How Americans were swindled by the hidden cost of the Iraq war
By Michael Boyle, The Guardian
Tuesday, March 12, 2013 1:42 EDT
George Bush sold the war as quick and cheap; it was long and costly. Even now, the US is paying billions to private contractors
When the US invaded Iraq in March 2003, the Bush administration estimated that it would cost $50-60bn to overthrow Saddam Hussein and establish a functioning government. This estimate was catastrophically wrong: the war in Iraq has cost $823.2bn between 2003 and 2011. Some estimates suggesting that it may eventually cost as much as $3.7tn when factoring in the long-term costs of caring for the wounded and the families of those killed.
The most striking fact about the cost of the war in Iraq has been the extent to which it has been kept “off the books” of the government’s ledgers and hidden from the American people. This was done by design. A fundamental assumption of the Bush administration’s approach to the war was that it was only politically sustainable if it was portrayed as near-costless to the American public and to key constituencies in Washington. The dirty little secret of the Iraq war – one that both Bush and the war hawks in the Democratic party knew, but would never admit – was that the American people would only support a war to get rid of Saddam Hussein if they could be assured that they would pay almost nothing for it.
The most obvious way in which the true cost of this war was kept hidden was with the use of supplemental appropriations to fund the occupation. By one estimate, 70% of the costs of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2003 and 2008 were funded with supplemental or emergency appropriations approved outside the Pentagon’s annual budget. These appropriations allowed the Bush administration to shield the Pentagon’s budget from the cuts otherwise needed to finance the war, to keep the Pentagon’s pet programs intact and to escape the scrutiny that Congress gives to its normal annual regular appropriations.
With the Iraq war treated as an “off the books” expense, the Pentagon was allowed to keep spending on high-end military equipment and cutting-edge technology. In fiscal terms, it was as if the messy wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were never happening.
More fundamentally, the Bush administration masked the cost of the war with deficit spending to ensure that the American people would not face up to its costs while President Bush was in office. Despite their recent discovery of outrage over the national debt, the Republicans followed the advice of Vice-President Dick Cheney that “deficits don’t matter” and spent freely on domestic programs throughout the Bush years. The Bush administration encouraged the American people to keep spending and “enjoy life”, while the government paid for the occupation of Iraq on a credit card they hoped never to have to repay.
Most Americans were not asked to make any sacrifice for the Iraq war, while its real costs were confined to the 1% of the population who fought and died there. As a result, the average American was never forced to confront whether pouring money borrowed from China into the corrupt Iraqi security services was worth it, or whether it made more sense to rebuild infrastructure in Diyala, rather than, say, Philadelphia.
One consequence of the way that the true costs of the Iraq war was hidden from the American people was an explosion of fraud, waste and abuse. The recent final report of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (Sigir) estimates that the US lost to corruption or waste at least $8bn of the $60bn devoted to reconstructing Iraq.
Much of the reconstruction expense had no useful political effect: as Spencer Ackerman has pointed out, Iraqi officials cannot point to a single completed project that the US managed during the course of the occupation. The hundreds of ill thought-out projects and half-baked ideas that marred the American reconstruction effort provides a powerful explanation for why the US campaign for “hearts and minds” never worked, and why Iraq is hardly a pro-American bastion in the Middle East today.
An occupation conducted through under-scrutinized emergency appropriations enabled dozens, if not hundreds, of private companies to act like pigs at the trough – wasting taxpayer dollars on frivolous expenses while the insurgency raged around them. These private companies were able to behave so rapaciously because they were so desperately needed by the US government to run the Iraq war without revealing its true cost to the American public.
Another factor that was kept hidden from the American public was the skyrocketing costs of deploying US troops abroad. According to a Congressional Research Service estimate (pdf), the average annual operational cost per US soldier in Iraq was $462,000 between 2005 and 2009. To control costs and avoid imposing a draft, the US resorted to a parallel army of private contractors, numbering 100,000 people or more at the height of the war.
Yet, this policy backfired, as private contractors cost nearly as much and wasted millions – by one estimate, losing $12m a day between the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The only advantage they had was that they allowed the American people to be lulled into thinking that the Iraq war had cost them nothing.
The extent to which the US hid the costs of the war by relying on private contractors has left a disastrous legacy within Iraq itself. Many of these contractors behaved recklessly; sometimes, they even shot at crowds when they felt trapped or threatened. Thus private military contracting help to turn the population even more against the US and the occupation.
Even after the US withdrawal, Iraq has had to contend with dozens of private security companies, many still under US contract, running operations in contravention of Iraqi law. An estimate in February 2012 revealed there were 109 separate private security companies, with 36,000 men under arms, still operating in Iraq months after the American army had gone home. While US attention has drifted from Iraq, the costs of this reckless war are still being incurred. The American embassy in Baghdad remains a heavily-armed fortress: a relic of the imperial ambitions that the US had in that country.
Through 2012, the US is projected to have spent $17.7bn (pdf) on police training and civilian reconstruction projects in Iraq. This at a time when hundreds of states and towns across the US face harsh budget cuts in essential services and care for their poor and sick.
The Iraq war provides many lessons, but among the most important is that the promise of a cheap and easy war never turns out to be true. The Bush administration sold the American people a bill of goods with Iraq, offering them a short and glorious war while secretly running up a tab that future generations will be left with. Along with Afghanistan, the war in Iraq added $1.4tn to the national debt.
The dishonesty of this approach is due to a fundamental fact about the United States: that while its leaders may have grand international ambitions, most Americans have no appetite for, or interest in, nation-building abroad. This mismatch between our leaders and ourselves means that our politicians will lie to us about running their wars on the cheap while finding ways to pass on the costs to those not yet born. That lesson should be remembered by any American who sees a future president promise, as George Bush did, that such embarking on such a conflict today will “lift a terrible threat from the lives of our children and grandchildren”.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
In the USA...
March 11, 2013
House and Senate Work Simultaneously to Create Budgets, a Rarity
By JEREMY W. PETERS
WASHINGTON — Congress this week will begin taking the first steps toward a more structured and orderly budget process, beginning what both parties hope is a move away from the vicious cycle of deadline-driven quick fixes.
In the Senate, Democrats were putting the finishing touches on a budget they plan to introduce on Wednesday, their first in four years, while House Republicans were preparing to introduce a spending plan of their own on Tuesday morning.
The two proposals, which would set spending targets for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, will be miles apart ideologically and difficult to merge. Democrats plan to rely heavily on closing tax loopholes that benefit corporations and the wealthy to produce new revenue, while Republicans will focus on slashing spending to balance the budget in 10 years.
But the fact that both houses of Congress are working on their budgets simultaneously after years of impasse raised some measure of hope — albeit slight — that Democrats and Republicans might be able to work out some sort of compromise.
Compromise between the two parties, however, is only half of a more complicated bargain. Democrats also have to bridge the divide among a politically diverse group of Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee.
The committee chairwoman, Senator Patty Murray of Washington, said Monday that she expected all 12 members of her majority to vote in favor of the Democrats’ budget, even if some members so far remain uncommitted.
“I have a really diverse committee,” Mrs. Murray said, adding, “They all recognize that we have some really common goals, and we have worked it out.”
That diversity is one of the major reasons Senate Democrats have not written a spending plan of their own since 2009, given the challenge of bringing together senators from Oregon to Virginia to Vermont who do not always agree on issues like whether cuts should fall more heavily on military or nonmilitary programs, and which tax loopholes to eliminate.
“Dealing with the difference of opinion is tough,” said Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont, an independent who has tried to ensure that the Democrats’ budget does not include an adjustment to the inflation rate that would calculate it in a way that would decrease federal benefits. Mr. Sanders said he was confident the inflation rate calculation would be untouched, but he was not prepared to sign on to Mrs. Murray’s plan until he sees the final document.
“We’ve had long talks; we’ll see what happens,” he said.
The committee is closely divided between 12 Democratic votes and 10 Republican votes.
In another sign that both parties continue to look for ways to meet in the middle, President Obama is to visit Capitol Hill for four separate meetings this week with the Democratic and Republican conferences of both houses. The president and his aides have said that this rare display of bipartisan outreach, coming a week after Mr. Obama dined with a dozen Republican senators, is intended to help foster cooperation between the parties.
Against this backdrop, the Senate Appropriations Committee was preparing to lay out a separate stopgap spending plan to keep the government financed through September. The House passed its plan last week.
Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, who framed the Senate’s action as a first step in a longer process, said, “This week will offer another opportunity for the Senate to return to regular order, an opportunity for this body to legislate through cooperation, through compromise, as we used to do.”
“This legislation,” Mr. Reid continued, “will be a test of the Senate’s good will. America’s economy is poised to grow and expand. The last thing it needs is another manufactured crisis such as a government shutdown to derail its progress.”
The movement expected in Congress this week will draw attention to one of the more unusual aspects of business in Washington. When it comes to writing budget resolutions, the House and the Senate have worked on entirely separate paths. Senate Democrats, unable to always agree and not eager to take votes that could prove politically unpopular, have avoided drawing up large-scale a budget.
House Republicans, meanwhile, have made the budget the focus of their efforts. And they have seized on the issue as a way of portraying Democrats as inept and unfocused.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee snidely commented on Monday that Democrats had claimed “for more than 1,400 days that the dog ate their homework.” And Republican senators have churned out news releases noting what could have been accomplished since the Democrats last passed a budget, like 179 round-trip missions to the moon and 292 expeditions to the summit of Mount Everest.
But even if Democrats do pass a budget in the Senate, it will mean little unless it can be merged with the House Republican budget and pass both houses of Congress.
“I think because of all the attention on the failure to pass a budget in regular order, Democrats are at least obligated to,” said Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, Democrat of Maryland, who was until recently a member of the Budget Committee.
“But I don’t think there’s much optimism that we’re going to reconcile a budget with this House quickly,” he added.
March 11, 2013
In President’s Outreach to G.O.P., Past Failures Loom
By JACKIE CALMES
WASHINGTON — For all the attention to President Obama’s new campaign of outreach to Republicans, it was four months ago — on the eve of bipartisan budget talks — that he secretly invited five of them to the White House for a movie screening with the stars of “Lincoln,” the film about that president’s courtship of Congress to pass a significant measure.
The president’s associates, busy lately fielding questions of what took so long, readily acknowledge that Mr. Obama could have done more over the past divisive four years to wine, dine and simply engage the other side to reach bipartisan deals on a range of issues. They give multiple reasons for his reserve — personality, family commitments (6:30 dinner is said to be “sacrosanct” most nights) and too little appreciation for the aura of the presidency.
But now that he is trying harder — on Tuesday Mr. Obama makes the first of four visits to the Capitol over three consecutive days — Democrats say that his effort will put to the test, or at least expose, what they call the biggest factor of all: Republicans’ resistance to what overtures Mr. Obama does make, whether social or legislative, given the political danger of appearing too close to a president so unpopular with the conservative base.
“I find it sort of hard to stomach the criticism that he has not been reaching out to Republicans,” said Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, a Democrat close to the White House.
Republicans are politically “schizophrenic,” he added. “On the one hand they complain about the president not reaching out,” he said. “But when he reaches out directly, a lot of them are running for cover.”
What spurred Mr. Obama to reach out to rank-and-file Republicans with a flurry of phone calls, meals and now Capitol visits were the recent announcements by their leaders — Speaker John A. Boehner and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky — that they will no longer negotiate with Mr. Obama on budget policy as long as he keeps demanding more tax revenues as the condition for Democrats’ support of reduced spending on Medicare and other entitlement programs.
Both leaders face political risks from deal-making with the president — Mr. Boehner the potential loss of his leadership job; Mr. McConnell the danger of a Tea Party challenge as he faces re-election next year. The record is full of examples of Republicans who have paid a price for appearing too cozy with Mr. Obama.
Given that, administration aides for a long time would not confirm that any members of Congress had been invited to the intimate movie screening in the White House theater on Nov. 15, on the evening before Mr. Obama was to have his first White House meeting with leaders of both parties about avoiding an approaching “fiscal cliff” of automatic tax increases and spending cuts.
The five Republicans invitees, including Mr. Boehner and Mr. McConnell, sent regrets; aides cited the lateness of the invitation and the leaders’ commitments on Capitol Hill. Four of the five Democrats who were invited, including both party leaders — Senator Harry Reid of Nevada and Representative Nancy Pelosi of California — did make it, joining not only Mr. Obama but the film’s director, Steven Spielberg; its screenwriter, Tony Kushner; and the actors Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones and James Spader.
Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma had a scheduling conflict that evening, but he has been one of the few Republicans in Congress to have an open channel to the president, a relationship that began when Mr. Obama was a senator. Mr. Coburn, in an interview recently but before the president’s latest outreach, said that such legislative engagement was counter to Mr. Obama’s “personality type.”
“What he doesn’t realize is if he tried a different style, he’d get a whole lot more cooperation,” Mr. Coburn said, adding: “He’s really a neat guy. People don’t know that about him.”
But Mr. Obama insists that he tries.
“I promise you, we invite folks from Congress over here all the time,” Mr. Obama said at a White House news conference in January, when challenged about criticism of his infrequent outreach. He added, “Sometimes they don’t choose to come, and that has to do with the fact that I think they don’t consider the optics useful for them politically.”
Mr. Obama cited the example of Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor of Florida. In early 2009, Mr. Crist literally embraced the new president and his $800 billion two-year economic stimulus package when Mr. Obama visited Florida, thereby poisoning his candidacy for his party’s Senate nomination; it went to Marco Rubio, who then won the general election.
“It was the death knell for me as a Republican,” said Mr. Crist, who is now a Democrat.
Mr. Rubio, he recalled, put a photograph of the Crist-Obama embrace on his political literature and, at one rally, an angry Republican voter heckled, “Why don’t you just go hug Obama?” (These days it is Mr. Rubio, widely considered a potential 2016 presidential candidate, who has been trying to walk a hazardous line between getting legislative results — in his case a bipartisan immigration bill that Mr. Obama will sign — and not appearing too close to the president.)
More recently Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, another Republican seen as a presidential contender, enraged conservative activists with his warm reception of Mr. Obama as he toured the state after Hurricane Sandy, just before the November election.
Mr. Crist said his immediate thought was: “First Crist, now Christie. Look out buddy.” Before long came news of Mr. Christie’s snub by organizers of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference: He is not invited to this week’s conclave, which for years has served as a showplace for ambitious Republicans.
Mr. Obama’s promise to end Washington’s wars was a big part of his appeal in the 2008 campaign, and to buttress that vow he pointed to his bipartisanship as a state senator. In Springfield, Ill., he was known for weekly poker games with Republicans and Democrats as well as legislating with them.
One Republican Illinois Senate leader, Kirk W. Dillard, famously went so far as to make a television ad in 2007 for Mr. Obama’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. “Republican legislators respected Senator Obama,” Mr. Dillard said, looking into the camera. “His negotiation skills and ability to understand both sides would serve the country very well.”
Mr. Dillard’s ad became a big issue in his own campaign for Republicans’ 2010 nomination for governor. After starting far out front, he narrowly lost. “We must oppose this guy,” the influential conservative blogger Erick Erickson wrote a week before the primary, citing only Mr. Dillard’s relationship to Mr. Obama.
Now Mr. Dillard is running for governor again, seeking the 2014 nomination and testing whether Republicans have forgotten the pro-Obama ad.
Aides say Mr. Obama will continue his outreach even if the phone calls and other overtures can “feel fake to him,” in the words of one associate. The president signaled as much in his January news conference.
“Now that my girls are getting older, they don’t want to spend that much time with me anyway,” Mr. Obama said. “So,” he added, “maybe a whole bunch of members of the House Republican caucus want to come over and socialize more.”
Will Rand and Ron Paul transform the GOP?
By Colin Horgan, The Guardian
Saturday, March 9, 2013 9:34 EDT
Republicans face two likely paths for their party’s future: Ron Paul’s libertarianism or a more moderate base
Ron Paul doesn’t like to go to New York. No surprise, really. The city of Mayor Bloomberg, with its limitations on how much carbonated sugar citizens are allowed to pour down their own throats is bad enough. That a drone was reportedly spotted by Italian airline pilots this past week, hovering over the city, probably doesn’t add to its charm for a guy like Paul. But he seemed to like Ottawa.
Only 48 hours after his son, Senator Rand Paul, wrapped up his 13-hour filibuster on the potential threat to civil liberties by way of aerial drone assassination, his father Ron was in the capital city to the north, telling Canadian conservatives that a transformative time is upon us. We are moving away from “interventionism”, he said, and toward a new kind of societal dismantling, thanks to rampant debt and government overspending.
It was a familiar message for anyone who watched the Republican primary debates in the run-up to last year’s election. It’s happens to be a message with a particularly contrarian tone in a place like this, what with Canada’s reputation for social programs and safety nets. The speech also exposed the fraying, existential nerve of the Republican party that Rand Paul danced on for most of Wednesday: is the party in need of a transformation?
For Ron Paul, it seems it is. The outlook for the GOP is “dismal”, as he put it to me after delivering his speech to the annual Manning Centre Networking Conference. (It’s not a new line from him – it’s the same thing he recently told a crowd at the George Washington University.) Republicans, he said Friday:
“Haven’t come to grips with some of these issues. They’ve been too tolerant of abuse of civil liberties, too tolerant of a military industrial complex, of spending money … and they have to attract young people.”
Ron Paul’s assessment of the GOP might not have much resonance if it weren’t for the line of Republican senators who supported Rand Paul’s filibuster – a group that included the current heir apparent to the Republican leadership in the post-2012 world, Marco Rubio. That’s probably what concerned Senator John McCain, who later painted Rand’s filibuster as an amateurish depiction of non-reality, designed only to rabble-rouse “impressionable libertarian” college kids.
The fascinating thing about Paul’s relative success during the GOP primaries was his popularity with the exact crowd that McCain derided: college-age students who liked Paul’s version of the truth – one backed up by a deep archive of lo-fi web videos breaking down why the central banking system should be dismantled, and that collectively constructs a sort of apocalyptic narrative that gives weight to Paul’s message that a new era is on just the other side of some evolving revolution. Over and over you can find these go-it-alone, minimal-government missives littered around the internet (a medium that, ironically, exists in part due to big federal institutions, like the Department of Defense and the National Science Foundation).
But it’s perhaps no wonder McCain and Graham are worried. Conventional wisdom would suggest that an overall message of moderation in any form, rather than extremism, that would help the GOP attract some of the voters who gave Obama’s Democrats two victories now. This is not only the route guys like Rubio were expected to follow, but it’s also one that assumes the existing political framework remains intact. It’s about rebuilding from where Republicans currently stand.
For Ron Paul, none of that matters. The party is basically irrelevant, because it operates within a broken system. Everything that he said was wrong with Republicans is also what he feels to be wrong with US democracy as a whole. Paul said Friday that McCain’s (and Senator Lindsey Graham’s) response to the filibuster was “very risky.”
There is a risk in keeping the GOP as it is, of course. It may become a perpetual loser. But shifting it ever further into a Ron Paul-like state could be equally problematic, opening it up to the same paradox he gives to society at large: that in order to improve itself, it should do more and more of the things that will eventually lead to its destruction.
© Guardian News and Media 2013
Senate Republicans Plan to Shut Down the Government Unless Obamacare is Defunded
Mar. 9th, 2013
In the recording industry it is fairly common knowledge that regardless which artist, producer, arranger or record label puts out a bad song, it was destined to fail because it was a bad idea. A highly-regarded, big-name artist can re-record the song, use a different arrangement, and record label, but they will not have any more success than the original artist because the song itself was a bad idea. In 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama likened John McCain’s alleged “change” to the same failed Bush-Republican ideas and said “You can put lipstick on a pig. It’s still a pig,” and the same principle applies to Republicans today who claim they are a changed party after their defeat in November, but are still adhering to the same bad ideas and strategies with enhancements that make them worse.
For four years, Republicans obstructed and attempted to block every effort by the Obama Administration and Democrats to jumpstart the economy, and held recovery hostage to achieve more tax cuts for the rich, eviscerate the public sector workforce, and slash spending to keep the private sector in a perpetual hiring slump. However, President Obama and Democrats foiled Republican’s strategy with the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (stimulus) and payroll tax reduction that bore fruit the economy is still benefitting from. Republicans began the 113th Congress with the same agenda and tactics they used throughout the last session, and their goal is the same; halt recovery, kill jobs, and resort to hostage taking to fulfill their anti-government austerity mission as the economy is improving.
The GOP message coming out of their post-election defeat was a friendlier group not beholden to the richest one-percent of income earners, and strong advocates for the middle class, but regardless cosmetic changes, they are the same Republicans. Thus far, instead of growing the economy and creating jobs, John Boehner pledged the GOP’s primary mission in 2013 is ending abortion, Senate Republicans plan to withhold funding to keep the government running as hostage for a ransom of defunding the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare), and House Republicans for ending the contraception coverage mandate to satisfy religious extremists promoting theocracy. Paul Ryan is expected to reveal a House budget proposal that gives the wealthy tax cuts, privatizes Medicare, and enacts severe austerity measures to impact hiring and create deeper poverty among already struggling Americans. Last week, Republicans celebrated the Koch brothers’ sequestration cuts that guarantee to slow growth, kill jobs, and take food out of the mouths of children, seniors, and the working poor that repeats the entire agenda of the 112th Republican Congress.
There was good news yesterday when the government reported that unemployment fell to a four-year low of 7.7% with better-than-expected gains in the private sector courtesy of the President’s stimulus, payroll tax reduction, and low tax rates for businesses that Republicans opposed because they knew consumer’s having additional money to spend would spur private sector hiring and create new jobs. The report also put to rest the absurd Republican notion that the only way to create jobs was through deep spending cuts that takes money out of the economy. However, the good news was tempered with a warning that the improved jobs numbers would be short-lived because the Republican sequester cuts will impact hiring and kill anywhere from 400,000 to one million jobs later in the year as a result of the abridged first year of sequestration. The next nine years of sequester cuts will increase by approximately 20% and have a profound effect on jobs and economic growth.
Economists expect the sequestration’s effects to begin in the April jobs report as businesses will be discouraged from hiring in expectation of reduced consumer spending, and warn that the full effects of reduced hiring will be manifest later in the year once austerity cuts have had time to contract economic growth, but Republicans were well aware that enacting austerity during a tepid recovery would kill jobs and retard growth.
The report was good news for the private sector, but public jobs are still decreasing as Republicans have cut federal and state government middle class jobs that drive real economic prosperity and growth. In fact, if public sector jobs like teachers, law enforcement, and federal employees were maintained at the same levels as at the end of 2008, last month’s jobless rate would be 7.2 percent. The public sector workforce has been ravaged over the past four years, and last month 10,000 more jobs were eliminated as spending declined in the never-ending debt and deficit reduction crusade to cut the government.
In the Senate, teabagger hero Ted Cruz promised to shut down the government unless the Affordable Care Act is defunded, and Republican savior Marco Rubio concurred with Cruz that unless the health law is eliminated by defunding, he too will vote against any continuing resolution to keep the government running. House Republicans have their own ransom to keep the government operational to satisfy evangelicals desperate to end contraception coverage in conjunction with Paul Ryan’s Sanctity for Human Life Act that grants personhood to a single-celled organism. It is the same Republican agenda that Americans suffered through for the past two years and it is predicated on wasting time on issues unrelated to growing the economy and creating jobs, and shutting down the government unless the healthcare law and contraception are eliminated.
Republicans have failed at governance at epic proportions, and are repeating every foul tactic to subvert the economy and kill economic growth they used during the 112th Congress. Defunding the ACA will not create one job any more than criminalizing contraception, privatizing Medicare, or deliberately killing hundreds-of-thousands of jobs through sequestration cuts, but creating jobs was never a Republican priority and they have made it clear that during the 113th Congress their plans and despicable tactics remain unchanged. Republicans can tell Americans they are nicer, working for the middle class, and working to grow the economy, but regardless their self-portrayal as altruists toiling to change their image, they are still pigs, hostage takers, job killers, anti-government religious fanatics, and devout woman-haters and no amount of phony makeup will change who they continue proving they are; enemies of the people.
House Republicans Can’t Explain How Obama’s Policies Got Into Paul Ryan’s Budget
By: Jason Easley
Mar. 11th, 2013
House Republicans overwhelmingly voted against the fiscal cliff deal, and they got busted today for trying to take credit for it, by using the $600 billion in new revenue in Paul Ryan’s budget.
Tea Partier Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and his party got busted by Ryan Lizza on CNN’s Starting Point this morning for hypocritically trying to use the fiscal cliff tax increase on the wealthy to make Paul Ryan’s magic budget work.
Transcript from CNN:
RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think it’s fine as a statement of priorities for Republicans to say we disagree with Obamacare and our budget repeals it. I think that’s reasonable. Did you vote against the fiscal cliff deal?
CHAFFETZ: Yes, I did.
LIZZA: Is this budget going to assume the $600 billion in new revenues in that fiscal cliff deal?
CHAFFETZ: Well, we haven’t gotten to the final product. Paul has not yet released it. The Budget Committee – well, it potentially will.
LIZZA: It potentially would?
CHAFFETZ: Well, I want to look at it, in totality. When you do a budget, I’m not trying to punt, I’m trying to say you have to look at all of the things – I was a kicker in college. But look, at the end of the day you’ve got to put numbers on a piece of paper and achieve balance. So I think there’s a mix there -
LIZZA: Speaking to America’s frustration, Republicans voted overwhelmingly against a deal that raised $600 billion in revenue, and now it sounds like they’re going to put out a budget that pockets that $600 billion and put that up for a vote. So I think that paradox is – is a little difficult to understand.
CHAFFETZ: We have won some things and we’ve lost a lot of things, OK
Ryan’s budget assumes the repeal of Obamacare, but includes the additional $600 billion in revenue that will be generated by the fiscal cliff deal. When asked why they are using a tax hike on the wealthy that they fought against for nearly two years to their own advantage, Chaffetz was at a loss for words.
Why is it fine for Ryan’s budget to assume that one thing that was upheld by the Supreme Court (Obamacare) will be repealed, while another thing that Republicans have desperately fought against will be the law of the land?More importantly, Republicans can’t explain how Barack Obama’s tax policies made it into their budget.
The Ryan budget will essentially endorse President Obama’s balanced approach to increasing revenue. The truth is that House Republicans know that they can’t balance the budget without more revenue. Their cut and never raise taxes mantra makes for a great campaign slogan, but it doesn’t work in the real world. As President Obama consistently stressed during the 2012 campaign, the numbers don’t add up when a cuts only approach is used.
House Republicans will continue to fight to the death against raising more revenue, while quietly constructing a budget that only works if more revenue is added.
The Ryan budget is providing the best argument for why President Obama’s balanced approach is the only way to go.
Just don’t tell House Republicans that the budget they are about to loudly champion is based on Obama’s policies.
Freedom Works Finally Manages to Do Something Right by Trying to Destroy the GOP
By: Sarah Jones
Mar. 10th, 2013
Freedom Works has long claimed to be a grassroots organization, when in reality it is a Koch brothers funded propaganda outlet. Freedom Works and the Tea Party go together like Republicans and a corporate agenda. Unhappy with their losses and inability to impact policy enough (Freedom Works won’t be happy until corporations are running the government completely), Freedom Works is deploying Tea Party missiles of mass destruction against the Republican Party.
Freedom Works is putting pressure on House Republicans to vote no against their own party’s rules, causing members to blindside their party whips. According to The Hill, sixteen Republicans broke with their party on a procedural vote over a rule designed to prevent a government shutdown. (Sadly, the results of Republican inner-party warfare don’t bode well for the nation.)
Reportedly, these Republican defectors told the whips they would be voting with the party, as is usual especially on procedural votes. And then, after pressure from Freedom Works, they defected. Their no votes were a shock to GOP House party leaders.
From The Hill:
One source close to the GOP’s operation, quoting the popular Netflix series “Game of Cards,” said the members broke the “deadliest sin” of “don’t surprise me.”
“There (was) a revolution afoot that people who whipped for (the Rule) this morning, changed their vote to ‘no,’” the source said.
Several conservatives switched their positions on the rule under pressure from interest groups that on Wednesday morning announced they intended to score votes on the rule.
Freedom Works, for example, was livid that GOP leaders refused to allow a floor vote on an amendment to defund the implementation of President Obama’s healthcare law.
Some of the Republican defectors voted against the rule but for the funding — they are calling this a conscience vote (corporations have those now?), including Reps. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), John Fleming (R-LA), Steve Pearce (R-NM), Mo Brooks (R-ALA.), Walter Jones (R-NC), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Ted Yoho (R-FL).
The Hill reports that “conservative” Republicans intend to keep doing this if it pleases them (aka, when pressured by the Koch brothers et al), and they mentioned that Eric Erickson of Red State is calling this revolution the “Conservative Fight Club”. I guess that cute name is supposed to indicate that they mean business.
So what’s happening here is that in spite of themselves, Freedom Works is actually doing something for the people, by pressuring conservative Republicans to defect from their party and commit the “deadliest sin” of saving the betrayal for the actual vote, rather than giving the whips a heads up. This is a deliberate public humiliation of Republican House leadership, meant to signal that they don’t have the power they think they have.
Remember this when Republicans say President Obama won’t negotiate with them. With whom should the President be negotiating? Who has the power in the House? Speaker John Boehner can’t rely upon his own party members to vote the way they say they will and he can’t get the votes on important bargains he’s made in the past. Yet, the corporatist “conservative” Tea Party doesn’t have enough power to run the House — just enough to destroy the Republicans who are trying to run the House.
In fact, as the Hill pointed out, had the 17 Democrats who missed the vote that day been there to vote against it, a Republican procedural rule vote would have been defeated in the Republican led House. We call this a revolt, and since it has the big money backing of Freedom Works, that means it also has more power than individual conscience votes.
Freedom Works seems bound and determined to destroy the only power the Republicans have right now — the House of Representatives. If they keep this up and Democrats stay unified, there’s an opening to neuter some Republican power in the House.
Hungaria: Ended the era of constitutionalism
2013. március 13. szerda
Névnapok: Ajtony, Krisztián
The domestic and international protests, despite the Fidesz-Christian Democratic representatives voted for the Basic Law of the fourth amendment. The package will not only significantly change the constitution, but the Constitutional Court (Ab) had previously found unconstitutional by the basic rules of law raised. President of the European Commission and Council of Europe Secretary General immediately expressed concern, while the MSZP black flags hung out of the Country House. Night at the Alexander Palace protesting civilians.
The Fidesz-Christian Democratic vote with the democratic opposition and Jobbik stay is rejected or approved absences under the fourth amendment to the Basic Law. Presented to representatives of 265 in favor, 11 voted against, and 33 abstained n. Socialist benches empty, a warning exclamation marks, the Democratic Coalition and representatives at the "tyranny" banner yesterday in the House indicated that the democratic opposition parties, the government is not assisting another to change the Constitution. The MSZP Review Group Director Joseph Tobias conveyed the agenda in front of him, all of the socialist representatives stayed away from the seat. Tobias was convinced that the prime minister of the fourth amendment to the Basic Law, will speak before the agenda is as serious about national and international demonstrations and protests, despite voted by parliament. Orban spoke in favor of a rezsicsökkentésről, not to mention the serious constitutional situation.
This parliamentary dictatorship, a new authoritarian regime - said even before the final vote Mesterhazy Attila. The Socialist Party presidential-parliamentary group said: semblance of constitutionality can be terminated if the proposed constitutional amendment enters into force. "Hungary needs to look at how can jeopardize a politician distorted vision" - said, and position coincided with the democratic opposition and other parties with, because while the Fidesz Goulash Gregory before the vote, he stated: "the Basic Law amendment at 99 per cent having been given to the Constitutional Court earlier decisions FCNM "Independent Representatives and now LMP Katalin Szili voted No, representatives of independent Hungary Dialogue and the meeting room in the middle of the table showed Fidesz to" the people, do not be afraid to Orbántól? Vote No ". Coalition of Democratic politicians has been the prime agenda during a speech before the "tyranny" is a banner stretched out in the meeting room. Dialogue in Hungary in 2014, together with the Co-President of the Republic turned to the modification of the Socialists in the Parliament House have set gyászlobogót black window.
Otherwise, the opposition, Máté Szabó Basic Rights, civil rights and other experts have already repeatedly explained that the amendment final blow to Hungarian rule of law, these changes coming into force significantly weaken fundamental rights constitutional protection, and the basic law fully be exposed to future fundamental right from unlawful interference, as the Constitutional Court (Ab) will not be able to keep watch over the constitution. After last week repeatedly protested on Thursday and young people occupied a Fidesz-Hall Farm, Saturday, thousands of people crowd the street mentioned in the Constitution, and then marched to the front of the building Ab, civil demonstrations all day yesterday was accompanied by the National Assembly "work".
Have students been blockaded in the morning on Kossuth Square, Parliament's south gate autóbehajtóját. The high school students protesting a 'Home is just there, right where you are "labeled Molina held in their hands, and sat down in front of the car barrier of entrance to protest against the adoption of the constitutional amendment, and the rejection of a proposal to call upon the Members. A few minutes after the start of the uprising in a police car and several police officers arrived on the scene, the young were produced, followed by the fast street car was taken to police headquarters, and kept them there until the evening.
This was not, however, the only civil uprising of the Hungarian Solidarity Movement in the afternoon between five and several hundred demonstration in protest at Kossuth Square, where the final vote, after walking marched through the Buda Castle, where eight in the evening of Saturday's action in organizing the constitution is not a game called Facebook Group demonstration was announced, even before the Sandor Palace Square. But the morning of the Counter-Terrorism Centre is a security measure closed the week before the Sandor Palace, St. George's Square, the Association for Human Rights (HCLU) and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee unjustified and in violation of the right of assembly.
In this context, otherwise the Student Network open letter to the Prime Minister, and as told: "you even know what to do at this time is a responsibility of a citizen concerned about the fate of his country." I asked Viktor Orbán "in 2007 after allegedly left fork kordonbontási their action keys kindly lent to us free of charge." Orban did not turn the wrench so that the young civilians moved to the demonstration, Decorative Square, where a few thousand people protested peacefully, and asked: Do not sign John!
Back up statements
- Last Wednesday soup and Antal Rogan Gregory told: 'apparent misunderstanding "based on the concern of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, in the forthcoming fourth amendment because it is a decision to comply with the Ab.
- Janos Martonyi EU colleagues wrote last Thursday: "Largely based on incomplete information and ambiguity in the proposed amendment to the Basic Law of Hungarian dispute about a significant part."
- Bence Rétvári Justice Secretary last week: "There is no legal basis for the international criticism, (...) may be due solely to foreign policy attack."
- House Speaker Laszlo Kover TV News on Friday in a "global conspiracy against Hungary," spoke about the international criticism.
- Prime Minister Viktor Orban, "assured the President of the European Commission to Hungary and the Government's commitment to European values and laws in addition."
- Gergely Gulyas, before the adoption of the proposal: "I do not see the point, that this procedure is more pull."
- After the final vote Martonyi, Brussels: "If anything is contrary to EU law, we can find a solution. Always about anything, anytime, with anyone, we are ready to negotiate"
He was tricked into the European institutions
Raised concerns yesterday approved the constitutional amendments in relation to compliance with the rule of law, EU law and Council of Europe standards represents - written joint statement by José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission (EC) President and Thorbjorn Jagland, the Council of Europe (CoE ) Secretary. The final vote within minutes Communiqué by the EC and the CoE Presidents took note of the Hungarian Parliament adopted the basic law amendment, but noted the two European organizations of experts "do not have the opportunity in detail to discuss and clarify the content of the amendments, before they would accept." Therefore, the packet will be just the Venice Commission of the detailed assessment. Jagland and Barroso expects that the Hungarian authorities and the EU institutions, bilateral negotiations to clarify all the doubts and concerns arise.
The final vote before the parliamentary spokesman for the European Championship was still optimistic, though he also said, if necessary, "and we will not hesitate to use our legal instruments will be possible" to enforce EU law. Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen EB multiple devices are available as examples of the infringement proceedings mentioned, as well as "other legal options that are required by the EU treaties." In other words, even the Financial Times last week, raised penalties are also possible against Hungary. This is confirmed by the fact that Hannes Swoboda, European Socialists in the European Parliament (EP), the leader of the amendments adopted by the European Union is clearly contrary to the values, so can not remain without consequences.
Anyway yesterday Martonyi has also talked about: Hungary asks the Venice Commission to give an opinion on the amendment of the Basic Law. The Foreign Minister of Hungary in Brussels of EU consulted with colleagues, and stressed that Hungary is open to dialogue, "if anything contrary to EU law, we can find a solution. Always about anything, anytime, with anyone, we are ready to negotiate".
But the Hungarian constitutional amendment has already put almost half of the world's concerns. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on European fundamental values are respected, demanded Michael Spindelegger, the Austrian foreign affairs and leader urged to clarify the matter. Westerwelle said paper not only described the constitutional rights are at stake, but also that these rights in practice, to be filled with life. Spindelegger that this is not the first time that the Hungarian legislation and European Law at the neighborhood concerns. Amnesty International has once again said: "Hungary is seriously not only are disregarded in European norms and rules - the Prime Minister to President Barroso on Friday despite promises - but also international human rights obligations."
The world press is the amendment of the Basic Law rang yesterday. While the Hungarian head of state visit to Berlin, the Hungarian Constitutional Court denied the hatásköreitől - for example, by Spiegel Online, adding that the EU partners warnings fell on deaf ears. A similar criticism was voiced by Bloomberg, BBC, Wall Street Journal blog in emerging markets, EurActiv and Business New Europe. Each article stressed that the EU and the United States expressed concern about the amendments. The BBC wrote: The fact that the Basic Law adopted in 14 months for a fourth amended, confirmed that "hastily and incorrectly accepted".
Last Wednesday the CoE Secretary General wrote to the Hungarian government, which expresses the concerns and requested the Venice Commission to form an opinion on the proposed amendment prior to its adoption. José Manuel Barroso, the EC president on Friday called on Viktor Orbán, and has also written a letter to the head of the Hungarian government to amend the Basic Law. Barroso - our possession was - letters: a proposed statute law amendment issues raised constitutional level, which the Committee previously expressed have concerns, in addition to the amendment not only the rule of law raises concerns, but several points of EU law infringement. Orban answered the same day. He promised the government and the parliament are fully committed to the European norms and rules, and Barroso assured that this commitment is the fundamental law of the variation procedure will be reflected throughout.
The People of Liberty on Friday, according to information otherwise, Herman Van Rompuy also spoke by telephone with Viktor Orbán, and the permanent President of the European Council also expressed concern. This page is still that it is unlikely that the issue arises of the EU summit starting Thursday.
The government and the police in the lawful exercise of the right of assembly guaranteed for everyone has been and will continue to provide - Gergely Gulyas said, when asked, our, peacefully demonstrating for 15 young people vulnerable to Hungary. The Fidesz politician as may be indicated against the government and the government, but it will not be possible for someone standing at the door trying to prevent the members from the parliament to get into and carry out their work. Yesterday morning, the young demonstrator Country House did not disturb the building or in the building and on the way out. -
03/12/2013 03:44 PM
World from Berlin: 'Half-Hearted European Reactions' Have Failed Hungary
European leaders are outraged by the Hungarian right's most recent move to consolidate power, with some calling for a formal probe. German editorialists, too, say it's time for the EU to take a stand against increasingly defiant Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
European Union leaders have called for action against a controversial constitutional amendment passed on Monday by right-wing populists in Hungary, which opponents say threatens democratic values.
"These amendments raise concerns with respect to the principle of the rule of law, EU law, and Council of Europe standards," said a joint statement issued on Monday by European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and Thorbjorn Jagland, the secretary general of the human rights watchdog the Council of Europe. Both bodies plan to further examine the legislation, the statement continued.
The vote has also created additional burdens for relations between Germany and Hungary. In a meeting in Berlin on Tuesday with Hungarian President János Áder, German government sources said that Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke out critically of the constitutional amendment and called on the government in Budapest to use the new two-thirds majority rule responsibly. The chancellor also said Hungary must take the concerns of its European partners seriously.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle also urged the protection of democracy. "The European Union is a community of values," he told reporters in Brussels on Monday. "That means not only written law is decisive but the practice on the ground. It is important that every country in the European Union, including Hungary, understands ... that the independence of the constitutional court is crucial."
European Parliament officials said on Tuesday that the EU must look into the widely condemned legislation. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's "government doesn't want to apply European principles and values," said Guy Verhofstadt, head of the Liberal parties' caucus, who called for a formal investigation and possible sanctions against Hungary.
Washington and Human Rights Watch also expressed concerns on Monday that Orbán and his conservative Fidesz party, which holds a two-thirds majority in Hungary's parliament, are systematically limiting democratic rights with their fourth amendment to the new constitution since it took effect just over a year ago.
Crippling the Top Court
Lawmakers in Budapest overwhelmingly approved a package of constitutional changes on Monday. In addition to tightening laws regarding election campaigns, education, homelessness and family rights, the amendment severely limited the influence of the country's constitutional court.
The court had previously struck down policies included in Orbán's Fundamental Law, as his new constitution is called. But Monday's amendment stipulated that none of the court's decisions made between 1989 and 2011 -- the time before the new constitution came into effect -- could be used as precedents in future rulings.
The last constitution was based on a communist-era document rewritten in 1989 as Hungary became a democracy after the fall of the Iron Curtain. The constitutional court has used it to reject certain controversial elements of the new Fundamental Law, but Orbán argues that Hungary must break from its communist past.
Opposition politicians in Hungary have accused European Commission President Barroso of being too lenient when it comes to Orbán's blatant disregard for democracy. They allege that this has to do with the fact that both the head of the EU executive and Orbán belong to the conservative European People's Party (EPP).
German editorialists on Tuesday are also highly critical of Orbán's policies.
Conservative daily Die Welt writes:
"After the fall of their old regimes, few formerly communist countries simply entered into some kind of (Western) paradise. Most lurched back and forth through dramatic economic and political changes that often benefited those who had been in power before. Hungary has been hit particularly hard by this chaos, and breaking free of it is a legitimate and understandable desire."
"But the way in which Orbán and his government are attempting to build a new Hungary -- by setting it back into a sort of sacred, millennium-old tradition -- is irreconcilable with the principles for which the young Orbán once fought. … For whatever reason, Orbán left this path long ago. He no longer trusts the free play of democratic forces, and instead relies on unfettered power."
"Democracy thrives on the painstaking art of compromise. The opposition must be included; it needs to be heard. This is not a luxury, but a necessity. Orbán isn't protecting his country. He is leading it into a dangerous rigidity. But things that are too hard break all too easily."
Left-leaning daily Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"Populist Orbán has mastered many roles. His favorite is the savior of the nation who liberated Hungary from communism, restored traditional values and defends the honor of the country. Voters heartily backed his mission in 2010 -- he is able to push his agenda in Budapest with a two-thirds majority for his right-wing Fidesz party."
"A fast-tracked new constitution was adopted to proclaim faith, family and national pride as the highest goods. But since it entered into force a year ago, there were new additions, which aimed to deprive the National Bank of the EU's influence, secure former presidents' pensions or adjust voting laws to suit Fidesz."
"In response to warnings from Brussels, Orbán always takes on his second favorite role: that of the good democrat and convinced European who understands the concerns of his partners and makes a few small changes at home, only to deliver the next blow after the fact. The latest hits at the heart of the rule of law -- the independence of the judiciary. This time, the biggest threat to Hungary comes from its biggest admirer."
The left-leaning daily Berliner Zeitung writes:
"When the right-wing politicians in Hungary pushed their new constitution through in 2011, Brussels, Berlin and Paris didn't want a big conflict. They had to save the euro, thus their crisis-ridden, non-euro neighbour Hungary remained the target of their 'concern.' After Budapest successfully ignored the complaints of Europe's leaders, the West returned to business as usual. The European Council passed a friendly resolution, and Brussels gave the green light for budgetary aid in Budapest. They had said their piece, and eased their conscience."
"The half-hearted European reactions have not only failed to improve things in Hungary, they have also made them worse. Criticism without consequences only serves to convince doubters that their government is strong and will prevail against powerful enemies. If Brussels only makes a show of strength when it's about money, then it just confirms the clichéd image that Orbán has created of Europe."
‘A blow to the heart of the rule of law’
12 March 2013
Financial Times, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Público, Le Monde
The Hungarian Parliament voting on amendments to the Constitution on March 11, 2013. The Socialist opposition walked out of the chamber leaving exclamation marks in their places in protest at the changes
In reforming the constitution once again, the government of Viktor Orbán has taken another step to weaken democracy in Hungary – against a powerless EU, laments the European press.
Supported by the two-thirds majority enjoyed by his party, Fidesz, in the Hungarian parliament, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán pushed through on March 11 a fourth amendment to the constitution, which had been drafted in 2011.
The provisions adopted on March 11, notes the Financial Times,
Financial Times, London
put limits on the powers of Hungary’s constitutional court and restore some elements of a controversial fundamental law adopted in January 2012 that had since been dropped under European pressure.
In Munich, the Süddeutsche Zeitung condemns a "blow to the heart of the rule of law" by the Hungarian government. The newspaper believes that –
Logo – Süddeutsche Zeitung, Munich
Populist Viktor Orbán is juggling several roles. His favourite is that of saviour of the nation who has freed Hungary from communism, restored the old values and is defending the glory of Hungary.[...] At the beginning of his term he announced a second revolution, and it now seems that, in the wake of this constitutional reform, the Hungarian government will no longer be the same [...] After reminders from Brussels, Orbán is playing his second favourite role – that of the good democrat and avowed European, who understands the worries of his partners at these minor changes in his country. He then moves on to prepare the next blow, the one taking aim at the heart of the rule of law: the independence of the judiciary. The greatest danger to the nation comes from its greatest admirer.
The Portuguese daily Público, meanwhile, writes that the head of the Hungarian government
Logo – Público, Lisbon
who has done everything to protect his power against the "excesses" of democracy, received a warning by telephone from [European Commission President] José Manuel Durão Barroso of the dangers of doing just that. But he ignored the warning. [...] Does Hungary really want to stay in the EU and contradict its principles at the same time? The question must be asked in all seriousness, and it must have consequences.
Since the election of Orbán in 2010, Le Monde notes that "Brussels and Budapest have been playing cat and mouse. The difference is that the Hungarian mouse is rather quick and agile, while the European cat is maladroit and hesitant.” And today, "Europe has been hugely embarrassed” –
Logo – Le Monde, Paris
Punishing the democratically elected government of one of its members is no easy thing. Brussels has little else left to wield but a “nuclear weapon” and suspend the voting rights of the Hungarian government. The memory of the Austrian precedent, though, is still raw. When the far-right party of Jörg Haider joined the government coalition in Vienna in 2000, the protests of the Europeans were so ineffective that in the end they had to throw up their hands. Brussels could also mull over financial sanctions against Budapest, seeing that Hungary needs this “structural” help. But this pressure, certainly more persuasive, is not on the table for the moment. [...] “Democracy is in trouble in Europe,” Viktor Orbán noted bluntly a year ago in these columns. Undeniably, he has helped it into even deeper trouble. Rather sad.
The opposition struggles in vain
12 March 2013
Magyar Nemzet Budapest
The Hungarian parliament's reform of the country's constitution was decried by the opposition and sparked controversy within the EU. However, for one pro-government newspaper, the protests were nothing more than a rear-guard action by an opposition without legitimacy.
If there are similarities between Hungary and the Russia of [President Vladimir] Putin, it is the opposition's current attitude; in the tactics used by movements that oppose authority. This fact is best illustrated by the March 7 attempt, described as a civic protest, to occupy the headquarters of the ruling Fidesz party. One can also note that opposition support comes from foreign sources, not from a base rooted in the population, as well as from a clear desire to provoke those in power.
The principal goal of the opposition is to embody protest, even if that means going to the limits of legality – even crossing those boundaries – or presenting themselves as the victims of arbitrary power, if possible in news stories on CNN.
In Hungary, for the past 18 months, the Left and the Liberals have tried to present themselves as martyrs. Without great success for the moment, in part because – compared with 2006 [when demonstrators were charged by police during a commemoration of the anti-Soviet insurrection of 1956] – our country became one of the regions on earth where the freedom to demonstrate is greatest.
But the frustrations of the Left-Liberal opposition to [Prime Minister] Viktor Orbán are different than those of Putin's opposition. It is beginning to realise that the Hungarian world that it could, up to now, dominate through its financial resources and through a highly fortified "monopoly of thought" – even if it sometimes lost its thread – is slowly fading.
The new Constitution[adopted in 2011 and in force as of January, 1, 2012] has been accepted by Europe, the battle around the regulation of the media, has died down; the policies aimed at forcing the country to follow the advice of the International Monetary Fund, that would have inevitably caused the fall of the government, are no longer on the agenda and the Central Bank is no longer an obstacle to government policies.
Death of the opposition
There are many signs that, orchestrated by the two-thirds majority [of Fidesz in the parliament], the government has shifted from a transition phase into a consolidation phase, even if the path was sometimes stressful and meandering. If the government manages to achieve a balanced budget and to revive the battered economy, it will have the opportunity to help voters in another manner than by lowering utility costs. And if it is possible it will use it as would any other sane government in power.
Consolidation would be the death of the opposition. It can be said that the recent attack launched using the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, supported by a powerful international barrage, is false and nauseating but is hardly surprising. Foreign Affairs Minister János Martonyi explained it best in an interview to weekly Heti Valasz. "Let's not expect an end to these political attacks because the struggle between parties is engaged in all countries as well as at the European level," he said.
As concerns the contested Fourth Amendment of the constitution, it comes as no surprise. When the Constitutional Court – which is responsible for the balance of power in relation to the government majority – rejected the transitory measures of the Basic Law, Fidesz clearly stated that most of the rejected measures would be included nonetheless for procedural reasons.
Of course, Fidesz should not use the Constitution to systematically solve every problem it faces. But it is indisputable that the task of the Constitutional Court is to interpret the dispositions of the Basic Law, not to judge their merits. [The constitutional reform bans the Court from ruling on substance or referring to previously-set precedents.]
Failure threat looms
Elections are only a year away and the opposition is right to fear them. Another failure could be fatal. It will thus use all the tools at its disposal to discredit the government, tools which include serious international partners and civilian volunteers; anarchists ready to lend their voices to hate videos.
The campaign will be ugly, the sound of battle deafening. But let us not forget that this is a rear-guard action. The Constitution itself is no longer under attack – only a proposed amendment.
Czech Republic: ‘Amnesty is growing. More than 50,000 people avoid penalties’
12 March 2013
Mladá Fronta DNES, 12 March 2013
Following the controversial presidential amnesty by Václav Klaus, announced on January 1, the Ministry of Justice has now revealed that more than 50,000 people will have their judgements overturned, fines quashed or be released from prison.
Among the 50,000, are 3,000 prosecutions for serious financial crimes which have been halted before any judgement could be given.
Prosecutors have already launched proceedings to overturn the presidential pardon for 17 high-profile financial crime cases, in which suspects who fled the country returned after their prosecutions were halted, writes the daily.
Balkans: ‘Slovenia allows us into the EU, we allow its banks into Croatia’
12 March 2013
Jutarnji List, 12 March 2013
On March 11, the prime ministers of Croatia and Slovenia, Zoran Milanović and Janez Janša, signed an agreement to resolve the banking dispute between the two countries, which threatened to obstruct Croatia’s entry into the EU on July 1.
The agreement officially endorses the March 7 deal for talks supervised by the Bank for International Settlements to resolve the dispute, which dates back to the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in 1991.
Slovenia has pledged to rapidly ratify Croatia’s accession treaty, while Croatia has agreed to allow Slovenian banks, which were outlawed in the wake of the dispute, to operate on its territory.
Greenland: ‘Natural resources question could decide election’
12 March 2013
Jyllands-Posten, 12 March 2013
Greenland, an autonomous province of Denmark, is to elect its parliament on March 12 in a vote that may be decided by the question of how to manage the country’s natural resources.
How should the country’s mineral wealth be used, and how should foreign companies be taxed? The daily continues to ask "Should we continue to impose limits on uranium extraction?" The other major issue is the country’s relationship with Denmark, its former colonial ruler, which still holds sway on diplomatic and financial questions as well as security.
Polls predict a close-fought contest between the socialists of Inuit Ataqatigiit (Community of the People in Greenlandic), and the opposition led by the social democratic party, Siumut (Forward).
03/12/2013 05:35 PM
Royal Blush: Is It Time for Spain to Dissolve the Monarchy?
By Juan Moreno
King Juan Carlos had an understanding with his people: He would be regal and they would respect him. But now that he has broken his end of the bargain, Spaniards are quickly jettisoning theirs. Is it time to dissolve the Spanish monarchy?
It isn't clear whether the deal is still on, after all the scandals. But more than 30 years ago, there was a tacit agreement between the Spaniards and their king: On the one hand, Juan Carlos was to embody the unity of a nation that struggles with unity; on the other hand, he was to ensure that Spaniards would not have to feel ashamed for their royal family.
Juan Carlos, at least on the face of it, was supposed to have an exemplary and preferably uneventful marriage with Sofia as well as to ensure that his son, Crown Prince Felipe, stayed out of trouble. In return, every Spaniard stood behind the king and staunchly defended him against all criticism.
There was something deeply Spanish about this agreement. It was as much a part of the country as the Spaniards' preference for eating lunch late or their inability to make decent cars. The press adhered to it, politicians adhered to it, and so did labor unions, representatives of the church and even those who secretly saw Juan Carlos as Spain's costliest loafer. No one criticized the king. He stood above the fray, even if he sometimes said some ridiculous things. Germans might liken Spain's relationship with Juan Carlos to their relationship with former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt.
All was well until a German woman came into the king's life: Princess Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn, née Larsen, who is from Frankfurt and was not born into the aristocracy. She was married to Prince Casimir zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn and kept the name after the couple divorced.
Something Changed in Spain
Most Spaniards heard about Corinna for the first time about a year ago, when their king broke his hip in Botswana. After telling his people how thinking about youth unemployment was depriving him of his sleep Juan Carlos, the honorary president of the Spanish arm of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) at the time, decided to go elephant hunting. People were outraged. Later he did something very unusual: He apologized. Corinna co-organized the hunting trip, further fueling rumors that she was more than just a good friend. Something changed in Spain at that moment. If there had been any criticism of the royal family until then, it was directed at the sons-in-law. One had obtained a divorce from Juan Carlos' daughter Elena and apparently had a cocaine problem, while the other is embroiled in a corruption scandal.
But now Spaniards were also talking about the monarch himself. Books appeared that were critical of the monarchy. One book, for example, deals with Queen Sofia's stoic suffering in the face of her husband's many affairs. Suddenly the crown prince was more popular than his father. Almost half of Spaniards now feel that Felipe should take over the throne.
Questions are also now being raised over whether Juan Carlos may not have been more involved in the life of his accused son-in-law, Iñaki Urdangarin, than the royal family wants the public to believe. Finally, the court also has e-mails linking Urdangarin with the king's friend Corinna. Then Corinna made everything much worse by giving three major interviews, in which she reaffirmed her friendship with the king and denied having anything to do with any fraudulent unpleasantries. Unfortunately, she also mentioned that she had performed "sensitive and confidential" assignments for the Spanish government, because of her good connections. It's a thought that scares many Spaniards. Although the government promptly denied the claim, the intelligence chief has been called to testify on the matter before a parliamentary committee.
A Symbol of Democracy
It seems likely that Juan Carlos is currently going through a similar experience to the rest of his country: Both Spain and the monarch are awakening from a dream, and a very nice one at that. Not all that long ago, Spain was considered a European paragon, with its dynamic economy, modern cuisine and off-the-wall construction plans.
Juan Carlos certainly knew that Spaniards were not necessarily monarchists, partly because his predecessor Charles IV practically gave away the country to Napoleon in 1808. But they were also grateful. After the Franco dictatorship, Juan Carlos had supported the path to democracy and courageously opposed the 1981 military coup, at least according to the official account.
For that reason, no Spaniard would hold the dry Christmas addresses against the king, or the luxury ski trips or sailing voyages. Not even the €34 million in upkeep for his palaces and gardens. To them, he was a symbol of democracy, not the crown.
But now Spain and its king are experiencing an uncomfortable reality check. The crisis has shown the country where it certainly does not stand: among the top countries in Europe. And Juan Carlos, too, was suddenly left with the realization that while the Spaniards are patient and grateful subjects, they are not fools.
Which explains why an idea could soon resurface that has been rattling around since the elephant safari: Might it be time to dissolve the Spanish monarchy?
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
03/13/2013 11:03 AM
Ilda the Red: Berlusconi's Fearless Prosecutor Primes for a Fight
By Hans-Jürgen Schlamp
For two decades, prosecutor Ilda Boccassini and Silvio Berlusconi have been pitted against one another in Italian courts. Fearless and immune to his attempts to sully her name, she's preparing for a spring showdown with Il Cavaliere.
He's had to tolerate her at his trials for years. Many prosecutors have taken on former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in court, but none of them have been as persistent or tough as Milan state prosecutor Ilda Boccassini, a 63-year-old mother of two who refuses to give interviews.
When the media mogul laments the "red robes," "communist justice" and the "Soviets" who are out to destroy him, Boccassini is surely leading the pack in his mind.
The TV stations he owns, along with his newspaper Il Giornale, have devoted themselves to investigative pieces on Boccassini, secretly filming her at the supermarket or revealing her "extravagant" clothing purchases, such as a silk scarf for €300 ($392), or stockings for €21.
They even unearthed a "scandal" from way back in 1982, when the young lawyer was allegedly discovered "exchanging affections" with a youthful journalist in front of the Milan Palace of Justice. Because the journalist wrote for Lotta Continua, a far-left newspaper whose name translates loosely to "the fight goes on," there was an official investigation into the incident. The conclusion was that the incident had nothing to do with Boccassini's job. Still, years later, the account of the woman known as Ilda La Rossa, or "Ilda the Red," was ample fodder to titillate Berlusconi-supporting readers of Il Giornale.
The Naples native, who has had the nickname since her youth because of her red hair, remains unfazed by the campaigns against her. Boccassini knows "no fear," her friends say. She simply ignores much of the abuse, but she has been known to sue in cases of concrete slander.
The latest example was that of her purported mission to "turn the country upside down" and pursue Berlusconi for "political and ideological reasons," accusations for which Il Giornale was found guilty of defamation and ordered to pay Boccassini €100,000 in damages.
Boccassini's idol was Mafia hunter Giovanni Falcone. After the magistrate was killed by a Mafia bomb in 1992, she asked to be transferred to Sicily so she help could track the killers down. She was there when "boss of the bosses" Toto Riina was convicted. Then came the big Mafia trials, followed by the Mani Pulite, or "clean hands" legal campaign back in Milan, which took on Italy's corrupt political elite.
Sex for Dessert
It was in this way that she eventually stumbled onto a defendant named Berlusconi, who she would come to encounter many times thereafter. Now, she and a colleague are slated to present the prosecutors' case against Berlusconi and plea for a jail sentence for the former Italian leader on charges of abuse of office and soliciting sex from an underage prostitute. According to the prosecutors, the billionaire regularly held "evening events for the purposes of prostitution." Dinner would be served with "erotic bunga-bunga dances," and for dessert there was sex between male guests (including Berlusconi) and young women who were either paid or provided with lavish gifts. Berlusconi maintains that the case is nonsense, and he has denied ever having slept with Karima el-Marough, who went by the stagename "Ruby the Heartbreaker," and is at the center of the case.
The first verdict in the case is expected within the month, which is poor timing for Berlusconi, given the possibility that Italy's next election campaign could be underway again soon after last month's election left the country in a political deadlock. But the 76-year-old's political advisors have revealed that he is gaining in polls, which is apparently buoying Berlusconi's hopes politically. Reports are even circulating that Berlusconi would like to see Italians vote again in June. Of course, a conviction on charges surrouding sex with a minor wouldn't exactly help his campaign.
Berlusconi is also expecting to face legal proceedings in other cases. He will likely appeal a March 7 jail sentence issued against him for illegally publishing a wiretapped conversation, an offense most Italians are unlikely to take very seriously. But a corruption investigation underway in Naples could prove more problematic. A former senator there alleges that Berlusconi bribed him with €3 million ($3.9 million) in 2006 to become a member of his People of Freedom (PdL) party, a move that caused the center-left coalition of then-Prime Minister Romano Prodi to collapse.
Worse yet for Berlusconi could be an appeals decision in a trial relating to television rights for his media company Mediaset. In that case, the former prime minister was sentenced to four years in jail in the first instance. A second ruling, which is expected to confirm the first verdict, is likely to be handed down this month. If a third and final appeal in the case were to be rejected before the statute of limitations is up in 2014, it would be catastrophic for Berlusconi's political career. He would be banned from political office for five years.
Prosecutors believe Berlusconi is currently using every procedural trick and ruse he can find to delay the problematic Ruby and Mediaset trials. That isn't surprising given what is at stake. First, he demanded that his court dates be postponed because he was too busy with his political pursuits. When that didn't work, he fell ill. His personal physician told the court last week that an eye infection had rendered him unfit for trial, and he would need a week to recover.
Along with the prosecutors in the Mediaset trial, Ilda Boccassini immediately requested that a court-appointed doctor be allowed to examine Berlusconi. He declared the politician was healthy enough to stand trial, a diagnosis that triggered an absurd protest from Berlusconi's camp.
Fabrizio Cicchitto, who heads Berlsuconi's parliamentary group, even thundered against the "Nazi doctor" and "Stalinist prosecutors." Berlusconi now plans to mobilize his supporters for protests.
03/13/2013 10:14 AM
Inflated Salaries: Merkel Joins German Battle against Executive Pay
Both the European Union and Switzerland have drawn a line in the sand recently when it comes to excessive compensation packages. Now, Berlin too wants to cap salaries. For Chancellor Merkel, the move marks a U-turn, but with growing public discontent, she had little choice. By SPIEGEL Staff
There are many faces of injustice. A member of Volkswagen's executive board recently said that he thought it was unfair that he earned €6 million ($7.8 million) last year. Only €6 million.
In 2011, he and his colleagues had earned between €7.2 and 8.1 million. Yet in 2012, Europe's largest carmaker did even better, with record-high revenues, sales and profits. According to their contracts, the board members should also have seen their earnings increase. Instead, their pay was cut by about 20 percent.
The supervisory board of the Wolfsburg-based company wanted to set an example. The salary of VW Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn was reduced to €14.5 million, and the salaries of the remaining top executives fell as well. Several of them were unable to understand why. After all, they argued, it was only the salary of their boss, which would have increased to €20 million without the cuts, that had trigged the current debate over executive pay.
It's not that he needs or desperately wants the money, says the executive whose salary was reduced to €6 million, but that he initially perceived the cut as an affront. In the mean time, he says, he has come to understand that there is more at stake when it comes to executive pay, namely the social acceptance of managers and the company. He now feels that the salary cut is "completely okay."
VW CEO Winterkorn and his fellow executives believed the matter to have been settled. At the Geneva Motor Show early last week, they expected to be talking about a new one-liter car (a car that gets 235 miles to the gallon). Instead, they were constantly asked about their salaries.
It is a hot topic throughout Europe these days. Earlier this month, the European Union moved to cap banker bonuses at twice their base salary as of 2014. In Switzerland, a referendum "against rip-off salaries" received a two-thirds majority, making company shareholders, as opposed to the supervisory board, responsible for determining executive pay. And in Berlin even Rainer Brüderle, the parliamentary floor leader for the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP), portrayed himself as an opponent of excessive executive compensation. The Swiss solution, said Brüderle, was "pure FDP."
Merkel Speaks Out
The issue promises to be an important one this election year. All of Germany's major parties have recently felt compelled to comment on the issue, with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) planning to include the demand for an "established maximum relationship between base salary and bonuses" in its campaign platform.
On Tuesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) followed suit. Completing yet another policy U-turn, senior CDU parliamentarian Michael Grosse-Brömer announced that the conservatives would introduce a law before the summer recess to regulate manager salaries.
In an interview with the newspaper Freie Presse, published on Wednesday, Merkel likewise entered the fray. "Exorbitance cannot be allowed in a free and socially minded society," she said, adding that she understands "when people shake their heads over salaries that tip the scale and want them to stop."
The amounts at issue in the current salary debate are indeed exorbitant. Deutsche Bank, for example, granted its star trader Christian Bittar a bonus of €80 million for 2008 alone. Bittar was not even a member of the executive board, and he is now under suspicion of having played a role in the manipulation of the benchmark LIBOR interest rate. Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis planned to pay its departing chairman Daniel Vasella €59 million to prevent him from working for rivals in the next six years. And the deferred compensation Daimler is guaranteeing its not particularly successful CEO, Dieter Zetsche, is worth about €40 million. In return, Zetsche doesn't have to work until he's 67; in fact, he can retire at 60 instead.
The market economy thrives on a certain amount of societal inequality. The chance to earn more money and accumulate more wealth animates people to improve their performance. But there is also an invisible limit, and when it is exceeded, the gap between those at the top and those at the bottom becomes big enough to jeopardize social harmony.
The poverty and wealth report released by the German government last week suggests that this gap has reached disconcerting proportions in Germany. Many can no longer support themselves with the money they earn in a full-time job. Almost one in four workers earn less than €9.15 an hour, which translates to about €19,000 a year. This is less than one-seven hundredth of what the CEO of VW makes.
It isn't just the scope of inequity that is so disconcerting, but also the fact that this development is only becoming more exacerbated. Average employee wages have increased by 6.1 percent since 2000, while the salaries of senior executives at companies traded on Germany's DAX stock exchange index have risen by almost 55 percent during that time period.
FDP politician Brüderle is utilizing the debate to question the system of German participative management. In publicly traded corporations, the supervisory board decides on the salaries of executive board members. Supervisory boards are divided equally between representatives of labor and capital. "Union leaders have been complicit," Brüderle says, "and now they are complaining about excesses."
Jörg Hofmann is one of the people Brüderle is referring to. He is a district manager for the metalworkers' union IG Metall in the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg and a member of the Daimler supervisory board. Hofmann says that a few things have been changed, especially in response to pressure from employees at Daimler and other DAX-listed companies.
The changes were urgently needed, particularly in the case of Daimler. The Stuttgart-based company is well known for executive excess, a situation which only worsened as globalization fundamentally changed the German economy.
As recently as 1987, the average executive board member at a DAX-listed company earned the equivalent of €446,000 a year. But after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain, German managers increasingly emulated their role models in the United States. American-style capitalism, driven by financial performance and shareholder value, increasingly took hold in Germany.
In 1998, Daimler acquired US automaker Chrysler -- and the American pay structure along with it. Critics said derisively that it was the primary motivation for the merger. Daimler's then chairman, Jürgen Schrempp, became Germany's top-paid manager, earning more than €7 million in 2002.
The Daimler-Chrysler merger proved to be one of the biggest flops in German economic history, and Schrempp was forced out in 2005. At the time of his involuntary departure, he owned stock options worth an estimated €50 million.
The unions went along with everything. There was an unwritten rule that shareholder representatives determined executive salaries and employee representatives rubber-stamped their decisions. In return, the unions could expect the capital side to accommodate their plans.
Union official Hofmann, not surprisingly, disagrees with this interpretation. He blames salary excesses on the "limits of co-determination." In other words, if there is a draw in a vote between representatives of capital and labor, the chairman of the supervisory board can exercise his right to a double vote.
In 2004, unions realized that this system was unsustainable. As co-defendant in the Mannesmann trial, former IG Metall Chairman Klaus Zwickel was accused of not having opposed €30 million in bonuses and financial settlements for Klaus Esser, who, at the time, was CEO of the former industrial conglomerate. It was a bitter defeat for the unions. How could they credibly represent the interests of ordinary employees if they didn't rebel against so many millions in executive compensation?
After the Mannesmann trial, union leaders became more critical of excessive executive pay. In addition, a law enacted in 2009 had a moderating effect. In many DAX-listed companies, the rules were changed so that a higher share of senior executives' salaries, often 70 percent, was based on company performance. When companies did poorly, as Daimler did in 2008, executive pay dropped. Schrempp's successor Zetsche saw his salary drop from €10 million to €5 million at the time.
Today, bonuses are usually dependent on several years' worth of performance. In addition, a cap was imposed on so-called golden handshakes, the severance packages top executives collect when they are released prematurely from their contracts.
The Trend toward Control
By now, representatives of capital also accept that executive compensation is no longer strictly an internal company issue. Business needs social and political acceptance, as former Deutsche Bank CEO Josef Ackermann once said. This acceptance is lost, he added, "when there is a feeling within the public that a few people are filling their pockets to the detriment of the community."
A number of changes have taken place, but it still isn't enough. Otherwise Deutsche Bank wouldn't be paying €3.2 billion in bonuses to its executives for last year, when its net profit was a relatively low €665 million. And otherwise corporations wouldn't pay signing bonuses for executives headhunted away from competitors, along with a "joining bonus" for showing up on the agreed date -- to be followed by a "retention payment" for managers who actually stay for the duration of their contracts instead of switching back to a competitor. "It simply isn't acceptable, having to pay managers so that they'll step out of the shower in the morning," says business professor Margit Osterloh of Britain's Warwick Business School.
Switzerland plans to introduce an alternative to the German system, in which the supervisory board sets executive compensation. It would seem to be a tempting model, in which those who own a company, its shareholders, will have the final say on management pay.
This could lead to lower salaries, as initial experiences in Great Britain have shown. Last year, for example, investors refused to pay the unsuccessful CEO of pharmaceutical company Astra-Zeneca his lavish salary plus bonus. He was forced out of the company, as was the CEO of the insurance company Aviva, whose salary was set to increase despite a 47 percent decline in profits.
But the model has its pitfalls. "Shareholders have no sense of loyalty," says Professor Osterloh. Shareholders want to maximize their dividends. Some are merely interested in short-term gains in the stock price, so that they can sell their shares at a profit. Many hedge funds, which often own significant stakes in publicly traded companies, couldn't care less whether an executive earns one, 10 or 20 million euros. And if a manager promises shareholders a quick profit of several hundred million, they'll approve virtually any salary.
What Is Suitable?
"The Swiss referendum has symbolic value, but the model is nonsense," says Osterloh. She advocates a fixed salary plus profit sharing for all employees.
The EU is bringing another alternative to the German model into play: an attempt to limit bonuses without specifying a fixed value. The EU wants to see bonuses for top bankers capped at twice their base salaries. Deutsche Bank employees already know how their bank is likely to react to the measure. "Then they'll simply raise base salaries," says a bank executive in Frankfurt.
Neither the Swiss model (shareholders decide) nor the Brussels plans (bonuses are capped) can solve the problem. It's time for the government to step in. Current laws only broadly stipulate the "suitability of executive compensation." Instead, lawmakers should define what exactly is suitable.
The Confederation of German Trade Unions (DGB) wants the maximum total compensation of executive board members to be pegged to average employee income within the company. Using company- and industry-specific developments as a benchmark, individual supervisory board members would determine what this factor should be. If necessary, laws would have to be enacted requiring companies to establish such executive compensation systems.
The fact that the DGB itself doesn't want to set a maximum factor stems from the lack of unity among its representatives. Last year, for example, IG Metall Chairman Berthold Huber defended the €17.5 million salary of VW CEO Winterkorn, saying that he believed Winterkorn's compensation agreement was "okay." Other union officials felt that the CEO's pay was exorbitant. "No one can tell me that the work performed by the company's CEO is worth 300 times as much as that of other employees," says DGB Chairman Michael Sommer. But even despite the differences of opinion among union leaders, they do now agree that an annual salary of €10 million should be the upper limit.
Shareholder representatives are also opposed to fixed limits, although they too see the pain threshold at roughly where the unions have identified it. The Deutsche Schutzvereinigung für Wertpapierbesitz, an association of private investors, says: "Pay in excess of €10 million becomes socially intolerable."
A cap on salaries would not weaken German industry. There would be no exodus of capable managers to other countries. Unlike the failed former Siemens CEO Klaus Kleinfeld, few executives have gone to the United States, even though they stand to earn several times more there, especially in the automotive industry.
"Money isn't everything," says BMW CEO Norbert Reithofer. The carmaker has no trouble attracting high-quality executives, even though it pays them less than other DAX-listed companies. Reithofer is against a statutory cap on executive pay. We don't need even more government intervention in the economy, he says. "When it wants control, the supervisory board has it."
In the case of BMW, the Quandt family, which holds just under 50 percent of common stock, and Works Council Chairman Manfred Schoch have ensured that salaries and pension commitments remain within reason. No matter how high profits go, Reithofer's income cannot increase to €10 million.
BMW has imposed its own salary limits, which shows that government intervention is unnecessary for some companies. But it also proves that setting such limits would not have harmful effects. After Volkswagen, BMW is the world's most successful automaker. "There are some companies I wouldn't switch to even if they offered me €20 million," says Reithofer.
BY DIETMAR HAWRANEK, HORAND KNAUP, MICHAELA SCHIESSL, CORNELIA SCHMERGAL and JANKO TIETZ
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
Hitler assassination plotter Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist dies
Von Kleist, who was involved in 20 July 1944 plot and agreed to kill Nazi dictator with a suicide vest, has died aged 90
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 12 March 2013 18.36 GMT
Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist, the last surviving participant in the main plot to kill Adolf Hitler, has died aged 90.
Von Kleist, who once volunteered to wear a suicide vest to assassinate the Nazi dictator, died at his home in Munich on Friday, said his wife, Gundula.
Von Kleist was born on 10 July 1922, on his family estate Schmenzin in Pomerania, in an area of north-eastern Germany that is now part of Poland.
The Von Kleist family was a long line of Prussian landowners, who had served the state for centuries in high-ranking military and administrative positions.
Von Kleist's father, Ewald von Kleist, was an opponent of Hitler even before he came to power, and was arrested many times after the Nazi dictator took control in 1933. The elder Von Kleist famously travelled to England in 1938, the year before the second world war broke out, to try and determine whether other western nations would support a coup attempt against Hitler, but failed to get the British government to change its policy of appeasement.
Despite his family's opposition to the Nazis, the younger Von Kleist joined the German army in 1940, and was wounded in 1943 in fighting on the eastern front.
During his convalescence, he was approached in January 1944 by Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, another officer from an aristocratic family, and presented with a plan to kill Hitler. Von Kleist had been chosen as the officer to model a new uniform for Hitler, and Von Stauffenberg proposed that he wear a suicide vest underneath, and detonate it when he stood next to the dictator.
Years later, Von Kleist remembered explaining the suicide plot to his father, who paused only briefly before telling his 22-year-old son: "Yes, you have to do this."
"Fathers love their sons and mine certainly did, and I had been quite sure he would say no," Von Kleist recalled. "But, as always, I had underestimated him."
The suicide attack plan never came to fruition.
Months later, however, Von Kleist was approached again by Von Stauffenberg to take part in what would become known as the 20 July plot – for the day in 1944 that the assassination was attempted – which was depicted in a 2008 film Valkyrie, starring Tom Cruise as Von Stauffenberg.
Von Kleist was supposed to play a key role as the person who was to carry a briefcase packed with explosives to a meeting with Hitler. In a change of plans, however, Von Stauffenberg decided to plant the bomb himself.
Von Stauffenberg placed the bomb in a conference room where Hitler was meeting with his aides and military advisers at his east Prussian headquarters. Hitler escaped the full force of the blast when someone moved the briefcase next to a table leg, deflecting much of the explosive force.
Von Kleist remained in Berlin, charged with overseeing the arrest of officers and officials loyal to Hitler in the city.
But when news spread that Hitler had survived, the plot crumbled and Von Stauffenberg, Von Kleist's father and scores of others were arrested and executed in an orgy of revenge killings. Some were hanged by the neck with piano wire. Von Stauffenberg was shot by firing squad.
Von Kleist himself was arrested and questioned at length by the Gestapo, and sent to a concentration camp, but then inexplicably let go and returned to combat duty.
Black smoke reveals no new pope yet from first papal conclave vote
Papal conclave in Rome fails to elect new leader as police raid dents chances of frontrunner Cardinal Angelo Scola
John Hooper in Vatican City
The Guardian, Tuesday 12 March 2013 19.27 GMT
Roman Catholic cardinals will continue to search on Wednesday for a new spiritual leader for the world's 1.2 billion baptised Catholics after black smoke poured from the chimney above the Sistine Chapel tonight, signalling they had failed to elect a new pope on the first day.
Shortly after 5.30pm in Rome the papal master of ceremonies, Guido Marini, had drawn shut the doors of the Sistine Chapel, locking inside the "princes of the church" whose task is to elect a pope great enough to lead his church out of the maze of scandal and controversy into which it stumbled during the strife-torn reign of former Pope Benedict XVI, who resigned last month.
After listening to a homily by one of their number, the Maltese Augustinian, Prosper Grech, the cardinals voted. But black smoke issuing from the chimney above the chapel two hours later showed that none of the cardinals had obtained the necessary two-thirds majority to be Pope. The cardinals now return to the Vatican's Santa Marta hotel for the night and will return to the Apostolic Palace for Mass on Wednesday morning for a new round of voting.
The 115 men taking part in the ballot started on Tuesday by filing into the chapel in two long columns as they chanted Ora pro nobis (Pray for us) in response to the names of the litany of saints and prophets. Dressed mostly in vivid scarlet, the cardinals advanced down the chapel towards Michelangelo's intimidating depiction of the Last Judgement where they bowed their heads before the altar and took their places in the stalls on either side.The decision the cardinals will have to make in their assembly, or conclave, is among the most difficult in recent times. Benedict's abdication has robbed them of the chance that most of their predecessors had to swap opinions on a likely successor as the pope of the day advanced in age and infirmity.
According to a report in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, one of the two frontrunners, Cardinal Angelo Scola, the archbishop of Milan, had secured the backing of up to 50 electors. But in the run-up to the conclave several cardinals warned that an early result was unlikely because of the lack of a clear favourite.
The traditional wisdom has it that he who starts the election as the likely pope emerges a cardinal. But Scola is also handicapped by his close association with the controversial Communion and Liberation movement, and just hours before the start of the ballot there was a reminder of the scandals in which it has been entangled.
Anti-mafia investigators carried out dawn raids in Scola's diocese in an investigation into corruption linked to hospital supplies. Healthcare in Lombardy is the principal responsibility of the regional administration, which for the past 18 years has been run by Roberto Formigoni, a childhood friend of Scola and the leading political representative of the Communion and Liberation fellowship.
Among those arrested was a local politician said to have organised expensive holidays for Formigoni that are central to an investigation into the former governor's affairs. Formigoni, who has been accused of, but not charged with, conspiracy and corruption, denies all wrongdoing.
Until recently, Scola was seen as the conservative group's most distinguished ecclesiastical spokesman, but he has progressively loosened his ties to Communion and Liberation, and in early 2012 publicly rebuked the movement's leadership.
According to sources close to the cardinals' preliminary deliberations, Scola was the champion of a largely non-Italian faction that is challenging the entrenched power of the Vatican cardinals. His chief rival as the voting began was said to be the archbishop of Sao Paolo, Odilo Scherer.
The management of the Roman Curia, the central administration of the church, appeared to be foremost among the issues dividing the electors. Reports in the Italian media indicated that the final meeting of the cardinals before the Conclave witnessed a clash between the Vatican's top official, secretary of state Tarcisio Bertone, and a Brazilian cardinal, João Cardinal Bráz de Aviz.
03/12/2013 12:11 PMCatholic Laundry: Bishops Decry State of Church on Eve of Conclave
By Peter Wensierski
As the conclave to select Benedict XVI's successor begins at the Vatican on Tuesday, conservatives and liberals among top Catholic bishops agree: The church needs a renewal. Who should lead that reform, however, is the subject of intense debate. Much dirty laundry has been aired in recent days.
To get a taste of what the new pope might end up wearing, a glance in the window of Gammarelli, the famous tailor shop in Rome which outfitted Benedict XVI, was a must last week. Fur-lined mozettas and hand-sewn crimson loafers were on display among other papal items. When asked how he knew the future pope's measurements, owner Lorenzo Gammarelli said: "It's easy. I just assume the average."
The new pope -- just average?
God forbid, say the cardinals from around the world who have been gathering daily at the Vatican since early last week, so that the process of electing a successor of Benedict XVI can begin on Tuesday afternoon. They are seeking a leader who will stand out, one who can lead the crisis-plagued church into a better future.
This is no easy task, as indicated by the protracted pre-conclave talks. Indeed, so many cardinals wanted to have a say that their speaking allotments had to be limited to a mere five minutes each. Despite every effort to keep the debates secret, information repeatedly trickled out.
The leaks revealed that cardinals from around the world are sharply critical of the papal administrative machinery. Everything was discussed, including Vatileaks, the Vatican bank affair and the sexual abuse scandals. Cardinals from Africa and Asia sharply criticized the Vatican's patronizing attitude toward local churches. An American cardinal admonished the central administration, saying that its focus must be on serving the church rather than on serving itself. He noted that it was time to put an end to the integration between the Vatican bank and the Administration of the Patrimony, release the true financial figures and bring in outside experts. Ties to the Vatican bank, he said, might have to be severed altogether.
German Cardinal Walter Kasper also spoke his mind, until the Vatican imposed a ban on interviews last week. The 80-year-old called for a "more horizontal government of the church, with more collegiality," saying that the "Curia must be revolutionized, and it cannot fear transparency." The church, Kasper added, must finally free itself of the affliction of Roman centralism; a strong center, he noted, doesn't automatically mean centralism.
The Italians at the Vatican, on the other hand, tried to focus in their remarks on the supposed achievements of the Curia -- delivering, for example, rosy reports on the state of the Vatican's finances. But insider reports about what a great job they had done at the Vatican were not well received.
"We need to look attentively at the work of the Curia in recent years," said Daniel DiNardo, the archbishop of Galveston-Houston in Texas. His remarks were echoed by his fellow US cardinals Timothy Dolan and Sean Patrick O'Malley in their early press briefings. Since last Wednesday's gag order, however, the Americans too have largely fallen silent.
Yet despite the silence, it's hard to overlook what it is really at stake in this conclave. Even most of the ultraconservatives no longer want the kind of church that the two chairmen of the College of Cardinals represent. Angelo Sodano and Tarcisio Bertone stand for the past. The two men share some of the responsibility for the Vatileaks and Vatican bank scandals, the cover-up of the priest abuse scandals and the flap over Holocaust denier Richard Williamson.
The current mood can be quickly summed up: We now need a new pope surrounded by new people who will turn their attention to repairing the system. And with all due respect, we don't need someone who, like Benedict XVI, proclaims eternal truths. Nor do we need someone like John Paul II, who merely travels around the world, diverting attention from the church's problems.
As such, the liberals and those on the right are -- surprisingly -- in agreement that the new pope should be different from Sodano and Bertone. He should certainly be exceptional, standing out from the other 114 cardinals who enter the conclave on Tuesday. Yet he also has to be one of them.
There are few elections or political party conventions in which the high arts of tactics, diplomacy and intrigue are as important as they are in the conclave. So far, none of the camps has been strong enough to push through its candidate of choice. Coalitions must painstakingly be formed. Highly respected cardinals like Viennese Christoph Schönborn, Italian Angelo Scola and Brazilian Odilo Scherer are believed to have garnered the support of up to 40 cardinal-electors each, but that isn't enough. A candidate needs 77 of the 115 votes to achieve a two-thirds majority.
The Italians could live with someone like Scherer, provided they got the position of Cardinal Secretary of State, the number two position at the Vatican. In later rounds of voting, however, they could put forward one of their outsiders, such as Angelo Comastri, a popular spiritual charismatic especially liked by the northern Italians.
So far, though, the only cardinal who has managed to establish himself as an emotional favorite is the likeable 55-year-old Filipino cardinal, Luis Tagle. He is the only candidate with Obama-like charisma. But he is also very young. And it seems unlikely that church leaders are ready for such a drastic change. Still, someone like Tagle (or an African cardinal) could immediately change the Catholic Church's ailing image worldwide.
Many rumors, often free of factual foundation, have been making the rounds, and potential candidates have been scrutinized for weaknesses for days. The church is determined that the new pope not be immediately ripped apart by the media.
Taking Measure of the New Pope
Take, for example, Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who was considered promising papal material at first -- and whose prospects declined when it emerged that his brother had pled guilty to sexual offences with two young girls. In an interview on Canadian radio, the cardinal himself said: "I think a certain number of people have more chance of being elected than me." Angelo Scola, another front-runner, is burdened by an incomprehensible theology and an excessive proximity to Italy's political right. Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley, another promising candidate, has been criticized for allegedly dragging his feet in investigating sex abuse cases.
Candidate bashing is standard Roman practice in the pre-conclave, as is canvassing for one's own favorite candidate. German Cardinal Walter Brandmüller is excellently prepared for the latter activity. He had his wine cellar properly stocked, and he has been meeting with other cardinals every day in his apartment directly above the vestry at St. Peter's Basilica. Brandmüller, one of the staunch conservatives, is campaigning for Albert Malcolm Ranjith Patabendige Don, the archbishop of Colombo in Sri Lanka. Ranjith is known for wanting to have his priests trained by members of the traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X.
The cardinals, for their part, are pleased that things are finally getting underway. Most expect to have a new pope by Wednesday afternoon at the earliest or, perhaps more likely, on Thursday.
At the shop of papal tailor Gammarelli, it also seems clear that a decision is immanent. His show window had been cleared out by the weekend. The red shoes and the fur-lined cape (rabbit!) are on their way to the Vatican.
"We will see what the new pope's measurements are in a few days," says Gammarelli. And what will he do with the articles he has already made? "You can always alter average measurements. To do so, I'll just have to visit the new pope in the Vatican."
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
*********Locked-away cardinals must eat ‘plain’ food while voting on next pope
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, March 12, 2013 13:43 EDT
The cardinals locked away to choose the next pope will be served plain but wholesome food — and nothing so delicious that they will want to drag out their deliberations, an Italian newspaper reported on its website on Tuesday.
The nuns who will cook for the 115 cardinals during the papal conclave at their Casa Santa Marta residence “are already preparing meals of soup, spaghetti, small meat kebabs and boiled vegetables”, the Corriere della Sera reported.
“All of the cardinals consider these dishes as rather forgettable compared to the menus at the restaurants in Rome,” the paper added.
“Perhaps this food, similar to that served in hospitals, will help to speed up the choice of a successor,” it concluded.
The Canadian cardinal Thomas Christopher Collins joked about the fare on offer at the conclave as he went to a restaurant near the Vatican, the Venerina, two days before the conclave began.
“Make me a nice dish of carbonara,” he asked the waiter, referring to the classic Italian spaghetti dish with a cream sauce containing ham and eggs. “Because after the third day of the conclave, if we haven’t elected a pope, they’ll give us dry bread and water.”
********Vatican 360: A Virtual Tour of the Catholic State
Where exactly is the monastery where Benedict XVI will live now that he has stepped down? What about the hotel where the 115 cardinals are staying while they are in Rome choosing a new pope? Join SPIEGEL ONLINE for a virtual tour.
Click this link for a virtual tour of the Catholic State: just move your cursor around the image..really cool.http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/a-virtual-tour-of-the-vatican-a-888488.html
US deems North Korea nuclear strike unlikely without threat to dynasty
Intelligence report comes as North Korea state press say people ready to 'rain bullets on the enemy' amid increasing tensions
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 12 March 2013 19.28 GMT
North Korea is unlikely to carry out its bellicose threats to unleash a nuclear attack on the US and South Korea unless the Kim dynasty's control of the communist regime is threatened, the White House intelligence chief said on Tuesday.
But James Clapper, the US director of national intelligence, cautioned that Pyongyang remains an unpredictable and serious threat because it is difficult to gauge at what point North Korea's leadership would feel its existence to be in jeopardy.
Clapper's assessment to a Senate committee on Tuesday came as the North Korean state press said people are ready to "rain bullets on the enemy" amid increasing tensions since Pyongyang announced the 1953 armistice with Seoul was at an end.
State-run television reported mass rallies across North Korea against the US and said Kim Jong-un had told troops to be on "maximum alert" for a potential war. Kim told troops stationed near disputed waters that have been the scene of previous clashes that "war can break out right now".
Earlier, North Korea threatened to launch a nuclear strike against the US and South Korea. North Korea has blamed Seoul's joint military exercises this month with the US for the increased tensions. But Washington said Pyongyang is lashing out with "belligerent rhetoric" after the UN security council imposed new sanctions over North Korea's underground test of a nuclear weapon last month.
"The intelligence community has long assessed that, in Pyongyang's view, its nuclear capabilities are intended for deterrence, international prestige and coercive diplomacy. We do not know Pyongyang's nuclear doctrine or employment concepts," said Clapper.
"Although we assess with low confidence that the North would only attempt to use nuclear weapons against US forces or allies to preserve the Kim regime, we do not know what would constitute, from the North's perspective, crossing that threshold."
Clapper described the threats from Pyongyang as "very belligerent" and said he is "very concerned about the actions of the new young leader", Kim Jong-un. "The rhetoric, while propaganda-laced, is an indicator of their attitude," he said.
Last week the North Korean military issued a statement saying it "will make a strike of justice at any target anytime as it pleases without limit".
Pyongyang's navy chas lashed with South Korean forces three times since 1999. Three years ago Seoul accused Pyongyang of torpedoing a South Korean warship, killing 46 sailors. In 2010, 50 South Koreans died when North Korea shelled an island claimed by Pyongyang.
One US official pointed up a warning by Barack Obama's national security adviser, Tom Donilon, on Monday in which he warned North Korea about the export of nuclear materials.
Donilon said that the "transfer of nuclear weapons or nuclear materials to other states or non-state entities" would be considered "a grave threat to the United States and our allies and we will hold North Korea fully accountable for the consequences".
The official said that, over the long term, for Pyongyang to share nuclear technology and know-how with the US's enemies is potentially a much graver threat than North Korea launching an attack itself.
North Korea puts troops on 'maximum alert' for possible war with South
North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un, tells troops stationed near disputed waters that 'war can break out right now'
Tania Branigan in Beijing
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 12 March 2013 16.01 GMT
North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un, has urged frontline troops to be on "maximum alert" for a potential war, state media reported, in its latest rhetorical volley following new UN sanctions. Analysts believe the sabre-rattling is aimed at shoring up domestic support as much as reaching the international community, possibly in part because Kim is a young and relatively new leader.
He told troops stationed near disputed waters where previous clashes with the South have occurred that "war can break out right now", state media reported. The North has also said it has cancelled the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean war and threatened the US with a pre-emptive nuclear strike.
Seoul's defence ministry described Pyongyang's recent statements as an attempt to apply "psychological pressure" to the South. Experts pointed out that the North has vowed an end to the armistice on several previous occasions, while a United Nations spokesman said the agreement had been adopted by the general assembly and could not be ended unilaterally.
While calls to one North-South hotline have gone unanswered, other communication channels are still working; on Monday and Tuesday, a military line was used to allow hundreds of South Korean workers to cross the border to the jointly run Kaesong industrial complex, officials in the South said.
"Even by North Korean standards they are acting a bit extremely and recklessly, but I think they are barking rather than being about to bite," said Han Seung-joo, a former South Korean foreign minister.
Andrei Lankov, of Kookmin University in Seoul, added: "It's how their diplomacy is done. A Japanese foreign minister would express 'deep concern at moves within the UN security council'. In North Korea you get a deputy minister yelling: 'We are going to destroy the world', but it's still the same message."
But he said that while the North did not want war, it might still take some form of military action if Seoul did not increase aid.
"If the South don't pay they are going to get punished – it's a bit like a shopkeeper who doesn't pay a local tough. His window is going to be broken," Lankov said.
Experts say the flurry of statements are not only intended to express Pyongyang's anger at tougher sanctions and US-South Korean military drills to the international community but are also sending a domestic message.
Lankov suggested Pyongyang wanted increased aid from Seoul, but added that on the home front: "If you want to ensure cohesion and unity, nothing helps as much as an air-raid drill."
Though that is hardly unknown for the North, some argue its new leader has turned the volume of rhetoric up – such as the senior US official cited by CNN, who suggested "Kim Jong-un was more aware of the off-ramps to end these escalations".
One argument is that Kim Jong-un may feel a greater need to establish his authority with the people and the military. Others say it is not clear to what extent he is making the decisions and how influential parts of the ruling elite – in particular the army and family members – may be in shaping outcomes.
Lankov said there was no indication that he was not in charge, and noted the replacement of numerous military commanders over the last year, but said the North's elite politics remained so mysterious that even the names of the key figures were mostly unknown.
Han Seung-joo said: "I don't think he's calling all the shots. He certainly is being prompted and pushed to act the way he does … At the same time he probably thinks that this will help to maintain and consolidate his position."
Daniel Pinkston, of the International Crisis Group, said in some respects Kim might be stronger than his father was at the end of his reign.
He added: "The institutions and ruling elite have vested interests in maintaining the status quo. He sits at the pinnacle holding the keys to everything … They need Kim more than he needs them."
But he noted: "The likelihood of miscalculation perhaps increases slightly through the lack of experience."
The new government in Seoul also adds to the unpredictability of the situation. South Korea's defence ministry spokesman, Kim Min-seok, said on Tuesday there were no signs that North Korea would attack anytime soon, but warned that if it did, it would suffer "much more powerful damage" than whatever it inflicted on South Korea.
March 12, 2013
South Korea Disputes North’s Dismissal of Armistice
By CHOE SANG-HUN
SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea has begun evacuating some citizens into tunnels with emergency provisions and putting military camouflage on buses and trucks, the South Korean Defense Ministry said Tuesday.
The South Korean officials characterized the moves as feeding a war fever — a tactic that North Korean leaders have used in past times of tension, suggesting their country is under imminent threat in order to build support among their people.
The threats on both sides of the border have been intensifying in recent weeks, after the North’s third nuclear test and resulting international sanctions. The North has gone further than it has in the past — saying it could stage a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the United States and Seoul.
“All the enemies quite often playing with fire in the sensitive hot spot should be thrown into a caldron once I issue an order,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency quoted its leader, Kim Jong-un, as saying Monday during a visit to a front-line artillery unit that faces South Korean marines on a nearby island. “Once an order is issued, you should break the waists of the crazy enemies, totally cut their windpipes and thus clearly show them what a real war is like.”
The South, under the new government of President Park Geun-hye — the South’s first female leader — has also issued tough statements, saying that if the North proceeded with nuclear attacks, its government would be “erased from the earth.”
On Tuesday, the South scoffed at the North’s announcement on Monday that the North had nullified the 1953 Korean War armistice, saying such unilateral action is prohibited under the terms of the cease-fire. Despite the bluster, there have been no indications that the North was using its declared end of the armistice to take any drastic steps.
Kim Min-seok, spokesman for the South Korean Defense Ministry, said Tuesday that there had been no sign of imminent nuclear or missile tests by the North or hostilities along the inter-Korean border. He said that the “rhetorical threats” flooding the North’s state-run news media had been aimed at putting “psychological pressure” on the South, which just began its annual Key Resolve joint military exercises with the United States, which are in addition to their two-month Foal Eagle drill that began on March 1.
“Through a series of political and military activities, North Korea is strengthening the solidarity of its people at home, while using the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises as a pretext to threaten and pressure South Korea and the United States to change their policies,” Mr. Kim said. “If they launch a provocation, we will respond more strongly and make sure that they suffer far more.”
Stressing the alliance against North Korean threats, the office of the South Korean president announced Tuesday that she planned to meet President Obama in Washington in early May in her first such meeting since taking office on Feb. 25.
In Washington, Gen. C. Robert Kehler, the commander of United States Strategic Command, which oversees all American nuclear forces, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that “deterring North Korea from acting irrationally is our No. 1 priority.” He said that effort begins with the alliance with South Korea, but extends “to other forces that are available” in the Pacific and “ultimately, all the way back to our nuclear deterrent.”
“We are capable of offering to the president a full range of options,” General Kehler said, referring to the American options should the North initiate an attack. “Whatever he chooses to use in response to a North Korean act, I believe we can make available to him.” But he said that the intelligence agencies and the military were examining whether “the limited missile defense that we have in place” in Alaska and California needed to be altered to keep pace with the North’s newly demonstrated capabilities.
Raising the fear of military clashes by threatening to scrap the armistice has long been part of North Korea’s efforts to draw Washington into negotiations. North Korea demands a formal peace treaty to end the Korean War, as well as security guarantees from the Americans. It also seeks direct talks with Washington for the perceived prestige it would bring the country.
As the crisis over North Korea’s nuclear ambition has dragged on, some analysts have argued that Washington should try negotiating a comprehensive deal that addresses North Korea’s concerns in return for the North’s giving up its nuclear weapons. But South Korean and American officials also suspect that North Korea would turn talks for a peace treaty into endless haggling, demanding the removal of the 28,500 American troops stationed in South Korea and the reduction of American arms in the region.
In Vienna, a group that monitors nuclear testing said Tuesday that it had been unable to discern what type of fissile material had been used in the North Korean nuclear test. “It is very unlikely that we will register anything at this point,” said Annika Thunborg, a spokeswoman for the group, the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, in an e-mail message.
The group’s monitoring system had detected a seismic disturbance from the test that registered a magnitude of 4.9 from 96 tracking stations, she said, but without access to the test site there was little else it could do.
Scientists had hoped detection of airborne particulates would help determine whether the North had used plutonium to fuel the test, as it had done earlier, or uranium. A switch to uranium could enable the North to increase its nuclear arsenal.
Had the test ban treaty been in force, Ms. Thunborg said, “on-site inspections would have been an option to search the location for evidence of a nuclear explosion.”
“Without the treaty in force, we cannot make use of this option, unfortunately,” she added.
The treaty was negotiated between 1994 and 1996 but has not taken force because some nations have not signed it, including North Korea, while others have signed but not ratified it, including the United States and China.
Rick Gladstone contributed reporting from New York, and David E. Sanger from Washington.
March 13, 2013
In Latest Insult, North Korea Targets South Korean Leader’s Dress
By CHOE SANG-HUN
SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea on Wednesday launched its first direct personal attack on South Korea’s first female president since her inauguration two weeks ago, blaming rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula on her "venomous swish of skirt."
By targeting Park Geun-hye, North Korea added a curious sartorial element to the verbal barrage it has deployed since the United States and South Korea launched a joint military exercise on March 1, followed by a fresh round of sanctions from the United Nations Security Council.
"This frenzy kicked up by the South Korean warmongers is in no way irrelevant with the venomous swish of skirt made by the one who again occupies" the presidential Blue House, the North’s Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces said in a statement, referring to Ms. Park, who returned to the residence 33 years after her father, the former President Park Chung-hee, was assassinated.
The statement, which was carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency, reiterated that Pyongyang would not give up its nuclear weapons, calling them a guarantee of security against the United States.
"Warmongers would be well advised to keep in mind that the DPRK is no longer restrained," it said, adding that it nullified the Korean War cease-fore as of Monday. DPRK stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name.
In North Korea’s high-strung official language at times of tension with the outside world, sexist and personal vitriol is not uncommon. The country had once called Hillary Clinton, the former U.S. secretary of state, a "minister in a skirt," and deemed various senior U.S. and South Korean officials "human scum," "war maniacs" and "running dogs." It used to call former President Lee Myung-bak, whom Ms. Park replaced on Feb. 25, a "rat" and its state media carried cartoons that showed Mr. Lee bring torn apart and soldiers firing rifles and hurling hand axes at his image.
But until now, North Korea had not attacked Ms. Park directly.
For her part, Ms. Park has reminded the North that the South was open to dialogue to “build trust” while vowing a strong response to a provocation and warning that Pyongyang’s pursuit of nuclear weapons would end up in "self-destruction.”
On Wednesday, Ms. Park’s office stuck to the same message.
"If necessary, we plan to send a message to North Korea," said Kim Haing, a spokeswoman for Ms. Park, adding that the two Koreas still had communications lines open following Pyongyang’s cutting off of a Red Cross line and a hot line with the U.S. military in South Korea in recent days.
Despite the shrill rhetoric, there has no sign of hostilites along the inter-Korean border, officials said. Several hundreds of South Koreans are still commuting daily to the joint industrial complex in the North Korean border town of Kaesong.
South Korea said the North’s threats were aimed at putting pressure on Washington and Seoul to return to the negotiating table with concessions. But its soldiers also kept their guards up for a possible military attack like a 2010 artillery barrage on a South Korean border island that killed four people.
North Korea wants South Korea to lift the trade and investment ban that Mr. Lee’s government imposed on North Korea following the sinking of a South Korean warship in 2010, which killed 46 sailors and was blamed on a North Koren torpedo attack. It also demands that South Korea honor the past inter-Korean summit agreements that promised large-scale investments.
Ms. Park’s government says that North Korea must first win "trust" and says that provocations would only deepen its isolation.
March 12, 2013
Rains or Not, India Is Falling Short on Drinkable Water
By GARDINER HARRIS
CHERRAPUNJI, India — Almost no place on Earth gets more rain than this small hill town. Nearly 40 feet falls every year — more than 12 times what Seattle gets. Storms often drop more than a foot a day. The monsoon is epic.
But during the dry season from November through March, many in this corner of India struggle to find water. Some are forced to walk long distances to fill jugs in springs or streams. Taps in Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya State, spout water for just a few hours a day. And when it arrives, the water is often not drinkable.
That people in one of the rainiest places on the planet struggle to get potable water is emblematic of the profound water challenges that India faces. Every year, about 600,000 Indian children die because of diarrhea or pneumonia, often caused by toxic water and poor hygiene, according to Unicef.
Half of the water supply in rural areas, where 70 percent of India’s population lives, is routinely contaminated with toxic bacteria. Employment in manufacturing in India has declined in recent years, and a prime reason may be the difficulty companies face getting water.
And India’s water problems are likely to worsen. A report that McKinsey & Company helped to write predicted that India would need to double its water-generation capacity by the year 2030 to meet the demands of its surging population.
A separate analysis concluded that groundwater supplies in many of India’s cities — including Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Chennai — are declining at such a rapid rate that they may run dry within a few years.
The water situation in Gurgaon, the new mega-city south of Delhi, became so acute last year that a judge ordered a halt to new construction until projects could prove they were using recycled water instead of groundwater.
On Feb. 28, India’s finance minister, Palaniappan Chidambaram, proposed providing $2.8 billion to the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation in the coming fiscal year, a 17 percent increase.
But water experts describe this as very little in a country where more than 100 million people scrounge for water from unimproved sources.
Some water problems stem from India’s difficult geography. Vast parts of the country are arid, and India has just 4 percent of the world’s fresh water shared among 16 percent of its people.
But the country’s struggle to provide water security to the 2.6 million residents of Meghalaya, blessed with more rain than almost any place, shows that the problems are not all environmental.
Arphisha lives in Sohrarim, a village in Meghalaya, and she must walk a mile during the dry season to the local spring, a trip she makes four to five times a day. Sometimes her husband fetches water in the morning, but mostly the task is left to her. Indeed, fetching water is mostly women’s work in India.
On a recent day, Arphisha, who has only one name, took the family laundry to the spring, which is a pipe set in a cement abutment. While her 2-year-old son, Kevinson, played nearby, Arphisha beat clothes on a cement and stone platform in front of the spring. Her home has electricity several hours a day and heat from a coal stove. But there is no running water. When it rains, she uses a barrel to capture runoff from her roof.
“It’s nice having the sunshine now, but my life is much easier during the monsoon,” she said.
Kevinson interrupted her work by bringing her an empty plastic bottle. “Water,” he said. Arphisha bent down, filled the bottle and gave it back to him. “Say, ‘Thank you,’ ” she said. “Say, ‘Thank you.’ ” When he silently drank, turned and went back to playing, Arphisha laughed and shrugged her shoulders.
In the somewhat larger town of Mawmihthied several miles away, Khrawbok, the village headman, walked nearly a mile on a goat path to point out the spring most residents visit to get drinking water. Taps in Mawmihthied have running water for two hours every morning, but the water is not fit to drink.
Khrawbok said that officials would like to provide better water, but that there was no money.
Even in India’s great cities, water problems are endemic, in part because system maintenance is nearly nonexistent. Water plants in New Delhi, for instance, generate far more water per customer than many cities in Europe, but taps in the city operate on average just three hours a day because 30 percent to 70 percent of the water is lost to leaky pipes and theft.
As a result, many residents install pumps to pull as much water out of the pipes as possible. But those pumps also suck contaminants from surrounding soil.
The collective annual costs of pumps and other such measures are three times what the city would need to maintain its water system adequately, said Smita Misra, a senior economist at the World Bank.
“India is lagging far behind the rest of the world in providing water and sanitation both to its rural and urban populations,” Ms. Misra said. “Not one city in India provides water on an all-day, everyday basis.”
And even as towns and cities increase water supplies, most fail to build the far more expensive infrastructure to treat sewage. So as families connect their homes to new water lines and build toilets, many flush the resulting untreated sewage into the nearest creek, making many of the less sophisticated water systems that much more dangerous.
“As drinking water reaches more households, all the resulting sewage has become a huge problem,” said Tatiana Gallego-Lizon, a principal urban development specialist at the Asian Development Bank.
In Meghalaya, efforts to improve the area’s water supply have been stymied by bickering among competing government agencies, said John F. Kharshiing, chairman of the Grand Council of Chiefs of Meghalaya. In one infamous example, the state built a pump near a river to bring water to towns at higher elevations.
“But they didn’t realize that the pump would be underwater during the monsoon,” Mr. Kharshiing said. “So it shorted out that first year, and it’s never been used since.”
Asia-Pacfic nations face major water security crisis: development bank
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, March 13, 2013 6:59 EDT
Nearly two thirds of people in the Asia-Pacific region have no clean, piped water at home despite the region’s strong economic growth, according to a major report released on Wednesday.
Water security is a major concern for most countries in the region, but the problem is poor management and a lack of investment in infrastructure rather than short supplies, said the report released by the Asian Development Bank.
“What is lacking in Asia is good water governance,” Ranesh Vaidya, a water specialist from Nepal who helped prepare the report, told journalists at its launch at the ADB headquarters in Manila.
“There is a definite link between good governance and good water.”
Studies for the Asian Water Development Outlook report, prepared by the ADB and other research institutes, found that 37 out of 49 countries in the region had low levels of water security.
The percentage of Asia’s population with access to proper toilets had risen from 36 percent in 1990 to 58 percent in 2010, according to the report.
But that left 1.74 billion people without regular access to proper toilets, with nearly half of those still suffering “the indignity of practicing open defecation”.
It said most of those people were in South Asia.
In contrast, Southeast Asia and East Asia were described as “bright spots”, where access to proper toilets had expanded to at least 64 percent of their populations, the report said.
The report said 900 million people across the Asia-Pacific had gained access to clean, piped water from 1990 to 2010, describing this as an important achievement.
However 65 percent of people across the Asia Pacific still lived without secure household water supplies.
The situation was particularly dire in Pacific and South Asian nations where only 21 and 23 percent of their populations respectively had access to piped water.
“While the Asia-Pacific region has become an economic powerhouse, it is alarming that no developing country in the region can be considered water secure,” ADB vice president for sustainable development Bindu Lohani said.
“Countries must urgently improve water governance through inspired leadership and creative policy making.”
The report said $59 billion needed to be spent across the region to get water supplies up to standard, and another $71 billion to improve sanitation.
Taliban stopping polio vaccinations, says Afghan governor
Immunisation programme halted in Nuristan province, raising fears that opposition has spread from Pakistan
Emma Graham-Harrison in Kabul
The Guardian, Tuesday 12 March 2013 16.31 GMT
The Taliban have halted an annual polio vaccination campaign in a remote part of Afghanistan, according to a senior official, raising concerns that opposition to the critical immunisation drive could be spilling across from insurgent groups in neighbouring Pakistan.
The Taliban have controlled parts of poor, isolated and mountainous Nuristan province for several years, but they have never before prevented medical workers reaching children in their strongholds, said the governor Tamim Nuristani.
"For the past three years Waygal district has been under the Taliban, they are very strong there. For the last two years the vaccine process went on in the district, but this year they stopped it," he told the Guardian by phone from the provincial capital, an island of government control in the restive area.
"They are saying in terms of religion it is a problem and we have to stop it. In Kamdesh district we also have problems, they have stopped the programme," he added.
Afghanistan is one of just three countries, along with Pakistan and Nigeria, where polio is still endemic. Kabul reported a surge of cases in 2011, and in some areas only two-thirds of children have been protected against the disease, which can kill or paralyse.
There have long been fears that the Pakistani Taliban's opposition to polio vaccination campaigns, which militant leaders have banned at least three times, could influence Afghan groups which have so far supported or at least tolerated immunisation teams.
A spokesman for the Taliban confirmed that the anti-polio campaign was stopped in parts of Nuristan, but denied the insurgent group played any role.
"I want to refute this. The Taliban never stop the vaccination. It's a health issue. We have no problem with it," a spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said. "Local people are stopping the process. The Taliban can't force the local people to let it go ahead."
But Nuristani said he had checked with local clerics, who did not consider the vaccination un-Islamic, and the people of Nuristan who, he said, were keen to protect their children. "I am sure in religious terms there is no problem. I have spoken with several members of our Ulema council and they have said there is no problem with it, because it is a health issue."
The UN, which helps organise the national vaccination programme, said the Afghan Taliban had not generally tried to prevent healthcare workers reaching children.
"We have not faced any policy level resistance from the Taliban," said Vidhya Ganesh, deputy representative for Unicef in Afghanistan.
"Usually it's local negotiations, local issues which we can resolve through our interlocutors in the community. Over the last year access has actually been improving quite well," she added.
But there are believed to be a high number of foreign fighters among insurgents in Nuristan, many of them with very extreme views. Around a year ago internal refugees fleeing Waygal and Kamdesh described the rule of a shrouded "vice and virtue police" said to surpass even hardline Taliban. Many of the men spoke with foreign accents.
Across the border, the Pakistani Taliban this summer in effect banned polio eradication in South Waziristan, one of the most troubled areas of the country, in an effort to force the US to end drone strikes.
Leaflets distributed in the area accused health workers who administer anti-polio drops of being US spies. Several have since been killed.
The Afghan health ministry declined to comment on the polio campaign in Nuristan, saying senior officials were in meetings to discuss reports from newly returned vaccination workers.
• Mokhtar Amiri contributed reporting