Structural funds: Let Brussels manage our development projects
5 February 2013
Dilema Veche Bucharest
Structural funds for 2014-2020 are at the top of the agenda of the European Council meeting on February 7-8. Management of these development projects is left to member states but Romanian journalist Ovidiu Nahoi suggests it may be time to hand over responsibility to the EU Commission.
We have failed to attract investments and have not met our target of receiving €3.5bn in structural funds in 2012, but this is unimportant. We will receive at least €5bn in 2013.
We should be realistic enough to swim against the current. We must not fool ourselves. Whatever grand schemes we think up, the Romanian government is not ready to manage European funds.
So what should we do? Perhaps Romania should suggest the idea of "out-sourcing" the major projects financed by the Union. That is to say, all the major road and rail infrastructure networks, projects to connect energy networks, and programmes to modernise the river and sea ports; in short, all those projects which benefit the Union as a whole.
These kinds of projects could remain under the control of the Commission. If it does not have the means to organise the bidding process and to supervise the work then let these be established. The labour and resources are not lacking. Should these take some time to be implemented, the management could be temporarily confided to those member states who are net contributors to the budget. If this means that the treaties must be amended then let us propose to do so.
After all, the Commission and the major contributors should be interested in a more rapid link between northern Europe and the ports of the Danube or the Black Sea. Perhaps they would also be interested in connecting energy networks or even in building industrial parks in which their firms could set up. We will contribute with our share of co-financing and with our legislation. This would be beneficial to all Europeans.
Investments financing the Europe 2020 strategy must be managed from the "centre" as stipulated in the 2014-20 budget cycle. The Commission will negotiate the contracts with the member states and the regions. The member states agree to revise their investment priorities in line with these goals.
Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for Regional Policy has proposed to harmonise standards regarding the various funds, some of which are earmarked for such projects as rural development or for fishing and maritime affairs, in order to improve the coherence of EU action. Perhaps we could take it further by asking that projects with a European dimension, as specified through a precise list of priorities, also be managed in a "centralised" fashion.
Solidarity and community interest
German, Dutch and Swedish tax payers would then see that their money is being used more efficiently, that spending is better monitored and that the funds will not be lost in the pockets of Balkan Mafias. This type of mechanism would closely resemble the Marshall Plan and would give European citizens a greater feeling of solidarity and of a community of interests. In addition, the beneficiary countries would have before them a true example of best practice to follow for the other, less important, projects that would be handled by the local authorities.
It is true that the subsidiarity argument could be invoked here – the decision on how to use European funds must be made at a level as close to the beneficiary as possible. In theory this seems important. But what is the solution when, in the name of the beneficiary, the decision-making prerogative is taken hostage by so-called local elites, who, in truth are no more than white-collar criminals?
Transfer of sovereignty
Of the two, who is closest to the interest of the citizens – the European Commission or local barons? Who is closest in a political sense and not geographically? Which is best for the citizen: a waste of resources in thousands, even tens of thousands of unfinished projects which garnish the bank accounts of "friendly" firms which then, through kick-backs, finance electoral campaigns? Or a series of projects with a genuine European impact?
Such an initiative, coming from Romania and eventually Bulgaria, could prove interesting within the framework of a reform of European institutions. Brussels could become, for both the contributors and the beneficiaries, a true means of development, as opposed to the pathetic symbol of a bureaucracy out of touch with reality.
It would constitute a magnificent response to the trend in the United Kingdom: it would focus the Continent on development investment, which will contribute to reinforcing cohesion and, obviously, the single market. It would also require a "transfer of sovereignty" that the citizens benefiting from these projects would understand and support.
02/05/2013 01:10 PM
Young and Stuck: Spain's Well-Educated Move Back to Madre
By Helene Zuber in Seville, Spain
As the euro crisis deepens in Spain, it is affecting a demographic that would seem relatively insulated: well-educated young people. Self-employed and lacking sufficient income, many are forced to move back in with their parents.
Jaime García, a 36-year-old architect, lives in Seville's historic center. To reach his office, he passes orange trees and walks through narrow streets past churches and the palaces of the nobility. Specializing in the restoration of historic buildings and run-down neighborhoods, García would seem to have chosen the right profession for living in this city, which was made wealthy 500 years ago by gold from Spain's colonies in South America.
But appearances are deceiving. Almost nothing that once glittered in the capital of the Spanish autonomous community of Andalusia is gold anymore. At nearly 36 percent, the region's unemployment is the highest on the Iberian Peninsula, according to figures for the last quarter of 2012, which were even more dismal than expected. The Spanish economy is mired in a deep recession, and it will be a long time before the government and businesses start hiring again. Some 302,500 people are looking for work in the province of Seville alone.
Times of 'Total Uncertainty'
"This year will shape my future," says García. Just as the real estate bubble was bursting, he and a former fellow student, Manuel Vivar, 35, decided to start a business under the promising name Dinamo. Now, says García, they either have to make enough money with renovations, "or I'll have to give up and try something completely different, like design or photography."
These are times of "total uncertainty" in Spain, says García. Hundreds of thousands of other young Spaniards are in the same position. Nationwide, more than half of people under 25 can't find jobs, while in Andalusia the figure is higher than 62 percent. Those who are a little older -- around 30 and well educated -- are seeing their lifelong dreams turn into failures.
Many are forced to do what García and Vivar have done. The two grown men gave up their apartments and moved back into their parents' homes, because they were no longer making enough money. According to figures by the European Union statistics agency Eurostat, 37.8 percent of Spaniards under 35 are now living with their parents.
Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel, decried in Spain as Europe's taskmistress, has suggested taking active measures. Last week the socialist opposition to Spain's conservative government proposed a pact against unemployment. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy now wants to lend a hand to young self-employed people and company founders under 30, in particular, by reducing their tax liability and social security contributions.
In 2012 alone, 150,000 people between 25 and 29 who were looking for work decided to leave Spain. One of García's former partners moved to Mexico. The fourth architect in the Dinamo office gave up the field altogether.
'A New Solidarity'
But García, sitting now in his unheated office, is determined to persevere. Despite everything, he prefers to stay in the country. "So much is happening here now. The people have woken up, and a new solidarity is taking shape. I want to be a part of solving our society's problems."
He even looked around in neighboring Morocco in his search for commissions. Many of the large Spanish construction companies have tried to gain a foothold there, but now the construction cranes in Morocco are idle, as well. García returned home disappointed.
García and Vivar each pay €500 ($675) per month for office rent and social security contributions. They take part in contests for public buildings, as well as Europe-wide bids. But rarely is the prize money enough to cover the cost of drawings and models. They would not survive without the support of their parents.
The fact that García is now sleeping in his old room again has already cost him his relationship. He lived with his girlfriend for four years. "She wanted to get married and have children," he says. But the young architect, who was doing well during the years of the real estate boom, is no longer able to make any plans for the future. Although he isn't giving up yet, he says that he can't be a burden on his family for much longer.
Diplomas and Stuffed Animals
"No one wants to be supported," says Begoña Fariñas with a smile, but with a touch of bitterness in her voice. She turned 30 on Sunday, but she still hasn't managed to leave behind her mother's three-room apartment on the outskirts of Seville.
Fariñas, a petite woman with a long girlish haircut, completed her state examination in education in 2006, and then earned additional credits to qualify for adult education. She also obtained two masters' degrees. Still, she hasn't managed to move out of her apple-green children's room, complete with stuffed animals on the pullout sofa.
At first she made almost nothing working as an intern in the personnel department of a telecommunications company in Andalusia. Then she spent four-and-a-half years running a retraining program for the unemployed in a union-backed foundation. She also periodically received short-term contracts for work that paid about €1,000 a month. She was forced to file frequently for unemployment benefits between jobs. But when the government of Andalusia sharply reduced funding for retraining about a year ago, the foundation stopped giving her work. And she has already used up all the unemployment funds available to her.
"I'm an ant," says Fariñas -- small but industrious. She sits at her little schoolgirl's desk for almost three hours a day, under the moon-and-stars mobile that once hung above her crib, searching the Internet for job openings. She writes applications and makes calls to the personnel directors of large companies throughout Spain.
Now Fariñas is thinking about working abroad as a nanny. Her divorced mother has a job in a travel agency, but her hours have been reduced. Fariñas makes lunch for both of them, the way it was in the old days. "I'm falling back into the life I was leading when I was 18," says Fariñas. In her tight jeans and baggy sweater, she almost looks like a teenager.
The crisis caught up with Fariñas just as she and her boyfriend were searching for an apartment, because they wanted to start a family. "We used to travel, go out on weekends and eat in restaurants," says Fariñas. "Now I'm stuck." She's referring to both her personal and professional lives. "It's exasperating."
Her fiancé Ricardo, 35, lost his job as a motorcycle salesman. With some money from his parents, he opened a bicycle shop. Mountain biking in the hills around Seville is the latest trend, he says. But the shop, in which all of his savings are tied up, isn't generating any income yet, so he has moved back into his parents' house as well.
An Uphill Battle
Alberto Barrios has a similar story. Shortly before his 30th birthday, he returned home to his parents, both government employees in Jerez de la Frontera. The city, which gives sherry its name, is the most highly indebted municipality in Spain. But that didn't stop Barrios from opening his own business there. He has a degree in business administration, as well as an additional diploma in advertising and public relations, and he also spent two years studying computer science. Barrios developed an app for Android smartphones and the iPhone: a constantly up-to-date digital guide to Jerez.
Before then Barrios, a heavy-set bearded man, did everything possible to find work. He worked part-time in the marketing department at the local newspaper, as a high-school janitor and on the assembly line at a sherry factory. He never applied for unemployment benefits.
He drove to Madrid to call on companies directly. But it was all in vain. Now he relies on his "gift of gab" to persuade business owners, club operators and bar managers in Jerez to advertise their businesses on his app.
Barrios calls himself an optimist. He has already had up to 8,000 users at peak times. But after expenses he has only €300 in monthly income left for himself. The €50 discounted health insurance premium the government is considering would help him, but he has just exceeded the maximum age limit.
Barrios raves about his mother's good cooking. And yet, he says, "my dream is to make myself independent of mama and papa."
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
February 4, 2013
Known for Crime and Poverty, but Working on Its Image
By STEVEN ERLANGER and MAÏA de la BAUME
MARSEILLE, France — In a building here, down by the old port, immigrants from the colonies, most of them North African, were showered, deloused and examined before entry into France. A sort of French Ellis Island, the structure had been abandoned for 40 years and was nearly demolished in 2009. Now, it is being rehabilitated as a museum, for an exhibit opening on March 1 called Regards de Provence, Mediterranean Reflections — part of Marseille’s celebration of itself as a European Capital of Culture for 2013.
Gaining the title, designated by the European Union annually since 1985, is something like winning the Olympics. It gives Marseille, France’s second-largest city, a chance to remake itself, reclaim its gorgeous port for ordinary citizens and to reshape its image — from a poor, rough, crime-ridden and corrupt crossroads whose economy declined with the end of colonialism to an attractive tourist destination of sun, sea, seafood and culture. That is the intent, certainly — to make Marseille not just a commercial center, but a destination.
With a budget estimated at nearly $135 million, raised from public and private funds, the organizers hope to attract an additional two million visitors and lift the economy. “It’s a shock, a cultural earthquake,” said Jacques Pfister, the head of the local chamber of commerce and director of the association that organized Marseille-Provence 2013, known as MP2013. “We’ve created a cultural offer unique in Europe,” he said. “We want to tie together France, Europe and the Mediterranean.”
More concretely, Mr. Pfister said, “we want the people of Marseille to be able to take back the seacoast and the old port,” which is already mostly car free and is undergoing a multimillion-dollar face-lift.
The city has established 10 new sites for cultural activities, many of them a repurposing of old or abandoned buildings, like the sanitation station and an enormous tobacco factory surrounded by graffitied walls and exhibiting contemporary art on the theme of immigration and exile.
The city has also built some stunning new buildings. There is a huge glass Museum of Civilizations from Europe and the Mediterranean, financed by the state and due to open in June. And the Villa Méditerranée, an international center for dialogue and exchanges about the Mediterranean and its peoples. Paid for by the regional government, it juts over the water.
Good use is being made of some of Marseille’s existing museums, like La Vieille Charité, a 17th-century alms house and hospital in the Panier quarter that was saved some years ago. Transformed into an exhibition space, it is showing “Vestiges,” Josef Koudelka’s haunting black-and-white photographs of Greek and Roman remains from around the Mediterranean.
Zineb Sedira, a photographer and videographer born in France to Algerian parents, said that the city was “trying to break the cliché of Marseille as the gateway to the Orient, to Algeria and colonialism.” Marseille “has for a long time been neglected in France,” better known for crime than for culture, she said. “Marseille now has a chance to put itself on the map.”
Ms. Sedira’s work in Marseille, on the theme of emigration and loss, focuses on the movement of people around the Mediterranean, the main theme of the Marseille year, which is trying to embrace multiculturalism without hiding the scars of colonialism.
“To live together is vital for European life, and Marseille is a good example of it,” said Nicolas Mazet, who owns the Hôtel de Gallifet, an art gallery in what was a large private house in Aix-en-Provence. “MP2013 reminds us of our common European heritage, the result of cultural intermingling from Athens to Grenada.”
Marseille hopes to claim a place as the link connecting northern and southern shores of the Mediterranean. A city with ancient Greek and Roman roots, founded in 600 B.C., it is trying to embrace the Italian and North African experiences of its many immigrant citizens. As many as 30 percent of its 850,000 residents are Muslim.
“Marseille created itself, strata upon strata, with foreign populations,” said the city’s longtime mayor, Jean-Pierre Gaudin. “We’ve been privileged by proximity to the countries of the Maghreb. We’re a multicultural city and must remain so.”
Yolande Bacot curated an exhibit about the history and artifacts of the cultures of the Mediterranean, from ancient to modern times, at the J1, a huge seaside warehouse turned exhibition center. “History reopened itself with the Arab Spring, and we want to confront the past and present” Ms. Bacot said, while modifying what she called France’s “very ethnocentric and Franco-French vision of things.”
In 2004, the Marseille City Council decided to apply for the European Capital of Culture designation for 2013. It was chosen in September 2008. In the time since then, Marseille mounted a sometimes frantic effort to raise money and get itself ready for prime time.
The result is sprawling, involving scores of venues here and in nearby towns in Provence, including the wealthier Arles and Aix-en-Provence (with its famed Musée Granet, which has an exhibition of 15 artists from 14 countries). The celebration will last a year, with a cycle of about 400 performances, exhibitions and concerts, as well as events including boat parades, guided treks and a five-day street-food festival.
Unlike most of the big cities in France, Marseille lacks a sizable middle class to supports art and culture. “Here, those who succeed leave,” Dominique Bluzet, the director of several Marseille theaters, told the newspaper Le Monde. “And why? Because there is no pride in the city. This city doesn’t know how to create bourgeois reflexes, to transmit them.”
The region is hoping for a surge in civic pride that endures, as well as a stronger economy and an increase in tourism similar to what Avignon experienced in 2000 and Lille in 2004 after they were designated European Capitals of Culture. This year, Marseille is sharing the title with Kosice, in eastern Slovakia, which boasts beautiful churches, three universities, a historic city center and a big steel mill. No one here mentions Kosice, although presumably no one wishes it ill.
To be sure, there is harsh criticism, too. Minna Sif, a novelist from Marseille, born to Moroccan parents, compared the festivities to a “sardinade,” a traditional Mediterranean dish of grilled sardines, lined up and covered in olive oil.
“It’s hard for me,” she wrote in the newspaper Libération, “to recognize myself in this sardinade, stamped as the capital of right-thinking, feel-good culture, run by a mess of preening cultural morons, of those assigned to the uncultivated and of ambitious people with their mouths stuffed with words.”
February 5, 2013, 1:28 am
Worse Than Poisoned Water: Dwindling Water, in China’s North
By DIDI KIRSTEN TATLOW
BEIJING - When 39 tons of the toxic chemical aniline spilled from a factory in Changzhi in China's Shanxi province at the end of December, polluting drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people downstream along the Zhuozhang River and dangerously fouling the environment, it seemed a grave enough disaster. And it was.
So it's hard to believe, perhaps, but in mid-January, just days after local officials belatedly revealed the spill to the public, a "rapid response team" sent by Greenpeace China to investigate found something even worse than the spill, the blogger Zhou Wei wrote in chinadialogue, an online magazine about China's environment. Greenpeace found that the fast pace of water consumption by coal and chemical industries in the area is drying up all water resources further downstream. In fact, by 2015, water consumption by coal and chemical industry in China's dry, western areas is set to use up a whopping quarter of the water flowing annually in the nearby Yellow River, which forms much of the border of Shanxi Province and is popularly known as China's "Mother River," wrote chinadialogue.
As chinadialogue wrote, citing Greenpeace, "Even more worrying than the chemical leak is the high water consumption of the coal and chemical industries in the area."
The blog post, which chinadialogue says hasn't been translated into English yet, cited Tong Zhongyu of Greenpeace's East Asia office as saying that the situation was "growing more severe by the day."
None of this may be news to hardened followers of China's crumpling environment, but the scale of the water consumption in the water-scarce area is nonetheless shocking: The Tianji Coal Chemical Industry Group, which caused the spill, consumes water equivalent to the consumption of about 300,000 people per year, chinadialogue wrote, citing the Greenpeace investigation.
The coal and chemical industry is simply "a major water-eater," the post said.
Water is a key challenge for the country as the racing economy guzzles it faster and faster. In the last 40 years, 13 percent of China's lakes have disappeared, half its coastal wetlands have been lost to reclamation and 50 percent of cities left without drinking water that meets acceptable hygienic standards, the World Wildlife Fund said, according to another article in chinadialogue. The United Nations has singled China out as one of 13 countries with extreme water shortages.
"By any measure, the situation is bleak," chinadialogue said. For now, the government is split between small-scale, practical solutions to the problem and huge engineering projects, such as the South-North water diversion scheme, which aims to transfer water from the rainy south to the dry north but has been widely criticized by environmentalists as too big, inefficient and ultimately unworkable.
"My heart is really out for the leadership trying to come up with solutions because China's just so maddeningly complex," Michael Bennett, an environmental economist, was quoted as saying. As evidence of serious efforts to solve the problem, Mr. Bennett pointed to widespread, small-scale, government-approved water conservation programs taking place around the country.
Will China solve its really serious water problems?
"The trend is in the right direction, the question is whether it's going to be fast enough," Mr. Bennett said.
Volgograd to vote on reverting back to Soviet-era name ‘Stalingrad’
By The Guardian
Monday, February 4, 2013 22:01 EST
It is a name synonymous with perhaps Moscow’s greatest military triumph, an internecine six-month standoff that killed well over 1 million people. But in 1961, Stalingrad was quickly renamed Volgograd as part of incipient efforts to remove the cult of Stalin from the Soviet Union.
Locals, however, have long agitated for the city to revert to its Soviet-era name – and now senior Russian officials are proposing a referendum. At the weekend, the city re-adopted its old name for a day as it celebrated the 70th anniversary of the decisive second world war battle in which Soviet forces finally encircled and routed Nazi units. On Monday, the upper house speaker Valentina Matvienko suggested that a plebiscite might give citizens of the city a chance to decide its name once and for all.
“This battle is known all over the world as a turning point,” Matvienko said. “Everyone knows that in Paris they have a metro station called Stalingrad. But we need to ask the people of the city, we need a referendum, [to decide] on renaming. There are pros and cons to this issue.”
Other leaders in parliament have also spoken in favour of a vote. The communists have collected 100,000 signatures in support of turning the clocks back to Stalingrad. In a controversial move, Stalin’s image adorns five buses that are to run in the city until Victory Day on 9 May.
The top election official, Vladimir Churov, said he would be happy to set up a referendum.
If a change is agreed, it would be the third time the city has changed its name in the past 100 years. It was called Tsaritsyn until 1925.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
February 4, 2013
Bones Under Parking Lot Belonged to Richard III
By JOHN F. BURNS
LEICESTER, England — Until it was discovered beneath a city parking lot last fall, the skeleton had lain unmarked, and unmourned, for more than 500 years. Friars fearful of the men who slew him in battle buried the man in haste, naked and anonymous, without a winding sheet, rings or personal adornments of any kind, in a space so cramped his cloven skull was jammed upright and askew against the head of his shallow grave.
On Monday, confirming what many historians and archaeologists had suspected, a team of experts at the University of Leicester concluded on the basis of DNA and other evidence that the skeletal remains were those of King Richard III, for centuries the most reviled of English monarchs. But the conclusion, said to have been reached “beyond any reasonable doubt,” promised to achieve much more than an end to the oblivion that has been Richard’s fate since his death on Aug. 22, 1485, at the Battle of Bosworth Field, 20 miles from this ancient city in the sheep country of England’s East Midlands.
Among those who found his remains, there is a passionate belief that new attention drawn to Richard by the discovery will inspire a reappraisal that could rehabilitate the medieval king and show him to be a man with a strong sympathy for the rights of the common man, who was deeply wronged by his vengeful Tudor successors. Far from the villainous character memorialized in English histories, films and novels, far from Shakespeare’s damning representation of him as the limping, withered, haunted murderer of his two princely nephews, Richard III can become the subject of a new age of scholarship and popular reappraisal, these enthusiasts believe.
“I think he wanted to be found, he was ready to be found, and we found him, and now we can begin to tell the true story of who he was,” said Philippa Langley, a writer who has been a longtime and fervent member of the Richard III Society, an organization that has worked for decades to bring what it sees as justice to an unjustly vilified man. “Now,” Ms. Langley added, “we can rebury him with honor, and we can rebury him as a king.”
Other members of the team at the University of Leicester pointed to Ms. Langley as the inspiration behind the project, responsible for raising much of the estimated $250,000 — with major contributions from unnamed Americans — it cost to carry out the exhumation and the research that led to confirmation that indeed Richard had been found.
Ms. Langley’s account was that her research for a play about the king had led her to a hunch that Richard’s body would be found beneath the parking lot, in a corner of the buried ruins of the Greyfriars Priory, where John Rouse, a medieval historian writing in Latin within a few years after Richard’s death, had recorded him as having been buried. Other unverified accounts said the king’s body had been thrown by a mob into the River Soar, a mile or more from the priory.
Richard Taylor, the University of Leicester official who served as a coordinator for the project, said the last piece of the scientific puzzle fell into place with DNA findings that became available on Sunday, five months after the skeletal remains were uncovered. At that point, he said, members of the team knew that they had achieved something historic.
“We knew then, beyond reasonable doubt, that this was Richard III,” Mr. Taylor said. “We’re certain now, as certain as you can be of anything in life.”
The team’s leading geneticist, Turi King, said at a news conference that DNA samples from two modern-day descendants of Richard III’s family had provided a match with samples taken from the skeleton found in the priory ruins. Kevin Schurer, a historian and demographer, tracked down two living descendants of Anne of York, Richard III’s sister, one of them a London-based, Canadian-born furniture maker, Michael Ibsen, 55, and the other a second cousin of Mr. Ibsen’s who has requested anonymity.
Dr. King said tests conducted at three laboratories in England and France had found that the descendants’ mitochondrial DNA, a genetic element inherited through the maternal line of descent, matched that extracted from the parking lot skeleton. She said all three samples belonged to a type of mitochondrial DNA that is carried by only 1 to 2 percent of the English population, a rare enough group to satisfy the project team, pending more work on the samples, that a match had been found.
When she studied the results for the first time, she said, she “went very quiet, then did a little dance around the laboratory.”
Even before the DNA findings came in, team members said, evidence pointed conclusively at the remains as being those of the king. These included confirmation that the body was that of a slight, slender man in his late 20s or early 30s — Richard was 32 at his death — and an analysis of his bones that showed that his high-protein diet had been rich in meat and marine fish, characteristic of a privileged life in the 15th century.
Also strongly indicative, they said, was the radiocarbon dating of two rib bones that showed that they were those of somebody who died between 1455 and 1540. In addition, team members said, the remains showed an array of injuries consistent with historical accounts of the fatal blows Richard III suffered on the battlefield, and other blows he was likely to have sustained after death from vengeful soldiers of the army of Henry Tudor, the Bosworth victor, who succeeded Richard as King Henry VII.
The fatal wound, researchers said, was almost certainly a large skull fracture behind the left ear that was consistent with a crushing blow from a halberd, a medieval weapon with an axlike head on a long pole — the kind of blow that was described by some who witnessed Richard’s death. The team also identified nine other wounds, including what appeared to be dagger blows to the cheek, jaw and lower back, possibly inflicted after death.
But perhaps the most conclusive evidence from the skeletal remains was the deep curvature of the upper spine that the research team said showed the remains to be those of a sufferer of a form of scoliosis, a disease that causes the hunchback appearance, with a raised right shoulder, that was represented in Shakespeare’s play as Richard III’s most pronounced and unappealing feature.
The sense of an important historical watershed was underscored when reporters were escorted to a viewing of the skeletal remains, laid out in a locked room in the university’s library, lying on a black velvet cushion inside a glass case. Two members of the university’s chaplaincy’s staff, one of them in the black-and-red robes of a Roman Catholic priest, sat beside the remains as reporters filed silently by, cautioned by university staff to behave with the “dignity” owed to a king.
Members of the Richard III Society have said in the past that they believed he should be reburied, once found, alongside other British monarchs in Westminster Abbey in London, the traditional venue for most royal weddings and burials. But in Leicester, officials said that plans were in hand to bury the bones early next year in the city’s Anglican cathedral, barely 200 yards from where the skeleton was found, with a visitors’ center dedicated to Richard to be opened in the cathedral grounds at the same time.
Alan Cowell contributed reporting from London, and Nicholas Wade from Montclair, N.J.
King Richard III’s face revealed for first time in 500 years
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, February 5, 2013 8:58 EST
The face of England’s king Richard III was revealed for the first time in more than 500 years on Tuesday following a reconstruction of his skeleton found underneath a carpark.
A three-dimensional plastic model has been made from the skull of the king, who was killed in 1485 after just two years on the throne but lived on as one of history’s worst villains in the eponymous play by William Shakespeare.
Researchers hope the discovery of his remains under a carpark in the central English city of Leicester, complete with the twisted spine of folklore, will lead to a rehabilitation of his reputation.
And many believe the image of his face, until now only depicted in paintings, will be key to this.
“It’s an interesting face, younger and fuller than we have been used to seeing, less careworn, and with the hint of a smile,” said Phil Stone, chairman of the Richard III Society.
“When I first saw it, I thought there is enough of the portraits about it for it to be king Richard but not enough to suggest they have been copied. I Think people will like it. He’s a man who lived.”
The reconstruction work was led by Caroline Wilkinson, professor of craniofacial identification at the University of Dundee in Scotland, and paid for by the Richard III Society.
A team at the University of Leicester announced on Monday that DNA tests, carbon dating and examination of bones had proved beyond reasonable doubt that the skeleton found underneath a municipal carpark last year was that of Richard.
The discovery ends a 500-year-old mystery about what happened to the king’s body, after it was buried by Franciscan friars in an unmarked grave following his defeat at the hands of the future king Henry VII at the Battle of Bosworth.
In the USA...
February 4, 2013
Waiting Times at Ballot Boxes Draw Scrutiny
By JEREMY W. PETERS
WASHINGTON — With studies suggesting that long lines at the polls cost Democrats hundreds of thousands of votes in November, party leaders are beginning a push to make voting and voter registration easier, setting up a likely new conflict with Republicans over a deeply polarizing issue.
White House officials have told Congressional leaders that the president plans to press for action on Capitol Hill, and Democrats say they expect him to highlight the issue in his State of the Union address next week. Democrats in the House and Senate have already introduced bills that would require states to provide online voter registration and allow at least 15 days of early voting, among other things.
Fourteen states are also considering whether to expand early voting, including the battlegrounds of Florida, Ohio and Virginia, according to FairVote, a nonprofit group that advocates electoral change. Florida, New York, Texas and Washington are looking at whether to ease registration and establish preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds.
Several recent polls and studies suggest that long waiting times in some places depressed turnout in 2012 and that lines were longest in cities, where Democrats outnumber Republicans. In a New York Times/CBS News poll taken shortly after Election Day, 18 percent of Democrats said they waited at least a half-hour to vote, compared with 11 percent of independents and 9 percent of Republicans.
A Massachusetts Institute of Technology analysis determined that blacks and Hispanics waited nearly twice as long in line to vote on average than whites. Florida had the nation’s longest lines, at 45 minutes, followed by the District of Columbia, Maryland, South Carolina and Virginia, according to Charles Stewart III, the political science professor who conducted the analysis.
A separate analysis, by an Ohio State University professor and The Orlando Sentinel, concluded that more than 200,000 voters in Florida “gave up in frustration” without voting.
“When I got there, the line was around the building,” said Jonathan Piccolo, 33, who said he had waited nearly eight hours to cast a ballot in Miami-Dade County the Monday before Election Day.
“It’s one of the most sacred rights you have,” Mr. Piccolo added. “They should make it as painless as possible.”
As the Supreme Court prepares to hear a major challenge to the Voting Rights Act this month — with a decision potentially giving states more freedom to tighten voting requirements — election issues seem likely to become even more of a flash point.
Republicans in several states across the country have passed or promoted measures they say are meant to reduce voter fraud, like stricter identification requirements. Some have also cited costs; Florida, for instance, had eight days of early voting in November, down from 14, after the Republican-led Legislature changed the law.
By highlighting long waits and cumbersome voter registration as issues, Democrats hope they have found a counterattack. Democrats have already tried to block the Republican efforts, noting that nonpartisan analyses have generally found voter fraud to be extremely rare.
Waiting times are “costing America a lot of votes,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat who is sponsoring the Senate voting bill and expects to have the full support of the White House.
She added, “We’ve talked to some of the White House staff about this from the beginning, and I think it’s something they care deeply about, and I think it’s something they will help us pass.”
Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the assistant Democratic leader in the House, said he had received similar assurances from the White House. “I think he’s going devote a pretty significant amount of his political resources to bear on this question,” he said of President Obama.
Mr. Obama, a former community organizer who worked to register poor voters in Chicago, declared waiting times a top concern in speeches both on election night and at his second inauguration. “Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote,” he said on Inauguration Day.
But getting anything passed without Republican support will be impossible, Democrats acknowledge. And so far, conservatives have complained that Democrats are politicizing an issue that should be handled by the states, not the federal government.
“It’s ridiculous to stand in line a couple of hours to vote,” said Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “But I think it’s also ridiculous to make a political issue out of it when it’s very easily handled.”
Because Democrats have been primarily focused on issues like gun control and immigration this year and have not yet devoted much time to voting rights, it is difficult to know their chances for success.
Two factors that help determine waiting times, experts say, are the length of the ballot and the number of voters per polling place. Mr. Stewart said California stood out as an example of a place that reduces waiting times by having relatively low numbers of voters per precinct.
“Despite the fact that it’s a very large state, a very complicated state, and has the longest ballots in the Western world — all these things that you’d think would complicate voting — they don’t wait that long,” Mr. Stewart said.
California’s had one of the 10 shortest average waits of any state, at six minutes, according to Mr. Stewart.
In some other places, including counties and cities run by Democrats, local officials have not spent the money to open as many polling places. The high turnout of young and minority voters in 2008 and 2012 may also have contributed to long lines.
Ashley Marie Lapadula, a student at Florida International University in Miami who said she voted for Mitt Romney in November, said she went to two different polling sites, leaving one where the wait appeared to be about three hours only to wait three hours at another.
She said she saw numerous voters, mostly Spanish speakers, leave. “Most of them said: ‘I have to get back to work. I don’t have time for this. This is incredible, the waiting is just too long,’ ” Ms. Lapadula said.
Theodore T. Allen, a systems engineer at Ohio State who conducted the analysis of Florida voting last year, said that lengthy ballots also played an important role in how long voting takes. “It’s not because people are dumb or old,” he said. “It’s just that they have twice as much to read and process.”
The average wait nationwide was 14 minutes last year, according to Mr. Stewart’s data. Blacks and Hispanics waited an average of 20.2 minutes, compared with 12.7 minutes for whites. In the most populous areas — those with more than 500,000 voters in a county — the average wait was 18 minutes, more than double what it was in counties with fewer than 50,000 voters.
According to Mr. Allen’s estimates, waiting times cost Mr. Obama a net of about 15,000 votes in Florida. He carried the state by about 74,000 votes.
Neil Reisner contributed reporting from North Miami, Fla.
February 5, 2013
Memo Cites Legal Basis for Killing U.S. Citizens in Al Qaeda
By CHARLIE SAVAGE and SCOTT SHANE
WASHINGTON — Obama administration lawyers have asserted that it would be lawful to kill a United States citizen if “an informed, high-level official” of the government decided that the target was a ranking figure in Al Qaeda who posed “an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States” and if his capture was not feasible, according to a 16-page document made public on Monday.
The unsigned and undated Justice Department “white paper,” obtained by NBC News, is the most detailed analysis yet to come into public view regarding the Obama legal team’s views about the lawfulness of killing, without a trial, an American citizen who executive branch officials decide is an operational leader of Al Qaeda or one of its allies.
The paper is not the classified memorandum in which the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel signed off on the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Muslim cleric who was born in New Mexico and who died in an American drone strike in Yemen in September 2011. But its legal analysis — citing a national right to self-defense as well as the laws of war — closely tracks the rationale in that document, as described to The New York Times in October 2011 by people who had read it.
The memo appears to be a briefing paper that was derived from the real legal memorandum in late 2011 and provided to some members of Congress. It does not discuss any specific target and emphasizes that it does not go into the specific thresholds of evidence that are deemed sufficient.
It adopts an elastic definition of an “imminent” threat, saying it is not necessary for a specific attack to be in process when a target is found if the target is generally engaged in terrorist activities aimed at the United States. And it asserts that courts should not play a role in reviewing or restraining such decisions.
The white paper states that “judicial enforcement of such orders would require the court to supervise inherently predictive judgments by the president and his national security advisers as to when and how to use force against a member of an enemy force against which Congress has authorized the use of force.”
It also fills in many blanks in a series of speeches by members of the Obama legal team about the use of force in targeted killings, including remarks by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. at Northwestern’s law school in March. He asserted that the Constitution’s guarantee of “due process” before the government takes a life does not necessarily mean “judicial process” in national security situations, but offered little specific legal analysis.
Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, called the paper “a profoundly disturbing document,” and said: “It’s hard to believe that it was produced in a democracy built on a system of checks and balances. It summarizes in cold legal terms a stunning overreach of executive authority — the claimed power to declare Americans a threat and kill them far from a recognized battlefield and without any judicial involvement.”
The release of the white paper comes as President Obama’s counterterrorism adviser and nominee as C.I.A. director, John O. Brennan, awaits a confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday. Pressure has been growing on the administration to make the secret legal documents public, or at least to provide the Intelligence Committees with more of them.
On Tuesday, eight Democratic and three Republican senators, including some Intelligence Committee members, wrote to Mr. Obama asking for the legal opinions authorizing the killing of Americans. The letter followed one sent by Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, a member of the Intelligence Committee who has long sought access to the legal opinions.
The senators wrote that they needed the legal opinions to judge “whether the president’s power to deliberately kill American citizens is subject to appropriate limitations and safeguards.”
Obama urges ‘concrete steps’ to prevent gun violence
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, February 4, 2013 17:50 EST
President Barack Obama Monday heaped pressure on Congress for action “soon” on curbing gun violence, flanked by uniformed police officers he said should not be outgunned on US streets.
In his most high profile intervention in the guns debate since unveiling a package of executive actions and recommendations for new laws last month, Obama flew to Minneapolis, a city that has pioneered efforts to stem gun violence.
Obama made a pragmatic case for legislation on the contentious issue, arguing that just because political leaders could not save every life, they should at least try to save some victims of rampant gun crime.
And characteristically, Obama betrayed impatience with the pace of work in Congress, more than six weeks after the massacre of 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school again electrified the gun debate.
“There has been a lot of talk, a lot of conversation, a lot of publicity — but we haven’t actually taken concrete steps yet,” Obama said, at an event which began to make good on a White House promise to campaign hard on the guns effort.
“We don’t have to agree on everything to agree it is time to do something.” The president specifically tried to build support for his own plans, including enhanced background checks for gun owners and bids to close loopholes to ensure guns do not get into the hands of the mentally ill.
Obama also touted his call for the renewal of the ban on military-style assault rifles and argued that it was time to restrict the sale of high-capacity ammunition clips that can fire off many rounds in seconds.
“There won’t be perfect solutions. We’re not going to save every life. But we can make a difference,” Obama said.
The president’s plans are vigorously opposed by many Republicans, who believe he is watering down the constitutional right to bear arms, and by the gun lobby headed by the powerful National Rifle Association.
Some Democrats facing tough re-election races in rural states, where hunting and gun culture is a dominant cultural force, also oppose Obama’s proposals.
The NRA meanwhile has called for armed guards in all US schools.
House Republicans pressure Obama over budget
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, February 4, 2013 17:49 EST
Republicans are pressuring US President Barack Obama to unveil a federal budget, saying failure to introduce a blueprint by Monday as required shows the White House is not serious about curbing spending.
House Republicans plan to take up a measure this week that would force the president to identify the date that his fiscal year budget would balance when he submits it to Congress later this year. If the budget does not do so, Obama would have to submit a new one that does.
“This week, the House will act on a measure requiring the president to submit a balanced budget, and we hope he uses this opportunity to offer the American people his plan to do that,” House Speaker John Boehner said.
Republicans in the House will soon pass a budget, but “for the fourth time in five years this White House has proven it does not take trillion-dollar deficits seriously enough to submit a budget on time,” Boehner added.
The president is required by Congress to submit his budget request for the upcoming fiscal year by the first Monday of February.
Paul Ryan, chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee and last year’s Republican vice presidential nominee, said he was disappointed but “not surprised” that the president missed his deadline, and that Obama and Senate Democrats repeatedly “shirk their duty” on the budget.
“We’ve still got time, but it’s dwindling. Every missed deadline is a missed opportunity,” Ryan said in a statement.
White House spokesman Jay Carney dismissed the criticism, urging a focus on “substance over deadlines” and denouncing House Republicans for passing “highly partisan” budgets that have “no support among the American people.”
Carney did not say whether Obama would release a budget before his State of the Union address on February 12.
The budget spat comes on the heels of December’s bitterly fought battle over how to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, the combination of tax hikes and spending cuts that threatened to drag the economy back toward recession unless Congress acted.
Lawmakers ultimately raised taxes on the very rich, and postponed until March 1 the start of nearly $1 trillion in automatic cuts to defense and domestic spending over the next decade, a process known as sequester.
Democrats have been mulling options for averting the mandated cuts, including a proposal that would raise further revenues while imposing new spending cuts.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Sunday that “there’s still more that we can do” in terms of closing tax loopholes and raising more revenues in order to avert the sequester.
But Republicans want new taxes taken off the table after Congress agreed to tax hikes for income above $450,000.
Bitterly divided lawmakers have failed to agree on a path forward, with the across-the-board cuts threatening to dent a fragile US economy that saw unemployment rise 0.1 percentage points to 7.9 percent in January.
Reps. Blumenauer and Polis to propose overhaul of marijuana laws
By Eric W. Dolan
Monday, February 4, 2013 21:51 EST
Now that former Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) and Barney Frank (D-MA) have retired from the House of Representatives, two new lawmakers have stepped up to lead the push to reform marijuana laws.
Democratic Reps. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Jared Polis of Colorado plan to introduce a set of bills on Tuesday to pave the way for legal marijuana, according to the Associated Press.
The legislation would remove the federal government’s prohibition on marijuana and establish a federal marijuana excise tax. The bills would treat marijuana in manner similar to alcohol. State governments instead of the Drug Enforcement Administration would enforce marijuana laws, while the renamed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana and Firearms would crack down on illegal state-to-state trafficking.
Other legislation to be introduced by Blumenauer and Polis would reschedule marijuana under the federal Controlled Substances Act, and change the tax code so that the IRS treats licensed marijuana dispensaries like other legal businesses.
“Marijuana policy at the state level has shifted abruptly in recent years as states have moved to legalize the drug for both medicinal and recreation use,” Blumenauer’s official House website states. “Unfortunately, federal marijuana policy remains rooted in the past, as all types of marijuana continue to remain illegal under federal law. It is time for Congress to face the facts surrounding marijuana, its use and regulation, and develop a legislative framework that accounts for the inevitable transition of marijuana policy – one that is already well under way.”
Eight Senate Republicans vote against the Violence Against Women Act
By Eric W. Dolan
Monday, February 4, 2013 20:49 EST
Eight Republican senators voted Monday against proceeding to the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA), a bipartisan bill to aid victims of domestic and sexual violence.
Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Mike Lee (R-UT), Tim Scott (R-SC), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Mike Johanns (R-NE), Rand Paul (R-KY), Pat Roberts (R-KS), and James Risch (R-ID) voted against advancing legislation to renew the 1994 law. Despite opposition from these eight lawmakers, the bill is expected to be approved in the Senate by the end of the week.
“Since we first passed the Violence Against Women Act nearly two decades ago, states have strengthened criminal rape statutes, and every state has made stalking a crime,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), co-author of the bill, explained. “The annual incidence of domestic violence has dropped more than 50 percent. We have helped to provide victims with critical services like housing and legal protection. We need to remember that behind those numbers are thousands of lives made immeasurably better.”
Though the Senate approved the bill with bipartisan support last year, House Republicans allowed the bill to die because of new protections for immigrants, Native Americans, and members of the LGBT community. The provision related to immigrants has been removed from the current bill, but is expected to be included as part of comprehensive immigration reform.
“Today’s vote brings us one step closer to finally renewing our national commitment to ending domestic violence,” Patty Murray (D-WA) said. “And while I’m encouraged by the renewed sense of bipartisanship on this issue in the Senate, and look forward to its passage in the near future, the ultimate fate of VAWA still lays squarely on the shoulders of Eric Cantor and John Boehner. They can either give in to the extreme voices of their caucus or they can stand with Democrats, moderate Republicans, and the many millions of Americans who believe there is no reason this critical bill should be put on the back burner or delayed any further.”
February 04, 2013 02:00 PM
FCC Proposes Public Wifi Networks To Spur Innovation
By Susie Madrak
Wow, this is a shocker. I was beginning to believe that the United States would never catch up with the rest of the world. Now it's up to us to let our elected officials know voters are behind this latest proposal:
The federal government wants to create super WiFi networks across the nation, so powerful and broad in reach that consumers could use them to make calls or surf the Internet without paying a cellphone bill every month.
The proposal from the Federal Communications Commission has rattled the $178 billion wireless industry, which has launched a fierce lobbying effort to persuade policymakers to reconsider the idea, analysts say. That has been countered by an equally intense campaign from Google, Microsoft and other tech giants who say a free-for-all WiFi service would spark an explosion of innovations and devices that would benefit most Americans, especially the poor.
The airwaves that FCC officials want to hand over to the public would be much more powerful than existing WiFi networks that have become common in households. They could penetrate thick concrete walls and travel over hills and around trees. If all goes as planned, free access to the Web would be available in just about every metropolitan area and in many rural areas.
The new WiFi networks would also have much farther reach, allowing for a driverless car to communicate with another vehicle a mile away or a patient’s heart monitor to connect to a hospital on the other side of town.
If approved by the FCC, the free networks would still take several years to set up. And, with no one actively managing them, connections could easily become jammed in major cities. But public WiFi could allow many consumers to make free calls from their mobile phones via the Internet. The frugal-minded could even use the service in their homes, allowing them to cut off expensive Internet bills.
“For a casual user of the Web, perhaps this could replace carrier service,” said Jeffrey Silva, an analyst at the Medley Global Advisors research firm. “Because it is more plentiful and there is no price tag, it could have a real appeal to some people.”
[...] The FCC’s plan is part of a broader strategy to repurpose entire swaths of the nation’s airwaves to accomplish a number of goals, including bolstering cellular networks and creating a dedicated channel for emergency responders.
Some Republican lawmakers have criticized Genachowski for his idea of creating free WiFi networks, noting that an auction of the airwaves would raise billions for the U.S. Treasury.
That sentiment echoes arguments made by companies such as AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, Intel and Qualcomm, in a letter to the FCC staff late last month, that the government should focus its attention on selling the airwaves to businesses.
For once, maybe the government will actually do something for its citizens instead of big business. Stay tuned.
Arkansas House passes most restrictive abortion ban in U.S.
By Kay Steiger
Tuesday, February 5, 2013 9:37 EST
The Arkansas state House of Representatives voted on Monday for a bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks without any exceptions, according to the Associated Press.
The bill, which passed by a vote of 77 to 15, also bans insurers from providing abortion care if they participate in the state-sponsored health insurance exchange that the state set up under the mandate of 2010′s Affordable Care Act.
Arkansas Republicans have comfortable majorities in both of the state legislative bodies, but the state’s Democratic Gov. Mike Bebee, though he hasn’t committed either way on the bill, says his office’s research suggests the bill is unconstitutional.
“Obviously, we don’t want to pass unconstitutional laws and end up in court costing taxpayers tons of money,” Beebe told the AP.
The state House’s top Democrat, Rep. Greg Leding, objected to the bill on the grounds it didn’t offer exceptions for victims of rape or incest. In debate before the bill passed, he said, “The case made for that exclusion is that a woman should have been able to make that decision early in her pregnancy. But what if that woman is a 12-year-old girl and she’s raped by a family member or friend and she’s too afraid to speak or at that young age is simply unaware that she’s pregnant?”
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Butch Wilkins, argued the bill would prevent public money from being spent on abortion, but both the federal Hyde Amendment and Arkansas state law already prevent that from taking place.
Murry Newbern, a lobbyist with Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, told Latin news site Terra that just two abortions had been performed in the state of Arkansas in 2011, both the result of pregnancy complications.
“Extreme groups pushing these bills want to eliminate abortion. This bill has nothing to do with the health and safety of a woman. It’s an attempt to chip away access to abortion,” Newbern said.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks anti-abortion legislation in the states, similar bills have been introduced in 15 states in 2012, with measures passing in at least one chamber in Florida, Kansas and New Hampshire.
Arizona enacted a ban of abortions after 20 weeks last year, though that law includes an exception for the life of the woman and if the pregnancy should pose a “substantial and irreversible impairment” to the woman’s health. Though Arizona’s law is undergoing a legal challenge, the law remains in effect. Georgia also enacted a 20-week abortion ban, but a state court has temporarily blocked the implementation of that ban. Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) also signed a Louisiana ban on abortion after 20 weeks in June 2011, though that law also provides for life and health exceptions. The Louisiana law went into effect in August last year.
Bettina Brownstein, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, said that she believes the Arkansas bill is unconstitutional and told the AP the bill was “cruel to women and families.”
President Obama’s Strong Case Against the Corporate Push to Gut Social Security
Feb. 5th, 2013
Hands Off Social Security
In a representative democracy like America, a majority of the population chooses a leader to represent their best interests in negotiations with a hostile opposition party, and they can be likened to a labor representative negotiating for wages, working conditions, and benefits in a labor dispute, but a labor representative’s influence is limited when compared to those who hold real power, the business owners. Today, the American people’s representative, President Obama, meets with business owners who hold enormous power and wield influence over Republicans who control the fate of American workers, and before the meeting even begins, a gang of CEOs laid out an agenda that portends diminished benefits for America’s workforce. In his Inaugural Address, the President assured the people he will fight to preserve their retirement investment, and with overwhelming support from the people, he has the ability to make a strong case against the CEOs proposals.
President Obama meets with chief executives from 12 companies today to discuss immigration and deficit reduction. The CEO list features Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein, Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, Willard Romney’s associate Arne Sorenson of Marriott Intl, Jeff Smisek of United Continental Holdings, and Klaus Kleinfeld of Alcoa Inc, as well as seven other of the nation’s ruling oligarchy. A White House official said “The president will continue his engagement with outside leaders on a number of issues – including his efforts to achieve balanced deficit reduction,” but the gang of 12 have their own agenda, and solid support from the GOP, that is irrelevant to deficit reduction and everything to do with enriching the financial sector and eroding the worker-funded retirement and healthcare system.
Like a labor negotiation, the people overwhelmingly voiced their demands to preserve Social Security that includes increased benefits, eliminating the cap on high income earners, retire at 62, increase the cost of living allowance (COLA), and increase the payroll tax deduction to ensure they are paying for their demands. The CEOs ultimatum is raising the retirement age to 70, reducing Social Security benefits, cutting COLA, and quickly moving both worker-funded retirement programs (Social Security and Medicare) into the private financial sector as the be all, end all, to reduce the nation’s deficit. President Obama will listen carefully to the CEO demands and consider how the people will respond, but according to the latest poll by the nonpartisan National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI), there could not possibly be a sharper contrast between what Americans say they want and changes being proposed by the nation’s corporate leaders and their legislative arm the Republican Party.
The NASI survey revealed that large majorities of Americans (Republicans and Democrats) overwhelmingly want to increase payroll taxes and increase Social Security’s benefits, and agreed on ways to strengthen Social Security — without cutting benefits. In fact, 84% of the people believe current Social Security benefits do not provide enough income for retirees, and 82% agree it is critical to preserve Social Security for future generations even if it means increasing Social Security taxes paid by working Americans. The survey also showed that 71% of Republicans and 97% of Democrats agree that increasing Social Security taxes for wealthiest 5% of Americans by eliminating the income cap is critical to preserve Social Security. One hopes that the President, Democrats, and especially Republican “entitlement” fetishists comprehend that bipartisan desire to sustain and grow Social Security is real, and that the President conveys that message to the 12 disciples of the post-Reagan economic policies that have decimated American workers over the past thirty years.
The CEOs however, are ill-inclined to acquiesce to the will of the people, or their needs, and with no real stake in the deficit, or the nation’s spending (lowest in 60 years), will attempt to control the narrative to get their hands on Americans’ retirement savings (Social Security & Medicare) by parroting the demise of the government program by pushing benefit cuts and raising the retirement age to advance their privatization scam they claim reduces the deficit and brings government spending under control; their control. Obviously, the CEOs and their GOP cohort promote Social Security’s near-term insolvency to garner support for benefit cuts, raising the retirement age, and privatization, and it informs their interest is not the deficit, the program’s fiscal health, or spending that have no effect on the CEOs, but moving all Americans’ retirement investments into their corporate ledgers does.
Social Security and Medicare belong to the American people, and since CEOs have no stake in either, cutting benefits, requiring people to work longer, and leaving retirees in the lurch without healthcare for five years is of no consequence to them. However, they will dictate to President Obama that people work longer and are denied their entire working lives’ investment for 5 years to leave them broke, broken and, if they can abscond with the people’s retirement by way of privatization, an early death. Make no mistake, the CEO mindset has no regard for the American people, and they believe they are the government and Social Security already belongs to them. Goldman Sachs’ Blankfein revealed as much two months ago when he said cutting Social Security benefits and raising the retirement age was mandatory because “we cannot afford them” and “that they (the people) have to start making sacrifices to cut our spending” and the country’s deficit. Blankfein is irrelevant to Social Security spending, and he has no stake in its affordability, but he does want to get his dirty hands on Americans’ retirement investment; that is his only interest.
One understands the President recruiting leading CEOs to pressure Republicans during the fiscal cliff crisis, but bringing them in to discuss deficit reduction when their entire interest is “harvesting” working people’s retirement is curious. The people have spoken through the NASI survey, and their demands speak volumes about preserving and strengthening Social Security without benefit cuts or raising the retirement age that entails CEO strategy to deprive the people and privatize the program.
The people chose President Obama as their representative to fight for their interests, and if they wanted a CEO advocate, Willard Romney would be handing the Social Security Trust to Goldman Sachs. The CEOs are deluded if they believe the President is Willard Romney. Perhaps the corporate world failed to get the message Americans rejected Republican’s thirty year assault on their economic health in November, or that President Obama rejected deficit reduction based on privatizing Americans’ retirement income. The President has proven to be a master at manipulating Republicans to advance his agenda, and with near universal support for strengthening and preserving the most popular New Deal program in American history, there is little doubt 12 CEOs will prove any different.
India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
February 5, 2013, 10:42 am
Companion of Delhi Gang Rape Victim Testifies in Court
By SRUTHI GOTTIPATI
The male friend who witnessed the fatal rape of a young woman by a group of attackers in New Delhi in December entered court in a wheelchair to testify on Tuesday.
The man, a 28-year old software engineer whose name has not been released, was injured in the same attack and has been forced to use a wheelchair ever since. He is the prosecution's top witness, and his testimony and a statement the victim gave before she died are considered crucial to the case against the five men charged in the attack.
The men have been charged with rape, kidnapping and murder, and they could face the death penalty if found guilty.
Five witnesses were summoned to court Tuesday, although the male friend was the only one who testified, one of the defense lawyers for the suspects, A. P. Singh said. The other witnesses will testify Wednesday. The male companion will also be cross-examined then, he said.
In his testimony Tuesday, the male friend identified the suspects and the bus on which the attack occurred, Mr. Singh said.
Delhi Police also filed Tuesday a supplementary charge sheet, which included the postmortem of the rape victim, who died in a Singapore hospital on Dec. 29. She died two weeks after the attack, which sparked protests across the country. Over the weekend, the government approved tough new laws against sexual assault.
CIA rendition report author believes UK could face human rights court
British and 24 other European governments accused by OSJI of co-operating in global kidnap, detention and torture operation
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 5 February 2013 19.47 GMT
Up to two dozen European countries including the UK could face proceedings before the European Court of Human Rights from their involvement in the CIA's extraordinary rendition operations after 9/11, according to a human rights organisation that has documented worldwide secret support for the programme.
At least 54 different governments – more than a quarter of the world's total – were covertly engaged with the global kidnap, detention and torture programme, according to a report published on Tuesday by the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI), a New York-based NGO. The greatest number – 25 – were in Europe, while 14 were in Asia and 13 in Africa.
Among the European participants, Macedonia has been found guilty by the European Court of the illegal imprisonment and torture of a German national. Proceedings are being brought against Poland, Lithuania and Romania after they permitted the CIA to operate secret prisons on their territory. Italy is facing proceedings in the European court over the state's involvement in the abduction of a Muslim cleric, who was kidnapped in Milan and flown to Egypt to be tortured. Last week an Italian appeal court upheld the conviction of the CIA's local station chief and two other Americans involved in the kidnap.
Amrit Singh, the author of the OSJI report, said she believes that other European countries that were involved in the CIA's rendition could also find themselves before the European Court. "The moral cost of these programs was borne not just by the US but by the 54 other countries it recruited to help," she said.
So extensive was the participation of governments in Europe and elsewhere across the world that the OSJI believes the CIA could not have operated its programme without their support.
"There is no doubt that high-ranking Bush administration officials bear responsibility for authorising human rights violations associated with secret detention and extraordinary rendition, and the impunity that they have enjoyed to date remains a matter of significant concern," the report says.
"But responsibility for these violations does not end with the United States. Secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations, designed to be conducted outside the United States under cover of secrecy, could not have been implemented without the active participation of foreign governments. These governments too must be held accountable."
The states identified by the OSJI include those such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt and Jordan, where the existence of secret prisons and the use of torture has been well-documented for many years. But the OSJI's rendition list also includes states such as Ireland, Iceland and Cyprus, which are accused of granting covert support for the programme by permitting access to air space and airports by aircraft that the CIA used during its rendition operations. Canada not only permitted the use of its air space, but provided information that led to one of its one nationals being taken to Syria, where he was held for a year and tortured.
Iran – one of the states within President George W Bush's so-called axis of evil – is identified by the OSJI as having participated in the rendition programme, handing 15 individuals over to Kabul shortly after the US invasion of Afghanistan, in the full knowledge that they would fall under US control. Syria, another state that does not enjoy friendly diplomatic relations with the US, is said to have been one of the "most common destinations for rendered suspects".
Other countries are conspicuous by their absence from the rendition list: Sweden and Finland are present, but there is no evidence of Norwegian involvement. Similarly, while many Middle Eastern countries did become involved in the rendition programme, Israel did not, according to the OSJI research.
Many of the countries on the list are European. Germany, Spain, Portugal and Austria are among them, but France, Holland and Hungary are not. Georgia stands accused of involvement in rendition, but Russia does not.
The OSJI reports that the UK supported CIA rendition operations, interrogated people being secretly detained, and allowed the use of British airports and air space. The organisation concludes that the UK also arranged for one man, Sami al-Saadi, to be rendered, along with his entire family, to Libya, where he was subsequently tortured, and provided intelligence that allowed a second similar operation to take place.
It has recently emerged that many European countries became involved in the rendition programme as a consequence a series of decisions taken in secret at a Nato conference three weeks after 9/11. Subsequently, British intelligence officials maintained for several years that they had been kept in the dark about the programme, although it is now known that the CIA briefed MI6 about its plans five days after 9/11.Shortly after entering the White House, Obama rejected calls for an inquiry into the CIA's operations. Last December the US Senate's Intelligence Committee completed a 6,000-page study of the rendition programme, but it is unclear whether it will ever be published. Democrat committee members say the report shows the CIA committed "terrible mistakes", but Republican members are refusing to endorse it.
Publication of the 213-page OSJI report, entitled Globalizing Torture, appears to have been timed to coincide with the confirmation hearing on Thursday of John Brennan, President Obama's choice to head the CIA. Brennan is widely expected to be questioned about his association with the so-called enhanced interrogation practices adopted during the Bush years.
In 2005, Brennan said that he was "intimately familiar" with some rendition cases, and that he regarded it as "an absolutely vital tool" in countering terrorism.
Brennan withdrew from consideration as CIA chief four years ago because of his association with those practices, and instead became a senior White House adviser. He is expected to be questioned not only about the rendition programme, but about the Obama-era drone operations, and the so-called kill list over which he is reported to wield great influence.
The report says that the full scope of non-US government involvement may still remain unknown. "Despite the efforts of the United States and its partner governments to withhold the truth about past and ongoing abuses, information relating to these abuses will continue to find its way into the public domain," it says.
"At the same time, while US courts have closed their doors to victims of secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations, legal challenges to foreign government participation in these operations are being heard in courts around the world."
The OSJI is calling on the US government to repudiate the rendition programme, close all its remaining secret prisons, mount a criminal investigation into human rights abuses – including those apparently endorsed by government lawyers – and create and independent and non-partisan commission to investigate and publicly report on the role that officials played in such abuses.
The organisation is also calling on non-US governments to end their involvement in rendition operations, mount effective investigations – including criminal investigations – to hold those responsible to account, and institute safeguards to ensure that future counter-terrorism operations do not violate human rights standards.
*******Report on CIA rendition reveals massive scale of European assistance
Open Society research assembles long roster of nations willing to help the Bush administration with extra-legal program
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 5 February 2013 19.24 GMT
After the 9/11 attacks, President George W Bush famously warned the world: "You're either with us or against us in the fight against terror."
It turns out that an astonishingly long roster of countries opted for "with us".
Of pre-2004 European Union states, only three – France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands – apparently sat out the CIA's global kidnap-and-torture program, known as extraordinary rendition, in which suspects were picked off streets and secretly flown from country to country to face harsh questioning and worse.
A new report by the Open Society Justice Initiative names 54 foreign governments that participated in the CIA program. Countries such as Ireland, Finland and Denmark allowed US agents to secretly transfer terror suspects at their airports. Sweden arranged for suspects to be flown directly to Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak's intelligence-gathering partnership with the US government played out in an unknown number of soundproof cells. The UK government helped with every aspect of rendition, from arresting suspects to submitting questions for interrogation.
European parliament reports have previously detailed trans-Atlantic collaboration on the torture program, the ultimate uselessness of which was reaffirmed by US defense secretary Leon Panetta as recently as this weekend ("I think we could have gotten Bin Laden without that," he said on a Sunday talk show).
But by weaving together official letters, testimony from humans rights organizations and other public sources, the Open Society report draws for the first time a picture of near-total cooperation in European capitals with the Americans' extra-legal strategy to crack the al-Qaida network.
The report also assembles the most comprehensive list to date of terror suspects caught up in the CIA program and tracks the fate of each suspect. Afghan Abdel Aziz Inayatullah spent time at a "black site" in Kabul and now is "believed to be in Guantanamo Bay". Libyan Majid Mokhtar Sasy al-Maghrebi was "released in February 2011" after being "arrested in Pakistan in 2003". Pakistani Abdul Karim Mehmood, nephew of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was "captured in Pakistan in June 2004 and is likely to have been held in CIA custody; his current whereabouts are unknown."
The report lists 136 suspects in all. "There may be many more such individuals, but the total number will remain unknown until the United States and its partners make this information publicly available," writes Amrit Singh, a lawyer with Open Society and the author of the report.
Some countries have acknowledged their participation in the CIA program. Italy has convicted officials on criminal charges for their involvement. Canada apologized to Canadian citizen Maher Arar, who was picked up at JFK airport in New York City and flown to Syria, where he was "imprisoned for more than ten months in a tiny grave-like cell, beaten with cables, and threatened with electric shocks," according to the report. Canada, Sweden, Australia and the United Kingdom have issued compensation to extraordinary rendition victims.
Once countries assented to the CIA program, they found their airspace being used frequently for rendition activity. The Danish government has reported "more than 100 flights credibly alleged to be involved in extraordinary renditions had passed through Danish airspace, with 45 stopovers in Danish airports," the report says. A 2007 European Parliament report "express[ed] serious concern about the 147 stopovers made by CIA-operated aircraft at Irish airports that on many occasions came from or were bound for countries linked with extraordinary rendition circuits and the transfer of detainees". Finnish records show 150 landings in Finland by aircraft associated with the CIA program.
Bush warned that he was keeping track of countries that did not cooperate with the US "war on terror." "Over time it's going to be important for nations to know they will be held accountable for inactivity," he said. The Open Society report is a step toward holding nations accountable for their activity, too.
**********How countries around the world were allegedly involved in CIA rendition – interactive
Learn which countries offered covert support to the CIA's extraordinary rendition programme and what they did, according to a report compiled by the Open Society Justice Initiative
Click here to see the various countries, and what they did: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/interactive/2013/feb/05/countries-world-cia-rendition-interactive
France may begin Mali withdrawal within weeks
French could reduce troop numbers and start handing over duties to African force 'in a few weeks', says minister
Angelique Chrisafis in Paris and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 6 February 2013 11.58 GMT
France may begin a gradual withdrawal of its troops from Mali as early as the next few weeks, handing over responsibility for security in the country to a still-developing African force.
The French defence minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said a "progressive move from a French military presence to an African military presence" could happen "relatively quickly" and "in a few weeks" France could begin reducing its troop numbers.
Le Drian told Europe 1 radio that the 4,000 French troops in Mali – the same number as France had at the height of its 11-year military presence in Afghanistan – was the "maximum" and would not be increased.
Forces from France and Chad have reportedly secured the key city of Kidal in northern Mali. French aircraft and troops have continued to target suspected hideouts of Islamist fighters in the sparsely populated Saharan desert. There are fears that the extremists who have fled Mali's cities during the three-week French-led operation could try to stage attacks from remote bases.
Le Drian said there had been "clashes" on Tuesday in the area around Gao. "When our forces, backed by Mali forces, began to patrol and conduct missions around the towns we had taken, troops found residual jihadist groups who fought," he said.
He added that since the start of the French intervention on 11 January there had been "significant losses" among Islamist groups and "a real war". Earlier this week Le Drian said "several hundred" Islamists had been killed.
The French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, told the Metro newspaper: "I think that starting in March, if everything goes as planned, the number of our troops should diminish."
He stressed that terrorist threats remained and that the fight was not yet over, but that ultimately Africans and Malians themselves needed to take responsibility for the region's security.
France launched the Mali operation last month to drive back al-Qaida-linked extremists who had seized the north of the country, imposing harsh rule on local populations, and had started pushing toward Mali's capital. France's government said it feared the region could become a haven for international terrorists.
A UN diplomat said on Tuesday the French were talking about another month or so of active engagement in Mali, with one aim being the interruption of supplies to the extremists.
The UN security council is likely to wait until the end of February, when the military action had ended, to adopt a new resolution authorising a UN peacekeeping force for Mali, the diplomat said. The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the Mali conflict.
As French troops focus farther north, they are moving out of cities they seized earlier in the operation. They are already expected to start handing control of Timbuktu to African forces this week.
Some 3,800 forces from other African states are in Mali backing up the Malian army, the official said. But it is far from clear that African forces are ready to take full responsibility against the Islamic extremists, who may strike at cities from their desert hideouts.
The spokesman for the Malian military in Timbuktu, Captain Samba Coulibaly, said there was no reason for the population to fear the withdrawal of French troops.
"With the size of the force we have here right now, we can maintain security in the town of Timbuktu," he said. "The departure of the French soldiers does not scare us, especially since their air force will still be present both in Timbuktu and Sevare. They control this entire zone and can intervene within a matter of minutes in order to carry out air strikes as needed."
One thousand eight hundred Chadian troops are holding the northern city of Kidal, the French military official said on Tuesday.
The French last week began a campaign of air strikes on Islamic rebel outposts around Kidal and Tessalit. French Mirage and Rafale fighter jets have flown 135 sorties since Thursday and targeted 25 sites, primarily fuel and logistics depots, the French defence ministry said.
While their forces took control of Kidal's airport some time ago, it is not clear why they did not take Kidal city with the same swiftness as they took Gao and Timbuktu.
There was speculation the pace of the French advance was being constrained by the fact that the retreating rebels are holding western hostages, including eight French citizens. Fears have grown about their safety as French forces moved closer to where several of them are thought to be held.
In a sign of normality, the mayor's office of Timbuktu will open for the first time in 10 months on Wednesday, the city's mayor, Ousmane Halle, said.
"The city is now secure. There are ongoing patrols by French and Malian soldiers, and we no longer have any reason to fear an attack by the Islamists," he said.
Tunisian opposition leader shot dead
Murder of Chokri Belaid, leader of Unified Democratic Nationalist party, triggers 1,000-strong protest outside interior ministry
Eileen Byrne in Tunis and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 6 February 2013 10.20 GMT
A Tunisian opposition party leader who had been critical of the Islamist-led government and radical Muslim violence has been shot dead.
Chokri Belaid, leader of the Unified Democratic Nationalist party, was shot outside his home in Tunis on Wednesday morning and died in hospital shortly after.
President Moncef Marzouki cut short a visit to France and cancelled a trip to Egypt scheduled for Thursday after the killing, which triggered a 1,000-strong protest outside the interior ministry.
Chanting for the fall of the Islamist-led government, demonstrators shouted "Shame, shame Chokri died", "Where is the government?", and, "The government should fall".
The prime minister, Hamadi Jebali, who heads the Ennahda party-led government, which won Tunisia's first post-Arab spring election in 2011, said: "The murder of Belaid is a political assassination and the assassination of the Tunisian revolution. By killing him they wanted to silence his voice."
Belaid was an outspoken critic of the coalition government. His small party co-founded the Popular Front, a leftist alliance preparing to compete in the elections this year.
"Chokri Belaid was killed today by four bullets to the head and chest ... doctors told us that he has died. This is a sad day for Tunisia," Ziad Lakhader, a leader of the Popular Front, told Reuters. Other party sources confirmed his death.
The reason for the killing is unclear, but it comes as Tunisia struggles with social and religious tensions after its longtime dictator was overthrown in an uprising two years ago that set off revolts across the Arab world.
The murder comes amid reports of intimidation and violence against opposition groups, and days before an official commission of inquiry is due to report its findings on an attack against a trades union rally in December.
February 5, 2013
Cairo Activist Fighting Tear Gas With Tear Gas
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
CAIRO — As hundreds fled the advancing armored cars of riot police officers, Mohamed Mokbel ran forward.
A veteran of two years of violent street protests, he pulled on his gas mask and charred protective gloves for another long night at his current vocation: throwing tear-gas canisters back at the riot police.
“Whenever people lose hope, the clashes grow worse,” Mr. Mokbel, 30, said on a break from the fighting on Friday night outside the presidential palace. “But the people in power are still acting like there is no crisis, still firing more gas,” he said, “so I am going back in.”
Two years after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, waves of increasingly violent street protests have decimated tourism, slashed foreign investment, increased poverty and dashed hopes of a return to stability. In the last two weeks, more than 50 people have died in the clashes. Egypt’s top general raised the specter of a “collapse of the state” if civilian leaders failed to restore order. And the interior minister warned that armed militias could take over if his forces gave way.
But behind the mayhem bedeviling the new government are street activists like Mr. Mokbel, who first burst into politics around the time of the Arab Spring revolt against Mr. Mubarak and say they are still fighting for its democratic goals. Alienated from Egypt’s new Islamist leaders or their rivals in the opposition, street protesters have risen up again and again to check perceived grabs for power, whether by the interim military rulers, the elected president or his Islamist allies.
Now, while elite politicians tussle over matters of ideology or provisions of the Constitution, street protesters like Mr. Mokbel say they are carrying on the fight that kindled the original revolt, a battle against Mr. Mubarak’s abusive and unaccountable security services. Two years later, they note, the security forces are still largely intact, and reports of torture, extortion and excessive force continue.
The street war between protesters and the police presents a double-edged challenge to President Mohamed Morsi, a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood who had been jailed without trial under Mr. Mubarak. Brotherhood leaders close to Mr. Morsi say he does not yet fully control the Interior Ministry. Its officers make no secret of their hostility to the Islamists, and Brotherhood leaders say that the new president is struggling to win the ministry’s trust in order to tame it.
But many in the street have turned against Mr. Morsi in part because they believe that he has sided with the security forces. Activists like Mr. Mokbel say they fear that like the region’s secular dictators, Mr. Morsi may use the security police against his opponents as a tool of political power.
“They are trying to build a new regime exactly like the old one, with all its disadvantages,” said Mr. Mokbel, an artist with a small and slender frame who, between battles, studies painting in a graduate program in one of Egypt’s top art schools.
The protesters, Mr. Mokbel argued, are the ones defending the rule of law, standing up for their right to peaceful expression. With no personal gain, he said, they risk their lives for their cause, for one another, and for their many friends who have fallen. “We owe them something,” he said. “Not just a better economic situation, a government that deals with the people, that is not authoritarian or repressive.”
Mr. Mokbel may be among the more articulate protesters. In the on-again, off-again battles with the riot police near Tahrir Square, the combatants are usually teenagers or even children who appear to live much of the time in the streets. Many seem animated by the sport of it, and ill-informed about the politics.
But Mr. Mokbel, part of an older network of activists that is the backbone of the protests, praised the street children for their energy.
“The street kids are the ones who have suffered the most at the hands of the police, and their demands are much lower — some dignity, respect from the police, a little better life economically,” he said. “They are just releasing their anger.”
Although he acknowledged that some among the demonstrators inevitably provoke the riot police with stones or gas bombs, he nonetheless argued that police aggression caused all the fighting. “Police attacking protesters is what causes the chaos,” he said.
Though a few police officers in other cities have been killed by gunfire, the protesters in Cairo have never been armed. Unlike the bullets and batons of the riot police, Mr. Mokbel argued, the protesters’ rock-throwing was mostly harmless against their opponents’ armor, helmets, and shields.
“Even from the Molotov cocktails, not a single police officer has died,” Mr. Mokbel said. “We do not want to burn down a place that we will end up paying to rebuild.”
Mr. Mokbel is the son of a government employee and grew up in a middle-class family. Like many unmarried Egyptians, he still lives with his parents here. And before the revolution, he said, he and his family dismissed politics as hopeless.
These days it keeps him up at night. He sometimes has trouble falling asleep because he is constantly checking his iPhone for Twitter updates or text messages from protesters who might need his help in some new skirmish with the riot police.
At any clash, he said, he knows he will find friends. “There are a lot of really strong relationships, friendships,” Mr. Mokbel said. “We have slept in the same places, been through the same things, been in a lot of crisis situations together.”
Like many on the ground, Mr. Mokbel was briskly dismissive of the elite political opposition. “It does not represent the opinion of the street,” he said. Anyone who starts talking to the news media on behalf of the revolutionaries has left them, he said.
And also like many others, Mr. Mokbel said he did not object to the Islamist ideology of Mr. Morsi or the Muslim Brotherhood. When Mr. Morsi and his Brotherhood allies won control of Parliament and then the presidency, Mr. Mokbel expected that, as former victims of the security forces, they would soon move to reform them.
But now the Islamists’ apparent monopoly on power has turned activists cynical about Egypt’s young democratic process. Since Mr. Morsi’s decree temporarily suspending the power of the courts to challenge his decisions, violence around the country has escalated sharply. “When the regime smashes the judiciary against the wall, and uses the police as a tool of repression, who will conduct elections?” Mr. Mokbel asked. “If we wait for elections, what guarantees do we have?”
Senior Brotherhood officials close to Mr. Morsi say moving too fast to reform the Interior Ministry might provoke an open revolt by the police at a time when public security is already fraying. Instead, after recent clashes with police officers killed dozens of civilians, Mr. Morsi publicly thanked the security forces for their work, and in certain cities expanded police powers.
“We want to see at least a beginning of justice,” he said.
And so last Friday Mr. Mokbel once again packed his gas mask and protective gloves into a shoulder bag and headed into the street for the inevitable fight.
First he joined a march, to help protect it from a rumored Islamist ambush. Then he raced downtown to clashes along the Nile, but they quickly petered out.
Finally, as he was resting his legs just after sunset in a bohemian cafe, a handful of provocateurs among the mostly peaceful crowd outside the palace hurled gas bombs over its walls, setting fire to a gatehouse.
The police responded, as usual, with tear gas and, eventually, birdshot. “Of course the police have the right to defend the palace,” Mr. Mokbel said, heading into the fight. “But the tear gas doesn’t just target the people who threw the gas bombs. It is against the whole crowd.”
“A lot of tear gas,” he said, smiling wanly after about two hours of racing through the smoke to try to throw back the canisters. “So there is enough for everyone.”
February 5, 2013
Bulgaria Implicates Hezbollah in July Attack on Israelis
By NICHOLAS KULISH, ERIC SCHMITT and MATTHEW BRUNWASSER
SOFIA, Bulgaria — The clues to a fatal bomb attack on Israeli vacationers in Bulgaria included a charred tour bus, a decapitated head and a fake driver’s license.
With help from the United States and Israel, investigators here broke the case — and linked it to Hezbollah — using a tip from a secret source and some old-fashioned detective work, tracing the printer that had produced two forged licenses back to Lebanon.
On Tuesday, Bulgaria’s interior minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, announced that two of the people behind the July 18 bombing, which killed five Israeli tourists, a Bulgarian bus driver and the bomber, were believed to be members of the military wing of Hezbollah.
Though investigators did not release names, they identified two of the plotters as a man with an Australian passport, believed to be the bombmaker, and a man with a Canadian passport, both of whom lived in Lebanon.
“We have followed their entire activities in Australia and Canada, so we have information about financing and their membership in Hezbollah,” Mr. Tsvetanov said at a news conference.
Hezbollah has denied responsibility for the bombing.
The announcement could force the European Union to reconsider designating the Lebanon-based group as a terrorist organization and cracking down on its fund-raising. That would upend Europe’s policy of quiet tolerance of the group, which, in addition to operating schools and social services, is an influential force in Middle East politics, considers Israel an enemy and has extensive links with Iran.
Mr. Tsvetanov did not mention Iran, but the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said in a statement on Tuesday, “This is yet a further corroboration of what we have already known, that Hezbollah and its Iranian patrons are orchestrating a worldwide campaign of terror that is spanning countries and continents.”
The United States, too, urged the European Union to condemn Hezbollah. John O. Brennan, President Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser and his nominee to run the C.I.A., responded in a statement Tuesday: “We call on our European partners as well as other members of the international community to take proactive action to uncover Hezbollah’s infrastructure and disrupt the group’s financing schemes and operational networks in order to prevent future attacks.”
But countries including France and Germany have been wary of taking that step, which could force confrontations with large numbers of Hezbollah supporters living within their borders.
Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s high representative for foreign policy, responded with caution. “The implications of the investigation need to be assessed seriously as they relate to a terrorist attack on E.U. soil, which resulted in the killing and injury of innocent civilians,” she said in a statement.
Secretary of State John Kerry called Ms. Ashton to discuss the danger presented by Hezbollah, among other issues, including his statement on Tuesday urging governments around the world, particularly in Europe, “to take immediate action to crack down on Hezbollah.” Asked if Mr. Kerry had pressed the European Union to blacklist Hezbollah, Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokeswoman, said Ms. Ashton “knows where we want to go.”
New details continued to emerge about the bombing, which analysts have called an episode in a shadow war pitting Israel against Iran and Hezbollah. Israel is believed to be behind the killings of Iranian nuclear scientists. Operatives of the Iranian Quds Force, an elite international operations unit within the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, in turn were blamed in plots against Israeli targets in Thailand, India, Georgia and elsewhere.
Amin Hotait, a retired general in the Lebanese Army who is close to Hezbollah, said the Bulgarian decision “lacks unequivocal evidence.”
“The party doesn’t usually retaliate against Israeli attacks by killing civilians,” Mr. Hotait said. “This decision is political in nature, since Bulgaria is not an independent country, but politically dependent on the West.”
After the attack, Mr. Netanyahu immediately blamed Hezbollah and Iran. United States officials privately supported that view, based on intercepted communications.
Bulgarian officials, wary about jumping to conclusions and concerned about alienating European Union allies, needed more proof before they would determine that the attack had been the work of Hezbollah.
Indeed, Mr. Tsvetanov chose his words carefully on Tuesday, leaving room for uncertainty. “A reasonable assumption, I repeat a reasonable assumption, can be made that the two of them were members of the militant wing of Hezbollah,” he said.
Bulgaria was chosen as a target not only because of the Black Sea’s popularity with Israeli tourists, but also because security there was more lax than in other European countries, said a former senior Western official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The European Commission, the union’s main administrative arm, has long slammed Bulgaria for its corrupt and inefficient judiciary. For years, the majority of contract killings in public places in Bulgaria, more than 150 since 2000, have gone unsolved. Mark Grey, a spokesman for the commission, was quoted by Bulgarian national radio on Tuesday as saying the commission expects “fundamental reform of the judicial system” here.
But Bulgarians living along the scenic Black Sea coast did not fear for their safety, or expect a terrorist attack. After the explosion ripped through the bus at the airport in Burgas, officials had to walk a diplomatic tightrope while investigating. Israeli forensic experts descended on the scene. American investigators joined in as well.
At first the authorities believed that the attack had been a suicide bombing. The bomb fragments told a different story. Experts from the European Union’s joint law enforcement agency, Europol, found that “the device had been remotely detonated,” the agency said Tuesday.
Europol determined that a fake Michigan driver’s license recovered at the scene had come from Lebanon. Police combed the beach-side towns and found an agency where another man with a similar fake license had tried to rent a car.
The identity of the Australian was the second major breakthrough. In September, a European intelligence service tipped off the Bulgarians about an Australian bombmaker of Lebanese descent, the former senior Western official said. The intelligence service said he had moved to Lebanon to join Hezbollah’s military wing. Mr. Tsvetanov said Tuesday that the Australian and the Canadian moved to Lebanon, one in 2006 and one in 2010.
“It’s time for Europeans to recognize that they can’t look the other way when a terrorist organization is using their territory with impunity for fund-raising and logistics,” said Daniel Benjamin, who until December was the top counterterrorism official at the State Department and is now a scholar at Dartmouth College.
Nicholas Kulish and Matthew Brunwasser reported from Sofia, and Eric Schmitt from Washington. Jodi Rudoren contributed reporting from Jerusalem; Hwaida Saad from Beirut, Lebanon; and Michael R. Gordon from Washington.
February 5, 2013
Obama Plans Visit to Israel This Spring
By PETER BAKER
WASHINGTON — President Obama plans to travel to Israel this spring for the first time since taking office, as he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu try to move past the friction of the last four years now that both have won re-election.
By making Israel a stop on the first overseas trip of his second term, Mr. Obama hopes to demonstrate support for the Jewish state despite doubts among some of its backers. But the trip also seems designed to signal a new start in a fraught relationship rather than an ambitious effort to revive a stalled peace process.
“The start of the president’s second term and the formation of a new Israeli government offer the opportunity to reaffirm the deep and enduring bonds between the United States and Israel,” Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, said Tuesday, “and to discuss the way forward on a broad range of issues of mutual concern, including, of course, Iran and Syria.”
Mr. Carney said Mr. Obama would also travel to Jordan and the West Bank. The Israeli news media reported that Mr. Obama would arrive on March 20, but the White House would not discuss any dates for the trip.
Mr. Netanyahu’s office said a visit by the president would be “an important opportunity to underscore the friendship and strong partnership between Israel and the United States.”
The relationship between the two leaders has been edgy for years over issues like Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and ways to stop Iran’s nuclear program.
While Mr. Obama won a clear victory in November, Mr. Netanyahu emerged from elections last month in a weakened state. His party won enough seats for him to retain office, but he will be forced to recruit centrist lawmakers for a coalition that might temper his policies. He has until March 16 to present his new government.
Mr. Obama is not expected to unveil concrete proposals for bringing Israelis and Palestinians together during his visit or initiate a specific new peace process. But advisers hope that just by showing up and talking about these issues, Mr. Obama will show that he is not walking away from them.
Dennis Ross, a former Middle East adviser to Mr. Obama, attributed the trip to “a desire to connect with the Israeli public at a time when he can go and not have high expectations about having to produce something.”
The president “can create a new beginning with the same prime minister but with a new Israeli government,” Mr. Ross said.
Some peace advocates welcomed the trip but said it should go beyond atmospherics. “The key is, they’ve got to use this as a real substantive jumping off point for a serious diplomatic initiative,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J Street, a Washington advocacy group. “This has to be more than a photo op to show that he cares.”
A former Israeli defense official said the trip’s announcement might have been timed to send a message to Israelis and even influence the composition of the next government amid talk of restarting the peace effort. The former official said a more centrist government would allow the sides more room to maneuver.
Also on the agenda this trip will be Iran and the continuing strife in Syria that threatens to descend into a wider regional conflict. Israel last week struck a convoy of antiaircraft weapons inside Syria that it feared was being moved to Hezbollah forces.
“The United States can put an end to the Iranian threat,” President Shimon Peres of Israel said in an address to Parliament on Tuesday, “and I believe that the president of the United States is determined to do it.”
While Mr. Obama visited Israel in 2008 as a candidate, he did not travel there during his first term, a fact that became fodder on the campaign trail last year. A television commercial from a group called the Emergency Committee for Israel said Mr. Obama had “traveled all over the Middle East but he hasn’t found time to visit our ally and friend, Israel.” Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, ran his own advertisement criticizing the president for not going to Israel.
Only four sitting presidents have visited Israel: Richard M. Nixon and Jimmy Carter each went once, George W. Bush twice, and Bill Clinton four times. Mr. Bush, considered one of the strongest friends Israel has had in the Oval Office, did not visit until 2008, near the end of his presidency.
Isabel Kershner contributed reporting from Jerusalem.
Ahmadinejad issues challenge to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
By Saeed Kamali Dehghan, The Guardian
Tuesday, February 5, 2013 22:37 EST
When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became Iran’s president seven years ago, he made his presence felt through incendiary statements targeted at Israel and the west. Now, in his dying days in office, he is going out all guns firing. Only this time he is taking aim at the edifice of the political system that championed him.
This week, while schools across Iran were made to decorate classrooms as part of the celebrations marking the 34th anniversary of the 1979 revolution, Tehran was the scene of an unprecedented, and very public, spat at the highest levels of the Islamic republic. On Sunday, a power struggle between Ahmadinejad and the speaker of the parliament, Ali Larijani, reached a climax when the former, in a dramatic sequence of events, played a secretly filmed tape for jeering MPs that showed the latter’s brother, Fazel, allegedly trading on his sibling’s influence for financial gain in a conversation with Saeed Mortazavi, the caretaker of Iran’s social welfare organisation.
Ahmadinejad was addressing the parliament in defence of his employment and welfare minister, Abdolreza Sheikholeslami, who was facing impeachment for appointing Mortazavi, a close ally of the president, to the welfare job. Mortazavi, a former judge and prosecutor general of Tehran, is loathed by the MPs because of his links to the death in custody of at least three protesters in the aftermath of the 2009 disputed presidential election which gave Ahmadinejad a second term.
“These are audio and video, and the tape is clear,” said Ahmadinejad, in quotes carried by the semi-official Isna news agency. “If the honourable parliament speaker sees fit, we can turn over the 24 to 25 hours of recordings to you.” A few minutes of a barely audible tape were played as millions of Iranians listened to the extraordinary parliamentary session live on national radio.
“It was a good thing that you showed this to let people learn about you character,” Ali Larijani retorted.
Larijani’s brother, Fazel, denied the accusations and said he would sue Ahmadinejad and Mortazavi.
On Monday, the fallout was felt when Tehran prosecutor’s the office announced Mortazavi, known by activists as “butcher of the press” and “serial human rights abuser”, had been arrested. While prosecutor general, he tightened control of the press, closing 18 newspapers within two days in 2000, and handed down lengthy jail sentences to protesters and activists. He was also linked to the case of Zahra Kazemi, an Iranian-Canadian photographer who died while in Evin prison in 2003.
Ahmadinejad, however, was infuriated by Mortazavi’s arrest and labelled the judiciary under Larijani a “family institution”. On Tuesday, pro-Ahmadinejad supporters were reported by the conservative Javan Online site to have gathered in front of the judiciary’s office in Tehran, protesting against the arrest.
Before leaving Tehran on a historic visit to Egypt, Iran’s first president to go there since 1979, Ahmadinejad said: “The judiciary should be the judiciary of the nation and not one special family’s private institute.”
The official departure ceremony in Tehran was not attended by any representatives from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s office. Analysts say Ahmadinejad’s revelations in parliament were directed at Iran’s supreme leader, who cannot be publicly criticised by officials and is known for intransigence.
Hossein Bastani, at BBC Persian, wrote that Ahmadinejad was sending a message to Khameni that if he refuses to intervene on the president’s behalf whenever he is at odds with his rivals, the ayatollah should expect “irretrievable blows” to the Islamic republic.
In delivering his inflammatory speech, the president was defying Khamenei who a few weeks ago warned officials against bickering, saying those who bring disputes to public attention are “betraying” the revolution.
Iranian parliamentarians have previously attempted a number of times to impeach Ahmadinejad but their latest bid in November was blocked when Khamenei came to the president’s rescue, saying that such a move would play into the hands of Iran’s enemies. The ayatollah, who has the final say on all state matters, is an erstwhile patron of Ahmadinejad and despite several attempts by the latter to defy him publicly, is believed to prefer a smooth departure for the lame-duck president on face-saving grounds.
But as the presidential vote in June approaches, Ahmadinejad has shown increasing signs of defiance and disobedience as he struggles to preserve his dwindling power. Under Iranian law, he cannot run for a third term.
Larijani, meanwhile, is enjoying a great deal of influence and is seen as a potential frontrunner in the election.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013