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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1089864 times)
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« Reply #4980 on: Mar 08, 2013, 08:37 AM »

Air France marks Women’s Day with all-female crew on Airbus

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, March 7, 2013 14:34 EST

Air France will mark International Women’s Day on Friday with a 100 percent female crew on board an Airbus 380, the world’s largest commercial airplane, for a flight from Paris to Washington.

“Air France is bringing together the largest exclusively female crew in its history: two pilots and 22 stewardesses” for the flight, the company said in a statement on Thursday.

Air France has organised all-female crews to mark International Women’s Day, celebrated every year on March 8, since 2006 but this year will be the first time on an A380 superjumbo, which can carry up to 516 passengers.

“Seeing an all-female crew makes an impression. I’m very excited about the idea of this flight,” said Christine Heitz, who will pilot the flight.

[Female pilot via Shutterstock]

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« Reply #4981 on: Mar 08, 2013, 09:02 AM »

In the USA...

Warren: Drug possession warrants jail time but laundering cartel money doesn’t?

By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, March 7, 2013 15:59

Appearing at a Senate Banking Committee hearing Thursday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) grilled officials from the Treasury Department over why criminal charges were not filed against officials at HSBC who helped launder hundreds of millions of dollars for drug cartels.

The HSBC scandal resulted in the Department of Justice and Treasury announcing a record $1.92 billion fine after finding that the international bank repeatedly helped the world’s most violent drug gangs move at least $881 million in ill-gotten gains through numerous countries the U.S. has economic sanctions against.

“HSBC paid a fine, but no one individual went to trial, no individual was banned from banking, and there was no hearing to consider shutting down HSBC’s activities here in the United States,” Warren said. “So, what I’d like is, you’re the experts on money laundering. I’d like an opinion: What does it take — how many billions do you have to launder for drug lords and how many economic sanctions do you have to violate — before someone will consider shutting down a financial institution like this?”

Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen, though admitting HSBC’s actions were “egregious,” did not answer Warren’s question. “For our part, we imposed on HSBC the largest penalties that we’ve ever imposed on any financial institution ever. We looked at the facts and determined that the most appropriate response there was a very, very significant penalty against the institution.”

Warren reiterated her question and still got nowhere. “We at the Treasury Department… don’t have the authority to shut down a financial institution,” Cohen said.

“I understand that,” Warren said, visibly annoyed. “I’m asking, in your opinion — you’re the ones who are supposed to be the experts on money laundering, you work with everyone else including the Department of Justice — in your opinion, how many billions of dollars do you have to launder for drug lords before somebody says, ‘We’re shutting you down,’?”

Cohen continued to rebuff her question, saying that Treasury vigorously prosecutes and fines offending banks but still insisting: “I’m not going to get into some hypothetical line-drawing exercise.”

Frustrated, Warren turned to Federal Reserve board member Jerome H. Powell, who said that such a proceeding would take place after a criminal conviction. ‘That’s not something — we don’t do criminal investigation,” he added. “We don’t do trials or anything like that. We do civil enforcement, and in the case of HSBC we gave essentially the statutory maximum.”

Warren seemed stunned: “You have no advice to the Justice Department on whether or not this was an appropriate case for a criminal action?” But Powell deflected, saying that’s the Justice Department’s realm and that the Fed will “collaborate with them” mainly by answering questions, not by recommending prosecutions.

“You know, if you’re caught with an ounce of cocaine, the chances are good you’re going to go to jail,” Warren said. “If it happens repeatedly, you may go to jail for the rest of your life. But evidently, if you launder nearly a billion dollars for drug cartels and violate our international sanctions, your company pays a fine and you go home and sleep in your own bed at night, every single individual associated with this. I think that’s fundamentally wrong.”

This video is from Elizabeth Warren’s YouTube channel, published March 7, 2013.


It’s a BFD: Obama Renews Biden’s Violence Against Women Act After GOP Obstruction

By: Sarah Jones
Mar. 7th, 2013

Keeping to his promise that “1is2Many”, President Obama said today while signing the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, “(W)e’ve made incredible progress since 1994. But we cannot let up — not when domestic violence still kills three women a day. Not when one in five women will be a victim of rape in their lifetime. Not when one in three women is abused by a partner.

So I promise you — not just as your President, but as a son, and a husband, and a father — I’m going to keep at this. I know Vice President Biden is going to keep at it. My administration is going to keep at it for as long as it takes.”

After an audience member shouted in celebration, “We love you, Mr. President!” and the President responded happily, “I love you back” he got down to the important business of the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

The President said, “We’ve made incredible progress since 1994. But we can’t let up. Not now.” He poignantly referred to the survivors on the stage with him, “Today is about all the survivors and advocates standing on this stage… No woman has to choose between a violent home and no home at all.” He included all Americans who have faced discrimination, “Today is about all the Americans who’ve faced discrimination based on sexual orientation & gender identity when they seek help.”

The President has always seen women as equal people deserving of liberty and equal protection under the law. The President affirmed, “All women deserve the right to live free from fear. That’s what today is about.” His administration has the best record on women’s rights of any administration and indeed, Vice President Joe Biden co-sponsored the original Violence Against Women Act in 1994.

Obama praised his Vice President for forging the original VAWA, “So on behalf of everybody here and all the lives that you’ve had a positive impact and touched through the Violence Against Women Act — the survivors who are alive today because of this law, the women who are no longer hiding in fear because of this law, the girls who are growing up aware of their right to be free from abuse because of this law — on behalf of them and all their families, I want to thank Joe Biden for making this one of the causes of his career. ”

The Vice President also spoke today, acknowledging the origins of the VAWA, “Those of you who have been around a while with me know that I quote my father all the time who literally would say, the greatest sin that could be committed, the cardinal sin of all sins was the abuse of power, and the ultimate abuse of power is for someone physically stronger and bigger to raise their hand and strike and beat someone else. In most cases that tends to be a man striking a woman, or a man or woman striking a child. That’s the fundamental premise and the overarching reason why John Conyers and I and others started so many years ago to draft the legislation called the Violence Against Women Act.”

Biden pointed out that 40% of mass shootings targeted an intimate partner, “We’ve all focused on the tragic gun violence that has been in the news lately, but I want to point something out to you. From 2009 to 2012, 40 percent of the mass shootings in America, other than the celebrated ones you’ve seen — 40 percent where there’s four or more people who have been shot, the target has been a former intimate partner or a close family member.”

Biden explained that the law has been strengthened in its renewal, “First, we’ve given jurisdiction to tribal courts over those who abuse women on reservations regardless of whether or not they — (applause.) We’re providing more resources to the states so they can be trained as to how to collect evidence, acquire convictions, particularly in prosecutions for rape. We’re going to increase the use of proven models to reduce domestic violence homicides.”

The White House broke down the key provisions in the Violence Against Women Act signed today by President Obama, noting the importance of the passage, “While tremendous progress has been made since the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was first enacted, domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking are still significant problems facing women, families, and communities.The new VAWA bill signed into law by President Obama March 7, 2013 will continue effective programs, make targeted expansions to address the needs of especially vulnerable populations, and help prevent violence in future generations.”

It only took a year and a half to get Republicans to reauthorize the VAWA! Woo hoo, way to go Republicans. They held on as long as they could, objecting to liberty and freedom for all but in the end, legitimate rape negatively colored their obstructionism (bad PR) and so women can breathe a short sigh of relief. Sure, you might not be worthy of protection let alone rights in some people’s “minds”, but at least Todd Akin is unwittingly serving the cause now.

Vice President Joe Biden deserves a hearty round of applause for never giving up on justice for women. Yes, Joe, we concur: Women’s lives are a BFD.


The Bill to Fund the Government Is the Latest Bit of Stand-up Comedy From House Republicans

By: Dennis S
Mar. 8th, 2013

By now you’ve surely heard of the much-ballyhooed passage of HR 933. It’s the legislation that, with the cooperation of the Senate, will supposedly prevent a government shutdown of federal agencies come March 27th delaying that possibility until the end of the fiscal year on September 30th. The bill also somewhat lessens the pain of immediate cuts of $85 billion.

I read the bill, 269 pages of skillful deception. Make no mistake, the primary purpose of this bill is to perpetuate the bloat of the defense budget and decimate domestic programs. It doesn’t get to the non-defense sections until page 224 with the exception of a few lines forbidding federal ACORN funding.

Here are some of the multi-billion dollar defense particulars that caught my eye. HR 933 provides over $50 billion in R & D. A total of $33 billion is set aside for Department of Defense Health Care. There’s also about $300,000,000 for Israel, mostly for missile defense and $120 million for a purpose that I’ll explain in subsequent submissions. It’s an ongoing potentially explosive psychological confrontation you’ve not heard much about.

Funding for active and retired Army personnel hits the $42 billion mark. For the Navy, $27 billion; the Marines get $12 ½ billion; The Air Force, $28 billion. Gadzooks! We’re already at $192 billion. There are the respective reserve memberships and National Guard funding adding enough to get us to $200 billion. Then there’s something called “Operation and Maintenance” for all the branches. I guess none of the 200 bill in original appropriations could possibly address such contingencies. Ca-Ching! Your abacus should have spit out another $40 billion.

I followed these calculations to what were undoubtedly the most interesting and mind-boggling lines of the entire legislation. There’s some huge hidden money squirreled away in the defense budget. It’s stuffed deep into the ledger crevices that go by the nom de guerre of Confidential Military Purposes (whatever those are). For the Army Secretary, there’s a generous $35,409,260,000 of taxpayer money in that clandestine pot.

I know what you’re thinking, but there are distinctly separate intelligence, global terrorism and “pay off the snitches in Afghanistan and buy off the Taliban leaders” line items. Just what are “Confidential Military Purposes” (CMP) that carry that kind of a price tag? Are we in a Bond movie here?

The Navy’s CMP line is home to $41,614,453,000 of your dollars. And it ain’t over yet. The Air Force Secretary has $34,780,406,000 at his disposal. That’s a total of almost $112 billion most taxpayers haven’t heard about. I doubt even most House members have a clue. The question is, are these yearly additions to the CMP totals or just replacement amounts for a total that remains within narrow parameters? A scrambling of CMP money alone could easily make up for the estimated 47 billion sequester loss in FY 2013.

But on with the Jody calls. Here’s another interesting cache that begs for abuse. There’s money for expenses not “otherwise provided for, but necessary for the operation and maintenance” of the different branches of the Armed Forces. Bear in mind that the operations and maintenance payouts covered what wasn’t included in the basic funding for each branch. So we’re stacking one funding source on top of the other. There’s a name for that; P…O…N…For example, the Marines pick up an extra $6 billion for God knows what up to the end of the fiscal year, September 30th. The Navy plumped up their bottom line by $3.5 billion; the Air Force, $3.2 billion. Some funding extends beyond the current fiscal year, but is still included in the bill.

The procurement budget is a Chinese water torture drip of a billion here, 17 billion there, adding up to a hefty $63 billion. Frankly in studying 933 in its totality, there doesn’t seem to be a smidgeon of sacrifice on the defense side and that $112 billion still has my head spinning.

Let’s just say domestically, the Obama administration is forced to operate at 2012 levels while Defense luxuriates at 2013 levels. In twisting real events, 933 suggests that if sequestration is “ordered” by the president, the departments and agencies to which this section applies are the following: 933 then goes on to lists 31 departments and agencies. In other words, just about all that exist in Washington DC. That’s deep cuts in consumer access and services while the Defense/Corporate crowd escapes virtually unscathed.

Apparently seeking bi-partisan counsel, the President dined with a dozen Senate Republicans Wednesday night at the pricey Plume restaurant in the Jefferson Hotel (the menu matches the reported dinner orders). South Carolina’s Lindsay Graham, trying to read his state’s Tea Party leaves might think it’s a good play to attract Independents. New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte was there. Palin and Santorum helped the former state Attorney General’s Senate campaign. She’s has nothing politically in common with the president.

Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey was in the chow line. He was once President of the notoriously right-wing extremist Club for Growth. Seat-filler, John the bomb McCain was there. He’s everywhere these days. Who cares? Saxby Chambliss stuffed his face on the taxpayer dime as well. Chambliss. In 2002. Chambliss repeatedly questioned the patriotism of opponent Max Cleland who left three of four limbs in Nam. Mike Johanns attended. He was a big supporter of a fundamentalist “March for Jesus” day while Nebraska Governor. Fortunately both he and Chambliss have announced they’re not running again.

Tom Coburn, Oklahoma’s homophobic, anti-RU 486, war on women, guns in national parks, climate change denier, Baptist Deacon esthetic is balanced by occasional shots at Fox News and an unlikely friendship with the President. He’s also the only Senate doctor, which may have accounted for the invite. North Dakota’s Hoeven is an NRA puppet, Indiana’s Dan Coats was a lobbyist between terms. Nuff said. North Carolina’s Richard Burr is another homophobic gun and pollution whore who voted no to expanding the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Ron Johnson is a Wisconsin Tea Party radical. Probably wore ear plugs to the fete.

Bob Corker is a Tennessee right-winger and one of the sponsors of “The Commitment to American Prosperity Act” (CAP) that calls for a ten-year binding cap on all federal spending to such a radical degree that on close read would pretty much financially bomb the fed services back to the financial stone age. Interestingly, 7 or 12 Obama guests were co-sponsors of CAP. The only other place you’d see these 12 together would be the upcoming CPAC.

Cooperation from this bunch? ROTFLMAO! Get the veto pen ready my friend.


The Mind Boggling Idiocy of Defunding Family Planning Will Cost Texas Taxpayers $273 Million

By: Sarah Jones
Mar. 7th, 2013

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s “Initiatives to Protect Life” (aka; wars on abortion) aren’t going so well. Perry’s alleged ideals aren’t necessarily firmly rooted in reality, and so he announced, “The ideal world is a world without abortion. Until then, however, we will continue to pass laws to ensure abortions are as rare as possible under existing law.”

The only problem is that Perry and his Republican legislature don’t seem to understand what actually prevents abortions, and thus they set about killing the very services that actually reduce abortions. That fail was then projected to cost the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars via what Republicans call big government dependency.

Texas Republicans were shocked to learn that their 2011 legislative efforts to defund family planning clinics by 2/3 will result in more unplanned pregnancies and are projected to cost the taxpayers $273 million for low-income births. Who would have guessed that taking away access to birth control would increase unplanned pregnancies? HUH. This is hard.

The New York Times reported:

    Now, amid estimates that the cuts could lead to 24,000 additional 2014-15 births at a cost to taxpayers of $273 million, lawmakers are seeking a way to restore financing without ruffling feathers.

According to the New York Times, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin found that more than 50 family planning clinics closed as a result of the GOP attacks. So now Republicans have to find a way to re-fund family planning without looking like they’re funding family planning, because family planning is abortion — or, so they told their base.

Their solution? Instead of funding family planning, they’ll put $100 million in a state-run primary care program but not clarify that the money should go to contraception. This will solve the problem of reducing unplanned pregnancies almost as well as their plan to defund family planning clinics reduces abortions (in reality, it doesn’t; abortions are reduced through family planning, birth control, and sex education – all things Republicans oppose, ironically).

The New York Times quoted Senator Robert Deuell (R-Greenville), a physician, as saying, “It’s a much better way to treat the women because they don’t just have family-planning issues.”

Who’s going to tell Deuell that family planning clinics like Planned Parenthood also often offer preventive care like breast cancer screening, anemia testing, cholesterol screening, diabetes screening and so much more? Also, in point of fact, only 3% of their services are abortions?

ABC quoted Regina Rogoff, the Executive Director of the People’s Community Clinic, an independent family planning provider in Austin (Texas), on the “mind boggling” ignorance, “The ignorance, I think, that is so rampant among the legislative community is mind boggling.”

By the time Republicans are done chasing their ideology to its logical, predictable conclusion, they’ll finally arrive where we have been patiently awaiting them.

We are but halfway there. So far, their hatred of abortion has led them to defund the one thing that actually reduces abortion, while increasing the cost to taxpayers for unplanned pregnancies; thereby actually managing to increase federal dependency on big government programs Republicans claim to hate. So far, this is a big fail as far as ideology goes.

Let’s do the math. Texas Republicans touted savings of $73 million by defunding what they hysterically and inaccurately describe as the “abortion industry” (aka: family planning clinics that provide the actual services that in reality, decrease the number of abortions). Now they’re throwing $100 million at the problem but not really addressing it, in order to avoid the unintended consequence of the $273 million crater they just carved into the debt in order to satisfy their ideological fantasy.

How much money will be wasted while Republicans figure out that throwing money at general care isn’t going to solve the unplanned pregnancy problem, and that indeed, this is why so many Americans support programs like Planned Parenthood. You see, they actually work. Yes, it’s true, no one LOVES abortions. That is why most of the country supports the Democratic platform regarding family planning clinics — because they work. SHHHHH! It’s a big secret also known as evidence via scientific data and if that doesn’t get it, it’s also just plain logic. The purpose of contraception, after all, is to prevent unplanned pregnancies.

This here is not only a failure to communicate, but it’s also a great example of why we don’t always let states run wild with their “rights”. Sometimes the federal government actually gets it right, if only because the chances of the federal government being taken over by fantasy-impaired hysterics are slimmer than they are of a state (like, say, Texas) being overtaken by irrational, “mind boggling” ignorance.


March 7, 2013

A Senator’s Stand on Drones Scrambles Partisan Lines


WASHINGTON — Senator Rand Paul’s intention was to highlight his misgivings about how drones are used. He ended up enmeshing his fellow Republicans in a broader debate over national security that scrambled the politics of left and right.

After invoking and being embraced by civil-liberties-minded liberals during a 13-hour filibuster starting Wednesday on the Senate floor, Mr. Paul, of Kentucky, was showered with praise on Thursday by both the Tea Party movement and the provocateurs of the peace group Code Pink. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican minority leader, praised Mr. Paul’s conviction.

Mr. Paul, a libertarian in the mold of his father, former Representative Ron Paul, pointedly questioned whether the government had the authority to kill an American citizen in the United States with a drone strike — an effort that generated a tremendous following on social media.

But he was assailed by two of his party’s most prominent national security hawks, Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. They took to the floor on Thursday to defend President Obama’s aggressive use of drones against Al Qaeda and its affiliates and to suggest that Mr. Paul and his backers had engaged in scaremongering.

“We’ve done, I think, a disservice to a lot of Americans by making them think that somehow they’re in danger from their government,” Mr. McCain said. “They’re not. But we are in danger from a dedicated, longstanding, easily replaceable-leadership enemy that is hellbent on our destruction.”

Mr. Paul won particular support from two other Tea Party-backed Republicans, Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah. The three spelled one another during the filibuster on Wednesday afternoon and evening, drawing in part from a huge positive response on Twitter to their efforts.

But with Tea Party supporters having demonstrated the ability to mount primary challenges to incumbents they consider insufficiently conservative, an array of other Republican senators showed up on the Senate floor late Wednesday night to support Mr. Paul’s filibuster.

They included Mr. McConnell, who has been moving vigorously to shut down chatter about a potential primary challenge to his re-election campaign next year, and Senator Marco Rubio, who has drawn some Tea Party criticism for his openness to an immigration overhaul that would give illegal immigrants a chance at gaining citizenship.

As Republicans went at one another and White House officials watched in amusement, the administration directly answered the question at the heart of Mr. Paul’s filibuster. No, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a letter Thursday to Mr. Paul, the president does not have the authority to use a drone to kill a United States citizen on American soil who is not engaged in combat.

Mr. Holder did not say how the president would determine who is an enemy combatant. And he did not back off his statement on Wednesday that the president has the authority to pursue military action inside the United States in extraordinary circumstances, an assertion that helped set off Mr. Paul’s filibuster.

Late Thursday afternoon, the Senate went on to address what Mr. Paul had been seeking to delay with his filibuster, the confirmation of John O. Brennan as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. After Democrats threatened to keep in the Senate in session through the weekend to deal with the confirmation, Republicans allowed a quick vote and Mr. Brennan was approved, 63 to 34.

Among those voting in favor of Mr. Brennan was Mr. Graham, who had earlier indicated that he might vote no but said Thursday that he would support the nomination to send a signal that he backs the drone program.

By the time the Senate adjourned for the weekend, a Republican Party that had long assailed Mr. Obama as a leader who would turn a war on terrorism into a police action with Miranda rights for suspects had shown itself to be sharply divided over whether the president had instead grabbed too much power and was risking violating the Constitution in his efforts to keep the nation safe.

“The question of whether the United States government can kill a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil when that individual does not pose an imminent threat of death or grievous bodily harm is a fundamental issue of liberty,” Mr. Cruz said. “It is an issue of enforcing the explicit language of our Constitution.”

While the events of the day brought into sharp relief the strains within the various components of the conservative movement, they also highlighted bipartisan unease in Congress over Mr. Obama’s policy of keeping information about the drone program tightly held. 

In particular, the events suggested that both ends of the ideological spectrum were intent on drawing the administration into a more public discussion of its legal rationale for its use of drones — including in one case to kill an American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical cleric and Qaeda planner, in Yemen — and questions about due process for terrorism suspects targeted by the United States.

Among the no votes on the Brennan nomination was Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He has been pressing the White House to release memos to the committee setting out the administration’s legal rationale for drone strikes against American citizens, but so far the White House has provided the memos only to the Intelligence Committee.

“There is a prospect for a libertarian-right, progressive-left coalition on transparency issues,” said Robert M. Chesney, a law professor at the University of Texas.

Best known in foreign policy circles until now for being on the losing end of 90-to-1 Senate vote last year on Iran policy, Mr. Paul emerged as a voice of populists on the right who are concerned about what they see as an unchecked national security state that too often becomes overinvolved in the rest of the world.

While he has sought to distance himself somewhat from the explicitly isolationist and antiwar stances of his father, Mr. Paul still reflects deep suspicion among libertarians and Tea Party supporters about global entanglements. He has expressed skepticism about foreign aid and the need for overseas military bases, opposes American involvement in Syria and has sought more restrictions on the powers of presidents to wage war.

“There’s a healthy debate in the Republican caucus,” Mr. Paul said when asked about divisions in the party and criticism by Mr. McCain and Mr. Graham. “People are starting to understand that that just by calling someone an enemy combatant doesn’t make them an enemy combatant. Someone has to assess their guilt or innocence, and it’s a pretty important question.”


All Hell Is Breaking Loose on the Right After McCain Slams Rand Paul’s Filibuster

By: Jason Easley
Mar. 7th, 2013

John McCain’s criticism of Rand Paul’s filibuster has set off a chain reaction of chaos within the Republican Party and the conservative movement.

Here is Rand Paul saying that the government would drop a Hellfire missile on Jane Fonda and Kent State:

Here is the video of McCain on the Senate floor:

McCain said, “Well, Mr. President, I watched some of that ‘debate’ yesterday. I saw colleagues of mine who know better, come to the floor and voice the same concern, which is totally unfounded. I must say that the use of Jane Fonda’s name does evoke certain memories with me, and I must say she is not my favorite American, but I also believe that as odious as it was, Ms. Fonda acted within her constitutional rights. And to somehow say that someone who disagrees with American policy and even may demonstrate against it, is somehow a member of an organization which makes that member an enemy combatant is simply false. It’s simply false.”

Later McCain said, “But to somehow allege or infer that the President of the United States is going to kill somebody like Jane Fonda, or someone who disagrees with policies is stretch of imagination which is frankly ridiculous, ridiculous. So, I don’t disagree that we need more debate, more discussion, and frankly more legislation to make sure that America does protect the rights of all of our citizens. To make sure at the same time that if someone is an enemy combatant, that enemy combatant has nowhere to hide, not in a cafe, not anywhere. But to say that we would hit them in a cafe with a Hellfire missile. First of all, there are no drones with Hellfire missiles anywhere near. They’re over in places like Yemen, Afghanistan, and other places in the world. So, we’ve done a, I think, disservice to a lot of Americans by making them think they’re in danger from their government. They’re not.”

The reaction to McCain’s comments has been all hell breaking loose on the right.

Rush Limbaugh said, “Senator McCain just went to the floor of the Senate and blasted Senator Paul saying the filibuster was not helpful. Senator McCain, and I tell you, this illustrates the contrast between the new stars of the Republican Party and yesterday’s mashed potatoes. McCain said that Paul’s filibuster (imitating McCain), “Let me tell you what’s wrong with it, Limbaugh. It’s gonna give ammo to those who think the rules of the Senate have been abused.” Senator McCain, there’s not a person in the world who cares about the rules of the Senate right now. And if the rules of the Senate were abused last night for the American people to hear the truth, then so be it.”

Fox News has taken Rand Paul’s side. Drudge is appearing to play it down the middle, but look at how their headlines were structured:


(There are literally thousands of comments from rank and file Republicans criticizing McCain, but the vast majority of them can’t be reprinted here.)

Since the right wing media isn’t concerned with little things like facts, truth, or reality, they are happy to take Rand Paul’s side on this, but there is something bigger in play here.

The impulse that led the right to rah-rah behind Rand is the same one that is causing them to lose elections. Facts may not matter inside the Republican bubble, but to the rest of the country they certainly do.

The same right wing that lost winnable Senate elections in 2010 and 2012 is at it again. They are angry at the dozen Senate Republicans who had dinner with Obama. They are blaming people like McCain for the party’s worsening performance in presidential elections, but what they don’t understand is that standing at the fringes with the Rand Pauls of the world only makes them less electable.

Rand Paul’s filibuster was a verbal drone attack on reality, and the Republican Party is worse off today because of it.

Republicans continue to self destruct, and we all have a front row seat as conservative movement devolves into chaos.

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« Reply #4982 on: Mar 09, 2013, 07:47 AM »

08 March 2013 - 14H53 

Arrests at Moscow women's day Pussy Riot picket

AFP - Moscow police made several arrests on Friday as dozens of activists staged a picket outside the headquarters of the Russian prison service on women's day to call for the release of punk rock group s Pussy Riot.

Around 50 people braved freezing temperatures to demonstrate outside the building, holding placards calling for the release of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina.

They all stood apart in order not to require the official permission needed in Russia for any protest numbering more than one person, an AFP correspondent reported.

But around 10 people were arrested at the start of the protest by police who claimed they were forming a group demonstration.

Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina are currently serving two-year prison camp sentences for hooliganism after their performance denouncing President Vladimir Putin in a Moscow cathedral last year.

Among those protesting was Pussy Riot member Yekaterina Samutsevich who was released on appeal due to her peripheral role in the performance. She held a giant placard reading "Freedom for Pussy Riot".

"It is a day of solidarity and it is not scary at all," she told AFP. "At the moment they (the police) do not need any provocations, that is not at all in their interest here."

Many of the activists adorned their placards with pictures of flowers to honour International Women's Day, a Soviet-era festival that is still a national holiday in Russia and celebrated with enthusiasm.

The protest came after Tolokonnikova, 23, asked a regional court that she be released on parole on several grounds, including the fact that she has a five-year-old daughter.


 09 March 2013 - 13H05 

New Miss Russia defends jailed Pussy Riot punks

AFP- Members of the all-girl punk band "Pussy Riot" sit in a glass-walled cage in a court in Moscow on October 10, 2012. The new Miss Russia took the unusual step Saturday of contradicting President Vladimir Putin by denouncing the jailing of two members of the Pussy Riot female punk band who performed a protest song in a church.
Members of the all-girl punk band "Pussy Riot" sit in a glass-walled cage in a court in Moscow on October 10, 2012. The new Miss Russia took the unusual step Saturday of contradicting President Vladimir Putin by denouncing the jailing of two members of the Pussy Riot female punk band who performed a protest song in a church.

AFP - The new Miss Russia took the unusual step Saturday of contradicting President Vladimir Putin by denouncing the jailing of two members of the Pussy Riot female punk band who performed a protest song in a church.

Eighteen-year-old Elmira Abdrazakova -- an ethnic Tatar whose choice was protested by nationalists on some prominent websites -- said she did not think the young performers should have been thrown in jail for two years.

"I finished Sunday school and for me, a church is sacred. And to do something like that is unacceptable," she told the Russian News Service radio station.

"But the punishment was still too severe. Perhaps they should have just worked with them to change their view of the world."

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina were sentenced to two years in prison after a court convicted them of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for a February 2012 performance in a Moscow cathedral that ridiculed the Church's open support of Putin ahead of presidential elections.

Their treatment has provoked international outrage and has come to symbolise the deterioration of political rights under former KGB spy Putin during his 13-year rule.

Their cause has been picked up by such global stars as Madonna and Sting while the US State Department has officially expressed its disappointment with Russia's handling of the case.

Putin -- his ties with the powerful Church becoming more prominent with the years -- has defended the jailing and ridiculed those who stuck up for the young women.

Abdrazakova's criticism is rare because few prominent Russians dare to disagree with Putin in public because of the heavy state media backlash this is likely to incur.

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« Reply #4983 on: Mar 09, 2013, 07:54 AM »

North Korea urged to halt 'provocative actions' in wake of sanctions

White House says threats are not helpful after Pyongyang vows to cancel non-aggression pact with South Korea

Ewen MacAskill in Washington and Tania Branigan in Beijing, Friday 8 March 2013 21.28 GMT   

The US urged North Korea to resist "further provocative actions" on Friday after Pyongyang vowed to cancel a non-aggression pact with South Korea and planned to disconnect a crisis hotline in retaliation for a new round of sanctions.

The White House plea came as North Korea ramped up its bellicose warnings. A senior North Korean military figure was quoted on Friday as saying that troops had been mobilised and inter-continental ballistic missiles placed on standby.

Washington, anxious to avoid adding to the over-heated rhetoric, opted for a relatively muted response. Asked at the daily White House briefing about North Korea's threats, the deputy press spokesman John Earnest read out a carefully prepared statement: "North Korea's threats are not helpful. We have consistently called on North Korea to improve relations with its neighbours, including South Korea. This is a moment for the North to seize the opportunity presented by a new government in Seoul, not to threaten it.

"Further provocative actions would only increase Pyongyang's isolation and its continued focus on its nuclear and missile programme is doing nothing to help the North Korean people."

The US has promised to protect South Korea and Japan against an attack from North Korea, which also threatened this week a pre-emptive attack on America. The US military is sceptical about whether North Korea has missiles capable of reaching the US.

A North Korean military leader, Colonel General Kang Pyo-yong, was quoted in North Korea's party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, as telling a rally on Thursday that soldiers had been mobilised and stationed along the border ready to take over South Korea. "Our intercontinental ballistic missiles and other missiles are on standby position mounted with various nuclear warheads that have been developed lighter and smaller."

Foreign policy experts point out that North Korea has a history of bellicose statements without matching action, and do not believe it capable of mounting a nuclear warhead on a missile that could reach the US, but expect the North to take action of some kind in response.

Shortly after the UN sanctions resolution was agreed on Thursday, the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, the body dealing with cross-border affairs on the peninsula, announced the cancellation of the hotline and non-aggression pact, repeating its threat to retaliate with "crushing strikes" if enemies trespass on to its territory and to cancel nuclear disarmament agreements with the South.

"According to their strategy and gameplan they have to do something – they have to respond," said Daniel Pinkston, deputy project director for the north-east Asia programme at the International Crisis Group.


03/08/2013 06:18 PM

Pyongyang's Provocations: What Motivates North Korean Threats?

By Andreas Lorenz

North Korea has responded to fresh UN sanctions by threatening to attack the US and escalate tensions with the South. But experts believe that the aggressive rhetoric has also been sparked by changing regional dynamics and hopes of rallying the people around their new leader.

North Korea will "mercilessly" drive the American aggressors into the sea, "miserably destroy" US units stationed in South Korea and transform Seoul into a "nuclear sea of fire." With phrases like these, North Korean leaders have repeatedly threatened to have their "heroic army" -- driven by their superior ideology and love for their supreme leader -- annihilate the enemy.

But now North Korea's extensive arsenal of verbal intimidation has added a new target: Pyongyang declared on Thursday that North Koreans "will be exercising our right to preemptive nuclear attack against the headquarters of the aggressor," referring to the United States. At the same time, North Korea's propaganda apparatus is sowing fear among its own citizens, by claiming that an American attack is imminent and that they must steel themselves for the worst.

The shrill rhetoric coming out of Pyongyang has only increased since the United Nations imposed new sanctions on the reclusive country on Thursday for conducting a third nuclear test on Feb. 12. Indeed, tensions are rising on the Korean Peninsula, where dictator Kim Jong Un is also threatening to scrap the armistice that ended the Korean War, fought between 1950 and 1953, and ushered in a period of more subdued hostilities. What's more, Pyongyang has cancelled a non-aggression pact with Seoul and cut off a hotline meant to allow any incidents along the 38th parallel truce line to be quickly defused.

Further Provocation Expected

The tensions in East Asia could worsen in the coming weeks, experts say. According to the South Korean Ministry of National Defense, the North Koreans are planning to begin a large military maneuver soon. There may also be a further intercontinental missile test.

North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un has visited a number of military units in recent days, and experts in Seoul aren't ruling out another provocation from the country, perhaps similar to that of November 2010, when the North fired grenades at the island of Yeonpyeong, a front-line island, killing four South Koreans.

There are three reasons for Kim's saber rattling. First, Pyongyang is apparently convinced that the rest of the world is out to get them. The regime also believes it is their right to possess nuclear weapons and intercontinental missiles, just like its archenemy, the United States.

Second, Kim and his family aim to show their starving underlings that they are legitimate leaders capable of protecting the people from external enemies, who are supposedly the real reason for the country's miserable economic state. Chinese Professor Shi Yinhong said in a recent interview that the nuclear test's goal was "strengthening his reputation as leader with the North Korean public and the military."

Finally, Pyongyang is testing the limits of recent changes in the region's political landscape. Three nearby countries all have new leaders. In China, the National People's Congress is underway, during which delegates will install Communist Party leader Xi Jinping as state president. South Korea has a new President, Park Geun-hye. And a conservative government is back in power in Japan. Meanwhile, in the US, Sen. John Kerry has replaced former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Undeterred by UN Sanctions

North Korea is aware that its future depends primarily on neighboring China, its last remaining ally in the region. But Chinese scholars and journalists are currently busy wondering if Beijing should maintain its ties to Pyongyang. All it has to do to bring Kim Jong Un and his cronies to their knees is turn off the oil tap and halt food supplies.

Journalist Deng Yuwen, from the Central Party School of the Communist Party of China, believes that this is exactly what Beijing should do. In his opinion, the third nuclear test is an ideal opportunity to review China's alliance with the Kim dynasty. Linking China's strategic security with North Korea is an approach that needs to be overhauled, he says.

But the Chinese military and the International Department of the Central Committee are keen to keep the close relationship alive. Some in Beijing have claimed that Xi Jinping is planning to sit down with diplomats and experts to tackle the North Korean problem once the National People's Congress is over.

The expanded sanctions imposed Thursday include a ban on sales of jewellery, yachts, luxury vehicles and racing cars -- but not on fur and liquor. Kim and his comrades can carry on toasting with fine cognac.

Whatever they decide and whichever forces prevail in China's North Korean policy, Shi is convinced that "relations are at rock bottom." Beijing agreed to the UN's latest sanctions knowing that they are open to interpretation and cannot inflict serious harm on the North Koreans.


North Korea's flamboyant threats are not as wild as they seem

Tabloids portray North Korea's leaders as crazed, but there is logic behind their moves

Tania Branigan in Beijing
The Guardian, Friday 8 March 2013 19.30 GMT   

The bellicose language and extreme nature of North Korea's threats tend to induce alarm or amusement in those who pay only sporadic attention to the country. But regular Pyongyang watchers seem more prone to resignation. North Korea's warning this week that it would exercise a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the United States – though it significantly upped the rhetoric – was the latest in a series of dramatic but less than credible statements.

Experts believe the North is incapable of mounting a nuclear warhead on a missile that could reach the US. More pertinently, to do so would be suicidal.

The tabloid conclusion is that the North's leaders are crazed – Kim Jong-un is a "deranged despot", the Sun wrote on Friday – while the Team America version is that they are idiotic.

Odd as it might sound, the statements are often more nuanced than their flamboyant language initially suggests. Experts point out, for example, that Thursday's threat was addressed to "invaders". More importantly, as with other bouts of sabre-rattling – such as repeated vows to turn Seoul into a sea of flames – and as with its missile and nuclear tests, there is logic behind the move.

The short-term motivation is the North's determination to show that it will not be cowed by UN resolutions or international condemnation. The longer-term thinking, say analysts, is that a desperately impoverished country with few natural resources lacks other ways to exert influence. As the saying goes, it is better to be hated than ignored.

"It is pretty transparent … They want to end up in serious negotiations with the US," said Hazel Smith, an expert on the North at Cranfield University. "Strategically, they want a security guarantee so they can engage in economic development. Overall, their priority is regime survival because none of them want to end up in The Hague."

The North's elite sees its nuclear weapons programme as an insurance policy against regime change. They do not want it to become Iraq or Libya. "They think the Americans will end up in negotiations with them because that's exactly what's happened before," Smith added.

Daniel Pinkston, of the International Crisis Group, said the North's brinkmanship sought to create splits in the international community more generally, test the new South Korean president and divide South Korean society. Threats also play to the North's citizens, reinforcing the message of national pride and unity in the face of never-ending outside aggression. Its fierce statements are meant to "solidify Kim Jong-un's leadership by creating a state of quasi-war and tension", Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Dongguk University, Seoul, told Associated Press.

But while the North is not seeking war, its attempts to up the ante increase the risk of misunderstandings and miscalculations. In 2010 four South Koreans were killed after the North fired dozens of artillery shells at the island of Yeonpyeong after military drills by the South.

Relations on the peninsula had already deteriorated dramatically. "What Yeonpyeong suggests to me is that things got out of hand because relations were so bad in the first place – not the reverse," said Smith. Three years on, the overall situation is also less predictable. There is a new president in the South, and Russia and China appear to be growing more frustrated with the North. "It could have unintended consequences for them," said Pinkston of the North's tactics. "They could miscalculate and it could come back to affect them in ways they might regret."


Kim Jong-un doesn't appear to know what he's looking for

It is difficult to gauge just how serious a nuclear threat North Korea is when its leader seems to have such muddled priorities

Aidan Foster-Carter, Friday 8 March 2013 14.45 GMT   

In heavy metal bands, as the old joke goes, real men keep their amps permanently turned up to eleven.

North Korean rhetoric operates on a similarly Spinal Tap-ish principle. In response to a toughening of UN sanctions, on Thursday the country cancelled a hotline and non-aggression pact with the South and called on its army to prepare "to annihilate the enemy". Amidst the noise, though, both heavy metal bands and North Korea face the same problem: what to do when you really want to make a point? How do you crank it up even further?

A gentler but still menacing metaphor is Aesop's fable The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Everyone shrugged off the little boy's fibs: there wasn't a wolf. Until, one day, there really was. Having followed North Korea for over 40 years, one is used to decibels. But after a while you realise this is more calibrated and calculated than it seems at first sight. Or used to be.

Even shrieking can and must be parsed. Abrogate the 1953 armistice? Been there, done that: seven times or so. Cut off the hotline to Seoul? They've done that five times before, if I recall. Close the border? The laughably named demilitarised zone (DMZ) is hardly an open door. But which crossing? If they mean Panmunjom, that's not where the action is anyway.

The real test lies a few miles to the west. Not a lot of people know this, but every day, dozens of South Koreans commute across the once impenetrable demilitarized zone to supervise some 50,000 North Korean workers, making assorted goods (clothing, kitchenware, the usual stuff) for South Korea businesses at a joint venture industrial park near the ancient city of Kaesong.

A fruit of Seoul's former "sunshine" policy, which sadly seems a world away now, Kaesong has somehow survived the ups and downs – mostly downs, lately – of inter-Korean relations. Even in 2010 when the South's President Lee Myung-bak "banned" trade with the North as a reprisal for the North's sinking a Southern warship (46 died), he exempted Kaesong.

This precious exception is also a touchstone. If the two Koreas were really about to go to war then Kaesong would shut down or be evacuated. Worst case scenario, the North would take hostages. None of this shows any sign of happening as I write. We can breathe again.

Yet complacency would be wrong. 2010 is also a stark reminder that North Korea's threats are not always mere verbiage. Pyongyang denies sinking the Cheonan, but later that year it shelled a Southern island near its own coast, killing four. The North claimed it was provoked by US and South Korean wargames. But those were routine, like the ones ongoing now.

What was and is North Korea's game? In 2010 Kim Jong-il was angry with Lee for scrapping the sunshine policy, and wanted to teach him a lesson. Kim calculated, correctly, that even the hard-line Lee would not retaliate militarily, with all the risk of further escalation.

But now? Lee is gone. His successor, Park Geun-hye, had visited Pyongyang and dined with Kim. She has pledged to build "trustpolitik" with the North, which sounds like sunshine redux. Why then did Kim Jong-un greet her with a nuclear test and lurid threats?

Perhaps the new Kim on the block is the answer. Young, untried and by some accounts hot-headed, like a new Mafia boss succeeding his father, he may feel he has to show all concerned – his own team, as well as his many foes – that he is a tough guy, no pushover.

Point taken. Yet the fact that Kim just spent two days with a clapped-out basketball player, but didn't make time to meet a real mover and shaker like Google's Eric Schmidt, gives no confidence that North Korea's jejune ruler can think straight or has his priorities right.

Like last year's nasty cartoons showing Lee as a rat being bloodily done to death, wild threats of pre-emptive nuclear strikes sound a new note. Both seem self-indulgent: excess for its own sake, rather than in the service of a clear goal.

For that is the oddity. One last musical reference. A world more puzzled than scared (though vigilance is essential) could and should ask Kim Jong-un, who may or may not be a Spice Girls fan: so, tell me what you want, what you really really want? Amid, despite or because of all the shrieking, the answer to that remains totally obscure.

• An earlier version of this story said the metaphor about crying wolf came from Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf. In fact, as is now written, it was from Aesop's The Boy Who Cried Wolf.

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« Reply #4984 on: Mar 09, 2013, 08:13 AM »

03/08/2013 04:00 PM

Icon Under Fire: Burma's Suu Kyi Eyes Presidency Amid Criticism

By Karl-Ludwig Günsche

Burma's NLD has long basked in the reflected glory of its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who is eyeing the Burmese presidency in 2015. But the party is holding its first-ever conference this week amid growing internal tension and mounting criticism of the pro-democracy icon.

The unassuming, two-storey building on Shwegondaing Road in Yangon, which houses the National League for Democracy (NLD) headquarters, is a hive of activity. Busloads of tourists pass by, telephones ring off the hook, copy machines hum around the clock, and there's always a meeting taking place. It's never exactly quiet here, but at the moment it's busier than ever. The NLD, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, is celebrating its first party conference since its founding in 1988.

By Saturday, the 900 delegates attending the event will have redefined the party's leadership. Now in their 70s and 80s, some of the most senior members of the party's upper ranks will be let go, while new leaders and a Central Committee made up of 120 members will be appointed. The NLD will also be deciding on its strategy.

But for Suu Kyi's party, the biggest opposition party in Burma, even more hinges on the conference. It is planning to prepare the ground for parliamentary elections scheduled for 2015, when it hopes its leader will secure the country's presidency.

It has good reason to be optimistic. Suu Kyi remains hugely popular, and the NLD won 43 of 45 seats in by-elections held in April 2012. Rising from the ashes of the proverbial phoenix, the party is back on Burma's political stage.

Past Triumphs and New Trials

Win Tin, a veteran of the pro-freedom and democracy opposition party who was imprisoned by the military junta for 19 years, recalls the NLD's difficult early days. After the uprising spearheaded by monks and students in 1988, he says, the pro-democracy opposition lacked an experienced political leader. "Aung San Suu Kyi and Un Tin Oo and so on were new," he adds, "but we joined together and formed a party and worked out a political agenda and worked for the people and won the 1990 elections."

That 1990 landslide victory was both the biggest triumph and bitterest disappointment in the party's history. The NLD came out of nowhere to win 392 of 492 seats in the People's Assembly, but the result was nullified by the military regime, which had seized power in 1988. Members of the party were outlawed and persecuted.

The election marked the start of an unprecedented era of suffering for the NLD, with many members arrested and tortured. Over the next 21 years, Aung San Suu Kyi -- who became an icon of freedom for the oppressed Burmese people -- was repeatedly sent to jail or put under her house arrest by the generals.

Those days are long over. Reformist President Thein Sein is reinventing the country. And even though there has been recent criticism of the government's treatment of the Rohingya Muslims and the slow progress of peace talks with other ethnic minorities, today's Burma is enjoying a degree of freedom within its borders, a reputation abroad and a new economic dawn that would have seemed unimaginable just two years ago.

Suu Kyi and her followers have used the time to rebuild their party. New NLD offices were opened across the country, from Yangon to Mandalay. But wide-scale efforts to boost membership have met with little success. Ahead of the 2012 by-elections, the NLD announced it was aiming to recruit one million new members. But according to the Mizzima news service, only 50,000 of the application forms distributed by the party were returned. Reliable figures on the NLD's current membership are not available.

Cracks are also beginning to show within the party. In December 2012, the Myanmar Times reported that 500 frustrated NLD members in Pathein, Burma's fourth-largest city, had abandoned the party, accusing its leaders of being undemocratic and authoritarian. There is a growing exodus from the party in other regions, too. The complaints are always the same, ranging from autocratic leadership to a lack of transparency.

Moreover, the party conference was originally scheduled for February but had to be postponed because of disputes over the selection of delegates.

"The party's theme is fairness and peace, but there is no fairness in the party," says Ko Ko Naing, a spokesperson for the dissenters.

Germany's Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a political think tank aligned with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union party, reached a similar conclusion in a 2012 analysis of the NLD. "(The party) does not yet have clear internal procedures for determining political posts or nominating candidates. The party leader has the last word," it found. For now, it continued, the NLD "is relying mainly on the myth of Aung San Suu Kyi."

Criticism and Rebuttals

Dissatisfaction with Suu Kyi's political course is also growing. At an NLD fundraiser in December, she accepted donations from shady business tycoons with ties to the former military regime. According to media reports, the donations totaled over $240,000.

"Those who are considered cronies have supported the social activities of the NLD and others. What is wrong with that?" asked Suu Kyi in response to criticism.

NLD veterans are also unhappy at seeing Suu Kyi reach out to military leaders. She has repeatedly expressed her affection for the military, saying that she is after all the daughter of General Aung San, the leader of Burma's struggle for independence, who is still revered by the Burmese people.

Significantly, Suu Kyi needs the army to be on her side if she is to succeed in pushing for the constitutional change that will allow her to run for president. As a mother of two children with British passports, she is currently not allowed to run for the country's highest office.

Her detractors have also criticized her silence regarding the recent violence against Rohingya Muslims as well the ongoing conflict between the state and the Kachin ethnic minority in northern Burma.

For the time being, however, Suu Kyi remains a media darling. Ko Ahr Mahn, manager of the weekly magazine 7DayNews, frankly admits that "maybe some (media) publish only positive news about Suu Kyi." When Min Zin, who took part as a student in the 1988 protests, openly criticized her silence on the Rohingyas, her friendship with the army and the spiraling tensions within the NLD and between the party and local journalists, he was attacked online. "How dare you attack Suu Kyi?" was the general gist.

She seems to have gotten the message. In the past, she said ahead of the party conference, the members of the Central Committee were not always democratically elected due to the difficult political climate. But this would not happen in Yangon this week, she said, when everyone would rise to the challenge of a free and democratic vote.

However, she has still kept silent on the issue of the Rohingya Muslims and continues to nurture good relations with the generals. She knows all too well that she needs their help to become president.

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« Reply #4985 on: Mar 09, 2013, 08:15 AM »

March 9, 2013

Kenyatta Wins Kenyan Presidential Vote


NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenya’s election commission on Saturday declared Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s first president and a suspect for crimes against humanity, as Kenya’s next president amid growing accusations of vote fraud and a refusal by the other leading contender to concede.

Mr. Kenyatta received 50.07 percent of the vote, the election commission said.

“I therefore declare Uhuru Kenyatta the duly elected president of the Republic of Kenya,” the chairman of the election commission, Issack Hassan, said, according to Reuters.

But the announcement was not expected to allay worries of violence and chaos; the other top contender has indicated that he would not concede defeat.

The second-place candidate, Raila Odinga, Kenya’s prime minister, will reject the result, one of his top advisers said on Saturday morning. Many people fear such a development could lead to the type of confusion and violence that erupted in 2007, in Kenya’s last disputed election, when Mr. Odinga said he was cheated out of victory.

“Raila has no intention of conceding and will be challenging this in court,” said Salim Lone, the adviser to Mr. Odinga. “The level of the failures in the system makes it very difficult to believe it was a credible result, and if Uhuru is declared president, Raila will go to court.”

Mr. Lone said that Mr. Odinga would “very strongly ask people to stay calm” and wait for the courts to address his complaints.

Mr. Odinga’s rejection of the vote count in 2007 sent his supporters pouring into the streets, setting off riots and killing members of other ethnic groups.

It was this explosion of politically related violence, which left more than 1,000 people dead, that led to the grave accusations against Mr. Kenyatta, 51, who has been charged by the International Criminal Court with crimes against humanity. The United States is not a signatory to the court, but has pledged to support it. If Mr. Kenyatta is convicted or stops cooperating with the court, it could bring serious complications for the United States, which considers Kenya one of its closest allies in Africa.

According to prosecutors, as hundreds of Mr. Kenyatta’s fellow Kikuyus were being slaughtered by rival ethnic groups, he organized meetings with an outlawed Nairobi street gang to take revenge.

Mr. Kenyatta, prosecutors said, “contributed money toward the retaliatory attack” and was “aware of the widespread and systematic nature of the attack.” The gang, called the Mungiki, killed scores of people, including small children.

Mr. Kenyatta, who has been serving as deputy prime minister, denies the charges and says he will clear his name. Many analysts say the case is rather weak and that one of the prosecution’s key witnesses has dropped out.

Political observers here originally thought that Mr. Kenyatta would shelve his longstanding presidential ambitions — he also ran in 2002, and was trounced — and focus on his criminal case. Instead, Mr. Kenyatta used his vast family fortune to put together a vigorous campaign, and then he joined forces with another divisive figure, William Ruto, one of Kenya’s most charismatic politicians. He has also been charged with crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.

Mr. Ruto is from another one of Kenya’s biggest ethnic groups, the Kalenjin, and has been accused of sponsoring gangs who slaughtered Kikuyus during the last election crisis.

As Mr. Kenyatta’s running mate, Mr. Ruto will be deputy president if Mr. Kenyatta is declared the winner.


Kenyatta victory promises trouble for Kenya

Presidential frontrunner must stand trial for crimes against humanity at The Hague in July

Simon Tisdall, Friday 8 March 2013 18.24 GMT   

The victory of Uhuru Kenyatta in Kenya's presidential race, if confirmed, would lead the international community into dangerously unfamiliar territory, with possibly far-reaching deleterious consequences for US and British relations with the country, UN operations and the struggle against al-Qaida-style Islamist extremism.

Along with his running mate, William Ruto, and two others, Kenyatta faces charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague arising from post-election violence in 2007. Legally speaking, his victory would mean that the leader of one of Africa's foremost states must stand trial in July for alleged wrongdoing that could result in a life sentence in a foreign jail.

Such a spectacle would inevitably be portrayed as partisan, biased, and part of the post-colonial west's alleged wider vendetta against black Africa. Worse, it could compromise the arguably much stronger but so far stalemated ICC genocide and war crimes case against Omar al-Bashir, the president of Sudan, and possible future cases involving, for example, Syria's Bashar al-Assad.

The US, Britain and leading figures including Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary-general, have already made clear, in a roundabout way, that Kenyatta's victory would not be welcome. Britain has indicated officials will avoid any but essential contact with him. If London sticks to this approach, a diplomatic rift may be unavoidable.

British diplomats in Kenya have often been accused of interfering in the country's internal affairs, going back to the time of former president Daniel Arap Moi.

Earlier this week, the Kenyatta campaign accused the British high commissioner of "shadowy, suspicious and rather animated involvement" in the election, a claim rejected by Britain. Once Kenyatta is in office, British diplomats may face a Robert Mugabe-style dilemma over whether to meet him, shake his hand, or even sit down in the same room.

The US is in a similarly awkward position. The Obama administration's top Africa diplomat, Johnnie Carson, warned pointedly before the poll that "choices have consequences", a comment widely seen as a recommendation that voters back Kenyatta's opponent, Raila Odinga.

"This is going to pose a very awkward situation," Jendayi Frazer, a former assistant secretary of state for African affairs, told the New York Times. "Kenyatta knows he needs the United States, and the United States knows it needs Kenya."

Vital American interests include Kenyan cooperation in the fight against al-Qaida affiliates that have mounted attacks on western targets in Nairobi, Mombasa and in neighbouring Somalia.

Kenya's assistance and leadership is seen as crucial in the battle against Indian Ocean piracy and in tackling regional problems including violence and mass displacement in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The UN, which created the ICC, relies on bases in Kenya from which to help run big trans-national operations across the continent.

Open confrontation may yet be avoided. Already the ICC has agreed to postpone the trial, at the defence's request, from April to July. Further delays and postponements are entirely possible, especially since the defence claims crucial witness evidence has been undercut. And whatever the US and Britain do, most countries, most importantly China, can be expected to turn a blind eye.

Kenyatta has been clever, too. He has pledged to attend his trial, though not continually – a legal novelty for the ICC. As a result, so far at least, he has not been detained and arraigned like others, such as Slobodan Milošević, the late Yugoslav strongman. And the chief prosecutor has indicated that the trial, once it starts, could drag on for years. The only conviction the ICC has secured so far, of Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga, took six years.

On this basis, Kenyatta could be running for re-election before his trial is anywhere near finished.

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« Reply #4986 on: Mar 09, 2013, 08:20 AM »

West training Syrian rebels in Jordan

Exclusive: UK and French instructors involved in US-led effort to strengthen secular elements in Syria's opposition, say sources

Julian Borger and Nick Hopkins, Friday 8 March 2013 14.31 GMT

Western training of Syrian rebels is under way in Jordan in an effort to strengthen secular elements in the opposition as a bulwark against Islamic extremism, and to begin building security forces to maintain order in the event of Bashar al-Assad's fall.

Jordanian security sources say the training effort is led by the US, but involves British and French instructors.

The UK Ministry of Defence denied any British soldiers were providing direct military training to the rebels, though a small number of personnel, including special forces teams, have been in the country training the Jordanian military.

But the Guardian has been told that UK intelligence teams are giving the rebels logistical and other advice in some form.

British officials have made it clear that they believe new EU rules have now given the UK the green light to start providing military training for rebel fighters with the aim of containing the spread of chaos and extremism in areas outside the Syrian regime's control.

According to European and Jordanian sources the western training in Jordan has been going on since last year and is focused on senior Syrian army officers who defected.

"As is normal, before any major decision is taken on this issue, the preparations are made so that when that decision is taken, everything is in place for it to go smoothly. That is what these groups [special forces] do. They go in in advance," a European diplomat said.

A Jordanian source familiar with the training operations said: "It's the Americans, Brits and French with some of the Syrian generals who defected. But we're not talking about a huge operation."

He added that there had so far been no "green light" for the rebel forces being trained to be sent into Syria. But they would be deployed if there were signs of a complete collapse of public services in the southern Syrian city of Daraa, which could trigger a million more Syrians seeking refuge in Jordan, which is reeling under the strain of accommodating the 320,000 who have already sought shelter there.

The aim of sending western-trained rebels over the border would be to create a safe area for refugees on the Syrian side of the border, to prevent chaos and to provide a counterweight to al-Qaida-linked extremists who have become a powerful force in the north.

British officials say new European guidelines on the Syrian arms embargo, formally adopted by the EU at the beginning of March, allow military training as long as the ultimate aim of that training is "the protection of civilians".

Paris takes an identical view of the EU rules.

Officials in Brussels say the language of the guidelines is less than clear-cut. "It's deliberately hazy," said one. "When it comes to technical assistance, what it means in practice depends on who you ask. The Brits and the French, for example, are much more forward-leaning than others. The principle is that the assistance should be for the protection of civilians, but as we saw in Libya, that can be interpreted in different ways."

British officials argue that training of Syrian forces to fill the security vacuum as the Assad regime collapses would be help safeguard civilian lives.

William Hague, the foreign minister, outlined the goals of such training on Wednesday.

"Such technical assistance can include assistance, advice and training on how to maintain security in areas no longer controlled by the regime, on co-ordination between civilian and military councils, on how to protect civilians and minimise the risks to them, and how to maintain security during a transition," he told parliament. "We will now provide such assistance, advice and training."

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "It's not the sort of thing we are going into too much detail on right now. We are big on the transition picture, because at some point Assad is going to fall, and the opposition are going to need help to provide governance in areas they control, and that of course includes security. But security doesn't just mean fighting, it also means basic law and order, and policing."

The Pentagon said last October that a small group of US special forces and military planners had been to Jordan during the summer to help the country prepare for the possibility of Syrian use of chemical weapons and train selected rebel fighters.

That planning cell, which was housed at the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Centre in the north of the capital, Amman, has since been expanded to co-ordinate a more ambitious training programme. But Jordanian sources said the actual training was being carried out at more remote sites, with recent US reports saying it was being led by the CIA.

For the first two years of the Syrian civil war, Jordan has sought to stay out of the fray, fearing a backlash from Damascus and an influx of extremists that would destabilise the precariously balanced kingdom.

"What has happened of late is that there has been a tactical shift," said Julien Barnes-Dacey, a Middle East expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations thinktank. "Islamist forces have been gaining steam in the north and Jordan is keen to avoid that in the south. Having been very hands-off, they now see that they have to do something in the south."

He added: "There is a feeling that Jordan simply can't handle a huge new influx of refugees so the idea would be to create a safe zone inside Syria. For them it's a no-win scenario. Everything they had been seeking to avoid has come to pass."

For western and Saudi backers of the opposition, Jordan has become a preferable option through which to channel aid than Turkey. Ankara has been criticised for allowing extremist groups, such as the al-Nusra Front, become dominant on the northern front while it focused on what it sees as the growing threat of Kurdish secessionism.

"The Americans now trust us more than the Turks, because with the Turks everything is about gaining leverage for action against the Kurds," said a Jordanian source familiar with official thinking in Amman.

The US has announced an extra $60m (£40.2m) in direct aid to the rebels, including military rations and medical kits. Asked on Tuesday whether assistance included military training, the US state department spokesman Pat Ventrell replied: "I really don't have anything for you on that. Our policy has been non-lethal assistance."

Earlier this week, the US secretary of state, John Kerry, said Washington was now confident that arms supplies to the rebels would not be diverted to extremists. "There is a very clear ability now in the Syrian opposition to make certain that what goes to the moderate, legitimate opposition is, in fact, getting to them, and the indication is that they are increasing their pressure as a result of that," he said.

Syrian rebels have said that in the past few months there had been a relaxation of the previously strict US rules on what kinds of weapons were allowed across the border, and that portable anti-aircraft missiles had been released from Turkish warehouses where they had been impounded.

Matt Schroeder, who tracks the spread of such weapons for the Federation of American Scientists, said the recent appearance of modern, sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles in the hands of such fragmented rebel groups was deeply troubling in view of their capacity to bring down civilian airlines.

"This is a step above anything we've seen before in the hands of non-state actors," he said. "This is a new and unfortunate chapter in recent manpad [man-portable air-defence] proliferation."


March 8, 2013

Syrian Rebels Agree on Deal to Release Peacekeepers


The United Nations said Friday that an agreement had been reached to secure the release of the 21 Filipino peacekeepers seized two days earlier by Syrian insurgents in the disputed Golan Heights region between Syria and Israel. But it was unclear when the captives, the first international troops to become entangled in Syria’s civil war, would be freed.

Josephine Guerrero, a spokeswoman for the United Nations departments that oversee its global peacekeeping activities, said “arrangements were made with all parties for the release of the 21 peacekeepers” and that a team had been sent to the location where they were held, but that soldiers remained captive as of Friday night.

“Due to the late hour and the darkness it was considered unsafe to continue the operation,” Ms. Guerrero said in a statement. “Efforts will continue tomorrow.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based opposition group with a network of contacts in Syria, quoted a spokesman for the insurgent group that had seized the peacekeepers, the Martyrs of Yarmouk, as saying an agreement had been reached to hand them over between 10 a.m. and noon on Saturday, “provided there is a cease-fire in the area at that time.” It was unclear whether that condition could delay their release.

Earlier Friday, Hervé Ladsous, under secretary general for peacekeeping operations, told the United Nations Security Council that he hoped a brief cease-fire would be possible in order to extricate the peacekeepers from Al Jamlah, where they had been confined in the basements of four or five homes.

Mr. Ladsous also corroborated assertions by insurgents that Syrian forces had been shelling the area. Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Jaafari, denied those assertions and said Syrian military units had been trying to rescue the peacekeepers.

They spoke separately to reporters at the United Nations after a closed Security Council briefing on efforts to free the Filipino soldiers. They are members of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, a four-nation contingent of about 1,000 troops responsible for maintaining the fragile calm in a demilitarized zone of the Golan Heights.

The seizure of the Filipinos on Wednesday by the Martyrs of Yarmouk was the first time that international peacekeepers had been drawn into the two-year-old Syrian conflict, underscoring the risk it poses of destabilizing the region. United Nations officials demanded their release, and Filipino officials said they had been negotiating with the captors since Thursday.

The authorities in Manila said the peacekeepers had not been harmed and President Benigno S. Aquino III said he believed the peacekeepers would be viewed by both sides in the Syrian conflict as a “benign presence, so we don’t expect any further untoward incident to happen.”

Moaz al-Khatib, the leader of the rebel Syrian Opposition Council, said Friday that when the peacekeepers were seized, their “convoy was at risk, which necessitated transferring them to a safe place.”

Israel, which has watched anxiously for spillover as the Syrian civil war has intensified, signaled Thursday that it had no intention of getting involved in the situation. Amos Gilad, a senior official in the Defense Ministry, told Israel Radio that “we can rely on the U.N. to persuade” the insurgent fighters to release the peacekeepers and that “neither the rebels nor anyone else has an interest in clashing with the international community, which it needs for support.”

But in an apparent indication of continuing instability in the buffer area, the Israeli military said early Friday that eight members of the United Nations observer force had been “evacuated” from a post in the southern part of the Golan Heights demilitarized zone and had been transferred across the cease-fire line into Israeli-held territory. An Israeli military spokeswoman said that Israeli soldiers, in coordination with the United Nations, had met the peacekeepers near the border and escorted them into Israel. She did not give any reason for their evacuation or specify the nationalities of the peacekeepers.

Rick Gladstone reported from New York, and Alan Cowell from London. Reporting was contributed by Hania Mourtada from Beirut, Lebanon; Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem; and Floyd Whaley from Manila.


March 8, 2013

In Parts of Syria, Lack of Assistance ‘Is a Catastrophe’


SAWRAN, Syria — The United States and other international donors are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on humanitarian aid for Syrians afflicted by the civil war. But here in the rebel-controlled north, where the deprivation is most acute, that money has bought mostly anger and resentment: the vast majority of aid is going to territory controlled by President Bashar al-Assad, and the small amount reaching opposition-held areas is all but invisible.

Rebels argue that the humanitarian assistance is in effect helping Mr. Assad survive the war of attrition. “Aid is a weapon,” said Omar Baylasani, a rebel commander from Idlib, speaking during a visit to a Turkish border town. “Food supply is the winning card in the hands of the regime.”

The biggest obstacle blocking aid from rebel-held areas is the United Nations requirement that its relief agencies follow Mr. Assad’s rules — which limit access to opposition territory — as long as the international assembly recognizes his government. The United Nations agencies are the main conduit for international aid, including most of the total of $385 million that Washington has directed to the cause in 2012 and 2013.

That means that while internally displaced Syrians living in government-controlled areas are cared for in United Nations-run camps, with standard shelter and basic utilities, the many who have fled into opposition territory are plagued by shortages of food, fuel, blankets and medicine. At a civilian medical clinic here in the rebel-held countryside north of Aleppo, the 15 doctors kick out their hundreds of patients each day at 4 p.m. because there is no fuel or power to keep the lights on.

The lack of foreign aid “is a catastrophe,” said Saed Bakur Abu Yahia, the clinic’s director. “We get nothing, ” he said, bundled in a winter jacket and rubbing his hands for warmth as he sat in his office.

The United States has done more than any other country to circumvent the United Nations, but its efforts remain unknown to most Syrians. Washington is funneling about $60 million — about $10 million in 2012, and about $50 million in 2013 — through independent nonprofit groups to deliver flour, food baskets, blankets and medicine to the most stable opposition-controlled territory (one group said it reached most of Aleppo Province, but not yet Idlib). The nonprofit groups insist on keeping their work and their American donors a secret to protect staff members still working in Damascus under Mr. Assad.

“Our humanitarian assistance, $385 million to date, is making a difference,” said one United States diplomat involved in Syria policy, speaking anonymously because of the sensitivity of international politics around the aid. “But we can’t talk about it.”

The result is deepening cynicism and anger toward the West among precisely those Syrians the United States and its allies say they are trying to assist and befriend, a disappointment and frustration to those in Washington who hoped to win favor among the opposition.

In interviews, dozens of Syrians living in rebel-held territory in the provinces of Aleppo and Idlib insisted that their towns had received no Western aid and groused about “empty promises.” Only a few most directly involved in aid distribution acknowledged recent visits from international nonprofit groups, and those with knowledge of the meetings insisted that the names of the aid groups remain confidential.

Even the Syrians most involved in the Western effort expressed frustration. “We believe we are owed an explanation over where this money is going, but every time we ask, we can’t get an answer,” said Ghassan Hitto, who runs the aid coordination arm of the Western-backed Syrian National Council. He estimated that as much as 60 percent of the Syrian population lives outside the Assad government’s control and thus beyond the reach of most aid. It is an assessment that is impossible to confirm but feasible because of the heavy population of the rebel-controlled north.

United Nations officials acknowledge the problem. But they say they have few alternatives while the United Nations recognizes the government, which is unlikely to change as long as Russia supports Mr. Assad. “The government, whether you like it or not, is still the government,” said Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Among other obstructions, Mr. Assad has blocked any United Nations agencies from the shortest and safest route into rebel territory, across the opposition-controlled border with Turkey. “We do not have the government’s consent,” Mr. Laerke said. “So we cannot, as the United Nations, do that.”

To get around that ban, at least three United Nations relief convoys have crossed the battle lines to reach parts of the north, Mr. Laerke said, but it is a dangerous trip. Eight United Nations aid workers have been killed during the Syrian conflict, he said.

Mr. Laerke said that as much as 45 percent of the 1.7 million people inside Syria who have received some aid from United Nations food programs live in areas that are at least contested by the rebels. But other aid workers and international observers said those statistics vastly understated the gap.

“There is a big discrepancy,” said Dr. Mego Terzian, Syrian coordinator for Doctors Without Borders, which operates two hospitals at undisclosed locations in the opposition-controlled zone. The medical group has pleaded for more aid to cross the Turkish border.

Hisham Mohamed Bakur, 40, director of the aid office in Sawran, argued that the United Nations had betrayed its own principles of neutrality by allowing Mr. Assad to manipulate the aid. “As a human being, I think it is a good idea to deliver aid to people in need wherever they are,” he said. “But to the people, not the government.”

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, officials from the few Western nonprofit groups working in rebel-held Aleppo say the violence of the war has also limited their reach.

“The reality is that it is hard to get help to the opposition areas,” said an official at a group that is receiving $20 million from the United States.

“We are helping feed 410,000 people, but it is just a drop in the bucket,” the official said. “There is just not enough, and every day the crisis gets worse.” (Washington has so far financed three nonprofits and recently added two others, officials said.)

But aid workers say that other donors, mainly from Arab states hostile to Mr. Assad, funnel their money directly through the military brigades, each of which now operates its own civilian “relief arm” to further its political goals.

“We are seeing an important amount of money from the gulf countries,” said Dr. Terzian of Doctors Without Borders. He added, “But the reality is that most of the financial contributions from these countries are going to war efforts and very little to meet humanitarian needs.” Even that, he said, was “for propaganda.”

At the rebel-controlled border with Turkey at Kilis, the disparities are jarring. Just outside Syria, the Turkish government runs a state-of-the-art refugee camp that resembles a neat village of refabricated cottages, each with heat, electricity and appliances.

Refugee children attend a bright and spacious elementary school with therapists specializing in post-traumatic stress. The residents use laundry machines, take computer classes or attend lectures at a community center. They buy groceries at two competing markets using credit on specially issued cards verified by high-tech fingerprint scanners.

But just inside the same border is an unplanned camp more squalid than any in Jordan, Lebanon or Turkey.

Thousands — there is no reliable count — sleep crammed in leaking tents without heat or electricity. They crowd like cattle in metal chutes, holding plastic buckets for the crude meals they are served usually twice a day, but sometimes once or not at all. The only aid provider is a small team from the Turkish humanitarian group known as IHH, which is easily the most visible international organization in opposition territory.

Children in the camp slosh through muddy puddles in plastic sandals so big they fall off their feet. On a recent visit, dozens of refugees swarmed around a storeroom where aid workers were dispensing desperately needed new shoes — castoffs from Turkish corporate donors. Abdel Rahman Haji, 29, a burly man with a thick beard, emerged holding up a pair of bright red women’s shoes with three-inch heels, size 37.

“Who is going to wear high heels in this mud?” he said.

“Are we dogs that they give us such things?” screamed a woman in a traditional Muslim head covering and cloak, clutching another pair of pumps.

As darkness fell moments later, thick clouds of noxious black fumes poured out of stovepipes sticking through the tents and hovered over the camp. Desperate for heating fuel, the refugees said they burned the shoes for firewood, just as they did the castoff sport coats and sundresses they had also been given.

* syria-articleLarge33.jpg (36.52 KB, 600x396 - viewed 88 times.)
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« Reply #4987 on: Mar 09, 2013, 08:24 AM »

Israeli president: Obama visit a ‘good occasion’ to restart peace process

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, March 8, 2013 13:19 EST

US President Barack Obama’s upcoming trip to Israel is a “good occasion” to relaunch the stalled Middle East peace process, Israeli President Shimon Peres said on Friday.

Obama is due in Israel at the end of this month on a trip that will also see him travel to see Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas in the West Bank and visit Jordan on the first foreign policy mission of his second term.

“We are expecting in a very short while the visit of President Obama,” Peres said in Paris during a working lunch with French President Francois Hollande.

“We consider him as a friend and… I think it will be a good occasion to restart the peace process.”

A US official however said Obama on Thursday “noted that the trip is not dedicated to resolving a specific policy issue, but is rather an opportunity to consult with the Israeli government about a broad range of issues — including Iran, Syria, the situation in the region, and the peace process.”

Palestinian-Israeli peace talks have been deadlocked for more than two years.

Abbas wants to renew peace talks in tandem with a freeze on Jewish settlement construction in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem.

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« Reply #4988 on: Mar 09, 2013, 08:26 AM »

March 8, 2013

Tunisia Includes Independents in New Cabinet


CAIRO — Tunisia’s prime minister announced a new cabinet on Friday, handing over key ministries previously headed by members of the ruling Islamist party to independent figures in an effort to calm the worst political crisis since the country’s revolt more than two years ago.

The Islamist Renaissance Party, or Ennahda, which rules Tunisia in a “troika” coalition with two center-left parties, said that the cabinet reshuffle had reduced its share of ministers in the government and that it had yielded control of the ministries of justice, interior and foreign affairs, bowing to a central demand of several opposition parties.

But the party failed to persuade other opposition parties to join its governing coalition, highlighting the divisions that have complicated Tunisia’s transition after the overthrow more than two years ago of its autocratic president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

The cabinet reshuffle had been discussed for months, but the calls to reform the government became more urgent after the assassination last month of a leftist opposition leader, Chokri Belaid, who was shot and killed outside his home in Tunis on Feb. 6. Opposition figures accused the Renaissance Party of failing to secure the country, and more specifically, of ignoring threats against Mr. Belaid’s life by hardline Islamists known as Salafis. Officials have said that Mr. Belaid’s killer is still at large.

Tunisia’s new prime minister, Ali Laareyedh, a former political prisoner who belongs to the Renaissance Party, said Friday that the government would serve until new elections could be held, and no longer than November.

The concessions by his party held out the possibility that Tunisia’s political crisis would ease, and they provided a sharp contrast to the post-revolt struggles elsewhere in the region. In Egypt, the ruling Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has faced similar criticisms to those leveled at the Renaissance Party, for failing to reform the security services or to repair a battered economy. The Brotherhood has resisted calls by the opposition to reform the government or to meaningfully loosen its grip on power.

Analysts said Tunisia’s government still faced a crisis of credibility. Amine Ghali, the program director for the Tunis-based Kawakibi Democracy Transition Center, said that some ministers who were considered ineffective had been kept in their posts or were simply shuffled into new roles.

And he called the return of the same governing coalition “a huge failure,” especially after negotiations over a new government that had gone on for about eight months. “This is not the miracle we have been waiting for,” he said.
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« Reply #4989 on: Mar 09, 2013, 08:29 AM »

03/08/2013 02:53 PM

Africa's Cocaine Hub: Guinea-Bissau a 'Drug Trafficker's Dream'

By Alexander Smoltczyk

Guinea-Bissau has become a major hub of cocaine trafficking between Latin America and Europe. But any wealth the West African nation has derived from its middleman status has been offset by increased violence and instability.

João Biague says he only has one way to lose his job: "success." As soon as he manages to seize a shipment of drugs, he admits, "I'll be fired." But "success" is not actually part of the job description of the director general of Guinea-Bissau's judicial police.

Biague has his office in a colonial building slowly turning black from the moisture and humidity. It's located on a dirt street near an athletic field. The potholes are filled with plastic refuse and seashells. A woman is crouching under a ceiba tree and roasting a scrawny ear of corn over a smoldering fire.

His agency corresponds to the headquarters of Germany's Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA) in Wiesbaden -- or the FBI in Washington, DC.

Biague has the build and slightly swollen eyes of a heavyweight boxer. He's wearing a well-tailored suit, as if to protect himself from the inadequacies of his law enforcement agency. The 45-year-old judge also has a side job teaching law at a local university.

In this country, Biague embodies justice -- but not power. The title of his Ph.D. dissertation was "Coordination Problems in Public Administration, as Exemplified by Brazil, Portugal and Guinea-Bissau." Today, Biague has to deal with other coordination problems: "I have to crack down on the cocaine smugglers -- but without the military getting wind of it."

And that just won't do, as that would be "success."

The World's Only True ' Narco State '

Guinea-Bissau is sandwiched between Senegal and Guinea, where the African continent extends the farthest west toward South America. The fish market in Bissau, the capital, is just as far from eastern Brazil as from southern Spain, or nearly 3,000 kilometers (1,850 miles) as the crow flies. That's an easy distance to cover with private medium-range jets -- even if they are loaded with freight.

In order to run their trans-Atlantic trafficking operations, the cocaine barons of Latin America need countries with an ideal geographic location, under the radar of international interest and characterized by the highest possible corruption index. Guinea-Bissau comes very close to fulfilling this ideal.

The country has porous borders, inconspicuous airfields and a virtually powerless civilian government. Extradition agreements are practically unknown. One of the most sought-after American fugitives from justice, convicted murderer and hijacker George Wright, worked for years as a basketball coach in Bissau.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) sees Guinea-Bissau as the world's only example of a narco state: "In Afghanistan and Colombia, individual provinces are in the hands of drug lords. Here, it's the entire state," says a high-ranking official at the agency's headquarters in Vienna. In Colombia, the drug lords take advantage of the chaos. In Bissau, they benefit from the secure environment.

For a narco state, Guinea-Bissau seems rather peaceful, even sleepy at times. There are no junkies here and no beheaded traitors on the roadside. The daily drug trade is conducted virtually without violence.

"The situation is difficult," says Biague, as he closes his office door. After the military coup in April, he explains, there has been an increase in smuggling. "The positions have been reshuffled, and the police and civil authorities have become even more cautious," he says. One of his men was recently almost beaten to death -- in an army barracks, he claims. Biague also says his predecessor fled because she couldn't stand the threats anymore.

Biague has a habit of sketching mind maps as he speaks. He draws circles and arrows, followed by even more arrows, and finally thick lines that underscore his main point: "Everyone is simply afraid."

Coups and Cocaine

There are few occasions to calmly observe the shadowy men behind the international cocaine trade. But one of these took place on Sept. 24, Guinea-Bissau's Independence Day.

On that day, the Avenida Amilcar Cabral is cordoned off with red-and-white plastic tape with little hearts. The capital city is still steaming from an early morning tropical shower, and the clouds towering over the wooden stands are slowly retreating. The truncheons of the National Guard are gleaming in the sun.

At precisely 10 a.m., the crowd begins to clap. There is no cheering, just some applause to be on the safe side -- the kind of accolades reserved for a military leader in a bulging uniform as he is slowly driven to the VIP stand on the back of a pick-up truck -- applause to acknowledge power.

The man in the uniform embodies power, not justice. General António Indjai is in command in Guinea-Bissau. He has controlled the country ever since the last freely elected president, João "Nino" Vieira, tragically died in 2009 (in one of the few cases in which a governing head of state has been hacked to pieces) and, at the very latest, Indjai has ruled the land since the coup in April 2012, when he ousted the prime minister and all remaining rivals.

All of this wouldn't matter much to the rest of the world if this hot and humid little African country merely supplied global markets with cashew nuts and timber -- instead of an estimated annual 40 metric tons of a substance that doesn't appear in any foreign trade statistics: cocaine. General Indjai, who has now seated himself among the other generals, guests of honor and first ladies, also allegedly controls the country's drug trade. Everyone stands at attention for the national anthem: "Sun, sweat, verdure and sea … "

An Increasingly Bloody History

In Sept. 1974, Guinea-Bissau gained its independence from Portugal. The guerrillas from those days are now sitting in the stands -- veterans from an era in which the "fight for liberation" still had a good ring to it.

Since the liberation, the country's elite has mainly been occupied with achieving some sort of balance between clans, political parties and military divisions -- a process that involves coups, arrests, torture, death threats and assassinations. No democratically elected president in the history of independent Guinea-Bissau has ever completed his term in office.

The country ranks 176 out of 187 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index. Under the old president, there was a cooperation agreement with the European Union to improve the security apparatus. But this program was terminated in 2010, quite possibly because a rear admiral who was appointed commander of the navy is listed by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), as a kingpin of the cocaine trade in West Africa -- along with the air force chief of staff.

Before João "Nino" Vieira was assassinated, the then-chief of staff of the country's armed forces was killed in a bomb attack. A quarter of a year later, presidential candidate Baciro Dabó was shot by soldiers, as was the former defense minister. The perpetrators were never found, and perhaps never sought.

There is little doubt that the killings were linked to the struggle for lucrative shares of the country's burgeoning drug trade. Drugs dominate political life in Guinea-Bissau, and the cocaine trade has made changes of government more brutal.

A Weigh Station for Drugs

"The military is currently the only power in the country," says Biague. In front of him lies a mind map, and above him hangs the gallery of his predecessors. "You saw our airport when you arrived, I presume?" he asks. "Did you take a close look?"

Osvaldo Vieira International Airport is named after a national hero of the struggle for liberation. When an aircraft from Dakar or Lisbon arrives in Bissau, three older civilians sit in what look like booths for parking lot attendants and stamp passengers' passports.

Sitting on the tarmac right next to the terminal is a Grumman Gulfstream II private jet registered in the eastern US state of Delaware to Lb Aviation Inc., a shell corporation. The aircraft had to make an emergency landing in Bissau on July 12, 2008 due to a faulty hydraulics system. "When the police tried to search the plane, a group of soldiers appeared," says Biague. "They surrounded the machine and prevented anyone from boarding it."

According to Spanish police, there was half a ton of cocaine on board -- and three Venezuelans, including Carmelo Vásquez Guerra, who reportedly works for the Mexican Sinaloa cartel, headed by Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, currently the world's leading cocaine baron. Last year, the business magazine Forbes ranked Guzmán as the 63rd most powerful person on the planet.

Guzmán was unable to save the Gulfstream. The next day, a second, smaller aircraft arrived from Venezuela to repair the Gulfstream. This time, police were able to seize the machine. No trace of the cargo or the crew has ever been found. The two aircraft, though, can even be seen on Google Earth (11°53'9.58N; 15°39'14.25W).

The UNODC suspects that even old Boeing 727s are used for drug flights to West Africa. Such a jet can carry over 10 tons of cargo.

Waging War without Maps

Biague is sitting in his office with the door locked and the shades drawn. Given his description of the situation, it's understandable that he would prefer not to set foot outside.

Tomorrow is the ninth birthday of Biague's daughter. She lives in Verona in northern Italy -- and he hasn't seen her for five years. "I don't want this job," he says. "I just want to accomplish something -- then it's over. But it has to be some kind of success." He dreams of a job with some international organization -- and one as far away from Guinea-Bissau as possible.

"A trafficker's dream" is what a US diplomat wrote to his superiors after spending four days sailing through the Bissagos Islands. This archipelago of 88 islands in the Atlantic lies two hours from Bissau by boat. With its beaches lined with palm trees and waters teeming with fish, the Bissagos Islands could be the Maldives of West Africa. But, so far, they have only been a dream destination for drug lords.

The state barely has a presence in the archipelago, in large part because Biague's police force doesn't own a boat. Aircraft not listed on any flight list land on unpaved airstrips dating back to the colonial period.

Once, a plane ran into mechanical difficulties, and over half a ton of cocaine was dumped into the sea. Some of the locals reportedly whitewashed their houses with the stuff. Others thought it was manioc flour. At least one person thought it was dried milk formula for infants.

The drugs are flown in shipments of between 600 and 1,200 kilograms (1,300 to 2,600 pounds) and stored in three warehouses, allowing wholesalers to ship 300 kilos to Europe within just a few days. International investigators know that at least one of these depots is located in a military zone. Biague knows all of this: "I even know that a flight will land this week in the south," he says.

And where will this happen?

There doesn't appear to be a single map in the headquarters of the national police of Guinea-Bissau. Biague has his secretary print out a map from MapQuest. Then the power cuts out.

Planning a Drug Bust
It doesn't help either that the UNODC reported the following at its fall conference on organized crime: "The real-time analytical intelligence database has been delivered to the judicial police." Biague's "real-time database" is the cousin of one of his chief officers -- a farmer who calls whenever he hears aircraft engines.

Biague starts to draw circles and lines: "We could send three men disguised as farmers down there to take up positions. As soon as they hear a plane, we could dispatch a unit to the bridge near Mampatá, where every convoy has to slow down, and intercept the shipment there."

It sounds like a good plan. Why doesn't he do it?

"We don't have any money."

The 300 kilos of cocaine that could be seized during such an operation would have a street value in Germany of up to €120 million ($155 million). How much money does Biague have for the upcoming operation? "Just a second," he says, as he takes his pencil and starts to calculate: The policemen could sleep with relatives. Mangoes grow everywhere, so food isn't a problem. "Five days, three people, that's 15,000. Plus fuel for the police squad, that's three times 20,000 CFA, comes to a total of 75,000 CFA."

That's €115. And where will the money come from?

One of the principles of journalism is to never exert a decisive influence on events that are going to be described. Reporters are to remain observers on the sidelines. Sometimes it's difficult to stick to this rule. SPIEGEL photographer Alessandro Scotti had already been on a research assignment in Guinea-Bissau in July 2008. At the time, 600 kilos of cocaine were seized. The then-chief of police only agreed to the operation under the condition that Scotti would be the only white person present. It was the first and only drug seizure of this magnitude. The head of the operation, one of Biague's predecessors, was immediately fired. One of his men has been shot dead and another is in psychiatric care. The three arrested soldiers were subsequently released. Still, in reaction to the operation, the national police received massive aid from abroad, an Interpol office and training sessions from the EU. We decided to pay for Biague's fuel.

A Failed Operation

The phone call came the very next day: "The plane has landed." Biague says that his people heard engine noises early that morning. The smugglers must have landed on the island of Ilha de Melo, directly on the border with Guinea in the south.

Until a few years ago, the military airport at Cufar was the preferred landing field. But now that international observers are in the country, drug traffickers are primarily using illegal airstrips, mainly in the south. While some are hidden, others lie in plain sight for all to see.

Right outside Mansôa, roughly 50 kilometers from the capital, the road runs straight as an arrow for three kilometers. Just beyond the village of Missina, a long skid mark is still plainly visible. Local residents say that men wearing boots and stocking masks blocked the road and laid out party lights to outline an impromptu airstrip.

Rádio Sol Mansi, a station run by a Salesian priest, reported the incident. All other media kept quiet, although everyone knew about it. It's also common knowledge who owns the poultry farm near the airfield in Missina -- and who is currently expanding his estate there: António Indjai, the general on the back of the pick-up truck -- Guinea-Bissau's army chief of staff.

Biague is hunched over the coffee table in his office, surrounded by his senior officers, and drawing arrows on his MapQuest map. "They always immediately unload their cargo," he says. "The question is whether they will directly pack the goods into speedboats or transport them by land." They only have a chance to seize the shipment on land.

He tells his men to keep an eye out for pick-ups driving toward the coast. However, he doesn't inform his superiors at the ministry about his plan, as that would be too dangerous.

Biague waits until that evening for a call with good news from his people -- but in vain. "The shipment must have been offloaded and moved across the sea," he says, adding that the Fiscalização has a shed nearby, where the goods can be stored. Biague means a small building owned by the customs administration. "I'm sorry," he says, though it might be directed it toward himself.

Perhaps there wasn't even a plane: "It's a game with masks," says a representative of the international community who prefers to remain anonymous. "You never know who is playing what role, and why, even if it's the role of the good guys. You only know that four out of five officials are corrupt. Or are they all four-fifths corrupt?"

Cocaine's Three Routes

In any case, Biague will get a second chance to lose his job faster than expected.

After it arrives in Guinea-Bissau, the cocaine is transported out of the country in one of three ways, on predominantly multipurpose routes where people and arms are also smuggled, sometimes even simultaneously.

First, the Venezuelans have speedboats that they can use to travel all the way to Cape Verde, and even as far up the coast as the Canary Islands. Fishermen are occasionally forced to take a few crates along with them. It's easy to exert pressure on them when their families are alone on land.

The overland route north goes from Guinea-Bissau through Senegal, Mauritania, Western Sahara and on to Morocco. This is a zone filled with all the things that give Western intelligence agencies nightmares, from Tuareg tribes and smugglers, to radical Islamist groups and human traffickers. Nevertheless, given enough money, it is possible to establish a viable transit route. These are well-traveled trade routes that have been maintained since the days of the slave trade.

The cocaine's third route is the intestines of the "swallowers." These are usually Nigerians who, for the equivalent of some €800, swallow capsules -- small balloons filled with up to a kilo of drugs -- and then try to reach Lisbon or Cape Verde on commercial flights.

A Rare Peek Behind the Scenes
A contact with a nasty scar above his lip talked about a cousin with access to a middleman. He himself is now the owner of two Mercedes taxis, he says, after he brought two kilos from the barracks in the old fort to a "high-ranking individual."

Following a meeting with a very nervous, very reluctant cousin, and a flurry of phone calls, the middleman agreed to allow one of his assistants to be photographed at work: "But just one," he said, "and only for five minutes." He wanted €100 in return.

Scotti, the photographer, is led on foot for half an hour through Santa Luzia, a neighborhood where no branco, no white, ever treads -- and where half-naked children play with plastic refuse. Scotti remembers seeing a sign along the way that read "Nigerian Bissau Business Association."

"I had no idea where I was," Scotti says. "My escorts were extremely nervous. The cousin shoved me into a hut with a low ceiling. It was stifling hot. A thin guy with a rasta wool cap was sitting on a mattress and measuring out the powder. He didn't say a word. I had suggested beforehand that he put on a stocking mask. But then he came with this cracked plastic carnival mask."

Two dozen portions, wrapped in numerous layers of thin plastic and tape, were laid out on a low table like oversized party sausages. There was enough time to take three of four pictures. "Hurry up! Come on, get out now."

A kilo of pure cocaine costs €12,000 in Bissau. A wholesaler in Europe pays €30,000 for that amount of coke. In some cases, military officials are paid with the actual goods for their help and their silence, yet they have to handle the marketing on their own. This has led to the development of an intermediary trade in Bissau. The cocaine being wrapped by the masked man most likely comes from these channels.

Not a single middleman, not to mention one of their employers, has ever been arrested. The small-time helpers, though, are occasionally sacrificed to bolster the country's image abroad. Eleven swallowers from Nigeria are incarcerated in the national police's prison in Bissau, a stinking inferno where 60 men, crammed into a cell of only 15 square meters (160 square feet), are yelling for food. As soon as they are caught, no one claims to know them anymore. The mobile phone numbers of their former employers are disconnected. These poor souls have been left here to rot.

Doomed to Failure

It is shortly before five in the afternoon. A tropical rainstorm is gathering outside the city, and night will soon fall like a final curtain. This time, Biague's voice is tinged with panic: "Come quickly," he says on the phone, "we're starting." Then he hangs up.

When we arrive, Biague's room is empty. One of the officers says that his boss ordered everyone to come to the office, then jumped in a vehicle and headed toward Mansôa. "There has been an alarm," he says. "A second aircraft was reportedly approaching."

US intelligence only monitors the usual flight routes over the South Atlantic. Ever since West Africa became a transshipment point for the trans-Atlantic drug trade, however, two European countries have pointed their surveillance satellites at the region. One government agency noted a suspicious flight movement at noon, on course for Bissau, and notified a friendly embassy in Dakar, which then informed its contacts in Bissau.

Half an hour later, four agents forced their way through the crowd on the main street to get to the prison, where a single metal cabinet contains the complete arsenal of the national police of Guinea-Bissau. This consists of five AK-47s packed in a rice bag. The rifles date back to the war of independence. Some of them even have magazines.

At the sight of these antique weapons, the armed convoy, which is transporting drugs worth €1 million, would only stop out of an interest in collectibles. But this thought doesn't seem to unsettle the police squad. They head off with headphones plugged into their ears, listening to music as if they were on a company picnic.

Before they even reach the city limits, the mobile phone rings. It's Biague. His voice sounds weary and is hardly intelligible with all the signal noise. Just one word: fracassado. Failed. Failed again. No other word better summarizes the struggle against the cocaine transit in West Africa.

Poisoning Societies

Michael Daniels is a Franciscan priest. The cleric attends to the Candelária Cathedral on the Avenida Amilcar Cabral. Generals, political activists and police officers on the run seek refuge with the priest. He has seen them all, and he is one of the few foreigners brave enough to speak openly. "The people in Bissau are too poor to afford cocaine or crack," he says.

He says the military leaders are convinced that Guinea-Bissau is only a transit country for the drugs. They see the smuggling as merely a clever way of gaining a share of the global trade, he says, without getting dirty themselves. He speculates that some may even see it as a subtle form of revenge on the former colonial powers.

"But a market has emerged among the wealthy," says Brother Michael. The sons of the ruling elite have long since learned to do a line of coke, he says, and this is developing into a generation of addicts -- the children of the generals.

Translated from the German by Paul Cohen

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« Reply #4990 on: Mar 09, 2013, 08:32 AM »

03/08/2013 02:10 PM

World from Berlin: Friedrich 'Stoking Anti-Immigrant Sentiment'

Germany and a handful of EU countries have blocked Bulgaria and Romania from joining the Schengen Area of border-free travel. Editorialists at the Germany's left-leaning dailies are calling the move an election-year ploy on the part of conservatives in Berlin.

Bulgaria and Romania have been members of the European Union since 2007, but their accession into the Schengen Area of passport-free travel has once again been delayed over concerns in Berlin.

"The time isn't right," German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said in Brussels on Thursday. "There are still weaknesses -- especially when it comes to the reliability of the justice system, which prevent us from being able to say: Remove the border controls now." Friedrich had previously stated his intention to veto Schengen membership for the countries in a SPIEGEL interview.

The EU member nation interior ministers, who met in Brussels to discuss the countries' progress towards Schengen membership, said they would review the issue again at the end of the year.

Schengen accession for Bulgaria and Romania has been delayed repeatedly over the past two years. But Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tesvetanov said he intends to "maintain a constructive and open and transparent dialogue and to look for a common solution." Accession to Schengen requires a unanimous vote by all EU member states.

Both Romania and Bulgaria are required to undergo regular reviews by the European Commission on progress in eliminating deficits in the countries' justice systems and efforts to combat corruption and organized crime. These reports often paint a grim picture of this situation.

During the Brussels meeting, Friedrich also met with his colleagues from Austria, the Netherlands and Britain to discuss the rise in the number of economic refugees arriving in their countries. EU diplomats speaking to German news agency DPA on the condition of anonymity said the four countries have registered an increasing number of arrivals from Romania and Bulgaria. Friedrich himself has warned repeatedly in recent weeks that the influx will only grow once the countries are given full freedom of movement and access to the labor market across the EU.

'It Is a Non-Problem'

Friedrich is a member of the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union. Although the two parties govern together at the national level, they conduct political campaigns separately. Many observers have noted a populist tone in Friedrich's remarks on the wave of migration, with one major paper noting that he may be seeking to position his party more conservatively than Merkel's CDU, which many accuse of having veered to the left under the chancellor. In recent weeks, he has accused the new immigrants of taking advantage of the German social welfare system through what the British call "benefits tourism" and the Germans call "poverty migration."

Thursday proved no different. "Does freedom of movement mean we have to assume that people from all over Europe who believe that they can live better on welfare in Germany than they can in their own countries will come to Germany?" he asked. "This danger cannot be allowed to come true." He added that the right to freedom of movement must be protected against abuse.

However, European Commission spokesman Jonathan Todd said no EU country has presented "any evidence whatsoever that there is benefit tourism. It is a non-problem. It does not exist. There is a perception in some member states that has no grounding in reality."

The issue features on the editorial pages of a number of national newspapers in Germany on Friday, all of them with left of center viewpoints. Most are deeply critical of Friedrich, accusing the politician of trying to score votes ahead of September's national election by blocking Bulgaria and Romania from entering the Schengen Area.

Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"One can certainly harbor justified concerns about the disposition of Bulgaria and Romania to rule of law and whether or not authorities there are determined in their fight against corruption. And it is also may be true that these concerns already existed when the countries were given the prospect of Schengen membership (and ordered to make expensive investments in security infrastructure). The empty promise of a new review at the end of the year is just as dishonest as saying that Bulgaria and Romania will take any decisive steps in the remaining month that would allow them to eliminate the current concerns."

"Of course, there is a major, decisive difference. One important date will have passed by the end of the year: namely German national elections. And this reveals the real motive behind the blockade. Because regardless what is being debated about borders and their security, when Friedrich says Schengen, he is really referring to freedom of movement (in the EU), even if he is fond of saying that one has nothing to do with the other."

"(For Friedrich), this isn't about border security or the ability to travel without a passport. Friedrich has framed the issue in a way that makes the broad public link Schengen with the problem of poverty migration. That is particularly unsavory in light of the poverty migration out of the Southern European crisis countries. The minister complains when he hears what social welfare benefits a family of four can get, although he doesn't mention the fact that it isn't easy for EU citizens to even get access to the German social system. Friedrich is merely stoking anti-immigrant sentiment, even as the German government is actively seeking to attract the best-educated people in the crisis countries to Germany."

Berliner Zeitung writes:

"Is German Interior Minister Friedrich already using fears of poverty immigrants and the mafia as an instrument in his election campaign? That can't be ruled out. But Germany isn't alone, either. The Netherlands and France, both of which have elected center-left social democratic governments recently, complete the roster of rejectionists."

"But this doesn't make false arguments correct. Bulgarians and Romanians also require passport controls when they come to Germany. Yes, and among them are people who beg, steal or work as prostitutes. But they are not the majority. Eighty percent are seeking legitimate work. Twenty percent are even highly qualified. They are anything but the freeloaders seeking to profit from the German welfare state that some would make them out to be."

"One can certainly debate whether it was correct or not to accept Bulgaria and Romania into the EU. But they are now a part of it, even if they don't exercise the same level of rule of law. The delay in allowing them into Schengen appears to be an attempt to assert pressure on both countries, but it won't help much. In Romania, people are already saying they can live without Schengen. In other words, there can't be much more to this than a campaign issue for Freidrich."

Die Tageszeitung writes:

"The reasons for the delay in accession could have a lot to do with the upcoming German national election. After all, the government can score points if it sells itself as a defender of German jobs that is actively taking action against a wave of immigration from impoverished Romania and Bulgaria. These days, sealing the frontier is a surer way of securing votes than open borders and freedom of movement. With his actions, the interior minister is stoking fears. It is highly regrettable that no one in Brussels is putting him in his place."

"Instead of disgracing themselves with a public vote on the issue, the 27 EU ministers have instead delayed a decision entirely. The thinking is apparently that no vote at all would be better than one in which each would have to show their true colors and the division between the EU member states would become clear. Is this the kind of democracy that the EU so urgently needs?"

-- Daryl Lindsey

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« Reply #4991 on: Mar 09, 2013, 08:39 AM »

 Germany's New Anti-Euro Party

A new German party led by prominent German economists and academics wants to do away with the euro.Zoom

03/08/2013 02:53 PM

Anti-euro political parties in Europe in recent years have so far tended to be either well to the right of center or, as evidenced by the recent vote in Italy, anything but staid. But in Germany, change may be afoot. A new party is forming this spring, intent on abandoning European efforts to prop up the common currency. And its founders are a collection of some of the country's top economists and academics.

Named Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany), the group has a clear goal: "the dissolution of the euro in favor of national currencies or smaller currency unions." The party also demands an end to aid payments and the dismantling of the European Stability Mechanism bailout fund.

"Democracy is eroding," reads a statement on its website (German only). "The will of the people regarding (decisions relating to the euro) is never queried and is not represented in parliament. The government is depriving voters of a voice through disinformation, is pressuring constitutional organs, like parliament and the Constitutional Court, and is making far-reaching decisions in committees that have no democratic legitimacy."

The sentiment, of course, is hardly new. Euro-skeptics are everywhere these days, particularly in those southern European countries that have been hit hardest by the crisis that continues to plague the common currency. And even in mainstream parties, concerns about the path on which the EU currently finds itself are common. But in Germany, as elsewhere in northern Europe, the most vocal critique of the euro has tended to come from right-wing populist parties.

Prominent Supporters

Alternative for Germany appears to be different, though it has yet to produce a party manifesto. Its impressive list of prominent supporters includes a large number of conservative and economically liberal university professors. The most notable name on the list is Hans-Olaf Henkel, the former president of the Federation of German Industries, but it also includes such economists as Joachim Starbatty and Wilhelm Hankel, who were part of the group that challenged Greek bailout aid at Germany's Constitutional Court.

Main initiator Bernd Lucke, a professor of macro-economics from Hamburg, was a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats for 33 years before leaving the party in 2011 as a result of euro bailout efforts. "The current, so-called rescue policies are exclusively focused on short-term interests, primarily those of the banks," Lucke told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung this week.

Alternative for Germany has not yet formally become a political party, though it reportedly plans to do so in the middle of April. Even then, however, it is not yet certain that the party will be able to collect the requisite number of signatures in time to be included on the ballot in general elections this autumn -- a minimum of 2,000 in each of Germany's 16 states or 0.1 percent of each state's population, whichever is lower. "We will make that decision based on the support we receive," Lucke told the FAZ. "But we have been overwhelmed by the public's reaction thus far."

A Political Home

Even if the party does get on the ballot, it remains unclear whether it will attract significant support. So far, it remains a single-issue party -- and even on that single issue there is a lack of clear consensus on exactly how to proceed.

Still, with concern in Germany growing that the country has become the de-facto paymaster for the rest of the euro zone, Alternative for Germany could attract a fair number of protest votes from frustrated conservatives. Judging by the increasing difficulty Merkel has faced in pushing euro bailout packages through parliament in Berlin over the last 15 months, the level of frustration on the center-right could be growing. Indeed, Lucke has said that he is in touch with a handful of euro-skeptic parliamentarians from the Free Democrats, Merkel's business-friendly junior coalition partner.

Ultimately, however, the party's success will likely have more to do with the state of the common currency as the election approaches. Should the crisis flare up, so too could anti-euro sentiment. That sentiment in Germany now has a political home

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« Reply #4992 on: Mar 09, 2013, 08:42 AM »

Bulgaria admits failing to save thousands of Jews from Nazi death camps

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, March 8, 2013 18:30 EST

Bulgaria’s parliament for the first time admitted Friday failing to save over 11,000 Jews from territories under its control as it commemorated the start of deportations 70 years ago.

Bulgaria, an ally of Nazi Germany during World War II “refused the deportation of over 48,000 Jews — Bulgarian citizens — to the death camps,” parliament said in a declaration.

“An objective assessment of the historical events cannot however reject the fact that 11,343 Jews were deported from northern Greece and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia that were under German jurisdiction at the time,” it added.

“While condemning this criminal act, undertaken by the Hitlerist command, we express regret that it was not in the capabilities of the local Bulgarian administration to prevent it,” parliament said.

Bulgaria has always prided itself for being the only ally of Nazi Germany to save its Jewish population.

But despite pressure from historians, officials had so far carefully avoided any mention that Bulgaria deported Jews from the territories it administered in what are now Greece and Macedonia.

The issue had fuelled tensions in the Macedonian and Bulgarian media.

Bulgaria will honour for the first time the memory of all those who were deported, at a ceremony on Wednesday in the northern town of Lom, where the first deportations — of non-Bulgarian Jews — took place on March 13, 1943, the foreign ministry said.

Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov is due to attend together with Macedonian and Greek officials.

Israel has always honoured Bulgaria as a Jewish saviour and the two countries have launched a series of joint events to mark the anniversary.

Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev and his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres opened Wednesday an exhibition of archive documents and pictures, called “Tough choices that make a difference: The fate of the Bulgarian Jews,” at the European Parliament in Brussels.

A plaque commemorating the 11,343 victims will be inaugurated on Sunday in Sofia, followed by an official ceremony at the central synagogue and a classical music concert of Bulgarian and Israeli performers.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #4993 on: Mar 09, 2013, 08:45 AM »

Greek Prime Minister says no more austerity

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, March 9, 2013 8:48 EST

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on Saturday promised his recession-weary nation that there would be “no more austerity measures” as international creditors prolonged an audit of crisis reforms.

“There will be no more austerity measures,” Samaras said in a televised speech to his conservative party’s political committee.

“And as soon as growth sets in, relief measures will slowly begin,” Samaras said.

But he noted that Greece’s ailing economy was “out of intensive care, not out of the hospital.”

Representatives from the so-called troika of Greece’s creditors — the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund — are currently reviewing the steps Greece has taken to meet its multi-billion bailout obligations.

Thorny issues that Athens still needs to address include shrinking the number of jobs in the public sector, speed up privatisation plans and recapitalise four of its main banks.

The auditors have decided to extend their stay by another week and a scheduled meeting with the PM on Thursday was scrapped.

But Samaras on Saturday denied there was a stalemate in talks.

“There is discussion over certain things. I would not call it a hitch, mainly a discussion over how to apply agreed (measures),” he told financial weekly Axia in an interview.

Under the bailout conditions adopted last year, Greece needs to cut public sector workers by 25,000 in 2013 and a total of 150,000 by the end of 2015.

The job cuts have sparked friction with Samaras’ junior coalition partner Fotis Kouvelis, head of the moderate Democratic Left party, who is citing Greece’s soaring unemployment rate.

Facing a sixth consecutive year of recession, the heavily-indebted country has been relying on international rescue packages to avoid bankruptcy.

A return to growth initially foreseen for 2012 is now not expected before 2014.

Since 2010, the EU and the IMF have committed 240 billion euros ($314 billion) overall in rescue loans to Greece.

The next payment to Greece, of 2.8 billion euros, is due at the end of March.

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« Reply #4994 on: Mar 09, 2013, 08:47 AM »

March 8, 2013

Italy Uneasy as Government and Vatican Drift, Rudderless


ROME — The leader has resigned. There are scandals over sex and corruption. Finances are in disarray. And no one knows who will step in to try to clean up the mess.

The Vatican? The Italian government? At the moment, it is both.

Even for Romans, who over the centuries have endured looting, pillaging and hourlong lines at the post office, these are interesting times. The unexpected resignation of Benedict XVI, the first pope to step down in almost 600 years, means there is no pope in the Vatican — at least not before Tuesday, when the conclave and papal balloting will begin. At the same time, the inconclusive results from last month’s national elections have left Italy’s politicians bickering over how to form a government.

“There’s no government; there’s no pope,” said Arianna Ranocchia, 38, the food and beverage manager at the Hotel Lunetta in downtown Rome, as she watched seedlings from a plane tree swirling in the wind outside on Friday morning. “And now it is snowing in Rome.”

Italians are resilient, inured to high levels of corruption and accustomed to political volatility; since 1948, the country has had 58 governments. The expectations placed on their leaders are pretty low; voters just handed a second-place finish to the party of Silvio Berlusconi, the former prime minister who is facing a handful of criminal prosecutions, dating a woman about 50 years his junior and appealing prison sentences.

But Italy’s problems are now harder to laugh off. The economy is in recession. Unemployment is at a record high. Governmental instability threatens not just the Italian economy but also the fate of the euro. And at the Vatican, the scandal over leaked information and the continuing sex abuse scandals have weakened the spiritual authority of the Roman Catholic Church.

“We need a lot of change in politics, and in the church,” said Giovanna La Torre, 60, as she bade farewell to her daughter and grandson at the city’s Termini train station, before returning home to Verona. “The problem with politics is that politicians have just failed. We wasted 20 years.”

She added: “The church should change a lot, too. The church is just not in touch with reality.”

Instead, the church and Italy’s politicians are providing the country with a 24-hour reality show. Television news channels carry the Vatican’s subdued daily updates, in which the imperturbable spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, politely flicks away queries about who might be the next pope. And they stalk political leaders like the fiery populist Beppe Grillo to ask about the uncertain fate of the government. Crews chased Mr. Grillo, who has been feuding with the Italian press, as he jogged on the beach disguised in a hooded parka that covered even his face.

On the streets of Rome, some people saw the Vatican and the Italian government as having lost touch with their similar missions to serve the common person. The anger that boiled out of the national elections in the form of the unexpectedly large protest vote for Mr. Grillo’s party is matched by the rising alienation expressed by some Catholics.

“I’m Catholic, but I can’t stand the church or the hierarchy,” said Simone Cosenza, 31, a pharmacist, who voted for Mr. Grillo and spoke of a similar contempt for politics. “Italian politics need to be shaken up and to start over from scratch.”

Francesco Maiorca, 36, an actor, was hustling to catch a train for a job in Paris. He compared Italy to a country filled with millions of white sheep that somehow are duped into following a few black sheep, namely the politicians. He said he was embarrassed by the political situation and frustrated that Italians did not demand better of their leaders.

“The French will go to the streets and protest,” Mr. Maiorca said. “But we don’t. And we make fun of the French because they have baguettes under their arms. But we just talk, talk, talk.”

He nodded toward the elegantly dressed passengers moving through the terminal.

“People live well here, after all,” he said. “You always find a way around things.”

Even as the papacy and the government have their own issues, Italy has other crises. The former chief executive of Finmeccanica, the state-owned defense giant, is in jail after being arrested on corruption charges. Tens of millions of dollars in losses at the country’s flagship airline, Alitalia, prompted the resignation of its chief executive, Andrea Ragnetti. On Friday, the agency Fitch Ratings knocked Italy’s credit status down to the same level as Bahrain’s and Kazakhstan’s.

It appears that Italy will have a pope before it has a government. The Vatican has announced that the cardinals will begin voting on a new pope next Tuesday. Meanwhile, Italy’s political leaders will install a new Parliament next Friday, and only after that will they begin formal negotiations over a new government.

This appears to be the second time in modern Italian history that the papacy has been vacant while the country has been without a seated government. When Pope John XXIII died on June 3, 1963, political parties were still struggling to form a government. Eighteen days passed. Then, on June 21, cardinals elected Pope Paul VI and a government was installed the same day.

Beppe Severgnini, a columnist for Corriere della Sera, a leading Italian newspaper, said most Italians had so little faith in politicians that they would not be rattled by the current uncertainties. “When the hard times come, we are less shocked,” he said, adding: “It is worrying that we have so little expectation of our leaders. That has to be fixed soon.”

Along one of the cobblestone streets in central Rome, Tiziana Di Maio sipped an espresso and shrugged at the political situation. “As far as not having a government,” she said, “we’re used to that. Every two years, we change. It is normal. For the pope, it is not normal.”

Ms. Di Maio, 74, said she missed the way the streets filled with visitors streaming to the Vatican on Wednesdays and Sundays, when the pope appeared in a window at St. Peter’s Basilica to greet the crowds. “There are no people, no cheerful people,” she said. “Rome is just less lively.”

Even as Benedict endured criticism for the scandals during his papacy, Ms. Di Maio said she admired his decision to resign and relinquish such power. “His gesture was very human,” she said. “He just couldn’t do it. He showed that he was powerless.”

Would an Italian politician so willingly give up power for the greater good?

“No Italian politician would ever quit,” Ms. Di Maio said bitterly. “They want to keep their chair.”

Raffaello Casale, 75, a retired tailor, still owns a shop a short walk from one of the main gates to Vatican. He was shocked by Benedict’s resignation, saying it made him feel “more lonely.” Yet if he had to pick which is the harder task — selecting a new pope or forming an effective Italian government — he said the answer was obvious.

“It’s way easier in this country, at this time, to elect a pope than to form a government,” he said. “And it’s very difficult to choose a pope. But our politicians lack common sense and have lacked common sense for so long that I fear not even the Holy Spirit can help us have a strong and cohesive government.”

Gaia Pianigiani and Daniel J. Wakin contributed reporting.
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