March 8, 2013
Cardinals’ Balloting for a New Pope Will Start on Tuesday
By DANIEL J. WAKIN
VATICAN CITY — The identity of the new pope fuels enormous anticipation, but the next most breathlessly discussed topic here has been when the cardinals will actually get down to choosing him.
The answer is Tuesday. The cardinals, after five days of meetings and plenty of speculation, settled on the date within a half-hour of the start of an afternoon session on Friday. The news was transmitted by an e-mail from the Vatican press office. Cutting their discussions short suggests that they have moved closer to drawing up a list of candidates, or at least the qualities they want in a new pope — a pastoral communicator, a firm administrator, a reformer of the Vatican’s scandal-tainted bureaucracy. But the field remains wide open, with no one considered a heavy favorite. A two-thirds majority, or 77 of the 115 elector cardinals, is required to elect a pope.
Given the record of conclaves in the past 110 years, it is likely that Catholics will have a new pontiff by the end of next week, in plenty of time for the beginning of Easter ceremonies, starting with Palm Sunday on March 24. The longest of those conclaves was in 1903 (ending in the selection of Pius X) and 1922 (Pius XI), each lasting five days. Three lasted two days, including the one that elected Benedict XVI in 2005.
On Tuesday, the cardinals will first attend a special Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica for papal elections, and then in the afternoon they will file into the Sistine Chapel to begin their secret, anonymous balloting. They will hold one round of voting that afternoon and return to cast their ballots again on Wednesday.
The cardinals began meeting on Monday, four days after Benedict XVI left the Vatican forever as pope, the first man to resign the office in nearly 600 years. As part of the rules of papal transition, the cardinals take charge of the church, gather daily to discuss its future and share their hopes and expectations for the next vicar of Christ on earth.
A logistical task comes next: the assigning by lot of rooms for the 115 cardinals at the Vatican’s Santa Marta residence for the duration of the conclave, where they will be denied contact with the outside world. The random assignments ensure a spirit of objectivity, said the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi. It ensures that cardinals cannot pick their neighbors, he added.
At their daily briefing on Friday, Vatican press officials showed silent video images of the modest accommodations — a sitting room with a table and facing chairs, a single bed with a wrought-iron headboard, a small television (which will presumably be removed or deactivated), unadorned white walls. The officials also showed images of a luxury suite destined to house the new pope while his apartment in the Apostolic Palace is prepared.
Father Lombardi said that slightly more than 100 of the 150 or so cardinals present had given short speeches about the state of the church and what was needed in the next pope, a subtle form of politicking and auditioning. Another session is scheduled for Saturday.
Vatican analysts and Vaticanisti, those journalists who closely cover the Holy See and papal matters, have offered theories about the significance of the length of the meetings. One view is that Italian cardinals and insiders wanted to move quickly to a conclave to stave off too much scrutiny of the scandals that have washed over the Vatican in recent months. Another is that outsiders and foreign cardinals feel the need to explore questions of corruption and mismanagement more deeply, pushing to extend the talks.
But other factors are at play. The congregation meetings are the last opportunities for cardinals older than 80 — who are not eligible to vote in the conclave — to voice their views publicly about the direction of the church and the kind of pope who should lead it. A more prosaic cause for the timing of the conclave announcement is an interpretation of Vatican rules on declaring a conclave that requires all the elector cardinals to be present to do so. Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man of Vietnam was the last to arrive on Thursday.
The formal discussions have not been organized according to subject matter. The cardinals speak in the order of their requests.
Normally, the conclave should start 15 to 20 days after the end of a papacy, a period intended to include preparations for a papal funeral and for mourning. But Benedict, in the days before he stepped down, revised the rules to allow an earlier start.
Two of the 117 cardinals under 80 are not attending. They are Cardinal Julius Riyadi Darmaatmadja of Indonesia, who cited ill health, and Britain’s most senior cleric, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who said he would not be attending after being accused of “inappropriate acts” with priests. He later acknowledged that he had been guilty of sexual misconduct.
On Friday, the cardinals voted to accept the reasons given for the two absences, as they are required to do. The vote was a reminder of the need to choose a pope who is untainted by improprieties. “They’re very concerned about getting somebody clean,” said Robert Mickens, the Vatican correspondent for The Tablet, a London-based Catholic weekly. “The O’Brien scandal is right in their faces.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: March 8, 2013
An earlier version of this article misidentified the week in that begins with Palm Sunday, this year on March 24. It is Holy Week, not Easter week. (Easter week is the week that begins with Easter Sunday.)
March 8, 2013
Pope Material or Not, a Charming, Cheerful Cardinal Gains Notice in Rome
By MICHAEL PAULSON
VATICAN CITY — He keeps a set of vestments here, at the American seminary, so he does not have to lug the red robes back and forth to New York. He is a practiced frequent flier; last fall, he flew a round trip in a day, borrowing a billionaire’s jet so he could preside at a dinner in Manhattan without missing a meeting in Rome.
And he keeps careful tabs on both cities — last weekend, in Rome to bid farewell to one pope and help choose the next, he ducked into a priest’s office to watch a streaming webcast of Yankees and Mets spring training.
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the archbishop of New York, has become an object of fascination in Rome for the fluency of his juggling act: he is simultaneously head of the United States’ most prominent Roman Catholic diocese and president of its national conference of bishops, tapped by the Vatican for numerous prestigious assignments and by network television anchors for their most prized interview spots.
In the weeks since Pope Benedict XVI announced his intention to retire, the possibility that Cardinal Dolan could succeed him has been largely dismissed on the theory that his biggest strengths — outsize personality, Everyman affect, relentless public cheer — mark him as distinctively American in a way that makes it unlikely he would be chosen by his colleagues.
But in recent days, his joyful and telegenic orthodoxy is getting new attention in Rome; on Thursday, a prominent Vatican reporter, Sandro Magister, highlighted his qualifications, calling him “the consummate candidate, who represents the impulse in the direction of purification.”
Cardinal Dolan has colorfully dismissed speculation that he could be pope, saying that he expects, and is eager, to return to New York. Nonetheless, this papal interregnum has become an important period for him, presenting an opportunity for him to use mass media to reach Catholics in his vast and diverse archdiocese, and to elevate his stature as he faces battles with President Obama over health insurance regulations and with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York over a proposed liberalization of the state’s abortion laws.
He shows an easy demeanor; he is unfailingly positive, even when asked difficult questions. But even he is quick to say that he represents a new style, not a new point of view, for Catholic bishops. In an interview here, before the cardinals decided to stop speaking to reporters, he described the church’s teachings as a gift to be treasured, but said, “Let’s perhaps work on a way to wrap it in a more attractive way.”
Named a bishop by Pope John Paul II and a cardinal by Benedict XVI, Cardinal Dolan warned against anticipating change in “timeless truths of the faith” from a new pontiff.
“When we use the word ‘tradition,’ it’s not only a song from ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ it happens to be a very powerful teaching,” he said.
Cardinal Dolan, 63, is one of the newest members of the College of Cardinals; he was granted his red hat only 13 months ago, so his seating at meetings, and even his position in the procession to the conclave, will reflect his short tenure.
But he has repeatedly won votes of confidence from his peers. The American bishops elected him their president in a surprise vote in 2010; in Rome, global bishops elected him to continue their work on “new evangelization” after their synod last fall. Most significantly, early last year he was tapped by Benedict to deliver a keynote address to the full College of Cardinals.
“I was very impressed by him,” said one of those in attendance, Cardinal Wilfrid F. Napier of Durban, South Africa.
“In the sense that he’s only been in New York for a couple of years, there’s a little bit of untested quality about him,” said Edward N. Peters, a professor of canon law at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. “But if you look back at the synod of bishops in October, just about every time bishops were allowed to vote for one of their own, not only was he elected, but he was usually elected far and away.”
A Missouri native, Cardinal Dolan has spent more years in Rome than in New York — as a seminarian, he studied at the Pontifical North American College, and then he served as that institution’s rector from 1994 until 2001. He speaks Italian (although he described his fluency as “primitive” last year), happily offers Roman restaurant recommendations and loves to walk the cobblestone streets.
But he is less Romanized than many cardinals, and even the cardinal’s biggest fans say his biggest strengths in the United States — his fondness for beer and barbecue, his physicality and exuberance — define him as American in a way that is a liability in a church headquarters that at times views the New World with a combination of condescension and disdain.
“Italians don’t understand him,” said one Vatican official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the news media. He added, “They don’t like people joking on serious occasions, warming the crowd.”
But Cardinal Dolan’s fellow cardinals seem to marvel at the impact of what Cardinal Edward M. Egan, who preceded him as archbishop of New York, described as his “million-dollar personality.” His manner is particularly striking in an era when the church is often on the defensive in the public square.
Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, said that when he served as bishop of Fall River, Mass., he decided to send as many seminarians as he could to the college in Rome because Father Dolan was the rector.
“His great joy in being a priest is something I wanted my seminarians to experience,” Cardinal O’Malley said.
Cardinal Dolan has some of the attributes of a gifted politician — he remembers names, works crowds, checks in. During a visit to a New York synagogue, he put his right arm on the left shoulder of each person he greeted; some adults he hugged, some babies he held. During a walk through Kennedy International Airport, he greeted each worker, pausing as some kissed his ring, posing for photos with others.
The high and mighty are charmed, too: it was the billionaire real estate investor Mortimer B. Zuckerman who lent him a plane to get back to Rome last fall.
Bishop Terry R. LaValley, who heads the sprawling upstate New York diocese of Ogdensburg, said Cardinal Dolan would call at random times, just to check in.
“Sunday morning at the gas station, the phone rings — it’s Cardinal Dolan; New Year’s Eve, ‘How are you doing?’ ” Bishop LaValley said.
He is masterful at small talk, frequently turning to food (“I can taste the carbonara as we speak,” he exclaimed at Kennedy Airport) and sports (“They didn’t look too good yesterday,” he said of the Yankees).
And he has a strikingly contemporary worship style — short homilies, conversational tone, informal language — which contrasts with the erudite and occasionally bombastic tone associated with earlier generations of prelates.
Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, who taught the future New York archbishop when he was still a seminarian, said Cardinal Dolan’s outgoing style and ability to project enthusiasm were huge assets to the church back home.
“There’s a sense in which he’s ideal for New York, because there is so much energy in New York, you just associate that with New York: everything, the Great White Way, people being up all the time, and its self-identification as the center of the world,” he said.
But Cardinal Wuerl cautioned against expectations of an American pope. “There’s an old Roman saying: ‘You never put limits on divine providence,’ ” he said. “So Lord knows what will happen. But I think there’s always the great caveat of, can anyone, right now, from the United States, ever effectively serve and be that voice, because the temptation would be that an American would be identified with America first, and the See of Peter and the chair of Peter second.”
And some Vaticanisti — the small band of commentators who closely watch high-level church affairs — say that in the unlikely event an American does become pope, it is more likely to be Cardinal O’Malley, whose humble mien, facility with languages, Capuchin habit and experience responding to sexual abuse have impressed insiders.
Cardinal Dolan said he did not know, nor was he particularly concerned about, how other cardinals assessed him.
“In my mind, what I care most about is what God thinks about me, and whether I’m doing his will,” he said. “I also have to say, I’m always wondering what the people of the Archdiocese of New York think about me, and that’s a source of consolation, because I can feel their love and support.”
Rachel Donadio and Daniel J. Wakin contributed reporting.
March 8, 2013
Argentina: Ex-President Is Convicted
By EMILY SCHMALL
An appeals court in Argentina convicted former President Carlos Saúl Menem on Friday of smuggling contraband weapons in the 1990s. Weapons and munitions officially destined to Panama and Venezuela ended up in Ecuador during its brief war with Peru, violating a bilateral peace agreement, and in Croatia during the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia amid an international weapons embargo. The ruling overturned a lower court’s 2011 acquittal of Mr. Menem, left, whose 1989-1999 presidency was marred by accusations of corruption and graft. Mr. Menem, who denies being part of the arms conspiracy, served six months on house arrest on the same charges in 2001, but was freed following a Supreme Court ruling. As a senator, Mr. Menem, 82, is shielded from further imprisonment and may appeal the conviction before the Supreme Court.
Argentinians dismiss 'illegal' Falklands referendum
The claim on the islands known in Buenos Aires as the Malvinas is one of few points of general agreement in a divided country
Jonathan Watts in Buenos Aires
guardian.co.uk, Friday 8 March 2013 18.28 GMT
Every Tuesday, a group of Argentinian veterans of the Falklands war gather on the outskirts of Buenos Aires to cook up a barbecue, share memories and plan new campaigns. For them, of course, the islands are the Malvinas, not the Falklands, Port Stanley is Port Argentina, and sovereignty belongs to the government in Buenos Aires, not the one in London.
Now middle-aged, they plan media and education campaigns, arrange interviews, lobby the government and consider how to counter any move that seems designed to strengthen British rule of the islands. Their goals are twofold: to regain the islands they were repelled from in 1982 and to avoid a repeat of a war that is now seen here as a terrible mistake.
So it is with vehemence rather than violence that they dismiss the Falklands' first referendum on sovereignty, due to start on Sunday, which is expected to reinforce at the ballot box what was determined by guns and tanks in 1982: UK rule over the south Atlantic islands and the sea lanes around them.
"This referendum won't have any impact on international negotiations. The people on the island have no right to vote on self-determination," said Ernesto Alonso, head of the 250-member Centre for Ex-Combatants in the Malvinas – one of several veterans' organisations.
Alonso was 19 when he was conscripted into the 7th Infantry, which suffered heavy casualties, among them his school friends and neighbours. Now he works for the government as head of the commission that represents more than 20,000 former combatants. He is delighted that the Argentinian president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, has pushed the issue up the agenda in recent years. "For the first time, the government is saying what we have been saying for years," he said.
Since the 30th anniversary of the war last year, tensions have increased. Argentina has ramped up the diplomatic noise at the UN and regional bodies, placed full-page advertisements in British newspapers and – most controversially – restricted access to the islands. It has persuaded South American neighbours to turn away Falklands-flagged ships, curtailed overflights and imposed sanctions on companies that exploit the resources of the islands.
Britain has also lifted its rhetoric and intensified oil exploration. It insists no deal is possible without the inclusion of the islanders as a third party in negotiations. This strategy will be underlined by the forthcoming vote. On 10 and 11 March, the 1,500 eligible voters in Port Stanley and other communities will vote on the following question: "Do you wish the Falkland Islands to retain their current political status as an overseas territory of the United Kingdom?"
Alonso believes the islanders are in no position to decide the fate of their territory. He says they have limited information and their communications are controlled by the army base. "They live in a dream, in a Disneyland fantasy. In actuality, they are being manipulated by politicians," he said. While his activism and rhetoric are strong, his views are mainstream. That is evident from the signs at the international airport and the graffiti on the walls, where the message is the same: the Malvinas belong to Argentina. The local equivalent of the Sun still refers to British people as "pirates". Opinions polls suggest the Falklands is one of the few issues in this politically polarised country on which there is a strong degree of unanimity.
A recent survey by the consultancy Equippe, which is close to the government, found that 75.1% of the public supported the government's strategy to impose trade restrictions on companies that exploit resources on the islands. Last year, another poll to mark the 30th anniversary of the war indicated that 89% of Argentines supported the sovereignty claims of Buenos Aires.
Britain claims the Fernández government – which has declared the referendum "illegal" – has pumped up the issue to divert attention from domestic woes, including 25% inflation and rising crime.
Guillermo Carmona, a ruling party legislator and president of the commission on foreign affairs, says that if anyone is doing that, it is the British prime minister, because Europe's problems and British austerity are harder to swallow than any of the challenges faced by Argentina.
The escalation in nationalistic noise coinciding with difficult economic times has drawn comparisons to the early 1980s. But what is happening today is different in that both countries have largely adopted democratic and peaceful strategies – international lobbying and a referendum rather than Exocets and torpedoes – to bolster their positions.
Argentina's moves to isolate the islands are more aggressive. They are a sign, perhaps, that the stakes have been raised by the discovery of extensive oil deposits near the Falklands. The full extent of the deposits is not yet clear, but the enormous potential is evident from the $1bn (£670m) of investment that has been attracted.For many Argentinians, this explains the rise in tensions and the timing of the referendum.
"The real interest of the UK is connected to petroleum," said Edgardo Esteban, who was a 19-year-old conscript when he fought in the battle of Port Stanley. Today, he is a film-maker, who has made a reflective documentary about his returns to the island as a journalist.
He has friends there now and remembers a time before the war when relations were much better and the islanders would come to Argentina for education, medical treatment and to watch football matches. The war changed that, but it also transformed Argentina by ending the rule of the country's murderous military junta. Esteban is frustrated that Britain and the islanders do not recognise this. "They act as if they are still talking to a dictatorship, but now we are a democracy," he said "What the dictatorship did was wrong. Now the peaceful way is right. But we strongly believe the Malvinas are ours."
Education has changed: students educated in the 1990s rarely got a chance to discuss the dictatorship or the failure of the invasion.
Those at school since the Kirchners took power have been positively encouraged to broach these issues, which have risen to prominence since the anniversary last year.
"Our textbooks told us that the war in 1982 was a political ploy designed to manipulate people into supporting the dictatorship and to cover up the disappearances," said Lautaro Pirich, an 18-year-old. "To get the islands back we need to talk, not fight."
Almost everyone now agrees the 1982 war was a calamitous mistake, not just because the invasion was repelled, but because it was initiated by a dictatorship. General Leopoldo Galtieri fell from power as a result of the defeat. This is seen as the silver lining to a dark period in the country's history – an inversion of the view taken by many on the British left who lament that Thatcher's victory kept her in power for a decade. "Our democracy was born in the Malvinas when Port Stanley fell, though that is not the history that Argentinians like to hear," said Ricardo Kirschbaum, executive editor of Clarín, the country's biggest newspaper, and author of a book on the 1982 conflict. "Argentina made a very big mistake in 82, but it was good that it ended the dictatorship."
Kirschbaum – one of the most prominent opponents of the current government – believes the referendum is a natural step towards the ultimate independence of the islands. In Argentina – and Britain – this is an unorthodox view, but he sees this as inevitable, given the failures of both sides to find a better arrangement that recognises the British character of the islanders and their geographical proximity to South America.
"This referendum won't change opinion in Argentina, but it will change opinion in the world," he said. "Argentina does not have a strategy. We need to think of a new approach, but with this government that is impossible."
Other have questioned the official government line. "Is it correct to use the word 'negotiate' if we are not willing to consider giving?" asked the historian Federico Lorenz in an opinion piece this week. "Dare we think, at least as an intellectual exercise, that we may not be entirely right?"
Such views would have been impossible during the dictatorship. Locals say they were rarely expressed even 10 years ago. But even though there is a debate, the fundamental aims are the same as they have been for 30 years: to get back the islands and maintain peace.
"The referendum will change nothing," said Alonso, the head of the veterans' group. Asked if his group planned any response, he shook his head. "Next week, we're not planning anything special. We'll just have the usual barbecue."
Falklanders say the first sovereignty referendum in their history is a rebuttal to intensifying Argentinian harassment.
On 10 and 11 March, the 1,500 eligible voters among the 3,000 population will vote on the following question: "Do you wish the Falkland Islands to retain their current political status as an overseas territory of the United Kingdom?" People on the windswept South Atlantic islands will stage a rally on Sunday, the first day of voting.
Several expressed excitement ahead of what they see as an appeal to democratic nations for support and an expression of their determination to decide their future.
Rosie King, a fifth-generation islander who went through the war in 1982, said she expected 100% support for British rule. "I hope the outcome says to Argentina that although we are British subjects, we are Falkland Iislanders and we would like to be left as we are."
According to Mike Summers, a sixth-generation islander and member of the legislative assembly: "Argentina has been aggressive and difficult, and tried hard to stifle the economy of the Falklands through denial of air flight rights, attempts to deter tourism vessels from calling here, bans on fishing businesses working here, and bans on support to hydrocarbons development.
"This has naturally caused islander sentiment to harden against the Argentinian government. It has taken us 180 years to de-colonise from the UK, we have no wish to be recolonised by Argentina."
Long known for its sheep farming, the islands are set for an oil and gas boom. Petrochemical firms are said to have invested $1bn to exploit the offshore fossil fuels. The oil will not start to flow for four years, but it will be a huge windfall for the islands, where GDP per capita is already around £40,000.
The cost of living is also 20% higher than in Europe because of import costs that have been pushed higher by Argentina's efforts to restrict port access in south America. As a result, a single banana costs about a pound.
The islanders expect further moves towards self determination, which they say is guaranteed by the constitution and the UN charter.
"We have developed our post-colonial relationship with the UK over several decades, and will continue to strengthen internal self government as the economy expands," said Summers.
Hugo Chávez enshrined as 'comandante eternal'
Venezuela mourns its mercurial president as Raul Castro, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Evo Morales lead tributes
Hugo Chávez's funeral: Read all the day's developments as they happened
Rory Carroll and Virginia Lopez in Caracas
The Guardian, Friday 8 March 2013 19.24 GMT
Back in 2007, Hugo Chávez created a unique time zone, ordering Venezuela's clocks back half an hour, but on Friday his heirs improvised a funeral like no other to stop the clocks and immortalise the comandante eternal.
Dozens of presidents, prime ministers and princes from around the world joined hundreds of thousands of pilgrims at the military academy in Caracas to bid farewell to a leader who simultaneously inspired, enchanted and repelled during his 14-year rule.
They came not to bury but enshrine him, for the funeral was a prelude to an indeterminate period of lying in state before Chávez's body is embalmed and displayed in perpetuity at the Museum of the Revolution.
"We have decided to prepare the body … so that it remains open for eternity for the people. Just like Ho Chi Minh. Just like Lenin. Just like Mao Zedong," said Nicolás Maduro, the vice-president who was due to be sworn in as president at sunset after the ceremony. Maduro is widely expected to win a six-year term in an election due to be held within 30 days.
A hush fell across Venezuela, where bars and beaches have been closed for official mourning, as Cuba's Raúl Castro, Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Bolivia's Evo Morales and about 30 other heads of state and government filed into the academy's chapel. The US sent a small, mid-ranking delegation. Ambassador Catherine Nettleton represented Britain.
Crowds lining the route cheered Chávez's mother Elena as she arrived, weeping. The Simón Bolívar youth orchestra, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, performed a soft version of the national anthem.
"My all has left me. Goodbye my giant," tweeted Chávez's daughter Maria Gabriella, a regular companion at his public events. She helped rally support for his return to power after he was briefly ousted in a 2002 coup.
All eyes rested on the wooden coffin draped in Venezuela's flag. Before it was closed, some 2 million people, by the government's count, had queued for a glimpse of him, dressed in military uniform and red beret. He was announced dead on Tuesday, aged 58, after a two-year battle with cancer.
A band played lively folk music from the plains, songs that Chávez often sang himself during his near-daily television appearances. Maduro placed a replica of the sword of Simón Bolívar, the 19th-century liberator Chávez revered, on the coffin. Upon taking the podium, Maduro cried and proclaimed undying loyalty to his comandante. "No volveran!" he chanted. They will not return! A vow the opposition would not regain power.
"We have lost a great friend," said Ahmadinejad. "I have the feeling I have lost myself … Chávez will never die." He compared the late president to Jesus Christ.
Venezuela, pre-Chávez known largely for oil and beauty queens, has been stunned at the global reaction, with several countries declaring days of official mourning in solidarity. Elías Jaua, foreign minister, said: "This is like having the world united thanks to Chávez."
Red-shirted supporters, baking in the sun, repeated what have become mantras: Somos todos Chávez – We are all Chávez. Chávez vive en nosotros" – Chavez lives in us. Others coined a new slogan: Chávez did not die, he multiplied!
"I was 10 years old when he took power. He was our comandante, our father," said Giancarlos Mendoza, 24, who joined a convoy of red red buses ferrying mourners to Caracas for the funeral.
Franklin Roosevelt and Georges Pompidou died in office but the example Chávistas hope to emulate was the name on a big white banner near the chapel entrance, Juan Perón, who died in 1973 and remains decades later a talisman for Argentina's ruling Perónists.
Maduro – whose opponent is expected to be Henrique Capriles in the forthcoming election – will try to harness the passion of the millions who revered his charismatic, mercurial chief. He has taken to mimicking Chávez's vocabulary and gestures and planted the notion of the eternal comandante, never to be betrayed, in quasi-religious tones.
Venezuela's cardinal, Jorge Urosa Savino, no friend of Chávez, is in Rome for the conclave. Monsignor, Mario Moronta, as well as pastor Alexis Romero Valera and US civil rights leader the Reverend Jesse Jackson officiated at the mass.
Time is the government's friend and foe. Chávez's body, according to some forensic specialists, has probably decayed too much for embalming, not least because of his coffin's seven-hour crawl on Wednesday to the military academy in sweltering temperatures.
The Spanish paper ABC reported it was empty and that the real coffin was transported on a quieter, different route to avoid the crowds, a Fellini-esque theory in keeping with a week in which the government accused unnamed "enemies" – aka the US – of murdering Chávez by poisoning him with cancerous agents.
The Museum of the Revolution, which is to be his final resting place remains unfinished – a symbol, murmured critics, their voices still low amid febrile emotions, of the revolution's inability to build or maintain infrastructure.
Placing the president in the museum will violate his expressed desire to be buried in the plains of his youth but will give his movement a politically powerful shrine in the heart of the capital.
Chávez revealed that he was suffering from cancer in June 2011. Its nature remained a secret and he insisted last year he was cured, giving a marathon nine-hour speech to convince voters the miracle was real. They gave him another six-year term in last October's election.
He was dying, but the government maintained the fiction up until the end, with ministers simulating lengthy cabinet meetings at the bedside of a mute, suffering, fading patient.
Even so, his death on Tuesday caught them flat-footed and they scrambled to organise the funeral. Until Thursday night there was confusion over its time and location. In the end they decided to hold it where he was lying in state.
The fact he was not going to be buried or cremated and would remain in situ after the ceremony ended put a question mark over whether it was really a funeral or, as Argentina's Cristina Fernandez put it, after leaving Caracas on Thursday, more a "protocol event". A friend and ally of Chávez, she said doctors warned her the heat would be bad for her health.
The improvised air was in keeping with the late president's spontaneous and at times capricious governing style. As well as changing the clocks, he altered the country's name, flag and coat of arms, the latter at the suggestion of his then eight-year-old daughter who suggested the horse should face left, not right.
Supporters loved the showmanship but they appreciated even more the generous spending of oil revenues on social programmes, subsidies and handouts that helped halve poverty and reduce inequality. "He gave me a house. I have every reason to be grateful. It changed my life," said Tamara Rondon, 33, part of the ocean of red paying homage at the academy.
Others said their support was rooted not in the fridges, televisions and cookers the government gave out before elections but in Chávez's extraordinary ability to connect with the poor, even after years in the presidential palace. "He was one of us," said taxi driver Claudio Sembrano.Such was his political genius he evaded blame for inflation, shortages, power cuts and collapse in security – 59 murders a day last year, according to the Venezuelan Violence Observatory, the worst in South America - which torments the barrios. Dozens of the latest casualties lay on slabs in a hillside morgue not far from Friday's ceremony.
Rather than be sworn in at the national assembly Maduro chose to take the sash at the military academy, blending funeral and inauguration.
Stonehenge may have been burial site for Stone Age elite, say archaeologists
By Maev Kennedy, The Guardian
Saturday, March 9, 2013 1:18 EST
Dating cremated bone fragments of men, women and children found at site puts origin of first circle back 500 years to 3,000 BC
Centuries before the first massive sarsen stone was hauled into place at Stonehenge, the world’s most famous prehistoric monument may have begun life as a giant burial ground, according to a theory disclosed on Saturday.
More than 50,000 cremated bone fragments, of 63 individuals buried at Stonehenge, have been excavated and studied for the first time by a team led by archaeologist Professor Mike Parker Pearson, who has been working at the site and on nearby monuments for decades. He now believes the earliest burials long predate the monument in its current form.
The first bluestones, the smaller standing stones, were brought from Wales and placed as grave markers around 3,000BC, and it remained a giant circular graveyard for at least 200 years, with sporadic burials after that, he claims.
It had been thought that almost all the Stonehenge burials, many originally excavated almost a century ago, but discarded as unimportant, were of adult men. However, new techniques have revealed for the first time that they include almost equal numbers of men and women, and children including a newborn baby.
“At the moment the answer is no to extracting DNA, which might tell us more about these individuals and what the relationship was between them – but who knows in the future? Clearly these were special people in some way,” Parker Pearson said.
A mace head, a high-status object comparable to a sceptre, and a little bowl burnt on one side, which he believes may have held incense, suggest the dead could have been religious and political leaders and their immediate families.
The team included scientists from the universities of Southampton, Manchester, Bournemouth, Sheffield, London, York and Durham. Their work is revealed for the first time in a documentary on Channel 4 on Sunday night, Secrets of the Stonehenge Skeletons.
Archaeologists have argued for centuries about what Stonehenge really meant to the people who gave hundreds of thousands of hours to constructing circles of bluestones shipped from Wales, and sarsens the size of double-decker buses dragged across Salisbury plain. Druids and New Age followers still claim the site as their sacred place. Others have judged it a temple, an observatory, a solar calendar, a site for fairs or ritual feasting or – one of the most recent theories – a centre for healing, a sort of Stone Age Lourdes.
The latest theory is based on the first analysis of more than 50,000 fragments of cremated human remains from one of the Aubrey holes, a ring of pits from the earliest phase of the monument, which some have believed held wooden posts. Crushed chalk in the bottom of the pit was also revealed, suggesting it once supported the weight of one of the bluestones. Dating the bones has pushed back the date of earliest stone circle at the site from 2500BC to 3000BC.
Parker Pearson believes his earlier excavation at nearby Durrington Walls, which uncovered hut sites, tools, pots and mountains of animal bones – the largest Stone Age site in north-west Europe – is evidence of a seasonal work camp for the Stonehenge builders, who quarried, dragged and shaped more than 2,000 tons of stone to build the monument. Analysis of the animal bones shows some of them travelled huge distances – from as far as Scotland – and were slaughtered at Durrington in mid-summer and mid-winter: “Not so much bring a bottle as bring a cow or a pig,” Parker Pearson said.
Mike Pitts, an archaeologist, blogger and editor of the British Archaeology journal, who has excavated some of the cremated human remains from Stonehenge, says the new theory proves the need for more research and excavation at the site.
“I have now come to believe that there are hundreds, maybe many times that, of burials at Stonehenge, and that some predate the earliest phase of the monument,” Pitts said. “The whole history of the monument is inseparably linked to death and burial – but I believe that there are hundreds more burials to be found across the site, which will tell us more of the story.”
Almost all the prehistoric human remains come from the eastern side of the circle, and many had been excavated by earlier archaeologists including William Hawley in the 1920s, who regarding them as unimportant compared with the giant stones, reburied them jumbled together using one of the Aubrey holes as a convenient pit.
“There must be more, in the western quadrant, or buried outside the enclosure ditch. A new excavation could clinch it,” Pitts said.
This autumn visitors to Stonehenge will see more interpretation of its complex history than ever before, when English Heritage finally opens its long-awaited visitor centre – originally planned to usher in the new millennium in 2000.
© Guardian News and Media 2013
In the USA....
Bin Laden son-in-law court appearance reignites debate over handling of terrorism cases
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, March 8, 2013 16:36 EST
NEW YORK — With the surprise appearance in a New York courtroom of Osama bin Laden’s son in law on Friday, the US justice system’s handling of terrorism cases itself went back on trial.
Until now, alleged Al-Qaeda figures have been more likely to be blown apart by a missile from a US drone or to disappear into the netherworld of secret CIA or secretive military prisons, before resurfacing in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
But on this occasion, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, accused of conspiring to kill US nationals, was arraigned in a wood-paneled Manhattan federal courtroom, accompanied by three lawyers and witnessed by the media.
The proceeding lasted just a quarter of an hour.
Wearing a blue prison smock and politely standing before Judge Lewis Kaplan, the meek-looking suspect was a far cry from his firebrand presence at the Al Qaeda founder’s side in years past.
President Barack Obama has long argued that such a hearing is exactly the way justice should be done.
He even promised when first elected to close the Guantanamo prison camp down and to move all terrorism cases into civilian courts to be tried in public and with all due process.
But many disagree, arguing that militants in this shadowy struggle between Al-Qaeda sympathizers and the US global presence do not deserve the same legal rights as Americans.
Obama, an enthusiastic proponent of drone assassinations, has himself sent deeply mixed messages.
And as soon as the government revealed that Abu Ghaith had been spirited in a secret operation onto US soil and put in front of a New York judge, the criticism started.
US Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said the civilian prosecution “makes little sense, and reveals, yet again, a stubborn refusal to avoid holding additional terrorists at the secure facility at Guantanamo Bay.”
Another Republican senator, John Cornyn, said Guantanamo is “the only place where we should be detaining America’s most dangerous enemy combatants — period.”
White House spokesman Joshua Earnest countered that there is “broad consensus” in justice, intelligence and national security agencies that Abu Ghaith belonged in a New York courtroom.
Earnest pointed to successful trials in civilian court of other terrorism defendants, including convicted underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
However, those cases were not related to the September 11, 2001 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York.
An attempt in 2010 by the Obama administration to bring five alleged 9/11 plotters to the same Manhattan courthouse that Abu Ghaith saw Friday failed.
The building is just a few blocks from the site of the World Trade Center, where the Twin Towers were destroyed on 9/11, and the prospect of having such prominent alleged plotters there sparked outrage.
Some of the families of 9/11 victims described the move as an insult, while city officials, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, balked at what they said would be the security nightmare.
Ultimately, Obama was forced into an embarrassing climb-down and the five, including alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, were shipped to Guantanamo — which, despite Obama’s promise, remains in full business.
Daphne Eviatar of Human Rights First said the Abu Ghaith experience shows the right way.
“Today’s efficient arraignment is a far cry from the clumsy military commissions proceedings we see at Guantanamo”, she said Friday.
“Today’s hearing took 17 minutes, the government had already turned over the bulk of its unclassified discovery and the judge announced that he will set a trial date next month.”
By contrast, 13 hours were needed for the initial processing of the alleged 9/11 plotters when they got to Guantanamo and no trial date has been set.
“The prosecution of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith clearly demonstrates that federal courts are the best venue for federal terrorism trials,” she said.
March 8, 2013
Blocked Bids to Fill Judgeships Stir New Fight on Filibuster
By CARL HULSE
WASHINGTON — A fresh feud over federal judgeships has again begun to agitate the Senate, with Republicans so far blocking President Obama from filling any of the four vacancies on the nation’s most prestigious and important appeals court.
After Republicans this week filibustered the nomination of Caitlin J. Halligan of New York to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Democrats quickly began discussions over how to respond. One possibility is for Mr. Obama to make several simultaneous nominations, in effect daring Republicans to find specific objections in multiple instances. Democrats say Republicans would be hard pressed to come up with legitimate reasons to disqualify all four.
“We need to design a strategy to counter the Republicans, and we are going to need the president,” said Senator Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico. “Rather than putting just one up, we should put before the Senate all four and expose what is happening here.”
If Republicans were to continue to steadfastly block a series of appeals court nominees, Democrats say they might then have justification to revisit Senate rules and claim new power to thwart filibusters.
The District of Columbia appeals court is considered a route to the Supreme Court. In fact, Ms. Halligan was nominated to fill the vacancy left by Judge John G. Roberts Jr. when he left to join the Supreme Court in September 2005. The court decides many politically charged cases involving federal law and regulations, with one of its recent decisions overturning Mr. Obama’s recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board.
The court currently consists of four judges appointed by Republican presidents and three appointed by President Bill Clinton, with four vacancies, the most ever on that court. Five of the six semiretired senior judges who share the workload were nominated by Republican presidents.
The filibuster of Ms. Halligan on Wednesday came just before the effort by Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, to block the nomination of John O. Brennan as director of the Central Intelligence Agency over drone policy. Mr. Paul’s old-school floor show was a media sensation. But the failure to end debate on Ms. Halligan’s nomination was arguably more consequential, given its potential to renew the fight over rules governing filibusters and how the Senate handles high-level judicial nominations.
Democrats believe Republicans are dead set against confirming qualified Obama administration nominees to federal circuit courts, especially the Washington appeals court, in order to preserve the current balance of power. They accuse Republicans of exaggerating their objections to Ms. Halligan to justify a filibuster under a 2005 agreement that averted the last partisan showdown over appointing judges.
That deal, crafted by what became the “Gang of 14,” a bipartisan group of senators, put its signatories on record as saying they would not block confirmation votes on appeals court judges without “extraordinary circumstances” as determined by each individual. While only members of the group signed it, the agreement became informal Senate policy and defused a crisis that had Republicans threatening to execute the “nuclear option” and bar filibusters against judicial nominees by a simple majority instead of the 67 votes historically needed to change Senate rules.
It also led to President George W. Bush winning three appointments to the District of Columbia court. All three appointees remain.
Over all, Mr. Obama has appointed roughly as many federal appellate judges as either Mr. Bush or Mr. Clinton did in each of their first terms. But Mr. Obama has appointed fewer federal judges to district courts, where trials are held, than Mr. Bush or Mr. Clinton in their first terms, partly because of Republican opposition and partly because of the administration’s own slowness to make nominations.
The appellate courts also have more vacancies today — 17 — than they did at the start of Mr. Bush’s second term, when 15 seats were open, according to Russell Wheeler, a Brookings Institution scholar who studies the federal courts.
In filibustering Ms. Halligan, several Republicans cited extraordinary circumstances arising from her work as the solicitor general for the State of New York, particularly on a case against gun manufacturers.
“Ms. Halligan advanced the novel legal theory that gun manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers contributed to a ‘public nuisance’ of illegal handguns in the state,” said Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, accusing her of judicial activism. “Therefore, she argued, gun manufacturers should be liable for the criminal conduct of third parties.”
Republicans also raised questions about the court’s caseload, saying the cost of adding another judge to the court was not justified by a backlog.
Democrats cried foul. Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, called the claims on the workload disingenuous and said Republicans had resorted to smearing Ms. Halligan.
Democrats say that Ms. Halligan was acting in her official capacity representing the State of New York, not as a jurist, and that Republicans have abandoned the “extraordinary circumstances” test engineered by the Gang of 14.
“If you go back to that history of what occurred back then, there is a real question of whether they have broken the deal now,” Mr. Udall said. “This is a key circuit for the country. What they are doing is not allowing these consensus candidate judges to get votes.”
Mr. Udall has been among a group of relatively newer members of the Senate clamoring for significant changes in rules governing filibusters.
In January, working to avoid a divisive fight, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, struck a deal making modest changes in the rules.
But those changes have done little so far to curb filibusters, as evidenced by the vote on Ms. Halligan and the obstacles raised to confirmation votes on Mr. Brennan and Chuck Hagel. Mr. Hagel, a Republican former senator, found himself on the receiving end of a Republican filibuster before winning confirmation as secretary of defense.
Given the attention Mr. Paul received, the filibuster may even be enjoying resurgence as grand theater.
Democrats say that despite what they see as clear provocation, they are in no rush to change the new rules after just two months in place and while the parties are potentially making progress on other tough issues like immigration. They are more inclined to explore new ways to challenge Republicans over the vacancies.
The fight will take time. Democrats say they want to see how Republicans respond to future appeals court nominees, including another one to the District of Columbia circuit, Srikanth Srinivasan, Mr. Obama’s deputy solicitor general. But a series of filibusters against what they view as acceptable nominees could again bring to a head the push for a change in Senate rules.
March 8, 2013
Major Grocer to Label Foods With Gene-Modified Content
By STEPHANIE STROM
Whole Foods Market, the grocery chain, on Friday became the first retailer in the United States to require labeling of all genetically modified foods sold in its stores, a move that some experts said could radically alter the food industry.
A. C. Gallo, president of Whole Foods, said the new labeling requirement, to be in place within five years, came in response to consumer demand. “We’ve seen how our customers have responded to the products we do have labeled,” Mr. Gallo said. “Some of our manufacturers say they’ve seen a 15 percent increase in sales of products they have labeled.”
Genetically modified ingredients are deeply embedded in the global food supply, having proliferated since the 1990s. Most of the corn and soybeans grown in the United States, for example, have been genetically modified. The alterations make soybeans resistant to a herbicide used in weed control, and causes the corn to produce its own insecticide. Efforts are under way to produce a genetically altered apple that will spoil less quickly, as well as genetically altered salmon that will grow faster. The announcement ricocheted around the food industry and excited proponents of labeling. “Fantastic,” said Mark Kastel, co-director of the Cornucopia Institute, an organic advocacy group that favors labeling.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association, the trade group that represents major food companies and retailers, issued a statement opposing the move. “These labels could mislead consumers into believing that these food products are somehow different or present a special risk or a potential risk,” Louis Finkel, the organization’s executive director of government affairs, said in the statement.
Mr. Finkel noted that the Food and Drug Administration, as well as regulatory and scientific bodies including the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association, had deemed genetically modified products safe.
The labeling requirements announced by Whole Foods will include its 339 stores in the United States and Canada. Since labeling is already required in the European Union, products in its seven stores in Britain are already marked if they contain genetically modified ingredients. The labels currently used show that a product has been verified as free of genetically engineered ingredients by the Non GMO Project, a nonprofit certification organization. The labels Whole Foods will use in 2018, which have yet to be created, will identify foods that contain such ingredients.
The shift by Whole Foods is the latest in a series of events that has intensified the debate over genetically modified foods. Voters defeated a hard-fought ballot initiative in California late last year after the biotech industry, and major corporations like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, spent millions of dollars to fight the effort. Other initiatives have qualified for the ballot in Washington State and Missouri, while consumers across the country have been waging a sort of guerrilla movement in supermarkets, pasting warning stickers on products suspected of having G.M.O. ingredients from food companies that oppose labeling. Proponents of labeling insist that consumers have a right to know about the ingredients in the food they eat, and they contend that some studies in rats show that bioengineered food can be harmful.
Gary Hirshberg, chairman of Just Label It, a campaign for a federal requirement to label foods containing genetically modified ingredients, called the Whole Foods decision a “game changer.”
“We’ve had some pretty big developments in labeling this year,” Mr. Hirshberg said, adding that 22 states now have some sort of pending labeling legislation. “Now, one of the fastest-growing, most successful retailers in the country is throwing down the gantlet.”
He compared the potential impact of the Whole Foods announcement to Wal-Mart’s decision several years ago to stop selling milk from cows treated with growth hormone. Today, only a small number of milk cows are injected with the hormone.
Karen Batra, a spokeswoman for BIO, a trade group representing the biotech industry, said it was too early to determine what impact, if any, the Whole Foods decision would have. “It looks like they want to expand their inventory of certified organic and non-G.M.O. lines,” Ms. Batra said. “The industry has always supported the voluntary labeling of food for marketing reasons.”
She contended, however, that without scientific evidence showing that genetically modified foods caused health or safety issues, labeling was unnecessary.
Nonetheless, companies have shown a growing willingness to consider labeling. Some 20 major food companies, as well as Wal-Mart, met recently in Washington to discuss genetically modified labeling.
Coincidentally, the American Halal Company, a food company whose Saffron Road products are sold in Whole Foods stores, on Friday introduced the first frozen food, a chickpea and spinach entree, that has been certified not to contain genetically modified ingredients.
More than 90 percent of respondents to a poll of potential voters in the 2012 elections, conducted by the Mellman Group in February last year, were in favor of labeling genetically modified foods. Some 93 percent of Democrats and 89 percent of Republicans in the poll, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent, favored it.
But in the fight over the California initiative, Proposition 37, the opponents succeeded in persuading voters that labeling would have a negative effect on food prices and the livelihood of farmers.
That fight, however, has cost food companies in other ways. State legislatures and regulatory agencies are pondering labeling on their own, and consumers have been aggressive in criticizing some of the companies that fought the initiative, using Twitter and Facebook to make their views known.
Buoyed by what they see as some momentum in the labeling war, consumers, organic farmers and food activists plan to hold an “eat-in” outside the F.D.A.’s offices next month to protest government policies on genetically modified crops and foods. Whole Foods, which specializes in organic products, tends to be favored by those types of consumers, and it enjoys strong sales of its private-label products, whose composition it controls. The company thus risks less than some more traditional food retailers in taking a stance on labeling.
In 2009, Whole Foods began submitting products in its 365 Everyday Value private-label line to verification by the Non GMO Project.
But even Whole Foods has not been immune to criticism on the G.M.O. front. A report by Cornucopia, “Cereal Crimes,” revealed that its 365 Corn Flakes line contained genetically modified corn. By the time the report came out in October 2011, the product had been reformulated and certified as organic.
Today, Whole Foods’ shelves carry some 3,300 private-label and branded products that are certified, the largest selection of any grocery chain in the country.
Mr. Gallo said Whole Foods did not consult with its suppliers about its decision and informed them of it only shortly before making its announcement Friday. He said Whole Foods looked forward to working with suppliers on the labeling.
March 8, 2013
Visions of Drones Swarming U.S. Skies Hit Bipartisan Nerve
By SCOTT SHANE and MICHAEL D. SHEAR
WASHINGTON — The debate goes to the heart of a deeply rooted American suspicion about the government, the military and the surveillance state: the specter of drones streaking through the skies above American cities and towns, controlled by faceless bureaucrats and equipped to spy or kill.
That Big Brother imagery — conjured up by Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky during a more than 12-hour filibuster this week — has animated a surprisingly diverse swath of political interests that includes mainstream civil liberties groups, Republican and Democratic lawmakers, conservative research groups, liberal activists and right-wing conspiracy theorists.
They agree on little else. But Mr. Paul’s soliloquy has tapped into a common anxiety on the left and the right about the dangers of unchecked government. And it has exposed fears about ultra-advanced technologies that are fueled by the increasingly fine line between science fiction and real life.
Drones have become the subject of urgent policy debates in Washington as lawmakers from both parties wrangle with President Obama over their use to prosecute the fight against terrorism from the skies above countries like Pakistan and Yemen.
But they are also a part of the popular culture — toys sold by Amazon; central plot points in “Homeland” and a dozen other television shows and movies; the subject of endless macabre humor, notably by The Onion; and even the subject of poetry. (“Ode to the MQ-9 Reaper,” a serious work by the Brooklyn poet Joe Pan that was just published in the journal Epiphany, describes the drone as “ultra-cool & promo slick, a predatory dart” that is “as self-aware as silverware.”)
Benjamin Wittes, a national security scholar at the Brookings Institution who has written extensively about drones, said he thought Mr. Paul’s marathon was a “dumb publicity stunt.” But he said it had touched a national nerve because the technology, with its myriad implications, had already deeply penetrated the culture.
“Over the last year or so, this thing that was the province of a small number of technologists and national security people has exploded into the larger public consciousness,” Mr. Wittes said.
On the right, Mr. Paul has become an overnight hero since his filibuster. Self-proclaimed defenders of the Constitution have shouted their approval on Twitter, using the hashtag #StandWithRand and declaring him to be a welcomed member of their less-is-better-government club.
“The day that Rand Paul ignited Liberty’s Torch inside the beltway!” one Tea Party activist wrote on Twitter. “May it never be extinguished!”
But even as the right swooned, the left did, too. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon — the only Democrat to join Mr. Paul’s filibuster — said the unexpected array of political forces was just the beginning, especially as Congress and the public face the new technologies of 21st-century warfare.
“I believe there is a new political movement emerging in this country that’s shaking free of party moorings,” Mr. Wyden said. “Americans want a better balance between protecting our security and protecting our liberty.”
P. W. Singer, whose 2009 book “Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century” anticipated the broad impact of drones, said he believed they had shaken up politics because they were “a revolutionary technology, like the steam engine or the computer.”
“The discussion doesn’t fall along the usual partisan lines,” he said. The dozen states that have passed laws restricting drones do not fall into conventional red-blue divisions, nor do the score of states competing to be the site of the Federal Aviation Administration’s test sites for drones.
The serious issues raised by the government’s lethal drones seem inextricably mixed with the ubiquitous appearance of the technology in art, commerce and satire.
A four-minute video by the Air Force Research Laboratory on “micro aerial vehicles” shows a futuristic bee-size drone flying in an open window and taking out an enemy sniper with a miniature explosive payload. Since it was posted in 2009, it has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times and reposted all over the Web.
When Amazon advertised a six-inch model of the Predator, made by Maisto, in its toy section, people wrote politically charged mock reviews that became Internet hits: “This goes well,” one reviewer wrote, “with the Maisto Extraordinary Rendition playset, by the way — which gives you all the tools you need to kidnap the family pet and take him for interrogation at a neighbor’s house, where the rules of the Geneva Convention may not apply. Loads of fun!”
Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, was not laughing Thursday when he took to the Senate floor to chastise Mr. Paul and defend the use of drones. In an interview with The Huffington Post, Mr. McCain dismissed Mr. Paul and the other critics of drones as “the wacko birds on right and left that get the media megaphone.”
But the issue is larger than Mr. Paul, whose ambitions may include a run for the presidency in 2016. For many, Mr. Paul gave voice to the dangers they whisper about to anyone who will listen: that the government is too powerful to be left unchecked.
“It’s not merely the black helicopter crowd of the folks on the far right,” said Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups. “What Rand Paul had to say about drones absolutely fired up conspiracy theorists on the left as well as the right.”
Human Rights Watch plans to join other groups next month in starting an effort called the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. The technology, fully autonomous weapons that are still at the drawing-board stage, would find and fire at their programmed targets without requiring a human being to pull the trigger.
Some national security experts find the campaign overwrought, but Mary Wareham, the advocacy director for the arms division of Human Rights Watch, noted that the Defense Department in November issued a policy directive on autonomous weapons that recognized the challenges they pose.
At the same time, there are people like Everett Wilkinson, a Tea Party organizer and self-proclaimed conspiracy theorist in Florida, who is hailing Mr. Paul as a “rock star for the Constitution.” On Mr. Wilkinson’s Web site, Liberty.com, he warns that the United States government is building “internment camps” for political dissidents. He is wary of what comes next.
“First they said we are just going to use drones to observe stuff, and then they put Hellfire missiles on them,” Mr. Wilkinson said. “How soon are we going to have drones overhead with Tasers on them?”
In Washington, Code Pink, a leftist group of antiwar activists, showed up with flowers and chocolates at Mr. Paul’s Senate offices on Thursday to thank him for standing up against abuses of power. Known around Capitol Hill mainly for disrupting Congressional hearings, the group had found a new champion.
“People say: ‘Oh, my God, Code Pink is praising Rand Paul. Hell has frozen over!’ ” said Medea Benjamin, a co-founder of the group. “But we were glued to C-Span to the bitter end of the filibuster. We were amazed to see the education of the public that was taking place, and that has never occurred before.”
The Koch Brothers Are Spending Millions to Deny Poor Americans Healthcare
Mar. 8th, 2013
One should be wary of assigning the word evil to another human being because it means they are profoundly immoral and guilty of not conforming to conduct established as consistent with principles of personal and social ethics. Evil, or immoral, people would likely cause pain, suffering, and even death to another human being for pleasure, or withhold assistance to a person in distress regardless it would be of no consequence or cost to them. Unfortunately, America is home to two of the most evil men on the planet. It is difficult to imagine any American spending their money to deny medical care to an infirm American they have no connection to or personal hatred for, but Charles and David Koch are spending money to deny poor Americans healthcare for no readily apparent reason except the Kochs are genuinely evil, immoral men devoid of personal or social ethics.
Recently there has been encouraging news for residents of states with Republican governors because they are accepting the Affordable Care Acts’ Medicaid expansion provisions to provide the poorest Americans with healthcare. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer is the latest Republican to accept the Medicaid expansion plan that takes effect on January 1, 2014 and is fully funded by the federal government for three years. After three years federal funding begins phasing down to no less than 90% by 2020. States would be left with a minimal investment (10%) after 2020 to provide healthcare for hundreds-of-thousands of poor Americans who would be without medical care without the expansion.
Brewer, who is not normally recognized for her compassion, spoke at a rally to garner support for her decision and cited her reasons for embracing expansion that include, broadening eligibility for the poor saves taxpayer money, saves lives, and eases the burden on hospitals caring for uninsured patients. She warned that without expansion, 50,000 Arizonans would lose healthcare coverage after January 1 “even if they’re in the middle of their treatment; the human cost of this tragedy can’t be calculated.” Despite the cost to the state of not expanding Medicaid, one might wonder why Brewer had to rally support to avert an incalculable human tragedy, because any Arizona resident with a modicum of morality would embrace a program providing healthcare to 50,000 poor Arizonans.
Regardless there is no cost to Arizona until at least 2017, and no cost to Charles and David Koch ever, they instructed their front group, Americans for Prosperity, to organize a campaign to oppose Brewer’s attempt at Medicaid expansion. Apparently, the Kochs are not amused when their Republican surrogates oppose their agenda, and especially when they have spent millions to eliminate the ACA and defeat its main proponent, President Obama. The Kochs’ front group Americans for Prosperity organized a campaign to enlist Arizona citizens to fight against their own self-interests to defeat Medicaid expansion, which is also underway in Pennsylvania and Florida courtesy of Americans for Prosperity. In Pennsylvania, for example, AFP intends to deny 542,000 uninsured and poor residents health care coverage, and in Florida, AFP convinced a Republican subcommittee to block Governor Rick Scott’s decision to expand Medicaid leaving Scott with a decision to either obey the Koch brothers, or provide poor Floridians with healthcare using his veto power.
Americans for Prosperity supplied Arizona residents with a typical screed decrying the benefits of providing healthcare to the poor such as “Governor Brewer and powerful lobbyists are pushing Arizona to impose statewide taxes to fund an expansion of Medicaid (AHCCCS) under ObamaCare. It is vitally important for Arizona to stop the proposed Medicaid expansion, because the human and fiscal costs of that expansion would be enormous;” the cost to Arizona is zero for three years and only 10% after 2020. The letter also cited the human costs they claim will “railroad at least 250,000 Arizonans into a low-quality, government-managed health insurance system. Medicaid patients not only have worse medical outcomes than patients with private insurance, but often have worse medical outcomes than low-income persons without insurance.” So, according to Americans for Prosperity, a poor person with no healthcare insurance has better outcomes than patients with medical coverage, and Arizonans who can afford private healthcare insurance will be “railroaded” into Medicaid coverage? These are the same scare tactics opponents of the Affordable Care Act have parroted since 2009, and they are as illogical and false in 2013, as they were nearly four years ago.
A prescient question is; what benefit do the Koch brothers get from preventing Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Florida (among others) from participating in the Medicaid expansion program? Poor people cannot afford private healthcare insurance, so the insurance industry is not losing potential policy holders, and people with private coverage will not qualify for Medicaid coverage so they will not abandon their private policies for no coverage. With no apparent profit motive, it is possible the Kochs are nervous that another government program like Social Security and Medicare will be popular with the people making their “government is a failure” propaganda hard to sell to voters, but it is most likely the Koch brothers are just sheer evil; and greedy. The Koch philosophy is that if government spends any money at all, it should be to enrich the wealthy whether it is in the form of tax breaks for the one-percent, or direct payments to Koch Industries.
It is impossible to find any socially redeeming value in the Koch brothers’ existence, and the damage they wreaked on this nation and its people is immeasurable. They were the driving force behind the Citizens United decision, spend millions promoting climate change denial, celebrated and congratulated Republicans for enacting sequestration cuts, fund the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and fund anti-union efforts in all fifty states. They are connected to every anti-American and anti-democracy effort in the nation, and are hell-bent on controlling and profiting from every aspect of American society whether it is education or politics, and by any measure are evil incarnate. That they actively deny poor Americans basic healthcare, although despicable, is just another aspect of their malicious existence.
Georgia GOP Goes Wild and Passes Gun Licenses for the Recently Hospitalized Mentally Ill
By: Sarah Jones
Mar. 8th, 2013
Hey, here’s a great get out jail free card for the NRA/GOP: First you blame people, then you blame mental illness, and then you blame video games. Never blame the guns.
Then, set about creating crazy chaos and mind blowing hypocrisy by giving gun licenses to those who have received inpatient treatment for mental illness or substance abuse. Expand the right to carry to churches, colleges and bars… and see what happens.
Oh, you think I’m kidding? Sorry, no, that’s what they’re doing in Georgia, where the Republicans rule the roost. Even Texas considers psychiatric hospitalization a bump in the road on your way to get licensed to carry. Not Georgia.
The Republican led House passed this bill 117-56 on Thursday. Democrats objected to the Republican bill, but they have no firepower in the Georgia House. Yahoo reported:
Legislators in Georgia’s House voted 117-56 on Thursday to allow people who have voluntarily sought inpatient treatment for mental illness or substance abuse to get licenses. The same bill would force officials to check on whether applicants have received involuntary treatment in the past five years before issuing licenses. Georgia also may change its laws to allow people to carry guns in churches, bars and on college campuses, contrary to what’s happening elsewhere in the United States.
It should be noted that being voluntarily or involuntarily hospitalized for mental illness does not necessarily imply that one received and is continuing treatment, medication, etc. Too often mental hospitals are used as holding cells until a crisis passes rather than actual treatment centers.
The legislation is sponsored by GeorgiaCarry.Org. They claim to be ” GCO is a 501 (c) 4 non-profit, non-partisan, grassroots organization. GCO works for gun owners, not politicians.” As of March, 2009, they had about 4,000 members. So those members will be getting their way if this bill passes the state Senate, while Georgia colleges, bars and churches become that much more dangerous for everyone else.
But perhaps this will clarify Georgia Carry best, “Georgiacarry makes the NRA look like a popgun group,” Maggie Lee, The Beacon, February 2, 2010. Ah, yes. This is exactly what we needed. A group more extreme than the NRA, in a state run by Republicans who are also pretty extreme but sadly in line with what their national party has become.
But they do have limits. If you were involuntarily checked in (which is rare now due to changes that necessitate the patient being a proven danger to self or others before involuntary commitment) during the past five years, well, you might have some trouble getting a gun. The new bill will make busy work of checking on that involuntary commitment status.
If this bill passes, Georgia will be the NRA/Republican American dream on steroids. Somehow they ignore the very real issue of suicide, as well as protecting vulnerable family members.
The Mental Illness Policy Organization broke down the issues regarding involuntary commitment:
5,000 individuals with schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses kill themselves every year.
300,000 individuals with serious neurobiological disorders (NBD) are in jails and prisons
Each year over 11 million days are spent by individuals with NBD in jail (does not include state or federal prisons)
200,000 individuals with serious neurobiological disorders are homeless
1,000 homicides a year are committed by people with serious mental illness
While a variety of factors account for these facts, the question has to be asked, “would the lives of some people with neurobiological disorders (NBD) be improved if they had had access to some form of involuntary treatment and/or involuntary commitment?” Current involuntary commitment and/or involuntary commitment laws and policies in many places are inadequate in that they:
(1) allow people who may not need involuntary commitment or involuntary treatment to be committed, and
(2) deny some who may need access to involuntary treatment and/or involuntary commitment from receiving it.
Involuntary versus voluntary commitment isn’t the best line to draw in trying to determine who is a danger to others. Being successfully treated after either would be a better bar, although tougher to standardize. As Cobb County, Georgia District Attorney Vic Reynolds said, “My concern would be there’s got to be people who voluntarily seek inpatient treatment who wouldn’t be any less dangerous than if they’re sent there involuntarily.”
It’s important not to stigmatize the mentally ill as being murderers on a rampage (the media has fallen for this NRA excuse one too many times). In fact, the majority of people seeking help for mental health issues are not dangerous. At the same time, for those who are dangerous, policy has shifted and it’s not easy to get involuntary commitment before something awful happens. The family has to be able to prove that the person is “‘imminently’ and/or ‘provably’ dangerous before the state can exercise its powers.”
The issue of involuntary commitment is a complex balance of civil liberties versus the power of the state to protect the individual and others. But one thing is clear: Giving gun licenses to people who are already struggling and whose families are already struggling to live with a mentally ill person is not the safest idea. It also brings up the rights of individuals versus the group/family/society. A second amendment right isn’t something you’re granted at birth and can never ever lose. Like most rights, it comes with responsibilities and standards.
March 08, 2013 03:00 PM
Teabaggers Want To Give Speaker Boehner The Boot
By Howie Klein
They love him because he's so sensitive!
This week Boehner had quite the jolt when former high ranking Ohio Republican Bob Ney's tell-all book, Sideswiped: Lessons Learned Courtesy of the Hit Men of Capitol Hill, was published. It paints Boehner as a drunken, womanizing, bribe-taking golfing fanatic with little interest in policy and lots of interests in how to extract cash from lobbyists-- exactly how Down With Tyranny has been painting him for the last six years. Ney retells the story of Boehner handing out Tobacco Industry bribery checks on the floor of the House and suggests that if the FBI were to examine who paid for Boehner's golfing addiction, the Speaker could be headed for the same prison Ney had served time in.
Perhaps worse, Boehner broke his word to Ney, the same way he just broke his word to Illinois teabagger Joe Walsh. He promised both Ney and Walsh that if they stepped aside-- if Ney would resign and, more recently, if Walsh would give up an easy win for a much tougher race-- he would take care of them. He's taken care of neither, which makes members of the GOP caucus wonder if he'll stand behind them when their own time of need calls for it.
And that's not the only reason Boehner is hitting the bottle extra hard this week. More than a few extremists in his caucus are out for his blood. Teabaggers like Paul Broun, Louie Gohmert, Steve Stockman, Trey Radel, who believe they were elected to shut down the government and who embrace anarchy, chaos, race war, revolution, pain, suffering and whatever other nonsense they hear being touted on Hate Talk Radio-- and who count for their careers on human refuse like this in their safely gerrymandered blood-red districts-- are hopping mad because Boehner has let legislation come to the floor that passes with votes from all the Democrats plus a few dozen mainstream (non-Confederate) Republicans.
The Women Against Violence Act, which most Republicans opposed, passed with 87 GOP votes and makes the rest of them look bad in front of the lady voters back home. Last week, one of the most extreme and deranged teabaggers in Congress, Wisconsin senatorial wingnut Ron Johnson,threatened Boehner that if he keeps it up, he's out on his ass. Most of the House teabaggers, who could actualize Johnson's ranting, have reached the boiling point.
At a closed-door conference meeting Tuesday, Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia asked Boehner whether he planned to keep bringing forward bills that split the GOP conference.
Boehner told reporters after the meeting that the VAWA vote was an outlier and said he would like to abide by the Hastert rule.
“We tried everything we could to... get the differences in our conference resolved. And the fact is that we couldn’t resolve our differences. It was time to deal with this issue and we did,” the Ohio Republican said. “But it’s not a practice that I would expect to continue long term.”
...“If you start to rely on the minority to get the majority of your votes, then all of the sudden you’re not running the shop anymore. I think that’s what it comes down to,” Hastert said. “It worked for me. And I thought that was the best way to govern to make sure your people are on board on any major piece of legislation you’re trying to move through.”
Yesterday morning NPR tried tackling the issue and also uncovered problems for Boehner who is increasingly torn between what's right for America, and even what's right for his own party as a national entity, in contrast to what's "right" for a crackpot fringe that hold the whiphand over him and insist on bringing down the whole edifice of government. After the November election Boehner, unlike many Republicans in the House, acknowledged the voters had reelected President Obama.
"The American people have spoken," he said. "They've re-elected President Obama. And they've again re-elected a Republican majority in the House of Representatives."
But last Thursday, when the House of Representatives passed the Violence Against Women Act, it did it without a majority of Republicans. Only 87 voted for the bill; 138 voted against it. The rest of the yes votes came from Democrats. The speaker brought a bill to the floor knowing it didn't have the support of the majority of his caucus, which upset conservatives such as Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas.
"Many people in conference expressed their concern publicly and privately about that," he said. "So why would the Republican House pass a Democrat priority bill? I don't know. It was set up to pass that way. We weren't given advance notice it came out. And it's a real concern."
The Violence Against Women Act, a disaster-relief bill for victims of Hurricane Sandy and the "fiscal cliff" deal-- all three violated what's known as the Hastert rule: For a bill to be brought up for a vote in the House, it has to have the support of the majority of the majority.
"The 'majority of the majority rule' was more of a guideline for speakers in how to keep their jobs," says John Feehery, who was a spokesman for former Speaker Dennis Hastert, for whom the rule is named.
Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, mostly followed this rule. Boehner did, too, until recently. Feehery says Boehner made a cold, hard calculation and decided that letting these bills pass was best for the party.
"You know, it's not an easy decision, because you don't want to alienate a majority of your majority," says Feehery, now the president of QGA Public Affairs. "I mean, that's just kind of common sense. But there are also times where the majority of the majority may not like pieces of legislation but they are fine letting it go because they know it is better for them to allow things to pass."
New York Republican Rep. Peter King puts it this way: "Sometimes you have to do what you have to do. It happened with the fiscal cliff. It happened with Sandy."
Why this happens isn't obvious just looking at the numbers. There are 232 Republicans in the House; 217 votes are needed to pass a bill. But a lot of Republicans don't vote the way the leadership wants them to.
Norm Ornstein, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, says these members are afraid of getting hit with a primary challenge.
"The good of the Republican Party as a whole is not something that necessarily resonates with a lot of individual members whose constituents back home don't feel the same way," he says.
As a result, Ornstein says, bills that can pass the Senate and be signed by the president often don't have the support of the majority of the majority in the House. Recently, rather than stopping these bills, Boehner brought them to the floor, knowing conservatives would vote no.
"They'll come urge me to vote their way, but they've never insisted I compromise my principles," says Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, who was elected as part of the Tea Party wave. "And that's something I respect the speaker for."
But that good will has its limits, Ornstein says.
"There are only so many times you can do this without damaging your standing as speaker," he says. "And doing things that basically bring votes from more of the other side than your own erodes your authority after a while."
When asked whether the Violence Against Women Act vote was part of a trend, Boehner's answer seemed to be aimed at reassuring his occasionally restive conference.
"We tried everything we could to find, to get the differences in our conference resolved. And the fact is they couldn't resolve their differences," he said. "It was time to deal with this issue, and we did. But it's not a practice that I would expect to continue long term."
Maybe there's a new rule. The Boehner rule would be more pragmatic: something like only voting on bills that have the support of the majority of the majority-- when possible.
March 9, 2013
Threats Sow Concerns Over Korean Armistice
By RICK GLADSTONE
North Korea’s latest threats to annihilate its enemies have included a vow to scrap the 1953 armistice, the main legal document that theoretically stands in the way of a resumption of the Korean War, a conflict that by some estimates left nearly five million people dead, including more than 33,700 American soldiers.
But the North Koreans have said many times over the years that they were disregarding the armistice. It is not a peace treaty but rather a military document, reflecting what was at the time a stalemated conflict that no one wanted to prolong.
What is unclear is whether North Korea will make good on its vow to disregard the armistice this time, and what such a step would mean. While it may be bluster, analysts who study North Korea are not so sure.
Some fear that Kim Jong-un, the North’s young and untested leader, perhaps believing that his country is now a nuclear power, may regard the armistice as outdated, reflecting deterrents that no longer exist. If so, they say, he could feel emboldened to carry out a military provocation against South Korea.
The armistice was meant to be temporary, until a peace treaty between the governments in the conflict could be reached. It was the basis for the mechanisms that deter a resumption of the war, including the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, a communications hot line and a joint commission for resolving allegations of violations.
“An armistice reflects a balance of forces, the combatants reach a state of exhaustion, so you get a sort of equilibrium,” said Stephan M. Haggard, a visiting fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. “The armistice sustains itself in part because the parties recognize they can’t make gains by fighting.”
In a blog post on the institute’s Web site, Mr. Haggard enumerated more than a half-dozen instances since 1991 when North Korea vowed to abandon the armistice or challenged its legitimacy. The North’s latest threat, he wrote, could mean that it feels empowered by nuclear arms to strike with impunity, or that it simply regards the armistice as unsupportable.
“Or,” he wrote, “it could be just noise and signify nothing. Not knowing what the North Koreans really think is a central source of the current instability on the peninsula at the moment.”
In the past, North Korea has raised the fear of accidental or uncontrolled military clashes along the border as a way to push Washington into bilateral talks. The North, officials in South Korea say, craves the prestige that such a dialogue would confer on it, but it would undoubtedly demand the withdrawal of American troops from South Korea.
The armistice states that any change must be agreed to by all the signers and that unilateral declarations are unacceptable — a point reiterated Thursday by Gen. James D. Thurman, the American commander in charge of enforcing the armistice conditions. He was responding to the North’s assertion that it would consider the armistice null and void as of Monday, when military exercises by the United States and South Korea get under way.
“For over 60 years, the armistice agreement has ensured peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula,” General Thurman said. “It is concerning when any signatory to a mutual agreement makes a public statement contrary to that agreement.”
But given North Korea’s history of seemingly irrational behavior at times, the legal notification obligations required in the armistice may be regarded as irrelevant in North Korea.
Last week, North Korea’s main party newspaper said that the country was justified in unilaterally nullifying the armistice because its repeated demands for peace talks since the 1970s had been snubbed by Washington.
“This is the most opaque country in the world,” said William R. Keylor, a professor of international relations at Boston University. He called the North Korean threat to disregard the armistice “a very serious development.”
Professor Keylor and others also said they saw a message of anger in the North’s threat that was directed at China, its Korean War ally. Many senior North Korean officials, some of them veterans of the war, may regard it as a betrayal that China collaborated with the United States to draft the new United Nations Security Council sanctions that penalized the North for its third nuclear test last month.
“It’s possible this is a signal to the Chinese government from the North Koreans that they’re going to go their own way,” Professor Keylor said. “By canceling the armistice, they’re saying, ‘We’re pursuing our own policy.’ ”
Jae H. Ku, director of the U.S.-Korea Institute at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, said the armistice threat might be “putting Beijing on notice that siding with the sworn enemy is going to have repercussions.”
But Mr. Ku also expressed concern that the North’s repudiation of the armistice might reflect a miscalculation by the new North Korean leader.
“When the god-king says something, you put it on paper — that’s what really makes me nervous, some military official taking literally this 28-year-old’s musings,” Mr. Ku said. Mr. Kim’s predecessors were older and knew how to tamp down tensions, Mr. Ku said, and “I’m not sure this young leader understands that.”
Choe Sang-Hun contributed reporting from Seoul, South Korea.
March 9, 2013
China Says It Won’t Forsake North Korea, Despite Support for U.N. Sanctions
By JANE PERLEZ
BEIJING — China’s foreign minister said Saturday that Beijing would not abandon North Korea, reiterating China’s longstanding position that dialogue, not sanctions, is the best way to persuade the North to abandon its nuclear weapons.
At a news conference during the National People’s Congress, the foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, suggested that Chinese support for tougher United Nations sanctions against North Korea should not be interpreted as a basic change in China’s attitude.
“We always believe that sanctions are not the end of the Security Council actions, nor are sanctions the fundamental way to resolve the relevant issues,” said Mr. Yang, who addressed foreign policy questions from Chinese and foreign reporters.
But the careful remarks masked the unparalleled plain-spoken discussions among China’s officials and analysts about the value of supporting North Korea even as it continues to develop nuclear weapons and unleashes new threats to attack the United States and South Korea.
In the aftermath of North Korea’s third nuclear test in February, China last week joined the United States to push for tougher United Nations sanctions against the North. Although it remained to be seen whether China would actually enforce the sanctions, its decision to support them also raised the possibility that it might take even bolder steps against its recalcitrant ally.
The clearest sign of China’s exasperation with North Korea came Thursday at a side session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, an advisory group to the government that was open to the news media.
Delegates to the conference, according to a senior Communist Party official, Qiu Yuanping, talked about whether to “keep or dump” North Korea and debated whether China, as a major power, should “fight or talk” with the North.
In the annals of Communist Party decorum, Ms. Qiu’s description of the spirited debate was quite extraordinary. She made the remarks in the presence of reporters at a session titled “Friendship with Foreign Countries” that was attended by several Chinese ambassadors who were visiting Beijing from their posts abroad.
As deputy director of the Communist Party’s Central Foreign Affairs Office, a secretive body that gives foreign policy advice to top leaders, Ms. Qiu usually opts for discretion. The admission by a senior Communist Party official that North Korea is a nettlesome neighbor is especially striking because China conducts its relations with North Korea chiefly through the comradely auspices of the party, rather than the Foreign Ministry.
Just days before Ms. Qiu’s remarks, a prominent Communist Party analyst, Deng Yuwen, a deputy editor of Study Times, the journal of the Central Party School of the Communist Party, wrote that China should “give up” on North Korea.
Writing in The Financial Times late last month, Mr. Deng asked what would happen if the United States launched a pre-emptive attack on North Korea: “Would China not be obliged to help North Korea based on our ‘alliance.’ Would that not be drawing fire upon ourselves?”
Moreover, Mr. Deng wrote, there was no hope that North Korea would overhaul its economy and become a normal country, a path urged in the past several years by the Chinese government. Even if the North’s new ruler, Kim Jong-un, wanted reform, the entrenched ruling elite “would absolutely not allow him to do so,” because they know change would result in the overthrow of the government, Mr. Deng said.
Mr. Deng’s analysis was widely read, in part, because he has a habit of expressing provocative views that meld into the mainstream. Last year, he wrote an article that appeared in the online version of Caijing, a business magazine, that said failures had outweighed achievements in the decade-long rule of President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. After the article appeared, the era of Mr. Hu and Mr. Wen was often referred to as the “lost decade.”
For all the concern about North Korea since the nuclear test in mid-February, there have been no concrete signs that China plans to take any action against the North beyond the United Nations sanctions.
Traders in Jilin Province, which abuts North Korea in northeastern China, said there was not a noticeable slowdown of goods passing across the border. It is possible that there will be a crackdown on smugglers, but that has not happened yet, said an official in the Yanbian Prefecture in Jilin Province, where much of the smuggling takes place.
It is doubtful that China will reinforce the United Nations sanctions by imposing penalties of its own, said Cai Jian, the deputy director of the Center for Korean Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai.
The biggest element of China’s trade with North Korea is the export of oil that keeps the North Korean military going and its creaky industrial base more or less functioning. “Oil will not be cut,” Mr. Cai said. Chinese companies buy North Korean coal and iron ore, a trade that the Chinese government has encouraged and that helps North Korea by generating hard currency. Those imports are unlikely to be curbed.
The extent to which China will enforce the new United Nations sanctions remains unclear, an expert on the North Korean economy, Marcus Noland of the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, wrote in a blog post. There are plenty of loopholes for China to exploit if it wanted to, he noted.
The new restrictions against the North, including efforts to block the opening of North Korean banks abroad if they support weapons purchases, are limited by a “credible information” clause, Mr. Noland wrote, which allows a government to say that it lacks the information needed to assess the situation or apply the sanctions.
The support of the sanctions at the United Nations are a fine balancing act by China, said Jia Qingguo, the associate dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University.
China backed the new sanctions in the hope that they would be sufficient to encourage North Korea to return to the negotiating table to discuss denuclearization, but not so harsh that they would cause the North’s collapse.
If that were to occur, American troops stationed in South Korea could move north and help unite the Korean Peninsula under an American umbrella, the last thing China would want, Mr. Jia said.
For now, China’s position on North Korea will remain the same. “If China’s policy changes, it would be because of a North Korean provocative act,” he said, “like another nuclear test, closer to China’s borders.”
Bree Feng contributed research.
March 9, 2013
The Price of Marriage in China
By BROOK LARMER
FROM her stakeout near the entrance of an H & M store in Joy City, a Beijing shopping mall, Yang Jing seemed lost in thought, twirling a strand of her auburn-tinted hair, tapping her nails on an aquamarine iPhone 4S. But her eyes kept moving. They tracked the clusters of young women zigzagging from Zara to Calvin Klein Jeans. They lingered on a face, a gesture, and then moved on, darting across the atrium, searching.
“This is a good place to hunt,” she told me. “I always have good luck here.”
For Ms. Yang, Joy City is not so much a consumer mecca as an urban Serengeti that she prowls for potential wives for some of China’s richest bachelors. Ms. Yang, 28, is one of China’s premier love hunters, a new breed of matchmaker that has proliferated in the country’s economic boom. The company she works for, Diamond Love and Marriage, caters to China’s nouveaux riches: men, and occasionally women, willing to pay tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars to outsource the search for their ideal spouse.
In Joy City, Ms. Yang gave instructions to her eight-scout team, one of six squads the company was deploying in three cities for one Shanghai millionaire. This client had provided a list of requirements for his future wife, including her age (22 to 26), skin color (“white as porcelain”) and sexual history (yes, a virgin).
“These millionaires are very picky, you know?” Ms. Yang said. “Nobody can ever be perfect enough.” Still, the potential reward for Ms. Yang is huge: The love hunter who finds the client’s eventual choice will receive a bonus of more than $30,000, around five times the average annual salary in this line of work.
Suddenly, a signal came.
From across the atrium, a co-worker of Ms. Yang caught her eye and nodded at a woman in a blue dress, walking alone. Ms. Yang had shaken off her colleague’s suggestions several times that day, but this time she circled behind the woman in question.
“Perfect skin,” she whispered. “Elegant face.” When the woman walked into H & M, Ms. Yang intercepted her in the sweater aisle. “I’m so sorry to bother you,” she said with a honeyed smile. “I’m a love hunter. Are you looking for love?”
Three miles away, in a Beijing park near the Temple of Heaven, a woman named Yu Jia jostled for space under a grove of elms. A widowed 67-year-old pensioner, she was clearing a spot on the ground for a sign she had scrawled for her son. “Seeking Marriage,” read the wrinkled sheet of paper, which Ms. Yu held in place with a few fragments of brick and stone. “Male. Single. Born 1972. Height 172 cm. High school education. Job in Beijing.”
Ms. Yu is another kind of love hunter: a parent seeking a spouse for an adult child in the so-called marriage markets that have popped up in parks across the city. Long rows of graying men and women sat in front of signs listing their children’s qualifications. Hundreds of others trudged by, stopping occasionally to make an inquiry.
Ms. Yu’s crude sign had no flourishes: no photograph, no blood type, no zodiac sign, no line about income or assets. Unlike the millionaire’s wish list, the sign didn’t even specify what sort of wife her son wanted. “We don’t have much choice,” she explained. “At this point, we can’t rule anybody out.”
In the four years she has been seeking a wife for her son, Zhao Yong, there have been only a handful of prospects. Even so, when a woman in a green plastic visor paused to scan her sign that day, Ms. Yu put on a bright smile and told of her son’s fine character and good looks. The woman asked: “Does he own an apartment in Beijing?” Ms. Yu’s smile wilted, and the woman moved on.
The New Matchmaking
Three decades of combustive economic growth have reshaped the landscape of marriage in China. A generation ago, China was one of the world’s most equal nations, in both gender and wealth. Most people were poor, and tight controls over housing, employment, travel and family life simplified the search for a suitable match — what the Chinese call mendang hudui, meaning roughly “family doors of equal size.”
Like many Chinese who came of age in the 1960s and ’70s, Ms. Yu married a man from her factory work unit, with their local Communist Party boss as informal matchmaker. As recently as 1990, researchers found that a vast majority of residents in two of China’s largest cities dated just one person before marriage: their prospective spouse.
China’s transition to a market economy has swept away many restrictions in people’s lives. But of all the new freedoms the Chinese enjoy today — making money, owning a house, choosing a career — there is one that has become an unexpected burden: seeking a spouse. This may be a time of sexual and romantic liberation in China, but the solemn task of finding a husband or wife is proving to be a vexing proposition for rich and poor alike.
“The old family and social networks that people used to rely on for finding a husband or wife have fallen apart,” said James Farrer, an American sociologist whose book, “Opening Up,” looks at sex, dating and marriage in contemporary China. “There’s a huge sense of dislocation in China, and young people don’t know where to turn.”
The confusion surrounding marriage in China reflects a country in frenzied transition. Sharp inequalities of wealth have created new fault lines in society, while the largest rural-to-urban migration in history has blurred many of the old ones. As many as 300 million rural Chinese have moved to cities in the last three decades. Uprooted and without nearby relatives to help arrange meetings with potential partners, these migrants are often lost in the swell of the big city.
Demographic changes, too, are creating complications. Not only are many more Chinese women postponing marriage to pursue careers, but China’s gender gap — 118 boys are born for every 100 girls — has become one of the world’s widest, fueled in large part by the government’s restrictive one-child policy. By the end of this decade, Chinese researchers estimate, the country will have a surplus of 24 million unmarried men.
Without traditional family or social networks, many men and women have taken their searches online, where thousands of dating and marriage Web sites have sprung up in an industry that analysts predict will soon surpass $300 million annually. These sites cater mainly to China’s millions of white-collar workers. But intense competition, along with mistrust of potential mates’ online claims, has spurred a growing number of singles — rich and poor — to turn to more hands-on matchmaking services.
China’s matchmaking tradition stretches back more than 2,000 years, to the first imperial marriage broker in the late Zhou dynasty. The goal of matchmakers ever since has usually been to pair families of equal stature for the greater social good. Today, however, matchmaking has warped into a commercial free-for-all in which marriage is often viewed as an opportunity to leap up the social ladder or to proclaim one’s arrival at the top.
Single men have a hard time making the list if they don’t own a house or an apartment, which in cities like Beijing are extremely expensive. And despite the gender imbalance, Chinese women face intense pressure to be married before the age of 28, lest they be rejected and stigmatized as “leftover women.”
Dozens of high-end matchmaking services have sprung up in China in the last five years, charging big fees to find and to vet prospective spouses for wealthy clients. Their methods can turn into gaudy spectacle. One firm transported 200 would-be trophy wives to a resort town in southwestern China for the perusal of one powerful magnate. Another organized a caravan of BMWs for rich businessmen to find young wives in Sichuan Province. Diamond Love, among the largest love-hunting services, sponsored a matchmaking event in 2009 where 21 men each paid a $15,000 entrance fee.
Over the last year, I tracked the progress of two matchmaking efforts at the opposite extremes of wealth. Together, they help illuminate the forces reshaping marriage in China.
In one case, Ms. Yu’s migrant son reluctantly agreed to allow his aging mother to make the search for his future wife her all-consuming mission. In the other, Ms. Yang’s richest client at Diamond Love deployed dozens of love hunters to find the most exquisite fair-skinned beauty in the land, even as he fretted about being conned by a bai jin nu, or gold digger.
Between the two extremes is Ms. Yang herself, whose very success as a love hunter has made her the breadwinner in her own family. Despite her growing discomfort with the sexism that permeates the love-hunting business, she has sympathy for her superrich clients.
“These men are lost souls,” she said. “They worked hard, made a lot of money, and left their old world behind. Now they don’t have time to find a wife, and they don’t know whom to trust. So they come to us.”
A Very Particular Client
When I first visited the Beijing office of Diamond Love last year, Ms. Yang was fretting over a love-hunting campaign for a potential client: a divorced 42-year-old property mogul who was prepared to spend the equivalent of more than a half-million dollars.
This wouldn’t be the biggest case in company history; two years ago, a man paid $1.5 million for a successful 12-city hunt. But the pressure felt more intense this time. It wasn’t just that Ms. Yang would vie with hundreds of other love hunters for a possible winner’s bonus of $32,000. Her boss had entrusted her with a central role in this campaign — the firm’s biggest of the year — with a client who was known to be an imperious perfectionist. Failure was a real possibility.
Ms. Yang started part-time work as a love hunter while a university student eight years ago. After a brief stint as a hospital nurse, she joined Diamond Love full time and is now its most seasoned Beijing scout. Despite a recent promotion to a consulting job, in which she deals directly with clients and their delicate egos, she is often tapped to lead the highest-stakes campaigns.
Her hit rate is astonishing. In three large-scale campaigns over the last three years, the firm’s top clients ended up choosing candidates whom Ms. Yang personally discovered. Her success has earned her huge bonuses — in one case, $27,000 — and a reputation as one of China’s most accomplished love hunters.
Still, she told me that this new case was “nearly impossible.”
Mr. Big, as I’ll call him — he insisted that Diamond Love not reveal his name — is a member of China’s fuyidai, the “first-generation rich” who have leapt from poverty to extreme wealth in a single bound, often jettisoning their first wives in the process. Diamond Love’s clientele also includes many fuerdai, or “second-generation-rich,” men and women in their 20s and 30s whose search is often bankrolled by wealthy parents keen on exerting control over their marital choices as well as the family inheritance.
But fuyidai like Mr. Big are accustomed to being the boss and can be the most uncompromising clients.
Mr. Big had an excruciatingly specific requirement for his second wife. The ideal woman, he said, would look like a younger replica of Zhou Tao, a famous Chinese television host: slim with pure white skin, slightly pointed chin, perfect teeth, double eyelids and long silken hair. To ensure her good character and fortune, he insisted that her wuguan — a feng shui-like reading of the sense organs on the face — show perfect harmony.
“When clients start out, all they want is beauty — how tall, how white, how thin,” Ms. Yang said. “Sometimes the person they’re looking for doesn’t exist in nature. Even if we find her, these clients often have no idea whether that would make their hearts feel settled. It’s our job to try to move them from fantasy toward reality.”
Fantasy, of course, is precisely what Diamond Love sells. Ms. Yang’s boss, Fei Yang, is a smoky-voiced woman in a black leather jacket who used to trade in electronic goods. Inviting me to sit on a bright pink couch in her lushly carpeted office, she explained how the firm has “spread the culture of the relationship” since 2005, when it opened in Shanghai. It now has six branches, with 200 consultants, 200 full-time love hunters and hundreds more part-time scouts, virtually all of them women.
Teacher Fei, as her employees call her, runs a series of “how to be a better wife” workshops that coach women on the finer points of managing a wealthy household, reading their husbands’ moods and “understanding the importance of sexual relations.” The fee for two, 14-day courses is $16,000.
But Diamond Love’s chief target is men, the wealthier the better. The company’s four million members are mostly men who pay from a few dollars a month for basic searches to more than $15,000 for access to exclusive databases with customized assistance from a professional love consultant.
The company’s wealthiest, highest-paying clients — 90 percent of whom are men — show little interest in lectures or databases. They want exclusive access to what Ms. Fei coolly refers to as “fresh resources”: young women who haven’t yet been exposed to other suitors online. It’s the love hunters’ job to find them.
Besides giving clients a vastly expanded pool of marriage prospects, these campaigns offer a sense of security. Rigorous background checks screen out what Ms. Fei calls “gold diggers, liars and people of loose morals.” Depending on a campaign’s size, Diamond Love charges from $50,000 to more than $1 million. Ms. Fei makes no apologies for the high fees.
“Why shouldn’t they pay more to find the perfect wife?” she asked me. “This is the most important investment in their lives.”
Even before Mr. Big signed a contract, Ms. Yang sensed trouble brewing. She and a colleague culled the company’s exclusive databases to find women to serve as templates for the love hunters’ search. Together with Mr. Big, they looked at the files and pictures of their top 3,000 women. He rejected them all.
“Even if the girl’s eyebrow was just a half-millimeter too high, he would toss the photo out and say, ‘No good!’ ” Ms. Yang said. “He always found something to complain about.”
With more than a half-million dollars on the line, Ms. Yang was beginning to doubt her ability to deliver. And not just for Mr. Big. One afternoon when we met, the normally animated Ms. Yang slumped onto the sofa, exhausted. She had just spent an hour with a rich Chinese businesswoman in her late 30s. The woman proposed spending $100,000 on a campaign to find a husband who matched her status.
“I had to tell her we couldn’t take her case,” Ms. Yang said. “No wealthy Chinese man would ever marry her. They always want somebody younger, with less power.”
We sat in silence a minute before Ms. Yang spoke again. “It’s depressing to think about these ‘leftover women,’ ” she said. “Do you have them in America, too?”
A Mother’s Search
Yu Jia kept her search a secret at first. She didn’t want to risk upsetting her son so soon after a trying time for the family. Ms. Yu and her husband, who was sick with lung cancer, had left the northern city of Harbin in the hope of finding better treatment for his cancer in Beijing, where two of their sons already lived. The husband hung on for a year before he died in 2009 — not long, but long enough to wipe out the last of the family’s $25,000 in savings.
Devastated, Ms. Yu stayed in an apartment on the outskirts of Beijing with her sons — one married; the other, Zhao Yong, still single at 36. But one day, Ms. Yu came upon a crowd swarming under the elm trees near the Temple of Heaven.
Her life suddenly had a new purpose. “I decided that I will not go home until I find a wife for my son,” she told me. “It’s the only thing left unfinished in my life.”
Plunging into a crowd of strangers with her sign made Ms. Yu feel awkward at first. Her elder two sons had found wives in traditional ways, one through a matchmaker, the other through a friend. But Mr. Zhao, her youngest, had not. After losing his job in an electronics factory in Harbin, he followed his hometown sweetheart to Beijing. They were in love and planned to marry. But her family demanded a bride price — a sort of dowry used in rural China — of $15,000. His family could not afford it, and the relationship ended.
Mr. Zhao threw himself into his work as a driver and salesman. His former girlfriend married and had a baby. He told his mother he had little time to think about marriage.
The strangers in the park, uprooted from their traditional family and hometown networks, shared similar stories, and Ms. Yu found comfort there. Many other parents, she realized, were even more frantic; they had only one child because of China’s policy. (Ms. Yu, as a rural mother, was permitted to have multiple offspring.)
The marriage candidates on offer in the parks, she discovered, were often a mismatch of shengnu (“leftover women”) and shengnan (“leftover men”), two groups from opposite ends of the social scale. Shengnan, like her son, are mostly poor rural men left behind as female counterparts marry up in age and social status. The phenomenon is exacerbated by China’s warped demographics, as the bubble of excess men starts to reach marrying age.
Finding a Chinese spouse can be even more challenging for so-called leftover women, even if they often have precisely what the shengnan lack: money, education and social and professional standing. One day in the Temple of Heaven park, I met a 70-year-old pensioner from Anhui Province who was seeking a husband for his eldest daughter, a 36-year-old economics professor in Beijing.
“My daughter is an outstanding girl,” he said, pulling from his satchel an academic book she had published. “She’s been introduced to about 15 men over the past two years, but they all rejected her because her degree is too high.”
The failure compelled him to forbid his youngest daughter from going to graduate school. “No man will want you,” he told her. That daughter is now married in Anhui, with an infant son whom the pensioner, so busy seeking a spouse for her older sister in Beijing, rarely sees.
Ms. Yu’s son, Mr. Zhao, was angry when he found out that she had been searching for a wife for him. He didn’t want to rely on anybody else’s marketing, especially his mother’s. But he has since relented.
“I see how hard she works, so I can’t refuse,” he told me.
Ms. Yu doesn’t tell her son about the parents who scoff when they find out he has no property and no Beijing residency permit. But the handful of young women she’s persuaded to meet him never made it to a second date.
One afternoon last summer, however, there was a glimmer of hope. Ms. Yu traded information with a mother who didn’t dismiss her son out of hand. The woman’s daughter was 35, with a good education, a substantial income and a Beijing residency permit. She was, in some eyes, a leftover woman. Ms. Yu e-mailed Mr. Zhao’s picture to her that evening. The daughter declined to meet at first. A week later, she called back: “Yes, maybe.”
Ms. Yu was thrilled. It was her first solid lead in months.
High Fees and Secrecy
The second time I dropped by Diamond Love’s offices last year, Yang Jing took me by the arm and whispered: “We’ve had a spy!”
A few days earlier, just as Mr. Big was set to sign the contract and begin paying his $600,000 fee, a woman from a competing agency contacted him. Displaying inside knowledge of his contract with Diamond Love, she offered to carry out an even more comprehensive search. Mr. Big called Diamond Love in a rage that his confidential information had been leaked.
Within hours, according to Ms. Yang, the office’s management team ferreted out and dismissed the office mole — a secretary whom the competitor had recruited as a spy. But it took a full week of apologies and vows of enhanced security to coax Mr. Big to finally sign the contract. The terms stipulated that his file would be destroyed, “Mission Impossible”-style, once he had found a wife.
“We always sign confidentiality agreements,” Ms. Yang said, “but now we’re operating like a secret organization.”
The day Mr. Big signed, Ms. Yang took a flight to Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province, where she would kick-start the campaign. During her 20-day search there, she had recurring nightmares. “I always feel unsettled during a campaign,” she said, “but this time, the stress was crazy.”
Her team of 10 love hunters scoured university campuses and shopping malls for three weeks, trying to meet a daily quota of 20 high-quality women, or two per person. Ms. Yang offered a bonus, about $16, for every candidate above the quota and set a personal goal of finding 10 “Class A” women a day herself.
Ms. Yang wasn’t just haunted by a fear of letting the ideal candidate — and the bonus — slip out of her grasp. The office leak had also made her worry about security. One more false step and Mr. Big would bolt.
One afternoon in Chengdu, after slurping down a bowl of beef noodles at Master Kong’s Chef’s Table, Ms. Yang noticed a young woman sweeping past her into the restaurant, chatting on a cellphone. Long black hair hid most of the woman’s face, but there was something captivating about her laugh and easy gait.
“She seemed open, warm, happy,” Ms. Yang said. After a moment of indecision, Ms. Yang followed her inside, apologized for the intrusion and switched on her charm. Linking arms with the woman — one of her patented moves — Ms. Yang came away with her phone number, photograph and a few pertinent details: she was 24, a graduate student and a near-ringer for the TV hostess Zhou Tao.
A Proposal Rejected
One Friday last fall, I met with Yu Jia and her son Zhao Yong at a McDonald’s in western Beijing. Now 39, Mr. Zhao has a youthful, unlined face. Still, he worries that time is passing him by. To save money and to enhance his marriage prospects, he works two jobs simultaneously — one selling microwaves, the other cosmetics — crisscrossing the city on his electric bike. He earns about $1,000 a month, and sometimes adds $80 more by working weekends as a film extra.
It is a respectable income, but hardly enough to attract a bride in Beijing. Even in the countryside, where men’s families pay bride prices, inflation is rampant. Ms. Yu’s family paid about $3,500 when Mr. Zhao’s older brother married 10 years ago in rural Heilongjiang. Today, she said, brides’ families ask for $30,000, even $50,000. An apartment, the urban equivalent of the bride price, is even further out of reach. At Mr. Zhao’s current income, it would take a decade or two before he could afford a small Beijing apartment, which he said would start at about $100,000. “I’ll be an old man by then,” he said with a rueful smile.
Mr. Zhao has met several women on online dating sites, but he lost faith in the Internet when several women lied to him about their marital status and family backgrounds. His mother, however, had come through, arranging a meeting between him and the daughter of the woman she had met in the marriage market.
Not long after our conversation in McDonald’s, Mr. Zhao met the woman at a coffee shop. It was, he told me later, even more awkward than most first dates. A rural migrant and door-to-door salesman, he struggled to find a shared topic of interest with the woman, a 35-year-old entrepreneur and Beijing native who had arrived driving a BMW sedan.
The lack of chemistry didn’t seem to bother the woman, who told him about her profitable photo business and the three Beijing apartments she owned. Mr. Zhao didn’t find her unattractive, but how was he supposed to respond? Then, even before broaching the possibility of a second date, he said, the woman made a proposition: if they married, he wouldn’t have to work again.
“She said she made enough money for the two of us,” he said. “I could have anything I want.”
The marriage proposal stunned him. He had never heard a woman talk in such blunt, pragmatic terms. A life of wealth and leisure sounded tempting. Still, in the end, he couldn’t imagine being subordinate to a woman. “If I accepted that situation,” he asked me, “what kind of man would I be?”
It took Mr. Zhao several days before he worked up the nerve to tell his mother he had rejected the offer. He knew how hard she had worked, how much she had been counting on this. The news frustrated Ms. Yu. “Kids these days are way too picky,” she said.
Even with this setback, Ms. Yu has continued her daily pilgrimage to the marriage markets. When I last spoke to her early this month, she was arranging dates for her son with three new marriage candidates she had found. “I’m optimistic,” she said. After all these years, hope is what keeps her going.
Culling the Prospects
The love-hunting campaign for Mr. Big yielded more than 1,100 fresh prospects who met his general specifications, including 200 in Chengdu. “The cruel process of culling,” as Ms. Yang called it, whittled that number to 100, then 20, and finally to a list of eight. (For Diamond Love, a fringe benefit of love-hunting campaigns is that the hundreds of rejected potential mates can be cycled into its databases — a process of replenishment paid for by its richest clients.)
The firm subjected the finalists to another round of interviews and psychological evaluations. Barely two months after the search began, Mr. Big received thick dossiers on each of the eight, with detailed information about their families and finances, habits and hobbies, and physical and mental conditions.
Finally, a series of grainy videos landed in his e-mail in-box. The first showed the top three prospects from Chengdu, sitting and standing, walking and talking, smiling and laughing. One of them, a demure 24-year-old with long black hair and black hot pants who seemed poised in front of the camera, was the graduate student whom Ms. Yang had pursued on a hunch at Master Kong Chef’s Table.
Ms. Yang’s hunting skills and tenacity had paid off again, giving her two of the eight finalists, and a 25 percent chance of winning the bonus of $32,000. (For finding two of the top 20, she had already earned a share of a smaller bonus.) When I asked about the reward, Ms. Yang demurred at first. “My aim is just to find a match that makes both people happy,” she said, before adding: “Inside my heart, I want my girls to win.”
Ms. Yang has worked hard for the chance. She heads to her job early in the morning and returns after 8 p.m., leaving her 5-year-old son in her mother-in-law’s care. She is often gone for weeks at a time on love-hunting trips. Her husband, whom she married at 22, when he was 35, ran a trucking logistics company that folded in 2009. Since then, he hasn’t worked much. With one large bonus, Ms. Yang bought him a Mitsubishi car that he tinkers with. Her occupation has given her a rather jaded view of the prospects for career women like herself. Once she told me half-jokingly: “It’s a good thing I’m already married. I would never stand a chance.”
Mr. Big’s Choice
In June, Mr. Big flew to Chengdu for meetings with the three local finalists. Riding an elevator to the lobby of the Shangri-La Hotel, he fidgeted nervously with the part in his moussed hair. He had invested more than a half-million dollars in the search, and was about to see if the money was well spent.
His final date in Chengdu was with the Zhou Tao look-alike whom Ms. Yang had approached at the noodle restaurant. At first, it seemed a mismatch, and not just because of the 18-year age gap. He knew nearly everything about her — her dating history, her recent acceptance to a graduate school, her father’s lofty government post — while she knew little more than his height and weight. She didn’t even know his name. Diamond Love had told her only that his net worth exceeded $800,000.
The young woman tried to keep things casual by taking him to a local Sichuanese restaurant. But Mr. Big insisted on bringing along a female consultant from Diamond Love and sitting awkwardly off to one side during the meal. According to the consultant, Li Minmin, he sat in this position “to better evaluate her profile, her skin, and her teeth.”
The two barely spoke without the consultant’s prodding. Still, Mr. Big seemed pleased by the woman’s sense of privacy when he inquired about her father’s job. “He’s a civil servant,” she said. What level? “Management.” It took several minutes — and a blunt question about his title — before she acknowledged that her father was, in fact, the boss of an influential government office. “From childhood,” she told him, “my father taught me to keep a low profile.”
Suddenly, this seemed like a suitable match in the Chinese tradition of family doors of equal size. Here were two discreet people of similar social status, a wealthy entrepreneur and the daughter of a high-ranking official.
After dinner, Mr. Big called off all other dates with finalists and dispatched his consultant to buy a Gucci handbag for the woman, as a token of affection. Barely a week later, in early July, he flew her to Hainan Island for a vacation at a luxury beachside resort. The two stayed in separate hotel rooms. When they returned, Ms. Li assured me that “the relationship is still pure.”
Ms. Yang was pleased that her love-hunting had hit the mark, but she wished that the courtship would move faster: a $32,000 bonus could make a big difference to her family. After texting and phoning, the couple met again in Beijing and then took a holiday in a mountainous area of western Sichuan Province. In Chengdu, though, he declined to meet the woman’s parents, and instead of joining her at a wedding of her friends, stayed in the hotel.
The couple has not yet decided to marry. But they are still dating exclusively, and Ms. Yang says Mr. Big is serious about marriage. Nobody pays a half-million dollars “just to play around,” she says. “He just needs a little more time.”
March 9, 2013
In Public Eye, Shining Star of Myanmar Loses Luster
By THOMAS FULLER
YANGON, Myanmar — She endured years of house arrest and was steadfast as her political movement was decimated and her colleagues were tortured. But now, as the leader of Myanmar’s opposition in Parliament, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace laureate, is courting her former jailers.
With Myanmar sloughing off the legacy of five decades of brutal military dictatorship, the country is witnessing a political minuet between the army and Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, the human rights champion turned politician who is fighting to keep her disorganized and fractious political party relevant — and her path to the presidency open.
To her critics, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s compromises are tarnishing her status as a near saint.
She has been quiet about the military’s bloody campaign against an armed ethnic minority group and recently went so far as to say she was “very fond” of the military, rattling some of her extremely loyal party members.
The remarks were tied to the army’s role in liberating the country from colonial rule, but the timing, coming as the military was pounding the rebels with airstrikes, rankled supporters who were under military rule for decades.
“To the outside world, nothing has really changed with her; she is Suu Kyi and all the beautiful things that go with it,” said Josef Silverstein, an expert in Burmese politics and professor emeritus at Rutgers. But “she is essentially making herself irrelevant. We have not heard Suu Kyi talk as Suu Kyi.”
Making the transition from dissident to politician was never going to be easy in an impoverished country perennially divided by ethnic conflict. The path from icon to leader, successfully navigated by Nelson Mandela of South Africa and few others, is fraught in a country like Myanmar, which fought a civil war in 1948 that lives on in ethnic insurgencies and allowed the military an outsize role that still continues.
The reverence for Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi inside Myanmar is difficult to overstate. Her sacrifices for her country are legend: she chose to stay in Myanmar even as her husband was dying abroad, fearing the military leaders who kept her under arrest would not allow her to return to her struggling nation. Her grace under duress helped win her the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, which she was only able to pick up last year after the generals decided to begin a shift to democracy.
But the adulation for her has set a particularly high standard, and her stature has intimidated members of her party from challenging her views. Even party members say their National League for Democracy is in disarray — suffering from an array of problems including what one called a “leadership vacuum” in the middle ranks. The party is holding its first-ever national congress this weekend.
“Nobody dares to speak out in front of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and that is a very bad thing,” said U Win Tin, a senior party member. “It’s not out of fear; it’s out of admiration.”
Supporters note that Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi is making a careful calculation in allying with the former generals who run the country. The political reality is that the military still wields enormous power. The military and the ruling party formed by the military together control the vast majority of seats in Parliament, and the military retains extensive business interests.
“I don’t like the army,” said U Kyi Win, a former political prisoner who is now a delegate at the party congress. “But for the future of our country, we have to work with them. We cannot have democracy without the involvement of the military.”
The changes in the country have been highly personalized, dependent on a good working relationship between the former general who runs the country, U Thein Sein, and Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi.
“I think she needs to be credited as a stabilizing force and as someone willing to view former adversaries as partners for the common good,” said David Steinberg, an expert on Myanmar at Georgetown University.
Working with the military is more than a political calculus; it is also in her blood. Her father, Aung San, who was assassinated when she was 2 years old, was the founder of the modern Burmese Army.
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi defends her current relationship with the military, saying that she wants to pursue “negotiated compromise” and that retribution will not serve the country well. She argues instead for “restorative justice” — addressing what ails the country instead of meting out punishment for the sins of the past.
But representatives of minority groups say that should not preclude her being more active in trying to achieve national unity. They have criticized her for refusing to spend at least some political capital to help solve the conflict between Kachin rebels and the Myanmar Army, even as it grew particularly bloody in December and January. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi said in January it was not the purview of her committee in Parliament.
Some of her harshest critics say her refusal to take on the military establishment is all about politics, and her ambitions for higher office. “She’s only thinking about becoming president of Burma,” said Pu Zo Zam, a leading voice of the country’s minority groups, using the name for the country preferred by many in the opposition. “She was a national hero for us. Now she’s only talking on behalf of her party.”
Party officials acknowledge that Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi needs the army’s support to change a rule in the Constitution that bars anyone with a foreign spouse from becoming president. Her husband was British.
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, 67, said recently that she would be open to the job of the presidency “if that is what the people want.” Many see the next elections, scheduled for 2015, as the last chance for her to run.
There appears to be consensus among analysts that she would have a very strong chance of winning: outside ethnic minority areas, her popularity still verges on adoration.
But some party officials are visibly uneasy when explaining the new approach to the military.
“It’s truly very risky,” said U Monywa Aung Shin, a top party official from central Myanmar. “The people and party members are asking many questions about her strategy.”
Mr. Monywa Aung Shin said he mostly agrees with those who say the party has “no choice” but to seek accommodations with the army. But he spent 12 years in prison under military rule and winces when he talks about the “new strategy.” He said he was only “75 percent sure” that it was the best way forward.
There are also some outright dissenters in the party.
Mr. Win Tin said the army should “admit what they have done in the past.”
“I don’t accept the army’s leading role in politics,” he said.
Myanmar’s citizens are following the political maneuverings like spectators at a high-stakes chess match, one move at a time.
“Burmese politics is power politics,” said Min Min Oo, a member of the National League for Democracy from western Myanmar. “The role of the military is essential.”
The context for Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi today is that after years of persecution, her party is in disarray. Mr. Monywa Aung Shin called it a “laughingstock.”
The party lacks talented managers, is rived by infighting and factionalism, and is nearly broke.
In recent months, the party has raised money for charitable causes from prominent businessmen who during the years of military rule were known as “cronies” because they helped implement the junta’s projects in return for favors. The move raised concerns in part because Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi often talks about responsible investment.
But party officials say they are desperate.
“For the time being,” Mr. Kyi Win said, “we need to accept help from anyone.”
Wai Moe contributed reporting.
March 8, 2013, 8:32 am
Where is India’s Feminist Movement Headed?
By NEHA THIRANI BAGRI
On the night of June 28, 2012, the sarpanch, or the elected head of the village council, of Singar village in rural Haryana, his nephew and two other men allegedly abducted a 15-year-old girl. According to the official complaint, The Hindu reported, the four men beat her up and then took turns repeatedly raping her.
Two days later, they dropped off the young woman, battered and violated, outside her village, about 70 kilometers (44 miles) from New Delhi. Though more than eight months have passed since the rape, the victim has yet to see justice. The young woman is not alone in being physically and sexually abused and then forsaken by the law in India; there are thousands of other women whose cases languish in the Indian courts of law for years, if not decades.
By contrast, when a young woman was gang raped on a moving bus in New Delhi on Dec. 16, India reeled in horror and masses of protesters took to the streets. It might have been because she embodied in so many ways the aspirations of the new India, or because of the gruesome nature of the act, or because it happened in an urban metropolis, not in the remote hinterland, or because it was simply one assault too many.
The public outrage pressured the authorities to quickly arrest five men and one teenager, who are now on trial in a fast-track court. The New Delhi gang rape has become a landmark in the fight for women’s rights and feminism in India, leading to legislative changes and moving gender to the center stage of political debates.
Though the Indian women’s movement has achieved much, activists and scholars say that there is still a long way to go. Meanwhile, the women’s movement is grappling with ever-new problems as vast economic and social changes sweep the country while old mindsets steeped in patriarchy still prevail.
Women’s rights advocates are hopeful that the renewed spotlight on women’s issues will lead to a sustained campaign. Annie Raja, general secretary of the National Federation of Indian Women, said that the growing realization that a woman’s constitutional right to lead a life of dignity is in question will lead to more mobilization in the future.
“This incident has made the younger generation come out on the streets to demand their constitutional rights,” she said. “Whether until yesterday they were upper middle-class citizens not willing to come out on the streets, today they are raising their voices and the government will have to take note of these changes.”
For now, it appears that the government has taken notice. In the days following the New Delhi gang rape, a fast-track court was created to try the accused, and a panel was set up to analyze India’s rape laws and submitted its recommendations, some of which made their way into an ordinance signed by the president. Also, when the central government’s budget was announced last month, much emphasis was given to women’s security and empowerment.
While all of these measures have been found wanting by women’s rights advocates, they are generally seen as a step in the right direction.
Seasoned activists are quick to point out that the changes that have taken place since the New Delhi gang rape are a culmination of many years of work.
“The widespread response to the rape shows that there has been a growing thinking and feeling that has been happening for decades,” said Paromita Vohra, a filmmaker, writer and curator whose work has focuses on gender, politics and popular culture.
India has had a vibrant women’s movement that harks back to the pre-independence movement with protests for social reform in the nineteenth century. The movement has been marked by tragedies that have led to campaigns resulting in new laws: the Mathura rape case of 1972, the protests against the dowry-related death of Tarvinder Kaur, who was burned to death in her marital home in 1979, the protests sparked by the act of sati (where a widow is cremated on her husband’s funeral pyre) by Roop Kanwar in 1987 and the protests against the Bhanwari Devi gang rape in 1992.
The challenges that the feminist movement now faces stem from the vast diversities within India. Feminism within India is divided along class, caste, sexuality and disability, and as parts of India develop at a faster rate, increased social and economic inequality is giving rise to new problems like sexual harassment at the workplace and in public transport.
“While changes are taking place in economic parameters, social parameters are not keeping pace with these transformations,” said Indu Agnihotri, director for the Center for Women’s Development Studies. “The lack of progressive values unleashes a strange volatility in the social system, and this affects the women who are the most vulnerable section of the population.”
Because of the rapidly changing socioeconomic context across the country and the vital issues at hand, Indian feminism is often seen as infused with a sense of urgency.
“Feminists in India are fighting for issues of immediate critical urgency – violence, equal wages, life with dignity,” said Annie Zaidi the co-author of “The Bad Boy’s Guide to the Good Indian Girl” and the author of “Known Turf: Bantering with Bandits and Other True Tales.”
“If the stakes are much higher – if the question is whether I can go to work or not – then the sense of immediacy is much higher.”
As it deals with the new problems, Indian feminism is still battling with many of the old problems. The most recent government ordinance introduced some positive measures, like making stalking, voyeurism and acid attacks punishable under criminal law, but it failed to account for marital rape and acts of rape by armed forces personnel.
And though the New Delhi gang rape has brought renewed attention to sex crimes, prosecutions of those cases still move at a glacier pace. On Monday, India’s law minister, Ashwani Kumar, said there are currently 24,000 cases related to rape and sexual harassment pending in India’s Supreme Court and various high courts.
“In a sense, the demands of Indian feminism haven’t changed radically – and this is because there hasn’t been any marked change in the law,” said Nivedita Menon, author of “Seeing Like a Feminist.” “Our demands of the state haven’t changed. We are still asking for accountability of the police, state agencies and the law and protocols to be set in place to deal with sexual violence.”
However, over the years, women’s rights activists have become savvier about how to marshal their forces. Flavia Agnes, a women’s rights lawyer who has worked on gender issues and legal reform since the Mathura rape case, said that a better knowledge of the system has helped in the struggle.
“While the base issues are the same, how we are dealing with them is different,” said Ms. Agnes. “The demands of feminists or the women’s movement are getting more sophisticated, more detailed on what needs to be changed exactly.”
She added that she was now looking at procedural matters and demanding that institutions be made more accountable so that legal reform has an actual effect on the ground.
But one of the most difficult tasks for feminists can’t be accomplished in a courtroom or in a mass protest: that is, changing men’s underlying attitudes toward women, which many advocates say is necessary for a permanent end to the violence, abuse and persecution that women in India experience.
“Nonce jingoism and sloganeering are seductive but frothy,” said Vrinda Nabar, a former chairwoman of English at Mumbai University and author of “Caste as Woman.” “Mindsets need to change at every level, and all of us need to recognize the inherited prejudices of our collective consciousness once the protesters and their placards have vacated the streets.”
March 7, 2013
A Fight to Save Baby Girls in India
By KAMALA THIAGARAJAN
USILAMPATTI, INDIA — Back in the 1980s, this rural patch of the southern state of Tamil Nadu had the dubious distinction of the worst reputation for “gendercide,” or murder of unwanted baby girls, in India.
There were no official statistics, of course. Just as no one keeps a tally of how middle-class Indians today use scans to determine a baby’s sex and whether to abort a female fetus, the child deaths in the Usilampatti region, home to about 85,000 people, were whispered about, not totaled.
Often, births were unregistered, conducted by a village midwife who would then also kill unwanted girls. This was done quite openly — and prompted Valli Annamalai, head of the Mother and Child Welfare Project, an initiative of the Tamil Nadu state branch of the nongovernmental Indian Council for Child Welfare, to act.
She started by trying to grasp the size of the problem. Council statistics suggest that, in 1990, there were as many as 200 unaccounted-for infant deaths, all of girls, in this region.
“Girls were considered a burden and a liability in these parts,” she recalled during a recent visit to a council center in the village of Pannaipatti. Raising economic prospects “was the only way to stop the mindless violence and discrimination.”
One way to improve women’s lot, she said, was to care for infants and thus allow mothers to return to their work — mostly toil in the fields of this spottily fertile region, where women have been second-class for centuries.
The Pannaipatti center — a bare room with dog-eared posters of fruits, letters and numbers hanging from the ceiling, — is one of three run in the area since 1988. At one point, there were 14 centers with more than 350 children, but when the government started to provide more child care, Ms. Annamalai diverted attention to other projects.
At Pannaipatti, as the midday sun beat down on a recent day, 22 children 1 to 3 years old were in the care of a teacher and a trained assistant, who work 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. six days a week, playing, singing, telling stories and ensuring that children eat a lunch of sprouted green gram, lentils and rice. Mothers, most of whom work in the fields from dawn, arrive about 3 p.m. to collect the children and chat.
Ms. Annamalai, now 62, recalled the long slog to win trust. “It took a year to break the ice,” she said. Getting direct access to young mothers through child care centers helped the council to understand their problems, she said.
A first daughter was usually allowed to live, said P. Pramil Kumar, 48, a council worker in Usilampatti. But subsequent girls were under threat, so “we would register every pregnant woman and monitor their second and third pregnancies, as these were deemed high-risk.”
In 1991, while counseling parents to keep their daughters, the council opened a center where babies could be dropped off in a special cradle. A total of 146 babies — all girls — arrived from 1991 to 1999.
Medical staff members had to be on hand, for babies often arrived with infections from crudely cut umbilical cords and needed monitoring or even hospitalization in the nearby city of Madurai.
In 1994, after failing to save one baby girl, the council started to recruit volunteers from Usilampatti’s 309 hamlets. “We realized that we couldn’t be everywhere,” said R. Ramraj, the council’s rural development officer in Usilampatti. “We had to create not just awareness, but allies too amidst the villagers.”
After just a month, a group in the village of Lingappanayaganur, tipped off council staff members in good time. “Not only did we prevent the murder,” Ms. Ramraj said, “we also got the family to sign the adoption papers.”
Rathinam, then a 22-year-old field laborer in the hamlet of Kaluthu, recalls the first baby girl she saved, early one Sunday 17 years ago. Rathinam, who like many women here uses only one name, arrived as a village family prepared to feed its newborn girl poisonous milk of oleander. With two other volunteers, Rathinam persuaded the midwife who had delivered the baby to hand her over.
“We took the baby, 10 minutes after birth, still caked in blood and with the umbilical cord wrapped around her, and fled,” Rathinam recalled.
En route to a council center, the three rescuers purchased sugary milk at a roadside tea stall. “What an appetite that little one had,” Rathinam said. “The way she drank the milk with such gusto, it struck me she would have drunk poison in much the same way.”
Outside a thatched hut near the Pannaipatti center, Mockapillai, 47, a construction worker with one daughter and two granddaughters, summed up the changes of 20 years: “There is no more infanticide in these parts. We used to think that if we kill a female baby, we would cry only for a day, but if the baby were to survive, we would cry all our lives. But now, with so many women and girls educated, working and earning well, our attitude has completely changed.”
Today, there are 300 self-help groups in Usilampatti with 20 to 25 members each. Now, they provide microloans, or lobby government for street lights and water.
“Earlier, we couldn’t even handle five rupees , but now we manage over a lakh of rupees in savings with ease,” giggled P. Arul Jyothi, 43, of Meyanampatti village, discussing an increase from 10 cents to about $2,000. She was married as a teenager, but after eight stillborn children, her husband abandoned her. “I was bedridden for years, depressed and alone,” she said. Joining and now leading her group, she said, “was like being given a new purpose.” She has taken and repaid loans five times, investing in home businesses like selling incense or firewood.
Women now command respect in a still patriarchal area. “My teenaged son approaches me and not his father if he needs money for books or school,” said Bharathi, 40, of Poochipatti, who joined a self-help group in 1998. “I make the decisions for my family now and no one lays a finger on me anymore.”
Kalaiselvi Pethusamy, 45, of Rengasamipatti village, joined her village’s group in 2005. At the time, she owned a small parcel of good agricultural land, but had very little skill or knowledge. Over three years, the council trained her in cattle rearing, soil testing, horticulture and floriculture, then sent her for a week to observe a successful poultry and cattle farm in another part of Tamil Nadu.
Most important, she saw how to irrigate barren, drought-prone land that had helped keep the Kallar people, the main inhabitants of Usilampatti, in poverty for centuries.
Her self-help group helped Kalaiselvi get a loan of 50,000 rupees (about $1000) from a bank. She invested in five goats and today owns 20. Her farm has expanded from one to seven acres; she is repaying the last of her latest 150,000 rupee loan. She sells cow and goat milk and rears poultry. A local radio station invited her to talk of her success.
Ms. Annamalai said that since 2001, no baby has been reported killed or abandoned in the region.
Levimatteo Mathews, who heads an Italian aid association that has been the biggest single donor to the council in Tamil Nadu, said the project had worked “because of its personal touch and its holistic approach” to mother and child needs. Since 1993, more than 1,000 girls from this region have completed high school with sponsorship.
His group most recently gave furniture for the new community college in Usilampatti, reflecting a shift in focus from babies to adolescents. Last year, 16 young girls trained as hospital nurses, and 19 graduated in garment stitching and design.
By contrast, boys as young as 14 have problems with alcohol and drugs. “Perhaps,” Ms. Kumar told Ms. Annamalai, “it’s time to focus on the boys now.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: March 8, 2013
Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article listed the wrong village for P. Arul Jyothi. She is from the village of Meyanampatti, not Meenampatti.
March 7, 2013
Saying 'Yes' Matters as Much as 'No'
By NILANJANA S. ROY
NEW DELHI — The man who was my abuser was a fine host, a good husband, a caring father, a respected elder whose generosity and kindness were as genuine as the fact of the abuse. These qualities were important, because they helped him conceal the abuse he carried out over a period of four years.
As a much-loved older relative, a close friend of my parents, he had unrestricted access to our house, and we visited him often. It was only at 12 that I began to feel uncomfortable. Not about the abuse — I didn’t know the term “child sexual abuse” at 9 or at 12, and had no words with which to describe my discomfort with the “games” he played — but about the silence that he demanded. When I was 13, I left Delhi for Calcutta, to study in that city, and left my abuser behind. But he didn’t forget, and when I came back to Delhi as a 17-year-old, he was there.
At 17, I knew that he had no right to do this to me. When he sent poems, said that despite the four decades that separated us, we were supposed to “be together,” I finally broke my own silence — but only partly. I told my mother and my sister, and they formed a fierce, protective barrier between me and my abuser.
But the man who had started his abuse when I was a 9-year-old was still invited to my wedding, because we were keeping secrets, trying to protect one family member or another.
Years later, when my abuser was dying of old age and diabetes, I visited him. There was no space for a long conversation, but I did tell him that I could not forget what he had done, even if forgiveness was possible. The silence around the abuse, as much as the abuse itself, festered and caused damage for years, until finally, in my thirties, the difficult but ultimately liberating process of healing began.
In December 2012, a violent gang rape in Delhi took the life of a young woman and set off a raging debate over women’s freedoms and rape laws. In all the complex arguments we’ve heard in the past few months in India on rape, violence against women and the even less often discussed experiences of men who have gone through either sexual violence or childhood sexual abuse, we have not discussed consent as much as we need to. In the area of rape, women’s bodies in particular are often discussed as though they were property: How much freedom should the Indian family allow its daughters, wives, sisters, mothers?
This way of thinking almost always reinforces curbs on women’s freedoms, by heightening the idea that a woman’s honor — rather than her well-being — must be safeguarded, because she is someone else’s possession. This used to be, until very recently, underlined by most Indian government and legal documents, in which we were asked for the name of the father (not the mother), the husband (not the wife), as though the terms “parent” and “partner” were alien to the notion of the Indian family.
If my story saddens you, please think about this: It is neither new nor rare, nor was the man who abused me a monster, or in any way out of the ordinary. According to a 2007 survey (the largest of its kind in India) conducted by the Ministry of Women and Child Welfare, over 53 percent of Indian children have experienced some form of sexual abuse — including a slightly higher percentage of boys than girls.
I am only one of many. And I was luckier than most; my abuser was not excessively violent. As I learned to acknowledge the abuse and to cope with the fallout, I made some unexpected connections, found good friends, found strong mentors, found help, found my voice again and built a happier, more free life. I’m breaking my silence today to make a point, not about abuse, but about the importance of consent in the present debate over women’s rights and gender equality in India.
Survivors of childhood sexual abuse are no different from anyone who has survived sexual violence, in terms of what we do to rebuild ourselves. But we are experts in two areas: We’ve taken a master class in the toxicity of silence and secret-keeping, and we have doctorates in our understanding of the importance of consent. It can take abuse survivors, like rape survivors of either gender, years to reclaim a sense of ownership over their bodies. The body is the site of so many violations, starting with the chief one: Our abusers did not ask us for permission to use our bodies as they pleased.
Over years, those of us who are fortunate enough to have access to well-trained counselors and healers learn to reclaim our bodies. We learn as adults what children are supposed to know by instinct: We learn that we can be safe in our bodies, we learn to play, to allow ourselves pleasure, to take care of ourselves, and most of all, we learn that we have the right to offer or withhold permission to other people, when they want access to our bodies, ourselves.
The Indian family has most recently been invoked as an institution that needs to be safeguarded, by both the government and the judiciary. The Justice Verma Committee, including several eminent, retired members of the judiciary and legal experts, was set up in the aftermath of the December rape, to make recommendations on the rape laws. Rejecting the Verma Committee’s strong appeal that marital rape be made an offense under the law, the Standing Committee on Home said that (a) the Indian family system would be disturbed; (b) there were practical difficulties; and (c) marriage presumes consent.
These assumptions expose the violence and the toxicity at the heart of a certain view of the Indian family. For marriage to “presume consent,” you must assume that a woman gives up all rights to her body, to her very self, once she goes through the ceremony of marriage. You must also assume that a man is granted the automatic, legally sanctified right to access over his wife’s body, regardless of whether she finds sex unwelcome, frightening, painful or violent or simply doesn’t feel like it that particular night.
This diminishes both genders, with its assumption that men are little more than lustful beasts, unable to restrain their libido, and the parallel assumption that women are passive receptacles without desires of their own, forced to submit to demands for sex regardless of what they want.
This is a medieval view of marriage, and it is dismaying that Parliament appears to subscribe to it.
What is missing in the Standing Committee’s deliberations is the key question of consent — the consent of the woman and, indeed, of any person in a sexual partnership or contract. To understand why this consent is important, we must first accept that all people — children, women, men — have a right to their own bodies, and that they cannot be forced to share their bodies with partners (or strangers) under any circumstances.
They have the right to say no, as well as the right to say yes; to withhold or retreat, as well as to share their bodies freely and gladly. In any equal partnership, between any two people, whether in a marriage or not, the only possible basis for sex is the mutual understanding that consent is an active process — to be offered freely, to be given freely, to be withdrawn just as freely. Underlying the principle of consent is the equally strong principle of respect — respect for oneself as much as for one’s partner.
Without consent, there can be no gender equality; its absence makes every argument we have on rape, or on women’s rights or children’s rights, meaningless.
On an active, day-to-day basis, consent embraces the idea that any woman or man is free to say yes or no to a sexual encounter, inside or outside marriage, regardless of whether he or she is, in the coarse phrase of the courts and police stations, “habituated to sex.”
Survivors of child sexual abuse and rape survivors understand this instinctively: We understand that true respect for human beings includes giving them the right to say no, the right to choose when they will be touched, and by whom.
If it is hard for Indian society to understand why everyone should have this right, then perhaps we should start with a very basic principle. Everyone has the right to live without his or her body being violated. Everyone has the right to demand that you ask for permission before you touch his or her body.
Perhaps in time, Parliament and the government might understand this. The Justice Verma Committee and thousands of women trapped in marriages where they do not have the right to refuse sex certainly do understand. (For those who believe that marriage in India is a perfect, unsullied institution, read the statistics: Over 40 percent of women in marriages have reported domestic violence. That’s reported, not experienced.)
My own journey, from victim to survivor and then to a kind of normalcy, took years. Even so, I had less to deal with than some of those whose stories are reported in a recent study by Human Rights Watch of child sexual abuse in India — no institutionalized abuse, no caste abuse, no extreme violence. In time, I became a writer, a listener and a collector of stories.
From the shared stories of other survivors, I learned to let go of shame — child abuse was too common and too widespread for that — and I also learned that your memories, however dark, will not kill you, or prevent you from creating a better life.
Reclamation happened slowly, sometimes painfully. I was lucky to have the support of my partner, close friends and great counselors. But it started with this simple thing: believing that I did have the right to say no, learning to claim my body and soul back again.
The debate in India over rape laws, particularly marital rape, is about the simplest thing of all: acknowledging that women (and men, and children) have a right over their own bodies.
This should not be treated, as it is now, as a dangerous or radical idea; in a country that thinks of itself as modern, it’s time we embraced the idea of consent, in marriage and in all relationships.
Even though it’s so common — more than half of all adults in my generation of Indians have experienced some form of child sexual abuse — few survivors discuss their experiences, because of the Indian family’s insistence on silence. That silence transferred the shame of the abuser’s act onto the child and onto the family; it is powerful and crippling, and it actively enables abuse. The silence around marital rape is strengthened when the Indian social and legal system refuses even to acknowledge that it exists; for an abuser, and for a rapist, these silences are enabling.
Just as children have the right to ask that their bodies remain unviolated by the people they should be able to trust, a woman has the right to say no, she does not give her consent. Even, and perhaps especially, in a relationship as intimate as marriage.
This essay by Nilanjana S. Roy, a former Female Factor columnist for the International Herald Tribune, is also appearing in The Hindu newspaper. Ms. Roy is the author of a novel, “The Wildings.”
March 3, 2013
In India, Making Small Changes on a Large Scale
By D. D. GUTTENPLAN
LONDON — It was the taxi ride from the Mumbai airport that pulled Sharath Jeevan off the corporate ladder. Although born in Chennai, India, he had been raised mostly in Saudi Arabia and England, graduating from Cambridge with a degree in economics. An M.B.A. from Insead, a prestigious France-based business school, led to a management consultant’s job at Booz Allen and then a job with eBay in Britain.
“I’d go back to India every summer, and the only option was to go through Mumbai,” he recalled. “We’d drive through the slums and kids would run up to the cab to sell things, or to beg. It made me see how on a knife edge their lives were. Education seemed like an area where you can make a real difference.”
The problem is not a lack of schools. “Ninety-five percent of kids in India have access to free government schools within a half-mile of where they live,” he said, a distance of 800 meters. The problem is that many of these schools offer poor-quality education. “The average Indian fifth grader reads like a second grader in Britain or the U.S. Two-thirds of them can’t read a paragraph or do simple fractions,” Mr. Jeevan said.
His new venture, Schools and Teachers Innovating for Results, which will be officially introduced on Monday in Delhi, aims to change that. Backed by funding from the British Department for International Development and a number of British charities, STIR has spent the past 15 months researching the most successful “micro-innovations” — small, inexpensive, easy-to-implement changes — in classrooms across India.
“We visited 300 schools and conducted 600 face-to-face meetings, speaking to over 3,000 teachers,” he said in an interview at the STIR office in London.
The explosive growth of Indian schools means that many teachers have had little or no formal training.
“Indian teachers are used to thinking of themselves as instruments of a ministry or of government policy,” Mr. Jeevan said. “It was the first time many of them had been asked about anything.”
“Through innovation, we wanted to get teachers to think of themselves more seriously — as professionals,” he said. “The idea is to create a platform to collect the best of these micro-innovations, test them to see if they work, and then take them to scale. There are 1.3 million schools in India, so scale is a huge problem.”
Some of the ideas, recounted in STIR materials, will sound familiar to parents in wealthier countries. At Majeediya Madarsa-e-Jadeed, a school catering to a predominantly Muslim community in Seelampur, Iram Mumshad, a teacher, noticed that parents, many of whom worked as day laborers, seemed unaware of how to support their children’s education. To engage parents, the school started incorporating their feedback on children’s behavior at home into school reports, building relationships between teachers and parents, and underlining the importance of parental support.
At Babul Uloom, a public school in one of the poorest neighborhoods in East Delhi, Sajid Hasan realized that his students started school with fewer learning skills than students from wealthier parts of the city — a gap that seemed to increase with each passing month. So Mr. Hasan, a member of the Teach for India program that puts young, highly motivated teachers in some of the country’s toughest schools, decided to give his students extra time to catch up by extending the school day for two hours.
“India normally has one of the shortest school days in the world,” Mr. Jeevan said. Most schools finish by 1 p.m. The two extra hours, he said, “gives the children more time to learn and also more structure in their lives. It also helps the teachers to focus on the students’ current level to help get them to where they need to be.”
But some of the innovations have a uniquely Indian flavor. Students at the S.R. Capital School in Shahadra struggled with the poetry included in the curriculum, yet they all seemed well versed in the latest Bollywood hits. So Bindu Bhatia, their teacher, fit the words of the texts studied in class to the tune of popular songs, then encouraged the students to perform the poems, making classes more fun and giving students added confidence in approaching potentially daunting material.
After it is officially introduced in Delhi, STIR plans to open additional hubs in Mumbai and Bangalore — big ambitions for a program that has just 10 full-time employees, four in Britain and six in India. But Mr. Jeevan has a track record of developing similar programs.
While he was at eBay, he started eBay for Charity, which let buyers and sellers on the auction site donate a portion of the price of items they bought and sold to the nonprofit organization of their choice. The initiative has raised €43 million, or $65 million, for British charities. Then he introduced a new program, Teaching Leaders.
“We know that Sharath is really good at taking an organization from scratch and building it, because that’s what he did with Teaching Leaders,” said Sally Morgan, an adviser to Absolute Return for Kids, a hedge-fund education charity that is one of STIR’s main backers.
Based on the recognition that standardized tests showed four times as much variation within schools as between schools, Teaching Leaders was started by Mr. Jeevan in 2008 “to help great teachers become great leaders and managers.”
The program was given initial backing by Absolute Return for Kids and within five years, the results were sufficiently impressive to win the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and a £10 million, or $15 million, grant to expand the program across Britain.
“Sharath is very focused, very driven by results,” said Ms. Morgan, who also serves as the chairwoman of Ofsted, the British government’s school inspection agency. “So when he came to us and was able to show that seemingly simple things — like using phonics when teaching English as a second language, instead of making the students start by memorizing grammar or rules — had a big impact in the classroom, it ticked a lot of our boxes.”
“Even if you find something that works in your own class, there was no way of sharing those results with anyone else,” Ms. Morgan said. “People who want to make change happen can feel really isolated.”
STIR is designed to allow innovative teachers to feel like they are part of a network. “Small changes in practice can make a big difference in the classroom,” Mr. Jeevan said. “But what matters more in the long term is the change in how teachers think of themselves.”
Indian festival draws record 120 million to wash away their sins
By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, March 9, 2013 21:00 EDT
A record 120 million pilgrims washed away their sins with plunges in an Indian holy river during the world’s biggest religious festival set to end Sunday, officials said.
The two-month-long Kumbh Mela Hindu festival celebrated every 12 years at the conjunction of two sacred rivers on the outskirts of the northern Indian city of Allahabad drew massive crowds of Hindu devotees, ascetics and foreign tourists.
“Over 60 million people attended the festival in 2001 and this time we believe 120 million people have participated,” festival chief Mani Prasad Mishra told AFP late on Saturday.
The festival involves crowd management on a jaw-dropping scale and despite all the precautions was hit by tragedy last month when a stampede at a train station in Allahabad killed 36 pilgrims who were returning from the festival.
Assorted dreadlocked, naked holy men, priests and self-proclaimed saints from all over the country assembled for the spectacle that offers a rare glimpse of the dizzying range of Indian spiritualism.
Despite the hardships of waking early, plunging into the polluted river water and the relentless crush of the crowds, pilgrims from all over the world described feeling spiritually uplifted and amazed by the scale of the event.
“There is a sense of relief because the festival finally is coming to an end. Most of the pilgrims have returned back home,” said Mishra.
He said the job of dismantling the infrastructure that sprawled over 5,000 acres (2,000 hectares) to house the pilgrims had already begun.
“We built a tent city to celebrate the Kumbh Mela and now we are tearing it down,” he said.
Mishra said five electrical substations and tens of thousands of streetlights that gave the improvised city its yellow glow between dusk and dawn would be removed by Sunday night.
All police stations, mobile field hospitals, fire stations, shops, and cafes were now shut and more than 35,000 makeshift toilets had been removed, he said.
The Kumbh Mela has its origins in Hindu mythology, which describes how a few drops of the nectar of immortality fell on the four places that host the festival — Allahabad, Nasik, Ujjain and Haridwar.
The “Mother Ganges” is worshipped as a god and is seen as the giver and taker of life. In many cases, pilgrims used up all their money to come to the Kumbh Mela, hoping that their prayers could come true.
“People from all walks of life participate in the festival but there is one thing common among all of them — they have a desire to lead a pure life,” said Chandra Bala, a temple priest in Allahabad city.
“The power of the Kumbh Mela is the power of humanity.”
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
Saddam's statue: the bitter regrets of Iraq's sledgehammer man
Kadom al-Jabouri became famous when he took his hammer to the dictator's statue. Now he wishes he had never done it
Peter Beaumont in Baghdad
The Observer, Saturday 9 March 2013 20.38 GMT
Ten years ago, Kadom al-Jabouri became the face of the fall of Baghdad. Pictured with a sledgehammer while attempting to demolish the huge statue of Saddam Hussein in the city's Firdos Square, Jabouri's jubilant act of destruction made front pages around the world.
For Tony Blair and President George W Bush, the image was a godsend, encapsulating the delight of a grateful nation that their hated dictator had been ousted. The US networks showed the statue's fall for hours on end.
However, almost exactly a decade later, the "sledgehammer man" – who was helped by a US tank carrier to finally topple the statue – furiously regrets that afternoon and the symbolism of what he was involved in. "I hated Saddam," the 52-year-old owner of a motorcycle spares shop told the Observer. "I dreamed for five years of bringing down that statue, but what has followed has been a bitter disappointment.
"Then we had only one dictator. Now we have hundreds," he says, echoing a popular sentiment in a country mired in political problems and corruption, where killings still occur on an almost daily basis. "Nothing has changed for the better."
Video from the time shows Jabouri, a huge bull of a man in a vest top with close-cropped hair, battering the statue's concrete plinth with furious intensity.
What actually happened that day is still the subject of rival claims. A report in the Los Angeles Times in 2004 suggested that the toppling of the statue was stage-managed. Jabouri denies that. His claim is contested by the American soldiers involved, including the crew of the M-88 tank tow truck that eventually pulled the statue down. Two years ago they told the New Yorker that the hammer belonged to them and that a first sergeant called Leon Lambert handed it to Iraqis who then took turns using it, Jabouri being the first of them.
These days Jabouri is still recognisable as the man from those images, the former champion power-lifter who spent 11 years in Abu Ghraib prison under Saddam. Despite his formidable physique, he could only break off chunks of concrete. Even with a rope supplied by the crew of the M-88, the crowd was still not strong enough to shift it. In the end it was the vehicle that pulled it down.
Link to video: Saddam Hussein statue toppled in Bagdhad, April 2003
Asked why he had been in prison under Saddam, Jabouri answers only that his crime was "semi-political". He has said in the past that he was sent to jail after complaining that Saddam's son, Uday, had not paid him for fixing his motorbike. Eventually he was released in 1996.
Whatever his subsequent regrets, the day the statue came down remains etched in his memory. "I was in my shop here on my own. It was around noon. I heard that the Americans were in the suburbs. I went to get my sledgehammer and headed to Firdos Square," he said. "I had the idea in my mind of knocking down the statue so I went to do it. There were secret police still in the square and fedayeen [Saddam's paramilitary forces]. They were watching what I was doing. But my friends surrounded me to protect me, if they shot.
"The Americans came 45 minutes later. The commander asked if I needed a hand and pulled it down. It was just me at first. Then 30 of us. Then 300. In the end there were thousands in the square. It was all about revenge for me, for what the regime had done to me, for the years I spent in prison."
The regrets began, he says, two years later under US occupation, which he loathed. Nothing since has changed his mind – not the end of the occupation nor the handover of control to Iraq.
"Under Saddam there was security. There was corruption, but nothing like this. Our lives were protected. And many of the basics like electricity and gas were more affordable. After two years I saw no progress. Then there came the killings, robberies and sectarian violence."
He blames Iraq's politicians and the Americans for what has happened to Iraq. "The Americans began it. And then with the politicians they destroyed the country. Nothing has changed. And things seem to get worse all the time. There's no future. Not as long as the political parties running the country are in power," he said.
Kadom al-Jabouri in Baghdad, 2013 Kadom al-Jabouri in Baghdad 10 years after he attacked Saddam's statue. Photograph: Peter Beaumont for the Observer
The "saturation coverage" of the fall of Saddam's statue – according to the most in-depth analysis by the New Yorker's Peter Maass two years ago – "fuelled the perception that the war had been won, and diverted attention from Iraq at precisely the moment that more attention was needed, not less".
The reality, as seen by Jabouri and other Iraqis with the benefit of hindsight, is that the worst times were only beginning, not coming an end.
Nigerian Islamists 'kill foreign hostages'
Ansaru says it has killed seven construction workers, including a Briton, kidnapped last month in raid on company camp
Staff and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 9 March 2013 17.16 GMT
A Nigerian Islamist group claimed it has killed seven kidnapped foreign construction workers, including one Briton.
Ansaru kidnapped seven employees of the Lebanese construction company Setraco a week ago. Three of the workers were Lebanese, while the other four were from Britain, Greece, Italy and the Philippines.
A message was posted on an Islamist website on Saturday that claimed Ansaru members killed the hostages after journalists saw British warplanes in Bauchi, northern Nigeria.
"As a result of this operation, the seven hostages were killed," the group said in the statement. It said a video of the killings would be posted online. An online image accompanying the posting appeared to show a gunman standing over dead bodies.
The Foreign Office said it was urgently investigating the claims.
Ansaru previously issued a short statement in which it said its fighters kidnapped the foreigners on 16 February from a construction company's camp at Jama'are, a town about 125 miles north of Bauchi, the capital of Bauchi state.
During the operation gunmen attacked a local prison and burned police trucks, authorities said. They then blew up a back fence at the construction firm's compound and took over, killing a guard in the process, witnesses and police said.
The gunmen appeared to be organised and knew who they wanted to target, abducting the foreigners quickly while leaving the Nigerian household staff members unharmed, a witness said.
In January 2013, Ansaru declared itself a splinter group independent from Boko Haram, the north's main terrorist group, analysts have said. Boko Haram, which means "western education is sacrilege", has launched a guerrilla campaign of bombings and shootings across Nigeria's predominantly Muslim north. It has been blamed for at least 792 killings last year alone, according to an Associated Press count.
Britain previously linked Ansaru to the May 2011 kidnapping of Christopher McManus, who was abducted with Italian Franco Lamolinara from a home in Kebbi state. The men were held for months before their captors killed them in March 2012 during a failed Nigerian military raid backed up by British special forces in Sokoto, the main city in north-west Nigeria.