March 19, 2013
U.S. Treasury Secretary and Chinese President Meet
By JANE PERLEZ
BEIJING — Jacob J. Lew, the American Treasury secretary, met with President Xi Jinping of China on Tuesday in the first high-level encounter between American and Chinese officials since Mr. Xi assumed the presidency, and one that recognized sticking points in a relationship that has drifted in the last few months.
Mr. Lew, 57, a master of the intricacies of the United States budget who has less foreign experience than his predecessors, raised the topic of cybersecurity, a significant issue in the relationship between Washington and Beijing, American officials said. He also talked about North Korea’s nuclear program, a topic not normally on a Treasury secretary’s agenda, they said.
Mr. Xi noted that while the United States and China had “enormous shared interests, of course, unavoidably we have some differences.”
It has been unusual for Chinese leaders to draw attention to stark divisions with the United States. Mr. Xi’s choice of words showed confidence that he could manage the problems, and hinted at a lowering of expectations about developing a strategic relationship with the United States, an idea that had been proffered in the past, diplomats here said.
Contacts between Washington and Beijing have been sparse during China’s political transition. It began in November when Mr. Xi took over as head of the Communist Party, and ended last week with his ascension to the presidency at the annual session of the National People’s Congress.
For reasons of protocol, President Obama did not speak with Mr. Xi until last week, when he called the new Chinese president to congratulate him and to outline the issues at hand, including North Korea and cybersecurity.
The White House has directly accused China of widespread theft of data from American computer networks, including those of American businesses involved in the Chinese market. China’s cyberespionage against American commercial interests has attracted attention in Congress that could have negative consequences for China, analysts said.
“If we don’t see progress, that could increase the prospects for a political backlash that would lead to greater scrutiny of Chinese investment in the United States,” said Myron A. Brilliant, executive vice president and head of international affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington.
On North Korea, the Obama administration wants to know whether Beijing will enforce the new sanctions that the United Nations Security Council imposed on the North, with China voting in favor. The administration has also announced an expansion of missile defense capabilities in an effort to deter North Korea, a message that implied that China should restrain its nuclear-armed ally.
Mr. Xi appeared to have gone out of his way to meet Mr. Lew before leaving Friday for his first foreign trip as president, which is to include two days in Moscow, followed by a three-nation tour of Africa. Mr. Lew is the first foreign official Mr. Xi has met as president, and Mr. Xi endowed some meaning to his phrase to Mr. Lew that he attached “great importance” to the relationship between China and the United States.
At the same time, however, Chinese commentators have noted that Secretary of State John Kerry chose to make his first trip abroad an extended journey to Europe and the Middle East, unlike his predecessor, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who visited Asian nations first, including China. Mr. Kerry is expected to be in China next month as part of an Asian tour, administration officials said.
This trip is Mr. Lew’s first to China, according to administration officials. The previous two Treasury secretaries, Henry M. Paulson Jr. and Timothy F. Geithner, were experts on China, and for the past seven years they played dominant roles in the relationship between the countries.
Mr. Lew arrived in Beijing on Tuesday morning and went almost immediately to the Great Hall of the People. He was accompanied by Lael Brainard, under secretary of the Treasury for international affairs, and Evan Medeiros, a senior official of the National Security Council who specializes in China.
As Mr. Lew and Mr. Xi sat side by side in large, white-upholstered armchairs, Mr. Lew stressed in brief comments overheard by reporters that the United States had seen 14 quarters of economic growth, that the housing market was “coming back,” and that a “revolution” was under way in the energy sector, a reference to shale gas production. After that, reporters were ushered out.
The meeting lasted about 45 minutes, according to Mr. Lew’s aides. The secretary stressed the need for a relationship marked by “healthy competition rather than strategic rivalry,” a United States official said.
Later, Mr. Lew met with Xu Shaoshi, the new chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, the powerful agency that manages the domestic economy. He had dinner with the new finance minister, Lou Jiwei, and Wednesday he is to meet with China’s new prime minister, Li Keqiang.
Mr. Lew had his first lunch in China at the Bao Yuan Dumpling House, an informal restaurant close to the United States Embassy. There, with two staff members, he ate a variety of house specialties, using chopsticks. The bill: roughly $6 a person.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: March 19, 2013
An earlier version of this article misspelled the surname of a senior official of the National Security Council. He is Evan Medeiros, not Madeiros.
North Korea: B-52 flights an ‘unpardonable provocation’
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, March 19, 2013 21:56 EDT
North Korea on Wednesday condemned training flights by nuclear-capable US B-52 bombers over the Korean peninsula as an “unpardonable provocation” and threatened military action if they continue.
The Pentagon says at least one B-52 has flown over South Korea in recent weeks as part of joint South Korea-US military exercises that Pyongyang has denounced as rehearsals for invasion.
“It is an unpardonable provocation,” a North Korean foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
“The US is introducing a strategic nuclear strike means to the Korean peninsula at a time when its situation is inching close to the brink of war,” the spokesman said.
Military tensions on the Korean peninsula are at their highest level for years, with North Korea — angered by UN sanctions imposed after its nuclear test last month — threatening a second Korean War backed by nuclear weapons.
The foreign ministry said Pyongyang was closely watching the ongoing exercises and vowed a “strong military counteraction, should the strategic bomber make such a sortie to the peninsula again”.
Pentagon spokesman George Little said Monday that a B-52 from Andersen Air Force base in Guam flew over South Korea on March 8.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported that another B-52 sortie was carried out Tuesday.
B-52s have taken part in annual exercises on the peninsula before, but Little said the Pentagon wanted to underline their use this time given the heightened tensions.
The flights should be seen as underscoring US commitment and capacity to defend Seoul against an attack from the North, Little said.
That message was echoed in Seoul on Monday by visiting Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, who promised to provide South Korea with every available military resource “offered by the US nuclear umbrella”.
South Korea on alert for cyber-attacks after major network goes down
Computer systems of banks and broadcasters are interrupted, with fingers immediately pointed at North Korea
Tania Branigan in Beijing
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 20 March 2013 10.00 GMT
South Korea is investigating a suspected cyber-attack that paralysed systems at major media and banks on Wednesday, amid speculation that the North could be responsible.
The computer networks of three broadcasters - KBS, MBC and YTN - and two banks, Shinhan and Nonghyup, froze at around 2pm local time. Shinhan said its ATMs, payment terminals and mobile banking in the South were affected. TV broadcasts were not affected.
Warnings reportedly appeared on some computer screens from a previously unknown group calling itself the "WhoisTeam", showing skulls and a message stating it was only the beginning of "our movement".
A presidential aide said it had not been determined whether North Korea was involved, state news agency Yonhap reported.
The South's communications watchdog raised its alert level on cyber-attacks to level three on a five-tier scale, tripling the number of staff monitoring the situation.
A police official told Reuters: "We sent down teams to all affected sites. We are now assessing the situation. This incident is pretty massive and will take a few days to collect evidence."
Defence minister Kim Kwan-jin covened an emergency security meeting and raised the military's cyberattack readiness level from three to four on the five-tier system, Yonhap reported.
The development comes amid high tensions on the Korean peninsula. Pyongyang reacted furiously after the United Nations Security Council tightened sanctions earlier this month because of its latest nuclear test.
Last week it accused the United States and South Korea of staging cyber attacks against it following a two day internet outage that disrupted its main news services and websites. Access to the internet is restricted to a tiny proportion of the North's population, perhaps a few thousand.
A spokesman for Bangkok-based Loxley Pacific, the broadband internet provider for North Korea, told the Associated Press on Friday that the origin of that attack was unclear. The South denied involvement and the US military declined to comment.
Daniel Pinkston, north east Asia project director for the International Crisis Group, said the timing of today's problems was interesting given Pyongyang's accusations of US cyber-attacks, and said that there were ongoing concerns about North Korea developing its hacking capabilities.
Last year the top US commander in the region told a Congressional hearing: "North Korea employs sophisticated computer hackers trained to launch cyber infiltration and cyber attacks."
James Thurman, the commander of US Forces Korea, suggested they were "increasingly employed against a variety of targets including military, governmental, educational and commercial institutions."
Experts believe the South has been previously targeted by hackers from the North. Anti-virus firm McAfee said it believed a 10-day denial of service attack in 2011 originated from the North and suggested it was an attempt to test the South's computer defences in preparation for potential future conflicts. Another attack on a newspaper last year was also blamed on North Korean hackers.
"It's got to be a hacking attack," Lim Jong-in, dean of Korea University's Graduate School of Information Security, told the Associated Press. "Such simultaneous shutdowns cannot be caused by technical glitches."
He warned that it would take months to determine the source of the attacks.
Barack Obama visits Israel in effort to boost relations with Netanyahu
US president arrives for talks with Binyamin Netanyahu in attempt by both sides to thaw frosty relations
Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 20 March 2013 12.28 GMT
Barack Obama landed at Tel Aviv airport on Wednesday for a three-day visit to Israel and Palestine that the White House – anxious to set low-to-zero expectations of tangible outcomes – has billed primarily as a listening exercise.
Talks between the US president and the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, were expected to focus on Iran, Syria and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The president will also travel to Ramallah to meet Palestinian leaders.
Israeli air space was due to close for about an hour for the arrival of Air Force One. Obama was greeted by Netanyahu, who was sworn in this week as leader of the new Israeli government; President Shimon Peres; other senior politicians and dignitaries; a contingent of Israeli soldiers; and a military orchestra.
The US president's first task is to inspect an Iron Dome mobile missile defence unit – funded by the US – that has been brought to Ben Gurion airport. He will then fly to Jerusalem by helicopter, though most of his entourage of 600 will travel by road, requiring the closure of the main Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway.
Obama and Netanyahu were due to hold five hours of talks. Despite the lack of personal warmth between the two leaders it will be the tenth time they have met face to face since both took office in early 2008. No other world leader has clocked up as many meetings with Obama.
The Iranian nuclear programme is top of the agenda for Netanyahu, closely followed by the deteriorating security situation in neighbouring Syria. The stalled peace process with the Palestinians will also be discussed, along with Israel's regional relationships, principally with Turkey and Egypt.
Some US and Israeli officials say the trip is also aimed at recalibrating the tetchy relationship between the two leaders at the start of their second terms and building trust on both sides.
The White House has said it is a "chance to connect with the Israeli people", who are largely distrustful of Obama. A poll published last week in the Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv found that only 10% of Israelis had a favourable attitude towards Obama, with 17% defining their attitude towards the US president as "hateful".
As part of his overture, Obama will to deliver his keynote speech of the visit to an invited audience of Israeli university students at the International Convention Centre in Jerusalem on Thursday.
He will travel to Ramallah to meet the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and the prime minister, Salaam Fayyad. The seven-mile journey will be made by heliicopter, thus avoiding crossing the 24ft-high concrete separation wall that snakes through Jerusalem, separating off parts of the east of the city and the West Bank. However, the president will have a bird's-eye view of the barrier and some of the 130-plus Jewish settlements that punctuate the West Bank landscape.
Many Palestinians are hostile to Obama, believing he failed to live up to early pledges to halt Israeli colonisation of the West Bank and tried to obstruct their quest for recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations. On Tuesday, scuffles broke out between anti-Obama protesters and police near the Muqata, the presidential compound in Ramallah where Thursday's meeting is due to take place. Many posters bearing Obama's face have been torn or painted over.
According to the Palestinian Authority, 3,000 police officers will be on duty in the city alongside US security personnel. Five thousand Israeli police will be stationed in Jerusalem for each day of Obama's visit.
Both Israelis and Palestinians are sceptical about the chances of any real movement on the decades-old conflict. A poll published in the Jerusalem Post on Tuesday suggested eight out of 10 Israelis do not believe that Obama will succeed in brokering a peace deal in the next four years.
Mustafa Barghouti, an independent Palestinian legislator, on Tuesday criticised the visit's stated goal of listening to both sides. "The issue is not about listening but realising the reality of the situation and dealing with it," he told reporters in Ramallah. "The passivity of the United States is dangerous at a time when the whole notion of the two-state solution is at risk. Passivity is unacceptable."
However, it emerged on Tuesday that the secretary of state, John Kerry – who has stated his commitment to trying to rekindle peace talks between the two sides – is to return to Jerusalem at the weekend to follow up on Obama's visit.
The presidential entourage leaves Israel for Jordan on Friday afternoon but Kerry will head back on Saturday for further talks over dinner with Netanyahu. He had not been expected to return to the region until next month.
In January, Kerry warned US senators that the chances of achieving a Palestinian state alongside Israel were diminishing. If a way forward was not found, he said, "the door, or window, or whatever you want to call it, to the possibility of a two-state solution could shut on everybody and that would be disastrous in my judgment".
Obama's itinerary for his 50-hour visit includes visits to the Israel Museum to view the Dead Sea Scrolls, Israel's haunting Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem, and the graves of Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism, and the assassinated Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Obama will make a second trip – again by helicopter – to the Palestinian territories on Friday to visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
His entourage has taken over the historic King David hotel, which overlooks the walls of Jerusalem's Old City.
Obama urged: act tough on Israel or risk collapse of two-state solution
Critics warn that without US intervention Netanyahu's expansion of settlements will doom peace talks and threaten Israel itself
Chris McGreal, US correspondent
The Guardian, Tuesday 19 March 2013 18.35 GMT
Barack Obama begins his first official visit to Israel on Wednesday amid growing warnings among some of its leading supporters in the US that the president needs to act more forcefully to save Israel from itself.
The White House has played down expectations that Obama will put any real effort into pressing Israel toward the creation of a Palestinian state after he was burned by an attempt early in his first term to pressure the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, into halting Israeli settlement construction in the occupied territories.
But there is increasing concern among some of Israel's backers in the US that without White House intervention the much promised two-state solution is doomed – and that will endanger Israel.
Among those sounding the warning is the US secretary of state, John Kerry, who said earlier this year that "the possibility of a two-state solution could shut on everybody and that would be disastrous, in my judgment".
The inclusion of hardline pro-settler ministers in Netanyahu's new government, who are expected to press for the continued expansion of Israel's colonies in the West Bank, has heightened concerns in Washington that physical realities on the ground are making the prospect of a negotiated agreement ever more difficult.
Others have pointed up a recent Hebrew University demographic study, which showed that Jews are now in a minority in the occupied territories – suggesting that Israel's democratic and Jewish character are threatened by its reluctance to give up territory to an independent Palestine.
That led David Aaron Miller – a negotiator in efforts by the Clinton administration to broker an Israeli-Palestinian agreement and an adviser on Middle East policy to six US secretaries of state – to advise Obama to "take a quick tour around Israel's demographic neighbourhood" in order to understand the issue that might be most persuasive in pressuring Israeli leaders to take negotiations with the Palestinians seriously.
"Demographic trends mean that Israel can't have it all. It can't be a Jewish state, a democratic state, and a state in control of its whole historical land. It can only have two of its objectives at a time," he wrote in Foreign Policy.
"The demographic imperative probably appeals to Obama, a rational thinker who understands the importance of acting in the present to avoid future catastrophes. He has at least once referred to the demographic realities in his speeches on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But the president also knows from his own political choices that getting politicians to take risks now to prevent disasters and gain rewards later isn't so easy."
It is a warning echoed earlier this month by S Daniel Abraham, a US billionaire, confidante of American and Israeli leaders, and founder of the Center for Middle East Peace in Washington, who chided the president for not using his visit to press Israel's leaders to confront the looming "tipping point".
"Obama should realize that Israel's continued presence in the West Bank is an existential threat to its continuity as a democratic, Jewish state — and time is not on Israel's side," he wrote in the Atlantic.
"Right now – not in five or 10 years, but right now – only 50% of the people living in the Jewish state and in the areas under its control are Jews. The dreaded tipping point – which advocates of the two-solution have been warning about for years – has finally arrived."
That is a warning reinforced by an Oscar-nominated documentary, The Gatekeepers – in which former heads of the Israel's internal security organisation, the Shin Bet, warn that the occupation is endangering Israel – which has shaken up the assumptions among some in the Jewish community and among Israel's other supporters in the US.
Martin Indyk, a former US ambassador to Israel and now vice-president of the Brookings Institution, said it is clear there is a growing sense of alarm among some policymakers in the US. But he said it may be misplaced.
"My sense is that this is the view of Secretary Kerry – that there's an urgency to try to not just resume negotiations but to resolve at least some of the critical issues in the conflict because the two-state solution is in danger of cardiac arrest. I think there is an urgency, but I don't actually think that if the window closes it can't be prised open again," he said.
"The simple reason for that is there is no alternative to the two-state solution – except no solution. And no solution for the time being may suit both sides… in preference to the kind of compromises and the hard decisions that have to be made in order to achieve a solution. We are fond of saying, and our leaders are fond of saying, the status quo is not sustainable. But if you go out there on both sides, especially compared to what is going on around them – in Syria to the north and Egypt to the south – the status quo, it's OK."
Indyk said there will not be movement until leaders on both sides are prepared to make hard decisions, and that Obama is probably unwilling to force that after his "searing experience" of dealing with Netanyahu over the Jewish settlements four years ago.
"I think that there is something achievable, and I actually think it's very important. And that is that President Obama has the opportunity to reintroduce himself to the Israeli public. The first time he introduced himself to them was in Cairo, wherein he gave his speech in June 2009, which was, of course, addressed to the Arab world and not to Israel … And (Israelis) got the impression that he wants to distance the United States from Israel in order to curry favour with the Arab world," he said.
"It is hard to imagine that the president himself is going to do much more than make this visit. There are greener pastures that beckon him in Asia, and you can see, from a variety of other actions that he's taken or hasn't taken in the Middle East, that he would rather turn away from this region. John Kerry has exactly the opposite instinct. He wants to engage in the Middle East and, in particular, he wants to take on the Israeli-Palestinian challenge, and it's a high priority for him."
There have also been calls from inside Israel for Obama to take a strong position with Netanyahu. Alon Liel, a former director general of the foreign ministry in Jerusalem and a former Israeli ambassador to South Africa, said last week that Israel's rule over the occupied territory amounts to an "apartheid state" – a once taboo comparison that is increasingly heard in the US.
He called on Obama to remain at home if he does not plan to warn Israelis about the dangers of the looming "apartheid cliff".
"If you, President Obama, intend to come here for a courtesy visit, don't come. We don't need you here for a courtesy visit," Liel told a conference in Jerusalem.
"You cannot come to an area that exhibits signs of apartheid and ignore them. That would simply be an unethical visit. You yourself know full well that Israel is standing at the apartheid cliff. If you don't deal with this topic during your visit, the responsibility will at the end of the process also lie with you."
As Obama visits Israel, Palestinians call on him to address ‘emergency situation’
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, March 20, 2013 7:10 EDT
Palestinians want President Barack Obama’s milestone visit this week to lead to a more active US approach to resolving the conflict with Israel, before the West Bank is overrun by Jewish settlements and it is too late for a two-state solution.
“We are in an emergency situation,” independent Palestinian legislator Mustafa Barghouti told reporters in Ramallah, where Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas will host Obama on Thursday.
“We don’t have time,” Barghouti said. “Either the settlements are stopped immediately… or you can kiss the two-state solution goodbye.”
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman last week wrote that Obama, frustrated at the lack of progress to end the conflict, no longer had his heart in the challenge.
“Quietly, with nobody announcing it, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has shifted from a necessity to a hobby for American diplomats,” he wrote. “Obama could be the first sitting American president to visit Israel as a tourist.”
Barghouti slammed the “passivity of the international community, especially the United States”, while Abbas’s government appealed to the world to back it financially and put pressure on Israel to end its “economic stranglehold” on Palestinians.
In a paper to a meeting of international donors in Brussels on Tuesday the Palestinian Authority urged “all international partners, particularly in the Arab region, to consider the implications of the current fiscal crisis and a possible shift towards institutional and political collapse”.
“Israel’s continued illegal occupation irreversibly forecloses the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state on the ground, making peace based on the two-state formula implausible, if not impossible.”
The document said November’s United Nations resolution recognising the Palestinians as a non-member observer state “has the potential to slightly level the playing field between Israel and Palestine”, noting that their new status would allow them to join international organisations and sign up to treaties.
Barghouti said that directly after Obama’s visit the Palestinians should renew their diplomatic offensive “starting with a letter to the Swiss president demanding the application to Palestine of all the Geneva Conventions” on humanitarian law.
“We should engage in all UN agencies… and of course to the International Criminal Court, especially with the continued settlement,” he added.
“Maybe some people think that because we need foreign aid, we will abandon our principles,” Barghouti said. “But most of the people out on the streets, especially young people who participate in the most noble non-violent resistance, do not benefit anyway.”
Obama is accompanied by Secretary of State John Kerry, who in February said he was intent on giving $700 million (540 million euros) in aid to the Palestinian Authority, $495 million of which has been blocked for months by Congress.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters on Friday that “an economically viable Palestinian Authority is in the interest not only of the Palestinians themselves but of regional peace and security”.
“I’m confident (the issue) will also come up on the president’s trip,” she added.
03/19/2013 04:00 PM
Little Hope for Change: Expectations Low for Obama's First Israel Trip
By Julia Amalia Heyer in Tel Aviv
Little is likely to change as a result of US President Barack Obama's visit to the Holy Land this week. Israel and the US have grown accustomed to the status quo, even as the threat increases that the Israelis may push ahead with settlement building that could eliminate the possibility of a two-state solution.
The diagnosis, says Shaul Arieli, is called cardiac thrombosis. The arteries are clogged and the patient is at risk of a heart attack. He needs surgery, the sooner the better -- but he doesn't want to have it. Instead, he insists that it's just a stomach ache, and all he wants is to take an antacid pill.
Arieli, 53, likes to speak in parables about his country, Israel, which he likens to this patient on the verge of cardiac arrest claiming just an upset stomach. "We have to be forced to save ourselves," he says. What he means is that for Israel there is no way around a sovereign Palestinian nation.
A retired general and former advisor to several Israeli prime ministers, Arieli is well acquainted with all of the peace plans and initiatives of the last few decades, and in fact took part in some of them. He helped negotiate the Oslo accords and the peace treaty with Jordan, and he participated in the talks at Camp David and the Taba Summit. The names of the peace plans may have changed, says Arieli, but they all arrive at the same dead end.
United States President Barack Obama's first visit as president to the Holy Land this week may be generating a lot of excitement, but the expectations that something will change in the muddled status quo between the Israelis and the Palestinians couldn't be slimmer.
The president himself has dampened expectations. He is reported to have said that the US can't want peace more than the conflict parties themselves. The Palestinians were told that they shouldn't get their hopes up, and that the president's goal in visiting Ramallah is "mainly to listen." In response, a Palestinian official grumbled: "There isn't anything he doesn't already know."
Inaction Suits Netanyahu
America's inaction suits Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli prime minister is pleased by the fact that the talks with Obama will be focused on the threat to Israel from Iran and Syria, and will only secondarily address "the need to find a responsible way to advance the peace with the Palestinians," as Netanyahu said in his video address to the annual meeting of the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC.
In Israel, the conflict with the Palestinians is no longer a central issue. The peace process was not a topic in the election campaign or during the six-week marathon negotiation to form a coalition government. Politicians and citizens were concerned with different issues in recent weeks and months, like reducing the number of cabinet ministers, social justice and the demand that the ultra-religious also make their contribution to the country's defense.
The center-right cabinet Netanyahu assembled last week contains 21 ministers, which is 11 fewer than before, and there are no ultra-orthodox members. Many Israelis celebrate this as a sea change. The possibility that perhaps, in the 46th year of the occupation of the West Bank, the country ought to have political priorities beyond reducing the size of the cabinet was noted only by the left-leaning newspaper Ha'aretz, speaking to a like-minded minority.
Despite new coalition partners, the government is sticking to many existing policies. The defense minister, a Likud hardliner and declared opponent of compromise, openly says he sees "no chance of reaching a peace deal with the Palestinians in the near future."
'Building Will Continue'
Minister of Housing and Construction Uri Ariel, a member of the right-wing National Union alliance, will continue to pursue settlement construction -- and would like nothing better than to build a synagogue on the Temple Mount. When the United Nations envoy for the Middle East voiced his concern over what his appointment as housing minister signified for the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, Ariel replied that the "anti-Israeli UN" should stay out of the country's internal affairs. A settler himself, Ariel said in a television interview on Sunday that in occupied territory, "building will continue in accordance with what the government's policy has been thus far."
The surprise winner of the election, Yair Lapid, is now finance minister, although he would have preferred to be foreign minister. Whether the former TV anchor will find enough time to press ahead with negotiations with the Palestinians, as stated in the platform of his Future Party, is questionable. Meanwhile, Netanyahu has reserved the Foreign Ministry for his fellow party member Avigdor Lieberman, who is currently under investigation for fraud and breach of trust. A corruption trial against Lieberman failed to materialize because the key witnesses had either disappeared or died.
Could Settlement Spell End of Two-State Solution?
Retired General Arieli is standing on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem, looking out at the Judean Desert. "E1," Arieli says, pointing into the distance. "The only area here that's still undeveloped." E1 stands for East 1, a piece of open land between East Jerusalem and the Maale Adumim settlement.
But it won't remain empty for much longer. The government now wants to move ahead with development in E1, after the project was kept on ice for years in response to American pressure. The planned settlement would cut the West Bank in half, and it could very well spell the end of the two-state solution.
"Only Obama can prevent construction from moving ahead here," says Arieli. "I'm an optimist out of principle, not because there are any reasons for it."
It seems as if no one will convince the patient with the failing heart that he needs to do more than swallow an antacid pill.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
Al-Qaeda claims to have executed French hostage in Mali
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, March 20, 2013 7:15 EDT
The French government was scrambling Wednesday to verify a claim by Al-Qaeda’s north African branch that it has executed a French hostage in Mali as a “spy”.
A man claiming to be a spokesman for Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) told Mauritania’s ANI news agency late Tuesday that Philippe Verdon had been executed on March 10 “in response to France’s intervention in Northern Mali”.
“The French President (Francois) Hollande is responsible for the lives of the other French hostages,” the spokesman warned.
A French foreign ministry spokesman said Paris was trying to verify the report, adding that “we don’t know at the moment” whether it was reliable.
In all 15 French nationals, including Verdon, are being held captive in Africa, with AQIM claiming responsibility for six of the kidnappings.
Verdon was seized on the night of November 24, 2011 along with Serge Lazarevic from their hotel in Hombori, northeastern Mali, while they were on a business trip.
The families denied that the two men were mercenaries or secret service agents.
The president of a support committee for the two men, Pascal Lupart, said the French foreign ministry had informed the families early Wednesday about the AQIM statement.
“They told the family to treat it with caution. Nothing is confirmed,” Lupart told AFP.
AQIM claimed responsibility for the kidnappings and in August last year a video showing Verdon describing the “difficult living conditions” was released on a Mauritanian website.
Al-Qaeda groups often use the private news agency ANI to distribute their statements or claims, which often turn out to be accurate.
The French hostages’ families have in recent weeks expressed growing fears for their loved ones in the light of France’s military offensive aimed at routing Islamists from northern Mali.
Verdon’s father Jean-Pierre Verdon had complained on Tuesday that the families were hearing nothing from the French authorities about the hostages.
“We are in a total fog and it is impossible to live this way,” he told RTL radio. “We have no information.”
Asked about France’s refusal to pay ransoms to kidnappers, Verdon senior said the families had no say in such “decisions of state”.
Paris deployed forces in Mali on January 11 to help stop Al-Qaeda linked fighters who had controlled the north of the country since April 2012 from moving southward and threatening the capital Bamako.
France now has more than 4,000 troops on the ground in Mali, of whom about 1,200 are currently deployed in the northeast, carrying out clean-up operations after driving out most of the Islamist rebels from the area.
There are still pockets of resistance in some areas such as the main northern city of Gao, which have witnessed stray attacks and suicide bombings since the Islamists fled.
The French troops in the region are backed up by African forces. Soldiers from Chad, whose experience and training has made them key in the French-led offensive, have also suffered casualties with at least 26 deaths.
On Tuesday the French army announced that 15 Islamist fighters had been killed in recent days in the northern Mali region of Gao, with the seizure of a large cache of arms and ammunition.
The AQIM source cited by the Mauritanian news agency refused to confirm reports that top Islamist rebels, Mokhtar Belmokhtar and Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, had been killed in Mali earlier this month.
France has been carrying out DNA tests to determine whether the militant leaders are among those killed in recent fighting in Mali.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
Genocide trial against former dictator begins in Guatemala
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, March 19, 2013 13:54 EDT
A genocide trial started Tuesday against former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt, who is accused of presiding over one of the bloodiest chapters of his country’s brutal civil war.
Judge Jazmin Barrios opened the proceedings despite attempts by the defense team to postpone the trial against the 86-year-old former strongman, who could face some 50 years in prison.
Rios Montt is accused of ordering the execution of 1,771 members of the indigenous Ixil Maya people in the Quiche region during his 1982-1983 regime.
The trial marks the first time genocide proceedings have been brought in relation to the 36-year civil war in Guatemala that ended in 1996, leaving an estimated 200,000 people dead, according to United Nations estimates.
The strongman was known for his “scorched earth” campaign against people the government claimed were leftist rebels but were often in fact members of indigenous Maya communities who were not involved in the conflict.
The trial is expected to last several months, with 130 witnesses and some 100 experts testifying.
Retired general Jose Rodriguez, a former member of the military leadership, is to stand trial along with Rios Montt.
The former president — who insists he was not aware that the army was committing massacres during his administration — was initially set to stand trial in August but the date was moved up by five months to March 19.
The trial is seen as a historic step in a country with such high impunity that most crimes go unsolved.
NASA slams spending cuts that put Earth at risk of undetected killer asteroids
By David Ferguson
Tuesday, March 19, 2013 14:55 EDT
A trio of experts testified before the House Science Committee of the U.S. Congress on Tuesday and warned that the detection and early warning of approaching Near Earth Objects (NEOs) and other threats from space is imperiled by current political wrangling over the national budget.
The House Science Committee, chaired by Texas congressman Rep. Lamar Smith (R), welcomed John Holdren, President Barack Obama’s Director of the Office of Science and Technology, Gen. William Shelton, the commander of U.S. Air Force’s Space Command and NASA Administrator Gen. Charles F. Bolden on Tuesday morning for a hearing entitled “Threats from Space: A Review of U.S. Government Efforts to Track and Mitigate Asteroids and Meteors.”
Holdren, Shelton and Bolden emphasized that while odds of a devastating strike from an object from space are small, the consequences could be enormous. While dozens of objects a meter or more in size strike the Earth’s atmosphere every year, most burn up harmlessly in the upper limits of the stratosphere.
The meteorite that exploded over Russia on Feb. 15 of this year is estimated to have measured about 15 meters. Explosions like the one that resulted when that object hit the atmosphere are believed to occur about once every 100 years.
Holdren talked about the Tunguska strike in June of 1908, however, in which a meteoroid or comet exploded and released about 15 megatons of energy, flattening trees for an 850-square-mile radius in Siberia. These events are believed to occur once every 1,000 years or so.
Should a Tunguska-like object come again, it could prove to be a “city-killer” on impact. The odds of that are low, however, given that land only covers about 30 percent of the earth’s surface, and only about three percent of that land is urbanized.
NASA’s Bolden argued that Obama administration has increased the budget for searching for NEOs and that if current plans are implemented, NASA hopes to send a team of astronauts to an asteroid for exploration by 2025. While the events of Feb. 15 have drawn the world’s attention to the urgency of spotting and predicting the arrival of objects from space, NASA, he said, has been studying the issue for decades.
“In fact, NASA’s focus in this area,” he said, “is evident in our five-fold increase in Near Earth Object observation since 2010. And literally dozens of people are involved in some aspect of our NEO research at NASA and its field centers.”
All three experts agreed, however, that the budget cuts and furloughs involved with sequestration, the rounds of deep cutbacks to federal programs that were triggered by Congress and the White House’s inability to reach a budget deal by March 1, are wreaking havoc on current surveillance methods.
Shelton said that his “every waking moment” is taken up with how to keep the country safe as sequestration effectively reduces his operating budget.
Bolden emphasized that President Obama’s proposed budget allows research to continue into NEOs and how to track them and, if necessary, divert them. He said that the plan to send a team of astronauts to explore an asteroid will go a long way toward surmounting many of the current obstacles to diverting a dangerous threat.
Holdren and Bolden both emphasized that what is really needed are telescopes in space to watch for approaching objects without the interference of the Earth’s atmosphere and the light of the sun. The reason nobody anticipated the arrival of the object that exploded over Russia on Feb. 15 was, said Bolden, because it came “from out of the sun.”
“Ground-based systems are great,” said Bolden, “but you really need something in space to see what’s out there.”
Monitoring the situation in space isn’t something we can only look into on an emergency basis, he insisted. “This is really important,” he said, “and it has to be continuous,” not constantly interrupted by the vagaries of political budget battles. “The president has a plan and that plan is incremental. Now, we can not like him and not agree with him. We can not do a lot of things, but it is the best plan that we have.”
“If we want to save the planet,” he said. “then we’re going to have to get together, that side and that side, and execute that plan as expeditiously as possible.”
“We are trying very diligently, as I said before, with the president’s budget,” he said, “to be in a position where we are able to respond.” Congress charged NASA with figuring out the problem, then declined to fund the research, he said.
“I don’t care whose fault it is,” he said of the current Congressional stalemate with the administration. “I don’t care if it’s anybody’s fault. We all know what we’re facing today and we’re all sitting here today as the Congress and the administration try to figure out sequestration, something that never should have happened.”
In the USA...
Republicans can’t tell fact from fiction
By Paul Harris, The Guardian
Tuesday, March 19, 2013 19:12 EDT
In the hyper-fast modern media world, it is easy to make a mistake. Social media platforms like Twitter are full of fake accounts, rumours and outright lies. Emails, Facebook and the emergence of a million blogs mean news, or more often “news”, travels fast and demands quick decisions and little verification.
When it comes to failing to tell the difference between reality and fiction, it seems the Republican party has a particular problem. Take what happened over the weekend when Young Republican national policy chairman Jason Whitman took umbrage that Will McAvoy, the news anchor for top cable channel ACN, appeared to be displaying a double standard about conservative icon Sarah Palin. McAvoy had tweeted:
“When will the media stop talking about the politically irrelevant Sarah Palin at CPAC? I’m devoting the hour to that topic tonight!” — Will McAvoy (@WillMcAvoy_ACN) March 16, 2013
Whitman was outraged and fired back: “It’s odd that @WillMcAvoy_ACN is dedicating an entire hour of his show to “politically irrelevant” @SarahPalinUSA”.
Of course, as any avid viewer of HBO’s The Newsroom understands neither McAvoy nor ACN exists because they are fictional creations of Aaron Sorkin’s hit television show and the Twitter account was a parody. Oops! But that mistake pales with what happened when Daily News reporter Dan Friedman joked with a Republican contact about CIA nominee Chuck Hagel. Friedman had asked his source if groups like “Friends of Hamas” or “The Junior League of Hezbollah” had been paying Hagel speaking fees. Both names were invented jokes and Friedman was being sarcastic. But later he was stunned when a story about Friends of Hamas – citing Republican sources – popped up on conservative website Breitbart.com.
Soon enough former GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee opined that: “…rumors of Chuck Hagel’s having received funds from Friends of Hamas,” would, if true, “disqualify him”. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul called it “concerning”.
Oh dear. Of course, no political movement or ideology or newspaper is immune from this. I do it. This newspaper has done it. All sides can make mistakes, believe the unbelievable out of a simple desire for to it to be true and only search out information that reinforces opinions already held. But the GOP has more form than most and it goes way back. After all, in 2004, a senior Republican source – widely assumed to be Karl Rove – told New York Times magazine of a lack of respect for the “reality-based community”. The source explained: “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.”
That attitude explains a lot about the disconnect between the extremes of the GOP and the world as experienced by most Americans. It is an attitude reinforced by a vast ecosystem of conservative media in the form of blogs, books and radio shows – and, of course Fox News – that allows the right-wing to create its own alternative world where outlandish opinions are common place.
At the conservative gathering CPAC last week the enormity of this media world was remarkable. The hall was packed with talk radio shows, conservative publishers and authors signing their latest books, many of which were bestsellers. This is a world where it is seriously believed that the United Nations is trying to take over the US, and Obama is a Kenyan socialist, an Islamist, a Marxist or the biological son of communist-sympathiser Frank Marshall Davis. This is a world where Obama wants to take away all guns, where he has dictatorial powers worthy of an emperor and where the US media is a liberal conspiracy pushing abortions and being gay. This is the world where Glenn Beck, former Fox TV host turned popular publisher of The Blaze website, is hugely powerful and shock jock Rush Limbaugh is king.
Nothing of its kind exists to the same degree on the left, despite the recent best propagandistic efforts of MSNBC. Limbaugh is a man who can bring GOP politicians down if he wants. If they stray from orthodoxy, he can bring them back into line with some vitriol on his show. The words of MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, or even New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, do not carry anything near the same weight with Democrats.
No wonder some GOP members cannot tell fact from fiction. This is a party whose right-wing is gripped in the embrace of its own media and vice versa. They feed off each other, like a snake eternally eating its own tail. For them the centrist Obama, who takes huge donations from Goldman Sachs and is a national security hardliner, is a radical socialist. America’s booming stock market is in fact a state-run economy barely worthy of being called a Soviet Republic. It is where the mainstream media is a vast leftist conspiracy, rather than a bland purveyor of “he said, she said” news stories. It is an America on the verge of being forced to surrender all its guns, rather than actually owning 300m of them.
The every day reality of America, a country with very real problems (none of which involve a Marxist in the White House), does not intrude into the right’s self-reinforcing symbiotic relationship. It does not need to. No wonder some in the GOP think Will McAvoy is real. Or that Friends of Hamas pays cash to Chuck Hagel. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
NYPD spent one million hours arresting marijuana users: report
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, March 19, 2013 20:15 EDT
Could New York hold the record for most pot possession arrests? A new report out Tuesday said police there spent about a million hours taking offenders into custody between 2002 and 2012.
The findings by the Drug Policy Alliance, which favors the decriminalization of the substance, was done at the request of members of the city council and the state legislature.
It shows that between 2002 and 2012, with Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the helm of the metropolis, 439,056 people were arrested for the possession of marijuana. Eighty-five percent were young blacks and Latinos.
Considering that one police officer takes at least two and a half hours to process such arrests — returning to the police station, gathering information, writing up a report, taking fingerprints, photos, etc — that adds up to more than a million hours of work on the matter, the report said.
“That is the equivalent of having 31 police officers working eight hours a day, 365 days a year, for 11 years, making only marijuana possession arrests,” the group said, highlighting that during this time officers don’t devote themselves to dealing with other “serious crime.”
Fighting pot possession costs $75 million a year, the group said, noting that, over the eleven-year period, those arrested spent five million hours in detention.
“We cannot afford to continue arresting tens of thousands of youth every year for low-level marijuana possession,” said Alfredo Carrasquillo, civil rights organizer with VOCAL-NY.
The report was released as Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, and the state legislature are negotiating changes to the law on marijuana possession.
Cuomo wants to decriminalize the possession of less than 15 grams of marijuana in public view.
A 16 Year Old Girl Was Brutally Raped, But Society and Media Mourn for the Rapists
Mar. 19th, 2013
It is fairly certain that when people around the world think of America, they imagine a highly civilized society in which every citizen, regardless of gender or race, is given the same rights and respect as equal members of society, and nothing like harsh Islamist culture under Taliban-like rule. Some Americans cited the horrendous treatment of women in some Arab and African nations dominated by strict Islamic and archaic notions of a woman’s role in society as why America is superior and justified in launching pre-emptive war in Afghanistan to save women. However, although Americans are not yet stoning women and young girls for being brutally raped, there is a segment of society that sympathizes with rapists and tarnishes the victim’s character for being the object of a vicious sexual assault.
When photos of the Steubenville rapists carrying an unconscious victim around and videos of them bragging about assaulting the young girl started making the rounds on the Internet, decent Americans were repulsed and rightly cried out for justice. As media attention grew, the rapist’s parents, football coaches, and local rape-advocates defended the young men and angrily decried the negative attention was ruining their lives and promising careers. However, there was little concern from the rape-gang’s advocates for the young girl who was brutalized and publicly shamed with photographs and video celebrations, or how her life was forever marred by criminals defended by their parents, coaches, and football boosters because in America’s highly developed society, victim-blaming is still accepted and encouraged; especially when rapists are athletes.
America holds a special place of honor for athletes, so much so that the Steubenville rape-advocates complained their “children’s” future dreams were being jeopardized. The football coaches went so far as to claim the outrage was a conspiracy to take down their successful football program, and not because the rapists carried out, and bragged about, sexual assault of the most heinous nature. On CNN, after reporting the guilty decision on Sunday, they could barely contain their sympathy and remorse that the judge’s verdict shattered the promising football dreams of two brutal rapists.
CNN’s Candy Crowley and Poppy Harlow were sensitized to the wrecked football careers of “two young men who had such promising young futures” and were “very good students,” but showed no sympathy for the victim. Prior to the trial’s beginning, Good Morning America emphasized the “shattered football futures” of the rapists by reporting “there was no jury” and that a lone judge would “decide the fates of Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, who face incarceration in a detention center until their 21st birthdays and the almost-certain demise of their dreams of playing football.” Indeed, after the verdict was read, Richmond fell into his lawyer’s arms sobbing, “My life is over. No one is going to want me now,” and it informed that after being deified as a local football hero, his life was over and it is part of America’s reverence for sports figures regardless their criminal behaviors. However, the tragedy is not that two young men were “cheated” out of promising football careers because they committed rape, it is about the victim; and all women in America.
From the minute the savage photos and video recap of the assault began circulating, there was a steady chorus of rape-advocates blaming the victim because it was a young girl and it typifies America’s patriarchal society. Long before the Steubenville rape gang made the news, Republicans attempted to re-define sexual assault as legitimate rape, or pass legislation forcing women to undergo rape by medical instrument, or defame a Georgetown law student for advocating contraception coverage in health insurance plans. There is a patriarchal mindset in this country that automatically demeans women whether it is wage disparity, the right to vote, or ability to serve in the military alongside men. American society has been set up to keep women in their biblical roles as subservient and submissive; even to rape. When women do speak out against injustice, or report a criminal for brutalizing them, they become pariahs and targets for aspersion as a matter-of-course. After Fox News aired one of the rapist’s apologies and failed to redact the victim’s name, she began getting death threats for reporting the crime that led to her attacker’s convictions, and for ruining her assailants lives and promising football careers. It is the American version of stoning the rape victim, and it has been a decade’s long practice because in America, women are always guilty.
America’s culture, like Islamic culture, is still male-dominated based on religious dogmata dictating man’s superiority over women, and the vile treatment the young girl suffered at the hands of her abusers naturally warranted sympathy for the males brought low because the victim reported the crime. At the CPAC conference last Friday, and young white Southern male questioned by a woman said, “I didn’t know the legacy of the Republican Party included women correcting men in public,” and although pathetically disgusting, it highlights the second-class status women in America are given by this vile patriarchal society. Despite losing the 2012 election in part because they lost women’s vote, Republicans are still passing legislation in state after state giving supremacy over a woman’s body to politicians and religious fundamentalists steeped in the bible’s admonition to women to “be in subjection to a man;” even if they want to violate you with medical instruments, or “legitimately rape” you and force you to carry the bastard to term.
Although America has made infinitesimal progress in regards to women’s rights, women still earn less than a man for the same work, pay more for health insurance than a man, and needed a special law for funding parity for women’s athletics. Nothing comes easy, or naturally, to women in America because this society is steeped in archaic religious doctrine that women are second-class citizens, and little more than a man’s, any man’s, property to dominate, underpay, and rape. And if they dare complain, or report being assaulted, they are chastised, demeaned, and sent death threats, because in this country when a 16-year old girl is brutally raped by promising football players, society mourns their ruined careers and finds myriad reasons to blame the victim.
March 19, 2013
Finance Bill, Nearing Senate Passage, Would Protect Some Favored Programs
By JONATHAN WEISMAN and ANNIE LOWREY
WASHINGTON — The worst of the federal cuts to a major infant nutrition program would be reversed. Embassy security and construction could be spared in the wake of the consulate attack in Benghazi, Libya. And child care subsidies, once seen as critical to the success of welfare reform, would take a haircut, not the hammer blow that President Obama once loudly warned was coming.
With the expected Senate passage this week of broad legislation to finance the federal government through Sept. 30, a lucky few programs will be spared the brunt of the automatic spending cuts now coursing through the federal government. Also, managers in some departments, especially the Defense Department, will gain more flexibility to carry out cuts.
The overall size of the cuts will remain the same, as will the short-term impact on the economy, because total spending outside of entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security must remain beneath a hard cap of $984 billion. One program’s gain in the spending bill will mean another’s loss, caution the Democratic and Republican authors of the bill, which the House seems poised to pass as well.
The bill is a mixed blessing for President Obama and others, especially Democrats, who hope Congress will eventually reverse the recent cuts. The changes make the cuts less arbitrary and damaging in the eyes of many independent experts. They reduce the effect on programs that touch national security, child health and welfare, but they inhibit long-term economic growth, through science funding and other areas.
But the new continuing resolution might have a political impact beyond the numbers: It could reduce some of the most obvious disruptions in federal services, potentially easing the pressure that Mr. Obama had hoped would soften Republican opposition to a replacement that combined spending cuts with tax increases.
“The combination of the various appropriations bills, funding transfers and reprogramming authority takes the doom and gloom out of sequestration,” said Chris Krueger, a senior policy analyst at Guggenheim Securities’ Washington Research Group. “You’ve still got $85 billion coming out. You’re still going to get the hit to the economy.”
That means lower employment levels and slower growth this year, public and private forecasters have said. Rather than rearranging the cuts across the budget, Ben S. Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, has recommended holding them back until the still-sluggish recovery takes stronger hold. “Besides having adverse effects on jobs and incomes, a slower recovery would lead to less actual deficit reduction in the short run,” Mr. Bernanke said last month.
Republican senators, some of whom have cheered on the “sequestration” cuts, spent Tuesday jostling for last-minute votes on their priorities. The new package of cuts cleared its biggest procedural hurdle Monday night, with a 63-to-35 vote to end debate, but failed to win approval Tuesday.
It still appears likely to pass the Senate this week, given Monday’s vote, and to clear the House shortly after its final Senate vote. The legislation would replace the current stopgap spending law with a more detailed plan.
On Tuesday, Senator Jerry Moran, Republican of Kansas, shut down repeated efforts to get a final vote because he wanted the Federal Aviation Administration to protect control towers at rural airports. Senators Mark Pryor, Democrat of Arkansas, and Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri, pressed for a vote to ensure meat inspectors would not be furloughed.
Senator Kelly Ayotte, Republican of New Hampshire, pleaded to kill what she called a missile to nowhere — a European-based missile defense system that both the Senate and House armed services committees have repeatedly tried to zero out — and to shift the money to military operations and maintenance.
“There’s not going to be another funding bill for the government until the end of this federal fiscal year,” she said. “This is our only opportunity.”
The primary goal of the bill is to allow lawmakers to make distinctions among programs.
The bill “includes some very limited changes to fix pressing problems,” said Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland, chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. But, she said, there was only so much she and her Republican counterpart, Senator Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, could do under the constraints of assembling a measure that could pass the House.
If, for instance, Congress maintained current levels of spending through September, $500 million would have gone to a space shuttle program that no longer exists, Ms. Mikulski said. The Pentagon would get too much money for wars winding down and not enough for retraining and rebuilding a force depleted by more than a decade of fighting.
With the changes, the Agriculture Department’s nutrition program for woman, infants and children would receive an additional $250 million under the Senate bill, enough to serve 300,000 more people. That sum would help offset a $333 million sequester cut that the program must absorb over the next six months.
The remaining cuts could still hurt, but officials involved in the program are holding off final decisions until Congress acts.
Under sequestration, programs would first try to reduce the cost of the basket of goods provided to participants, by finding lower prices on goods like baby food and peanut butter, said Douglas A. Greenaway, the president of the National WIC Association — an umbrella group for state programs.
But he added that the program was already lean and would most likely have to make more significant cuts, too. Pregnant women and newborns would be the first priority; postpartum women and 3- and 4-year-olds would be the lowest priority, he said.
The State Department’s embassy security, construction and maintenance account had been girding for a $79 million hit. Instead, an additional $90 million for the rest of 2013 will leave the account slightly ahead of where it was last year.
The federal child care and development block grant, slated for a $115 million cut, would lose $65 million instead. The Energy Department’s nuclear weapons programs, promised large budget increases to win Republican votes for a 2010 nuclear arms accord, will still take a hit under sequestration. But the cut would be $237 million instead of $600 million.
In exchange, other programs would experience larger cuts. Military construction for barracks, schools and hospitals worldwide would lose billions of dollars. Energy research, already taking a 5 percent cut under the sequester, or more than $150 million, would absorb another $44 million loss.
Other programs like Head Start, for early education, would have roughly the same cut as previously planned. The program is expected to lose about 70,000 slots for children out of one million over all.
Senator Is Angry Over Bill’s Exclusion of Assault Gun Ban
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER
Published: March 19, 2013
WASHINGTON — Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who 35 years ago discovered the bullet-riddled body of the gay activist Harvey Milk, reacted with anger on Tuesday that gun control legislation the Senate is to consider next month will not include the reinstatement of an assault weapons ban, a measure she had fought desperately to keep.
“How many assault weapons do you need circulating?” Ms. Feinstein said to reporters, noting that her bill, which had almost no chance of a hearing in the House, exempted many weapons. “To have these mass killings is such a blight on everything that America stands for.”
At a Senate hearing last week, Ms. Feinstein said that she still could not get out of her mind looking for the pulse of Mr. Milk, her colleague at the time on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and in the process “putting my fingers in a bullet hole.”
Senate Democrats plan to introduce after the Easter recess a bill widely supported by both parties that would increase the penalties for people who buy guns for those barred from having them, known as straw purchasing. But Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, told Ms. Feinstein on Monday that her assault weapons ban would not be included in the bill.
“I tried my best,” Ms. Feinstein said with obvious disappointment. “My best, I guess, wasn’t good enough.”
This month, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed four pieces of gun legislation: the straw purchasing measure; the assault weapons ban, which included limits on gun magazine sizes; a grant program for school security; and enhanced background checks for gun buyers.
The Senate bill is likely to include the school safety measure, and it may be expanded to include the enhanced background checks. But Mr. Reid is weighing the relative merits of bringing that measure to the floor, which for now has limited support from Republicans.
Mr. Reid said he would allow the assault weapons ban and the limits on magazine sizes to be offered as amendments, Ms. Feinstein said.
“I have said I want people to have the ability to vote on” various gun measures, Mr. Reid said on Tuesday. “My job is to find one of those that I can bring to the floor.” Mr. Reid said that while he felt sympathy for Ms. Feinstein, her bill had far fewer than the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster.
Mr. Reid will introduce the one measure that does have ample bipartisan support, the straw purchasing provision, which would make the already illegal practice a felony and increase penalties.
But a bill that is limited to stemming straw purchases would be all but certain to enrage groups that have been seeking broader legislation. They want measures that would make it more difficult for criminals and mentally ill people to obtain firearms and would limit the size of magazines.
If Mr. Reid considers only the straw purchasing measure, it is likely that senators who favor gun rights will offer a flood of pro-gun amendments, many of them likely to pass the full Senate, which could essentially turn a bill intended to strengthen gun regulations into one that enhances gun rights.
It is almost certain that Mr. Reid will at least add the provision to renew a grant program for school security, but even that is not a sure thing because of the country’s fiscal constraints.
Mr. Reid must also weigh whether to add a provision that would extend background checks to private sales of guns, a measure that would exempt family members and some others from those checks. While that idea has broad support among Democrats and some Republicans, many oppose it because it would require the same record-keeping that is done by gun stores in sales made within their walls.
As it stands, the assault weapons ban will probably still receive a vote as an amendment to the underlying package, as will a separate measure that would limit magazine sizes to 10 rounds.
“The enemies on this are very powerful,” Ms. Feinstein said, referring to the National Rifle Association. “I’ve known that all my life.”
Meet The Five Cowardly Senate Democrats Who Killed the Assault Weapons Ban
By: Jason Easley
Mar. 19th, 2013
It wasn’t cowardice that killed the assault weapons ban. It was five Democratic senators who opposed the measure that forced it to be dropped from the Senate guns bill.
The assault weapons ban will be given an up or down vote as an amendment, but not included in the final Senate bill designed to limit gun violence. Many on the left will direct their rage at Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) or the entire Democratic caucus, but the reality is that the assault weapons ban is not in the final bill because five Senate Democrats opposed it.
Bloomberg reported back in January that, “The five Democratic senators from traditionally pro-gun states who have expressed skepticism about the bill are Max Baucus and Jon Tester of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Independent Senator Angus King of Maine, who caucuses with Democrats, also said he opposes a ban.”
The word skepticism is inaccurate. In reality, these five opposed a ban. The Democratic opposition all hailed from states that Mitt Romney carried in 2012, and all five are terrified of what running against the NRA would mean for their future reelection chances. None of his should be any kind of surprise. All five of them had publicly stated months ago that weren’t interested in an assault weapons ban.
Their opposition, along with that of Independent Sen. Angus King who caucuses with the Democrats, meant that Reid had no choice. He had to remove the ban from the final bill, or the entire legislative effort would have been doomed to failure.
Sen. Reid made the practical decision. Given what these members of his caucus decided, he chose to drop the assault weapons ban in order to have the best chance of getting a meaningful piece of legislation passed.
The disappointment of the left should not be directed at Reid. The blame belongs squarely on the shoulders Baucus, Tester, Begich, Heitkamp, and Manchin.
These five Red State Democrats decided to that they would rather cater to their own political survival than do something that might save the lives of mass shooting victims. They sided with the NRA over shooting victims, and they killed any chance that the assault weapons ban ever had of passing.
When courage was required, these five delivered cowardice.
Each of these Democrats might not have won without your help, so pick up the phone, drop them an email, and let them know how you feel.
The Shame of America’s Gulag
Posted on Mar 17, 2013
By Chris Hedges
If, as Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote, “the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons” then we are a nation of barbarians. Our vast network of federal and state prisons, with some 2.3 million inmates, rivals the gulags of totalitarian states. Once you disappear behind prison walls you become prey. Rape. Torture. Beatings. Prolonged isolation. Sensory deprivation. Racial profiling. Chain gangs. Forced labor. Rancid food. Children imprisoned as adults. Prisoners forced to take medications to induce lethargy. Inadequate heating and ventilation. Poor health care. Draconian sentences for nonviolent crimes. Endemic violence.
Bonnie Kerness and Ojore Lutalo, both of whom I met in Newark, N.J., a few days ago at the office of American Friends Service Committee Prison Watch, have fought longer and harder than perhaps any others in the country against the expanding abuse of prisoners, especially the use of solitary confinement. Lutalo, once a member of the Black Liberation Army, an offshoot of the Black Panthers, first wrote Kerness in 1986 while he was a prisoner at Trenton State Prison, now called New Jersey State Prison. He described to her the bleak and degrading world of solitary confinement, the world of the prisoners like him held in the so-called management control unit, which he called “a prison within a prison.” Before being released in 2009, Lutalo was in the management control unit for 22 of the 28 years he served for the second of two convictions—the first for a bank robbery and the second for a gun battle with a drug dealer. He kept his sanity, he told me, by following a strict regime of exercising in his tiny cell, writing, meditating and tearing up newspapers to make collages that portrayed his prison conditions.
“The guards in riot gear would suddenly wake you up at 1 a.m., force you to strip and make you grab all your things and move you to another cell just to harass you,” he said when we spoke in Newark. “They had attack dogs with them that were trained to go for your genitals. You spent 24 hours alone one day in your cell and 22 the next. If you do not have a strong sense of purpose you don’t survive psychologically. Isolation is designed to defeat prisoners mentally, and I saw a lot of prisoners defeated.”
Lutalo’s letter was Kerness’ first indication that the U.S. prison system was creating something new—special detention facilities that under international law are a form of torture. He wrote to her: “How does one go about articulating desperation to another who is not desperate? How does one go about articulating the psychological stress of knowing that people are waiting for me to self-destruct?”
The techniques of sensory deprivation and prolonged isolation were pioneered by the Central Intelligence Agency to break prisoners during the Cold War. Alfred McCoy, the author of “A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, From the Cold War to the War on Terror,” wrote in his book that “interrogators had found that mere physical pain, no matter how extreme, often produced heightened resistance.” So the intelligence agency turned to the more effective mechanisms of “sensory disorientation” and “self-inflicted pain,” McCoy noted. [One example of causing self-inflicted pain is to force a prisoner to stand without moving or to hold some other stressful bodily position for a long period.] The combination, government psychologists argued, would cause victims to feel responsible for their own suffering and accelerate psychological disintegration. Sensory disorientation combines extreme sensory overload with extreme sensory deprivation. Prolonged isolation is followed by intense interrogation. Extreme heat is followed by extreme cold. Glaring light is followed by total darkness. Loud and sustained noise is followed by silence. “The fusion of these two techniques, sensory disorientation and self-inflicted pain, creates a synergy of physical and psychological trauma whose sum is a hammer-blow to the existential platforms of personal identity,” McCoy wrote.
After hearing from Lutalo, Kerness became a fierce advocate for him and other prisoners held in isolation units. She published through her office a survivor’s manual for those held in isolation as well as a booklet titled “Torture in United States Prisons.” And she began to collect the stories of prisoners held in isolation.
“My food trays have been sprayed with mace or cleaning agents, … human feces and urine put into them by guards who deliver trays to my breakfast, lunch, and dinner… ,” a prisoner in isolation in the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility at Carlisle, Ind., was quoted as saying in “Torture in United States Prisons.” “I have witnessed sane men of character become self-mutilators, suffer paranoia, panic attacks, hostile fantasies about revenge. One prisoner would swallow packs of AA batteries, and stick a pencil in his penis. They would cut on themselves to gain contact with staff nurses or just to draw attention to themselves. These men made slinging human feces ‘body waste’ daily like it was a recognized sport. Some would eat it or rub it all over themselves as if it was body lotion. ... Prisoncrats use a form of restraint, a bed crafted to strap men in four point Velcro straps. Both hands to the wrist and both feet to the ankles and secured. Prisoners have been kept like this for 3-6 hours at a time. Most times they would remove all their clothes. The Special Confinement Unit used [water hoses] on these men also. ... When prisons become overcrowded, prisoncrats will do forced double bunking. Over-crowding issues present an assortment of problems many of which results in violence. ... Prisoncrats will purposely house a ‘sex offender’ in a cell with prisoners with sole intentions of having him beaten up or even killed.”
In 1913 Eastern State Penitentiary, in Philadelphia, discontinued its isolation cages. Prisoners within the U.S. prison system would not be held in isolation again in large numbers until the turmoil of the 1960s and the rise of the anti-war and civil rights movements along with the emergence of radical groups such as the Black Panthers. Trenton State Prison established a management control unit, or isolation unit, in 1975 for political prisoners, mostly black radicals such as Lutalo whom the state wanted to segregate from the wider prison population. Those held in the isolation unit were rarely there because they had violated prison rules; they were there because of their revolutionary beliefs—beliefs the prison authorities feared might resonate with other prisoners. In 1983 the federal prison in Marion, Ill., instituted a permanent lockdown, creating, in essence, a prisonwide “control unit.” By 1994 the Federal Bureau of Prisons, using the Marion model, built its maximum-security prison in Florence, Colo. The use of prolonged isolation and sensory deprivation exploded. “Special housing units” were formed for the mentally ill. “Security threat group management units” were formed for those accused of gang activity. “Communications management units” were formed to isolate Muslims labeled as terrorists. Voluntary and involuntary protective custody units were formed. Administrative segregation punishment units were formed to isolate prisoners said to be psychologically troubled. All were established in open violation of the United Nations Convention Against Torture, the U.N.’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Kerness calls it “the war at home.” And she says it is only the latest variation of the long assault on the poor, especially people of color.
“There are no former Jim Crow systems,” Kerness said. “The transition from slavery to Black Codes to convict leasing to the Jim Crow laws to the wars on poverty, veterans, youth and political activism in the 1960s has been a seamless evolution of political and social incapacitation of poor people of color. The sophisticated fascism of the practices of stop and frisk, charging people in inner cities with ‘wandering,’ driving and walking while black, ZIP code racism—these and many other de facto practices all serve to keep our prisons full. In a system where 60 percent of those who are imprisoned are people of color, where students of color face harsher punishments in school than their white peers, where 58 percent of African [American] youth … are sent to adult prisons, where women of color are 69 percent more likely to be imprisoned and where offenders of color receive longer sentences, the concept of colorblindness doesn’t exist. The racism around me is palpable.”
“The 1960s, when the last of the Jim Crow laws were reversed, this whole new set of practices accepted by law enforcement was designed to continue to feed the money-generating prison system, which has neo-slavery at its core,” she said. “Until we deeply recognize that the system’s bottom line is social control and creating a business from bodies of color and the poor, nothing can change.” She noted that more than half of those in the prison system have never physically harmed another person but that “just about all of these people have been harmed themselves.” And not only does the criminal justice sweep up the poor and people of color, but slavery within the prison system is permitted by the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which reads: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States. …”
This, Kerness said, “is at the core how the labor of slaves was transformed into what people in prison call neo-slavery.” Neo-slavery is an integral part of the prison industrial complex, in which hundreds of thousands of the nation’s prisoners, primarily people of color, are forced to work at involuntary labor for a dollar or less an hour. “If you call the New Jersey Bureau of Tourism you are most likely talking to a prisoner at the Edna Mahan Correctional Institution for Women who is earning 23 cents an hour who has no ability to negotiate working hours or working conditions,” she said.
The bodies of poor, unemployed youths are worth little on the streets but become valuable commodities once they are behind bars.
“People have said to me that the criminal justice system doesn’t work,” Kerness said. “I’ve come to believe exactly the opposite—that it works perfectly, just as slavery did, as a matter of economic and political policy. How is it that a 15-year-old in Newark who the country labels worthless to the economy, who has no hope of getting a job or affording college, can suddenly generate 20,000 to 30,000 dollars a year once trapped in the criminal justice system? The expansion of prisons, parole, probation, the court and police systems has resulted in an enormous bureaucracy which has been a boon to everyone from architects to food vendors—all with one thing in common, a paycheck earned by keeping human beings in cages. The criminalization of poverty is a lucrative business, and we have replaced the social safety net with a dragnet.”
Prisons are at once hugely expensive—the country has spent some $300 billion on them since 1980—and, as Kerness pointed out, hugely profitable. Prisons function in the same way the military-industrial complex functions. The money is public and the profits are private. “Privatization in the prison industrial complex includes companies, which run prisons for profit while at the same time gleaning profits from forced labor,” she said. “In the state of New Jersey, food and medical services are provided by corporations, which have a profit motive. One recent explosion of private industry is the partnering of Corrections Corporation of America with the federal government to detain close to 1 million undocumented people. Using public monies to enrich private citizens is the history of capitalism at its most exploitive.”
Those released from prison are woefully unprepared for re-entry. They carry with them the years of trauma they endured. They often suffer from the endemic health problems that come with long incarceration, including hepatitis C, tuberculosis and HIV. They often do not have access to medications upon release to treat their physical and mental illnesses. Finding work is difficult. They feel alienated and are often estranged from friends and family. More than 60 percent end up back in prison.
“How do you teach someone to rid themselves of degradation?” Kerness asked. “How long does it take to teach people to feel safe, a sense of empowerment in a world where they often come home emotionally and physically damaged and unemployable? There are many reasons that ex-prisoners do not make it—paramount among them is that they are not supposed to succeed.”
Kerness has long been a crusader. In 1961 at the age of 19 she left New York to work for a decade in Tennessee in the civil rights struggle, including a year at Tennessee’s Highlander Research and Education Center, where Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. trained. By the 1970s she was involved in housing campaigns for the poor in New Jersey. She kept running into families that included incarcerated members. This led her to found Prison Watch.
The letters that pour into her office are disturbing. Female prisoners routinely complain of being sexually abused by guards. One prisoner wrote to her office: “That was not part of my sentence to perform oral sex with officers.” Other prisoners write on behalf of the mentally ill who have been left to deteriorate in the prison system. One California prisoner told of a mentally ill man spreading feces over himself and the guards then dumping him into a scalding bath that took skin off 30 percent of his body.
Kerness said the letters she receives from prisoners collectively present a litany of “inhumane conditions including cold, filth, callous medical care, extended isolation often lasting years, use of devices of torture, harassment, brutality and racism.” Prisoners send her drawings of “four- and five-point restraints, restraint hoods, restraint belts, restraint beds, stun grenades, stun guns, stun belts, spit hoods, tethers, and waist and leg chains.” But the worst torment, prisoners tell her, is the psychological pain caused by “no touch torture” that included “humiliation, sleep deprivation, sensory disorientation, extreme light or dark, extreme cold or heat” and “extended solitary confinement.” These techniques, she said, are consciously designed to carry out “a systematic attack on all human stimuli.”
The use of sensory deprivation was applied by the government to imprisoned radicals in the 1960s including members of the Black Panthers, the Black Liberation Army, the Puerto Rican independence movement and the American Indian Movement, along with environmentalists, anti-imperialists and civil rights activists. It is now used extensively against Islamic militants, jailhouse lawyers and political prisoners. Many of those political prisoners were part of radical black underground movements in the 1960s that advocated violence. A few, such as Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu Jamal, are well known, but most have little public visibility—among them Sundiata Acoli, Mutulu Shakur, Imam Jamil Al-Amin (known as H. Rap Brown when in the 1960s he was the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), Jalil Bottom, Sekou Odinga, Abdul Majid, Tom Manning and Bill Dunne.
Those within the system who attempt to resist the abuse and mistreatment are dealt with severely. Prisoners in the overcrowded Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in Lucasville, Ohio, staged a revolt in 1993 after years of routine beatings, degrading rituals of public humiliation and the alleged murders of prisoners by guards. The some 450 prisoners, who were able to unite antagonistic prison factions including the Aryan Brotherhood and the black Gangster Disciples, held out for 11 days. It was one of the longest prison rebellions in U.S. history. Nine prisoners and a guard were killed by the prisoners during the revolt. The state responded with characteristic fury. It singled out some 40 prisoners and eventually shipped them to Ohio State Penitentiary (OSP), a supermax facility outside Youngstown that was constructed in 1998. There prisoners are held in solitary confinement 23 hours a day in 7-by-11-foot cells. Prisoners at OSP almost never see the sun or have human contact. Those charged with participating in the uprising have, in some cases, been held in these punitive conditions at OSP or other facilities since the 1993 revolt. Five prisoners—Bomani Shakur, Siddique Abdullah Hasan, Jason Robb, George Skatzes and Namir Abdul Mateen—involved in the uprising were charged with murder. They are being held in isolation on death row.
Kerness says the for-profit prison companies have created an entrepreneurial class like that of the Southern slaveholders, one “dependent on the poor, and on bodies of color as a source for income,” and she describes federal and state departments of corrections as “a state of mind.” This state of mind, she said in the interview, “led to Abu Ghraib, Bagram and Guantanamo and what is going on in U.S. prisons right this moment.”
As long as profit remains an incentive to incarcerate human beings and our corporate state abounds in surplus, redundant labor, there is little chance that the prison system will be reformed. It is making our corporate overlords wealthy. Our prisons serve the engine of corporate capitalism, transferring state money to private corporations. These corporations will continue to stymie rational prison reform because the system, however inhumane and unjust, feeds corporate bank accounts. At its bottom the problem is not race—although race plays a huge part in incarceration rates—nor is it finally poverty; it is the predatory nature of corporate capitalism itself. And until we slay the beast of corporate capitalism, until we wrest power back from corporations, until we build social institutions and a system of governance designed not to profit the few but foster the common good, our prison industry and the horror it perpetuates will only expand.
In the USA continued ...
On the 10th anniversary of America's invasion of Iraq the below PBS Bill Moyer's video documentary of how America was propagandized by it's government, Bush/Cheney et-al, into believing the lies that they peddled it may be important to review this history.
Here is the lead in to the video with the link to it below that.
Four years ago on May 1, President Bush landed on the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln wearing a flight suit and delivered a speech in front of a giant "Mission Accomplished" banner. He was hailed by media stars as a "breathtaking" example of presidential leadership in toppling Saddam Hussein. Despite profound questions over the failure to locate weapons of mass destruction and the increasing violence in Baghdad, many in the press confirmed the White House's claim that the war was won. MSNBC's Chris Matthews declared, "We're all neo-cons now;" NPR's Bob Edwards said, "The war in Iraq is essentially over;" and Fortune magazine's Jeff Birnbaum said, "It is amazing how thorough the victory in Iraq really was in the broadest context."
How did the mainstream press get it so wrong? How did the evidence disputing the existence of weapons of mass destruction and the link between Saddam Hussein to 9-11 continue to go largely unreported? "What the conservative media did was easy to fathom; they had been cheerleaders for the White House from the beginning and were simply continuing to rally the public behind the President — no questions asked. How mainstream journalists suspended skepticism and scrutiny remains an issue of significance that the media has not satisfactorily explored," says Moyers. "How the administration marketed the war to the American people has been well covered, but critical questions remain: How and why did the press buy it, and what does it say about the role of journalists in helping the public sort out fact from propaganda?"
"Buying the War" includes interviews with Dan Rather, formerly of CBS; Tim Russert of MEET THE PRESS; Bob Simon of 60 MINUTES; Walter Isaacson, former president of CNN; and John Walcott, Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel of Knight Ridder newspapers, which was acquired by The McClatchy Company in 2006.
In "Buying the War" Bill Moyers and producer Kathleen Hughes document the reporting of Walcott, Landay and Strobel, the Knight Ridder team that burrowed deep into the intelligence agencies to try and determine whether there was any evidence for the Bush Administration's case for war. "Many of the things that were said about Iraq didn't make sense," says Walcott. "And that really prompts you to ask, 'Wait a minute. Is this true? Does everyone agree that this is true? Does anyone think this is not true?'"
In the run-up to war, skepticism was a rarity among journalists inside the Beltway. Journalist Bob Simon of 60 MINUTES, who was based in the Middle East, questioned the reporting he was seeing and reading. "I mean we knew things or suspected things that perhaps the Washington press corps could not suspect. For example, the absurdity of putting up a connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda," he tells Moyers. "Saddam...was a total control freak. To introduce a wild card like Al Qaeda in any sense was just something he would not do. So I just didn't believe it for an instant." The program analyzes the stream of unchecked information from administration sources and Iraqi defectors to the mainstream print and broadcast press, which was then seized upon and amplified by an army of pundits. While almost all the claims would eventually prove to be false, the drumbeat of misinformation about WMDs went virtually unchallenged by the media. THE NEW YORK TIMES reported on Iraq's "worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb," but according to Landay, claims by the administration about the possibility of nuclear weapons were highly questionable. Yet, his story citing the "lack of hard evidence of Iraqi weapons" got little play. In fact, throughout the media landscape, stories challenging the official view were often pushed aside while the administration's claims were given prominence. "From August 2002 until the war was launched in March of 2003 there were about 140 front page pieces in THE WASHINGTON POST making the administration's case for war," says Howard Kurtz, the POST's media critic. "But there was only a handful of stories that ran on the front page that made the opposite case. Or, if not making the opposite case, raised questions."
"Buying the War" examines the press coverage in the lead-up to the war as evidence of a paradigm shift in the role of journalists in democracy and asks, four years after the invasion, what's changed? "More and more the media become, I think, common carriers of administration statements and critics of the administration," says THE WASHINGTON POST's Walter Pincus. "We've sort of given up being independent on our own."
Click to watch the video: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/video/flv/generic.html?s=moyj06p24f
Voyager 1 probe boldly goes, and goes – but is still in the solar system, says Nasa
Sensors record a dramatic fall in radiation more than 11bn miles from the sun as galactic cosmic rays soar
The Guardian, Wednesday 20 March 2013 19.15 GMT
A spacecraft that took off from Cape Canaveral 35 years ago is continuing its journey out of the solar system, Nasa said today.
The Voyager 1 probe was fired into space to observe the outer planets and the mysterious interstellar medium that lies beyond the solar system on 5 September 1977, as Elvis was topping the UK chart with Way Down.
Sensors onboard the far-flung probe recorded a dramatic fall in radiation more than 11bn miles (18bn kilometres) from the sun, while the intensity of galactic cosmic rays soared.
The spacecraft passed what researcher Bill Webber called the "heliocliff" on 25 August last year, according to a report in the journal, Geophysical Research Letters.
"Within just a few days, the heliospheric intensity of trapped radiation decreased, and the cosmic ray intensity went up as you would expect if it exited the heliosphere," said Webber, professor of astronomy at New Mexico State University. The heliosphere is the vast region of space that is dominated by the sun and the solar wind it produces. Surrounding the heliosphere is the interstellar gas and dust that spreads throughout the Milky Way.
Edward Stone, a Voyager project scientist based at the California Institute of Technology, said: "It is the consensus of the Voyager science team that Voyager 1 has not yet left the solar system or reached interstellar space. In December 2012, the Voyager science team reported that Voyager 1 is within a new region called 'the magnetic highway' where energetic particles changed dramatically. A change in the direction of the magnetic field is the last critical indicator of reaching interstellar space and that change of direction has not yet been observed."
The Voyager probes – there is a twin that trails far behind Voyager 1 – have survived their journey despite relying on aged technology. Each has only 68kb of computer memory; the smallest iPod nano, at 16gb, has over 16,384,000kb capacity. They carry enough fuel to last until 2020. No other object has travelled so far from Earth.
Whether Voyager 1 has reached interstellar space or lurks in some undefined region beyond the solar system is still up for debate, said Webber. "It's outside the normal heliosphere, I would say that. We're in a new region. And everything we're measuring is different and exciting."
Webber's report on Voyager was co-written by Frank McDonald, a scientist at the University of Maryland, who died a week after the probe appeared to leave the solar system. Paying tribute in the article, Webber wrote: "You wanted so badly to be able to finish this article that you had already started. Together we did it. Bon voyage!"
********Voyager 1 space probe enters 'new realm' – video
A computerised animation of Voyager 1, which took off from Earth 36 years ago, as it enters a new region of space on its way out of our solar system. Scientists at New Mexico State University say the Nasa probe is now between the normal heliosphere and interstellar space – a region known as the 'magnetic highway'. Massive changes in radiation levels alerted scientists to the atmospheric transitionhttp://www.guardian.co.uk/science/video/2013/mar/21/voyager-1-video
Telescopes needed to detect asteroids before they hit Earth, panel told
For every asteroid that has been detected, there were probably 100 more that have not been seen, including hundreds of thousands that are the size of the meteor that exploded in Russia last month, an expert says.
By HENRY FOUNTAIN
The New York Times
Making a case for the need to detect asteroids before they hit Earth, a former astronaut said Wednesday that the number of casualties would have been enormous had the space rock that exploded in Russia last month blown apart directly over New York City instead.
“We’d have a lot more than broken windows, that’s for sure,” the former astronaut, Edward Lu, told a Senate panel in Washington.
Lu, also a former Google executive, is now the chief executive of the B612 Foundation, a Silicon Valley group that wants to build a privately financed asteroid-detecting space telescope.
About 1,500 people were injured when the roughly 60-foot-diameter meteor exploded high in the atmosphere near the Russian city of Chelyabinsk on Feb. 15. Most of the injuries were caused by flying glass from shattered windows when a shock wave from the explosion — estimated to have been about 30 times more powerful than the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima — hit the city a minute and a half later.
“Had that shock wave been a lot closer to a city, it would have caused a lot more damage,” Lu said.
The Chelyabinsk meteor was not detected by any of the ground-based telescopes, operated by NASA and others, that are surveying the sky for space rocks that are in orbits that could intersect with Earth’s.
Those search programs are focused on larger asteroids, James Green, director of the planetary science division of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), told the Senate panel, the Science and Space Subcommittee.
So far about 10,000 have been detected, including about 95 percent of the estimated 1,100 that are a kilometer (about 1,000 yards) or more in diameter and have the potential to end civilization. So far, Green said, no asteroid has been found that poses a threat to the planet.
But Lu noted that for every asteroid that had been detected, there were probably 100 more that had not been seen, including hundreds of thousands that are the size of the Russian meteor.
“Right now, the amount of warning time that we are likely to get from one of these asteroids is zero,” he said.
In response to a question from Sen. Ted Cruz, of Texas, the ranking Republican on the subcommittee, Lu said that given enough lead time, there were various ways to divert an asteroid to make it miss Earth entirely, including something as basic as running into it with a spacecraft to nudge it just a bit.
“I’m eager for our collective journey to ensure that NASA and all related programs have sufficient resources and sufficient priorities to do what needs to be done,” said Cruz, who was elected last year with tea-party backing, in his opening remarks.
Asked after the hearing about the senator’s position on the NASA budget, only a small portion of which goes toward asteroid detection, a spokeswoman for Cruz said she had no comment.
**********Large asteroid colliding with Earth 'probable this century' - video
20 March 2013
Physicist and former Nasa astronaut, Dr. Ed Lu, discusses the possible threat that near-Earth asteroids pose to our planet. Lu claims there is a 30% chance of a five mega tonne impact happening this century. He says technologies exist that may prevent impacts to Earth, but without years of advance notice there would be 'no option'http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/video/2013/mar/20/asteroid-colliding-earth-probable-video
March 21, 2013
North Korea Threatens U.S. Military Bases in the Pacific
By CHOE SANG-HUN
SEOUL — North Korea on Thursday threatened to attack U.S. military bases in Japan and the Pacific island of Guam in retaliation for training missions by American B-52 bombers over the Korean Peninsula, while state radio blared air-raid warnings to the North Korean people.
Until the 1990s, air-raid drills had been a popular tool for the Pyongyang regime to highlight the perceived threat of an American invasion and to instill in its people a sense of crisis and solidarity. The one-hour air-raid drill on Thursday came amid heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula following the North’s nuclear test on Feb. 12 and the subsequent United Nations sanctions against Pyongyang.
Nuclear-capable B-52 bombers, taking off from Guam, had previously flown missions over South Korea as part of joint military exercises. But this month, the Pentagon took the rare action of publicly announcing those missions to reaffirm the United States’ “nuclear umbrella” for South Korea and Japan at a time of rising anxiety over the North’s nuclear threats. South Korean news media also carried photos of a U.S. nuclear-powered attack submarine making a port call at a South Korean naval base.
“The U.S. should not forget that the Anderson Air Force Base on Guam, where B-52s take off, and naval bases in Japan proper and Okinawa, where nuclear-powered submarines are launched, are within the striking range of the DPRK’s precision strike means,” a spokesman of the Supreme Command of the North Korean People’s Army told the state-run Korean Central News Agency on Thursday.
He added, without elaborating, “Now that the U.S. started open nuclear blackmail and threat, the DPRK, too, will move to take corresponding military actions.”
DPRK stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name.
Japan and U.S. Pacific bases are within range of North Korea’s medium-range missiles, according to South Korean defense officials.
Separately, North Korea said on Thursday that it would convene its Supreme People’s Assembly on April 1. The rubber-stamp Parliament, which usually meets once a year, endorses government budgets, policies and personnel reshuffles ordered by the top leader, Kim Jong-un.
One of the two joint U.S. and South Korean military exercises that have infuriated North Korea ended on Thursday. But Seoul and Washington remained alert over the possibility that Pyongyang might follow up on some of its vaguely worded threats to attack the allies.
Such fears increased on Wednesday, when a hacking attack originating from an Internet address in China caused a widespread shutdown, paralyzing about 32,000 computers at South Korea’s two largest public broadcasters, an all-news cable channel and three banks.
The South’s Korea Communications Commission said on Thursday that a “single organization” was behind the spread of the malicious code. The virus infiltrated the networks through company servers that send automatic updates of security and other software.
While South Korean regulators said it was still too early to assign blame, suspicion fell on North Korea, which recently threatened Seoul and Washington with attacks. South Korea has previously accused North Korean hackers of using Chinese addresses to launch their attacks.
“With a strong suspicion over possible North Korean involvement, we are pursuing all possibilities," a senior aide to President Park Geun-hye told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
South Korea’s National Intelligence Service suspects North Korean involvement in at least 6 of 73,000 hacking attacks in South Korea since 2008, said an opposition lawmaker, Jung Cheong-rae, citing agency’s data provided at his request. The spy agency pointed the finger at North Korea in hacking attacks that disrupted South Korean government Web sites in 2009 and 2011, he said.
“Throughout the world, states that build means of cyberwarfare and engage in it are precisely the same countries that develop nuclear weapons,” a Defense Ministry spokesman, Kim Min-seok, said on Thursday, referring to the North’s nuclear programs.
The hacking attack on Wednesday brought down the servers of the South Korean broadcasters KBS and MBC and the cable channel YTN, as well as three commercial banks: Shinhan, NongHyup and Jeju. The coordinated attack shut down many cash machines across the country and left some people unable to use their debit or credit cards.
The banks reported normal operations on Thursday, except for some A.T.M.’s that needed repairs. The television stations broadcast normally but said many of their internal computers were still shut down.
The attack did not affect government agencies or transportation systems, and the banks said after preliminary investigations that their customers’ records had not been compromised.
Still, the disruptions raised a sense of vulnerability in South Korea, which has been proud of its broadband and mobile Internet access.
March 20, 2013
Computer Networks in South Korea Are Paralyzed in Cyberattacks
By CHOE SANG-HUN
SEOUL, South Korea — Computer networks running three major South Korean banks and the country’s two largest broadcasters were paralyzed Wednesday in attacks that some experts suspected originated in North Korea, which has consistently threatened to cripple its far richer neighbor.
The attacks, which left many South Koreans unable to withdraw money from A.T.M.’s and news broadcasting crews staring at blank computer screens, came as the North’s official Korean Central News Agency quoted the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, as threatening to destroy government installations in the South, along with American bases in the Pacific.
Though American officials dismissed those threats, they also noted that the broadcasters hit by the virus had been cited by the North before as potential targets.
The Korea Communications Commission said Thursday that the disruption originated at an Internet provider address in China but that it was still not known who was responsible.
Many analysts in Seoul suspect that North Korean hackers honed their skills in China and were operating there. At a hacking conference here last year, Michael Sutton, the head of threat research at Zscaler, a security company, said a handful of hackers from China “were clearly very skilled, knowledgeable and were in touch with their counterparts and familiar with the scene in North Korea.”
But there has never been any evidence to back up some analysts’ speculation that they were collaborating with their Chinese counterparts. “I’ve never seen any real evidence that points to any exchanges between China and North Korea, ” said Adam Segal, a senior fellow who specializes in China and cyberconflict at the Council on Foreign Relations,
Wednesday’s attacks, which occurred as American and South Korean military forces were conducting major exercises, were not as sophisticated as some from China that have struck United States computers, and certainly less sophisticated than the American and Israeli cyberattack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. But it was far more complex than a “denial of service” attack that simply overwhelms a computer system with a flood of data.
The malware is called “DarkSeoul” in the computer world and was first identified about a year ago. It is intended to evade some of South Korea’s most popular antivirus products and to render computers unusable. In Wednesday’s strikes, the attackers made no effort to disguise the malware, leading some to question whether it came from a state sponsor — which tend to be more stealthy — or whether officials or hackers in North Korea were sending a specific, clear message: that they can reach into Seoul’s economic heart without blowing up South Korean warships or shelling South Korean islands.
North Korea was accused of using both those techniques in attacks over the past three years.
The cyberattacks Wednesday come just days after North Korea blamed South Korea and the United States for attacks on some of its Web sites. The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said last week that North Korea “will never remain a passive onlooker to the enemies’ cyberattacks that have reached a very grave phase as part of their moves to stifle it.”
The South Korean government cautioned that it was still too early to point the finger for Wednesday’s problems at the North, which has been threatening “pre-emptive nuclear attacks” and other, unspecified actions against its southern neighbor for conducting the military exercises with the United States this month and for supporting new American-led United Nations sanctions against the North.
“We cannot rule out the possibility of North Korean involvement, but we don’t want to jump to a conclusion,” said Kim Min-seok, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry.
The military raised its alert against cyberattacks, he added, and the Korea Communications Commission asked government agencies and businesses to triple the number of monitors for possible hacking attacks. South Korea’s new president, Park Geun-hye, instructed a civilian-government task force to investigate the disruptions.
It could take months to determine the true source of the attacks, and sometimes investigators never come to a firm conclusion. In 2009, a similar campaign of coordinated cyberattacks over the Fourth of July holiday hit 27 American and South Korean Web sites, including South Korea’s presidential palace, called the Blue House; its Defense Ministry; and Web sites belonging to the United States Treasury Department, the Secret Service and the Federal Trade Commission.
But those were all “distributed denial of service” attacks in which attackers flood the sites with traffic until they fall offline. While many suspected North Korea, a clear link to the country was never established.
South Korea’s two leading television stations, the publicly financed Korean Broadcasting System and MBC, maintained normal broadcasts but said their computers were frozen. The cable channel YTN reported a similar problem. The KBS Web site was shut down.
Shinhan Bank, the country’s fourth-largest lender, reported that its Internet banking servers had been temporarily blocked. Technicians restored operations, the government’s Financial Services Commission said in a statement.
Two other banks, NongHyup and Jeju, reported that operations at some of their branches had been paralyzed after computers were infected with viruses and their files erased, the commission said. After two hours, the banks’ operations returned to normal, they said. A fourth bank, Woori, reported a hacking attack, but said it had suffered no damage.
The Web site of the Washington-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea was hacked by an entity calling itself “Hitman 007-Kingdom of Morocco,” which stole the committee’s publications and other documents, said its executive director, Greg Scarlatoiu.
He said he did not know whether the attack was linked to the disruptions in South Korea, but noted that it came a day before the United Nations Human Rights Council was to vote on the resolution calling for the establishment of an independent investigation of North Korean human rights abuses, including its running of prison gulags. The committee has been an active supporter of such an inquiry.
“This type of mishap is not to be unexpected, given the nature of our work,” Mr. Scarlatoiu said.
In testimony to Congress last year, Gen. James D. Thurman, the American commander in South Korea, described what he called North Korea’s “growing cyberwarfare capability.”
“North Korea employs sophisticated computer hackers trained to launch cyberinfiltration and cyberattacks” against South Korea and the United States, General Thurman said. “Such attacks are ideal for North Korea,” he added, “providing the regime a means to attack” South Korean and American businesses “without attribution.”
But security researchers and foreign policy experts say that North Korea faces significant hurdles. “They simply don’t have access to the same technology due to sanctions,” said Mr. Sutton, of Zscaler. “And a large portion of their population does not have ready access to the Internet, so they don’t have that natural pool of talent to recruit from.”
Lee Seong-won, an official at the communications commission, told reporters on Wednesday that the malicious code, once activated, disrupted the booting of computers. “It will take time for us to find out the identity and motive of those who were behind this attack,” he said.
The government investigators were also checking whether the images of skulls that reportedly popped up on some computer screens had anything to do with the virus attack.
In recent years, North Korea has vowed to attack South Korean television stations and newspapers for carrying articles critical of its government, even citing the map coordinates of their headquarters.
Nicole Perlroth contributed reporting from San Francisco, and David E. Sanger from Washington.
March 20, 2013
China: Leader Says He Wants to Ease Tensions Between Two Koreas
By CHRIS BUCKLEY
China’s newly appointed president, Xi Jinping, left, spoke to his South Korean counterpart, Park Geun-hye, by telephone on Wednesday, and told her that his government wanted to help ease tensions between the two Koreas. China has long served as the North’s political and economic mainstay, but it also seeks to keep close ties with the South, which is a much larger trade partner. “The South and North are compatriots, and relations between them are of vital importance for the peninsula,” Mr. Xi told Ms. Park, according to a statement by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “China is willing to provide the necessary assistance to encourage bilateral reconciliation and cooperation between the South and North.” Relations between the Koreas have been especially tense since North Korea staged a nuclear test last month and the United Nations responded with sanctions, infuriating the North.
March 20, 2013
A Building Boom in China
By HOLLAND COTTER
After years of fevered activity, museum building and expansion in the United States have slowed to a crawl under a low-lying economic cloud. In Europe, where the climate is even stormier, venerable state-financed institutions go begging for cash.
In China, by contrast, the fiscal sun shines.
Museums — big, small, government-backed, privately bankrolled — are opening like mad. In 2011 alone, some 390 new ones appeared. And the numbers are holding. China is opening museums on a surreal scale.
Many are multipurpose affairs, mixing history, ethnography, science, politics, art and entertainment. The museum devoted only to art is a relatively novel concept in China. Models for it, most of them Western, are still being sorted out, though they tend to line up at either end of the temporal spectrum, focusing on the very new or the very old.
Until recently, museums of contemporary art in China had been privately run, either as corporate entities or as the vanity showcases of rich collectors. Last October, an important precedent was set with the opening of the Shanghai Contemporary Art Museum, the country’s first government-supported museum of up-to-the-minute work.
If official acknowledgment of the importance of Chinese art’s international stature was long delayed, it was fairly bold when it arrived. The Shanghai museum, popularly known as the Power Station of Art — it’s in a converted 19th-century power plant — is physically spectacular. It opened with a major globalist bang in the form of the 9th Shanghai Biennale, which filled the capacious interior and spread out into the surrounding city.
The Biennale still has a little time to run; it closes March 31. Meanwhile, some 1,600 miles west of Shanghai, at the oasis city of Dunhuang on the edge of the Gobi Desert, another museum, or something like a museum, far less conventional than the Power Station, is under construction. Its purpose is not to attract crowds to new art, but to keep them away from damaging contact with old art, specifically the ancient and rapidly deteriorating Buddhist murals that cover the interiors of hundreds of caves in the Dunhuang area.
Painted between the fourth and 14th centuries at a central point on the Silk Road, the caves constitute a virtual museum of cosmopolitan Chinese culture spanning a millennium.
As different as they are, the Shanghai and Dunhuang museums share one quality typical of China’s new cultural institutions: ambitiousness. Often this is simply measured in size.
When the revamped National Museum of China opened in Beijing in 2011, much was made, officially, of its being, square foot for square foot, the single largest museum of any kind in the world, even though the history of China it told was strategically truncated.
The taste for gigantism was evident again in Shanghai last fall. On the same October day that the Power Station opened, so did a second state museum in Shanghai, the China Art Museum, sometimes called the China Art Palace. Dedicated largely to 20th-century Chinese modernism, and housed in a zany lacquer-red structure originally erected for the 2010 World Expo, it advertised itself as the biggest museum of new art in the country. So it is, though anyone could see that its exhausting display would benefit from serious editing.
But Shanghai’s two state museums are only the tip of the city’s new-art iceberg, with smaller institutions making up in sheer numbers what they lack in size. Most of the smaller museums are privately owned and financed. At least two, the Minsheng Art Museum and the Rockbund Art Museum, have solid reputations.
The Minsheng, supported by a banking corporation, specializes in contemporary Chinese art. Under its deputy director, Zhou Tiehai, himself a well-known artist (his satirical “Joe Camel” paintings made the international rounds a decade or so ago), the museum has organized valuable retrospectives for midcareer artists who have been influential in China without being well known abroad.
The Rockbund, which opened in 2010, operates as a kind of kunsthalle, with rotating shows and no collection. It is notable for highlighting non-Chinese art, a trend that has spread to larger museums. When the China Art Palace opened it featured a special show, “Congratulations From the World,” of premier odds-and-ends loans from the British Museum, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Whitney Museum of American Art. The Power Station recently played host to Surrealist surveys from the Pompidou Center in Paris.
An international mix is the rule in the proliferating number of vanity museums created by private collectors.
Late last year, Liu Yiqian, a billionaire Shanghai investor, and his wife, Wang Wei, opened their Dragon Museum (also known as the Long Museum), with holdings that included ancient bronzes, Mao-era paintings and contemporary works. The couple’s attention is now focused exclusively on the new and, being ardent shoppers, they have plans for a second museum in the city.
That will be joined by yet another museum, to hold the collection of Budi Tek, a Chinese-Indonesian entrepreneur who in 2011 made the Art & Auction list of the 10 most powerful figures in the international art world. At the time he had been buying for a scant six years but had already established a museum in Jakarta. Now, thanks to a Chinese government deal, he has at his disposal a building, an old airplane hangar, ready to be renovated and expanded for a museum in Shanghai.
Given the current trophy value of new art in China, and the fact that the country has, according to Forbes, the world’s second-highest number of billionaires, the prospect of further private museums seems endless. How those museums will shape up, though, is a question. Building walls is one thing; gathering significant work is another.
Many private collections now are simply products of what the global market pushes: the same three hot Chinese artists, hot European artists, and so on. But while museums for such collections proliferate, China still has no museum offering anything like a comprehensive historical view of the country’s contemporary art over the last 30 years. And features that are taken for granted in museums elsewhere — scholarship, educational outreach, overarching curatorial perspectives — are absent or in a nascent stage in many of China’s institutions of new art.
Without knowledgeable administrative oversight, what is to prevent future state-sponsored museums of new art — and surely there will be more — from mindlessly going the bigger-is-better route? What is to prevent private museums from being glorified storage facilities — places for collectors to park art, with no higher purpose than to flaunt personal power through material accumulation?
Higher purpose is precisely what the Dunhuang project has going for it. Or maybe higher purposes: to preserve the past, but also, symbolically, to right past wrongs.
Buddhist caves are found in several sites around Dunhuang, but a large majority, some 700, are carved into long cliffs at a place called Mogao several miles outside the city. According to legend, in the fourth century a wandering monk was drawn to Mogao by a vision of flashing lights. Believing the place holy, he scooped out a cave from the cliff and stayed.
Other monks came. More caves were excavated as temples and meditation halls, and their walls covered with paintings. Stucco sculptures of the Buddha, some very large, were created and painted to produce total decorative environments. The site became a magnet for pilgrimages, and a major center of learning with a vast library of handwritten manuscripts gathered from imperial China to the east, and India and beyond to the west.
In the 14th century, as trade shifted from land to sea routes, traffic dropped off; the number of monks diminished. At some point, a library of some 50,000 manuscripts was sealed up in a single cave for safety. Mogao’s existence was forgotten. In the late 19th century, it was rediscovered, and starting in 1900 a succession of explorers — from Europe, Russia, Japan, the United States — arrived on the scene. They chipped paintings off walls and sent them home. They found the sealed library, divided it up and shipped most of it out. The Qing dynasty did nothing to prevent any of this.
It was only long after that, in the 1940s, that China fully reclaimed the caves and began restoring them. Over time, their mystique grew. In 1979, the year they were opened to the public, 20,000 visitors came. By the late 2000s, the annual count had soared to 800,000. By this time, the threat of damage to the paintings, through exposure to human-generated humidity and carbon dioxide, had become severe. Today, almost all the caves are closed.
To preserve Mogao as both a work of art and a tourist goal, archaeologists in charge of the site submitted a proposal to the Chinese government for a visitor center that would let people experience the caves with minimal access. The plan was approved. The visitor center, designed by the Beijing architect Cui Kai as a group of futuristic, dunelike domes, will open this year.
The operation will be carefully regulated. Visitors will come to the center, be shown a short film on the Silk Road history of Dunhuang, and then see immersive digital projections of several of the most elaborate cave interiors. They will then go a few miles by bus to Mogao, where they will see several real caves and spend time in a museum of Mogao artifacts — portable sculptures, textiles, handwritten scrolls — before returning to the center.
A selection of such objects will be at the China Institute Gallery in Manhattan beginning April 19 to kick off “The Year of Dunhuang,” a series of events geared to attracting Western attention, and dollars. Of the $52 million that the center will cost, $33 million is from the Chinese government; the rest must be raised independently.
This project is by no means the only example of digitally assisted conservation in China. A similar one was documented in a show called “Echoes of the Past: The Buddhist Cave Temples of Xiangtangshan,” which was organized by the Smart Museum of Art in Chicago in 2010. But Dunhuang holds a special place in China’s cultural imagination. To care for it is to make amends for past neglect. Perhaps most important, to see the art of those caves in place at the desert’s edge is a deep experience.
Will that experience be as intense with some digital intervention? And if so, how much is acceptable? As in matters of contemporary culture, China is asking questions, about both the nature of art and the function of museums, that we rarely consider. But with money for our own cultural institutions hard to come by; with billionaire vanity museums on the rise here too; and with a 21st-century museum audience addicted to seeing art through cellphone screens, China’s long museological learning curve has much to teach us.
Julia Gillard survives attempt to replace her as Australian prime minister
Labor leader forced by senior members of government to throw job open to contest but Kevin Rudd refuses to nominate
Alison Rourke in Sydney
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 21 March 2013 07.28 GMT
In an extraordinary day in Australian politics, the prime minister, Julia Gillard has kept her job after a day of political wrangling that ended with a leadership contest where no one dared stand against her.
Julia Gillard announced a "spill" – declaring her position open and inviting rivals to nominate for the job of Labor leader and, thereby, prime minister. The dramatic move followed calls by a senior ministers in her government for her to be replaced in the top job by her predecessor, Kevin Rudd. But when the ballot took place two and a half hours later, Rudd refused to nominate.
"I'm grateful to my colleagues for their continuing support for me as demonstrated in our meeting," Gillard told a press conference after she had been reconfirmed in her position as leader.
"Today the leadership of our political party, the Labor party, has been settled and settled in the most conclusive fashion possible. The whole business is completely at an end. It has ended now."
The conservative opposition leader, Tony Abbott, whom Gillard accused of sexism and misogyny in a fiery speech last year, said the only way to resolve the crisis of leadership in the government was to hold an early election, before the scheduled date of 14 September.
"The civil war [in the Labor party] goes on," he said. "The civil war will continue as long as Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard are in parliament. The only way to give our country the good government that we so badly need right now is to have an election. We cannot wait for September 14."
The extraordinary day began when Simon Crean, one of the most senior figures in Gillard's minority Labor government, called on her to end speculation over her leadership by calling a ballot. It followed a chaotic week in parliament that saw her government fail to force through a controversial media bill that would have introduced a statutory regulator for newspapers.
Supporters and opponents of Gillard publicly attacked the process of the legislation, saying it was rushed to parliament, suggesting chaos within the government. Newspapers depicted Gillard's communications minister, Stephen Conroy, the man behind the media bills, as Joseph Stalin, implying the measures in the bills would sit better in a totalitarian regime than a democracy.
Once Gillard had called for a leadership spill on Thursday all eyes then turned to Kevin Rudd, the man she had ousted as leader of the Labor party and prime minister in June 2010. Rudd's removal was the first time a first-term sitting Australian prime minister had been ousted by his own party.
Virtually ever since Rudd has led Gillard in opinion polls as preferred Labor leader, causing constant speculation about her tenure in the job in a hotly contested hung parliament.
Rudd eventually challenged Gillard for the leadership in February 2012 but was resoundingly defeated by 71 votes to 31. He vowed not to challenge again and left it until 10 minutes before the vote on the party's leadership to declare he would not be nominating.
"The only circumstances under which I would consider a return to the leadership would be if there was an overwhelming majority of the parliamentary party requesting such a return – drafting me to return – and the position was vacant. I am here to inform you that those circumstances do not exist," Rudd said.
In the end there was no vote for Gillard's leadership position because no one else put their name forward in the party room.
Few doubt that the day's events have damaged the government's reputation. Two opinion polls in the past month indicated that Labor would lose September's election in a landslide.
Members of parliament from both sides of the house now return to their electorates for the six week autumn break.
Julia Gillard apologises to Australian mothers for forced adoptions
Thousands of unwed women were made to give up their children so that they could be adopted by married couples
Associated Press in Canberra
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 21 March 2013 01.28 GMT
Australian prime minister Julia Gillard delivered a historic national apology in parliament on Thursday to the thousands of unwed mothers who were forced by government policies to give up their babies for adoption over several decades.
More than 800 people, many of them in tears, heard the apology and responded with a standing ovation.
"Today this parliament, on behalf of the Australian people, takes responsibility and apologises for the policies and practices that forced the separation of mothers from their babies, which created a lifelong legacy of pain and suffering," Gillard told the audience.
"We acknowledge the profound effects of these policies and practices on fathers and we recognise the hurt these actions caused to brothers and sisters, grandparents, partners and extended family members," she said.
"We deplore the shameful practices that denied you, the mothers, your fundamental rights and responsibilities to love and care for your children," she added.
Gillard committed A$5m to support services for affected families and to help biological families reunite.
A national apology was recommended a year ago by a Senate committee that investigated the impacts of the now-discredited policies.
Unwed mothers were pressured, deceived and threatened into giving up their babies from the second world war until the early 1970s so they could be adopted by married couples, which was perceived to be in the children's best interests, the Senate committee report found.
The seven-member committee began investigating the federal government's role in forced adoption in 2010 after the Western Australian state parliament apologised to mothers and children for the practices in that state from the 1940s until the 1980s.
Western Australia was the first of five state and territory governments to apologise for forced adoption. Australia has eight such governments.
Roman Catholic hospitals in Australia apologised in 2011 for forcing unmarried mothers to give up babies for adoption and urged state governments to accept financial responsibility.
Catholic Health Australia, the largest nongovernment hospital operator in Australia, said the practice of adopting out such children to married couples was "regrettably common" from the 1950s to the 1970s.
Adoption in Australia is mostly controlled by state laws, but the report found that the federal government had contributed to forced adoption by failing to provide unwed mothers with full welfare benefits to which a widow or deserted wife would have been entitled until 1973.
Australian adoptions peaked at almost 10,000 a year in 1972, before rapidly declining. The report found that decline could reflect the availability of welfare, the use of oral contraceptives and the legalisation of abortion.
Among unwed mothers, adoption rates were as high as 60% in the late 1960s, the report said.
The committee could not estimate how many adoptions were forced but said they numbered in the thousands.
03/20/2013 04:48 PM
World from Berlin: Iraq War Seen as 'Strategic Failure by Many'
Germany opposed the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, and little has changed about that stance a decade later. German editorialists on Wednesday gauge the effects of the war on the global balance of power, and their conclusions aren't positive.
On the 10th anniversary of the American invasion of Iraq, the conflict's complicated legacy continues to unfold.
One day ahead of the anniversary, President Barack Obama paid tribute on Tuesday to the nearly 4,500 United States soldiers who died in the conflict, in addition to the more than 30,000 who were wounded before troops left the country in 2011.
The scale of these personal sacrifices, however, pales in comparison to the price paid by the Iraqi population, of whom more than 100,000 are estimated to have been killed. While Obama opposed the war and campaigned for office with pledges to pull US troops out of Iraq, the situation in the country they left behind remains fragile at best.
A recent spike in ongoing political unrest and sectarian violence in the country was highlighted once again late on Tuesday when terrorist group al-Qaida claimed responsibility for a series of suicide attacks that left some 65 people dead. "We will have our revenge," read an al-Qaida statement on a jihadist website.
Ignoring fierce opposition to the invasion from many countries abroad -- including Germany and France -- the United States, under then-President George W. Bush, began bombing the Iraqi capital Baghdad on March 20, 2003, calling the operation "shock and awe." The aim of the war was to oust Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and take out his "weapons of mass destruction." Though Hussein was eventually found, tried and executed, no WMDs were ever found.
The war went on to cost the US government hundreds of billions of dollars, and, according to German editorialists, a great deal of credibility. On the anniversary of the invasion, they take a look this week at the state of America and the Middle East one decade after the war.
Center-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"Ten years ago when the US armed forces attacked Iraq with a few allies who served as alibis, then reached Baghdad after a few days and drove out Saddam Hussein, the US experienced a collective feeling of satisfaction. Iraq was revenge for New York. One can put it that bluntly today because naturally there was a need for retaliation, for a demonstration of strength. The public justifications for the war were periphery by comparison: chemical weapons, a nuclear program and Saddam as the long-time bogeyman. No, America wanted to re-establish its authority."
"Today, American policy has largely recovered from its perspective of hyper-hegemony. But at what price? No one would claim any longer that order and stability, much less democracy, can be achieved by force of arms. And the country wouldn't even inwardly admit to the immense debts it has piled up in the shadow of its wars. No one wants to gauge the loss of credibility that America and the West have suffered in the rest of the world, either. However, those in Germany who would triumphantly wag their fingers should think twice. Elegant statecraft was nowhere to be found in the divisive opposition to George W. Bush."
"In history there is not always a clear sequence of causalities. … But the Iraq war generated a powerful break -- both for the people in the region and America. It marked the start of a phase of deep societal shift in the Arab world, and the beginning of a new world order for the US. Proof of this comes with President Barack Obama's visit to Israel this week -- the first of his presidency, and one that is largely powerless. The Statue of Liberty still stands in the New York harbor, announcing America's mission to the world. It's a mission that has become unimaginably large in the Middle East -- so big that even the US must humbly acknowledge its limits."
Left-leaning daily Die Tageszeitung writes:
"The Iraq war serves mainly as yet another lesson that domestic and regional balance of power can't be changed by even the most oppressive foreign military power. It's a lesson that is constantly forgotten."
"The balance of power in the Arab world won't be sustainably altered through foreign intervention, but from the inside -- and even that is a difficult undertaking, as we've seen in the last two turbulent years of upheaval. The Iraq war probably delayed change in the Arab world by several years because the Arab dictators were able to discredit their indigenous democracy movements with a simple: 'Do you want to become like Iraq?'. Because Iraq represents much of what the Arabs do not want: a society destroyed and polarized by foreign intervention with a traumatized population. It was in spite of the Iraq war, not because of it, that a decade later the Arab world indeed began to change. It's chaotic, turbulent, and there's an unknown outcome. But this time it's autonomous."
Conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"It was a war that the United States basically chose for itself, and then decided upon quickly based on its military superiority. But they failed to achieve peace, if it's to be defined in broader terms than just Saddam Hussein's fall. They had no plan for it. Its motives, circumstances and results have made the Iraq war a strategic failure in the eyes of many. … The Iraqis have to bear the consequences, but so do the Americans. George W. Bush's government was so convinced of its 'mission' that it managed to create a huge rift in the Western community. The approach led to an intra-Western confrontation about its conformity to international law, which damaged the reputation of the US. The skepticism of interventions that President Obama faces is in part due to the country's moral discreditation, in addition to the country's economic depletion."
"In any case, an episode that began on a late summer day in September 2001 has come to an end. Without the 'attack on America,' the Bush administration would not have gone after the al-Qaida leaders and their Taliban helpers in Afghanistan, and the US would not have marched into Iraq after Saddam Hussein (whose overthrow had been the official goal of American policy since the late 1990s). Thousands of American soldiers and over 100,000 Iraqis died. Hundreds of billions of dollars were devoured by both wars. From now on, because the achievements have been so limited compared to the costs, the US will practice greater restraint. Its role in the Libya uprising and the Syria conflict have shown that already. America is unlikely to engage in war again 'only' for the sake of democracy in the troubled Arab world. This kind of idealism -- or neoconservative furor -- won't be mustered again anytime soon. The question is whether global power is now swinging from one extreme to another."
-- Kristen Allen
03/20/2013 06:18 PM
Iraq Anniversary: 10 Lessons from America's 'Dumb War'
By Sebastian Fischer in Washington
A decade on, polls suggest that a majority of Americans view the 2003 invasion of Iraq as a mistake. Right or wrong, the war has immensely influenced how America sees itself, is seen and conducts itself on the global stage.
The United States fought in Iraq for nine years. With the exception of the war in Afghanistan, it was America's longest combat engagement ever: longer than the American Civil War, the two World Wars, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Any country that enters into a war emerges from it changed. It is inevitable that there is a before and an after. There are the dead, the wounded, the survivors.
But that's not all. There are wars that are just and necessary, like America's fight against Nazi Germany. And there are wars that are senseless and wrong, like the war against Iraq. Society, politicians and the military have drawn lessons from both wars. They recognize and welcome these lessons to varying degrees, whether they are right or wrong. War transforms a nation.
Bruce Riedel, formerly a senior CIA official and presidential adviser, views the transition as such: "The Iraq War elected Barack Obama and transformed American foreign policy. There is a national consensus (that) it was a dumb war, (that) the costs were enormous and that it was one of the country's biggest mistakes." The shadow of this war, he continues, "weighs heavily" on the stances that America is now assuming toward Iran, Syria and Libya. The war's legacy "will haunt America for years."
Ten years ago, on March 19, 2003, then-President George W. Bush announced the beginning of the war, saying that America "will accept no outcome but victory." Eight years and nine months later, on Dec. 18, 2011, the last US soldiers pulled out of Iraq. President Barack Obama declared: "The tide of war is receding."
What remains from the war? How has it changed America and Americans? And how has it altered American policies. Here are 10 lessons for the 10th anniversary of the launching of combat operations against Iraq:
1. It was a "dumb war"
The phrase comes from Barack Obama. In the fall of 2002, then-Illinois state senator Obama told a crowd of people protesting against an impending invasion of Iraq: "I'm not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars." A total of 1.5 million US soldiers served in Iraq. An estimated one-third of them suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder. Over 30,000 of them were injured. And 4,422 died. What was the point? In January 2002, President George W. Bush declared: "The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons." On Feb. 5, 2003, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell sat before the UN Security Council and assured its members (and the world) that: "There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more." But the dictator's suspected weapons of mass destruction were never found. In his 2006 biography, Powell characterized his UN presentation as a "blot" on his record. Today, many Americans are critical of the war. A poll conducted in early January by YouGov found that 52 percent of American's think the invasion of Iraq was a mistake, while only 31 percent still believe it was the right thing to do.
2. The war damaged America's image
America's invasion of Iraq isolated it in the world. President Bush's policies were viewed with greater skepticism in the West and created new enemies in the Arab world. In summarizing the moral damage the war inflicted on the US, SPIEGEL wrote: "For this war, America has broken international law, defamed allies and made the United Nations an object of derision." The torture scandal from Abu Ghraib, a prison on the western edge of Baghdad, has caused lasting damage to the proud democracy's moral reputation. US soldiers viewed themselves as liberators who uncovered the dictator's violations of human rights. But they were seen as occupiers, as a power that threw the country into chaos and a civil war that cost more than 100,000 Iraqis their lives.
3. The war discredited the CIA
Under pressure from the Bush administration, America's foreign intelligence agency provided the supposed proof that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. When Colin Powell went before the UN and gambled away his credibility, then-CIA chief George Tenet was sitting behind him. In 2011, Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, codenamed "Curveball," who had provided key testimony to the CIA, revealed that he had lied and purposefully provided false information about Iraq's biological weapons. "They gave me this chance," al-Janabi told the Guardian newspaper. "I had the chance to fabricate something to topple the regime."
4. The war divided the nation
One of the reasons that the Democrats and Republicans in Washington have become such bitter rivals can be traced back to their conflicting stances on the war. Democrats threw their support behind Bush at first, but they would later come to feel tricked. The massive degree of residual antagonism recently surfaced in the battle over Chuck Hagel, Obama's nominee to become his secretary of defense. Hagel, a Republican himself, had once branded the 2007 surge in Iraq as the "most dangerous foreign-policy blunder in this country since Vietnam." His fellow Republicans didn't forget what he said -- and tried to block his appointment for weeks.
5. The war fueled Obama's victory in the presidential election
He may have lacked experience, but during the Democratic primaries of 2008, Barack Obama had one clear advantage coming out of the gates: Unlike his fiercest rival, Hilary Clinton, he had never voted for the invasion of Iraq. In fact, he could even point to his 2002 statement about how it would be a "dumb war." In a television debate held in Cleveland in February 2008, Obama accused Clinton of having been "ready to give in to George Bush on day one on this critical issue." This allowed him to score points among war-weary Americans, first with Democrats and later during the presidential campaign against the Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain. Obama promised to "end the Iraq War in a responsible fashion."
6. It was the war of the neocons
For years, toppling Saddam Hussein had been a goal of the neocons surrounding Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and William Kristol, the intellectual godfathers of the movement. Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld helped win acceptance for neocon fantasies about using the military to foster democracy around the world. The hawks surrounding Bush viewed the terrorist attacks of 9/11 as legitimizing an attack on Iraq -- despite the fact that there was no connection between Hussein's regime and al-Qaida. Indeed, in his 2004 memoir "Against All Enemies," former Bush counter-terrorism czar Richard A. Clarke wrote that bombing Iraq after being attacked by al-Qaida "would be like our invading Mexico after the Japanese attacked us at Pearl Harbor."
7. The neocons learned little from the war
The neocons haven't disappeared at all. William Kristol, for example, the founder of the conservative political magazine The Weekly Standard, continues to gush praise on the decision to invade Iraq. And these freedom fighters have had another target in view for a long time: Iran. Kristol scoffs at the idea that anyone would believe an Iranian nuclear bomb could be controlled. Meanwhile, Rumsfeld and Cheney have both published memoirs, but one would be hard-pressed to find any hints of self-criticism. Nor have their ideas about waging preemptive wars been abandoned. To a certain extent, President Obama is doing the exact same thing with his drone war against terrorists: taking out potential opponents before they have a chance to strike.
8. The Iraq War paved the way to the shadow war
The Iraq War shaped US policy on waging war. At first, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld focused on having a "light footprint" by having only 145,000 US and Allied soldiers take part in the invasion of Iraq. The result was chaos. The soldiers succeeded in conquering the country, but they failed to establish peace. After Rumsfeld resigned in November 2006, General David Petraeus implemented a counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy that involved dedicating more soldiers to protecting the civilian population and coordinated fighting against insurgents. The situation in Iraq grew calmer, and newly elected President Obama let the COIN strategy be used in Afghanistan, as well. But when it met with failure, Obama placed his bets on shadow warfare: drone attacks against suspected terrorists and militants in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen; deploying elite combat units; and waging cyber warfare against Iran's nuclear facilities.
9. The war shaped America's stance toward the Arab Spring
One of the most important lessons that Obama derived from the war in Iraq was: just don't get caught up in a second dumb war. This led the United States to hold back during the tumult dubbed the Arab Spring. In the case of Libya, for example, America only supported the rebels for a short time with aerial attacks and allowed the Europeans to lead the West's intervention in the war. Obama's advisers described the policy as "leading from behind." The hawks from the Bush administration were stunned. In a SPIEGEL interview in September 2011, former Vice President Dick Cheney criticized Obama's policy, saying that to "leave it up to others… (was) not necessarily a good way to do business." When it comes to the ongoing civil war in Syria, Obama is facing growing pressure to allow insurgents to at least be provided with direct military assistance. But there are great misgivings about whether getting involved in Syria could eventually become a second Iraq. "Indeed, Syria is Iraq's twin," New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman warned in July 2012, "a multisectarian, minority-ruled dictatorship that was held together by an iron fist under Baathist ideology."
10. The effects of the war pervade the country
Young men and women with amputated limbs are not a rare sight on American streets. The war is everywhere. Everyone knows a veteran, and many lost relatives or friends in Iraq. People put oval bumper-sticker decals on their cars that say "IRQ" (for Iraq) with "I SERVED" in smaller letters below. This is usually a sign of defiant pride given that veterans of the Iraq War are often pitied for having served in a war fought for the wrong reasons, just like their fathers were after Vietnam. Many veterans are having trouble finding jobs, and the suicide rate is high. The nation is unsettled and tired of war. Many Democrats and Republicans alike don't want to hear about military missions abroad. Instead, there is widespread support for "nation-building at home."
03/20/2013 12:42 PM
Iraq's Model City: Kirkuk Thrives in Sea of Corruption and Violence
By Christoph Reuter
Ten years after the US invasion, Iraq is still plagued by sectarian violence, poverty and corruption. The northern city of Kirkuk, however, has defied predictions to emerge as a model of inter-ethnic reconciliation and relatively efficient government.
It promises to be a quiet day. Only one guard is posted on the front line in the clay hills 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Kirkuk, in northern Iraq. The other men drink tea under the awning of a tent and wait to see if the "Tigris Forces," an army sent from Baghdad and under the personal command of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, will attack.
The Kurdish fighters have been waiting at this hilltop location for more than three months. First they dug trenches. Then they brought tanks and anti-aircraft missiles into position. Later, they dragged ovens, TV sets and carpets up to the hills.
The Tigris Forces are in the valley below. "They are better equipped militarily," says Kurdish General Mohammed Saidar, "but we are peshmerga," the Kurdish fighters who supposedly have no fear of death, "and we don't give up. If necessary, we'll go back into the mountains and fight as partisans!"
Officially, the premier's army was sent to Kirkuk late last year to fight terrorism. The mission of the several thousand soldiers with the "Tigris Operations Command" was to gain control of the city.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) promptly mobilized its own troops, and the two armies have been facing off ever since -- despite the fact that both belong to the security forces of the some country and their leaders recognize the same president, Jalal Talabani. However, after suffering a serious stroke, Talabani is currently in therapy at a rehabilitation clinic in Germany, barely able to speak.
Ten years after the United States and its allies invaded Iraq and rapidly toppled then-dictator Saddam Hussein, and after years of civil war and an uneasy peace, divisions of combat-ready Iraqis are being pitted against and prepared to shoot each other.
When they withdrew from Iraq in late 2011, the Americans hoped to leave behind a democratic country. Iraq's enormous oil reserves, the thinking went, could easily provide the country with peace and prosperity. In early 2013, Iraqi oil production surpassed 3 million barrels a day and pushed ahead of Iranian production.
But the billions in revenues are not reaching ordinary people, and Iraq still isn't at peace even a decade after the war began. Maliki's plan to bring the country under the control of his Shiite troops has incensed Sunnis and Kurds. The premier has his army march under the black banner of the Shiites, as it fires on Sunni protestors and police officers. Feuding mafia-like cartels commit murder, and corruption is eating away at the nation. Bombs explode almost daily. On Tuesday alone, almost 20 bombs killed at least 65 people.
Meanwhile, Washington hardly has any influence over what happens in Baghdad anymore. And although Iran's Shiite leadership supports Maliki, it has only limited control over events.
A More Peaceful Breaking Point
Kirkuk is a multiethnic city thousands of years old and claimed by Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen alike. American occupiers already viewed it as the predetermined breaking point of the new Iraq. They predicted that the various groups in the "Mesopotamian Jerusalem" would begin attacking each other after US troops had withdrawn.
The first oil in Iraq was discovered in Kirkuk in 1927. Since the 1930s, gas flares have been burning day and night on the city's outskirts, serving as a reminder of the riches that whoever controls the region has access to. An American colonel once said that this city could plunge the entire country into ruin.
It's looking that way at the moment, but not, as was once predicted, because of the city's residents. In Kirkuk, where the local television station broadcasts in four languages, Muslims and Christians, Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen coexist more peacefully than they did years ago.
Although the parties are still at odds over voter registration problems, residents are increasingly indifferent to the issue. "We just want to live normally," says Murah Salah, a Turkmen mechanic. "We want to have jobs, electricity, security, a functioning garbage-collection service and," he adds with a smile, "to be able to drive out to barbecues on the weekend!"
He is referring to the sort of outing that's taking place on a large meadow outside the city today. Mohammed Hilmi and his family are picnicking directly next to the Salah family. Yes, things have improved, he says. "In the past, people sat on their blankets, far apart from each other, and no one spoke with anyone else. Those days are now gone."
Delwar Abdul Aziz, a Kurdish pharmacist, says: "After Saddam, we just needed time to become normal again. There was deep-seated fear and mistrust. Now people trust each other again. The attacks are certainly a problem, but the terrorists are definitely not from here."
Defusing Kirkuk 's Conflict
Neither Kurds nor Arabs nor Turkmen alone control Kirkuk and its population of 900,000. But that circumstance has probably kept things relatively stable in the city, which has put coexistence to the test for centuries, and which, in addition to the three main ethnic groups, is home to religious groups like the Yazidis, Kakai and Assyrian Christians. Jews are the only religious group to have left Kirkuk, in the 1950s.
When competing groups are forced to hammer out compromises, the result is checks and balances. Perhaps another reason for the city's stability is that the Kirkukis got rid of their corrupt governor two years ago and elected a new one, whose nickname is the "Bulldozer."
Najmuddin Karim, a Kurdish neurosurgeon who lived in the United States for 35 years, has fired corrupt officials, built roads, bridges and a new market, and created a few thousand temporary administrative jobs. Now that Karim is in office, electricity is available for 20 instead of four hours a day, and there are even streetlights, in Kurdish, Arab and Turkmen neighborhoods alike.
Although Karim hasn't managed to end the conflict over Kirkuk, he has defused it. "We must treat everyone as a citizen, something we failed to do in the past," says Karim, who is in his mid-60s. "Of course I would like to see Kirkuk become part of the Kurdish region. But it won't work if the Sunnis and Turkmen don't agree!"
Even the leaders of former dictator Saddam's Sunnis, the losers of 2003, seem to have made their peace with the Kurds. This is especially ironic in Kirkuk, where Saddam expelled tens of thousands of Kurds after a failed uprising in the 1990s and brought in Sunnis from the south to settle there.
Maliki's Increasing Power
A group of Sunnis are gathering for a Friday demonstration in front of a grandstand on the city's outskirts. "Like in Cairo," they say. But the 1,100 protesters are not there to address power-related issues in Kirkuk. "We want justice! Fight the repression. Fight Maliki's dictatorship!" the men chant. There is something odd about former supporters of Saddam Hussein taking to the streets to demand fundamental democratic rights.
"Sunnis are no longer allowed to become officers, and former Sunni members of the Baath Party are not allowed to return to their posts. Maliki is placing Shiites in all the positions," complains Bunyan Sabar al-Ubaidi, one of the organizers of the demonstration. "This is no democracy." The relationship with the Kurds was difficult in the past, he says, and the Sunnis were very concerned about being driven out by Kurds returning to Kirkuk. "But that's been resolved," he says. "Today we are all afraid of Maliki's dictatorship."
Maliki, a Shiite compromise candidate who became prime minister in 2006, cares less and less about democracy in Iraq. Initially underestimated as a bland apparatchik, he proved to be a savvy tactician. While still under the aegis of the United States, he took over the network of secret prisons and torture centers the Americans had set up. He developed and expanded Shiite special units, such as the Wolf and Tiger Brigades, as well as other militias, the most notorious of which is colloquially known as the "Fedayeen Maliki," a name derived from the deposed dictator's "Fedayeen Saddam."
Maliki eliminated the balance within the military leadership installed by Washington by simply creating new military units under his command, even including a second air force consisting of helicopter squadrons. Since the last election, in 2010, Maliki has assumed the positions of interior and defense minister, in addition to being prime minister.
He recently created the Tigris Forces, under the command of a Shiite general from the Saddam era who looks like a doppelgänger of the dead dictator, with the same drooping moustache, the same fleshy cheeks and the same facial expression. Wherever the Tigris Forces appear, as in the eastern Diyala Province, the police and political parties are required to submit to its command.
Injecting Renewed Ethnic Strife
But the terror the Tigris Forces were created to combat has not abated in Diyala. On the contrary, "there are now more attacks in Diyala, and the same is starting to happen here," says Kirkuk Province Police Chief Sarhad Kadir, as he lists the catastrophic attacks of the last few months: at least 21 dead in an attack on Jan. 16, and more than 30 dead on Feb. 3.
He was one of the targets in both attacks, and he was injured in the second one. "We haven't had any suicide bombings here in three years, and now they're happening again," he say. "We cooperated with the army's intelligence service in the past. We exchanged information, and there were joint operations. That's over now. They don't seem to care about the terrorists."
Kadir shrugs his shoulders and says that the terrorists are a strange mixture of various groups. "They collect protection money and organize kidnappings and, last week, al-Quida and Ansar al-Sunna were shooting at each other in the southwestern part of the province. They had a dispute over a payment of random money." The suicide bombers the terrorists use are often children, he says. "Otherwise, they pay people to place bombs."
Kadir's police force consists of a relatively balanced group of Kurds, Turkmens and Arabs. While he talks about the lunacy of the attacks, his assistant comes in with a trembling young Arab policeman in tow, who wants to speak with the general himself. He says that he can't stand it any more and want to leave the force. "They'll kill me if I return to my village in uniform," he says. For weeks, he adds, he has been receiving death threats by phone. "But this morning, they were lying in wait for me, and they said that they would cut off my head, put it between my legs and then set me on fire."
Kadir nods, as if the young man had just told him something innocuous. Then he makes a few phone calls. He tells someone in the crime-research unit to track down the telephone number from which the threatening calls were made. He tells the young police officer's supervisor to appoint five trustworthy men to investigate the case. "A quiet day," says the general, despite it all.
Defiance Despite Bombs
But that changes by the next afternoon. In a neighborhood called "90," named after the year Saddam had Sunnis settle there, a parked car explodes just as a police pickup truck is driving by. Two Arab policemen are killed instantly, and the Turkmen machine-gunner on the roof and two neighbors are seriously injured. A police officer uses his foot to push the remains of a flak jacket over a pool of blood from the man who had just worn the jacket. "May his soul rest in peace," he says.
Only two days later, a patrol notices two men loading explosives into a taxi while driving by. The men open fire before the officers can get out their car. The policemen return fire, hitting one of the men. A bomb explodes, and the officers become nervous. "How much explosive material do they still have in the car if they are crazy enough to shoot at us?" one of them asks.
The men surround the taxi. A bomb-disposal expert wearing a protective suit slowly walks over to the car and attaches a small explosive charge to the trunk with adhesive tape to detonate anything that might still be in the taxi. There is a loud explosion, leaving a gaping hole where the trunk used to be. The hood of the trunk sails into a garden with a crash, but apparently there were no other explosives in the car.
When the dust settles, the chief nods and the officers advance. The body of the dead driver is sprawled across the seats. The men pull him into the street by his arms and legs and leave the body there until an ambulance comes to pick it up. When the paramedics lift it onto a stretcher, a police officer snorts: "You should burn him! Just burn him!"
Bomb attacks have shaken the city for almost 10 years. The targets are police stations and party offices, as well as schools, shops and intersections. The terror isn't stopping, and yet it is not driving the ethnic groups against each other and creating a pogrom-like mood. Instead, it is triggering a collective mood of defiance.
Dabi, a Christian alcohol vendor who wants neither his last name nor his photo published, is sitting in front of a wall of bottles. He says that his shop has been attacked four times in recent years. "The last explosion destroyed an entire Johnny Walker shipment. Maybe I should emigrate, but all my friends are here: Sargon, Delwar, Ali, George." He rattles off a list of names of people of all religions and ethnic groups. "And they all drink! Kirkuk is my city, and I don't want to leave!"
Corruption and Lawlessness
Notwithstanding the horrific attacks, the city's development is gathering steam. Hotels and apartment buildings are under construction, and a new power plant is in the works. Although the provincial administration is the biggest employer and contracting entity, at least it works under Governor Karim, whom no one accuses of corruption -- an exception among Iraqi politicians.
Almost all construction projects in Kirkuk are funded by the "petrodollar," or the $1 (€0.78) per barrel of oil produced that the provincial administration receives under an agreement the oil-producing provinces negotiated with the central government. In 2012, this amounted to $351 million for Kirkuk. Although Basra, a city in oil-rich southern Iraq, receives about twice as much, the city still looks as miserable as ever, with the exception of a few showcase buildings. Electricity is only provided for hours at a time.
In January, when it rained for days in Baghdad, the streets became flooded -- especially in places where new sewage pipes had supposedly been installed in recent years, at a cost of $7 billion. But apparently the pipes were in fact never installed. Instead, ministers, civil servants and governors have been raiding the public coffers with impunity.
Iraq ranks 169th out of 174 countries on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index. Five years ago, a US Embassy employee testified in a hearing before the US Congress in Washington that Maliki had issued secret orders to an anti-corruption commission, telling it that investigations concerning him or senior government officials should not be passed on to the courts.
Corruption has now reached epidemic proportions, says a Baghdad developer, who explains that a "fee" of five to 10 percent of the total value of a project must be paid whenever a contract is assigned. Even requests for bids for large government contracts often consist of only a page and a half of vague information, says the developer. There are "no specifications and many mistakes," he adds, and the search for every conceivable defect only begins at the time of inspection. "If a yellow excavator is delivered, they claim it should have been orange. They always find something." Without the inspection, there is no payout, and without a bribe there can be no inspection.
But Maliki didn't invent corruption, the developer says. He points out that the ministries controlled by the Sadr Party are just as greedy. And when it comes to the Kurdish regional government in the north, he adds, there are no business deals that don't involve the ruling families.
Maliki permits corruption, the developer says, and uses it for his purposes. He forces those who are not agreeable to him out of office with terrorism and corruption indictments, including the chairman of the election commission, who was believed to be full of integrity, as well as the head of the central bank. On the other hand, those who enjoy Maliki's protection, like the former trade minister, may have embezzled millions of dollars but remain untouched. In the case of the former trade minister, only the investigating judge was dismissed from his position.
"A culture of lawlessness is rampant in Iraq," says Farid Jassim Hamud, dean of the College of Law at the University of Kirkuk. "No one trusts a party anymore, and the majority of people no longer vote. I don't, either. What for? Our wealth, the oil, is a curse. It cripples us and creates greedy politicians who no longer need the people to become rich. In fact, the people only get in their way."
Horror in a Time of Celebration
A Sunday in mid-March is traditional costume day at the University of Kirkuk. Although it's only a Kurdish holiday, the dean of humanities has encouraged all students to show up in their traditional clothing. Kurdish women in outfits made of brightly colored, shiny materials appear on the campus alongside men in baggy Turkish trousers with patterned waistbands and white cloth shoes.
Turkmen women balance caps and scarves on their heads, looking like women at an Ottoman court. In the case of the fully veiled female students in the seminar on Sharia, or Islamic law, no one knows whether they understood the dean's message.
Hundreds of students parade among the flowerbeds, flirting on park benches and posing for pictures. Although only a handful of students had the courage to come as Sunni Arabs -- wearing black, diaphanous robes with gold edging, headscarves and black drawstrings -- they are asked to pose for one group photo after the next. "Not without our sheik," says a Turkmen man with a chuckle.
It could have been a quiet day. But shortly before the party, complete with a DJ, begins at the university, Bunyan Sabar al-Ubaidi, the organizer of the Arab Friday protests, is shot in his car in downtown Kirkuk. At the Friday protest held a few days earlier, Ubaidi had spoken of a new climate of solidarity. Authorities later said that the killers had escaped unrecognized.
March 20, 2013
Villagers Take On Taliban in Their Heartland
By CARLOTTA GALL
PISHIN GAN SAYEDAN, Afghanistan — An uprising against the Taliban that began last month in this southern Afghan village has now spread through dozens of others, according to residents and Afghan and American officials, in the most significant popular turning against the Islamist insurgents in recent years.
Since early February, when villagers joined with police forces to begin ousting Taliban fighters from this region of rich vineyards and orchards southwest of Kandahar City, hundreds of residents have rallied to support the government. Nearly 100 village elders vowed at a public meeting Monday to keep the Taliban out as the new fighting season sets in, and Afghan flags are flying from rooftops in the villages, residents said.
Isolated uprisings against the Taliban have been reported in several different parts of Afghanistan over the past 18 months. But the revolt in Panjwai is considered significant because it is the first in southern Afghanistan, in the spiritual heartland of the Taliban movement, where the group’s influence had endured despite repeated operations by American and NATO forces.
Though no one is claiming that the Taliban are forever out of the fight even in this district — the insurgents have vowed a vengeful return and in the past week killed two men in the area — the Panjwai uprising has given an example of what can be accomplished when local resentment over bullying by militants is accompanied by reliable government support.
It has been good news in an often-pessimistic season, as the Taliban have appeared to make inroads in some other places around the country where American troops are pulling out.
In interviews, villagers and local officials said that although the uprising grew out of villagers’ anger at Taliban brutality, it gelled because of the growing strength of the Afghan security forces and a particularly active police force in the region. The new Panjwai police chief, Sultan Mohammad, is from Zangabad, the name of the surrounding area, and his appointment in January galvanized local support for the government.
“It’s been a long time coming. But in short, the people have said enough is enough, and they became fed up with the Taliban,” Maj. Gen. Robert B. Abrams, the American commander in the south, said in a news briefing with Pentagon reporters last week. He said the Taliban had been ousted from all but four villages in the district at that point.
American and Afghan forces have fought a grueling campaign in the districts of Kandahar since the surge of 2010 when thousands of extra American troops were sent into southern Afghanistan.
Although the Taliban were routed in crucial areas that year, they maintained a grip in the southern part of Panjwai, in the village clusters of Zangabad and Sperwan, and threaded the area with improvised explosive devices and ambush sites.
Though the surge of Western troops, and the increase in Afghan security forces that followed, has brought greater security for much of Kandahar Province, in some areas it also brought increased tensions with locals, and even greater violence in some pockets.
Indeed, one of the worst atrocities of the war occurred just a few hundred yards from this village when 16 Afghan civilians were killed in their homes last year. An American soldier, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, has been accused of killing the civilians in a nighttime rampage, raising local anger against the government and American forces in the region.
Yet it was the Taliban’s callousness that caused the population to snap, Afghan officials and the villagers here said. Between 300 and 400 civilians have been killed or injured by bombs or ambushes by the Taliban in the past six months in Panjwai, according to the district governor, Hajji Fazel Mohammad.
“People are angry because the Taliban have been laying mines in their orchards and vineyards,” he said in an interview at his district office. A member of the Taliban would lay mines and then get killed and no one knew where the mines were, he said. “People are now fed up with the Taliban and are joining us.”
The spark came in early February when the Taliban commander of the area, Mullah Noor Mahmad, 35, came to arrest men in this village. He called on the house of Hajji Abdul Wudood and demanded the handover of two sons he accused of spying for the government.
“They wanted to slaughter my sons,” Mr. Wudood said in an interview last month in his home. “They wanted to take them to the desert where they had a court and a base.”
Mr. Wudood, a 60-year-old former mujahedeen fighter against the Soviets in the 1980s, had had enough. He and his eight grown sons decided to make a stand.
Several villagers who had lost relatives to the Taliban joined them. The village had already been starting to boil: Three days earlier the same Taliban commander had beaten up farmers who were clearing undergrowth from the village irrigation canal.
Mr. Wudood turned for help to the district police chief, Mr. Mohammad, an old mujahedeen associate and a relative by marriage. Together they hatched a plan to ambush the Taliban.
On Feb. 6, they moved against a Taliban base in a nearby village. Seventy unarmed villagers accompanied the police, guiding them through the minefields and acting as lookouts. After a short firefight, the police routed the Taliban, killing three men, and chasing the remainder south toward the desert.
Army and police units pursued the Taliban down to their base on the edge of the desert in the days after. As the word spread, dozens of villages showed their support for the government and offered men for the Afghan Local Police forces to guard their villages.
General Abrams says the local support and expansion of government forces — he still commands 17,000 troops in the region, and Afghan fighters now amount to 52,000 across various agencies — has coincided with a period of weakness for the Taliban here, financially in particular. “They lack the money, they lack the arms and ammunition, and they are having a challenge gathering their forces,” he said, speaking by telephone from his headquarters at Kandahar airfield on Tuesday.
The head of Afghanistan’s National Security Directorate, Asadullah Khalid, a bitter enemy of the Taliban who is still recovering in the United States from a suicide attack against him in Kabul last year, said he had been trying to nurture popular uprisings as a way to beat the Taliban.
“One thing for sure is that the people are tired of the Taliban and they don’t want the Taliban,” he said in an interview. “And when the people don’t want the Taliban, the Taliban cannot come in. I feel this is the beginning of the end of the Taliban, but the question is how can we use this.”
Provincial and local leaders in Kandahar express pride at the uprising’s success so far, but they warn that if the government does not follow through with increased police support, the Taliban could undermine it all. “It all depends on what the government does with these people,” said Hajji Agha Lalai, a member of Kandahar’s provincial council. “If they support them and equip them, it will be a revolution.”
Taliban leaders were furious at losing Panjwai and have been plotting their return to the district in meetings in the Pakistani town of Quetta this week, police and intelligence officials said. One Taliban commander, who spoke on the condition of anonymity during a telephone interview, acknowledged the loss of Panjwai, but said the movement was starting to infiltrate more fighters into southern Afghanistan along with workers coming in for the opium poppy harvest.
Last weekend, two workers from a construction firm were kidnapped and killed in Panjwai. Their bodies were found hanging in different villages near the desert where Taliban fighters still have a presence, police officials said.
Mr. Wudood said he had received warnings that the Taliban had ordered his assassination. Yet he remained defiant.
“This time it is not only me,” he said. “There are thousands of us in Zangabad and in Sperwan. They cannot eliminate us all. We are the true owners of this land and the men who are attacking us are coming from outside, and we are not scared. We will defend our land.”
Ruhullah Khapalwak contributed reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan, and Taimoor Shah from Kandahar.