Televangelist sentenced to death for Bangladesh war crimes
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, January 21, 2013 1:53 EST
Bangladesh’s controversial war crimes court on Monday sentenced a top Islamic televangelist to death by hanging for genocide and other atrocities during the country’s 1971 liberation struggle against Pakistan.
Maolana Abul Kalam Azad, who has been on the run for about a year, is the first person to be convicted by the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) created by the country’s government to try suspected war criminals.
Azad was found guilty of seven out of eight charges including genocide, murder and rape, judge Obaidul Hasan told a crowded court amid huge security.
“It’s a historic day for the country. It’s victory for humanity. Bangladeshi people can now heave a sigh of relief since 1971,” attorney general Mahbubey Alam told reporters outside court.
The ICT, which is a domestic tribunal with no international oversight, has been tainted by allegations of political influence after the entire leadership of an opposition Islamic party were put on trial.
January 20, 2013
Political Heir Says Too Few in India Hold Political Sway
By GARDINER HARRIS
NEW DELHI — Rahul Gandhi is a member of a family that has led India for most of the nation’s 65-year history, but in one of the most important speeches of his life on Sunday he was deeply critical of the Indian government.
“No matter what state you look at, no matter which political party you look at, why do a handful of people control the entire political space?” Mr. Gandhi asked. “Power is grossly centralized in our country.”
Indeed, power in India has mostly been centralized in Mr. Gandhi’s family, and his speech on Sunday was his first major step in trying to ensure that this centralization continues well past 2014, when national elections are scheduled. Mr. Gandhi is the son, grandson and great-grandson of previous Indian prime ministers. He and his mother, Sonia Gandhi, president of the Indian National Congress Party, gave speeches on Sunday on the last day of a party meeting in Jaipur.
“And it does not matter how much wisdom you have, you mean nothing,” Mr. Gandhi said. “This is the tragedy of India. Why is our youth angry? Why are they out on the street? They are angry because they are alienated. They are excluded from the political class.” Mr. Gandhi said the entire system must be transformed, although he said that the Congress Party had already begun that process.
He was formally elevated Saturday to vice president in the governing Congress Party, making him second only to his mother in the party’s hierarchy. His promotion has been years in the making, and many in the party have been quietly pressing him to take a more active role in governing for years. He has never held a cabinet-level position.
In her own remarks, Mrs. Gandhi turned to a recent crime that prompted widespread outrage. “The barbaric gang-rape of a young woman in Delhi has shaken the country, she said. “She embodied the spirit of an aspirational India. We will ensure her death will not go in vain.”
She promised to press for legislation to ensure that 30 percent of the positions in Parliament and the state legislative assemblies would be held by women. India has a vast system of quotas for the historically disadvantaged, and expanding those set-asides has for years been deeply popular with those who benefit from them — which increasingly is much of the population.
Mrs. Gandhi also said that the Congress Party needed to do a better job of explaining its successes, and she lashed out at corruption as “a deep-rooted malice.”
“As a party we must lead the struggle to combat its effect,” she said.
The Gandhi family has long been the glue that held the Congress Party together even as regional rivals have become more powerful. Sonia Gandhi has mostly carried the Gandhi mantel since her husband, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, was assassinated. But she is a native of Italy, and when her party won the 2004 elections, she chose a technocrat, Manmohan Singh, to be the government’s prime minister.
But Mr. Singh is 80. Few expect him to continue as prime minister past next year, and many in the party have looked to Mr. Gandhi to take up his role as the leader of his family and his party.
Whether Mr. Gandhi will thrive in this role is a source of constant speculation. He entered politics in 2004 by taking over a seat in Parliament vacated for him by his mother, who moved to a neighboring constituency. He campaigned aggressively in recent state elections in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, but his party was soundly defeated in both places. Perhaps wary of another poor performance, he and his mother campaigned sparingly in December during state elections in Gujarat, where the Congress Party was again defeated.
It is still unclear whether Mr. Gandhi will be tapped as the party’s pick for prime minister next year. Equally uncertain is who will be the candidate for the Bharatiya Janata Party, the main opposition. Narendra Modi is now that party’s most accomplished leader, but he is deeply unpopular with Muslims because he was in charge in Gujarat when deadly riots erupted there in 2002, leaving nearly 1,000 people dead, many of them Muslims.
Mr. Gandhi has led party youth organizations, and Congress Party leaders hope he will be able to appeal to India’s vast youth population. At 42, he is much younger than most of India’s leaders, whose average age is 65.
Hari Kumar contributed reporting.
January 20, 2013
Bomb Attacks in Greece Raise Fear of Radicalism
By LIZ ALDERMAN
ATHENS — When alarms jolted Christos Konstas awake at 4 a.m. recently, he thought a neighbor’s apartment had caught fire. But as he made his way to the building’s lobby, it was clear something more nefarious had taken place.
The remnants of a crude bomb lay smoldering at the front door.
A police officer, recognizing Mr. Konstas as a television commentator who had often defended the Greek government’s efforts to cope with the financial crisis, pulled him aside. “Another journalist was also just hit,” the officer told him in a low voice. Within minutes, reports emerged of explosions at the homes of three more journalists.
Greece has been dealing with an outbreak of violence in recent weeks, following several months in which such activity seemed to have calmed. On Sunday, a crude bomb exploded at the country’s largest shopping mall in a middle-class suburb of Athens, injuring two security guards and escalating a wave of attacks that have gripped the nation’s attention. No immediate claim of responsibility was made.
The government, which just secured $60 billion in aid from its international creditors, says it is determined to crack down on lawless behavior and to press a safety agenda that, as a candidate, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras had vowed to undertake.
The problem, his opponents say, is that in its bid to restore order the government is provoking exactly the violence it says it is trying to quash. They say the government’s true aim is to distract public attention from a growing tax scandal that threatens the stability of the shaky governing coalition.
They point to a police raid on Dec. 20 on the Villa Amalia, a gathering point in central Athens that has been home to antiauthoritarian youth and some anarchists for two decades. While the Greek authorities called the Villa an “anarchist stronghold,” its occupants described it as a cultural center offering free concerts, an occasional children’s nursery and a space for publishing antiauthoritarian literature.
The police evicted the squatters, arrested eight people and confiscated gas masks, propane gas and hundreds of empty beer bottles that they said could be used to make explosives and firebombs. They conducted a second raid on Jan. 9, arresting 92 squatters who had moved back in and padlocked the building.
Within days of the second raid, violence flared. Attacks were carried out on Greek government offices, banks, businesses and other establishment symbols, including the simultaneous explosions at Mr. Konstas’s building and the homes of the other journalists. The home of the government spokesman’s brother was firebombed. On Monday, unidentified gunmen strafed Mr. Samaras’s party headquarters with an AK-47.
The bomb that was ignited Sunday went off at 11 a.m. inside a shopping center run by a company belonging to one of Greece’s wealthiest men, Spiros Latsis. About 200 people were inside when news organizations received calls warning that a bomb would explode in half an hour. The police evacuated the building and said that an investigation was under way.
So far, no one has been seriously hurt in any of the attacks, which seemed intended more for effect than harm. But they raised questions, Greek antiterrorism officials said, about whether new groups of radical left militants are reviving in the wake of the Villa Amalia eviction, perpetuating a turbulent history of violent episodes that have plagued Greece since the collapse of the military junta in 1974.
To its opponents, the timing of the raids raised questions about the government’s motives. They say that Mr. Samaras’s coalition partners are trying to disentangle themselves from the so-called Lagarde list scandal, involving accusations that they failed to pursue rampant tax evasion by the wealthy and well connected. The publication of the list of more than 2,000 Greeks with bank accounts in Switzerland, which the government was given two years ago but did little with, has threatened his coalition — though on Friday the Greek Parliament voted to investigate the role played by a former finance minister, George Papaconstantinou.
“The government is entering a period of new internal instability with the Lagarde list scandal,” said Yiannis Bournous, a spokesman for the opposition Syriza party. “That’s exactly the reason why they chose to organize these raids, to divert people’s attention.” The government denies that accusation, and has accused Syriza of sympathizing with leftist radicals. “The question should not be why are we suddenly moving now,” said a senior official with knowledge of the government’s strategy, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. “It’s why past governments have not stopped lawlessness from spreading.”
The official acknowledged that the Villa Amalia raid and another last week on squatters at Lela Karagianni incited radical groups to new violence, and said that plans for further raids could further inflame the situation. But the crackdown is necessary, the official said, to demonstrate that the government will be willing to move forcefully against other groups — including militant trade unions that might stand in the way of Mr. Samaras’s efforts to carry out painful economic reforms and unpopular plans to privatize state assets to meet to demands by Greece’s lenders.
“We want to present ourselves as successful, to start legitimizing Greece again in the eyes of the international community,” the official said. “How can we impose new laws, or move ahead with reforms, when laws are being broken? It is time to get our house in order.”
Greece has already been grappling with an intensification of violence by the far right, where sympathizers of a neo-fascist political party, Golden Dawn, have carried out a series of brutal attacks against immigrants, often with the police standing by.
No one has claimed responsibility for the gunfire at Mr. Samaras’s party headquarters. Officials said that was more alarming, because it bore the possible imprint of Greek or Russian mafia attacks.
While the motivation for the violence remains a matter of debate, the attacks raise alarms in a country that was terrorized for decades by a group called November 17, which mounted deadly strikes against Greek politicians and businessmen. “It is clear we are in front of a new generation of activity,” said one antiterrorism official. “To say these are just small bombs shows a lack of awareness about the problem.” After Sunday’s explosion, the Pasok Party, part of Mr. Samaras’s governing coalition, said in a statement, “We are dealing with a new type of terrorism that not only picks symbolic targets but wants blood and death.”
A new group calling itself the Circle of Outlaws/Nucleus of Lovers of Lawlessness-Militant Minority claimed responsibility for the attacks on journalists, and said they were meant to denounce coverage sympathetic to the government’s political agenda. But it said in its statement that its main aim was to retaliate against the government for shutting down Villa Amalia.
After the journalist bombings, the group published on the Internet a call for solidarity with those evicted from Villa Amalia. Hours later, more than 4,000 sympathizers marched through Athens, waving red flags and chanting antigovernment slogans.
In a meeting one recent evening in a basement in Exarchia, a graffiti-covered neighborhood in central Athens that has long been the center of Greek anarchy movements, seven people affiliated with the Villa’s anti-authoritarian movement gathered around a cigarette-strewn table.
Using only their first names, and deliberating on consensus answers to questions, they said their aim was to overthrow a status quo in which a powerful few influenced the lives of many, and replace it with social justice and equality. Arguing that Mr. Samaras was imposing “totalitarianism,” they disputed the description of squatters’ homes as hotbeds of lawlessness, and said the raids were aimed at detracting from the government’s own shortcomings in pursuing corruption at higher levels.
While the Villa had hosted anarchists, the group denied that it was a laboratory for bomb making and said it was not affiliated with Lovers of Lawlessness. At the same time, “We don’t say we don’t participate in violence,” said Pavlos, a trim, articulate man who was a regular there.
Pavlos drew on a rolled cigarette. “Those who govern are the ones who brought this country into the crisis, and made people poor,” he said.
“We are from two directly opposite worlds that will never stop clashing.” He paused, then added: “If they think they will stop a growing movement of resistance, they are wrong.”
Aggelos Petropoulos contributed reporting.
01/21/2013 10:52 AM
CDU Loses Lower Saxony: State Defeat Heralds Tough Re-Election Fight for Merkel
By David Crossland
Chancellor Angela Merkel suffered a setback in Sunday's state election in Lower Saxony, where her center-right alliance was ousted by the center-left opposition. The defeat comes just eight months before the general election and indicates that her bid for a third term could be tighter than expected.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats suffered a defeat in Sunday's state election in Lower Saxony, depriving her of the boost she had been hoping for ahead of the September general election and indicating that she will have to fight harder for a third term than many had expected.
It was the 12th consecutive setback in a state vote for her party, and even though the election is still eight months away and Merkel remains highly popular, the opposition Social Democrats and Greens have smelt blood. They won a combined 46.3 percent against 45.9 percent for the center-right alliance of the CDU and the struggling pro-business Free Democratic Party. That will enable the center-left to govern with a majority of one seat in the Lower Saxony state parliament after the cliffhanger vote.
"I won't deny it, after such an emotional roller coaster such a defeat is all the more painful, so we are all sad today to some extent," Merkel told a news conference on Monday. But, matter of fact as ever, she shrugged off the implications for her re-election, saying: "We don't have a campaign for the general election, that will come later, we have a whole series of serious problems to solve, the economic situation is fragile , we want to ensure that the labor market situation remains as it is or can even improve a little, we have big tasks in Europe."
The result came despite damaging gaffes by the SPD's contender to oust Merkel, Peer Steinbrück, in recent months. Steinbrück, already under fire for earning over €1 million ($1.33 million) for lucrative speaking engagements in the last three years, said recently that German chancellors should be paid better -- a startling comment that suggested he was only in the race for the money.
Pollsters said Steinbrück's mistakes had hurt the SPD's campaign in Lower Saxony. But the damage was evidently limited. "If we get a result like this when we mess up, we can do anything," SPD national party leader Sigmar Gabriel told supporters on Sunday night with a smile.
Commentators said Sunday's vote made clear that the general election could be a very tight race indeed. Merkel had campaigned heavily in Lower Saxony, making a number of speeches there in recent weeks, but her presence didn't provide enough of a boost.
Lower Saxony is the latest in a long list of major defeats for the CDU in some of Germany's biggest regional states. It lost North Rhine-Westphalia, population 17 million, last year, and the conservative bastion of Baden-Württemberg, a wealthy industrial region, in 2011.
The loss of Lower Saxony, home to VW and Germany's fourth-largest state by population, is an additional blow because it means the center-left parties have an increased majority in the upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat. That will make it harder for Merkel to get legislation approved.
"It's a dampener for Merkel, but she still has a clear majority at the national level. I think she can still make it but this is a wake-up call for her," political scientist Gerd Langguth, who has written a biography of Merkel, told SPIEGEL ONLINE.
The chancellor's personal popularity ratings remain at record levels, partly because she has won kudos for limiting the fallout of the euro crisis for German taxpayers. She is also benefiting from the strength of Germany's economy which has managed to avoid the recession plaguing much of austerity-hit Europe thanks to the strength of its export sector.
Merkel is seen as a safe pair of hands and many analysts have said she looks almost unbeatable. She is a shrewd tactician with a knack for sidelining rivals, and she makes up for her lack of charisma and oratory skills with a low-key pragmatism that appeals to many voters.
But the weakness of the FDP is her Achilles Heel, and Sunday's election made that clear even though the ailing party appeared to come back from the dead, scoring an impressive and far higher-than-expected result of 9.9 percent. That gain was attributed to the popular CDU governor of the state, half-Scot David McAllister, who tacitly encouraged his supporters to split their ballot to make sure the FDP would clear the 5-percent hurdle needed to remain in parliament -- a precondition for him remaining in office.
FDP's Gain, CDU's Loss
That strategy appears to have worked a little too well, because it came at the cost of a steep drop in the CDU's own vote, by 6.5 points to 36.0 percent. Some 101,000 CDU voters opted to vote for the FDP this time, polling institute Infratest dimap estimated.
"The center-right camp can't really be pleased, the chancellor will have registered how dangerous a ballot-splitting campaign can be for her and the center-right," the chief political correspondent of the ARD public broadcasting network, Ulrich Deppendorf, said in a commentary. "The general election may be more exciting than expected."
SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel, put it a little more bluntly. "The FDP only really exists because it got a blood transfusion," he told party supporters.
The result gave FDP leader and Economics Minister Philipp Rösler a stay of execution after prominent members of the party had been plotting to topple him for failing to reverse its dramatic slide in support. In a sign of the turmoil dogging the party, Rösler surprisingly offered to resign and said Rainer Brüderle, the FDP's parliamentary group leader and himself a former economics minister, could become party chairman.
"I am prepared to step aside if Rainer Brüderle wants to become party chairman," Rösler told the FDP's leadership on Monday. But a few hours later, the party announced that Rösler will remain FDP chairman and that the veteran liberal Brüderle, 67, would head the party's national election campaign.
At present, no one knows how strong the FDP really is when it doesn't get help from tactical voters. Its nationwide opinion poll rating slumped to a negligible 2 percent earlier this month, and it has been beset by infighting for years.
Both the Left Party and the Pirate Party failed to clear the 5-percent hurdle and didn't make it into parliament.
Strong Performance by Greens
The Greens scored their best ever result in the state, jumping 5.7 points to 13.7 percent.
Greens parliamentary leader Jürgen Trittin drew parallels between Lower Saxony and the general election, pointing out that Sunday's vote had proven that the CDU could be beaten despite having a popular candidate. "Personal popularity can't make up for policies that are devoid of content and focused on serving one's clientele," he told a news conference. "Elections aren't a beauty competition or popularity contest."
Fellow Greens leader Katrin Göring-Eckhardt said the strong showing of her party was a sign that the SPD and Greens have a chance to win the next general election. "This evening has given us real tailwind for the general election. We can and we will manage to beat the center-right," she said.
However, the center-left still has a mountain to climb if it wants to topple Merkel. At the national level, her CDU is riding high at 43 percent, more than the SPD and Greens combined. The FDP is at four percent, below the five percent hurdle needed for parliamentary representation. Lower Saxony has shown that the party can spring surprises, though. Opinion polls in coming weeks will reveal whether Lower Saxony has given the SPD impetus.
CDU Fears Upper House Will Block Legislation
Just a few weeks ago, opinion polls had indicated that SPD candidate Stephan Weil, with the help of the Greens, would easily defeat McAllister in Lower Saxony.
But McAllister, 42, the son of a Scottish soldier and a German teacher, fought a lively campaign, even resorting to bagpipe music to whip up sentiment, and managed to whittle down the center-left lead.
CDU leaders on Monday declared that the defeat and said it wasn't a bellwether for the general election. But they admitted governing would get harder in the coming months.
Volker Kauder, the parliamentary group chairman of the conservatives, said: "I expect that it will barely be possible to get projects through the Bundesrat (Germany's upper legislative chamber, which is dominated by SPD-led states) if the SPD doesn't want them. We'll see if that will be of any use to them."
Analysts said Merkel can't afford any policy slip-ups before the election. "It's decisive for her that her euro rescue policy remains promising over the summer and that taxpayers aren't plunged into any panic by horror scenarios or the prospect of an incalculable inflation threat," Richard Schütze, a communications consultant, wrote in a commentary.
"The implementation of her energy revolution must also gain pace significantly if the successful crisis manager wants to retain her popularity among voters."
01/21/2013 11:46 AM
Opinion: Merkel's Nightmare
Things couldn't be going worse for Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats. The slim center-left victory in Lower Saxony bodes poorly for the conservative coalition in federal elections this autumn. Now the fight for the Chancellery will get more brutal than the incumbent German leader had imagined.
Whoever believed in recent days that the state elections in Lower Saxony would foretell a conservative victory in federal elections this autumn has been put in their place. Nothing is certain. Angela Merkel, the queen of opinion polls, and her conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), have crashed and burned in the state. And what happened to state Governor David McAllister could also happen to Angela Merkel. Losing a few votes can mean losing an election. Opportunity lost, game over.
The Social Democrats (SDP) and the Green Party are celebrating their victory, but their momentum is easily overstated. They squeaked by with a fair amount of luck. The election god flipped a coin, and SPD top candidate Stephan Weil just happened to win. The CDU's coalition with the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) could have easily gotten by with the same margin of victory. Indeed, if there's a trend to be identified after these elections, it's only that there's no clear trend.
Voters, those erratic and unpredictable beings, let themselves have a bit of fun again with the parties -- and they left them helplessly perplexed. As two (almost) identical camps stand across from one another, the formation of governments turns into a complicated mathematical puzzle in which millimeters can change the outcome. This is no equal balance of horror; it's a horrible balance of equals.
Steinbrück's 'Tail Wind' a False Hope
Peer Steinbrück got lucky. The SPD managed their victory not because of, but despite their chancellor candidate -- and with that win bettered their chances in the elections for the federal parliament, the Bundestag, later this year. The SPD and Greens will gloss over their tiny margin of victory with new confidence. But that won't come close to securing them the federal elections. The supposed "tail wind" Steinbrück had hoped for from the Lower Saxony elections is a dangerous illusion.
For the CDU and FDP, who had governed in Lower Saxony in a coalition since 2008, Sunday night was an unexpected and gruesome nightmare. Things could have scarcely gone worse for Angela Merkel and her party. They nearly thought they were on the road to victory. But now they've missed their mark -- and that, despite the high popularity of the chancellor and the numerous missteps of her challenger Steinbrück. So what's is going on?
The CDU has suffered bitter losses -- 6.5 percent fewer votes than in the state's last election in 2008. At the same time, the FDP has profited from the CDU's setbacks. In order to help Governor David McAllister to victory, droves of conservatives voted for the Free Democrats on Sunday. The party didn't triumph on its own strength. Its winnings were doped, pumped full of votes on loan from the traditionally conservative voters, and that won't make the CDU happy. The relationship between the CDU and the FDP is likely to suffer even further. Everyone in the coalition knows that.
There's one more thing to take from this election: The CDU is betting Chancellor Merkel's popularity will carry it to victory in federal elections. But McAllister is popular too, and he still failed to hang on to his post. The center-right base is not growing. It's cannibalizing itself, while simultaneously crumbling, slowly and apparently without ceasing. The CDU-FDP marriage isn't very popular as a political project, coalition or model. As the federal elections approach, many in the CDU will take an every man for himself approach. It's highly possible that the most disenchanted CDU supporters will shift toward the FDP. And that's no basis for a harmonious pairing. No, the campaign will get brutal.
The FDP is Germany's strangest party. It can register a big success, even though its top leaders do all in their power to achieve the contrary. This party has pushed through almost nothing in the current government. What can happen to the Free Democrats if the voters excuse all of this?
If Peer Steinbrück does indeed become chancellor, then he will have the Greens to thank for it. They truly are strong, and Steinbrück is desperately dependent on that strength. After the uproar following his comments during the campaign in Lower Saxony, Steinbrück said he intended to choose his words "very carefully" in the future -- undoubtedly also toward the Greens. That's a big promise. We'll see how long he can keep it.
01/21/2013 01:21 PM
The World from Berlin: 'Merkel Now De Facto Head of Both CDU and FDP'
The conservatives may be out of power in Lower Saxony, but the result was not a total debacle for Chancellor Angela Merkel. After 100,000 conservative voters opted to prop up the floundering Free Democrats, she now has control over two center-right parties, say commentators.
It was but a hint. On Jan. 3, Lower Saxony Governor David McAllister noted that he would understand if conservative voters were to forego choosing his party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), in a crucial state vote and instead opted to vote for the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP).
The calculation was clear. Support for the FDP, McAllister's junior coalition partner, was well below the 5 percent minimum necessary for parliamentary representation. Should they fail the make it into parliament, McAllister would be out of a job.
McAllister later backtracked, saying he was confident the FDP would make it into parliament without help from CDU voters. But as it turns out, conservative voters weren't so sure. According to initial analysis of the state elections in Lower Saxony on Sunday, over 100,000 CDU voters opted to choose the FDP to ensure that the sclerotic party limped over the 5 percent hurdle.
The result was a stunning reversal of FDP fortunes, as surprising as it is misleading. After months of polling below 5 percent in both Lower Saxony and nationwide, the FDP on Sunday achieved its best ever result in the state, gathering in 9.9 percent of the vote.
Alas, for McAllister's center-right government, it wasn't enough. Most of the extra votes received by the FDP came at the expense of his own party's total, leading to a disappointing 36 percent result for the CDU, 6.5 percentage points below the party's vote total in the last Lower Saxony election in 2008. The center-left pairing of the Social Democrats and Greens managed to eke out the slimmest of victories over the McAllister camp, securing just one seat in parliament more than its political rivals.
'Great Day for Liberals'
For the FDP, however, the outcome, artificial or not, is a much needed jolt in the arm. It allows the liberals, as the FDP, with its libertarian bent, is known in Germany, to look ahead to the general elections with some measure of optimism. Party leader Philipp Rösler, who is also Chancellor Angela Merkel's vice chancellor and economics minister, crowed that it was "a great day for liberals in the entire country."
Rösler also, apparently, saw it as an opportune moment to strengthen his hold on the party after months of a never-ending internal debate about his leadership of the FDP -- a stint at the top which has coincided with several catastrophic election results. On Monday, Rösler made the surprise announcement that he would be willing to step aside in favor of FDP parliamentary floor leader Rainer Brüderle, who had led the charge against Rösler as recently as last week. Brüderle, though, quickly backed down and Rösler will now remain in office.
Still, the primary question is what the FDP's result on Sunday might mean for the general election. According to initial analyses of voting patterns, some 80 percent of the votes received by the FDP came from voters who normally cast their ballots for the CDU. The party, in other words, has been bloated purely by strategic charity -- hardly a promising sign for Merkel, who needs a strong FDP result in September for her current governing coalition to continue.
German commentators on Monday examine the enigma that is the FDP.
Left-leaning daily Die Tageszeitung writes:
"For the FDP, it is a borrowed victory, purely the result of tactical voting. ... As such, despite the strong showing, the party is not at all freer and more sovereign as the national elections approach. ... After Sunday's vote, in fact, it is more dependent on the Christian Democrats than ever before. The FDP is like a chimera. Their only role in national politics is that of securing a majority for Merkel."
"In general elections this fall, the FDP will likely once again be dependent on charity from the CDU and from Merkel, who will likely stage a half-hidden pro-FDP campaign similar (to that undertaken by McAllister)... . And that makes Merkel one of the covert victors of the Sunday election. The FDP's very existence is now dependent on her CDU."
Center-right daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"Despite the high regard in which Governor McAllister and his CDU are held in Lower Saxony, more potential CDU voters than ever before chose to cast their ballots for the FDP. The rather paradoxical result is that the FDP, despite months of a self-destructive leadership debate, received its greatest share of the Lower Saxony vote since 1947. Not even the FDP believes the success has anything to do with its platform or with its leadership. The party is nothing more than a tool necessary for leveraging the CDU into power."
The left-leaning Berlin daily Berliner Zeitung writes:
"One or two weeks ago, hardly anybody would have predicted that the FDP would leap the 5 percent hurdle into the Lower Saxony state parliament. And the party certainly didn't earn the respectable result it received on Sunday. It is neither a consequence of the party's work in Lower Saxony nor does it reflect on the party's nationwide reputation. And it certainly has nothing to do with the party's role in Chancellor Merkel's coalition. On the contrary, the party has spent recent months presenting a spectacle of almost unparalleled inferiority by publicly humiliating the leader they themselves chose."
"Perhaps the FDP's election result says nothing about the party itself. Maybe it says much more about the panic gripping the CDU -- the fear of ending up with an excellent election result but without a coalition partner."
"In short ... Sunday's vote says little about how the national election might turn out. The success of the FDP is contaminated and the CDU will be asking itself if vote charity makes any sense if it results in the conservatives emerging weakened from election night."
The conservative daily Die Welt writes:
"Angela Merkel can breathe again in Berlin without really being happy about what happened in Lower Saxony. Her party has lost double-digit percentages (in the last 10 years), about half of that coming relative to the state elections in 2008. But this decline is due in part to the CDU base lending their votes to the FDP. That's good news for Chancellor Merkel. The voter support for the FDP means that the pro-business party now knows who it can depend on in an emergency."
"This assistance also means that Merkel still has no reliable evidence as to whether her coalition partner will ultimately clear the 5 percent hurdle to make it into parliament on its own strength. In that sense, the state elections have brought no real clarity as to what course the FDP will take in the run-up to the federal elections. ... But it does make Merkel the de facto head of two parties, the CDU and the FDP."
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"The FDP's wondrous and triumphant return to the state parliament of Lower Saxony does not make it a convincing party. Nor does it make the FDP's coalition with the CDU a model for the future. Nor does it mean that the FDP's leader is any good. The FDP doesn't have Philipp Rösler to thank for its success in Hanover. It has Angela Merkel, and the fact that many CDU voters in Lower Saxony wanted to keep their government intact. That's why voters who would have otherwise chosen the CDU picked the FDP. That doesn't make these 'loan votes' suspect -- such activity is a part of democracy. But when the FDP wants to put those responsible for their recent electoral success at the top of their party ... then they should pick Merkel as FDP chairwoman and state Governor McAllister as vice-chairman. They brought the liberals into the state government."
-- Charles Hawley
Barack Obama sworn in for second term as US president
Televised White House ceremony comes before public celebrations on Monday
Ewen MacAskill in Washington DC
The Guardian, Sunday 20 January 2013 17.29 GMT
President Barack Obama has been officially sworn in for a second term, one for which he has mapped out an ambitious programme of economic, social and cultural change that includes new gun control legislation and long-sought immigration reform.
Smiling throughout, Obama delivered the oath in the Blue Room of the White House on Sunday with First Lady Michelle holding her family bible and their two daughters, Sasha and Malia, looking on. Afterwards, Obama kissed his wife and daughters, telling them: "I did it."
It is not clear whether he was referring to having secured a second term or just having got through the swearing-in without incident.
Second-term presidencies are often lame ducks, suffering from burnout and complacency. But Obama hopes to use the next four years to establish a legacy that goes beyond just being the first African-American presidency.
Although most of the inaugural events are scheduled for Monday, the start of his presidency officially began on Sunday at midday. Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath of office and succeeded in getting through it without incident, compared with the embarrassment of 2009 when he mangled the words, forcing the event to be done again.
Speaking just before the swearing-in ceremony, one of Obama's main White House advisers, Valerie Jarrett, who has been part of his team since his days in Chicago, denied there was any sense of weariness creeping into the White House.
She told CNN that Obama, having won re-election in November, appeared more confident now. "He is as energised as I have ever seen him... I don't think burn-out is going to be a problem," Jarrett said.
Obama is putting his new cabinet together, with his proposed secretary of state, John Kerry, due to begin Senate nomination hearings on Thursday and his proposed defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, set to follow at the end of the month.
The swearing-in ceremony was televised, in part to avoid the confusion of 2009 that started a number of conspiracy theories about whether Obama was in fact the president. After Roberts mangled the oath, there was a quick, private ceremony at the White House with no television footage. This time round, the ceremony was broadcast nationally.
The main public events will be held on Monday, with Obama being sworn in again at noon, on the steps of Congress and in front of a crowd expected to be between 500,000 to 800,000 packed onto the Mall. The size of the crowd holds up well against turnout for previous presidents, but it will be well down on the record 1.8 million who turned out for Obama in 2009.
Hours earlier, the vice-president, Joe Biden, was sworn in at his official residency, the Naval Observatory, about 15 minutes drive from the White House. Biden, whose reputation has risen in DC after he negotiated a deal that ended the "fiscal cliff" showdown with Congress at New Year, is reportedly considering a run for the presidency in 2016, possibly against Hillary Clinton, the outgoing secretary of state, for the Democratic nomination. The inclusion of guests from some of the key primary states at Biden's swearing-in ceremony added to the speculation that he will run.
Obama's first big challenge looks like being the necessity of dealing with Republicans in the House of Representatives, with a potential series of economic clashes looming that could wreck his second term plans. But Obama secured an early victory when Republican leaders, at a retreat in Virginia to discuss post-election strategy, appeared to back down over a threat to close the federal government over raising the debt limit.
Apart from the Republicans, Obama in his second term hopes to see embedded the biggest change of his first term, the expansion of healthcare coverage which was passed in 2010 but is not due to kick in until 2014. Almost all obstacles, from Republican governors to the Supreme Court, have been overcome.
On gun control, the president may only be able to get through Congress tightened background checks for buyers, rather than an automatic-weapons ban. But Obama is looking to the long-term, initiating a national debate on gun violence.
On the foreign affairs front, the biggest challenge appears to negotiating a deal with Iran on the nuclear issue, pulling most US combat troops out of Afghanistan and, possibly, trying to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Ross Baker, a politics professor at Rutgers, said Obama had already done enough to achieve inclusion on the list of great presidents – not up with the great greats, such as Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but in the second tier, better than John Kennedy or Bill Clinton.
"He will strive to rekindle the excitement of the first term which is a difficult objective to achieve," Baker said. "His first term is a difficult act to follow. I could not imagine anything of the magnitude of Obamacare or Dodd-Frank [the legislation on financial regulation]. He would do well to get over the debt/spending obstacles with his dignity intact."
January 20, 2013
Pursuing Ambitious Global Goals, but Strategy is More
By DAVID E. SANGER
WASHINGTON — Not quite nine months into his presidency, Barack Obama woke to the news that he had won the Nobel Peace Prize — not for anything yet accomplished, but for the promise that he would end the Iraq war, win the “war of necessity” in Afghanistan, move toward the elimination of nuclear weapons, tackle climate change and engage America’s adversaries.
Yet beyond Iraq, his first-term accomplishments from that list are sparse. In a fractured world, President Obama struggled to define a grand strategy for America’s role, apart from preserving its pre-eminence while relying increasingly on a changing cast of partners.
As Mr. Obama begins his second term, aides and confidants say he is acutely aware that his ambitious agenda to restore America’s influence and image in the world stalled almost as soon as the prize was awarded. But the president has indicated that he plans to return to his original agenda, though he has hinted it may be in a different, less overtly ambitious way.
Bitter experience — from getting the most modest arms control agreement through the Senate his first year, trying and failing to engage leaders in Iran and North Korea, discovering his lack of leverage over Egypt, Pakistan and Israel, and finding Afghanistan to be a costly waste of American lives and resources — is driving him to a strategy reminiscent of one of his Republican predecessors, President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
It is a strategy in which Mr. Obama will try to redirect world events subtly, rather than turning to big treaties, big military interventions and big aid packages.
“The appeal of the Eisenhower approach is that it had a big element of turning inward, of looking to rebuilding strength at home, of conserving American power,” said one of Mr. Obama’s senior national security advisers, who would not agree to be quoted by name. “But there’s also the reality that some of the initiatives that seemed so hopeful four years ago — whether it’s driving down the number of nuclear weapons or helping Afghanistan remake itself — look so much harder now.”
Whether this approach can work is very much an open question. His early forays into covert action and lightning-quick strikes — like the fast war in Libya or the cyberwar against Iran — have set back adversaries, but the satisfactions of striking with a “light footprint” have usually been temporary at best.
His promises of transformative change are now viewed around the world with more suspicion. There was the student in Cairo who cornered a reporter a year ago and demanded to know why the prison at Guantánamo Bay was still open, and the European foreign minister who, at a diplomatic dinner in Washington, asked whether “the pivot to Asia is another phrase for ignoring the rest of the world.”
Mr. Obama’s questions during Situation Room sessions, some of his current and former aides say, seem to reflect a concern that his first term was spent putting out fires, rather than building lasting institutions.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt and President Harry S. Truman solidified America’s post-World War II role by helping create the United Nations, the international financial institutions and the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe; President John F. Kennedy emerged from the Cuban Missile Crisis with treaties limiting the spread of nuclear weapons; the first President George Bush lured new allies from the ruins of the Soviet Union.
By comparison, Mr. Obama’s biggest accomplishments have been largely defensive: a full withdrawal from Iraq and devastating strikes against the core leadership of Al Qaeda. (When President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan visited the White House last week, he was presented a scorecard: of the “20 most wanted” Qaeda leaders when Mr. Obama was first inaugurated, 13 were dead, along with many of their successors.)
The president’s national security adviser, Thomas E. Donilon, has argued in speeches since Mr. Obama’s re-election that in the first term the president built a broader alliance against Iran than any of his predecessors; that is true, but so far it has not moved the Iranians to limit their nuclear drive.
The United States has variously offered to increase aid to Egypt or restrict it if the country heads off on an illiberal path. So far neither approach has given Mr. Obama leverage in influencing the new government led by the Muslim Brotherhood. A promising start in building an economic and political partnership with China has devolved into an argument over whether the United States is seeking to contain China’s ambitions.
“He wants to be something more than a pure manager for the next four years,” said Jeffrey A. Bader, a longtime diplomat who was one of the White House architects of the “rebalancing” toward Asia. He added that Mr. Obama “understands that being a transformative president on a global stage is about more than good intentions and good plans. It’s about finding places where you are not dependent on adversaries who refuse to budge, or who benefit from demonstrating their hostility to the U.S.”
If there is a big strategic bet in Mr. Obama’s second term, it may be that Asia is that place. The huge, unexpected burst in oil and gas production in the United States has bolstered Mr. Obama’s conviction that the United States has an opportunity to extract itself from an overdependence on events in the Middle East. In Asia, he has found a region more welcoming to American influence, largely because a greater American presence — meaning more naval ships and more investment — can quietly counterbalance China’s rising power.
Mr. Obama’s focus on Asia has reinforced his interest in the Eisenhower era. After the Korean War, Americans simply wanted to bring the troops home and focus on growth. Eisenhower had publicly committed to both balancing the budget and containing growing threats around the world, while in secret he began a broad rethinking of American national security called Project Solarium.
Just as Mr. Obama has privately worried about being manipulated by generals who were trying to lengthen the American involvement in Afghanistan, Eisenhower left office warning of the “military-industrial complex” that he feared would dominate American decision making.
At the same time, those who work with Mr. Obama, and parse his questions in Situation Room debates over the ability of the United States to influence events in places like Syria or Mali or North Korea, say they sense in him a greater awareness than he had four years ago of the limits of American influence.
He asks more detailed questions about how sending 100 troops, or 10,000, might influence long-term outcomes. Paraphrasing the president, one aide said he is more likely to ask, “So if we put troops into Syria to stabilize the chemical weapons, what can they accomplish in a year that they couldn’t accomplish in a week?”
That is a product of Mr. Obama’s bitter experience in 2009, when he yielded to advice from the military to send a surge of tens of thousands of troops into Afghanistan. He regretted it almost instantly. The move to an “Afghan good enough” strategy followed, with minimal goals and a quicker withdrawal of troops. Ever since, he has been hesitant to use traditional power in traditional ways.
“He has got to find the happy medium between not committing us to a decade-long ground war and choosing not to do anything,” said Anne-Marie Slaughter, who was the head of the State Department’s policy planning operation for Mr. Obama’s first two years in office and has urged him to intervene more strongly in humanitarian disasters.
Mr. Obama’s caution has incurred a cost. To much of the world, his presidency thus far looks unlike what they expected. He promised “direct engagement” with longtime adversaries, including Cuba, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea and Venezuela. He is one for five: only the generals running Myanmar responded to his letters, economic incentives and offers of a new relationship.
In what Mr. Obama once called the “war of necessity,” in Afghanistan, the complaint heard more often is that Mr. Obama has abandoned any pretense of accomplishment in favor of accelerating the withdrawal.
“The situation is obviously not very confidence-inspiring,” Hina Rabbani Khar, Pakistan’s foreign minister, said in an interview last week. “A responsible transition means that you have achieved your objectives and then you leave. It’s not ‘We leave in January.’ It’s ‘We leave when the objectives are achieved.’ ”
And what of the grand initiatives?
A proposal for a very large reduction in deployed nuclear weapons has been in the hands of the White House for months, but the president has not acted on it. Mr. Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. promised a new push to win passage of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which was defeated during the Clinton administration. They have never submitted it to the Senate.
“We were assured by President Obama when he was elected that the U.S. would ratify this C.T.B.T.,” Ban Ki-moon, the secretary general of the United Nations, said on Friday. “But somehow, it has not happened.”
Given the composition of the Senate, it is not likely to happen in a second term, either. So Mr. Obama, his aides say, will have to find another way; like Eisenhower, he will have to redirect American policy quietly, from the Oval Office.
01/21/2013 02:21 PM
Troika Travails: Split Emerges Over Cyprus Bailout Package
By Christoph Pauly, Christian Reiermann and Christoph Schult
Cyprus is in urgent need of money from the euro rescue fund, but the troika responsible for the bailouts is split over how it should be structured. The IMF is worried that the country's debt load is not sustainable.
When euro-zone finance ministers meet in Brussels on Monday, a welcome guest will be missing. Christine Lagarde, 57, the French managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), is currently unwilling to discuss giving aid money to ailing euro-zone member Cyprus. For some time now, the Americans in particular have been eyeing the IMF's involvement in Europe with suspicion, causing the Frenchwoman to hit the brakes time and again. "I have no mandate for that" is a statement that the euro-zone finance ministers have heard only too often from Lagarde.
As such, it remains to be seen whether the IMF will ultimately participate in a loan program for Cyprus. A number of countries, Germany first and foremost, have said that IMF participation is crucial. The statutes of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), the euro zone's €700 billion ($931 billion) permanent backstop fund, stipulate that the IMF must rubber stamp a country's debt sustainability before any cash can flow.
But this time around, the IMF is hesitating. A member of the troika which is currently negotiating the bailout deal with the Cypriot government, the IMF has an entirely different notion as to how the program should look.
In particular, there are differing points of view over whether the Mediterranean island nation will ever be able to repay its debts. According to current forecasts, the Cypriot debt load will grow to 140 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) by the year 2014.
Much Stricter Measures
The IMF believes that such a sovereign-debt level is unsustainable over the long term. Internally, they have made it clear that a country's debt level should not be allowed to exceed 100 percent of GDP at the end of an aid program. To achieve that level, the IMF is insisting that Cyprus be required to adhere to much stricter measures than those being called for by the Europeans. It is a similar debate to the one which nearly caused a rift between the IMF and the EU during negotiations over the Greek bailout.
The IMF is demanding that the ESM step in to save Cypriot banks. Such a scenario would mean that Cyprus would no longer be solely responsible for paying back the €10.8 billion that has been earmarked for the country's banks. Instead, the European bailout fund would have to share the risk. This would make it possible to put a more positive spin on Cyprus' debt sustainability figures.
But Germany, along with the Netherlands and Finland, aims to prevent this. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble says that a direct bank recapitalization by the ESM would only be possible from March 2014, at the earliest, once a European banking regulatory agency has been established.
The second IMF demand is for the creditors of Cypriot banks to forego a portion of their claims -- a debt haircut in other words. Europe is not unsympathetic to such a move, but would prefer to involve only so-called junior debt holders -- denoting those whose debt is prioritized lower in the event of an insolvency. The IMF, however, would also like to see senior debt holders be forced to pay up.
Even individuals who have entrusted their savings to Cypriot banks may have to accept losses. Here the experts are not considering accounts held by small savers, but rather the billions of euros that have been deposited by Russian oligarchs.
The 'First Step'
Another issue has also caused an air of mistrust to creep in between the IMF and a number of member states. Germany, Austria, Finland and the Netherlands don't trust the findings reached by a team of IMF experts last autumn with regard to Cypriot money laundering activities. The experts from Washington came to the conclusion that Cyprus is largely playing by the book and only minor legislative amendments are required.
This doesn't go far enough for the northern countries in the euro zone. They don't just want to know whether Cypriot laws meet international standards -- they want to find out whether they are actually applied. Schäuble and his counterparts from the other donor countries intend to put forward an initiative to address these concerns at Monday's Euro Group meeting. They realize that it could take months to answer these questions, but that doesn't deter them.
"We take the topic of money laundering very seriously," says Olli Rehn, the European commissioner for economic and monetary affairs in Brussels, adding that the most recent Cypriot legislative amendments are merely the "first step."
Everyone on the troika team agrees, though, that the Cypriot government should sell extensive government holdings, primarily its valuable stakes in the Electrical Authority of Cyprus (EAC) and the Cyprus Telecommunications Authority (CYTA). But it's unclear how much money can be raised via such privatizations. The government has tapped heavily into state companies to keep its head above water until parliamentary elections in February. Indeed, shortly before Christmas, the chairman of energy provider EAC decided "at the request of the government to grant a loan of €100 million."
Japan should let elderly ‘hurry up and die’: finance minister Taro Aso
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, January 21, 2013 7:03 EST
Japan’s finance minister Taro Aso said Monday the elderly should be allowed to “hurry up and die” instead of costing the government money for end-of-life medical care.
Aso, who also doubles as deputy prime minister, reportedly said during a meeting of the National Council on Social Security Reforms: “Heaven forbid if you are forced to live on when you want to die. You cannot sleep well when you think it’s all paid by the government.
“This won’t be solved unless you let them hurry up and die,” he said.
“I don’t need that kind of care. I will die quickly,” he said adding he had left written instructions that his life is not artificially prolonged.
During the meeting, he reportedly referred to “tube people” when talking of patients who cannot feed themselves.
The 72-year-old Aso, a former prime minister, has been in his current job less than a month, but has a long history of planting his foot firmly in his mouth.
In 2001 he triggered a furore by saying a successful country was one where “rich Jews” wanted to live.
After Monday’s mis-step, he tried to backtrack, insisting he had only been talking about his personal wishes when he said the elderly should shuffle off quickly.
“I said what I personally believe, not what the end-of-life medical care system should be,” he told reporters.
“It is important that you can spend the final days of your life peacefully.”
Aso was born into a blue-blooded industrialist family but his often crude verbal slip-ups stand in marked contrast to his heritage.
He is the grandson of Shigeru Yoshida, one of Japan’s most influential prime ministers who helped rebuild the country from the ashes of World War II, and he is married to the daughter of another former premier.
Ageing is a sensitive issue in Japan, one of the world’s oldest countries, with almost a quarter of its 128 million people over 60. That figure is expected to rise to 40 percent within the next half-century.
At the same time a shrinking number of workers is placing further strain on an already groaning social security system, with not enough money going into the pot to support those who depend on it.
Iraq finds extra billion barrels of oil: ministry
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, January 20, 2013 19:01 EST
Iraq said on Sunday it has discovered deposits of crude equivalent to one billion barrels of oil after the first exploration work by state-owned firms in almost 30 years.
The deposits were found after exploration in Maysan province, in southern Iraq near the border with Iran, and could potentially make a significant addition to Baghdad’s already substantial reserves.
“Exploration began in Maysan, south of (provincial capital) Amara” last year, oil ministry spokesman Assem Jihad told AFP.
“Today, it completed 100 percent and achieved a big success.
“The initial assessment from this discovery is about one billion barrels of oil,” he said, adding: “It will increase production capacity for (state-owned) Maysan Oil Company.”
Jihad said the state-owned oil exploration firm had been carrying out its first exploration work within Iraq in nearly three decades.
Iraq, which is highly dependent on oil sales for government revenue, has sought in recent years to dramatically ramp up production and exploration in order to help rebuild its conflict-battered economy and infrastructure.
The country has proven reserves of 143.1 billion barrels of oil and 3.2 trillion cubic metres (111.9 trillion cubic feet) of gas, both of which are among the largest in the world.
Discovery of quadruple helix DNA could lead to cancer breakthrough
By Stephen C. Webster
Monday, January 21, 2013 9:31 EST
Scientists at the University of Cambridge reported Sunday that they have discovered quadruple helix DNA inside human cells by creating synthetic molecules that seek it out — raising the potential that future medicines may be able to pinpoint and shut down DNA replication within cancerous tumors.
Although the findings, published in the scientific journal Nature Chemistry, still leave a lot of unanswered questions about quadruple helix DNA, the work released Sunday is a breakthrough brought about by more than a decade of research.
Still, 60 years on from the discovery of DNA, scientists do not know why traditionally double helix structures loop back in on themselves sometimes during replication. They’ve known these structures exist in a laboratory setting, but the Cambridge findings are the first to pinpoint the formation of “quadruplexes” within living human cells.
Observing the structures was no easy feat, however. Scientists had to create synthetic bio-luminescent antibody proteins that seek out and bind to quadruplexes at various stages in cell division. The proteins were built in such a way that they glow more brightly during DNA replication.
Using those markers, researchers noticed that the proteins are able to “trap” quadruplexes and stabilize their production, potentially opening up a new avenue for cancer treatments.
“We are seeing links between trapping the quadruplexes with molecules and the ability to stop cells dividing, which is hugely exciting,” Professor Shankar Balasubramanian said in an advisory.
“The research indicates that quadruplexes are more likely to occur in genes of cells that are rapidly dividing, such as cancer cells,” he added. “For us, it strongly supports a new paradigm to be investigated – using these four-stranded structures as targets for personalized treatments in the future.”
Balasubramanian also warned that so little is known about quadruplexes that interfering with their production may not ultimately prove helpful. “One thought is that these quadruplex structures might be a bit of a nuisance during DNA replication – like knots or tangles that form,” he said.
“Did they evolve for a function?” Balasubramanian added. “It’s a philosophical question as to whether they are there by design or not – but they exist and nature has to deal with them. Maybe by targeting them we are contributing to the disruption they cause.”
Though much work is left to be done, the group that funded the study, Cancer Research UK, believes it could lead to a revolution in cancer therapies.
“This research further highlights the potential for exploiting these unusual DNA structures to beat cancer – the next part of this pipeline is to figure out how to target them in tumor cells,” Dr. Julie Sharp at Cancer Research UK said in an advisory. “It’s been sixty years since its structure was solved but work like this shows us that the story of DNA continues to twist and turn.”
Photo: Shutterstock.com, all rights reserved.
When black holes collide: gamma-ray burst blasted Earth in 8th century, according to study
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, January 21, 2013 1:45 EST
A mystery wave of cosmic radiation that smashed into Earth in the eighth century may have come from two black holes that collided, a study published on Monday says.
Clues for the strange event were unearthed last year by Japanese astrophysicist Fusa Miyake, who discovered a surge in carbon-14 — an isotope that derives from high-energy radiation — in the rings of ancient cedar trees.
Dating of the trees showed that the burst struck the Earth in either 774 or 775 AD.
But what was the nature of the radiation, and what caused it?
Space scientists lined up the usual suspects only to let them go. There was no evidence that an exploding star, also called a supernova, occurred at that time, they found.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a record in Old English, makes a dramatic reference to the appearance of a “red crucifix” seen in the skies after sunset. But that happened in 776 AD, which was too late to tally with the event marked by the tree rings.
Also ruled out was a tantrum by the Sun, which can throw out sizzling cosmic rays or gouts of energy called solar flares.
Writing in Monthly Notices, a journal of Britain’s Royal Astronomical Society, German-based scientists Valeri Hambaryan and Ralph Neuhaeuser have come up with a new explanation.
The pair suggest that two black holes collided and then merged, releasing an intense but extremely brief burst of gamma rays.
A collision of neutron stars or “white dwarf” stars (tiny, compact stars near the end of their lives) may also have been the cause, say Hambaryan and Neuhaeuser of the University of Jena’s Astrophysics Institute.
Mergers of this kind are often spotted in galaxies other than our own Milky Way, and do not generate visible light.
The event in 774 or 775 AD could only have taken place at least 3,000 light years from here, otherwise the planet would have fried, says the paper.
If their theory is right, this would explain why there is no record of some ultra-brilliant event in the sky, or evidence of any extinction event in Earth’s biodiversity at that time.
Astronomers should scour the skies because invisible remnants of the event could well exist today, the paper suggests.
And estimating the risk from a future collision of this kind could be vital.
“If the gamma ray burst had been much closer to the Earth it would have caused significant harm to the biosphere,” explains Neuhaeuser.
“But even thousands of light years away, a similar event today could cause havoc with the sensitive electronic systems that advanced societies have come to depend on. The challenge now is to establish how rare such carbon-14 spikes are, i.e. how often such radiation bursts hit the Earth.
“In the last 3,000 years, the maximum age of trees alive today, only one such event appears to have taken place.”
Scientists find evidence of ancient Martian lake
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, January 20, 2013 16:15 EST
A US spacecraft orbiting Mars has provided evidence of an ancient crater lake fed by groundwater, adding further support to theories that the Red Planet may once have hosted life, NASA said Sunday.
Spectrometer data from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) shows traces of carbonate and clay minerals usually formed in the presence of water at the bottom of the 1.4-mile (2.2-kilometer) deep McLaughlin Crater.
“These new observations suggest the formation of the carbonates and clay in a groundwater-fed lake within the closed basin of the crater,” NASA said of the findings, which were published in the online edition of Nature Geoscience.
“Some researchers propose the crater interior catching the water,” the space agency said, adding that “the underground zone contributing the water could have been wet environments and potential habitats.”
The crater lacks large inflow channels, so the lake was likely fed by groundwater, scientists said.
The latest observations “provide the best evidence for carbonate forming within a lake environment instead of being washed into a crater from outside,” said Joseph Michalski, lead author of the paper.
The 57-mile-wide crater sits at the low end of a regional slope several hundreds of miles long and, as on Earth, groundwater-fed lakes would be expected to occur at low elevations.
NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has been exploring the planet’s surface since its dramatic landing on August 6, collecting rock samples and beaming back rare images in anticipation of an eventual manned mission.
MRO scientist Rich Zurek, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said the latest findings indicate “a more complex Mars than previously appreciated, with at least some areas more likely to reveal signs of ancient life than others.”
In the USA...
January 21, 2013
Obama’s 2nd Term Opens in a Lower Key
By MICHAEL D. SHEAR
WASHINGTON — Barack Hussein Obama will renew his oath of office just before midday Monday, ceremonially marking the beginning of another four years in the White House without the clouds of economic crisis and war that hovered over his first inauguration.
Crowds that are expected to swell to an estimated 600,000 people have begun assembling on the National Mall in front of the Capitol, eager to witness the start of the president’s second term. Mr. Obama, 51, was formally sworn in during a small private ceremony at the White House residence on Sunday, the date constitutionally mandated for inauguration.
Security in Washington was tight as Mr. Obama, the nation’s first black president, prepared to deliver his second Inaugural Address from the Capitol just after noon. Speaking on the day the nation sets aside to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mr. Obama will take his oath with his hand on two Bibles: one once owned by Dr. King and another once owned by Abraham Lincoln.
The president and Michelle Obama started the morning at a church service at St. John’s Episcopal Church, just across Lafayette Square from the White House. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his wife, Jill Biden, joined the first couple at the service.
Later in the day, the Obamas will lead the traditional parade down Pennsylvania Avenue toward an elaborate reviewing stand constructed in front of the White House. Celebrations are scheduled to continue late into the night at two official inaugural balls in Washington’s sprawling convention center, with performances by musical stars like Alicia Keys, Brad Paisley, Katy Perry, Smokey Robinson and Stevie Wonder. Beyoncé will sing the national anthem on Monday afternoon.
Four years ago, a huge crowd of about 1.8 million people jammed into the grassy area between the Capitol and the Washington Monument as Mr. Obama hailed the choice of “hope over fear.” That day, the new president declared the country to be “in the midst of crisis,” citing the economic collapse that was still unfolding and wars that continued to rage in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“In this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words,” Mr. Obama said in his 18-and-a-half minute speech in 2009. “With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come.”
As he delivers his second Inaugural Address, Mr. Obama is presiding over an economy that has improved and warfare that has receded. But the world remains a dangerous place, the economy is still fragile, and many of the gauzy promises of action and progress from his first address have given way to the cold realities of politics and compromise and bitter gridlock.
After taking his first oath, the new president proclaimed “an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.” And he predicted that his election was a signal to the cynics in America, who he said did not understand that “the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply.”
But in the wake of a cliffhanger tax deal and facing more fiscal showdowns with a Republican-led House in the coming weeks, Mr. Obama continues to struggle to deliver on the promise he made in his first inaugural speech to bring a new, more united kind of politics to Washington.
That promise will be tested again soon as Mr. Obama seeks to push a new agenda through Congress. That agenda will include the biggest push for gun control legislation in a generation and a revamping of the nation’s immigration system that he hopes will give millions of illegal immigrants a path toward citizenship.
The president has already unveiled his proposals to reduce gun violence amid fierce opposition from gun owners, the National Rifle Association and many Republican lawmakers. Aides say Mr. Obama will soon begin the immigration fight as well, perhaps as soon as next month, when he delivers his State of the Union speech.
Mr. Obama used his first Inaugural Address to foreshadow a foreign policy agenda that he pledged would be different from that of his predecessor, George W. Bush. He rejected what he called the false choice between “our safety and our ideals.”
In the speech in 2009, the president spoke directly to the nation’s adversaries, warning terrorists that “we will defeat you,” telling dictators that “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist,” and reaching out to the Muslim world by saying that the United States sought “a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”
As he enters his second term, Mr. Obama has taken the fight to Al Qaeda, killing its leader, Osama bin Laden, and using drones to target the ranks of its top members. The United States has left Iraq and is exiting the decade-long war in Afghanistan.
But Iran remains unwilling to “unclench” its fist as it continues developing what Western nations believe is a nuclear weapons program. Unrest in the Middle East and North Africa has made more difficult Mr. Obama’s promise of a new way forward with the Muslim world. And the threat of terrorism remains in places like Algeria, where Islamists held hostages just days before Mr. Obama’s inauguration.
Before sunrise Monday, Washington’s subway, which opened an hour early, at 4 a.m., began filling up as people made the ride into the city’s downtown area in the hopes of getting a good spot from which to view Mr. Obama’s swearing-in and the afternoon parade.
Several subway stops were closed or restricted as thousands of police officers, many from surrounding states, enforced a secure perimeter that extended from the White House to the Capitol. Buses were parked across some streets to block access by automobiles, and fences created checkpoints for pedestrians. Military vehicles idled at other intersections.
The early-morning temperature was slightly above freezing, a welcome relief for the president and his wife, who braved temperatures that hovered in the high 20s on Inauguration Day four years ago.
By the time Mr. Obama takes the ceremonial oath on Monday, he will be 24 hours into his second term. He will also have taken the oath four times, matching the record set by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, but for different reasons.
Mr. Obama took the oath twice in 2009, first in front of the public on Jan. 20, and then again on the next day after White House lawyers concluded that having stumbled through it the first time, he should do it again “out of an abundance of caution.”
This year, he was to take it twice again because the official start of his second term landed on Sunday. The Constitution says the president’s term expires on Jan. 20 at noon.
Sheryl Gay Stolberg contributed reporting.
January 20, 2013
Among Blacks, Pride Is Mixed With Expectations for Obama
By SUSAN SAULNY
The Rev. Greggory L. Brown, a 59-year-old pastor of a small Lutheran church, committed himself to ministry and a life pursuing social justice on April 4, 1968 — the day the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was slain by an assassin’s bullet.
And four years ago, like so many African-Americans around the country, he saw Barack Obama’s rise to the presidency as nothing short of a shocking validation of Dr. King’s vision of a more perfect union, where the content of character trumps the color of skin. “I was so excited when he was giving that first inauguration speech,” said Mr. Brown, of Oakland, Calif. “I could feel it in my bones.”
On Monday, when President Obama places his hand on Dr. King’s personal Bible to take a second, ceremonial oath of office, he will be symbolically linking himself to the civil rights hero. But Mr. Brown, along with other African-Americans interviewed recently, said their excitement would be laced with a new expectation, that Mr. Obama move to the forefront of his agenda the issues that Dr. King championed: civil rights and racial and economic equality.
In interviews with experts and black leaders, some, like Mr. Brown, say they have been disappointed by the slow pace of change for African-Americans, whose children, for instance, are still more likely to live in poverty than those of any other race.
“The hope for Obama’s presidency was that there would be more help for places like Oakland and other urban areas that need support, safety and jobs,” Mr. Brown said. “He made people feel like anything is possible.”
African-Americans remain overwhelmingly supportive of the president, as evidenced by their enthusiastic turnout on Election Day and for the inauguration festivities and Monday’s holiday celebrating Dr. King’s birthday. Thousands of black Americans have descended on Washington from across the nation for the many parties and observances and visits to the King memorial.
They have developed a protective stance toward Mr. Obama, acknowledging the limits of his power and the voraciousness of his critics. Many cite the power of representation, the visual message of a prosperous, cohesive black family being beamed around the country and the world, and the untold aspirations that vision inspires.
But African-Americans roundly reject the notion that Mr. Obama’s election has eased racial tensions or delivered the nation to a new post-racial reality.
“I think the great mass of black people have shown tremendous patience, discipline and understanding, recognizing the dilemma that he faces,” said Randall L. Kennedy, a professor at Harvard Law School and the author of “The Persistence of the Color Line: Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency.”
Still, Professor Kennedy said Mr. Obama had been “somewhat diffident” about issues that would be of special significance to African-Americans, like the disproportionate number of blacks in prison or urban poverty. Blacks understand, he added, that that perceived hesitation “was probably a virtual requirement” for him to be elected in the first place.
“Everyone agrees that you wish more was done the first term,” said Debra Lee, the chief executive of Black Entertainment Television. “But you look at politics and realize that the president can’t wave a wand and get things done by himself.”
“That’s one of the things we learned in the first term,” she added. “This is important and symbolic, but it’s not the end-all.”
As much as many people may have hoped that the impact of race would decline over time, one of the larger surveys on the issue, a poll by The Associated Press released in October, showed that racial attitudes had not improved in the four years since Mr. Obama took office.
It also suggested that prejudice had slightly increased. In a survey by the Pew Research Center conducted in April, a majority of Americans, some 61 percent, disagreed with the statement “Discrimination against blacks is rare today.”
Charlene Flynn, a dental assistant in Denver, said she had not noticed any meaningful change in race relations in her own life, but felt that there was a common understanding within the black community that Mr. Obama faced racism on the job. She said she strongly believed that Congress had been defiant toward the president, largely because he is black.
“I really think a lot of it has to do with his race, to tell the truth,” said Ms. Flynn, 51.
Mr. Brown, the pastor in Oakland, agreed. Each week, he prays aloud for the president. “I believe in my heart he wants to make a difference,” he said. “But every time he tries, people put up a big rock wall.”
Others are not so understanding, finding Mr. Obama too cautious on the subject of race.
The activist and academic Cornel West says he is outraged that Mr. Obama would use Dr. King’s personal Bible at the inauguration without endorsing Dr. King’s “black freedom struggle.”
“Martin went to jail talking about carpet bombing in Vietnam and trying to organize poor people, fighting for civil liberties,” Mr. West said. The president, he said, “has a compromising kind of temperament.”
But others in the civil rights movement say the president has a broader role.
“I told this president early on that I’ll be the head of the N.A.A.C.P., he can be head of the country,” said Benjamin Todd Jealous, the president of the civil rights organization.
He and others credit Mr. Obama’s cool temperament.
“Obama very effectively used positive messages to bring the racial and ethnic groups together, not divide them,” said William Julius Wilson, a Harvard sociologist and the author of “More Than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner City.”
“In terms of race and ethnic relations,” Dr. Wilson said, “he is the right president during these hard economic times because social tensions are indeed high.”
He said that one need only look back to the death of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teenager who was shot last year by a Hispanic neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla., to see the potential volatility of any presidential statement about race, even one where the president asked for “soul-searching.”
When Mr. Obama tenderly lamented, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” he was attacked by critics like the conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh for using the teenager’s death as a “political opportunity.”
Blaine Sergew, 43, an immigrant from Ethiopia who lives in Atlanta, said she felt disappointed that “the little things” the president said got blown out of proportion. “It was a very true statement, but the immaturity of the conversation about race in this country wouldn’t allow that to stand as a simple, true statement,” she said.
As valuable as any presidential statement, Ms. Sergew added, was the effect of Mr. Obama’s election in 2008. Cradling her toddler son on Election Day then, “I so distinctly remember holding him and just weeping at the possibility that my son could grow up to just assume this is normal,” she said. “Seeing images of an African-American family that is so dedicated to its members and so full of love and respect is significant for many black families. It’s like Black Camelot.”
Still, aspirations are one thing. In Mr. Obama’s second term, more African-Americans will be looking for action.
“I think there is overwhelming joy and pride that Barack Obama has been re-elected, but every community wishes for more,” said Roslyn M. Brock, the chairwoman of the board of the N.A.A.C.P. “I am hopeful and prayerful that in his second term, he will get to the social issues that continue to plague us, and leave his legacy, his mark, on them.”
Reporting was contributed by Malia Wollan from Oakland, Calif.; Dan Frosch from Denver; Kim Severson and Robbie Brown from Atlanta; Ian Lovett from Los Angeles; and Karen Ann Culotta from Chicago.
January 20, 2013
Obama Sworn In for 2nd Term, This Time Quietly
By JACKIE CALMES
WASHINGTON — With only his family beside him, Barack Hussein Obama was sworn into office for a second term on Sunday in advance of Monday’s public pomp, facing a bitterly divided government at home and persistent threats abroad that inhibit his effort to redefine America’s use of power.
It was a brief and intimate moment in the White House, held because of a quirk of the calendar that placed the constitutionally mandated start of the new term on a Sunday.
But the low-key event seemed to capture tempered expectations after four years of economic troubles and near-constant partisan confrontation. And it presaged a formal inauguration on Monday that will be less of a spectacle than the first one, when the nation’s first black president embodied hope and change for many Americans at a time of financial struggle and war.
For Monday’s festivities, with the traditional parade, balls and not least the re-enacted swearing-in outside the Capitol, there will be fewer parties and fewer people swarming the National Mall; organizers expect less than half the 1.8 million people who flocked to the city last time.
Once the parties end, Mr. Obama’s second-term challenges are formidable, not least given his ambitious priorities of addressing the national debt, illegal immigration and gun violence.
The economy, while recovering steadily, remains fragile. The unemployment rate is as high as it was in January 2009, though it is down from the 10 percent peak reached late that year, and there is no consensus with Republicans about additional stimulus measures — or virtually anything else.
And as the terrorist attack in Algeria last week illustrated, Mr. Obama continues to confront threats around the globe, both from state actors like Iran and North Korea and from Qaeda-inspired extremists seeking to exploit power vacuums in the Mideast and across Africa and Asia.
At home, the emphasis is on reducing the deficits that piled up because of the economic downturn and the soaring costs of caring for an aging population. Yet Mr. Obama and Republicans in Congress, divided by opposing views on the role of government, are no closer to a budget agreement that would overhaul taxes and costly, fast-growing entitlement programs like Medicare. The next showdown in what has seemed a never-ending loop of fiscal brinkmanship and half-measures is likely to come as soon as next month over spending cuts.
The persistent partisan battles underscore Mr. Obama’s inability to make good on an original promise — that he would open a bipartisan era of problem solving. While Mr. Obama’s words have become less soaring and more confrontational toward Republicans after four years in which they sought to foil him, David Plouffe, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama, said on the CNN program “State of the Union” on Sunday that the president had written a “hopeful” inaugural address for Monday’s ceremony.
But Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming, said on the same program, “The president seems so fixated on demonizing Republicans that he is blinded to the opportunities as well as the obligations that he has to deal with the big problems of this country on debt and the entitlements.”
Mr. Obama draws approval from just over half of Americans — down 11 percentage points from his popularity in a New York Times/CBS News survey just after his first inauguration — with Republicans united in opposition and independents split. If history is a guide, he has a limited time to act before his post-election leverage fades.
The official swearing-in of Mr. Obama, 51, was just the seventh time in history that a president was sworn in privately before the public ceremony, and the first since President Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration. Each instance since 1821 occurred because the constitutionally mandated date for the inauguration fell on a Sunday.
The simplicity of Mr. Obama’s minute-long taking of the oath of office suggested a marriage before a justice of the peace, with a big ceremony and party planned for later.
Only Michelle Obama, holding her family Bible for the ceremony, and the Obamas’s daughters, Malia and Sasha, stood beside Mr. Obama in the grand Blue Room as he recited the 35-word oath in the Constitution that was administered, as it was four years ago, by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. About a dozen relatives of the Obamas and Jane Roberts, the justice’s wife, watched out of camera range.
By contrast, the swearing-in hours earlier of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. at the vice-presidential mansion, while simple, was large enough to suggest that Mr. Biden is indeed looking beyond the next four years to the 2016 election. Among the 120 guests who watched Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor swear in Mr. Biden were Democratic dignitaries from the early presidential-nominating states, including Gov. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire. On Saturday evening, Mr. Biden attended a party of Democrats from Iowa, the first presidential caucus state.
The private ceremonies were held because, under the Constitution, the two men’s first terms ended at noon on Sunday. In between their events, Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden went together to Arlington National Cemetery to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. And they prayed, separately: the Obamas attended services at the 175-year-old Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, where the enthusiastic congregation engaged in a call-and-response with the pastor evoking the president’s “Forward” campaign slogan; the Bidens and their guests celebrated a Mass in the vice-presidential mansion.
In the evening, Mr. Obama, Mr. Biden and their wives attended a gala for donors to both the 2012 campaign and the inaugural expenses, where performers included Stevie Wonder.
For Mr. Obama, the solemnity of his swearing-in was broken by his younger daughter, Sasha, who seemed to recall the problem four years earlier, when a garbling of the oath by both her father and Chief Justice Roberts at the Capitol forced them to repeat the oath at the White House the next day.
With warmth that belied their political differences, especially over campaign spending law, Justice Roberts congratulated Mr. Obama, and the president thanked him twice as they shook hands. Mr. Obama then embraced his wife and daughters in turn. “Good job, Daddy,” Sasha said. “I did it!” he replied, only to have her quip, “You didn’t mess up” — leaving the president chuckling and rolling his eyes as he pivoted to thank the small group of witnesses and exit the room.
Elsewhere on a sunny winter Sunday, the streets of Washington were snarled with traffic, and hotels and homes were filling with the tens of thousands of visitors who, along with area residents, began partying through the weekend in bars and at receptions hosted by corporations and political groups.
Democratic women especially were feted. At a party sponsored by Emily’s List, which helps elect Democratic women who favor abortion rights, the talk was of 2016 — and whether Hillary Rodham Clinton, the departing secretary of state, might run for president.
Flags, bunting and red, white and blue lights festooned streets, buildings and grounds, but as usual for such events, also ubiquitous were cement and metal security barriers, along with police and troops on downtown blocks.
Much is changed since January 2009, and much of it not in the way Mr. Obama planned. His challenges ahead are perhaps not so great as then — 779,000 people lost their jobs that January, a one-month record, the financial and auto industries were teetering and millions of Americans were losing homes and savings — but they are nonetheless daunting.
While Democrats controlled Congress for his first two years, when Mr. Obama passed his signature laws for economic stimulus, expanded health insurance and financial industry regulation, Republicans captured the House majority in a conservative backlash at his midterm and are expected to keep it for his second term, given their success in drawing districts to keep them safe for Republicans. That means Mr. Obama’s other priorities for a second term — chiefly addressing illegal immigration and gun violence — likewise will hardly come easy, if at all.
Sheryl Gay Stolberg contributed reporting.
January 20, 2013
Four Years Later, Checking in With Those He Sought to Help
By EMMARIE HUETTEMAN, ASHLEY SOUTHALL and JADA F. SMITH
During his first year in office, President Obama highlighted his initiatives by talking about the troubles of everyday Americans whose lives he wanted to change for the better. As he begins his second term, some of the faces of the president’s policies share a glimpse of their lives four years later and their hopes for his second term.
ED NEUFELDT of Elkhart, Ind.
Even though he admits to voting for the other guy — twice — Ed Neufeldt will not deny that his town is better off than it was four years ago.
“We had a bunch of empty buildings all over town, but they’re filled up again,” he said. “Most of my friends are back to work.”
Much has changed since Mr. Neufeldt introduced Mr. Obama before a speech in August 2009 at Monaco Coach, a manufacturer of recreational vehicles that laid him off after 32 years. Once called “the R.V. capital of the world,” Elkhart was experiencing the highest unemployment rate in the country after sales began to plummet throughout the automotive industry.
Though he was offered his job back, Mr. Neufeldt instead was hired by a company to speak to businesses about green energy and biofuels.
“They thought we’d be the electric car capital of the world,” he said.
The company is now gone, and with it his spokesman job. He now delivers bread and cleans office buildings part time. But part time, he says, is better than no time.
— Jada F. Smith
Evan McGlinn for The New York Times
PAUL MONTI of Raynham, Mass.
Less than three months after Sgt. First Class Jared C. Monti received the Medal of Honor for the courage he demonstrated during the firefight in Afghanistan that took his life, Mr. Obama announced his plan to send an additional 30,000 troops there as part of the surge. For Sergeant Monti’s father, Paul, there was no question that it was the right thing to do.
But the mission in Afghanistan has changed, Mr. Monti said. He supports Mr. Obama’s decision to draw down United States forces over the next two years.
“We’ve lost enough,” he said.
When asked about his hopes for the president’s second term, Mr. Monti grew quiet for a moment. He expressed deep frustration with Congress, which is so gridlocked, he said, that some legislation does not even make it to a vote.
“That just sticks really badly with me, because that’s what my son died for,” he said. “He died for this type of government we have.”
— Emmarie Huetteman
RILEEN SECREST of Martinsville, Va.
When Mr. Obama took the first step toward expanding health care coverage by reauthorizing the Children’s Health Insurance Program in February 2009, Gregory Secrest of Martinsville, Va., was there with his sons, who benefited from the program after he lost his job.
“Neither one of us had health insurance, but we had to be sure the kids were taken care of,” said Rileen Secrest, his wife.
Three years later, Mr. Secrest, 43, died of a heart attack. He was employed again but still uninsured.
Mr. Secrest, whose county had the highest unemployment rate in Virginia, earned a business degree from a community college in 2011 and found a job as an assistant manager at a restaurant. Although Ms. Secrest thought her husband was healthy, they worried about what could happen without health insurance, she said.
Ms. Secrest said that her husband’s older son joined the Marines, which offers insurance, and that she thought his younger son was still covered by CHIP. But she is still uninsured, and she worries about health care and unemployment.
— Emmarie Huetteman
RICHARD MULBROOK of Newton, Iowa
With the specter of empty Maytag factories still lingering, the town of Newton, Iowa, welcomed Mr. Obama with cautious hope in April 2009. Trinity Structural Towers, which builds parts for wind turbines, had moved in and started hiring. Richard Mulbrook, who had worked for Maytag and had been hired by Trinity, introduced the president for a speech about energy policy.
Like others in the renewable energy business, Trinity benefited from government support. Mr. Mulbrook, who now works for another company after two years at Trinity, said it felt as if the subsidies helped.
But Trinity hired only a fraction of the former Maytag work force and, like the rest of the wind industry, faces an uncertain market. Mr. Mulbrook said the town had not fully recovered, with many houses still on the market and people commuting to jobs outside Newton. But he said he remained hopeful that Mr. Obama could repair the damage.
“It’s just going to take time to get the economy back going, but I’m pretty sure he can do it,” he said.
— Emmarie Huetteman
Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times
MAXINE GIVEN of Baltimore
The White House invited Maxine Given to meet Mr. Obama in October 2009 after she sued M&T Bank over its overdraft policy.
Mrs. Given was overdrawn twice in 18 months and paid $370 in overdraft fees. A visit to the local branch resulted in the reversal of some of the fees, but Mrs. Given said the situation left her flustered.
Her lawsuit, which is now part of a larger class action, said she could have avoided the fees if the bank had processed her transactions in the order they were made, instead of from largest to smallest — a common industry practice at the time that critics derided as a scheme to trigger more fees.
Mrs. Given said she supported the consumer protections enacted under Mr. Obama and would like to see him do more on behalf of “regular Americans.”
“They’re really necessary,” she said of the protections, “because you have to give people knowledge about the financial agreements they’re getting into and a voice against big financial institutions.”
— Ashley Southall
SUSAN CHAPMAN of Staten Island, N.Y.
Susan Chapman was struggling to undo a bad mortgage in October 2009 when she met Mr. Obama, who at the time was calling for the creation of an agency to protect consumers from predatory financial practices. She had been trying to get a loan modification for two years but was turned down for the third time two days earlier.
Hours after Ms. Chapman met with the president, she was approved for a trial modification.
“I absolutely believe it was because of the president that I was able to keep my house,” she said.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was formed in 2011. But to Ms. Chapman’s chagrin, the Senate has not confirmed its director because Republicans say the agency encroaches on the free market.
“We have free enterprise here, but at some point, you have to look out for the people,” she said.
— Ashley Southall
Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times
JOE INCARNATO of Landover, Md.
Joe Incarnato introduced Mr. Obama in October 2009 before a speech on small business initiatives, having bought half of the building that houses his company with the help of a small-business loan.
Mr. Incarnato’s records storage company, Metropolitan Archives, was one that Mr. Obama said would benefit if the Small Business Administration could lend more than $2 million to businesses under its 504 loan program. It provides loans to small companies to buy assets for expansion or modernization.
Since Congress approved expanding the lending authority for the 504 program to $5.5 million, Mr. Incarnato is considering an S.B.A. loan to finance the purchase of the rest of the space.
“We’re fortunate enough that our business is continuing to grow, so we’re in a position where we can utilize more space,” he said.
Mr. Incarnato said he hoped the persistent gridlock gripping the Capitol would come to end.
“There’s a lot of indicators that say the economy is turning in the right direction,” he said. “Why can’t these guys get together and try to move the country forward?”
— Ashley Southall
CHRISTINE LARDNER of Albuquerque
When Christine Lardner became fed up with Chase Bank’s refusal to reverse a fee and an interest rate increase triggered by a mistaken charge that put her credit card balance over the limit, she expressed her frustration in an e-mail to Mr. Obama.
She introduced Mr. Obama when he went to her hometown in May 2009 to promote the Credit Card Act, which included a bill of rights for credit card users, and she sat with Michelle Obama at the State of the Union address in 2010.
After Mrs. Lardner appeared with Mr. Obama, the bank reversed the fee and returned her interest rate to 6.5 percent from 21 percent. It had jumped after her daughter’s school accidentally charged a tuition payment to her credit card.
Mrs. Lardner said she hoped the economy would continue to improve in Mr. Obama’s second term.
“I just look at the number of people without jobs and really hope that there’s some kind of recovery there,” she said.
— Ashley Southall
DR. MONA MANGAT of St. Petersburg, Fla.
When Dr. Mona Mangat traveled the country with Doctors for America promoting Mr. Obama’s health care plan, “I would get booed and jeered and made fun of,” she said. “Now, I did a health care panel for what doctors see coming down the pipeline, and not one person had anything negative to say.”
Her advocacy caught the attention of the White House in October 2009, when she was invited to stand with Mr. Obama as he pressed for solidarity between his administration and health care professionals on the bill’s proposals.
Even though she is excited about the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, Dr. Mangat has seen the political process up close now and knows that the fight is far from over. The next step in Florida is setting up an insurance exchange under a Republican governor.
“Actually we’re very insistent that our state not create an exchange, because they have been dragging their feet for several years now,” she said. Instead, she wants the federal government to run the state’s health insurance market.
— Jada F. Smith
Matthew Staver for The New York Times
NATHAN WILKES of Englewood, Colo.
After Nathan Wilkes’s son, Thomas, was born with hemophilia, his health care expenses quickly reached the insurance policy’s $1 million cap, leaving Thomas virtually uninsured and Mr. Wilkes on the hook for thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses. The cost for Thomas’s care became so exorbitant that a social worker recommended that Mr. Wilkes and his wife divorce so she could qualify for Medicaid.
Mr. Wilkes shared his story while introducing Mr. Obama at an event in Grand Junction, Colo., in August 2009. Though struggles with insurance companies have barely subsided since the passage of the health care law, Mr. Wilkes said it had been crucial in the battle for Thomas’s health coverage, especially with the elimination of lifetime caps on benefits.
“His standard care is usually closer to a million a year and will never change, so that was huge for us,” he said.
Mr. Wilkes was appointed to the Colorado Health Benefit Exchange Board in 2011. The board hopes to run pilot programs this summer and begin the early enrollment process by October.
— Jada F. Smith
Kitty Bennett contributed research.
January 20, 2013
Many of the President’s Men Are Moving On, Though He May Still Turn to Them
By MARK LANDLER and JEFF ZELENY
WASHINGTON — When President Obama offered a tongue-in-cheek lament last week that he was “getting kind of lonely in this big house,” he was referring to his two daughters, who he said were less eager to hang out with their dad as they grew older.
But Mr. Obama might just as well have been talking about the fraternity of middle-aged political advisers who have been at his side since before the 2008 campaign and who are finally moving on. Exhausted and eager for new careers, they nevertheless plan to create an ad hoc support group for the boss they are leaving behind.
“It’s something we’ve thought about a lot,” said David Axelrod, one of Mr. Obama’s most trusted political aides, who returned to the Obama fold to advise on the re-election campaign and is now off to start an institute for politics at the University of Chicago. “Presidents need to have people with longstanding relationships around them,” he said, “because the instinct most people have with the president is to be deferential to a fault.”
For the first time since Mr. Obama became president, none of his Big Three political counselors — Mr. Axelrod, David Plouffe and Robert Gibbs — will be working in the White House. Now they are in the top rank of Obama alumni, a status that confers benefits of its own.
Mr. Obama still has trusted aides around him, including Valerie Jarrett, a family friend from Chicago; Denis R. McDonough, a veteran of 2008, who is moving up to chief of staff; and Alyssa Mastromonaco and Pete Rouse, two of his longest-serving staff members. “We’re strategically spaced out,” said Benjamin J. Rhodes, who wrote foreign-policy speeches in 2008 and is a deputy national security adviser.
But reaching some of his oldest and closest confidants will now require a phone call, rather than simply a knock on their West Wing office doors. And that is where Anita Decker Breckenridge comes in.
Ms. Decker Breckenridge, 34, sits a few steps outside the Oval Office and is a master of the Obama Rolodex. She ran his downstate Illinois office when he was in the United States Senate. Her only moment in the limelight came when the White House confirmed that she, like Warren Buffett’s secretary, paid a higher tax rate in 2011 than her boss.
That year, Mr. Obama asked Ms. Decker Breckenridge to be his personal aide, a position that doubles as his gatekeeper. She met Mr. Obama nearly a decade ago and knows instinctively whom he does, and does not, want to hear from.
“Loyalty and trust mean everything,” she said in a weekend interview. “He is someone who has always valued long and old friendships.”
And she can find any of his old friends on short notice, particularly in the late-night hours when he likes to talk on the phone.
“We know the deal when he needs us and when he asks us to get involved,” said Mr. Gibbs, his first White House press secretary. “And that is, ‘Yes, sir.’ ”
For all the chatter about whether the president socializes enough in Washington, friends know that he has always been something of a loner. And yet he does not always like to be alone.
During long rides on Air Force One, including his solitary flights to and from Hawaii over the holidays, he was busy rounding up players for one of his favorite pastimes: a game of spades.
His most frequent partners are Marvin Nicholson, the trip director; Pete Souza, the chief White House photographer; and Jay Carney, the press secretary. All three are remaining in their positions, eliminating the need for Mr. Obama to find new tablemates.
Though much of the president’s political inner circle has dispersed, they are bound together by the latest iteration of the Obama campaign organization: Organizing for Action.
Jim Messina, who managed the president’s re-election bid, will be the chairman of the group, which includes Mr. Gibbs and Mr. Plouffe, who managed the 2008 campaign.
Not clear yet is whether Mr. Messina will hold weekly dinners at which the alumni can dispense advice to those inside the White House. Mr. Axelrod had dinners, featuring pizza and Thai food, when he was senior political adviser from 2009 to 2011.
Mr. Plouffe, who has been in the White House since 2011, is leaving this week to return to the private sector, where he has been a consultant and a public speaker. Even with the bruising battles over fiscal policy, gun control and immigration ahead, he said, he did not entertain the idea of sticking around.
“Getting fresh voices is good,” Mr. Plouffe said.
Reducing a president’s reliance on insiders can have unpredictable consequences for a second term, both good and bad, according to the presidential historian Michael Beschloss.
Dwight D. Eisenhower flourished after Sherman Adams, his overly protective chief of staff, left in 1958. But Ronald Reagan stumbled after James A. Baker III, his trusted chief of staff, was replaced by Donald Regan, a Wall Street banker whom he barely knew.
To the extent that Mr. Obama’s advisers worry about such things, their concern is having people who are willing to tell the president when they think he is wrong. Even those who have known him a long time, his aides acknowledge, sometimes hesitate to do that.
“Will it be a great strategic and political loss without Axe and Plouffe? I hope not,” said Dan Pfeiffer, the communications director, who is also a veteran of 2008 and plans to stay on. “But will the nature and character of this place change? That’s probably true.”
January 20, 2013
As Droves Flock to Washington, Republicans Find Reasons to Leave
By ASHLEY PARKER
Some were heading out West to hit the slopes. Some were traveling south for warmer climes. Others were merely popping across the river for a boozy night with friends.
But as hundreds of thousands of Americans descended on Washington for President Obama’s inauguration, the one place that many Republicans said they would not be, if they could help it, was anywhere near the nation’s capital.
“It’s a chance for President Obama and his supporters to enjoy the city, and for those of us that didn’t support him, there are better places to be,” said Charlie Spies, a Republican lawyer and Mitt Romney supporter who, along with his wife, Lisa, organized a trip to Las Vegas for nearly 100 Republicans over inauguration weekend.
“Almost everybody I’ve talked to has said they’re getting out of town,” he added. “I would be surprised if you found many Republicans at all were in downtown D.C. on Monday.”
The decision, many say, was not born out of any animosity for Mr. Obama’s re-election celebration. Rather, the concern was largely logistical and pragmatic. Washington all but shuts down during inaugurations because of security and crowd concerns. And because Republicans are hardly A-list guests this time around, the occasion provided an easy excuse for a long weekend out of town.
Mr. Spies’s Las Vegas excursion — complete with its own slogan, “We Still Believe in America,” a cheeky play on Mr. Romney’s campaign slogan, “Believe in America” — is perhaps the most elaborate of the Republican gatherings. Mr. Spies, who served as the treasurer of a pro-Romney “super PAC,” said he held a similar gathering in Las Vegas four years ago for about 20 friends who were veterans of President George W. Bush’s administration. But the group this time has ballooned and includes a mix of former Romney campaign staff members and supporters and clients of Mr. Spies.
The main events, complete with showgirls, “Inaugural Dinner 2013” T-shirts and food by Wolfgang Puck, were to be held on Sunday night at both the Wynn Las Vegas (owned by Steve Wynn, a billionaire Romney supporter) and the Venetian (owned by Sheldon Adelson, another billionaire Romney supporter).
The weekend, Mr. Spies said, was planned to be a mix of work and play — part Romney reunion, part look ahead to 2014 and even 2016.
“For those of us who cared deeply about the race and believe we need to protect the Republican majority in the House and believe we need to do better in the next election, it will be a chance to strategically talk about how we move forward,” he said. “It’s too important that we start planning for the future to just play. We also need to do a little planning.”
For others, talking political shop was distinctly beside the point. Ben Ginsberg, a Republican lawyer who served as national counsel for Mr. Romney’s campaign, left town with his family on Wednesday for what he called a “ski to sea” vacation — flying to California to visit San Francisco, Sonoma, Napa and Tahoe.
“Inaugurations are wonderful events when you have a role, are attending the ceremony or going to the parties,” he wrote in an e-mail. “If not, it means bad traffic.”
Russ Schriefer, one of Mr. Romney’s top strategists on his most recent presidential bid, left on Thursday for “four or five days of skiing” in Davos, Switzerland. His wife, a journalist, was already headed there for a conference, and he decided to tag along. Though the couple hosted an inauguration party four years ago for out-of-town friends, Mr. Schriefer said that this time, “the thrill is gone.”
“It’s sort of a nothing right now; it’s not getting the attention it got four years ago,” he said. “It feels like it’s going to come and it’s going to go, and unless you’re really paying attention, you’ll hardly know that it’s been here — other than staying away from downtown for a few days.”
Kevin Sheridan, who worked on Mr. Romney’s campaign and is now an executive vice president at JDA Frontline, said that during Mr. Obama’s first inauguration, he skipped the chilly temperatures of Washington for a trip to the Caribbean. This time, he and much of the Washington-based staff at his firm were taking a “well-timed” annual work retreat to Charleston, S.C., where they have another office.
“D.C. is a wonderful town,” he said. “D.C. with a few extra hundred thousand out-of-towners is not an easy place to navigate, and I figure I’m doing my little part to make a little extra space for those who are here to party.”
Still, Mr. Sheridan added: “I wish them luck. It’s a great moment for the country, but they don’t need me to be here for it.”
The working retreat, in fact, seems to be a preferred excuse for leaving Washington. Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist, was headed to Mexico with a small group of Republicans.
“The inauguration is happening, and with all of the inaugural activities occurring, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for a work retreat out of town,” he said.
Yet some were not leaving the area at all. Matt Beynon, the president of Madison Strategic Ventures, a Republican consulting firm, said on Friday that a group of his friends — mostly fellow Republican consultants and lobbyists — were headed to Northern Virginia for a night out.
“Regardless of what party you’re with, it is a time to inaugurate a new president,” he said. “That’s a great thing in our republic, and instead of sitting home and watching an episode of ‘How I Met Your Mother,’ we’d rather go out and have a few drinks with friends.”
But Mr. Beynon himself decided to skip town at the last minute. Again, nothing against Mr. Obama, he said, but he was headed to South Carolina to help with the special election to choose a successor for former Representative Tim Scott, who was recently appointed to the Senate.
India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
January 21, 2013, 7:31 am
Judge in Delhi Sets Hearing in Gang Rape
By GARDINER HARRIS and NIHARIKA MANDHANA
NEW DELHI- The five men accused of raping and murdering a 23-year-old physiotherapy student in a case that has transfixed India appeared before the trial judge Monday for a brief and largely procedural hearing.
Additional Sessions Judge Yogesh Khanna scheduled the next hearing for noon on Thursday, when defense attorneys and prosecutors are expected to begin arguments over precisely which criminal charges the accused will face at trial.
Nearly a dozen reporters were present in the courtroom, the first hearing before Judge Khanna in the fast-track court specifically set up for this trial. But Judge Khanna ordered the reporters to leave the courtroom before the proceeding took place under a renewed order that will make the trial closed to anyone not directly connected to the trial, including reporters.
The reporters filed out of the courtroom in an orderly fashion, in contrast to the chaos that surrounded earlier proceedings, when reporters found out belatedly that the charges were being read in another room and then banged on the door of a magistrate's court, demanding to be let in.
All five men plan to plead not guilty in the case, their lawyers said.
Separately, India's Supreme Court will hear a petition Tuesday from one of the accused asking that the trial be moved from New Delhi.
Mukesh Singh's lawyer, Manohar Lal Sharma, will tell the court that a fair trial is not possible in New Delhi, because both the police and the judiciary are under intense public pressure on the case, Mr. Sharma said in an interview Monday.
"I don't believe my client can get a fair trial in this court," Mr. Sharma said. "Find me one person in Delhi who doesn't have sympathy for the victim, who doesn't say, 'Hang them all,' " he said.
01/21/2013 04:35 PM
'Gates of Hell': Mali Conflict Opens New Front in War on Terror
By Paul Hyacinthe Mben and Jan Puhl
France has found early success in its fight against Islamist extremists in northern Mali. But Saharan terrorist groups have close ties and are prepared for a prolonged battle. The hostage crisis in Algeria shows that the new front in the war on terror could become a protracted conflict.
Last Monday Daouda Sy, a builder from the central Malian town of Diabaly, was about to become a rich man. His company had just been awarded a lucrative contract to build irrigation systems and roads, and he had already hired some 1,500 workers for the project.
Since Tuesday, however, Daouda Sy has been a refugee with nothing but the clothes on his back. "We heard shots at around noon, and we knew right away that they had arrived," he says. Bearded men wielding Kalashnikovs attacked the company's building, disabled the brand-new pickup trucks and vandalized the offices. Daouda Sy and his driver hid for a while and then fled.
It took the two men several days to reach safety in the capital Bamako. The builder never thought that the Islamists from northern Mali would come as far as Diabaly -- especially now that the French are in the country, with their Rafale jets and Gazelle helicopters firing at Islamist convoys and shelters.
Nine months ago, Islamists with the organization Ansar Dine captured the entire northern half of Mali, where they established a brutal regime based on sharia law. For months, it seemed little more than a regional conflict in the Sahara. Now, though, it has expanded to become the new front in the global war on terror. In recent weeks, jihadists began trying the capture the rest of the country, prompting tens of thousands to flee their homes.
Now the West has intervened. At the request of the Malian government, French troops began striking back on Friday, Jan. 11, with the West African economic community ECOWAS providing support.
'A Threat to All of West Africa'
"This war is an issue for all neighboring countries," said ECOWAS Chairman and Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara on a visit to Berlin last week. "From Mali, the Islamists pose a threat to all of West Africa." There is concern that Mali could turn into another Afghanistan, a failed state that terrorists could use as a base and safe haven.
Just how justified that fear is -- and how imminent the threat -- became clear last Wednesday, when Islamists cooperating with Ansar Dine attacked the In Amenas gas plant in the south of neighboring Algeria, taking hundreds of hostages in the process, including many foreigners. They demanded an end to the French intervention in Mali and the release of two extremists from American custody -- and threatened further attacks.
The Islamists in the Sahel zone are a serious threat. They are "motivated, well-equipped and well-trained," said French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
The French force, ECOWAS troops and Mali's ramshackle army could face a protracted conflict if the Islamists shift to guerilla tactics. "France has opened the gates of hell," a spokesman for the Islamists said ominously.
Northern Mali has been cut off from the outside world since the first air strikes. In the northeastern city of Gao, local journalist Moumouni Touré watched as an Islamist leader with wire cutters tampered with mobile phone towers. "They are severing the connection so to prevent the local population from providing information to the French," says Touré.
In Gao, the first French bombs struck an Islamist camp and a checkpoint the Islamists had set up on the road to the south. Touré felt the earth shake when the bombs detonated. He estimates that the first wave of French attacks killed at least 60 people.
'Fear Has Changed Sides'
The population cheered and the Islamists became less and less visible in the streets. People came out of their houses again, listening to music and smoking, two activities the Islamists had banned. "Fear has changed sides," says Touré.
The attack by Mali's former colonial rulers could hardly have surprised the Islamists, who had been in control of the cities of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu for nine months by the time the attacks began. During that time, they have destroyed historic monuments and punished their adversaries with public executions, lashings and amputations. But they have also taken precautions. Residents of Gao report that the Islamists have dug large bunkers far out in the desert that are large enough to hide vehicles inside. The bunkers are reportedly filled with food, weapons, ammunition and gasoline, suggesting that the Islamists are far from finished.
According to Philippe Hugon, a Paris-based expert on Mali, it could be possible to drive the Islamists out of major cities within about six months. But years could go by before remote areas along the borders with Algeria and Niger are under control.
The Islamists began their campaign a year ago. On the night of Jan. 16, 2012, jihadists ambushed a Malian army unit near Adjelhoc in northeastern Mali, surprising the soldiers in their sleep. More than 80 people died in the fighting.
The winners of that skirmish are under the command of a man with a colorful personality: Iyad Ag Ghaly, a member of the Tuareg people. For years, he served as a mediator between the government in Bamako and the unruly ethnic group, which has repeatedly taken up arms to fight for its autonomy. He also helped the German government resolve a hostage crisis in 2003. But when Ag Ghaly was politically sidelined within the Tuareg movement, he turned to radical Islam. His group, Ansar Dine, now controls the northern part of the country.
Ag Ghaly has raked in millions through drug and weapons smuggling, as well as kidnappings. He bought large numbers of weapons at rock-bottom prices from the stockpiles of the former Gadhafi regime in neighboring Libya in the wake of the revolution there. Then Ansar Dine joined forces with other jihadists, including branches of Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which has operated for years in the desert regions of Algeria, Libya, Mauretania and Mali.
Not a Chance
One of Ag Ghaly's closest allies is Mokhtar Belmokhtar "the One Eyed," a nickname the Algerian extremist owes to a war injury he suffered as a teenager while fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. He also has another nickname, "Mr. Marlboro," because of his involvement in the smuggling of cigarettes and other contraband through the Sahara.
Belmokhtar, held responsible for numerous attacks and kidnappings, has been at the top of Paris's most-wanted list for some time. His group of jihadists also threatens uranium transport routes in neighboring Niger, where France mines the mineral for its nuclear power plants.
It was Belmokhtar's fighters, likely a group of about 40 men, who captured the gas plant in In Amenas last Wednesday. The Algerian army responded immediately and with great force. During the attack to free the roughly 600 hostages, dozens lost their lives. Even before the fighting was over, the terrorists warned that they were preparing other attacks on foreigners in Algeria. Belmokhtar's men allegedly prepared for the attack in northern Mali, where they were under the protection of Ag Ghaly.
The Malian army didn't stand a chance against Ansar Dine. It is in terrible condition, both technically and in terms of troop morale, despite a long-standing US effort to train the Malian military to fight al-Qaida. Secret cables from US embassies, published on the whistleblower website Wikileaks, indicate the low esteem in which American diplomats have held the Malian army in recent years. The force lacks basic reinforcements, most of its vehicles are broken down, training is miserable and morale has hit rock bottom. Mali has no air force at all.
American specialists did train four crack units, totaling 600 men, to fight the terrorists. But it backfired: Three of the elite units have defected en masse to the rebel Tuareg. Most of the commanders, after all, are Tuaregs.
German Security at Stake
Captain Amadou Sanogo, trained in the United States, was one of the soldiers who didn't defect. Instead, he inflicted even more damage when, last March, he and a few close supporters overthrew the government in Bamako and ousted the elected president.
Dioncounda Traoré, the interim president serving at Sanogo's pleasure, continues to have a legitimacy problem. This complicates any international effort to come to Bamako's aid, given that such an effort would solidify the power of a regime that came into power through a coup.
At least Traoré mustered the courage to ask France for help in the week before last, likely in the face of resistance from parts of the army. Malians, however, gave the former colonial power an enthusiastic reception, cheering its soldiers as saviors. ECOWAS troops from Chad, Nigeria and Ghana began arriving in Mali on Wednesday.
ECOWAS Chairman Alassane Ouattara traveled to Berlin last week to ask for more assistance. He met with Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose support for the French effort has so far been limited to providing two transport aircraft. Ouattara remained polite, but sitting in front of his country's flag in a suite at the Hotel Adlon, he told SPIEGEL: "Germany must become involved, and that includes sending troops."
Ouattara, of course, sought to dispel German fears that Mali could turn into another Afghanistan, an endless mission with many casualties and little progress, saying: "I see no parallels." Radical Islam has no support among the population of Mali, he said. "There is only a small number of terrorists in Mali, and most of them are foreigners."
Ouattara also pointed out that there is no country in the region that secretly supports the fanatics, as in the case of Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban. But most of all, Ouattara argued, it would be a disaster if the allies failed to defeat the terrorists. Germany's security, he noted, is also at stake in the Sahara.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
Barth Eide open for Norwegian military action in North Africa
22 January 2013
Tor Arne Andreassen
Norway may send military troops to Mali to prevent extreme Islamists behind terrorism gets a deployment area, said Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide.
Foreign Minister of the potential for Norway to join the France, which already has several thousand soldiers in Mali, and the United Kingdom, which has required a "global response" after the terrorist attack on a partly Norwegian gas plant in Algeria .
It is not yet taken any decision that Norway will send a military contribution to Mali, but Aftenposten said Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide that "it may well be that we will contribute militarily in Mali."
By telephone from northern Norway, where he attends a conference, says Barth Eide that it may be appropriate in a Norwegian contribution to the EU's training mission in Mali, who will conduct the training of the West African ECOWAS forces going to Mali with a mandate from the UN .
- We must avoid the extreme Islamist forces deeply entrenched in northern Mali, says Barth Eide, and continues:
- Experience shows that areas that are outside government control is a deployment area for terrorists.
Young people should have a choice
The Norwegian foreign minister pointed out, however, strongly Aftenposten that one must not fall into the trap that jerk into an area, cleans up an urgent problem, and then pull quickly out again, while people in North Africa are left with a choice between extreme Islamism and an oppressive regime.
- There must be a choice for young people in North Africa than to support jihadists and to find themselves in living under a military dictatorship, says Barth Eide.
The military does not stop the rebellion in Mali
Hostage in Algeria is not that France has sent troops to Mali.
By 3500 terror attacks aimed at companies and businesses over the past ten years, attacked the gas plant Amenas the worst.
- We need to help the region after the Arab Spring will have good political processes in which they can build new democracies.
It says foreign minister that Norway has already helped a number of years, including through its dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood, which has emerged as the new rulers of Egypt.
Considering Nordic cooperation
Defence Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen told ap.no that the Government is considering a Nordic cooperation in training strength EU planning to send to Mali.
- We received an informal inquiry from Sweden in Brussels on Monday if we can imagine joining a Nordic cooperation in the training force EU planning to send to Mali. This is interesting. Since Sweden has taken this initiative, we will discuss this with our Nordic colleagues, Strøm-Erichsen.
The defense minister said that a lot depends on what this force is finally designed as.
- We want to cooperate with our Nordic neighbors, while it is the case that we are not in the EU and participate in the discussions. We need to consider more what strength is all about, but we can imagine a peace and capacity building, a training mission that the EU contribution. Then we can send as instructors and officers, says Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen.
Norway opening for military participation comes after the attack on the partly-owned Statoil gas plant in Algeria, where the fate of five is uncertain. Algerian authorities said Monday that at least 37 hostages were killed during the terrorist attack .
After the terrorist attack in Algeria called for British Prime Minister David Cameron Sunday a "global response".
- It will require an effort that will extend over several years, even decades, rather than a few months, said David Cameron.
Three Britons have been confirmed killed and three are missing after attack in Algeria.
Cameron got sun questions from reporters about the threat in North Africa could be compared to the one you saw in Afghanistan a decade ago.
- It is different in size, but there are similarities, he said, according to The Guardian .
- What we are facing is an extreme and violent Islamist group that can be linked to the terrorist network Al-Qaeda - just like what we had to deal with in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
- More needs to be done
Cameron discussed how Britain should respond to the terrorist attack in Government Crisis Commission yesterday. Today he will discuss the threat from Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the terrorists who attacked the gas plant origin, in a meeting of the British government's Security Council today, reports The Guardian .
- We have already seen much of the threat from AQIM, but more needs to be done, a source told the newspaper.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta gave the clear impression that they would not let terrorists get operate in the Peace in Northern Africa.
Identification of hostages in Amenas can take a long time.
- Just as we can not accept terrorism against our cities, we can not accept attacks on our citizens abroad. Nor can we accept that Al-Qaeda gets a haven anywhere in the world, Panetta said last week, according to NTB.
Mulathameen Brigade, a splinter group of AQIM who has taken responsibility for the attack in Algeria, has threatened more attacks unless the West stopped what they call an attack on Muslims in neighboring Mali, according to the organization SITE, which monitors websites with messages from extremist groups . In a statement published by news agency Nouakchott in Mauritania says that they will "perform multiple operations if they do not reverse their decision."
It's France, the former colonial power in North Africa, which has been in the driver's seat to get thrown out the Islamist extremist groups that last year took control of northern Mali.
Then suddenly there was a risk that the Islamist groups who occupy northern Mali would also conquer the Malian capital, Bamako, 2000 France sent troops and fighter planes to Mali to stop Islamist advancement. Yesterday it was confirmed that the French forces and Mali's army was on the offensive and had captured the city Diabaly, located 35 mil north of Bamako, after the Islamists fled the city.
After France invested heavily in Mali, several countries made it clear that they would support the action. Among other specific Denmark decided to send military transport aircraft.
With France already deeply engaged in Mali and UK's offensive rhetoric, we see the outlines of what happened in Libya, the two European powers, lead the international force in North Africa.
- North Africa's proximity to Europe makes Europe's major powers will take a bigger share of the burden than they did in Iraq and Afghanistan, says researcher Anders Romarheim at the Institute for Defence Studies (IFS) to Aftenposten.
Want to Norway
Americans think he's very little desire for a new large-scale military campaign. In recent years, Americans have scaled down their involvement, while they have gone more to using drones, unmanned aircraft, and attacks by special soldiers, as they struck against Osama bin Laden.
A similar use of force Romarheim looking for that one can see in North Africa.
A commitment from Norway thinks he's going to be greatly desired, since Norway was hit hard during the attack in Algeria and Norway has financial interests in North Africa.
- It does not mean that the Norwegian participation will be military, says Romarheim.
01/21/2013 05:54 PM
Ivory Coast Leader: 'Germany Should Also Send Troops to Mali'
In an interview, Alassane Ouattara, president of the Ivory Coast and chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), urges Germany's leaders to engage more in the fight against Islamists in northern Mali. In addition to logistical aid, Berlin should also send troops, he argues.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Germany has promised two transport planes for the international mission against Islamists in Mali. Is that enough?
Ouattara: Mali is occupied by terrorists, it's a very dangerous situation for a whole host of states in the region, including Ivory Coast. We welcome the French mission. During my visit to Berlin last week, I explained to the chancellor, the president and many others that Germany should be more engaged.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What exactly do you mean?
Ouattara: Germany is one of the most important countries fighting against international terrorism. It should be present in Mali with humanitarian and logistical aid, but also with troops. Germany has soldiers in Afghanistan, it has the capacity to send some to Mali as well.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: France is the former colonial power. Shouldn't Paris be restraining itself?
Ouattara: I think it's natural that France has taken over leadership. Mali is a francophone country, the French know the region. But Paris should not stand alone. The ECOWAS countries will send more than 3,000 people, and other countries in the region are taking the threat very seriously too. Chad will send 700 soldiers. We want a massive, robust contingent in order to solve the problem in Mali quickly.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: The Islamists have been in control of the north for nine months now. Why are the Africans just now responding?
Ouattara: We needed time. We in ECOWAS have met eight times. On top of that we wanted a United Nations resolution so that our mission would be internationally legitimate.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is the conflict in the north even possible to solve through purely military means?
Ouattara: No, we also have to negotiate.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: With the Muslim fanatics?
Ouattara: No, with the various ethnic groups. The conflict began as a rebellion of the Tuaregs. They had the feeling of being pushed to the sidelines in Mali, not being allowed to contribute to political decision-making, profiting too little from economic growth. It's with the Tuaregs, especially, that we have to get together.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: How long will the mission last?
Ouattara: What's certain is that the international troops cannot fight back the Islamists and then just leave. The terrorists would come back immediately. They will have to stay longer, but just how long remains to be seen.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Europe and America fear a new Afghanistan, an endless military mission without recognizable steps toward democracy. Is there a threat of disaster in Mali?
Ouattara: I don't see any parallels. In Mali, there's only a small number of terrorists. Most of them are foreigners. The fundamentalism has no support from the people. Another advantage is that no neighboring country supports the Islamists at home.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Like Pakistan and the Taliban?
Ouattara: To the contrary, all countries fear the Islamists. Think of Nigeria with Boko Haram.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mali is not just threatened from terrorists abroad, but also from within. Soldiers deposed the government in a coup. Is that going to be largely ignored amid the fight in the north?
Ouattara: A transitional government is in power in Bamako. It is not legitimate. We're going to be pushing for new elections. Mali needs a new democratic start.
Interview conducted by Jan Puhl
01/21/2013 06:11 PM
'Lion of the Desert': Ex-Partner of Germany Leads Malian Islamists
The man at the center of the fight against Islamists in northern Mali has an unexpected history with Germany. In 2003 he was crucial in facilitating a ransom payment to secure the release of German tourists held hostage in Algeria.
The Tuareg is a brawny man with a jet-black beard, and on the few occasions when he smiles, he seems almost gentle. He was once merely the leader of the Ifora tribe, who live in sandstone mountains in the Sahara Desert. But now the French government views Iyad Ag Ghaly as one of the greatest enemies of the West.
Today Ag Ghaly heads the largest Islamist group in Mali, Ansar Dine, and its roughly 1,500 fighters. His men now control about 60 percent of the country. Since last week, the French army has been fighting the Islamists with bombers, helicopters and ground troops. Berlin is assisting the French by providing transport aircraft.
The Germans are familiar with Ag Ghaly from his days as a partner to the Berlin government. In 2003, he helped negotiate the payment of ransom money to secure the release of a group of kidnapped tourists in the Sahara, 10 of them Germans.
A Brutal Brand of Sharia Law
Ag Ghaly was not an Islamist at the time, nor did he have the reputation of being particularly religious. But under pressure from two competing groups, Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the break-off Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), each of which has up to 500 fighters, Ag Ghaly also turned to religion about a year ago. He has introduced a brutal brand of Sharia law in the regions held by Ansar Dine, and he now gives fiery speeches against infidels.
Of course, his religious dogmatism doesn't correspond to his lifestyle. Until the first French air strikes, the man whose supporters venerate him as the "Lion of the Desert" resided in a luxurious villa the former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi had built for him near the airport in Kidal.
But according to information gleaned by the BND, Germany's foreign intelligence agency, Ag Ghaly cooperates closely with the two regional Al-Qaida affiliates. Until recently, the government in Bamako had hoped money would convince Ag Ghaly's Tuareg force to abandon the Islamist alliance. Ag Ghaly was its negotiating partner. However the BND warned the German government early on that the rebel leader had boasted to his associates that the negotiations were a sham, and that he was merely trying to buy time to prepare his military offensive against the south.
'He Was Our Man'
Ag Ghaly was once a well-known Malian politician, and for a time the Malian government even sent him to Saudi Arabia as a diplomat. In the spring of 2003, after a group of adventure tourists had been kidnapped in the Sahara, he helped the Germans by engaging in shuttle diplomacy between the capital Bamako and the Algerian Islamist group GSPC.
Ag Ghaly eventually managed to negotiate a deal. In August 2003, 14 hostages were released in exchange for a payment of €5 million ($6.7 million).
Then German State Secretary Jürgen Chrobog brought the money to Bamako in a suitcase on board a German Air Force Challenger jet. He handed it over to the Malian government, which in turn dispatched Ag Ghaly to the border region between Mali and Algeria.
As a former top official with the German government put it, "He was our man."
January 21, 2013
French Airstrikes Push Back Islamists and Regain Towns in Central Mali
By LYDIA POLGREEN and PETER TINTI
SEGOU, Mali — Malian and French troops appeared to recapture two important central Malian towns on Monday, pushing back an advance by Islamist militants who have overrun the country’s northern half.
French soldiers in armored vehicles rolled through the town of Diabaly, about 275 miles from the capital, Bamako, to cheers from residents, who flew French and Malian flags to welcome them.
“I want to thank the French people,” said Mamadou Traoré, a Diabaly resident. He said French airstrikes had chased away the militants without harming any civilians, a claim echoed by other residents.
“None of us were touched,” Mr. Traoré said. “It was incredible.”
Islamist fighters overran Diabaly a week ago, the closest they have come to Bamako in an aggressive surge this month. Worried that there was little to stop them from rolling into the capital, where many French citizens live, France quickly stepped into the fight, striking the militants at the front lines and bombing their strongholds in the north.
Suddenly a long-simmering standoff with the Islamist groups holding the north had been transformed into a war involving French forces, precisely the kind of event the West hoped to avoid. American officials have long warned that Western involvement could stir anti-Western sentiment and provoke terrorist attacks, a fear that seemed to be realized when militants stormed a gas facility in Algeria last week, resulting in the deaths of at least 37 foreign hostages.
Even after French forces entered the fight in Mali, driving back the Islamists would prove more difficult than officials initially suggested. Rather than flee, many of the militants in Diabaly seemed to dig in, taking over homes and putting the civilian population in the cross-fire.
But they eventually fled on Friday morning, residents said, in the face of relentless French airstrikes.
The fighters had little time to impose the version of Shariah law that has made them infamous in the north, where they have carried out public whippings and amputations and stoned a couple to death. But their brief reign over Diabaly was a small taste of the harsh policies they have enacted elsewhere.
“I had to cover my head at all times,” Djenaba Cissé said. “When I walked with my brother to the fields, they would bother us,” she continued. “They would ask us questions to verify that we were siblings.”
Few residents said they actually met the hardened men who had taken control of their village, but Kola Maiga, who lives at the edge of town, recalled their arrival on the morning of Jan. 14.
“I was in my house, and I saw them coming, and I knew, I knew that war was here in Diabaly,” Mr. Maiga said. “The first day, they started shooting in the air. They wanted the population to know they have power.”
He feared them, he said, but they tried to reassure him, offering cookies to his children.
“They said: ‘Do not be afraid. We are with Allah,’ ” Mr. Maiga said.
Militants have also abandoned the town of Douentza, which they held for several months, The Associated Press reported.
Mali has been in crisis since last January, when Tuaregs in northern Mali began a separatist uprising, newly invigorated by an influx of fighters and weapons from Libya after the fall of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.
A military coup by junior officers angry at how the government responded to the Tuareg uprising followed in March, leaving the country in disarray and hastening the loss of its northern half to insurgents. Islamist groups, some with links to Al Qaeda, quickly pushed aside the secular Tuareg militants, taking over northern towns and imposing their strict interpretation of Shariah law.
The fighters appeared to find little support among the local population, who said the harsh version of Islam they sought to impose had little resemblance to the moderate faith practiced by most people here.
“These guys, they are vicious,” said Oumar Diakité, Diabaly’s mayor. “It’s not Islam that they want. They want other things. As you can see, a poor country like Mali, they have come to attack us.”
Residents who had fled to nearby towns returned to their homes on Monday after hearing that the militants had been chased away.
“They arrived, and they said they were going to bring Shariah here,” said Mohamed Tounkara, who returned on Monday. “We don’t want Shariah. That’s why I left with my family.”
He said he was grateful to the French military but had little faith in his own country’s army, which in the past year has let half of Mali’s territory slip away and ended two decades of democratic rule.
“If France stays here, I trust their army,” Mr. Tounkara said. “We don’t have complete faith in our army, honestly.”
Lydia Polgreen reported from Segou, and Peter Tinti from Diabaly, Mali.
01/22/2013 10:16 AM
Germany Abroad: 'Mealy-Mouthed' Foreign Policy Angers Allies
By Ralf Neukirch and Gordon Repinski
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle is intent on keeping his country out of military operations in Mali. But his insistence on playing the role of peacemaker is increasingly frustrating Berlin's allies. Many in Berlin are likewise unimpressed.
The German public saw the two faces of German foreign policy last Wednesday. German Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle stood side-by-side in the lobby of the Reichstag, the federal parliament building in Berlin. Both men wore dark suits and had expressions on their faces that reflected the seriousness of the situation. As they appeared before the press, the two ministers tried to demonstrate their unity -- but they ended up conveying very different messages.
The issue that both ministers addressed was the French-led military intervention in Mali. De Maizière spoke of German efforts to help airlift West African troops to the region. It was a calm, rational statement. "I think we should talk more about what we are doing, and not about what we are not doing," he said. That could easily be interpreted as criticism of his fellow cabinet member.
Over the weekend, Westerwelle had reacted in his own way to the French intervention: "The deployment of German combat troops is not an option," he had said initially. This was not well received in Paris and, in keeping with his style, the foreign minister further exacerbated the situation when he spoke in the Reichstag: "I have to mention just one more point," he blurted out: "We Germans are highly involved in Afghanistan, where the French are hardly involved at all."
De Maizière wanted to talk about the concrete aid that Germany is providing. Westerwelle preferred to lecture his country's allies and tell them about all the things that they cannot expect from the German government. One minister expressed Germany's support for the mission, while the other explained Germany's reluctance.
Causing Damage Abroad
Ultimately, there is no difference between the two ministers in terms of substance. They are both in favor of providing logistical support in the fight against the Islamists, but are opposed to deploying German troops for ground combat. But Berlin's seeming inability to adequately explain its approach has begun causing considerable damage abroad.
As Germany's official representative abroad, Westerwelle's comments have engendered particular consternation. He is seen as the embodiment of the very position that is so frowned upon as typically German by the country's allies.
A few months ago, former French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine complained that Westerwelle expresses the "profound German attitude" that Germany primarily sees itself as a pacifist power. "I really don't see what prevents Germany from playing a larger role in international politics and military operations," he said. The current French government takes precisely the same view.
The French are not alone in their criticism of Berlin. Political leaders in the US and Britain also find it aggravating that Germany presents itself as a peace-loving power and leaves all the dirty work to the others. Mistrust of Berlin has been especially strong since the German government abstained in the United Nations vote over the Libya intervention two years ago -- the only Western country on the Security Council not to support the measure -- and refused to provide its NATO allies with military aid. "As is usually the case these days, Germany … is keeping its head down," wrote the British daily Guardian last week. Westerwelle's "mealy-mouthed statements leave a bad taste," commented the newspaper.
Even Westerwelle's own staff is growing increasingly concerned over the frustration voiced by Germany's allies. "People abroad don't understand why we always first have to draw a red line and claim exceptions for ourselves," complains a high-ranking German diplomat. "We never explain what we want to achieve," he argues. "We always talk about how we can stay out of things."
It is an attitude which has also met with criticism from coalition lawmakers. Andreas Schockenhoff, deputy parliamentary floor leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), says "Germany should not rule out any form of participation" in the military operation in Mali, adding that "it's wrong to commit to a position right from the outset." Likewise, Rainer Stinner, the foreign policy spokesman of Westerwelle's business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP), would like to see the message change. "I begin with a description of what we are doing, and not what we don't intend to do."
But to the annoyance of foreign policy experts, Westerwelle is persisting with his stance -- for domestic policy reasons. Indeed, on Monday, SPIEGEL ONLINE reported that, while Germany has made two Transall cargo planes available to assist France with the Mali mission, Berlin has ruled out transporting French troops or munitions.
Westerwelle is convinced that the credo of military restraint appeals to the German public. This, after all, was an approach that proved successful for his role model, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, an FDP politician who was Germany's longest-serving foreign minister and vice chancellor. That, though, was during the last century, when there was no expectation abroad that Germany would take part in military operations.
Now, such a message, as practiced by Westerwelle, calls forth a very different reaction among Germany's allies -- which explains why Defense Minister de Maizière is seeking to broadcast a different message. Back in June 2011, he said that Germany could not claim a special role for itself. Those who had more, he said, had to "also assume a greater responsibility, even militarily."
While the defense minister attempts to conduct an honest debate on Germany's role in the world, the foreign minister regularly gets in his way. "I am sick of hearing all this talk about the culture of military restraint," complains a high-ranking government official in Berlin. He has little hope, though, that anything will change. "Westerwelle has been singing this tune since the coalition negotiations," he says, "and he has learned nothing since then."
Translated from the German by Paul Cohen