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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1078554 times)
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« Reply #4590 on: Feb 15, 2013, 08:45 AM »

Turkish opposition leader condemns 'dictator' Erdogan

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, chairman of the Republican People's party, warns that PM is driving Turkey towards constitutional 'disaster'

Simon Tisdall, Friday 15 February 2013 12.33 GMT      

Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is behaving like an "elected dictator" and propelling the country towards a constitutional crisis in a bid for ever greater personal power, the leader of Turkey's main opposition party has told the Guardian.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, chairman of the social democratic Republican People's party (CHP), said Erdogan, prime minister since 2003, was determined to change the Turkish constitution to create an executive presidency, to which post he would switch after elections due next year.

"Turkey needs a new constitution to protect individual rights," Kilicdaroglu said. The 1982 charter imposed after a military coup was out of date and at odds with Turkey's EU ambitions. But Erdogan's plans ignored the necessary separation of powers, for instance by empowering the president to appoint judges, he said.

"The prime minister is more and more authoritarian, unfortunately. The sovereignty of fear is ubiquitous. No one can talk with ease on the telephone. Civil society is under pressure. The universities cannot express their view. The labour unions are completely silent. The media are fearful," Kilicdaroglu said.

"There is not one single dissenting voice within his own party. The attempt to create an executive presidency is all about the concentration of power in a single hand. It will be a disaster for Turkey. It will cancel all the democratic gains Turkey has made."

The confrontation over drafting a new constitution is expected to come to a head next month, after Erdogan's ruling neo-Islamist Justice and Development party (AKP) indicated it would impose a guillotine on debate in the Turkish parliament's all-party constitutional commission by the end of March. Kilicdaroglu has described the move as "blackmail".

If agreement is lacking, the government needs the backing of at least four opposition MPs to push through the new charter and send it for ratification in a national referendum. The AKP has 326 seats in parliament. It requires between 300 and 367 votes to authorise a referendum, which it is confident it would win.

"If the parliament cannot do it, we will take the constitution to the people," Erdogan said in a speech on Friday.

Alarm about Erdogan's intentions intensified after he startled political observers by suggesting a deal with the Peace and Democracy party (BDP), which represents Kurdish interests.

The AKP government has jailed hundreds of BDP activists and supporters, including MPs and lawyers, under Turkey's sweeping anti-terrorism laws, and several dozen jailed Kurds held a protracted hunger strike last year.

Kilicdaroglu said the manoeuvre, coupled with recently revived contacts with the jailed Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, was a cynical attempt by Erdogan to buy votes while avoiding violence before the 2014 election season.

The BDP's deputy parliamentary chair, Pervin Buldan, responded to Erdogan's overture by setting conditions on her party's co-operation, including an inclusive redefinition of citizenship and the lifting of all restrictions on using the Kurdish language in the public sphere. But Buldan did not rule out a deal.

Devlet Bahceli, leader of the rightwing Nationalist Movement party (MHP), another opposition group, denounced the AKP plan, telling the Hurriyet newspaper: "This is a declaration of war against Turkishness." Turkey's future was now in the hands of Ocalan's outlawed Kurdistan Workers' party (PKK), Bahceli said.

Kilicdaroglu was interviewed during a meeting at the House of Commons sponsored by Keith Vaz MP and chaired by Jo Glanville of English PEN, which promotes and defends freedom of expression.

Emma Reynolds MP, the shadow Europe minister, suggested opposition in some western European countries to Turkey's EU membership bid had set back the cause of reform and encouraged a return to authoritarianism in Turkey. She expressed Labour's support for its Turkish "sister party".

Kilicdaroglu told the meeting that many writers and columnists critical of Erdogan's rule had been "disenfranchised" – removed from their jobs – and that those still working were obliged to observe forms of self-censorship. He noted that more journalists were in jail in Turkey than in any other country.

"When the press is not free, the people are not free," he said. "Whether this is a healthy environment in which to frame a new constitution is a matter I leave to you to decide."

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« Reply #4591 on: Feb 15, 2013, 08:49 AM »

February 14, 2013

Pakistani Political Parties Call for Talks With Taliban


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Representatives from many of Pakistan’s political parties Thursday called on their government to engage in peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, on a day when continuing militant violence in the country’s northwest killed at least 18 people.

The call for a “peace through dialogue” was spearheaded by the Awami National Party, a secular political party that rules the restive northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province, where Taliban violence has been most concentrated since 2007. The initiative followed recent overtures from the Pakistani Taliban that suggested it was ready for talks.

The proposal is entirely separate from efforts in Afghanistan, supported by the Western alliance, to draw the Afghan Taliban — a related but separate group — into negotiations.

Following daylong deliberation at a luxury hotel in Islamabad, representatives from 27 political parties issued a joint, one-page statement. But there is widespread skepticism about whether the Pakistani Taliban, which aims to overthrow the state, is really open to negotiations. It is equally unclear whether the powerful military is fully behind the process.

Two opposition political parties, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, which is led by Imran Khan, and Jamaat-e-Islami, considered the most organized Islamic party, declined to attend the meeting on Thursday.

The meeting came after a decade of domestic conflict that has cost thousands of civilian lives, and that many Pakistanis blame on their government’s difficult alliance with the United States. Political opinion is increasingly wary of using force against insurgents and many instead advocate holding talks.

“Time has come for Pakistani government to withdraw from United States-led war,” said a meeting participant, Maulana Sami ul-Haq, an extremist religious leader, who leads an alliance of far-right political parties and banned militant groups.

At the same time, political parties are under pressure to curry favor with right-wing voters or demonstrate their effectiveness in combating militancy in advance of the coming national election, due to take place by May.

Cyril Almeida, a columnist for Dawn, the country’s leading English daily, said the Awani National Party was being driven by its own electoral needs in the northwest, and predicted that the calls for peace with the Taliban would go nowhere.

“The A.N.P. is pushing a seemingly vague agenda: keep the door to talks open while trying to build consensus for punitive actions,” Mr. Almeida said, “in the likely scenario of the Taliban reverting to type and continuing down their path of violence.”

Despite the tentative signs of reconciliation, militants have not slowed down their attacks.

On Thursday the police in Hangu district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa said they had killed six suicide bombers, probably of Uzbek origins, who had assaulted a police station. Elsewhere in the same district, a suicide bomber rammed his vehicle into a police checkpoint, killing seven people, including four policemen.

In the neighboring Orakzai tribal region, at least eleven people were killed when a roadside bomb targeted a bus carrying members of an anti-Taliban militia. As people gathered for rescue work, another explosion went off, wounding at least 19 people.
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« Reply #4592 on: Feb 15, 2013, 08:52 AM »

February 14, 2013

Syrian Rebels Claim Near Control of a Key Province


BEIRUT, Lebanon — The Syrian insurgency claimed on Thursday to have near-total control of a strategically important province in the country’s northeast, home to some of the few remaining domestic oil production facilities that supply fuel for President Bashar al-Assad’s military forces, after ferocious clashes that lasted for three days.

If confirmed, the rebel assertions about the province, Hasaka, would be at least the third significant gain by the insurgency this week, after the seizure of Syria’s largest hydropower dam and the takeover of a northern military air base with much of its fleet still intact.

The rebels claimed to have shot down three Syrian Air Force warplanes on Thursday, corroborating their assertions with videos posted on the Internet. If their claims are correct, that would be among the government’s biggest one-day loss of warplanes to insurgent fire in the conflict, which began nearly two years ago as a peaceful protest and has cost nearly 70,000 lives, according to estimates by the United Nations.

The Local Coordination Committees, a network of anti-Assad activists in Syria, said gunners of the Free Syrian Army had shot down two warplanes in Idlib Province in the north and one in central Hama Province. Mahmoud al-Abdalla, an anti-Assad activist contacted in Idlib, said it was the first time three warplanes had been brought down in one day.

But the Local Coordination Committees said on Dec. 31 that rebels had shot down three military aircraft on the same day — one warplane over the Damascus suburb of Ghouta and two helicopters, one in suburban Aleppo and other in suburban Idlib. None of those assertions can be verified because of news media restrictions in Syria.

Hasaka, located about 375 miles northeast of Damascus, borders Iraq and is one of Syria’s richest provinces. It is the heart of Syria’s oil-producing and grain-growing region and is home to a sizable share of the country’s Kurdish minority.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-Assad group based in Britain that reports on the conflict via a network of contacts inside Syria, said the rebel fighters were led by Al Nusra Front, an Islamic militant group known for its combat skills but blacklisted by the United States over what are suspected to be its ties to Al Qaeda in Iraq.

The group said Al Nusra Front had led a series of attacks on military and security posts in Hasaka, culminating in an assault on bases in the town of Shadadah, an important line of defense to the area’s oil resources. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also said that rebels had stormed the administration and housing buildings of Syrian Petroleum Company workers at the Jbeysa fields, the largest in the province, and now controlled those facilities.

At least 100 members of the armed forces were killed in Shadadah, the observatory said, while 30 Nusra fighters were killed, including five from Kuwait and Iraq.

Omar Abu Layla, a Syrian and anti-Assad activist in the region, reached by phone, said casualties were high on both sides during the three days of clashes, which included Al Nusra Front’s detonation of two car bombs outside the state security and military headquarters in Shadadah.

Mr. Abu Layla said the loss of Shadadah in particular was a setback for Mr. Assad’s forces, which had sought to fortify the city against an insurgent advance. And the loss of the Jbeysa fields, he said, “is very important since they supply regime forces with oil needed to operate heavy equipment like tanks.”

With the fall of Shadadah, he said, “the regime could lose complete control of the province of Hasaka.”

He also said the insurgents had seized a trove of ammunition and weapons, including antiaircraft guns, rocket launchers, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, two tanks, 400 Kalashnikov rifles and more than 500 cars.

In what appeared to be a strategically less significant but symbolically important rebel victory, insurgents also claimed to have overrun an army battalion in the suburbs of Dara’a, the southern city where the uprising against Mr. Assad began. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that “a lot of men from regime forces stationed in this battalion were either killed or detained by the fighters,” and that army reinforcements were planning to “storm the region.”

SANA, Syria’s official news agency, made no mention of Hasaka, the fallen warplanes or Dara’a in its daily account of insurgent fighting, which, in keeping with government practice, described the rebels as terrorists. SANA said the military claimed a string of victories against terrorist cells in suburban Damascus, confiscation of Israeli-made weapons by terrorists in Homs and a deadly clash between two rival terrorist groups arguing over looted goods in Idlib Province.

Hania Mourtada reported from Beirut, and Rick Gladstone from New York. Hwaida Saad and Anne Barnard contributed reporting from Beirut, and Hala Droubi from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: February 14, 2013

An earlier version of this article misspelled the names of the city and the major oil field facilities in Syria’s northeast Hasaka province that insurgents claim to have captured. The city is Shadadah, not Shadadi, and the oil field facilities are al-Jbeysa, not al-Jabsa.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: February 14, 2013

An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to the city of Shadadah in northeast Syria. It is not one of the country's 10 largest cities.

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« Reply #4593 on: Feb 15, 2013, 08:54 AM »

Libya asks: where are the binmen and police now its people are free

Power vacuum after Gaddafi's long reign leaves militias manning checkpoints and high-level political meetings in tents

Chris Stephen in Tripoli, Friday 15 February 2013 12.12 GMT      

In the two years since Libya's revolution Al Hadi Hamroush has watched the mound of black plastic rubbish bags outside his home grow steadily higher.

After the fall of Gaddafi, the 53-year-old school caretaker moved his family to a vacant bunker in Bab al-Aziziya, the sprawling compound that once was the regime's beating heart, pleased for the chance to live rent free.

When he arrived, rolling lawns stretched across the vast complex of buildings smashed by Nato bombs. Now that grass is buried under a carpet of rubbish and debris that stretches for acres – dumped here by Tripoli citizens because the new government is too befuddled and divided to organise rubbish disposal.

For Hamroush, the stinking mound of waste is symptomatic of a revolution that has failed to deliver on its promises. "Just look at it," he says, his arm pointing to mounds of black plastic rubbish bags, dumped by trucks that come into the compound each night. "When you come out and see this every morning it is bad for your spirit."

It is a familiar refrain among Libyans as they contemplate the fruits of a revolution that cost thousands of lives and yet has left Libya mired in conflict and stagnation.

Libya remains rich in oil but economically it is on its knees; militias control the streets and jihadis roam the east; unemployment is rampant, but despite an acute housing shortage, cranes stand idle on huge construction projects.

The government has proved far from capable of dealing with Libya's many problems. This month the country's top politicians found they do not even control the building where it sits: a group of disabled war veterans occupied the national congress's chamber and, in the absence of a police force to restore order, congress members were forced to undergo the indignity of meeting in a tent at a park.

With popular discontent growing, the government cancelled official commemorations for the 17 February revolution, fearing they would morph into protests, and the prime minister, Ali Zaidan, appealed for calm.

Most of Tripoli's foreign expatriate workers, meanwhile, took the hint and caught flights out of the country, leaving business at a standstill.

One of the few areas of growth in a moribund economy is the sale of stun guns, which has ballooned amid spiralling fear of violence.

"We have eight models, everybody wants them," said salesman Eamon Delor, displaying a baton-shaped black stun gun costing 63 dinars (£32) in his shop by the entrance to Tripoli's walled Old City. "Since the revolution, things have gone backwards. The streets are not safe, nobody wants to be out after dark. You can get some young militia guy giving you problems, and he's got a gun, so there's nothing you can do."

Libya's hopes of a bonanza of foreign investment have also been dashed, with outsiders put off by laws prohibiting foreign investors from controlling their own company. "Foreign investors are pushing the pause button," said John Brooke, in the Tripoli office of the law firm Clyde and Co. "Why would someone invest their time, money and skill in somewhere where they have a minority stake?"

This month parliament pushed the "pause button" on reform itself, deciding not to risk the controversy of crafting the constitution it was elected to supervise, and calling fresh elections for a special commission instead. The move adds at least a year to the original reform timetable, fuelling fears that a country already fragmenting into city-states will become ungovernable.

In his office in the national congress building press officer Omaro Azouz, who two years ago risked his life to send out the first images of revolution in the streets of Benghazi, puts a brave face on things. "There is a lot to be done," he says, insisting reform will go to plan, if not to timetable. "We are different from the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. They had to dismantle a system, but with Libya it is the failure of a system – we have to build a new one."

In Tripoli the contradictory attitude to this weekend's anniversary is clear: by night nervous militias control every junction and the streets are empty, but by day they are a riot of colour, festooned with flags, bunting and banners proclaiming free Libya.

Cab driver Ishmail Shebani has two flags on his taxi, the Libyan tricolour fluttering alongside the blue and yellow of the Amazigh, a Berber people in the western mountains who endured persecution under Gaddafi. The revolution, he says, means he can give Amazigh names to his children, something banned under Gaddafi.

"I'll tell you why it's better now," he said. "I get Gaddafi guys in my cab complaining that they lost the revolution, and they don't mind being open about it. But if Gaddafi had won, the rebels would be too scared to complain out loud."

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« Reply #4594 on: Feb 15, 2013, 08:58 AM »

February 14, 2013

Official Details French Role in Mali


WASHINGTON — French military forces will probably be needed to carry out operations against militants in Mali even after a United Nations peacekeeping force is organized to secure the country, a senior State Department official told Congress on Thursday.

“There’s going to be an ongoing need for a counterterrorism operation in northern Mali, and that probably will always reside in the hands of the French and not in the hands of the United Nations,” Johnnie Carson, the top State Department official on Africa issues, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Mr. Carson’s comments reflected extensive consultations between France and the United States regarding the military operation in Mali and suggested that there would be a longer-term role for French forces in the country. French officials declined to comment on Thursday night.

France rushed 4,000 troops to Mali in January, but French officials have said they plan to progressively hand over responsibility for the bulk of the mission to West African and Malian forces as the terrorist threat is reduced. If a Security Council resolution is approved, as expected, in the coming weeks, those units are to be supplanted by a United Nations peacekeeping force made up of African troops.

In a brief interview after the hearing, Mr. Carson sketched out how the military operation might evolve, including a likely role for French counterterrorism forces in tracking down militants in the rugged northern part of Mali.

“It would be very separate and very different,” he said, making the point that while French forces might be in Mali at the same time as peacekeepers they would operate under a separate chain of command. “A bilateral agreement between the Malian government and the French government would be able to do that.”

Edward R. Royce, the California Republican who is chairman of the panel, expressed concern that the mission might be handed over to the United Nations prematurely. “We do not want to do that hastily,” Mr. Carson responded. “We think that over time the U.N. does have peacekeeping norms and standards that would be applicable and useful in Mali.”

The United States is barred by law from providing direct support to the Malian military after the coup there last year. But it has been providing intelligence, refueling French aircraft, flying equipment and troops to the region, and helping to train West African troops.
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« Reply #4595 on: Feb 15, 2013, 08:59 AM »

February 14, 2013

Israel’s Prisoner X Is Linked to Dubai Assassination in a New Report


JERUSALEM — The Australian-Israeli man recently identified as Prisoner X — found dead in 2010 in a maximum-security prison cell — may have been involved in the assassination of a Hamas leader that year, an episode that was among the most embarrassing in the history of Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad.

The Kuwaiti newspaper Al Jarida reported Thursday that Ben Zygier, who immigrated to Israel from Australia and apparently spent a decade working for the Mossad, was among the 26 suspects in the assassination plot, in which Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a Hamas official, was drugged and suffocated in his hotel room in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Al Jarida, a liberal opposition newspaper, said that Mr. Zygier had provided the authorities in Dubai with “names and pictures and accurate details” in exchange for protection, but Israel kidnapped him from a hiding place and imprisoned him on charges of treason about a month after the Jan. 19, 2010, operation.

The Dubai plot, for which Israel has never acknowledged responsibility, led to diplomatic sanctions against Israel because fake passports from Europe and Australia were used in the operation. Australian journalists reported Thursday that Mr. Zygier, one of several people under investigation by the Australian intelligence service on suspicion of passport fraud, was arrested just before he was set to disclose Israeli secrets about the passports to the Australian government or the news media.

The reports quoted a security official with knowledge of the case as saying that Mr. Zygier “may well have been about to blow the whistle, but he never got the chance.”

The Israeli prime minister’s office and the Justice Ministry declined to comment on the emerging details in a case that has dominated the news here for days, more than two years after what appeared to be the suicide of a man known only as Prisoner X was revealed in local news reports that the government immediately quashed.

Politicians, journalists and human rights advocates have questioned the appropriateness of My. Zygier’s secret detention; the circumstances around his death by hanging, which was ruled a suicide despite his cell having been under constant surveillance; and the extraordinary court order that banned local reporting on the entire episode.

“The Prisoner X affair is a classic story of Israeli failure,” read the headline over a column by Amir Oren in the left-leaning daily newspaper Haaretz. “The most sensitive agencies aren’t functioning,” Mr. Oren wrote. “In its 65th year, the State of Israel still doesn’t control the basics.”

The news blackout was only partially lifted Wednesday evening and may have done more damage than it prevented. Much of the outrage revolved around reports, none of them true, that Prisoner X was denied visitors and that a lawyer, his family and the Australian Embassy were never informed of his detention.

On Thursday, a lawyer hired by the family said he had met with Mr. Zygier a day or two before his death to discuss a plea bargain. “The crimes he was suspected of were serious,” the lawyer, Avigdor Feldman, told Israel’s Channel 10 news, refusing to elaborate. “He denied the charges,” Mr. Feldman added.

In a separate interview with Army Radio, Mr. Feldman said that Mr. Zygier, a lawyer who worked for a year at a prominent Israeli firm, “had been informed that he could very likely expect to be sentenced to an extremely lengthy prison term and to be shunned by his family — and this affects a person’s soul.”

It is unclear how a Mossad agent who had revealed details to a foreign government about an assassination, particularly one as fraught as the Mabhouh affair, would be eligible for a plea bargain. But if the secrets had not yet been shared, and they were limited to information regarding passport fraud rather than murder, a reduction in charges might be more realistic, experts said.

Mr. Feldman said that Mr. Zygier, who was 34 and whose second child, a girl, was born four days before his death, had not shown any suicidal signs. “He sounded rational and focused and he spoke to the point,” the lawyer told Army Radio. “He did not display any special feeling of self-pity.”

Mr. Feldman was one of many in Israel who called for further inquiry into Mr. Zygier’s death. “Those responsible for him should have taken clear steps to watch over him,” Mr. Feldman said.

In Australia on Thursday, the foreign minister revealed that his government had learned of Mr. Zygier’s detention on Feb. 24, 2010, contrary to an earlier ministry statement that it had been unaware until the family requested repatriation of his remains in late December. The minister, Bob Carr, declined to say whether the government knew the specific charges, saying only that officials were informed that Mr. Zygier had been detained “in relation to serious offense under Israeli national security legislation.”

Australia was one of several countries whose relations with Israel were strained by the revelations that the Dubai authorities made after the assassination of Mr. Mabhouh, a founder of Hamas’s military wing who played a role in the kidnapping and killing of two Israeli soldiers in 1989 and who helped supply Hamas with weapons from Iran.

In a confidential diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks, Australia’s Foreign Ministry told the United States Embassy in Canberra that the Dubai affair had made a coming United Nations vote more complicated. “Australian officials are ‘furious’ all the way up the chain of command,” it said. “In the wake of revelations from Dubai, the government is in no hurry to reassure Israel of its support.”

The cable was dated Feb. 25 — one day after Mr. Carr said Australia was notified of Mr. Zygier’s detention.

Gad Shimron, a former Mossad agent who wrote a book about the agency, described Mr. Zygier’s case as “so unusual and so extraordinary,” but not unique.

“Throughout the Mossad’s history there are plenty of stories about people who at one point or another behaved in a way that is so bluntly different than the James Bond kind of manner they were expected to be,” Mr. Shimron said in a radio interview.

Mayy El Sheikh contributed reporting from Cairo, and Myra Noveck from Jerusalem.
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« Reply #4596 on: Feb 15, 2013, 09:04 AM »

02/15/2013 11:56 AM

After the Arab Spring: Al-Jazeera Losing Battle for Independence

By Alexander Kühn, Christoph Reuter and Gregor Peter Schmitz

For over a decade, the Arab television broadcaster Al-Jazeera was widely respected for providing an independent voice from the Middle East. Recently, however, several top journalists have left, saying the station has developed a clear political agenda.

Aktham Suliman's wristwatch was always ahead. Although he lived in Berlin, it always showed him the time in Doha, the capital of the emirate of Qatar -- which is also the home of Al-Jazeera, the television news network that had been employing Suliman, born in Damascus, as a correspondent for Germany since 2002.

"Doha time was Jazeera time," he says. "It was an honor to work for this broadcaster."

One and a half years ago, Suliman, 42, re-set his watch to German time, having become disenchanted with Al-Jazeera. And it wasn't just because the broadcaster seemed less interested in reports from Europe. Rather, Suliman had the feeling that he was no longer being allowed to work as an independent journalist.

Last August, he quit his job. "Before the beginning of the Arab Spring, we were a voice for change," he says, "a platform for critics and political activists throughout the region. Now, Al-Jazeera has become a propaganda broadcaster."

Suliman is not the only one who feels bitterly disappointed. The Arab TV network has recently suffered an exodus of prominent staff members. Reporters and anchors in cities like Paris, London, Moscow, Beirut and Cairo have left Al-Jazeera, despite what are seen as luxurious working conditions in centrally located offices. And despite the fact that the network is investing an estimated $500 million (€375 million) in the US, so as to reach even more viewers on the world's largest television market -- one in which its biggest competitor, CNN, is at home.

Al-Jazeera has over 3,000 staff members and 65 correspondent offices worldwide -- and viewers in some 50 million households throughout the Arab world. But it also has a problem: More than ever before, critics contend that the broadcaster is following a clear political agenda, and not adhering to the principles of journalistic independence.

Such accusations have been leveled against Western broadcasters as well, of course. But the charge would place Al-Jazeera on a par with Fox News -- which pursues the agenda of conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch in the US -- rather than CNN.

Objectivity in a World of Censorship

Indeed, the Arab programming of Al-Jazeera -- which means "the island" in Arabic -- was launched in 1996 with a noble goal: It aimed to serve as an objective medium in a world of rigorous censorship.

The network broadcast messages from Osama bin Laden, prompting outraged criticism from the US, where it was referred to as a "terror network." At the same time, it was the only Arab medium that regularly invited Israeli politicians to debates. Its correspondents didn't hesitate to call former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein a "dictator" -- and Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak a "wimp." What's more, the network's journalists reported on dissidents, including members of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, who were forced to rot in prison for years under Mubarak's regime. Such courage and informative journalism earned Al-Jazeera a number of awards.

Since the Arab Spring, though, many former dissidents have risen to power across the region -- and these fledgling leaders often show little respect for democratic principles. Al-Jazeera, however, has shamelessly fawned upon the new rulers.

Today, when Egyptians protest against President Mohammad Morsi and the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Jazeera is often critical of them, in the style of the old pro-government TV station. Conversely, according to ex-correspondent Suliman, Al-Jazeera executives have ordered that Morsi's decrees should be portrayed as pearls of wisdom. "Such a dictatorial approach would have been unthinkable before," he says. "In Egypt we have become the palace broadcaster for Morsi."

This is rather surprising considering that Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the emir of Qatar and financier of the network, used to ban such blatant influence peddling. The walls of the TV station's modern headquarters in Doha are decorated with quotations from free-thinkers like Bob Dylan and Mahatma Gandhi.

But the emir, who also has an autocratic style of leadership and occasionally puts unwanted journalists behind bars, is having an increasingly difficult time with independent spirits working on his favorite project.

'I Had to Quit'

A prominent correspondent who, until one year ago, used to report in Beirut for the network, says: "Al-Jazeera takes a clear position in every country from which it reports -- not based on journalistic priorities, but rather on the interests of the Foreign Ministry of Qatar," he says. "In order to maintain my integrity as a reporter, I had to quit."

Critics say that the emir now essentially trusts only his own people: The network's director general is now a relative of the emir, as is the head of the advisory board. They are seemingly required to follow political guidelines laid down by the palace -- instead of serving the interests of viewers. Thanks to its oil wealth, Qatar is blessed with the world's second highest per capita income, and it's a key geo-political player with a clear agenda.

When, for instance, mass protests were staged against the neighboring regime in Bahrain, a close ally of the emir, Al-Jazeera almost entirely ignored the situation. In Syria, on the other hand, where Qatar supports the Islamist-leaning opponents of President Bashar Assad with money and weapons, the network's journalists are extremely close to the rebels. Such proximity can be dangerous in every respect, even lethal -- as suggested by a widely circulated online video.

The images show an intersection near Daraa, in southern Syria. A member of the opposition Free Syrian Army, wearing a bulletproof vest, runs across a street on the outskirts of Bursa al-Harir, which has been besieged by troops loyal to the Assad regime for the past nine months. A second man, wearing a sweatshirt but no special protection, follows his lead. From a Syrian army checkpoint located a few hundred meters away, soldiers open fire and a number of shots bring down the man in the sweatshirt.

His name was Mohammed al-Musalma and he was 33 years old. He had been working for Al-Jazeera under the codename Mohammed al-Horani since April 2012. He was regularly paid by the network and was reputed to be one of the most experienced citizen journalists in Daraa and the surrounding area. Musalma was one of numerous local activists who film as much as possible in the hopes that Al-Jazeera will decide to broadcast some of their footage.

'Poses a Danger'

His death has raised questions. For one, running across a wide street in view of an enemy checkpoint is extraordinarily risky. And, while it makes sense that Musalma was not wearing anything clearly identifying him as a member of the press -- reporters in Syria are advised against doing so -- established media organizations outfit their staff members with safety equipment, including bulletproof vests. Al-Jazeera, however, would seem not to prescribe this kind of protection for local activists who serve the broadcaster as inexpensive part-time correspondents.

Suliman says that he and a number of colleagues broached this topic during a visit to the headquarters in Doha a few months before Musalma's death. "If a differentiation is no longer made between activists and journalists, then that poses a danger to everyone," he says.

According to Suliman, the editor in chief praised the idea of a clear differentiation. But nothing happened, he says -- except that the shocking video was deleted from the Al-Jazeera website, where it first was posted.

As far back as the spring of 2011, after Al-Jazeera cameraman Ali Hassan al-Jaber was killed in Libya by government forces, the network had promised that it would examine the issue of better protection for its staff members, says Suliman. But he says that nothing was done about the problem then, either.

Despite numerous inquiries from SPIEGEL, the network has refused to comment on the allegations. The negative headlines come at a bad time for Al-Jazeera. For a number of years, its English-language spin-off has been trying to gain a foothold in the lucrative American market, but leading US cable companies have given it very little access.

Expansion in the US

At the beginning of this year, Al-Jazeera spent $500 million to purchase Current TV, which was co-founded by former US Vice President Al Gore. This struggling left-leaning political channel has been a flop with viewers and has received miserably low ratings; it can, however, be viewed in over 40 million US households.

"Of course the price is far too high for a niche broadcaster, but the Emir of Qatar wanted to finally expand in America," says US journalism professor Philip Seib from the University of Southern California. Seib says that Al-Jazeera has been experiencing heightened competition in the Arabic home market from local broadcasters and international rivals. He believes that the expansion in the US is a logical consequence of this development.

Will the huge investment pay off? The market for foreign news continues to shrink in the US, and the public has reservations about the Arab broadcaster. Ann Coulter, the staunchly conservative US columnist, recently quipped on Twitter: "Al-Qaida could only come up with $400 million."

Such prejudice can only be overcome with top-notch journalism. Al-Jazeera has advertised for 160 new positions in up to 10 new US bureaus and it has already received over 8,000 applications. After all, the media crisis has also cost many American journalists their jobs.

But there is also growing discontent in the US over how Doha tries to lead public opinion by the nose. Network staff recently complained that a speech delivered by the emir at the United Nations became the top story on Al-Jazeera's evening news broadcast.

"It's the same everywhere in the media business: He who pays sets the tone," says TV expert Seib. Ironically, though, the news broadcaster from Doha initially aimed to be more than just a business model. According to its own description, it once aspired to be "a voice for the voiceless."

Translated from the German by Paul Cohen

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« Reply #4597 on: Feb 15, 2013, 09:09 AM »

Romania: Banners of discord

14 February 2013
România libera

Romanian leaders never miss an opportunity to annoy the Székelys, Romania’s Hungarian minority. The “war over flags” which has recently been waged by the central government and a number of Transylvanian regional municipalities is only the latest episode in Bucharest’s campaign to create tensions with the Hungarians.

In France, close to the Swiss border, the white cross on a red background, which is the Swiss flag and also the historic emblem of Savoie, can be found on any street corner or displayed on local doors.

In Romania, within the walls of Alba Iulia’s medieval fortress, which was built more than 300 years ago by the Austrians, every week there is a coup d’état when the flag of the Habsburg Monarchy is raised over the bastion that was once home to Austrian cavalry and artillery regiments. In many Transylvanian towns, you can still see old coats of arms that date from the time when the province belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, sometimes even on official buildings.

None of these emblems, and none of the ceremonies recreated by historians in Alba Iulia, have offended the patriotic sensibilities of Romania’s leaders, who look on with pride when the American Stars and Stripes is raised alongside the Romanian flag, which flies over the Mihail Kogălniceanu military base [near Constanţa in the southeast of the country].

Threatening Romania

However, flying the Székely flag is interpeted as a threat to Romania, because it discreetly calls into question the sovereignty of the province. All of our history books, dating from after 1918, have taught us about the many injustices suffered by Romanians in Transylvania when their capital was in Budapest, and the resistance which fought against the nasty Hungarians who tried to assimilate them. Even today, schoolbooks only teach Romanian children about the negative aspects of Hungarians, which are borne out by the information they get from the TV news.

The Hungarians are always to blame. However, this time around, the flag war was triggered by the new centre-left official from the Social Democratic Party appointed by the Victor Ponta government in Covasna County: Codrin Munteanu had the Székely flag removed from his office, even though the courts ruled that it could legally be displayed in November 2012.

Hungarians have been subjected to a "symbolic insult", announced Hungarian diplomat and State Secretary for the government in Budapest, Nemeth Zsolt, who called for all of Romania’s town halls to protest against Bucharest’s policy by displaying the Székely flag.
Smoke and mirrors

Above and beyond the traditional quarrels between Romania and Hungary, centre-left governments have made a habit of fanning the flames of nationalism on both sides of the border; and the current diplomatic scandal is a case in point. Although, it may not be enough to hide the tax increases in Romania, the huge percentage of the budget earmarked for the Romanian Orthodox Church, or increases in the price of gas and surging inflation, it will divert a little attention from these issues and give us the impression that "the Hungarians are to blame" for what is happening in our country.

No doubt this will prompt other European leaders to once again remark that Romania was allowed to join the EU too soon, not only because it has dragged its feet over the drive to eradicate political corruption, but also because it has taste for speeches that raise tensions with its neighbours...

View from Hungary: The Székely taken political hostage by Budapest and Bucharest

For the Hungarian press, depending on the paper’s political slant, interpretations differ. But on one point they do agree: the affair of the Székely flag boils down to internal power games in Hungary and Romania both.

The centre-left daily, Népszabadság stresses that

    Budapest is exploiting the Hungarian minority in Romania for political goals: to keep the them in a state of nationalist tension at least until the Hungarian elections in 2014, when they will be allowed to vote too.

The conservative daily Magyar Nemzet, meanwhile, holds internal political quarrels in Romania responsible for the spike in ethnic tension:

    the 'diversionary skirmish around the flag' is being used by the Ponta government to divert attention from the budget, which was voted on just as the dispute was breaking out. This budget will raise taxes and cut social security spending – but the Romanian media are more worried by the Székely flag [...]. This suggests that the political elites and journalists of Romania still consider the ethnic Hungarians a ‘powder keg’ in the heart of Transylvania.

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« Reply #4598 on: Feb 15, 2013, 09:11 AM »

Italy: ‘Who can save Italy?’

15 February 2013
The Economist

"The danger for Europe’s single currency seems to have abated," writes the weekly newspaper in its cover story, "yet the eurozone’s crisis is far from over."

The zone is in recession and Italy has the most serious structural problems to face. “If the eurozone’s third-biggest economy and its largest public debtor cannot reignite growth and generate new jobs, Italians will eventually lose hope or their northern neighbours will lose patience. […] Either way, the eurozone will fall apart.”

With next week’s election just around the corner, The Economist believes Italians must choose between “the good” (Mario Monti), “the bad” (Silvio Berlusconi) and “the broadly acceptable” (Pier Luigi Bersani). Either way, Italy’s decision will affect more than just the country.

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« Reply #4599 on: Feb 15, 2013, 09:13 AM »

Cyprus: ‘Next 48 hours will determine elections’

15 February 2013
Politis, 15 February 2013

According to the latest polls, Nicos Anastasiades, the leader of the conservative Democratic Rally (DISY), which has the current majority in parliament, will obtain close to 40 per cent of the vote in the first round of presidential elections on February 17.

Two other candidates are neck and neck: Stavros Malas of the communist party (AKEL), which is also the party of outgoing President Dimitri Christofias, and outsider Giorgios Lillikas, who has the support of the Movement for Social Democracy (EDEK). However, the daily believes that an outright victory for Anastasiades in the first round cannot be ruled out.
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« Reply #4600 on: Feb 15, 2013, 09:15 AM »

02/14/2013 03:10 PM

The World from Berlin: 'It's Worth Promoting Economic NATO'

The European Union and United States say they will soon begin negotiations to create the world's largest free-trade zone. German editorialists argue a deal is necessary if the West wants to help shape global politics and address the challenge of a rising China.

Together, the United States and the European Union account for nearly half of the world's economic output and 30 percent of global trade. They have directly invested more than €2.8 trillion ($3.7 trillion) on both sides of the Atlantic; and each day goods and services worth €2 billion are traded across the ocean.

US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel both believe this figure could be increased significantly, adding some much needed economic stimulus in America and Europe.

"An EU-US free-trade agreement would create a new drive for the economy, investments and jobs -- on both sides of the Atlantic," German Economics Minister Philipp Rösler told the German daily Handelsblatt.

In Brussels, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has described the potential deal as "ground-breaking ... a game-changer" -- and it is one that wouldn't cost a cent.

Together, the US and EU want to boost their economies, jobs and present a united front against the growing economic strength of emerging superpower China.

There are many hurdles confronting this "economic NATO," particularly when it comes to food and agriculture -- with European concerns over chlorine-rinsed chicken, hormone-treated beef and genetically modified crops, and American concerns over strict European regulations. But Europe and the United States have agreed to enter into negotiations aimed at eliminating barriers on the flow of goods and services and creating the world's largest free-trade zone.

Talks are expected to begin on the margins of the next G-8 summit in Britain on June 18, German newspapers are reporting on Thursday. Initially, Washington had expressed a lack of interest over a possible deal, but Germany's Merkel has gently nudged two successive administrations since 2007 and it is believed that a personal telephone call prior to Obama's State of the Union address helped remove remaining concerns. Conservative British Prime Minister David Cameron has also pushed for a deal.

The trade agreement aims to go far beyond just trade and services, and negotiations will also strive for common regulations and standards on issues like product safety and intellectual property. A widely cited example are differing automobile safety standards that require a company like Audi to produce different versions of its cars for the American market.

On Thursday, editorialists at leading German newspapers praise the effort, with one financial daily even describing a "United States of the West."

Center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"The project is extremely ambitious, with some Atlanticists already speaking of an 'economic NATO'. That term isn't totally out of place either. The NATO military alliance was once established to protect against the threat of the Soviet Union. The idea of a new economic alliance also has found so many supporters because the old industrialized nations fear that they are falling behind the emerging economic power of China. The fact that negotiations are even taking place is a success for German Chancellor Merkel, who has been pushing the project for years despite an initial lack of interest in Washington. Obama's economics team also held off for a long time because his advisors felt the initiative would be too complex."

"The fact is, an economic NATO would be a major venture. The EU and the US are already tightly interwoven economically. … Despite this, 1.5 percent annual economic growth could be created if the remaining barriers were removed. The only problem is that eliminating these barriers would trigger protests of myriad interest groups and also require considerable political capital. It could also test European solidarity. In London and Berlin, the political classes tend to be oriented towards the free market, whereas protectionism often lurks in Paris."

"Resistance is already forming. In the future will we (Europeans) be forced to eat chlorine-rinsed American chicken? Will we have to sow the seeds of genetically-modified corn on our fields and accept America's lax data privacy provisions? Or, from the American perspective: Will we have to tolerate the Europeans' obsession with regulations?"

"Regardless what the outcome of the talks is, the fact that they are even taking place is extremely advantageous for the Europeans. The EU is now getting a future-oriented project that will allow it to look away from its own problems as well. A free-trade agreement would further open the Continent and could also foster trust between the Americans and Europeans and set standards for the rest of the world. It's worth using all of our energy to promote an economic NATO."

Center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"Finally, one wants to call out, the US and EU are willing to turn an idea that has been bandied about in the political realm for some time now into a real project -- and negotiations are expected to begin soon for a 'Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership'. So President Obama isn't just answering the call of Asia -- he's also making the expansion of American-European economic ties a pet issue. Expectations for the mutual advantages of a free-trade agreement -- economically, politically and strategically -- are so great that one must ask why this wasn't already tackled sooner? But the rise of emerging economies and the challenges that presents wasn't a dominant issue until recently. Today, however, a response is needed, and every potential driving force for prosperity and the strengthening of the Atlantic community needs to be used."

Conservative Die Welt writes:

"It appears that the differences on both sides of the Atlantic are now seen as surmountable. And that's very good news, because a free-trade agreement between the two economic zones would be the cheapest stimulus package one could conceive of. The European Commission expects that the reduction of trade barriers and the harmonization of standards and regulations would lead to annual GDP growth of 0.5 percent. Other estimates are even higher."

"But a common market would also send a powerful political message: Namely that the West wants to pull more tightly together to face the challenges coming from emerging powers in other parts of the world. Given America's current weakness in leadership, it is also necessary. Otherwise, Obama's speech had a clearly isolationist character. …. Only when the country's economic foundations are healthy again can (America) assume a global leadership role (Obama suggested)."

"This means that the trans-Atlantic free-trade zone at the same time has both economic and political significance. It is aimed at helping Europe and the United States recover economically. But it also makes clear that only an en ever-closer West can succeed in decisively helping to determine global policy. Given these considerations of overriding importance, the free-trade zone cannot be allowed to fail over niggling details."

-- Daryl Lindsey

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« Reply #4601 on: Feb 15, 2013, 09:16 AM »

Global demand for gold drops for the first time since 2009

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, February 14, 2013 14:22 EST

Global demand for gold fell last year in its first tumble since 2009 as demand in leading market India slid, narrowing the gap with second-biggest buyer China, the World Gold Council said Thursday.

Demand for the precious metal was 4,405.5 tonnes for the full year, down 3.85 percent from 4,582.3 tonnes a year earlier, the WGC report said.

But in value terms, gold demand in 2012 increased to a record high of $236.4 billion, as the average price for the precious metal rose.

A decline in consumer demand offset an increase in demand from institutional investors and central banks, the report said.

For the full year, India’s gold demand fell 12 percent from a year earlier — despite improved demand in the final quarter — to 864.2 tonnes.

In China, demand for the full year was flat at 776.1 tonnes.

World jewellery demand, which accounts for 44 percent of total demand, slid by three percent in 2012 to 1,908.1 tons, hit by softer appetite in the first half of 2012, the data showed.

The team of WGC analysts, who prepared the report, forecast that gold jewellery demand could soften in 2013 in volume terms.

But investment demand is likely to exceed historical averages due to its role “as a store of wealth”, the report added.

In the October-to-December quarter, global gold demand rose only four percent year-on-year to 1,195.9 tonnes, worth an estimated value of $66.2 billion, WGC said.

Demand for gold in India, the world’s largest consumer and importer of the yellow metal, improved in the last quarter after being sluggish in previous quarters.

India’s fourth-quarter gold demand jumped 41 percent to 261.9 tonnes from a year earlier but in China it climbed just 1.45 percent to 202.5 tonnes, due to “the effects of slowdown in the domestic economy,” the report showed.

“The Indian market thrived during the wedding season and festive fourth quarter period,” WGC said. Indian gold purchases traditionally spike during the religious festival and wedding season.

In addition, bullion dealers stocked up, fearing a hike in the import duty on gold by the Indian government.

Last month, India raised the duty on the precious metal by 50 percent to six percent after doubling it in 2012.

India has been seeking to deter vast gold imports that are one of the main contributors to the deficit in the current account, the broadest measure of trade.

The deficit hit a record $22.3 billion, or 5.4 percent of GDP, in the July-September quarter, as imports outpaced exports.
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« Reply #4602 on: Feb 15, 2013, 09:17 AM »

Canada's problems are about to begin

Growth has been plumped up by high commodity prices but this is due to property prices and the bubble is about to burst

Larry Elliott   
The Guardian, Thursday 14 February 2013 20.30 GMT   
Six out of seven members of the G7 have reported their growth figures for the final three months of 2012 and the news has been uniformly bad. Activity fell in the US, Britain, Japan, Germany, France and Italy, although the drop was so small in America it could easily be revised away.

That just leaves Canada, the land of the tar sands, Mark Carney and – until recently – the sort of hot property market now a dim and distant memory in Britain and the US. Will Canada buck the trend of the rest of the G7 in late 2012? Almost certainly. Growth was just about positive in October and December. Will it be enough to prevent the G7 as a whole having its first negative quarter of growth since the slump of 2009? Almost certainly not, because Canada is not big enough to make a difference when set against declines seen in bigger economies.

What's more, the chances of Canada continuing to outperform its bigger neighbour to the south look remote. US growth was affected in the final three months of 2012 by uncertainty caused by the fiscal cliff negotiations, and will continue to be held back in early 2013 by increases in payroll taxes. But by and large, the US has worked through its problems and looks to be in relatively good shape. Banks have got rid of toxic assets, household indebtedness has been tackled and the lower dollar has made exports more competitive.

Canada's problems, by contrast, are about to begin. True, growth has been plumped up by high commodity prices and prospects of slightly faster growth in the global economy during 2013 will help the extractive sector. Canada's banks were better able to cope with the global financial storm. But the real reason growth has been strong is booming property prices. That is about to end. In the US, trends in building permits and housing starts were an early indicator that the party was over: they are now falling fast in Canada.
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« Reply #4603 on: Feb 15, 2013, 09:20 AM »

Scientists in Mexico herald agriculture revolution in food security push

An agriculture centre part funded by Carlos Slim and Bill Gates hopes to 'provide food security for generations' but the centre's GM research is not welcomed by everyone

Jo Tuckman in Mexico City, Friday 15 February 2013 13.19 GMT   

Scientists at a major international research centre based in Mexico say recent donations from billionaire philanthropists have taken them significantly closer to providing poor farmers with more productive, nutritional and resistant varieties of wheat and maize at a critical time.

"We believe that we are witnessing the start of a genuine new agricultural revolution that will provide food security for generations to come," Thomas Lumpkin, director of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre, said at this week's inauguration of facilities funded by a $25m (£16.1m) donation from Mexican telecommunications magnate Carlos Slim, the world's richest person.

Lumpkin said the new laboratories and greenhouses would double research capacity at the centre, known by its Spanish abbreviation CIMMYT. The centre, famous for launching the "Green Revolution" in Mexico and south Asia in the 1960s, is located just outside Mexico City.

Lumpkin and Slim were joined at the ceremony by Bill Gates, No 2 on the global rich list, whose contributions reputedly saved the centre from going under a decade ago.

All of them stressed that a perfect storm of rising demand for basic grains, dwindling resources, new pests and the additional pressures expected from climate change could have catastrophic impacts in many parts of the world if small-scale farmers are not given affordable access to new varieties that can better cope with these challenges.

Interviewed after the event, Lumpkin said the biggest potential for doing this comes from applying technology developed in human genetic research to germ plasm. He said CIMMYT is at the vanguard of these efforts because of its massive gene banks storing 28,000 varieties of maize and 120,000 varieties of wheat.

"Before you were dealing with shadows and vague things off in the distance, but now we have a sharp focus and can see much more," Lumpkin said of the difference between the old methods of hybridisation and the new possibilities for precision picking and mixing of desired traits.

CIMMYT plans to make the information from its research easily available and understandable to breeders around the world so that they can use it to develop their own varieties specifically designed to address local problems.

More controversially, CIMMYT's revamped facilities are designed to increase the centre's capacity for transgenic research. While insisting that transgenics will remain a relatively minor part of the Mexico programme, probably reaching about 10% in the next five years, Lumpkin argues it could prove critical where manipulation of natural diversity proves insufficient.

CIMMYT scientists say it is particularly important, for example, to find ways of increasing heat tolerance in wheat varieties used in south Asia, where demand is booming and temperatures are predicted to rise dramatically in the next decade.

Lumpkin claims that when delivered by non-profit organisations such as CIMMYT, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can help tackle rural inequality by spreading technology that is currently largely limited to the developed world.

CIMMYT is already working with experimental GMO maize crops in Kenya and several other African countries using "tried and tested" traits provided for free by multinational companies under special agreements. Lumpkin says companies such as Monsanto are willing to do this when the varieties produced are designed for markets that are not commercially significant.

In Mexico, CIMMYT's GM research is limited to wheat, but the new facilities open the possibility of expanding this to much more controversial research with maize.

Mexico is a centre of origin of the crop and the country is home to a vibrant anti-transgenic movement rooted in concerns about contamination of local varieties, deep distrust of official guarantees of safety, and suspicion of the motives of proponents of these technologies.

Campaigners are trying to prevent the Mexican government authorising big commercial projects on GM maize, following a period of several years of experimental and pilot schemes they say have not been properly monitored.

"They talk about transgenics as the solution to world hunger and inequality but it is a false solution," said Greenpeace Mexico's spokesman on agriculture, Aleira Lara. "Even if it is altruistic there are risks. What we need is for the state to attend to the real problems. We need more state budgets to do things such as invest in improving irrigation systems."

CIMMYT scientists, and their billionaire backers, are careful to express their respect for Mexican sensitivities about maize, but are also committed to the idea that the potential benefits out way the risks.

At the ceremony in Mexico on Wednesday, Gates said there were "legitimate issues, but solvable issues" around GM and lauded CIMMYT's role trying to sidestep concerns about monopolisation of the technology by the multinationals. His foundation dedicates about 8% of its agricultural budget to GM-associated projects.

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« Reply #4604 on: Feb 15, 2013, 09:40 AM »

In the USA...

February 14, 2013

G.O.P. Blocks Vote in Senate on Hagel for Defense Post


WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans on Thursday blockedPresident Obama’s nominee to lead the Pentagon in a defiant move likely to further strain partisan tensions while preventing the White House, at least temporarily, from assembling its second-term national security team.

In a result that broke down almost strictly along party lines, Democratic senators could not muster the support to advance the nomination of Chuck Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, to a final vote. The vote was 58 to 40, falling short of the 60 that were needed.

Democrats vowed to try again to resuscitate the nomination of Mr. Hagel, a decorated Vietnam veteran, when the Senate returns from recess in 10 days. Several Republicans who voted against Mr. Hagel said they would not block a final vote.

Democrats accused the opponents of mounting the first-ever filibuster against a Pentagon chief for their own political purposes.

“Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse, it gets worse,” said Senator Harry Reidof Nevada, the majority leader. “I guess to be able to run for the Senate as a Republican in most places of the country, you need to have a résumé that says, ‘I helped filibuster one of the president’s nominees.' ”

The vote represented the first time in history that the Senate has required that a nominee for secretary of defense clear the 60-vote hurdle before a final, simple majority vote. Republicans, who took the extraordinary step of rebuffing their former colleague and fellow party member, insisted that Democrats were trying to rush a vote on a crucial cabinet position that deserved more consideration.

“We didn’t need to have this vote today,” said Senator John Cornynof Texas, the second-ranking Senate Republican. “But the White House and the majority leader were determined to have this vote in order to try to get a story in the newspaper, one that misrepresents the nature of the objection on this side.”

All day, a tense standoff played out in the Capitol as one party tried to force the other into a more politically undesirable position. Republicans, calculating that Democrats might want to avoid forcing a vote that could result in an embarrassing setback for the president, had hoped to press Mr. Reid to back down and reschedule after the Senate returns from its recess.

Democrats, mindful that Republicans did not want to be blamed for jeopardizing the Pentagon’s stability for political purposes, decided to press ahead and require Republicans to record a vote against Mr. Hagel, allowing Democrats to accuse them of a new level of obstructionism.

While the showdown vote was set for Friday morning, just after 3 p.m. on Thursday Mr. Reid came to the Senate floor to move that it be called instead at 4:15. That forced senators like John McCainof Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, members of the Senate Armed Services Committee who have said that they find the act of filibustering a defense secretary distasteful, to cast votes that had the same result as a filibuster, even if they refused to call it that.

Four Republicans joined Democrats in voting that debate on the nomination should end: Senators Thad Cochranof Mississippi, Susan Collins of Maine, Mike Johanns of Nebraska and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah voted present because he said he was wary of the precedent a no vote would set, even though anything other than a yes vote had the same practical effect on the outcome.

Because of parliamentary rules, Mr. Reid voted with Republicans to allow him to bring the Hagel nomination back for another vote. Counting Mr. Reid, Mr. Hagel was actually just one vote shy of the 60 needed.

Given the outcome, a major matter of concern for the White House over the next 10 days is that Mr. Hagel’s opponents — an array of groups that includes conservative and pro-Israel forces — could intensify their campaigns to defeat his nomination.

Leaders of these groups said in interviews that they expected their efforts to include more phone calls urging conservative voters to tell their senators to vote no; new efforts to unearth embarrassing details from Mr. Hagel’s past; and, potentially, a new round of television advertisements pressuring Democrats to drop their support for him.

“My intention is to keep doing what we’re doing, but only to escalate the effort,” said David Brog, the executive director of the large, pro-Israel evangelical group Christians United for Israel.

Republicans were moving on other fronts to block Mr. Obama as he tries to put together his national security team. Senator Rand Paulof Kentucky has said he will place a hold on the nomination of the president’s director of central intelligence, John O. Brennan, and Mr. McCain and Mr. Graham also said they intended to use Mr. Brennan’s nomination to force the administration to answer questions about the September attack in Benghazi, Libya. “It’s a time-honored practice,” Mr. McCain said. “It’s a way for us to get information.”

In a statement after Thursday’s vote, the White House accused Republicans of putting “political posturing ahead of our nation’s security.” It added that there were serious matters at hand: “We have 66,000 men and women deployed in Afghanistan, and we need our new secretary of defense to be a part of significant decisions about how we bring that war to a responsible end.”

The Pentagon said that Defense Secretary Leon E. Panettawill remain in the position and travel next week to Brussels for a major NATO conference, an event that Democrats had hoped would be Mr. Hagel’s debut on the world stage.

The vote on Thursday was an abrupt and unexpected turn of events. Mr. Hagel had earlier appeared to have at least the 60 votes required to break a Republican filibuster.

Then this week, Mr. McCain and other Republicans who had said they might oppose Mr. Hagel but would not back a filibuster — an opposition tactic that is rare for cabinet-level nominees — said they would not support ending debate, a procedural step that must be overcome in the Senate for a vote to take place. They said they wanted more detailed answers to questions about the administration’s response to the Libyan attack.

In an effort to defuse the political tension and address these questions — specifically one about whether the president had spoken with anyone in the Libyan government to request assistance during the attack — the White House wrote to the senators early Thursday informing them that Mr. Obama had spoken to the Libyan president the evening after the attack, not the day it occurred.

Still, Republicans said they needed more time. Mr. Graham noted that Mr. Hagel’s nomination passed the Armed Services Committee only on Tuesday. “This is Thursday. Two days is not quite fair,” he said.

Senator Barbara Boxerof California, summing up Democrats’ frustrations, implored her Republican colleagues, “What more are you trying to get out of this?”

Jim Rutenberg and Jonathan Weisman contributed reporting.


Reid: Blocking of Hagel ‘one of the saddest spectacles I have witnessed’

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, February 14, 2013 18:52 EST

US Senate Republicans successfully blocked Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be President Barack Obama’s next Pentagon chief on Thursday, forcing a 10-day delay in his confirmation vote.

By a vote of 58-40 with one member voting present, Democrats failed to overcome a procedural roadblock put up by Republicans who had demanded more time to receive answers to their questions. One senator was absent.

It leaves Hagel’s nomination in limbo while the Senate takes a week-long recess.

Democrats needed 60 votes to end debate on the nomination and head to a floor vote. Senators said the failure to proceed marked just the third time that a so-called “filibuster” against a cabinet nominee was successful.

Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid took to the floor immediately after the vote to rail against the move, which he saw as “embarrassing the president” at a time of tensions in the Middle East, ongoing war in Afghanistan and North Korea recently testing a nuclear device.

“Republicans have made an unfortunate choice to ratchet up the level (of partisanship) here in Washington,” a furious Reid said.

He added that he would call Hagel, a Republican former senator, and say, “I’m sorry for the president, I’m sorry for the country and I’m sorry for you. But I’m not going to give up on you.”

In a separate statement, Reid expressed bafflement about what he described as “one of the saddest spectacles I have witnessed in my 27 years in the Senate.”

The defeat does not doom Hagel’s nomination to lead the Pentagon in Obama’s second term, and Reid has already said he would call another procedural vote on the first working day after next week’s break.

“I think we all need to take a deep breath,” a White House official said on condition of anonymity.

“Senator Hagel is going to be confirmed, if not tomorrow then when the Senate returns from recess.”

Republicans had blocked Reid’s previous attempts to bring Hagel’s nomination up for a vote on the Senate floor, demanding more details on his finances and on Obama’s management of a September attack on the US consulate in Benghazi.

Several Republicans including Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham said Thursday they were ready to drop their blocking tactics, but only after the recess, frustrating White House demands for a vote by the end of this week.

“I really really do hope that nothing happens during the next 10 days, when we won’t have a secretary of defense…. I hope nothing goes wrong,” Reid said.

Outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has discussed his pending departure from Washington and return to California, but officials stress that he will officially remain secretary until a replacement is confirmed.


Common Cause: Hagel fiasco shows need to repeal Senate’s filibuster rule

By Eric W. Dolan
Thursday, February 14, 2013 19:22 EST

The advocacy group Common Cause blasted Senate Republicans on Thursday for delaying the confirmation vote on Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel.

“Senators have every right to oppose Sen. Hagel’s nomination and to fully air their reasons for doing so. But there is no justification — none at all — for denying him a vote,” Common Cause President Bob Edgar said in a statement. “His nomination was thoroughly reviewed by the Senate Armed Services Committee and debated for two days on the Senate floor; to borrow a phrase from the President’s State of the Union address, he deserves a vote.”

Edgar added that Senate Republicans “have helped make the case for repeal of the Senate’s filibuster rule and its 60-vote requirement for ending debate. The Constitution requires only a simple majority, 51 votes, for confirmation of Cabinet members; the Senate rule replaces that with a 60 vote requirement, effectively giving control to the minority. That’s a travesty.”

Common Cause, along with several Democratic members of Congress, are seeking to have the Senate’s filibuster rule declared unconstitutional in court.

They argued the parliamentary procedure has devolved from an “instrument of procedure to an instrument of policy,” requiring the Senate to have a supermajority of 60 votes to pass almost any piece of legislation. The framers of the Constitution never intended for the filibuster to be used in such a way, the group claimed.


February 14, 2013

Can the Republicans Be Saved From Obsolescence?


One afternoon last month, I paid a visit to two young Republicans named Bret Jacobson and Ian Spencer, who work in a small office in Arlington, Va., situated above an antique store and adjacent to a Japanese auto shop. Their five-man company, Red Edge, is a digital-advocacy group for conservative causes, and their days are typically spent designing software applications for groups like the Heritage Foundation, the Republican Governors Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Lately, however, Jacobson and Spencer have taken up evangelizing — and the sermon, delivered day after day to fellow conservatives in the form of a 61-point presentation, is a pitiless we-told-you-so elucidation of the ways in which Democrats have overwhelmed Republicans with their technological superiority.

They walked me through a series of slides showing the wide discrepancies between the two campaigns. “And just to make them feel really bad,” Jacobson said as he punched another image onto the overhead screen. “We say, ‘Just wait — this is the most important slide.’ And this is what kills them, because conservatives always look at young voters like the hot girl they could never date.” He read aloud from the text: “1.25 million more young people supported Obama in 2012 over 2008.”

In the light of his Apple monitor, Jacobson’s grin took on a Luciferian glow. He is 33, wiry and well dressed and has the twitchy manner of a highly caffeinated techie. “And then we continue with the cavalcade of pain,” he said. The next chart showed that while the Romney campaign raised slightly more money from its online ads than it spent on them, Obama’s team more than doubled the return on its online-ad investment.

Spencer chimed in: “That’s when one of our clients moaned, ‘It’s even worse than I thought.’ ” Spencer, who is 29, possesses the insectlike eyes of a committed programmer. He and Jacobson are alumni of the University of Oregon, where they both worked on the Commentator, a conservative alternative paper whose slogan was, “Free Minds, Free Markets, Free Booze.”

“Then, once people think we’ve gotten them through the worst,” Jacobson said, “we pile on more — just the way Obama did.” He put up Slide 26, titled, “Running Up the Score.” “Obama was the very first candidate to appear on Reddit. We ask our clients, ‘Do you know what Reddit is?’ And only one of them did. Then we show them this photo of Obama hugging his wife with the caption ‘Four more years’ — an image no conservative likes. And we tell them, ‘Because of the way the Obama campaign used things like Reddit, that photo is the single-most popular image ever seen on Twitter or Facebook.’ Just to make sure there’s plenty of salt in the wound.”

Back in August 2011, Jacobson wrote an op-ed in Forbes alerting Republicans to Obama’s lead on the digital front. His warnings were disregarded. Then last summer, he and Spencer approached the conservative super PAC American Crossroads with their digital-tool-building strategies and, they say, were politely ignored. It’s understandable, then, that a touch of schadenfreude is evident when Jacobson and Spencer receive the policy-group gurus and trade-association lobbyists who file into Red Edges’s office to receive a comeuppance.

“Business is booming for us,” Jacobson said. “We’ll double or triple our bottom line this year, easily. But this isn’t about getting new business. We need the entire right side of the aisle to get smart fast. And the only way they can do that is to appreciate how big the chasm was.”

Exhibit A is the performance of the Romney brain trust, which has suffered an unusually vigorous postelection thrashing for badly losing a winnable race. Criticism begins with the candidate — a self-described data-driven chief executive who put his trust in alarmingly off-the-mark internal polls and apparently did not think to ask his subordinates why, for example, they were operating on the assumption that fewer black voters would turn out for Obama than in 2008. Romney’s senior strategist, Stuart Stevens, may well be remembered by historians, as one House Republican senior staff member put it to me, “as the last guy to run a presidential campaign who never tweeted.” (“It was raised many times with him,” a senior Romney official told me, “and he was very categorical about not wanting to and not thinking it was worth it.”)

Under the stewardship of Zac Moffatt, whose firm, Targeted Victory, commandeered the 2012 digital operations of the Romney campaign, American Crossroads and the Republican National Committee, Team Romney managed to connect with 12 million Facebook friends, triple that of Obama’s operation in 2008; but Obama in 2012 accrued 33 million friends and deployed them as online ambassadors who in turn contacted their Facebook friends, thereby demonstrably increasing the campaign’s get-out-the-vote efforts in a way that dwarfed the Republicans’. While Romney’s much-hyped get-out-the-vote digital tool, Orca, famously crashed on Election Day, Obama’s digital team unveiled Narwhal, a state-of-the-art data platform that gave every member of the campaign instant access to continuously updated information on voters, volunteer availability and phone-bank activity. And despite spending hundreds of millions of dollars, the Romney television-ad-making apparatus proved to be no match for the Obama operation, which enlisted Rentrak, the data corporation for satellite and cable companies, through which it accrued an entirely new layer of information about each and every consumer, giving the campaign the ability to customize cable TV ads.

“They were playing chess while we were playing checkers,” a senior member of the campaign’s digital team somberly told another top Romney aide shortly after the election. Later, the top aide would participate in a postelection forum with Obama’s campaign manager. He told me (albeit, like a few people I spoke to, under the condition that he not be identified criticizing his party), “I remember thinking, when Jim Messina was going over the specifics of how they broke down and targeted the electorate: ‘I can’t play this game. I have to play a different game, so that I don’t look like an idiot in front of all these people.’ ”

But the problem for the G.O.P. extends well beyond its flawed candidate and his flawed operation. The unnerving truth, which the Red Edge team and other younger conservatives worry that their leaders have yet to appreciate, is that the Republican Party’s technological deficiencies barely begin to explain why the G.O.P. has lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. The party brand — which is to say, its message and its messengers — has become practically abhorrent to emerging demographic groups like Latinos and African-Americans, not to mention an entire generation of young voters. As one of the party’s most highly respected strategists told me: “It ought to concern people that the most Republican part of the electorate under Ronald Reagan were 18-to-29-year-olds. And today, people I know who are under 40 are embarrassed to say they’re Republicans. They’re embarrassed! They get harassed for it, the same way we used to give liberals a hard time.”

It was not long after the election that elder statesmen of the G.O.P. began offering assurances that all would soon be right. But younger Republicans were not buying it. On Dec. 6, Moffatt addressed an audience of party digital specialists at the R.N.C.’s Capitol Hill Club. Moffatt spoke confidently about how, among other things, the Romney digital team had pretty much all the same tools the Obama campaign possessed. Bret Jacobson was shocked when he read about Moffatt’s claim the next day. “That’s like saying, ‘This Potemkin village will bring us all prosperity!’ ” Jacobson told me. “There’s something to be said for putting on a happy face — except when it makes you sound like Baghdad Bob.”

A few days after the Moffatt gathering, the R.N.C.’s chairman, Reince Priebus, announced that the committee would conduct a wide-ranging investigation — called the Growth and Opportunity Project — into the ways the party was going astray. To guide the investigation were familiar names, like the former Bush White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, the longtime Florida operative Sally Bradshaw and the R.N.C. veteran Henry Barbour. Erik Telford, the 28-year-old founder of the RightOnline bloggers’ convention, told me that he found himself wondering aloud: “Do you want an aggressive investigation from people who’ve built their careers on asking skeptical questions? Or do you want a report from people who are symptomatic of what’s gone wrong?”

Equally galling to younger Republicans was the op-ed Stuart Stevens wrote in The Washington Post on Nov. 28. In it, Romney’s top strategist struck an unrepentant tone, proudly noting that the candidate “carried the majority of middle-class voters” and that the party therefore “must be doing something right.” From her office near the Capitol, Kristen Soltis Anderson, a 28-year-old G.O.P. pollster, tried not to come unglued. “But you didn’t win the election,” she told me she thought at the time. “I’m really glad you scored that touchdown in the third quarter, I am — but you lost the game!”

Anderson is a fantasy-football fanatic, with the rat-a-tat argumentative cadence that gives her away as a former high-school debater. Upon graduating from college, she became the lead singer of the Frustrations, a rock-ska group that folded, as only a D.C.-based band could, when one member decided to attend law school and another needed more time to study for the bar exam. Anderson, for her part, is now a pollster and vice president of the Winston Group. Like the Red Edge partners and virtually every other young Republican with whom I spoke, she regards herself as a socially tolerant, limited-government fiscal conservative. (Today Republicans of all age groups strenuously avoid describing themselves as “moderate,” a term that the far right has made radioactive.) Camera-ready and compulsively perky — she has twice appeared on Bill Maher’s ”Real Time” panel as a token conservative — she nonetheless lapses into despondency when talking about her party’s current state of denial. During one of the postelection panels, Anderson heard a journalist talk about his interviews with Romney staff members who had hoped to build a winning coalition of white voters. “That just stunned me,” she told me one afternoon over coffee. “I thought: Did you not see the census? Because there was one! And it had some pretty big news — like that America’s biggest growing population is the Latino community! Surprise, surprise! How have we not grasped that this is going to be really important?”

One afternoon last month, I flew with Anderson to Columbus, Ohio, to watch her conduct two focus groups. The first consisted of 10 single, middle-class women in their 20s; the second, of 10 20-something men who were either jobless or employed but seeking better work. All of them voted for Obama but did not identify themselves as committed Democrats and were sufficiently ambivalent about the president’s performance that Anderson deemed them within reach of the Republicans. Each group sat around a large conference table with the pollster, while I viewed the proceedings from behind a panel of one-way glass.

The all-female focus group began with a sobering assessment of the Obama economy. All of the women spoke gloomily about the prospect of paying off student loans, about what they believed to be Social Security’s likely insolvency and about their children’s schooling. A few of them bitterly opined that the Democrats care little about the working class but lavish the poor with federal aid. “You get more off welfare than you would at a minimum-wage job,” observed one of them. Another added, “And if you have a kid, you’re set up for life!”

About an hour into the session, Anderson walked up to a whiteboard and took out a magic marker. “I’m going to write down a word, and you guys free-associate with whatever comes to mind,” she said. The first word she wrote was “Democrat.”

“Young people,” one woman called out.

“Liberal,” another said. Followed by: “Diverse.” “Bill Clinton.”“Change.”“Open-minded.”“Spending.”“Handouts.”“Green.”“More science-based.”

When Anderson then wrote “Republican,” the outburst was immediate and vehement: “Corporate greed.”“Old.”“Middle-aged white men.” “Rich.” “Religious.” “Conservative.” “Hypocritical.” “Military retirees.” “Narrow-minded.” “Rigid.” “Not progressive.” “Polarizing.” “Stuck in their ways.” “Farmers.”

Anderson concluded the group on a somewhat beseeching note. “Let’s talk about Republicans,” she said. “What if anything could they do to earn your vote?”

A self-identified anti-abortion, “very conservative” 27-year-old Obama voter named Gretchen replied: “Don’t be so right wing! You know, on abortion, they’re so out there. That all-or-nothing type of thing, that’s the way Romney came across. And you know, come up with ways to compromise.”

“What would be the sign to you that the Republican Party is moving in the right direction?” Anderson asked them.

“Maybe actually pass something?” suggested a 28-year-old schoolteacher named Courtney, who also identified herself as conservative.

The session with the young men was equally jarring. None of them expressed great enthusiasm for Obama. But their depiction of Republicans was even more lacerating than the women’s had been. “Racist,” “out of touch” and “hateful” made the list — “and put ‘1950s’ on there too!” one called out.

Showing a reverence for understatement, Anderson said: “A lot of those words you used to describe Republicans are negative. What could they say or do to make you feel more positive about the Republican Party?”

“Be more pro-science,” said a 22-year-old moderate named Jack. “Embrace technology and change.”

“Stick to your strong suit,” advised Nick, a 23-year-old African-American. “Clearly social issues aren’t your strong suit. Stop trying to fight the battle that’s already been fought and trying to bring back a movement. Get over it — you lost.”

Later that evening at a hotel bar, Anderson pored over her notes. She seemed morbidly entranced, like a homicide detective gazing into a pool of freshly spilled blood. In the previous few days, the pollster interviewed Latino voters in San Diego and young entrepreneurs in Orlando. The findings were virtually unanimous. No one could understand the G.O.P.’s hot-blooded opposition to gay marriage or its perceived affinity for invading foreign countries. Every group believed that the first place to cut spending was the defense budget. During the whiteboard drill, every focus group described Democrats as “open-minded” and Republicans as “rigid.”

“There is a brand,” the 28-year-old pollster concluded of her party with clinical finality. “And it’s that we’re not in the 21st century.”

Of course, many conservatives like their brand just the way it is, regardless of what century it seems to belong to. Anderson did not relish a tug of war over the party’s identity between them and more open-minded Republicans. She talked to me about Jon Huntsman, the presidential candidate whose positions on climate change and social issues she admired, and the unseemly spectacle of his denigrating the far right. To prosper, the party should not have to eat its own, she maintained. Still, to hear her focus-group subjects tell it, the voice of today’s G.O.P. is repellent to young voters. Can that voice, belonging to the party’s most fevered members, still be accommodated even as young Republicans seek to bring their party into the modern era?

This conundrum has been a frequent postelection topic as youthful conservative dissidents huddle in taverns and homes and — among friends, in the manner of early-20th-century Bolsheviks — proceed to speak the unspeakable about the ruling elite. I sat in on one such gathering on a Saturday evening in early February — convened at a Russian bar in Midtown Manhattan, over Baltika beers. The group of a half-dozen or so conservative pundits and consultants calls itself Proximus, which is Latin for “next,” and they seem to revel in their internal disagreements. One of them argued, “Not all regulation is bad,” while another countered, “I hate all regulations, every single one of them” — including, he cheerfully admitted, minimum-wage and child-labor laws. Nonetheless, the focal point of Proximus’s mission is not policy formulation but salesmanship: how to bring new voters into the fold while remaining true to conservative principles.

“This is a long-term play,” conceded John Goodwin, a founder of the group and former chief of staff to the outspoken conservative congressman Raúl Labrador. “This isn’t going to happen by 2014. But we want to be able to show voters that we have a diversity of opinion. Right now, Republicans have such a small number of vocal messengers. What we want to do is add more microphones and eventually drown out the others.”

“And we can’t be afraid to call out Rush Limbaugh,” said Goodwin’s fiancée, S. E. Cupp, a New York Daily News columnist and a co-host of ”The Cycle” on MSNBC. “If we can get three Republicans on three different networks saying, ‘What Rush Limbaugh said is crazy and stupid and dangerous,’ maybe that’ll give other Republicans cover” to denounce the talk-show host as well.

Cupp, who is 33, defines her brand of conservatism as “rational — and optimistic!” She is staunchly anti-abortion but also pro-gay-marriage and a “warheads on foreheads” hawk whose heroes are Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley Jr. Like many Republicans today — and indeed like liberal Democrats in the 1980s, before Bill Clinton came along and charted a more centrist course — Cupp finds herself in the unenviable position of maintaining that Americans largely side with her party’s worldview, even if their votes suggest otherwise. “Public polling still puts the country center-right on a host of issues,” she told me.

The problem is that her party’s loudest voices sound far more right than center. The voters in Kristen Soltis Anderson’s focus groups condemned Republicans for their unchecked hatred of Obama and for threatening to take away financing for Planned Parenthood, ban abortion, outlaw gay marriage and wage war. From where they stood, at the center-right of S. E. Cupp’s domain, the party had been dragged well out of plain view.

Proximus seeks to marginalize the more strident talking heads by offering itself up to — or if necessary, forcing itself upon — the party as a 21st-century mouthpiece. “If I were training a candidate who’s against gay marriage,” Cupp told me, “I’d say: ‘Don’t change your beliefs, just say legislatively this is not a priority, and I’m not going to take away someone’s right. And if abortion or gay marriage is your No. 1 issue, I’m not your guy.’ ”

I tried to imagine how Cupp’s kinder-gentler message-coaching would go over with the Tea Party, a group that was never mentioned by the young Republicans I spoke with until I broached it. Still, the influence of the far right on the party’s image remains hard to ignore. When I brought up the subject of the Tea Party to Cupp, she said: “People aren’t repelled by the idea of limited government or balancing the budget or lowering taxes. Those Tea Party principles are incredibly popular with the public, even if they don’t know it. Again, that’s a messaging issue, that’s not a principle issue.”

She went on to say, “I don’t think we win by subtraction” — meaning, by casting out the party’s right wing to entice the centrists. Instead, Cupp and her fellow travelers hope to revive Lee Atwater’s bygone “big tent,” under which gay people and Tea Party members and isolationists and neocons would coexist without rancor. But Atwater, the legendary R.N.C. chairman, did not have to worry about freelance voices like Limbaugh and Todd Akin offending whole swaths of emerging demographic groups. Nor during the Atwater era, when Ronald Reagan was president, did the party’s most extreme wing intimidate other Republicans into legislating like extremists themselves, thereby further tarnishing the party’s image. When I mentioned this to the Proximus gathering, Goodwin explained the dilemma faced by Republicans in Congress. “What forces them to vote that way, 9 times out of 10, is a fear of a primary challenge,” he said. “What we hope to accomplish is to bring more voters into Republican primaries, so that it isn’t just the far right that shows up at the polls.”

The dilemma, Goodwin acknowledged, is that the far-right rhetoric may well repel such voters from participating in G.O.P. primaries to begin with. “We recognize that this isn’t something that’s going to happen anytime soon,” he said.

On Nov. 30, more than 2,000 progressives shuffled into the Washington Convention Center to participate in RootsCamp, an annual series of seminars hosted by the New Organizing Institute, where the most cutting-edge digital and grass-roots organizing techniques are discussed. The shaggy and the achingly earnest are well represented at RootsCamp, which makes it an easy target of derision from the right. A reporter from the conservative publication The Daily Caller attended the postelection gathering in 2010 and made great sport of the “unconference,” with its self-conscious inclusiveness, which the reporter termed “multilingual, multicultural and multi-unpurposeful.”

But the handful of conservatives who attended the conference this past November were in no mood to sneer. One was Patrick Ruffini, a 34-year-old leader of the G.O.P.’s young-and-restless digerati. At RootsCamp, his breathless tweets of the sessions held by top Obama organizers — “In eight years, calling people will be obsolete”; “Digital organizing director and field director will be one and the same” — set off a buzz among Republican techies. Ruffini was plainly impressed by the openness of the experience. “I’m like, Wow, they’re doing this in front of 2,000 people, and the system seems to actually work,” he told me a month later. “The thing I was struck by at RootsCamp was that in many ways, the Democratic technology ecosystem has embraced the free market — whereas the Republican one sort of runs on socialism, with the R.N.C. being the overlord.”

The success of the RootsCamp, and its smaller and more intensive offshoot gathering, the New Media Boot Camp, helps explain the yawning digital divide between the two parties. In 2006, a few holdovers from the Howard Dean and John Kerry campaigns eschewed lucrative offers from Washington consulting firms in order to devote some of their time to the communal information-sharing ideals of the New Organizing Institute. Since then, numerous Boot Camp alumni have gone on to help run the tech operations of the Obama campaign and throughout the Democratic Party infrastructure, while RootsCamp has served as a crash course in best practices for thousands of lefties.

Young Republicans now lament that no one from their side has stepped up to organize a conservative version of RootsCamp. Michael Turk, a 42-year-old Republican digital guru, suggested that the failure of G.O.P. technologists to do this springs from a uniquely Republican trait. “They all wanted to make money,” he said. “And so as a result, Katie Harbath, who was one of my deputies at the R.N.C., is now at Facebook, and Mindy Finn” — a longtime G.O.P. digital operative — “is at Twitter, and Patrick and I each started our own companies. We all found ways to parlay that into a living for our families, as opposed to just doing it for the cause.”

Several G.O.P. digital specialists told me that, in addition, they found it difficult to recruit talent because of the values espoused by the party. “I know a lot of people who do technology for a living,” Turk said. “And almost universally, there’s a libertarian streak that runs through them — information should be free, do your own thing and leave me alone, that sort of mind-set. That’s very much what the Internet is. And almost to a person that I’ve talked to, they say, ‘Yeah, I would probably vote for Republicans, but I can’t get past the gay-marriage ban, the abortion stance, all of these social causes.’ Almost universally, they see a future where you have more options, not less. So questions about whether you can be married to the person you want to be married to just flies in the face of the future. They don’t want to be part of an organization that puts them squarely on the wrong side of history.”

Many young conservatives also said that technological innovation runs at cross-purposes with the party’s corporate rigidity. “There’s a feeling that Republican politics are more hierarchical than in the Democratic Party,” Ben Domenech, a 31-year-old blogger and research fellow at the libertarian Heartland Institute, told me. “There are always elders at the top who say, ‘That’s not important.’ And that’s where the left has beaten us, by giving smart people the space and trusting them to have success. It’s a fundamentally anti-entrepreneurial model we’ve embraced.”

Erik Telford explained it this way: “I think there’s a very incestuous community of consultants who profit off certain tactics, and that creates bias and inhibits innovation.” Telford was suggesting that many of the party leaders, like Karl Rove and his American Crossroads super PAC, saw no financial advantage to bringing in avant-garde digital specialists, the types who were embraced by the Obama operation. For that matter, Zac Moffatt and his firm, Targeted Victory, enjoyed a virtual monopoly on the G.O.P.’s digital business during the lackluster 2012 cycle, which has made Moffatt an irresistible symbol for all that’s clubby and backward-thinking about the party. As Bret Jacobson said, half-jokingly, “If you have one firm that’s doing the top candidate, plus the R.N.C., plus the top outside group — the Department of Justice, in any other industry, would be actively asking questions.”

One of several G.O.P. digital whizzes who went unused by Moffatt’s shop in 2012 was Vincent Harris, a savvy 24-year-old social-media consultant whose efforts in Texas helped catapult Ted Cruz to an upset victory over a better-known candidate in the U.S. Senate primary. Harris told me he saw the Romney campaign as “a very insular, closed operation,” symptomatic of a partywide affliction. “There’s an old guard in Republican politics, and that old guard is mostly made up of television and direct-mail consultants,” he said. “And you can say that’s generational — but at the same time, David Axelrod has to be the same age as Karl Rove, right? The old guard in the Democratic Party made the adjustment with the Obama digital operation. There hasn’t been a concerted effort among the established G.O.P. folks to figure this stuff out.”

Harris suffers no illusions that the Roves of his party will turn over the keys to young techies like him. “We’re the second rung,” he told me. “The first tier isn’t going away for another 20 years.”

It is Harris’s last point — that the G.O.P. is stuck with its current leadership for the next decade or more — that incites particular angst in young Republicans. With palpable envy, they describe the forward-leaning impulses of the Obama campaign: Axelrod’s tweeting endlessly; the deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter’s becoming a YouTube dynamo with her sassy Web rebuttals to the Romney campaign; Jim Messina’s traveling westward to receive wisdom from Eric Schmidt, Steve Jobs and Steven Spielberg. (From Spielberg, about not trying to replicate their 2008 campaign: “You can only be the Rolling Stones from 1965 once. And then you’re a touring band that has to sell tickets each time you come to town.”) One leading G.O.P. digital operative told me: “We’re looking for someone who comes to us and is like: ‘All right, what do we need to do? I’m going to trust you to do it, I’m going to give you a real budget, you’ll have a seat at the table and will be just as important as the communications guy and the field guy. And you know what, those other guys need to be more modern, too, and that’s the campaign we’re going to run. So let’s start plotting out how we’re going to do that.’ ”

Echoing the opinion of nearly every other young Republican with whom I spoke, the operative concluded sadly, “And we haven’t had that person yet.”

The person they are seeking is the Republican incarnation of David Plouffe — the seemingly unremarkable Hill staffer and itinerant consultant who, like the Howard Dean strategist Joe Trippi before him, recognized that the only way his relatively unknown and underfinanced candidate could prevail over the front-runner would be to muster a guerrilla operation. To accomplish this, in 2007, Plouffe met with a 25-year-old former Dean techie named Joe Rospars and promptly enlisted him to help marshal candidate Obama’s volunteer support through high-tech means. Plouffe, Rospars told me, became the champion of “using digital to build the campaign from the bottom up.” Employing then-nascent social media channels like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, Rospars’s team raised enormous sums of money online while also plugging a nationwide grass-roots network into Obama’s get-out-the-vote efforts. Four years later, Stephanie Cutter said, “Plouffe was a big proponent” of completely reimagining the 2008 effort.

A few days before this year’s inauguration — after which he would take leave of the Obama White House and of politics as a profession — Plouffe met with me in his small and uncluttered West Wing office. He wore a blue shirt and a purple tie and, with his work now done, was uncharacteristically expansive. He told me he was surprised by the Romney campaign’s strategic shortcomings. After naming one particular member of Romney’s high command, he said, “We had 15 people more qualified to do that job than him.”

Plouffe cut his teeth as the deputy chief of staff of Representative Dick Gephardt, whose impressive farm team also included those who would go on to be White House advisers, like Paul Begala, George Stephanopoulos and Bill Burton. Now it was the Obama operation that, he said, “is going to generate a lot of people who are going to run presidential and Senate campaigns.” They were apt pupils of a campaign that was “a perfect-storm marriage between grass-roots energy and digital technology.” He continued: “Not having that is like Nixon not shaving before his first debate — you’ve got to understand the world you’re competing in. Our thinking always was, We don’t want people when they interact with the Obama campaign to have it be a deficient experience compared to how they shop or how they get their news. People don’t say, ‘Well, you’re a political campaign, so I expect you to be slower and less interesting.’ Right? We wanted it to be like Amazon. And I still don’t think the Republicans are there.”

But, I asked Plouffe, wasn’t the G.O.P. just one postmodern presidential candidate — say, a Senator Marco Rubio — away from getting back into the game?

Pouncing, he replied: “Let me tell you something. The Hispanic voters in Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico don’t give a damn about Marco Rubio, the Tea Party Cuban-American from Florida. You know what? We won the Cuban vote! And it’s because younger Cubans are behaving differently than their parents. It’s probably my favorite stat of the whole campaign. So this notion that Marco Rubio is going to heal their problems — it’s not even sophomoric; it’s juvenile! And by the way: the bigger problem they’ve got with Latinos isn’t immigration. It’s their economic policies and health care. The group that supported the president’s health care bill the most? Latinos.”

Plouffe readily conceded that he and his generation held no iron grip on political wisdom, but then he flashed a grin when I brought up the R.N.C.’s Growth and Opportunity Project, composed of party stalwarts. “If there’s a review board the Democrats put together in 2032, or even 2020, and I’m on it,” he said, “we’re screwed.”

The Republicans did in fact recently have a David Plouffe of their own. As one G.O.P. techie elegantly put it, “We were the smart ones, back in ’04, eons ago.” Referring to the campaign that re-elected George W. Bush, Plouffe told me: “You know how in fantasy baseball you imagine putting up your team against the 1927 Yankees? We would’ve liked to have faced off against the 2004 Republicans. Beating the Clintons” — during the 2008 primaries — “that was, in terms of scale of difficulty, significantly above beating Romney. But going up against the Bushies — that would’ve been something we all would’ve relished.”

Plouffe wasn’t referring to competing against Bush’s oft-described architect, Karl Rove — but rather, against the campaign manager, Ken Mehlman. “Mehlman got technology and organization and the truth is — I think it’s completely misunderstood — it was Ken’s campaign,” Plouffe said. He added that he and Mehlman were friends, and that during the 2012 cycle, Mehlman — who had been informally advising the Romney campaign — was also “very free with advice about structure, how they dealt with an incumbent president, how they dealt with debate prep.” (Similarly, the former Bush senior strategist Matthew Dowd told me that Axelrod reached out to him for advice and they sat down together. “Which never happened with me and Romney-world.”)

Mehlman, according to Bush campaign officials, persuaded Rove to invest heavily in microtargeting (a data-driven means of identifying and reaching select groups of voters), which helped deliver Ohio and thus the election. He advocated reaching out to minority voters both as Bush’s campaign manager and later as chairman of the R.N.C., where he also instructed his staff to read “Moneyball.” “I was like, ‘What does a baseball book have to do with politics?’ ” said Michael Turk, who worked for Mehlman at the R.N.C. “Once I actually took the time to digest it, I realized what he was trying to do — which was exactly the kind of thing that the Obama team just did: understanding that not every election is about home runs but instead getting a whole bunch of singles together that eventually add up to a win.”

I met with Mehlman one morning in his office near the Capitol. He left politics in 2007 and subsequently came out as gay — and after that, became a vigorous if behind-the-scenes supporter of legalizing same-sex marriage in New York and beyond. Mehlman is now a partner at the private-equity giant Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, wealthy and free from his party’s fetters. He was nonetheless hesitant to criticize his fellow Republicans, though implicitly his comments were damning.

“There’s an important book by Ben Wattenberg and Richard Scammon called ‘The Real Majority,’ published in 1970,” Mehlman said as he leaned back in his chair. “The book explains in part how the Republican Party would go on to win five out of six presidential elections through the eyes of the ‘typical’ voter — a working-class couple in Dayton, Ohio. They’re white, worried about crime, feel burdened by taxes and feel like too many Democrats don’t understand these concerns.”

Today’s typical voter, he went on to say, could be that same white couple in Dayton. “But here’s the difference,” he said. ‘They worry about economic mobility — can their kids get ahead or even keep up. Their next-door neighbors are Latino whose mom gets concerned when she hears talk about self-deportation or no driver’s licenses. And that couple has a gay niece and an African-American brother-in-law. And too many folks like the couple in Dayton today wonder if some of the G.O.P. understands their lives anymore.”

I asked him whether, as even some Republicans have suggested, Ronald Reagan would have trouble building a winning coalition today. “I think he could win, partly because Reagan wouldn’t be the Reagan he was in 1980,” Mehlman replied. “Reagan had an unbelievable intuitive understanding of the electorate, because he’d spent his life as the president of a large union, as an actor who understands his audience, as the governor of the largest state, as a corporate spokesman who traveled — Reagan spent his life listening to people and learning from them and adapting to their concerns. That’s why there were Reagan Democrats — ethnics, working-class voters, Southern voters. So I think a modern Reagan would understand the demography and where the new voters are and would’ve applied his principles accordingly.”

But could a modern-day Reagan, even with Ken Mehlman running his campaign, overcome the party’s angry and antiquated image? To win, a reincarnated Reagan — or a Rubio or a Chris Christie or a Bobby Jindal — would still have to satisfy his base of hard-line conservatives and captivate a new generation of voters at the same time. I ran this quandary by Kristen Soltis Anderson. “It’s a big challenge,” she acknowledged. “But I think that if you can earn the trust of the people, there are ways you can say, ‘Here’s why I take this position.’ I don’t know that someone like Rubio, who may be young and attractive and well spoken, could attract young voters despite his views on gay marriage. I do think that in the absence of a very compelling reason to vote for a candidate, those social issues can be deal-breakers for young voters. The challenge is: Can you make a case that’s so compelling that you can overcome those deal-breaker issues? And I don’t know the answer to that question.”

Bret Jacobson, the Red Edge entrepreneur, insisted that the solution was ultimately a simple one. “I think the answer for a vibrant Republican Party is to make our North Star empowering every individual in this country to follow their own dream, free of legislative excesses,” he told me. “There are millions of Americans who take seriously their religious culture as well as traditions that have been handed down for centuries. And the party has to empower them to fight those battles in the social sphere, not in the government sphere. That’s harder work than taking control of the country for four years. But it’s the appropriate battle.”

But, I asked him, don’t social conservatives feel a moral obligation to legislate their beliefs? Did Jacobson really expect the Rick Santorums of his party to let a new generation of Republican leaders tell them what to accept and how to behave?

Jacobson did not back down. “Even the Republican Party rejected Santorum,” he said. “He got some attention, and he certainly received votes. But he didn’t win.”

In a sense, however, Santorum and his fellow archconservatives did win, by tugging Mitt Romney and his pliable views rightward. Then Romney lost, and so did the Republicans.

Two days after Obama’s inauguration, Bret Jacobson flew to Charlotte to attend the R.N.C.’s winter conference and sit on a panel devoted to discussing new digital techniques. “Bret’s presentation was one of the best-received of the panel, by far,” the seminar’s organizer, Ryan Cassin, told me. Still, Jacobson was disappointed to see only 30 people in attendance. President Obama, meanwhile, announced the previous week that his campaign juggernaut would be transformed into an advocacy group, Organizing for Action, that would use the vast social network amassed during the 2012 cycle to advance the administration’s policy goals. The Republican panel amounted to a first step — a baby step — while the competition was lapping them.

Jacobson did not stick around the next day to hear Reince Priebus declare to the conferees, “We’re the party of innovation!” Instead, he left his own panel early to catch a plane back to Washington. Calls were continuing to come into Red Edge’s office from establishment Republicans inquiring about Jacobson and Spencer’s cautionary slide presentation.

Jacobson wanted to interpret this interest as a good thing. But I could tell from his voice that the experience at the R.N.C. conference deflated his hopes about Republicans being well on the road to enlightenment. “My primary worry,” he told me without his characteristic levity, “is that I’m going to become the Al Gore of the right” — meaning, a forecaster of doom, appreciated and unheeded as the clever if somewhat lonely guy who told them so.

Robert Draper is a contributing writer for the magazine. His most recent book is “Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives.”

Editor: Ilena Silverman
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