tax revenues should have been a goal.

The World Bank sees Mozal as a positive contribution to Mozambique's economy, saying it tripled the country's exports and added more than 7% to GDP in its initial years of operation and an estimated 10% in 2001.

Mozambique has enjoyed strong growth – it has averaged almost 8% a year since 1998 – but the country remains poor. Mozambique ranks fourth from bottom of the UN's human development index (184). About 54% of people remain poor, according to a 2008-09 survey, and poverty reduction has slowed. This is despite anti-poverty government budgets that allocate a fifth of spending to education.

Jubilee cites Mozal as symptomatic of Mozambique's juxtaposition of high growth and high poverty. "The large export revenues – Mozal accounts for 30% of Mozambique's official exports – and economic activity Mozal generates boost overall figures for growth and exports. But these are not entering the Mozambique economy."

IFC said it supported Mozal to send a signal about the long-term investment prospects in a country emerging from civil war. "[The project's] impact extends well beyond the direct benefits to investors," said an IFC spokesman. "The project provided significant infrastructure development and tens of thousands of direct and indirect jobs. Mozal helps domestic small and medium enterprises gain the skills and technical capabilities they need to compete effectively, and in a sustainable way, for large contracts in a number of important industries."

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« Reply #3922 on: Jan 08, 2013, 08:42 AM »

Ghana gets its claim in early as candidates vie to head WTO

The World Trade Organisation has been run mostly by white males from rich countries. Will this year's vote herald a change?

Paige McClanahan, Tuesday 8 January 2013 12.02 GMT   

Nine candidates are vying to become the next head of the World Trade Organisation in a selection process that began in December and is expected to last several months. Six of the nominees hail from countries outside the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and three are women.

With one exception, the Geneva-based WTO and its predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (Gatt), have been run exclusively by white males from rich nations since the Gatt was founded in 1948.

In December, WTO member states submitted their nominations for the director general post, which has been held by Pascal Lamy, from France, since 2005. The first nomination, from Ghana, was announced on 17 December, while the last, from Brazil, came in just three days before the 31 December deadline.

Kenya, Indonesia, Jordan and Costa Rica were the other non-OECD countries that submitted nominations, while New Zealand, Mexico, and South Korea also put forward candidates.

Lamy said in an interview with Reuters in October that competence, not geography, should determine who takes his place after his term expires on 31 August. But observers say that's unlikely. "The idea that merit will be the sole criterion is quaint," says Simon Evenett, a professor of economics and trade at the University of St Gallen in Switzerland. "Inevitably geography and history will play roles in selecting the new WTO head."

Having a director general from the developing world would certainly change the public face of the organisation. The WTO has historically drawn criticism from activists who claim that the organisation's push to liberalise global markets hurts people in poorer nations.

The process of selecting a new director general is a delicate geographic ballet in which countries often – but not always – back nominees from their regions, at least at the outset when the field is still wide.

"The Africans have nominated two candidates, which can't help their case," says Evenett, noting that the Kenyan nominee, Amina Mohamed (pdf), and the Ghanaian candidate, Alan Kyerematen (pdf), are likely to split the support of African nations and hurt the continent's prospects of winning the post. "African governments might also be tempted to forgo their WTO ambitions if they can secure the secretary general post at Unctad, which is also open," Evenett says.

Latin America has jumped into the race, with three nominations: Costa Rica's Anabel González (pdf), Mexico's Herminio Blanco (pdf), and Brazil's Roberto Azevêdo (pdf). "The Latin tradition here is to form a circular firing squad and knock each other's candidate out," Evenett said. "That history may repeat itself with Brazil and Mexico vetoing each other's candidates."

Tim Groser (pdf), New Zealand's candidate earned the respect of many WTO delegates while leading the organisation's fractious agriculture negotiations from 2003 to 2005. But Groser's chances may be hurt because another New Zealander, Michael Moore, was head of the WTO from 1999 to 2002.

The Indonesian candidate, Mari Pangestu (pdf), who served for seven years as the country's trade minister, has solid credentials. South Korea's Taeho Bark (pdf) and Jordan's Ahmad Hindawi (pdf) have made their mark in bilateral trade talks, but are little known on the international stage.

The field of candidates is set, but observers say it is still too early to make any solid predictions about who will win. Delegates will get their first look at the nominees at a meeting at WTO headquarters in Geneva on 29 January, when each candidate will present his or her "vision" for the future of the organisation.

A handful of frontrunners should emerge by late March, and a final decision is expected before the end of May. WTO delegates will aim to choose their new leader by consensus, but it could come to a vote if they fail to rally behind a single nominee.

Whoever is ultimately selected will face the challenge of keeping the WTO relevant as its latest round of trade talks continues to flounder. The organisation's Doha round negotiations were supposed to conclude in 2003, but they have now limped into their 12th year, with no end in sight.

"The agenda has to change, and yet at the same time, [they] can't be seen to be letting major items drop off the current agenda," says Evenett. "That's a very difficult transition to effect, and one which clearly seems beyond the existing WTO members and the current director general."
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« Reply #3923 on: Jan 08, 2013, 08:43 AM »

01/08/2013 01:31 PM

Flag Riots in Northern Ireland: New Belfast Unrest Worries Business Leaders

The latest flare-up of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland has business leaders warning about the damage that could be done to the region's economy. Belfast has made strides in recent years as violence has waned, but peace and the economy remain fragile.

In Northern Ireland, it was hoped that an end to decades of unrest would finally result in an economic turnaround -- one which would be instrumental to establishing lasting peace. And initially, it seemed to work. In the years following the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which established a tentative peace between Protestant groups loyal to the United Kingdom and Catholic groups seeking union with Ireland, foreign investment rocketed upwards and business activity in Belfast also picked up.

More recently, however, the Northern Irish economy has been anything but dynamic, with negative effects of the recent downturn in the British economy being even more pronounced in Belfast and its surroundings than elsewhere in the UK. And now, with sectarian violence having flared up in recent weeks, local leaders are warning of its potential negative impact on business.

"Northern Ireland has been lagging behind the rest of the UK and our recovery has been slow," Glyn Roberts of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "This has come at the worst possible time and my concern is that these protests are making the situation even worse."

Roberts' concern was echoed by Invest Northern Ireland. "A small number of potential investors have raised concerns about the current level of unrest," the group said in a statement quoted by the Irish Times. "Invest NI is working closely with them to minimize the impact of any negative perceptions."

Worrisome Escalation of Violence

The new wave of protests has been swelling since mid-December, when the Belfast City Council voted to no longer fly the British flag every day from city hall. Instead, the Union Jack will be raised only on designated days. The clashes have become more intense in the new year, with Monday evening marking the fifth straight night of violence between protesters and police.

While the numbers of those involved in the rioting have been small -- limited to the dozens on Monday night -- the escalation has been nonetheless worrisome. Over the weekend, police reported having been fired on. Security officials have also been showered with Molotov cocktails, paving stones, fireworks and paint bombs. Some cars have been attacked with hatchets and sledgehammers. On Monday night, police responded with water canons and so-called "baton rounds," which refers to non-lethal plastic or bean-bag projectiles fired out of a shotgun.

Over 60 police officers have been injured since the unrest began in December and over 100 rioters arrested. "As chief constable, I'm taking the unusual step of calling directly now for protests, if not to be ended, to take a step back, for the violence to come to an end and for responsible voices to be heard," top security official Matt Baggot told reporters on Monday. Given that some involved in the rioting have been as young as 10, he also appealed to parents to prevent their children from taking part.

Of particular concern are indications that pro-British militant groups may be behind the violent attacks on the police. "What (the attacks) quite clearly demonstrate is the fact that paramilitaries have hijacked this flags protest issue and they have now turned their guns on the police," Terry Spence, chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, told BBC radio.

Roberts said that his organization had been hoping that 2013 would mark yet another upturn in tourism to Belfast and the surrounding region, with several events planned. He noted that development projects in the city, including the Titanic Quarter and the 2012 opening of a Titanic-themed museum, had made for a successful year in terms of visitors even as the economy has stagnated and unemployment has risen.

'Negative Impact'

"The biggest question now is the impact the violence is having on the international image of Belfast," Roberts said. He also said that 2012 was a terrible year for retail sales in the Northern Irish capital and that many Christmas shoppers chose to go elsewhere as the violence began escalating in December.

The latest rioting is just the most recent indication that, even 15 years after the 1998 peace agreement between Catholics and Protestants, tension still remains. June of 2011 saw a similar violent flare up as did last July. Still, hostilities have become rare since two loyalist militant groups, the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Freedom Fighters agreed to lay down their weapons in 2007.

And as violent as the clashes have been, the limited number of those involved has provided some cause for optimism. "Clearly the violence is a step up in terms of what's happened more recently, but they're simply not getting people out on the street," Peter Shirlow, a professor at Queen's University in Belfast, told Reuters. "Protestants are annoyed about the flag, but they're even more annoyed about the violence. There's no stomach for this. That mass mobilization isn't there anymore."

Roberts too is quick to emphasize the limited nature of the protests. "We should put this into perspective," he said. "It's not widespread and is limited to just a few areas. But my concern remains that all of this will have a negative impact."
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« Reply #3924 on: Jan 08, 2013, 08:46 AM »

01/07/2013 02:26 PM

Model Reformer in Trouble: Ireland Lobbies to Have Europe Share Banking Risk

By Christoph Pauly

Ireland's reform policies have been widely praised for helping it emerge from the crisis, but the truth is bleaker. If the government fails to get European taxpayers to assume some of the risk of its ailing banking sector, the country could soon require another bailout.

In his home country, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, 61, has a reputation for being somewhat wooden. But when he meets with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other top German politicians, he's capable of unaccustomed gallantry, as the Irish have noted with surprise. For instance, Kenny has recently proved that he's a master of the diplomatic art known as "air kissing."

This Tuesday, the Irishman will have yet another opportunity to demonstrate his skills. Kenny is traveling to the southern German village of Wildbad Kreuth, where the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) -- the Bavarian sister party to Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) -- is holding its annual gathering. At it, Kenny hopes to schmooze with Horst Seehofer, the CSU's chairman, and Gerda Hasselfeldt, head of its federal parliamentary group. Shortly after breakfast, and before a speech by the chairman of the Bavarian Farmers' Association, Kenny plans to present his country as a model of successful reform policies.

Kenny's charm offensive is not entirely altruistic. For over two years -- and to the delight of the Anglo-Saxon media -- the conservative leader has been trying to get European taxpayers to foot the enormous bill for bailing out Ireland's ailing banking sector. But, taking their cue from the Germans, the Europeans have so far balked at the idea.

Instead, Chancellor Merkel has been quick to praise the way Ireland has implemented economic reforms and used money from European bailout funds over the past few years to emerge from the crisis: Exports have risen, the country has regained its competitiveness, and it has even succeeded in getting private creditors to lend it some money.

Unfortunately, this gleaming façade obscures a rather dismal reality. Although Ireland's economy has stabilized, its debts continue to mount -- despite the fact that the country has been diligently fulfilling all of the demands made by the troika of lenders, which consists of the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank (ECB). This year, Ireland's public debt is expected to increase to 122 percent of its annual gross domestic product (GDP) -- in other words, beyond the limit at which the IMF believes long-term debt sustainability can be achieved.

The €68 billion ($90 billion) in bailout funds are only expected to meet the country's financial needs until the end of 2013. But Ireland has a trick up its sleeve that it hopes will allow it to avoid a second official aid package: Kenny would like to transfer one-quarter of Ireland's public debt -- the amount that was amassed solely from bailing out the country's banks -- to the EU. "By June, following the decision of the European Council, we expect agreement on the modalities of reducing the burden that the Irish taxpayer took on from the recapitalization of the going-concern banks," Kenny reportedly said shortly before Christmas.

Spreading the Pain

On Jan. 1, Ireland assumed the presidency of the European Council, which rotates every six months. During this period, Kenny is expected to forge important compromises among the EU's 27 member states. But, more importantly, he intends to use his position to highlight Irish concerns.

Ireland's demands are very precise -- and could be costly for the Germans. At stake are the €31 billion that the country received from the system of European central banks to save two crisis-ridden Irish financial institutions in 2010. The country is expected to pay this money back in installments over the next 10 years.

Already last year, the Irish pushed long and hard until they were allowed to pay back the first installment with the help of a new loan. But that was not a long-term solution. Starting this year, the state will explicitly be liable for the debts of Ireland's nationalized banks. This has prompted the Irish to look for a more creative solution this year. "We would like the payback period for the debts to be extended and the interest rates to be cut to a reasonable level," European Affairs Minister Lucinda Creighton told SPIEGEL.

This notion has met with resistance from the ECB, however. ECB President Mario Draghi regularly snubbed Kenny when he broached the topic at the numerous Brussels summits last year. The ECB wants to avoid any more accusations of directly financing ailing euro-zone member states. For Draghi, the simplest solution would be for the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), the euro zone's €700 billion permanent backstop fund, to step into the breach and take over the debt.

Kenny would ideally like to use the ESM as a way of getting European taxpayers to shoulder the risks associated with all the debts of the Irish banking sector. He intends to use the six months of his European presidency to push through a banking union that would also make the bailout fund responsible for dealing with toxic assets in the European banking system left over from the financial crisis of 2007-2008.

But to achieve this, Kenny will need the support of Chancellor Merkel and Germany's parliament, the Bundestag. If he manages to push through his agenda, Europe's taxpayers will have to absorb a significant portion of the risks of Ireland's banking sector. If the Germans refuse, it will become more likely that Ireland will have to be bailed out a second time this autumn.

It looks as if Kenny's newfound talent still has to be put to the test.
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« Reply #3925 on: Jan 08, 2013, 08:51 AM »

January 7, 2013

Iranian Oil Minister Concedes Sanctions Have Hurt Exports


Iran’s oil minister acknowledged for the first time on Monday that petroleum exports and sales had fallen by at least 40 percent over the past year, contradicting his previous denials and providing an unusual public admission that the cumulative impact of Western economic sanctions has grown more severe.

The acknowledgment by the oil minister, Rostam Qasemi, came as new restrictions from the sanctions are threatening to further choke Iran’s ability to sell oil, its most important export. Under provisions of an American law that take effect in February, importers of Iranian oil that have been exempted from the sanctions cannot send the money used to buy it to Iran without risking penalties in the United States. The result could impound billions of dollars’ worth of Iran’s expected oil revenue in the banks of those importing countries.

Additional punitive measures, which President Obama signed into law last week, broaden the roster of blacklisted Iranian industries to include all energy, shipping and shipbuilding enterprises and seek to restrict barter transactions that Iran has been using to circumvent earlier sanctions. Some critics of the new steps say they nearly amount to a trade embargo.

In another consequence of the sanctions’ impact, the Oil Ministry on Monday stopped the sale of jet fuel to Iran’s heavily indebted domestic airlines unless they pay cash. The semiofficial Mehr news agency reported that most commercial airline flights inside the country had been canceled as a result.

Mr. Qasemi, a former Revolutionary Guards commander who was appointed oil minister more than a year ago, had consistently asserted that Iran had no problem selling its oil. In September, in an address to the Parliament, he said that oil exports were rising, despite outside data that showed a sharp drop. At other times, he has threatened to halt all oil exports in retaliation for the sanctions, apparently in a vain effort to raise oil prices by frightening global oil traders.

Both the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, of which Iran is a major member, and the International Energy Agency, a group of mostly Western oil-importing countries, have reported that Iran’s crude exports fell to roughly a million barrels a day by the end of 2012, compared with 2.4 million a year earlier.

Other Iranian officials have said it is clear that the country’s oil exports have suffered.

Economists knowledgeable about Iran’s sanctions problems said Mr. Qasemi’s acknowledgment of the export decline, made at a parliamentary meeting on finances, was inevitable because the government must find a way to fill a large gap in the budget — a gap that revenue from oil exports had been expected to fill.

The Iranian Students’ News Agency quoted the minister as telling lawmakers that “there has been a 40 percent decrease in oil sales and a 45 percent decrease in repatriating oil money.” The agency also quoted him as forecasting further decreases without specifying how much.

“It’s common knowledge in Iran that oil exports have fallen,” said Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, an economics professor at Virginia Tech, who visited his native Iran last month. “I don’t know if the oil minister had been in denial.”

Dr. Salehi-Isfahani suggested that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government might have to resolve the budget deficit problem with an accounting maneuver that would recalculate the value of Iran’s oil sales at half the official foreign-exchange rate — 25,000 rials per dollar instead of the central bank’s artificial rate of 12,260 rials per dollar.

That change would be much closer to the rial’s actual value and essentially double the amount — in rials — gained from Iranian oil exports. But such a move would also concede the sanctions’ severe inflationary impact, which has caused a steep fall in the value of the Iranian currency this past year.

Many Iranians have suffered from the rial’s decline, which has essentially made them poorer by raising the price of imported goods. Iran’s inflation also has left many Iranian businesses unable to pay wages or bills. The problem surfaced in a new way on Monday with the abrupt cancellation of domestic flights by Iranian airlines, which had been buying fuel on credit.

The head of the Airlines Association, Seyyed Abdol Reza Musavi, told Mehr that flights in Tehran, Kish, Mashhad and other airports had been halted because the carriers failed to repay their debts, and that fuel would now be provided “on a cash-only basis.” It was unclear how long the flight suspensions would last.

The sanctions on Iran have been intensifying for the past few years because of its disputed nuclear program, which Iran says is for peaceful use but which Western countries and Israel suspect is meant to develop the ability to make nuclear weapons.
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« Reply #3926 on: Jan 08, 2013, 08:55 AM »

Japan finds rare Tang Dynasty copy of Wang Xizhi work

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, January 8, 2013 7:52 EST

An extremely rare copy of a work by fourth century Chinese calligraphy legend Wang Xizhi has been unearthed in Japan, the first such discovery in four decades, Tokyo National Museum said Tuesday.

No original works survive, despite their having been treasured by Chinese emperors throughout history for their contribution to the development of the delicate art form.

However, Wang’s innovative style was so influential that Chinese courts created precise replicas of his writings more than a millennium ago, some of which are held by Japan as national treasures.

“This is a significant discovery for the study of Wang Xizhi’s work,” the museum, which will display it from January 22 to March 3, said in a statement.

The writing, owned by an individual in Japan whose identity was not disclosed, shows 24 Chinese characters in three lines on a piece of paper roughly 26 centimetres by 10 centimetres (10 inches by 4 inches).

It was long thought to be the work of an ancient Japanese nobleman calligrapher, but a recent review by Jun Tomita, Chinese calligraphy expert at the museum, has determined that it was an expertly-made copy of Wang’s writing.

The page appears to be part of a letter and includes phrases known to be used by the master calligrapher.

“I am tired everyday. I am living only for you,” part of the script says. It also includes the names of his relatives including his son, the museum said.

The content of the writing, its style, copying technique, and other factors indicate the copy was made during the Tang Dynasty in the seventh to eighth century by the emperor’s court, the museum said.

It was likely brought out of China by Japanese commercial or diplomatic missions visiting their powerful continental neighbour during the same era, the museum said.

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« Reply #3927 on: Jan 08, 2013, 08:57 AM »

Iraq unearths 1,400-year-old gold coins

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, January 7, 2013 11:34 EST

Iraqi archaeologists have found 66 gold coins that are at least 1,400 years old, officials said on Monday, adding that they hope to put them on display in Baghdad’s National Museum.

The artefacts, which date back to the Sassanid era that extended from 225 BC to 640 AD, will be sent for laboratory tests in order to confirm their authenticity.

They were discovered in the town of Aziziyah, which lies 70 kilometres (40 miles) southeast of Baghdad in Wasit province, according to Hassanain Mohammed Ali, director of the provincial antiquities department.

The coins bore drawings of a king or god and depicted flames, he said.

Many of Iraq’s archaeological sites have been vandalised and encroached upon in recent decades, but especially in the years following the US-led invasion of 2003. The capital’s National Museum was also looted in its aftermath.

At the time, nearly 32,000 pieces were stolen from 12,000 archaeological sites across Iraq, and 15,000 others disappeared from the National Museum in Baghdad, according to official figures.

Thousands of artefacts were also taken before the invasion in illegal excavations at remote sites.

During the rule of now-executed dictator Saddam Hussein, Iraq enforced laws protecting historical sites.

But since his overthrow, such laws have seen lax enforcement and the government has prioritised reconstruction of the war-battered country over preservation of its heritage sites.

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« Reply #3928 on: Jan 08, 2013, 09:16 AM »

In the USA...

Michael Nodianos ‘ashamed’ of callously joking about rape in viral video

By Eric W. Dolan
Monday, January 7, 2013 23:34 EST

The attorney representing Michael Nodianos of Steubenville, Ohio said the teen was ashamed for callously joking about the alleged gang rape of a 16-year-old girl.

Nodianos, 18, recently gained Internet infamy after “Anonymous” hackers released disturbing video of him cheerfully mocking the young victim, joking she was “so raped right now.” The girl was allegedly sexually assaulted in late August by two players on the Steubenville High School football team while she was unconscious.

“There’s no excuse or justification for the comments Michael made in the video and with some sober reflection he is ashamed and embarrassed to hear them himself,” attorney Dennis McNamara said at a press conference on Monday.

McNamara described the video as “disappointing, insensitive and unfortunate,” but insisted that his client was not a witness in the case. Nodianos arrived at the house while the victim was leaving, and heard about the incident from witnesses, McNamara said.

Thanks in part to the video, the Steubenville rape case has created a national uproar. The two teens accused of sexual assault, Trent Mays and Malik Richmond, face trial in February.

Nodianos, a freshman, has dropped out of Ohio State University due to threats.


Chuck Hagel and John Brennan nominations set up showdown with GOP

President's picks to lead Pentagon and CIA face opposition from lawmakers who disapprove of proposed national security team

Richard Adams in Washington, Tuesday 8 January 2013 08.44 GMT   

President Barack Obama was finalising his second-term national security team on Monday with the nomination of Chuck Hagel as defense secretary and counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan as head of the CIA – and in the process opens a new front in his bitter fight with Republicans in Congress.

After losing a bruising battle to nominate Susan Rice as Hillary Clinton's replacement at the State Department, Obama will name Hagel –
a decorated war hero – as head of the Pentagon, despite vows of resistance from Republicans who accuse the former Nebraska senator of opposing measures to stop Iran obtaining a nuclear capability and of offering less than rock-solid support for Israel.

Hagel's nomination has also come under attack from Democrats and Republicans unhappy at Hagel's previous support for the now-abandoned "don't ask, don't tell" policy that barred gays and lesbians from serving in the US military, as well as disparaging comments Hagel made about the appointment of an openly gay US ambassador in 1998.

The appointment of Brennan to replace disgraced general David Petraeus as head of the CIA has also been criticised because of Brennan's involvement with the Bush administration's backing for harsh interrogation techniques that many have described as torture, although Brennan denies he supported their use.
john brennan obama Brennan would replace David Petraeus at the CIA.

If the White House can successfully steer the nomination of both men through Congress then – alongside John Kerry as secretary of state –
the trio will form the nucleus of Obama's national security team for the next four years. The civil war in Syria, threats from Iran and North Korea and the final stages of the US involvement in Afghanistan are among the pressing issues that will fill their in-trays, as well as the long-running issues as diverse as Middle Eastern peace, the advance of China and the remaining danger from al-Qaida, any of which could burst into flames.

Obama, who was due to make the formal introduction of both nominations at the White House on Monday afternoon, will present Hagel's nomination as a bipartisan overture, citing Hagel's record as a Republican who worked for the election of Ronald Reagan as well as winning office as a Republican senator. Hagel made his fortune in cell phone services before being elected from his home state of Nebraska and serving for 12 years in Congress, until retiring from politics in 2009.

Despite Hagel's political allegiance, news of his nomination set off angry counterattacks from Republicans, including from some of those who served alongside him in Congress's Republican caucus. They recall Hagel's often outspoken opposition to Republican national security policies – especially Hagel's blunt rejection of the Bush-era military build-up known as the "surge" in Iraq – which is now regarded by Republicans as the bright spot in American involvement there.

Hagel has also been critical of the use of military force against Iran by the US as well as voicing support for Iran's involvement in peace talks in Afghanistan, and has been unusually forthright for a US politician is discussing what he described as the "Jewish lobby" in the US, describing pro-Israel lobby group Aipac as "powerful". Hagel has previously supported direct talks between the US and leaders of Hamas.

When Hagel's nomination was first floated, groups such as the Republican Jewish Coalition were quick to object, citing what it called his "failure to support Israel".

"The appointment of Chuck Hagel would be a slap in the face for every American who is concerned about the safety of Israel," it said in a statement.
The White House is gearing up for a battle over Hagel's nomination in the Senate. On Monday morning it rolled out a statement in support by Senator Jack Reed, a Democratic member of the Senate armed services committee, saying: "Chuck Hagel will make an outstanding Secretary of Defense. He is highly qualified and his record of service to this country as a decorated combat veteran, successful CEO, senator and statesman is extraordinary."
The National Jewish Democratic Council also joined the fray: "While we have expressed concerns in the past, we trust that when confirmed, former Senator Chuck Hagel will follow the President's lead of providing unrivalled support for Israel," it said.

The nomination of Brennan, while less controversial, has also come in for criticism from liberal Democrats unhappy at his previous record at the CIA.

Brennan had been a candidate to lead the agency in Obama's first term but withdrew his name from consideration. In doing so, Brennan told Obama that he was "a strong opponent of many of the policies of the Bush administration, such as the pre-emptive war in Iraq and coercive interrogation tactics, to include waterboarding".


Chuck Hagel 'not antisemitic for saying pro-Israel lobby has a powerful voice'

Ex-adviser Aaron David Miller says Hagel's language could do with a polish but that he is voicing a truth others will not confront

Chris McGreal, Monday 7 January 2013 21.39 GMT    

The author of a book that quotes Chuck Hagel criticising the influence of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington has defended him from charges of antisemitism, and said the president's nominee for defence secretary was speaking a truth many other politicians will not voice.

Aaron David Miller, who served six US secretaries of state as an adviser on Arab-Israeli negotiations, told the Guardian that Hagel's use of the term "Jewish lobby" to describe pressure groups was mistaken, because active support for Israel is much wider in the US than the country's Jewish population.

But he said that Hagel was describing "a fact" when he spoke about the considerable influence of the lobby on Congress in an interview the then senator gave in 2006 for Miller's book, The Much Too Promised Land.

Miller added that he does not regard the criticisms of Hagel as being primarily about his previous statements on Israel. "This is about a lot of other things. Number one, it's about a conviction that Hagel's appointment presages where Obama is on these issues. The attack on Hagel, in some respects, really is an attack on the president," he said.

Critics have been agitating against Hagel for weeks, focusing on his statements about Israel, including to Miller about why as a senator he declined to sign many of the letters of support for Israel distributed by the influential lobby group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), on Capitol Hill – including one giving unconditional support to Israel when the second Palestinian uprising erupted in 2000.

"The political reality is that … the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here," he said.

Hagel later apologised for the use of the term "Jewish lobby", saying he should have said "pro-Israel lobby", an issue of particular sensitivity because it touches on antisemitic tropes about Jewish control, but also because it is inaccurate, given the wider support for Israel among Americans, notably Christian evangelicals. But Hagel did not back down over the thrust of his comments.

Miller said Hagel was only saying what many members of Congress think but do not voice. "Hagel talked about the issue of domestic political pressure. Most sitting senators and congressmen don't. But it's a fact: the pro-Israeli community or lobby has a powerful voice. It does not have a veto over American policy but it has a powerful voice. To deny that is simply to be completely out of touch with reality," he said.

That has not stopped a barrage of accusations against Hagel. William Kristol, a prominent neo-conservative and editor of the Weekly Standard, accused him of harbouring an "unpleasant distaste for Israel and Jews".

Hagel was denounced in the Wall Street Journal by Bret Stephens, who was editor of the Jerusalem Post 10 years ago when it called for Israel to kill the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat. Stephens described Hagel's comments as prejudiced, saying that their "odour is particularly ripe".

Opposition has come from some pro-Israel groups, including the American Jewish Committee, which wrote to members of the Senate urging them to vote against Hagel's appointment as defence secretary.

Officials in pro-Israel organisations are also opposing the nomination, including Josh Block, the chief executive of the Israel Project and former Aipac spokesman.

But other major groups, including Aipac, have yet to state a public position, perhaps hesitant to openly stand against Obama over the appointment of officials. Abe Foxman, leader of the Anti-Defamation League, said he would not have nominated Hagel but respected the president's prerogative.

Other pro-Israel organisations have come to Hagel's defence, including the Washington-based J Street, which called the criticisms an "outrageous smear campaign".

Hagel has also drawn accusations that he is not supportive enough of Israel, because of statements backing the Palestinian claim to East Jerusalem as the capital of an independent state, for criticising Israel's 2006 invasion of Lebanon, and for his opposition to stronger sanctions against Iran while advocating negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear programme.

Critics have latched onto comments by Hagel to supporters of Israel at a meeting in New York, in which he said: "Let me clear something up here, if there's any doubt in your mind. I'm a United States senator. I'm not an Israeli senator. I support Israel. But my first interest is: I take an oath of office to the constitution of the United States. Not to a president, not to a party, not to Israel."

Republican senator Lindsay Graham said it was provocative of the president to nominate a man who expressed such views.

"This is an in-your-face nomination of the president to all of us who are supportive of Israel," Graham told CNN.

The Republican Jewish Coalition has said Hagel's appointment would be a "slap in the face for pro-Israel Americans".

Miller said that, again, Hagel's crime was to speak a truth that many in Congress dare not. "I think Hagel has a view that is not commonly expressed among senators and representatives, and that is, yes, we have a special relationship with Israel, but that special relationship is not exclusive," he said.

"There will be times when in effect, whether it's settlements, whether it's what to do about the peace process, whether it's what to do about Iran, that the interests will not coincide. Very few sitting senators and representatives, although I think they know that to be the case, are willing to express themselves in this subject."

Hagel has also come challenge over his opposition to the appointment by President Bill Clinton of the US's first openly gay ambassador, who he described as "aggressively gay". Former congressman Barney Frank, a leading voice on gay rights issues, accused Hagel of "aggressively bigoted opposition" to the appointment and of a long history of bigotry, and has openly opposed his nomination as defence secretary.

But on Monday, Frank told the Boston Globe he has changed his position, because of Hagel's support for an early withdrawal from Afghanistan and in favour of cuts to defence spending. "I was hoping the president wouldn't nominate him," he said.

"As much as I regret what Hagel said, and resent what he said, the question now is going to be Afghanistan and scaling back the military. In terms of the policy stuff, if he would be rejected [by the Senate], it would be a setback for those things."

Following Obama's announcement of Hagel's nomination on Monday, former US secretary of state Colin Powell said he "wholeheartedly endorsed" it.

The National Jewish Democratic Council also threw its support behind Hagel in spite of concerns about his past. "While we have expressed concerns in the past, we trust that when confirmed, former senator Chuck Hagel will follow the president's lead of providing unrivalled support for Israel – on strategic cooperation, missile defense programs, and leading the world against Iran's nuclear program," it said.

Miller said he expects Hagel to be confirmed, in part because the dispute over his nomination is now shaping up as a party political fight. Although Hagel was a Republican senator, he broke with the party on many issues, including the invasion of Iraq.

"Republicans are struggling to define a new foreign policy for themselves and they're really at sea. Obama has waged a fairly competent foreign policy. No spectacular failure but no spectacular successes either, with the exception of killing Bin Laden. And foreign policy of the Bush years is now under a review and a critique by Republicans but there are some who don't want to give it up. It's a kind of crusader Republican theology as opposed to what Hagel is which is a realist Republican theology," he said.


January 07, 2013 04:00 PM

Hagel Foes Graham and McCain Praised James 'F**k the Jews' Baker

By Jon Perr

The Republican opposed the Iraq surge and favored regional negotiations with Iran and Syria. The GOP luminary has cautioned against pre-emptive strikes on Tehran's nuclear facilities. He publicly criticized Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank. He advised the presidential campaigns of both John McCain and Mitt Romney on national security policy, and in 2000 helped secure Florida for George W. Bush. Oh, and he declared "f**k the Jews" and complained they "didn't vote for us anyway." Of course, that GOP leader wasn't Vietnam War hero, former Nebraska Senator and Obama Pentagon nominee Chuck Hagel, but Republican heavyweight James A. Baker III. And as it turns out, while Lindsey Graham called Baker a "role model," John McCain lauded the former Bush Secretary of State as "smartest guy I know" and wanted him to lead the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

Of course, you'd never know that listening to the incendiary rhetoric of Graham, McCain and other Republicans who have turned on their former colleague. Forgetting President Bush's selection of John Bolton as UN Ambassador, Senator Graham called Obama's selection of Hagel "an in-your-face nomination." On Sunday, Graham was not done in his criticism:

    "Chuck Hagel, if confirmed to be the secretary of defense, would be the most antagonistic secretary of defense toward the state of Israel in our nation's history."

But Graham has a different attitude towards James Baker, the man neoconservative hardliners refer to simply as "F**k the Jews." After all, just a year ago the International Republican Institute (IRI) honored Baker with its 2011 Freedom Award for his exemplary public service and his work in international diplomacy. Among those lauding him that day was none other than John McCain's sidekick, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham:

    "He was the right guy at the right time in so many circumstances and he has served our country in so many ways," U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said of Baker in presenting the award. "When it comes to spreading freedom, you have done more than your fair share and when it comes to setting a standard, you are a role model."

John McCain, the other half of Washington DC's most enduring bromance, was even more effusive in his praise of James Baker.

In November, John McCain proposed that former President Bill Clinton, "a person of enormous prestige and influence," should be appointed by President Obama to negotiate peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. But in a May 2006 interview with the Israeli paper Haaretz, Senator McCain had a different man in mind as President McCain's Middle East emissary:

    A McCain administration, alongside his close supervision from the White House, would send "the smartest guy I know" to the Middle East. And who is that? "Brent Scowcroft, or Jim Baker, though I know that you in Israel don't like Baker." This is a longing for the administration of the first president Bush, or even for the administration of President Gerald Ford in the mid-1970s. In both of them, general Scowcroft was the national security adviser. McCain will act to bring peace, "but having studied what Clinton did at Camp David, perhaps not in one try, but rather step by step, and I would expect concessions and sacrifices by both sides." In general, a movement toward the June 4, 1967 armistice lines, with minor modifications? McCain nods in the affirmative.

And why would John McCain say, "I know that you in Israel don't like Baker?"

As the CBC recalled, that unease stems from yet another U.S.-Israeli clash over expanding settlements in the West Bank:

    In the early 1990s, when then president George H.W. Bush became annoyed at Shamir's refusal to stop building settlements, he cut off $10 billion in loan guarantees, which Israel needed to resettle Russian Jewish immigrants.

    At the time, James Baker, Bush's secretary of state, publicly recited the White House switchboard's phone number, declaring to Israel: "When you are serious about peace, call us!"

And as Slate reminded readers in 2002, the dust-up over the loan guarantees for Israeli settlements was just the beginning:

    Then there was Secretary of State James Baker's infamous "fuck the Jews" remark. In a private conversation with a colleague about Israel, Baker reportedly uttered the vulgarity, noting that Jews "didn't vote for us anyway." This was more or less true--Bush got 27 percent of the Jewish vote, compared with 73 percent for Dukakis, in 1988. And thanks in part to Baker, it was even truer in 1992, when Bill Clinton got 78 percent of the Jewish vote and Bush got only 15 percent--the poorest showing by a Republican candidate since Barry Goldwater in 1964.

But while candidate McCain was in the process of making a hard-right turn in time for the 2008 GOP presidential primaries, Baker was getting serious about peace. Like Senator Hagel, Baker didn't just oppose President Bush's 2007 surge in Iraq. Baker co-chaired the Iraq Study Group which instead recommended Bush "beef up regional diplomacy, particularly that involving Syria and Iran, by establishing an Iraq International Support Group to encourage the participation of countries that have a critical stake in preventing Iraq from falling into chaos."

The supposed sins of James A. Baker III, who endorsed McCain for President and called him a "consensus builder" in 2008, didn't end there. Baker didn't just raise neoconservative eyebrows when he told Fox News, "Talking to an enemy is not, in my view, appeasement." In February 2010, he warned those so eager to "bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran" over Tehran's nuclear program:

    "I don't know that there is a military solution. Most of the people, knowledgeable people, I talk to say there is no satisfactory military solution, that a strike will delay but not prevent their acquiring a nuclear weapon."

And Baker didn't merely say an Israeli strike was "not in our interest." The next month, Bush 41's Secretary of State didn't just praise President Obama's handling of foreign affairs, but slammed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for announcing new settlements just as Vice President Biden was arriving for meetings.

    "Republican and Democratic administrations have always said that settlements are an obstacle to peace," Baker said.

    When asked if the timing of the announcement was an "insult" to America, Baker responded: "It was pretty close to it...there needs to be respect on both sides, we need to respect Israel and her needs and goals and desires and she needs to respect us."

Despite his numerous heresies and deviations from neoconservative orthodoxy, James Baker enjoys the respect of John McCain, Lindsey Graham and most Senate Republicans. In contrast, their former colleague Chuck Hagel has apparently committed a double sin--potentially serving as Defense Secretary for a Democratic President whose candidacy he supported--means, in Graham's words, that "he's just going to have to explain some of these comments that disturb people." John McCain's hypocrisy is even worse. As McCain put it in 2006 in describing his former close and dear friend, the same year he gushed to an Israeli paper about James Baker:

    McCain was an early enthusiast for the war in Iraq, Hagel an early skeptic. Could he imagine the co-chairman of his first national race having a place on a McCain ticket or in a McCain administration? I asked. "I'd be honored to have Chuck with me in any capacity," McCain replied. "He'd make a great secretary of state."

Six years later, McCain has a different take. To "allege that Hagel is somehow a Republican," he said, "That is a hard one to swallow." Of course, to allege that McCain's opposition to Chuck Hagel is about anything other than knee-jerk opposition to President Obama is the real joke.


US politics: Hagel at the Pentagon

Many Republicans will fight the nomination, but the world ought to see his arrival as an appointment full of possibilities

The Guardian, Monday 7 January 2013 22.06 GMT      

The remarkable thing about President Obama's nomination of Senator Chuck Hagel as his new defence secretary is not the fact that Mr Hagel is a Republican. It is the fact that the Republican whom the president has chosen as defence secretary is Mr Hagel. Many US presidents like to have members of the other party somewhere in their cabinets – even George W Bush followed that custom. And Democratic presidents, attracted to putting defence issues above party, have frequently put a Republican into the Pentagon, as John Kennedy did with Robert McNamara, and other successors including Bill Clinton have done since.

Mr Hagel, however, is not a typical modern Republican. He is a conservative on domestic policy but he is very independent on defence and security, and has long been out of line with mainstream Republican thinking, particularly since 9/11. In his 12 years in the US Senate, from which he stepped down in 2008, Mr Hagel was often out of step not just with his own party but with some Democrats too – his friend, fellow Vietnam veteran and Nebraska senator Bob Kerrey, was similarly iconoclastic.

The unifying feature of Mr Hagel's security record is scepticism about assertive US unilateralism and his advocacy of what he calls "principled realism". This stance puts him at the opposite end of the Pentagon spectrum from Republicans such as Donald Rumsfeld. An opponent of the Vietnam war, Mr Hagel had no time for the Bush-era "war on terror" either. He voted for the Iraq war but has subsequently dubbed Iraq and Afghanistan as 20th-century solutions to 21st-century problems. He has often called on America to work in international organisations, and through diplomacy, rather spurning them. Mr Hagel supported the 1997 landmines treaty, which the Clinton administration opposed, and favoured trade with Cuba, as well as talks with Iran and North Korea when such ideas were taboo elsewhere. But the Pentagon is not getting a pacifist. Mr Hagel supported the bombing of Serbia in 1999, and berated Mr Clinton's reluctance to commit ground troops in the Balkans.

Much of the domestic speculation about whether Mr Obama would nominate Mr Hagel has centred, characteristically for US politics, on whether he is deemed pro- or anti-Israel. It is the wrong question. Mr Hagel is a pragmatic internationalist. He thinks America cannot be the world's policeman. He thinks that America should not be isolated, either. Mr Hagel's philosophy is not always consistent but he is an enemy of cant, and wins top marks for fresh thinking about America's place in the world. (That's enough German philosopher puns.) This, of course, is why so many Republicans will fight his nomination. But it is why the rest of the world ought to see his arrival at the Pentagon as an appointment full of possibilities.


Supreme Court to take up Prop 8 and DOMA March 26-27

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, January 8, 2013 7:07 EST
Couples exchange vows during a mass wedding for 25 same-sex partners at Seattle First Baptist Church on December 9, in Seattle, Washington via AFP
Topics: supreme court

The US Supreme Court will hear arguments on March 26 and 27 on the sensitive topic of gay marriage, one of the thorniest social disputes in modern America.

Same-sex marriage is currently barred by a federal law, yet legal in nine states and the capital, Washington.

The court’s announcement last month that it would take up the issue received cheers from opponents and advocates of the practice alike, who said a ruling by the justices could help settle the topic.

In announcing its schedule Monday, the court said it would take up the question of California’s ban on same-sex unions first, on March 26, and then the next day hear challenges to a federal law denying benefits to same-sex couples.

The court is expected to hand down its ruling in June.

The country’s highest court set aside an hour for each case, but observers believe that the hearings could well last much longer, because President Barack Obama’s administration as well as a group of elected Republicans have each been called to give their opinions.

On March 26, the Supreme Court will consider whether the 14th amendment to the US Constitution, which requires states to provide equal protection under the law to all people, would bar California from defining marriage in its own constitution as “between one man and one woman.”

If the court decides against the California ban, its decision could affect the 31 other states that forbid gay marriage in their constitutions or legislation.

Then on March 27, the court will turn to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, or “DOMA,” which defines marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman and denies federal benefits to married same-sex couples.

These benefits include inheritance rights, tax breaks, filing of joint income tax returns, and health insurance coverage.

Obama’s government does not support this view of marriage and would like the law to be overturned, but conservative campaigners are urging the Supreme Court to rule that the act is constitutional.

The court will focus on the case of Edith Windsor, a gay woman legally married in Canada who has been told to pay tax on inheriting the estate of her deceased partner.

The Supreme Court will rule whether DOMA violates the guarantee of equal protection under the law as guaranteed by the fifth amendment of the US constitution.

It will also decide if the Obama administration’s position that DOMA is unconstitutional deprives the Supreme Court of jurisdiction, and whether a complaint by some US lawmakers has legal standing.

There are 50,000 to 80,000 same-sex couples who have been married legally in the US.

Correction: This headline originally referred to Prop 9.


January 7, 2013

U.S. Legal Officials Split Over How to Prosecute Terrorism Detainees


WASHINGTON — The Obama administration legal team is divided over whether to drop two terrorism cases originally prosecuted in a military commission at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, a decision that could have far-reaching consequences by significantly reducing the number of other prisoners who can receive tribunal trials.

The two defendants were found guilty in 2008 by a tribunal on charges — including “material support for terrorism” — that the Justice Department concedes were not recognized international war crimes at the time of their actions. In October, an appeals court rejected the government’s argument that such charges were valid in American law and vacated the “material support” verdict against one of the men, a former driver for Osama bin Laden.

Administration officials are now wrestling with whether to abandon the guilty verdict against the other detainee, a Qaeda facilitator and maker of propaganda videos. He was convicted of both “material support” and “conspiracy,” another charge the Justice Department has agreed is not part of the international laws of war, and his case is pending before a different panel of the same appeals court.

Terminating that case without a further fight, however, would mean giving up on charging other detainees with those offenses. It would also require prosecutors to drop a similar charge in the system’s centerpiece case, the coming trial of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four others accused as accomplices in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. More direct charges, like attacking civilians and hijacking, would remain against the Sept. 11 defendants.

Robert Chesney, a law professor at University of Texas at Austin who specializes in the law of war, said the most important part of the debate involved cases where the evidence shows a person joined or supported Al Qaeda but was not linked to a particular attack. The dispute brings to a head a long-building controversy over the ability of military commissions to match civilian courts on this issue, he said.

“In the civilian court system we have powerful tools for charging people in preventative circumstances who are not directly linked to an attack, and they are the charges of conspiracy and material support,” Professor Chesney said. “The military commissions system is supposed to be a still more robust terrorism prosecution system, but ironically there has always been a question about whether it can legitimately charge those two key crimes.”

The push to terminate the two cases has been led by Brig. Gen. Mark S. Martins, the chief military commission prosecutor, officials said. He is said to have argued that even though giving up on the two cases would mean narrowing the scope of the tribunal system, it would put the system on firmer long-term footing and avoid making losing arguments and damaging its legitimacy as his office focuses on convicting the Sept. 11 defendants.

An administration spokesman declined to comment on the matter. But officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal deliberations said General Martins’s position had been backed by the acting general counsel of the Pentagon, Robert S. Taylor, and the top lawyer at the State Department, Harold Koh.

Justice Department litigators, however, have been loath to give up without a further fight, especially since both charges were blessed by Congress in 2006 and 2009 laws. They have also argued that there is some history of “conspiracy” charges in American military tribunals dating back to World War II and the Civil War. This faction is led by Lisa Monaco, the assistant attorney general for national security, who is considered to be a possible successor to Robert S. Mueller III as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation when his term ends later this year.

The administration legal team has been arguing about the detainee issue for weeks, in discussions and in opposing memorandums. The decision is up to the solicitor general, Donald Verrilli Jr., who must advise the appeals court in Washington by Wednesday whether the government still thinks the “conspiracy” conviction of the propagandist, Ali al-Bahlul, was a valid charge even though doing so would require recycling the same arguments that already lost.

The Justice Department also has until Monday to appeal the ruling vacating the “material support” conviction of the former Qaeda driver, Salim Hamdan, although there is said to be less interest at the Justice Department in fighting on with that case.

Mr. Hamdan has already served out his sentence and is free in Yemen. Mr. Bahlul, who is also Yemeni, boycotted his trial and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Were his sentence to be vacated, officials said, he would be transferred back to the larger detainee population at Guantánamo that is being held without trial as wartime prisoners.

A lawyer for Mr. Bahlul declined to comment. But in a court filing, his legal team argued that the ruling in Mr. Hamdan’s case — along with the government’s concession that conspiracy is not a well-established international war crime — means his case must be dismissed.

The Justice Department, the defense lawyers wrote, is “correct in conceding that these offenses were not and still are not recognized under the international laws of war. As a consequence, they were not properly tried before a military commission.”

The Justice Department officials who favor fighting on with Mr. Bahlul’s case, however, have argued that even if the government loses at the appeals court level — as they concede seems likely, since the panel hearing his case is more liberal leaning than the panel that rejected the Justice Department’s same arguments in Mr. Hamdan’s case — there remains a chance that five justices on the Supreme Court could accept the “common law of war” reasoning and uphold the validity of a “conspiracy” charge more generally.

In a 2006 ruling — a case that also involved Mr. Hamdan — five justices voted to strike down President George W. Bush’s first version of the tribunals on the grounds that Congress had not authorized them. Four of those justices also rejected a “conspiracy” offense and said military tribunals were only for international law war crimes.

But Anthony M. Kennedy, who voted to strike down the tribunals in 2006, did not join that part of their opinion and made ambiguous comments about his views in his concurrence. At one point he wrote that the tribunals are for “international law governing armed conflict,” but at another point he declined to weigh in on conspiracy and invited Congress to clarify the issue. He did not say whether lawmakers’ interpretation could apply retroactively to acts that took place before lawmakers enacted a statute.

The Constitution bars Congress from creating “ex post facto” laws, or criminalizing behavior that has already taken place.


January 7, 2013

Lawyers Stumble, and Clients Take Fall


WASHINGTON — Twice in recent years, the Supreme Court rebuked the federal appeals court in Atlanta for its rigid attitude toward filing deadlines in capital cases. The appeals court does not seem to be listening.

A few days after Christmas, a divided three-judge panel of the court ruled that Ronald B. Smith, a death row inmate in Alabama, could not pursue a challenge to his conviction and sentence because he had not “properly filed” a document by a certain deadline.

As it happens, there is no dispute that the document was filed on time. But it was not “properly filed,” the majority said, because Mr. Smith’s lawyer did not at the same time pay the $154 filing fee or file a motion to establish something also not in dispute — that his client was indigent.

Nor did the majority place much weight on the fact that the lawyer himself was on probation for public intoxication and was addicted to crystal methamphetamine while he was being less than punctilious. In the months that followed, the lawyer would be charged with drug possession, declare bankruptcy and commit suicide.

Mr. Smith is almost surely guilty of murdering a convenience store clerk in 1994 in Huntsville, Ala. But it is not clear that he deserves to die for his crime.

His jury, by a vote of seven to five, determined that the murder did not warrant the death penalty, recommending instead that Mr. Smith be sentenced to life in prison.

But the Alabama capital justice system has many idiosyncrasies. One of them is that it allows judges to override such recommendations. The judge rejected the jury’s recommendation and sentenced Mr. Smith to death.

Only two other states, Delaware and Florida, allow such overrides. But it has been decades since anyone was sentenced to death in either state after a jury recommended a life term.

Since 1976, Alabama judges have rejected sentencing recommendations from capital juries 110 times, according to data compiled by the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit law firm that represents poor people and prisoners. In 100 of those cases, judges imposed the death penalty after juries had called for a life sentence. The most recent override in the direction of death was in September.

The Supreme Court considered the quality of Alabama’s capital justice system in a blown-deadline case last year and did not seem impressed.

“Nearly alone among the states, Alabama does not guarantee representation to indigent capital defendants in post-conviction proceedings,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for a seven-justice majority in Maples v. Thomas. “On occasion, some prisoners sentenced to death receive no post-conviction representation at all.”

That case involved Cory R. Maples, an Alabama death row inmate who missed a filing deadline because of a mix-up in the mailroom of a prominent New York law firm, Sullivan & Cromwell.

Mr. Maples’s lawyers had done more than neglect to attach a check to their legal papers; they missed the deadline completely.

They were, moreover, working at one of the most prestigious firms in the nation. “I have little doubt that the vast majority of criminal defendants would think that they had won the lottery if they were given the opportunity to be represented by attorneys from such a firm,” Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote of Sullivan & Cromwell in a concurrence.

Now consider Mr. Smith’s lawyer, C. Wade Johnson, who was battling a crippling drug addiction throughout his representation of Mr. Smith. According to a sworn statement from his legal assistant, Mr. Johnson would often turn up at the office intoxicated and sometimes had to be roused at home and taken to court appearances.

By the time of the deadline at issue, in 2001, Mr. Johnson had twice been arrested, for public intoxication and drug possession. Less than a month after the deadline, Mr. Johnson was rushed to the hospital while visiting a client in prison, leaving his dog locked in his car.

In the process of freeing the dog, officials found a bag of crystal meth, which led to more drug charges. Mr. Johnson’s fortunes spiraled further from there, and he took his own life in 2002.

The majority in Mr. Smith’s case wrote that all of this might suffice to excuse the incomplete filing were it not for a second lawyer’s involvement in the case. But that lawyer was based in Tennessee and was not authorized to practice law in Alabama.

Judge Rosemary Barkett dissented, saying she did not see how the case was materially different from that of Mr. Maples or a 2010 rebuke from the Supreme Court to her court. In that second case, a Florida death row inmate named Albert Holland was given a new opportunity to argue that his lawyer’s inaccessibility and incompetence had caused him to miss a deadline. In a concurrence in April in yet another blown-deadline case, Judge Barkett identified the larger question that runs through these cases: why is it morally permissible to blame clients for their lawyers’ mistakes?

The legal system generally answers by saying that lawyers are their clients’ agents. The answer makes perfect sense when you are talking about sophisticated clients who choose their lawyers, supervise their work and fire them if they turn out to be incompetent or worse.

But the theory turns problematic, Judge Barkett wrote, when the clients are on death row, have no role in the selection of their lawyers and have no real control over them.

Allowing Mr. Smith’s challenge to be heard in a federal court does not mean he would prevail. But, Judge Barkett said, he ought to be allowed to make his case. “It is unjust and inequitable,” she wrote, “to require death row inmates to suffer the consequences of their attorneys’ negligence.”


January 7, 2013

Growth of Health Spending Stays Low


WASHINGTON — National health spending climbed to $2.7 trillion in 2011, or an average of $8,700 for every person in the country, but as a share of the economy, it remained stable for the third consecutive year, the Obama administration said Monday.

The rate of increase in health spending, 3.9 percent in 2011, was the same as in 2009 and 2010 — the lowest annual rates recorded in the 52 years the government has been collecting such data.

Federal officials could not say for sure whether the low growth in health spending represented the start of a trend or reflected the continuing effects of the recession, which crimped the economy from December 2007 to June 2009.

Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, said that “the statistics show how the Affordable Care Act is already making a difference,” saving money for consumers. But a report issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, in her department, said that the law had so far had “no discernible impact” on overall health spending.

Although some provisions of the law have taken effect, the report said, “their influence on overall health spending through 2011 was minimal.”

The recession increased unemployment, reduced the number of people with private health insurance, lowered household income and assets and therefore tended to slow health spending, said Micah B. Hartman, a statistician at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

In the report, federal officials said that total national spending on prescription drugs and doctors’ services grew faster in 2011 than in the year before, but that spending on hospital care grew more slowly.

Medicaid spending likewise grew less quickly in 2011 than in the prior year, as states struggled with budget problems. But Medicare spending grew more rapidly, because of an increase in “the volume and intensity” of doctors’ services and a one-time increase in Medicare payments to skilled nursing homes, said the report, published in the journal Health Affairs.

National health spending grew at roughly the same pace as the overall economy, without adjusting for inflation, so its share of the economy stayed the same, at 17.9 percent in 2011, where it has been since 2009. By contrast, health spending accounted for just 13.8 percent of the economy in 2000.

Health spending grew more than 5 percent each year from 1961 to 2007. It rose at double-digit rates in some years, including every year from 1966 to 1984 and from 1988 to 1990.

The report did not forecast the effects of the new health care law on future spending. Some provisions of the law, including subsidized insurance for millions of Americans, could increase spending, officials said. But the law also trims Medicare payments to many health care providers and authorizes experiments to slow the growth of health spending.

“The jury is still out whether all the innovations we’re testing will have much impact,” said Richard S. Foster, who supervised the preparation of the report as chief actuary of the Medicare agency. “I am optimistic. There’s a lot of potential. More and more health care providers understand that the future cannot be like the past, in which health spending almost always grew faster than the gross domestic product.”

Evidence of the new emphasis can be seen in a series of articles published in The Archives of Internal Medicine, now known as JAMA Internal Medicine, under the title “Less Is More.” The series highlights cases in which “the overuse of medical care may result in harm and in which less care is likely to result in better health.”

Total spending for doctors’ services rose 3.6 percent in 2011, to $436 billion, while spending for hospital care increased 4.3 percent, to $850.6 billion.

Spending on prescription drugs at retail stores reached $263 billion in 2011, up 2.9 percent from 2010, when growth was just four-tenths of 1 percent. The latest increase was still well below the average increase of 7.8 percent a year from 2000 to 2010.

Federal officials said the increase in 2011 resulted partly from rapid growth in prices for brand-name drugs.

Prices for specialty drugs, typically prescribed by medical specialists for chronic conditions, have increased at double-digit rates in recent years, the government said. In addition, spending on new brand-name drugs — those brought to market in the previous two years — more than doubled from 2010 to 2011, driven by an increase in the number of new medicines.

“In 2011,” the report said, “spending for private health insurance premiums increased 3.8 percent, as did spending for benefits. Out-of-pocket spending by consumers increased 2.8 percent in 2011, accelerating from 2.1 percent in 2010 but still slower than the average annual growth rate of 4.7 percent” from 2002 to 2008.


January 6, 2013

Students Rush to Web Classes, but Profits May Be Much Later


MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — In August, four months after Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng started the online education company Coursera, its free college courses had drawn in a million users, a faster launching than either Facebook or Twitter.

The co-founders, computer science professors at Stanford University, watched with amazement as enrollment passed two million last month, with 70,000 new students a week signing up for over 200 courses, including Human-Computer Interaction, Songwriting and Gamification, taught by faculty members at the company’s partners, 33 elite universities.

In less than a year, Coursera has attracted $22 million in venture capital and has created so much buzz that some universities sound a bit defensive about not leaping onto the bandwagon.

Other approaches to online courses are emerging as well. Universities nationwide are increasing their online offerings, hoping to attract students around the world. New ventures like Udemy help individual professors put their courses online. Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have each provided $30 million to create edX. Another Stanford spinoff, Udacity, has attracted more than a million students to its menu of massive open online courses, or MOOCs, along with $15 million in financing.

All of this could well add up to the future of higher education — if anyone can figure out how to make money.

Coursera has grown at warp speed to emerge as the current leader of the pack, striving to support its business by creating revenue streams through licensing, certification fees and recruitment data provided to employers, among other efforts. But there is no guarantee that it will keep its position in the exploding education technology marketplace.

“No one’s got the model that’s going to work yet,” said James Grimmelmann, a New York Law School professor who specializes in computer and Internet law. “I expect all the current ventures to fail, because the expectations are too high. People think something will catch on like wildfire. But more likely, it’s maybe a decade later that somebody figures out how to do it and make money.”

For their part, Ms. Koller and Mr. Ng proclaim a desire to keep courses freely available to poor students worldwide. Education, they have said repeatedly, should be a right, not a privilege. And even their venture backers say profits can wait.

“Monetization is not the most important objective for this business at this point,” said Scott Sandell, a Coursera financier who is a general partner at New Enterprise Associates. “What is important is that Coursera is rapidly accumulating a body of high-quality content that could be very attractive to universities that want to license it for their own use. We invest with a very long mind-set, and the gestation period of the very best companies is at least 10 years.”

But with the first trickles of revenue now coming in, Coursera’s university partners expect to see some revenue sooner.

“We’ll make money when Coursera makes money,” said Peter Lange, the provost of Duke University, one of Coursera’s partners. “I don’t think it will be too long down the road. We don’t want to make the mistake the newspaper industry did, of giving our product away free online for too long.”

Right now, the most promising source of revenue for Coursera is the payment of licensing fees from other educational institutions that want to use the Coursera classes, either as a ready-made “course in a box” or as video lectures students can watch before going to class to work with a faculty member.

Ms. Koller has plenty of other ideas, as well. She is planning to charge $20, or maybe $50, for certificates of completion. And her company, like Udacity, has begun to charge corporate employers, including Facebook and Twitter, for access to high-performing students, starting with those studying software engineering.

This fall, Ms. Koller was excited about news she was about to announce: Antioch University’s Los Angeles campus had agreed to offer its students credit for successfully completing two Coursera courses, Modern and Contemporary American Poetry and Greek and Roman Mythology, both taught by professors from the University of Pennsylvania. Antioch would be the first college to pay a licensing fee — Ms. Koller would not say how much — to offer the courses to its students at a tuition lower than any four-year public campus in the state.

“We think this model will spread, helping academic institutions offer their students a better education at a lower price,” she said.

Why would colleges pay licensing fees for material available free on the Web? Because, Ms. Koller said crisply, Coursera’s terms of use require that anyone using the courses commercially get a license, and because licensing would give colleges their own course Web site, including access to grades.

Just three days before the announcement, Ms. Koller discovered that the deal would have a very modest start. For the pilot, Antioch planned to have just one student and a faculty “facilitator” in each course. She expressed surprise but took the news in stride, moving right on to greet a delegation from the University of Melbourne that was waiting for her in the conference room.

Coursera recently announced another route to help students earn credit for its courses — and produce revenue. The company has arranged for the American Council on Education, the umbrella group of higher education, to have subject experts assess whether several courses are worthy of transfer credits. If the experts say they are, students who successfully complete those courses could take an identity-verified proctored exam, pay a fee and get an ACE Credit transcript, a certification that 2,000 universities already accept for credit.

Under Coursera’s contracts, the company gets most of the revenue; the universities keep 6 percent to 15 percent of the revenue, and 20 percent of gross profits. The contracts describe several monetizing possibilities, including charging for extras like manual grading or tutoring. (How or if partner universities will share revenue with professors who develop online courses remains an open question on many campuses, with some professors saying the task is analogous to writing a textbook and should yield similar remuneration.)

One tiny revenue stream has begun flowing into the nondescript Silicon Valley office building where Coursera’s 35 employees work to keep up with the demand for their courses: the company is an Amazon affiliate, getting a sliver of the money each time Coursera students click through the site to buy recommended textbooks or any other products on Amazon.

“It’s just a couple thousand, but it’s our first revenue,” Ms. Koller said. “When faculty recommend a textbook and people buy it on Amazon, we get some money. The funny thing is that we’re getting more than twice as much money from things like Texas Rangers jackets as from what the textbooks are bringing in.”

Other possibilities around the edges include charging a subscription fee, after a class is over, to continue the discussion forum as a Web community, or perhaps offering follow-up courses, again for a fee. And advertising sponsorships remain a possibility.

Like the Antioch deal, some early attempts have gotten off to a slow start. For example, the University of Washington has already offered credit for a fee in a few Coursera courses. But while thousands of students enrolled in the free version, only a handful chose the paid credit-carrying option. David P. Szatmary, the vice provost, said part of the problem was that the credit option was posted only shortly before the course started, when most students had already enrolled free.

“We’re going to try it again,” he said. “We think that if students know about the possibility of doing it for credit, they might be willing to pay a fee and get their own discussion board, an instructor who guides them through the course and some additional readings and projects.”

Some Coursera partners say they are in no hurry to cash in.

“Part of what Coursera’s gotten right is that it makes more sense to build your user base first and then figure out later how to monetize it, than to worry too much at the beginning about how to monetize it,” said Edward Rock, a law professor serving as the University of Pennsylvania’s senior adviser on open course initiatives.

The Coursera co-founders have become oracles of higher education, spreading their gospel of massive open online courses at the World Economic Forum in Abu Dhabi, the Web Summit in Dublin and the Aspen Ideas Festival. They describe how free online courses can open access to higher education to anyone with an Internet connection; liberate professors from repeating the same tired lectures and jokes semester after semester; and generate data, because the computers capture every answer right or wrong, that can provide new understanding of how students learn best.

Many educators predict that the bulk of MOOC revenues will come from licensing remedial courses and “gateway” introductory courses in subjects like economics or statistics, two categories of classes that enroll hundreds of thousands of students a year. Even though less than 10 percent of MOOC students finish the courses they sign up for on their own, many experts believe that combining MOOC materials with support from a faculty member or a teaching assistant could increase completion rates.

The University of Pennsylvania has high hopes for the mass marketing of Robert Ghrist’s single-variable calculus course, which starts this month and features his hand-drawn animations.

“What Rob has done is figure out how to make PowerPoint dance,” Mr. Rock said. “I think it’ll revolutionize the teaching of calculus both by allowing kids to take it on Coursera and by making the normal textbooks obsolete. It could become a way that more high schools that want to offer BC Calc can do so, and junior colleges that don’t have good quality calculus instruction can license it and use it in a blended format, with the teacher now not giving frontal lectures but answering questions and exploring concepts in great detail.”

Mr. Rock, whose university has produced 16 Coursera courses, said each one costs about $50,000 to create, the biggest expenses being the videography and paying the teaching assistants who monitor the discussion forum. The University of Pennsylvania is just beginning to think about how to recover those costs. Last fall, at the conclusion of its Listening to World Music course, for example, the university sent out a questionnaire asking students whether they would be interested in a follow-up course, what they would want to cover and how much they would be willing to pay for it.

Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, a Penn bioethicist who served as health adviser to the Obama administration, is teaching two Coursera courses: one on the Obama health care law, the other on rationing scarce medical resources.

He said he was not trying to produce a course that can be offered over and over, with no additional costs, but simply hoping to spread understanding of important health issues. And rather than reuse his materials from last summer’s course on the new law, Dr. Emanuel overhauled the course, using not one but two videographers to film his live classes at Penn.

But Dr. Emanuel is not immune to the commercial possibilities: he is considering whether to develop a MOOC that could be marketed to those seeking health care ethics certification.

Even Ms. Koller is unsure about the future of MOOCs — and her company.

“A year ago, I could not have imagined that we would be where we are now,” she said. “Who knows where we’ll be in five more years?”

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Third Delhi gang-rape suspect to plead not guilty

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, January 9, 2013 7:25 EST

A third suspect accused of fatally gang-raping a 23-year-old student in a moving bus in New Delhi last month will plead not guilty to all charges, his lawyer said on Wednesday.

Advocate M.L. Sharma said he would file the plea on behalf of Ram Singh, the driver of the bus where the attack allegedly took place which has fuelled angry protests across India.

“I am representing Ram Singh and I will file a ‘not guilty’ plea,” Sharma, who is also representing Singh’s brother Mukesh and labourer Akshay Thakur in the case, told AFP.

The advocate said on Tuesday that the other two men would also plead not guilty to the string of charges including gang-rape, murder and kidnapping.

“Whoever committed this heinous crime should be punished but my clients are not the real culprits,” he said.

It is not yet clear who will represent the two remaining defendants. All five men are residents of New Delhi slums aged from 19 to 35. A sixth accused, who is 17, is to be tried in a separate court for juveniles.

Officials at Tihar jail, the maximum security prison where the accused are held, confirmed that Sharma had met Ram Singh late on Tuesday.

Prosecutors have said they have evidence of bloodstains linking the men to the attack, but the advocate said he would challenge the police over their handling of evidence, while refusing to give details.

The next hearing, to be held behind closed doors, has been scheduled for Thursday when a magistrate is expected to transfer the case for trial in a special fast-track court.

The brutal attack on the medical student and her boyfriend has stirred anger in India, with politicians and the murder victim’s family calling for the death penalty for the culprits.

The pair had been to watch a film when they were lured onto a bus. The gang are accused of repeatedly raping and violating the woman with an iron bar, causing horrific internal injuries.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]


Delhi gang-rape trial: judge upholds ruling to hold trial behind closed doors

Order had been imposed by magistrates court, amid protests by media organisations, after chaotic scenes at earlier hearing

Jason Burke in Delhi, Wednesday 9 January 2013 10.09 GMT   

 Five men accused of gang rape and murder of student arrive at district court in Delhi
The men accused of the rape and murder of the 23-year-old student arrive at court in Delhi on 7 January. Photograph: Hindustan Times/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

The trial of five men accused of the gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student last month will be held behind closed doors, a judge in Delhi said on Wednesday, upholding an order imposed by a magistrate after chaotic scenes at a hearing earlier this week.

Media organisations had protested against the decision, and a lawyer representing the victim's male friend – who was also injured in the attack – submitted an application for the order to be overturned, arguing "the whole nation is interested in knowing the proceedings of the case".

The case has caused anger and outrage in India and highlighted the problem of sexual violence towards women in the country, triggering widespread protests and continuing calls for major legal and policing reforms.

Public faith in the courts is already weak and the police are widely distrusted in India. Saikat Datta, a senior Indian journalist, said the decision to hold the trial in camera was "a disturbing move" that would mean "citizens cannot see how their justice system functions".

"The judiciary, like the legislature and the executive, is a key pillar that ensures the good health of a democracy. They must be seen to work and, therefore, must work in a transparent manner," Datta said.

The five accused appeared in a magistrates court earlier this week and were given details of the charges against them, which include rape, murder, banditry and abduction.

The men, who include a bus driver, a cleaner and a part-time gym instructor, are accused of luring the two victims on to a bus on 16 December.

After being repeatedly assaulted, the pair were dumped on the roadside. The woman, who has not been named in local media, died two weeks later, on 28 December, in a Singapore hospital from internal injuries sustained during the attack.

A teenager who is also accused is likely to face separate proceedings in a juvenile court, but there is growing support in India for legal changes to allow the suspect – believed to be 17 years old – to face a harsher sentence than the maximum of three years' imprisonment the court could hand out.

Three of the accused will plead not guilty at their forthcoming trial, their lawyer has said.

Mohan Lal Sharma, an advocate, said he had been formally appointed by three of the accused as their defence lawyer. "They will plead not guilty to the charges levelled against them in the charge sheet. They want to face the trial," he told the Indian Express. Police have rejected an offer by two of the defendants to become state witnesses.

The case is being heard by a newly created fast-track court, set up to allow speedy justice. Legal proceedings in India, particularly for offences such as rape, often involve years, even decades, of delay.

The country's chief justice, Altamas Kabir, has said the huge delays may be one reason contributing to the surge in violence towards women in recent years. Some Indian judges have tens of thousands of cases pending.

A further hearing is scheduled on Thursday.

Amid an unprecedented debate over cultural attitudes to women, authorities, heavily criticised for their slow response to the incident, have proposed a range of measures aiming to make the country safer for women. These range from more CCTV cameras in city centres to gender sensitisation lessons for schoolchildren. Continuing reports of other attacks on women around the country – few of which would have received much attention even a month ago – underline the scale of the problem.

Official data shows one rape is reported on average every 20 minutes in India. A government panel is considering suggestions to make the death penalty mandatory for rape and introducing forms of chemical castration for the guilty. It is due to make its recommendations by 23 January.


January 7, 2013

I Was Wounded; My Honor Wasn’t


THIRTY-TWO years ago, when I was 17 and living in Bombay, I was gang raped and nearly killed. Three years later, outraged at the silence and misconceptions around rape, I wrote a fiery essay under my own name describing my experience for an Indian women’s magazine. It created a stir in the women’s movement — and in my family — and then it quietly disappeared. Then, last week, I looked at my e-mail and there it was. As part of the outpouring of public rage after a young woman’s rape and death in Delhi, somebody posted the article online and it went viral. Since then, I have received a deluge of messages from people expressing their support.

It’s not exactly pleasant to be a symbol of rape. I’m not an expert, nor do I represent all victims of rape. All I can offer is that — unlike the young woman who died in December two weeks after being brutally gang raped, and so many others — my story didn’t end, and I can continue to tell it.

When I fought to live that night, I hardly knew what I was fighting for. A male friend and I had gone for a walk up a mountain near my home. Four armed men caught us and made us climb to a secluded spot, where they raped me for several hours, and beat both of us. They argued among themselves about whether or not to kill us, and finally let us go.

At 17, I was just a child. Life rewarded me richly for surviving. I stumbled home, wounded and traumatized, to a fabulous family. With them on my side, so much came my way. I found true love. I wrote books. I saw a kangaroo in the wild. I caught buses and missed trains. I had a shining child. The century changed. My first gray hair appeared.

Too many others will never experience that. They will not see that it gets better, that the day comes when one incident is no longer the central focus of your life. One day you find you are no longer looking behind you, expecting every group of men to attack. One day you wind a scarf around your throat without having a flashback to being choked. One day you are not frightened anymore.

Rape is horrible. But it is not horrible for all the reasons that have been drilled into the heads of Indian women. It is horrible because you are violated, you are scared, someone else takes control of your body and hurts you in the most intimate way. It is not horrible because you lose your “virtue.” It is not horrible because your father and your brother are dishonored. I reject the notion that my virtue is located in my vagina, just as I reject the notion that men’s brains are in their genitals.

If we take honor out of the equation, rape will still be horrible, but it will be a personal, and not a societal, horror. We will be able to give women who have been assaulted what they truly need: not a load of rubbish about how they should feel guilty or ashamed, but empathy for going through a terrible trauma.

The week after I was attacked, I heard the story of a woman who was raped in a nearby suburb. She came home, went into the kitchen, set herself on fire and died. The person who told me the story was full of admiration for her selflessness in preserving her husband’s honor. Thanks to my parents, I never did understand this.

The law has to provide real penalties for rapists and protection for victims, but only families and communities can provide this empathy and support. How will a teenager participate in the prosecution of her rapist if her family isn’t behind her? How will a wife charge her assailant if her husband thinks the attack was more of an affront to him than a violation of her?

At 17, I thought the scariest thing that could happen in my life was being hurt and humiliated in such a painful way. At 49, I know I was wrong: the scariest thing is imagining my 11-year-old child being hurt and humiliated. Not because of my family’s honor, but because she trusts the world and it is infinitely painful to think of her losing that trust. When I look back, it is not the 17-year-old me I want to comfort, but my parents. They had the job of picking up the pieces.

This is where our work lies, with those of us who are raising the next generation. It lies in teaching our sons and daughters to become liberated, respectful adults who know that men who hurt women are making a choice, and will be punished.

When I was 17, I could not have imagined thousands of people marching against rape in India, as we have seen these past few weeks. And yet there is still work to be done. We have spent generations constructing elaborate systems of patriarchy, caste and social and sexual inequality that allow abuse to flourish. But rape is not inevitable, like the weather. We need to shelve all the gibberish about honor and virtue and did-she-lead-him-on and could-he-help-himself. We need to put responsibility where it lies: on men who violate women, and on all of us who let them get away with it while we point accusing fingers at their victims.

Sohaila Abdulali is the author of the novel “Year of the Tiger.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: January 8, 2013

An earlier version of this article misstated the number of years since the writer was raped. It was 32 years, not 33 years.

And this is her story:

I was gang raped three years ago, when I was 17 years old. My name and my photograph appear with this article.

I grew up in Bombay, and am at present studying in the USA. I am writing a thesis on rape and came home to do research couple of weeks ago. Ever since that day three years ago, I have been intensely aware of the misconceptions people have about rape, about those who rape and those who survive rape. I have also been aware of the stigma that attaches to survivors. Time and again, people have hinted that perhaps death would have been better than the loss of that precious “virginity.” I refuse to accept this. My life is worth too much to me.

I feel that many women keep silent to avoid this stigma, but suffer tremendous agony because of their silence. Men blame the victim for many reasons, and,  shockingly, women too blame the victim, perhaps because of internalized patriarchal values, perhaps as a way of making themselves invulnerable to a horrifying possibility.

It happened on a warm July evening. That was the year women’s groups were beginning to demand improved legislation on rape. I was with my friend Rashid. We had gone for a walk and were sitting on mountainside about a mile and a half from my home in Chembur which is a suburb of Bombay. We were attacked by four men, who were armed with a sickle. They beat us, forced us to go up the mountain, and kept us there for two hours. We were physically and psychologically abused, and, as darkness fell, we were separated, screaming, and they raped me, keeping Rashid hostage. If either of us resisted, the other would get hurt. This was ineffective tactic.

They could not decide whether or not to kill us. We did everything in our power to stay alive. My goal was to live and that was more important than anything else. I fought the attackers physically at first, and with words after I was pinned down. Anger and shouting had no effect, so I began to babble rather crazily about love and compassion, I spoke of humanity and the fact that I was a human being, and so were they, deep inside. They were gentler after this, at least those who were not raping me at the moment. I told one of them that if he ensured neither Rashid nor I was killed, 1 would come back to meet him, the rapist, the next day. Those words cost me more than I can say, but two lives were in the balance. The only way I would ever have gone back there was with a very, very sharp instrument that would ensure that he never raped again.

After what seemed like years of torture(I think I was raped 10 times but I was in so much pain that I lost track of what was going on after a while), we were let go, with a final long lecture on what an immoral whore I was to be alone with a boy. That infuriated them more than anything. They acted the whole time as if they were doing me a favor, teaching me a lesson. Theirs was the most fanatical kind of self-righteousness.

They took us down the mountain and we stumbled on to the dark road, clinging to each other and walking unsteadily. They followed us for a while, brandishing the sickle, and that was perhaps the worst part of all—escape was so near yet death hung over us. Finally we got home, broken, bruised, shattered. It was such an incredible feeling to let go, to stop bargaining for our lives and weighing every word because we knew the price of angering them was a sickle in the stomach. Relief flooded into our bones and out of our eyes and we literally collapsed into hysterical howling.

I had earnestly promised the rapists that I would never tell anyone but the minute I got home, told my father to call the police He was as anxious as I was to get them apprehended. I was willing to do anything to prevent someone else having  to go through what I had been through.
The police were insensitive, contemptuous, and somehow managed to make me the guilty party. When they asked me what had happened, I told them quite directly, and they were scandalized that I was not a shy, blushing victim. When they said there would be publicity, I said that was all right. It had honestly never occurred to me that Rashid or I could be blamed. When they said I would have to go into a home for juvenile delinquents for my “protection.” I was willing to live with pimps and rapists, in order to be able to bring my attackers to justice.

Soon I realized that justice for women simply does not exist in the legal system.
When they asked us what we had been doing on the mountain, 1 began to get indignant. When they asked Rashid why he had been “passive”, I screamed. Didn’t they understand that his resistance meant further torture for me? When they asked questions about what kind of clothes I had been wearing, and why there were no visible marks on Rashid’s body (he had internal bleeding from being repeatedly hit in the stomach with the handle of the sickle), I broke down in complete misery and terror, and my father threw them out of the house after telling them exactly what he thought of them. That was the extent of the support the police gave me. No charges were brought. The police recorded a statement that we had gone for a walk and had been “delayed” on our return.

It has been almost three years now, but there has not been even one day, when I have not been haunted by what happened. Insecurity, vulnerability, fear, anger, helplessness—I fight these constantly. Sometimes when I am walking on the road and hear footsteps behind I start to sweat and have to bite my lip to keep from screaming. I flinch at friendly touches,  I can’t bear tight scarves that feel like hands round my throat, I flinch at a certain look that comes into men’s eyes—that look is there so often.
Yet in many ways I feel that I am a stronger person now. I appreciate my life more than ever. Every day is a gift. I fought for my life, and won. No negative reaction can make me stop feeling that this is positive. I do not hate men. It is too easy a thing to do, and many men are victims of different kinds of oppression. It is patriarchy I hate, and that incredible tissue of lies that say men are superior to women, men have rights which women should not have, men are our rightful conquerors.

My feminist friends all assume that  I am concerned about women’s issues because I was raped. This is not so. The rape was one expression of all the reasons why I am a feminist. Why compartmentalize rape ? Why assume rape is only an unwanted act of intercourse ? Are we not raped every day when we walk down the street and are leered at ? Are we not raped when we are treated as sex objects, denied our rights, oppressed in so many ways ?

The oppression of women cannot be analyzed  uni-dimensionally. For example, a class analysis is very important, but it does not explain why most rapes occur within one’s own class. As long as women are oppressed in various ways, all women will continue to be vulnerable to rape. We must stop mystifying rape.

Sohaila Abdulali

“I Fought For My Life...And Won”

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