March 31, 2013
Israel Taps an Offshore Natural Gas Field
By ISABEL KERSHNER
JERUSALEM — Israel moved closer to its goal of energy independence on Sunday as natural gas from a large offshore field began flowing into the country, a harbinger of important change that will benefit the country strategically and economically, officials said.
“We are taking an important step toward energy independence,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement after the natural gas started flowing Saturday from the Tamar reservoir in the Mediterranean Sea to a terminal in the Israeli port of Ashdod, a journey that officials said would take 24 hours.
“We have advanced the natural gas sector in Israel over the last decade, which will be good for the Israeli economy and for all Israelis,” Mr. Netanyahu added.
Some questions were raised in Orthodox circles in Israel as to why the Tamar field had gone online on the Jewish Sabbath, the religiously mandated day of rest. During his traditional Passover visit to the country’s leading rabbis on Sunday, President Shimon Peres called that decision a “mistake” and said he did not know the reason for it, according to Ynet, a Hebrew news Web site, and some ultra-Orthodox Web sites.
A partnership of Noble Energy, based in Houston, and two Israeli companies, Delek Group and Dor Gas Explorations, carried out drilling operations at the Tamar site, about 56 miles west of the northern port city of Haifa, and discovered large gas reserves there in 2009.
Israel’s Ministry of Energy and Water Resources says that the Tamar field will supply 50 to 80 percent of Israel’s natural gas needs over the next 10 years. About 40 percent of electricity in Israel has been generated from natural gas in recent years, and the rate of natural gas consumption is expected to rise to 50 percent by 2015, the ministry said.
The Tamar field went into production as a smaller natural gas reserve, known as Yam Thetis, at a site farther south, began to run out.
But the subsequent discovery in 2010 of another major natural gas field off Israel’s northern coast, known as Leviathan, has even positioned Israel as a future energy exporter. Leviathan, discovered through the work of a partnership between Noble Energy and local companies, was said to have been one of the world’s largest offshore gas finds in a decade.
The Israeli government said in 2011 that it would set a tax rate on energy profits at 52 to 62 percent. Mr. Netanyahu said at the time that some of the money would go into a fund devoted to education and the security of Israel.
The development of Israel’s natural gas sector in recent years has lessened the country’s dependence on foreign energy imports in an unstable and largely hostile region. The vulnerability of Israel’s supplies was underscored in the months after the 2011 ouster of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, when unidentified attackers bombed a gas pipeline in the Egyptian Sinai more than a dozen times, apparently to disrupt the flow to Israel.
Under a deal signed in 2005, Egypt had been supplying Israel’s Electric Corporation, a mostly state-owned utility, with up to 40 percent of the natural gas it needs.
Offshore exploration efforts have also underscored the need for clear maritime borders. Israel and Lebanon have been locked in a dispute over an area of the Mediterranean Sea that is potentially rich with energy resources.
Egypt clamps down on well-known opposition figures
Campaigners say arrests amount to the most serious crackdown on free speech since end of military dictatorship last summer
Patrick Kingsley in Cairo
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 31 March 2013 19.43 BST
The TV satirist Bassem Youssef is among at least 20 well-known opposition figures detained last week by the Egyptian authorities in what campaigners say amounts to the most serious crackdown on free speech since the military dictatorship that ended last summer.
The crackdown started on Monday, when five leading activists were summoned for questioning by the prosecutor-general for allegedly inciting violence against the Muslim Brotherhood.Two of the most prominent were Alaa Abdel-Fattah and Mona Seif, siblings prominent during the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak. After no evidence emerged to support the initial charges, they were accused on Thursday of attacking the offices of a former prime minister – an incident that happened nearly a year ago.
Abdel-Fattah was previously imprisoned under the military regime that followed Mubarak's. As he arrived for questioning this week, he symbolically wore an all-white outfit similar to the one he was forced to wear during his jail term in 2011.
Elsewhere, former opposition MP Hamdy al-Fakhrany was charged with inciting violence in Mahalla, northern Egypt. Then on Friday evening, activists and lawyers protesting outside a police station in Alexandria were attacked, sexually harassed and detained by policemen, whose willingness to go after lawyers is a sign – observers say – that they once again feel untouchable as an institution.
Among those arrested was lawyer Mahinour el-Masry, a hero of the 2011 uprising. "For whoever doesn't know Mahinour al-Masry, she is one of Alexandria's bravest revolutionaries," said former MP Bassem Kamel.
In this week's most bizarre incident, four members of the 6 April protest movement were arrested after allegedly holding up women's underwear at a demonstration outside the interior minister's house in Cairo.
Egyptian TV satirist Bassem Youssef bailed after police questioning
Critics damn move against Bassem Youssef, Egypt's Jon Stewart, whose show, al-Bernameg, gets more than 30 million viewers
Patrick Kingsley in Cairo
The Guardian, Monday 1 April 2013
The Middle East's most popular TV satirist was issued with an arrest warrant and questioned by Egypt's top prosecutor for allegedly insulting Islam and the Egyptian president.
Bassem Youssef, who is known as Egypt's Jon Stewart, turned himself in after the prosecutor general issued an arrest warrant for him on Saturday. He was released on bail of 15,000 Egyptian pounds (£1,500) after being questioned for three hours.
It is the latest in a series of arrests of opposition activists, lawyers and politicians this week – and according to Egypt's foremost human rights campaigner, it heralds the most serious affront to free speech since associates of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood assumed power last year. "This is the crackdown," said Heba Morayef, director of Human Rights Watch in Egypt.
Youssef rose to prominence after the country's 2011 uprising. His show has more than 30 million viewers across the Middle East and he has been sued several times by private individuals. But this is the first time that the prosecutor general, Talaat Abdallah, has followed up one of the complaints with legal action – a symbolic gesture that suggests President Mohamed Morsi's Islamist-led regime is now prepared to take a more authoritarian stance against its critics.
Youssef's show, al-Bernameg, critiques both fundamentalist clerics and Morsi – whose face Youssef once projected on to a pillow – and is seen as a triumph for free speech in the post-Mubarak era.
But that rosy view has been rocked by the prosecutor's intervention, the significance of which Youssef explained in an interview with the Guardian earlier this month, when he said: "You can't prevent people from suing us. The tipping point would be if these lawsuits are activated by the attorney general."
This weekend that moment arrived and it has been received furiously by the government's opponents.
"Pathetic efforts to smother dissent and intimidate media is a sign of a shaky regime and a bunker mentality," tweeted Mohamed ElBaradei, the leader of Egypt's main opposition coalition.
Youssef himself characteristically focused on the lighter side of his plight, arriving at court in a comically outsized version of a graduation hat worn by Morsi at a ceremony in Pakistan this month.
While inside, he said in tweets he later deleted: "Police officers and lawyers at the prosecutor-general's office want to be photographed with me, maybe this is why they ordered my arrest?"
Crowds massed outside the court chanted: "Bassem, Bassem" after he was released.
"I think it's targeted, it's planned, and obviously it comes after a couple of speeches by Morsi where he made very clear threats," said Morayef
Last Sunday, Morsi gave a speech and published a series of tweets in which he promised to take necessary measures against opposition figures who incited what he called violence and rioting.
Youssef's arrest is doubly concerning for Egypt's disparate opposition because it comes just a day after nine opposition activists and four lawyers were arrested in Alexandria – and less than a week after Abdallah launched legal proceedings against five prominent activists (including the siblings Alaa Abdel-Fattah and Mona Seif) for inciting violence against the Muslim Brotherhood.
It has also raised the possibility of a wider censorship of the media. For several months, the prosecutor-general has summoned journalists for questioning on charges of criminal defamation. But no related legal proceedings have yet been set in motion, which is why this week's developments have so alarmed the opposition.
"This has been the first step, the Alaa and Mona case, and the Bassem Youssef case," said Morayef. "And that's why this is so serious."
Abdallah's actions also renewed concerns about Egypt's "Brotherhoodisation", a term used by critics of the regime to imply that the Muslim Brotherhood has used its influence to appoint its allies to administrative positions whose roles are intended to be politically neutral.
Abdallah himself has long been considered such a politicised appointment, after Morsi circumvented constitutional protocol to promote him in November.
Abdallah's decision to arrest the activists and Youssef adds to this impression, particularly as it immediately followed Morsi's speech last Sunday.
To add to the mess, a judge this week ruled that Abdallah's appointment was illegal – but Abdallah refused to stand down.
Excavation of Cologne’s medieval Jewish quarter shows ‘long phases of peace’ with Christians
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, March 31, 2013 10:10 EDT
After long being sidelined for Roman excavations, an archaeological dig in western Germany has unearthed myriad traces of daily life in one of Europe’s oldest and biggest Jewish communities.
From ceramic dishes and tools to toys, animal bones and jewellery, some 250,000 artefacts have so far shed light on various periods in 2,000 years of the city of Cologne’s history.
And they include many piecing together Cologne’s little-known but rich Jewish history.
But plans to display the findings, discovered since 2007 by head archaeologist Sven Schuette’s team at the 10,000 square-metre (32,800 square-foot) city centre dig, in a new museum have proved divisive.
Berlin already hosts a large Jewish museum, and critics argue that Cologne cannot afford a new cultural project when its coffers are already in the red.
“For a very long time, archaeologists quite simply ignored the Jewish past of Cologne,” Schuette told AFP.
“Anything that wasn’t of Roman origin wasn’t excavated, since the Middle Ages were of little matter and Jews weren’t supposed to have played any role,” he lamented.
From the 10th to 12th centuries, Cologne, today Germany’s fourth-largest city, was one of Europe’s biggest cities, even ahead of Paris and London, with about 50,000 inhabitants.
Its prosperous Jewish community numbered nearly 1,000 at its height.
On Hebrew-inscribed fragments of slate, aspects of daily life from the Middle Ages have intriguingly come to light via school children’s teachings, rules and regulations, a bawdy knight’s tale and even a bakery’s customer list.
The history of the city’s Jewish quarter spans 1,000 years, from Late Antiquity to the Middle Ages, and far from being closed-off, it was open and adjoined the Roman governor’s imposing palace and later the city hall.
“Excavations show that the Jews in Cologne for a very long time were on good terms with the Christians, that their cohabitation saw long phases of peace and harmony,” Schuette said.
He pointed to the synagogue’s gothic-style and richly decorated altar having been constructed by craftsmen, possibly French, who had been working on the nearby cathedral building site.
But two events finally sounded the death knell for the Jewish quarter — a crusader massacre in 1096, followed by its eventual annihilation in 1349 when the Christians made the Jews the scapegoat for a black plague epidemic.
Archaeologists hope to see their treasures on display in the new museum by 2017.
“It won’t be a so-called ghetto museum limited to presenting religious artefacts but a museum tracing this quarter’s daily life, its integration in to the Christian city, with the positive and negative aspects,” Schuette said.
But the project has its detractors and opponents, he said, adding that an empty suitcase had been placed within the site recently, sparking a phoney bomb alert.
“And elsewhere someone engraved a swastika,” he added.
Meanwhile the opposition conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) on the local council have attacked the plan over its cost and condemned as “madness” spending more than 50 million euros ($64 million) when the city is already deeply in debt.
“Cologne cannot allow itself to build a new museum,” leading local CDU politician Volker Meertz said, also questioning how it would stand out from the Jewish museum in the German capital.
Some 2,800 people have signed a broad-based petition against the museum.
“The protest is populist. It’s not baiting the far-right but it could be a platform for the far-right and political die-hards,” Abraham Lehrer, a leading member of Cologne’s Jewish community, said.
“Social expenditure is being cut independently of the museum’s construction. If it isn’t built, nothing will change,” he told the weekly Juedische Allgemeine Zeitung.
In the USA...
The Christian Science Monitor
School suspensions: Does racial bias feed the school-to-prison pipeline?
By Stacy Teicher Khadaroo, Staff writer / March 31, 2013 at 11:59 am EDT
Two students set off fire alarms in the same school district. One of them, an African-American kindergartner, is suspended for five days; the other, a white ninth-grader, is suspended for one day.
•An African-American high-schooler is suspended for a day for using a cellphone and an iPod in class. In the same school, a white student with a similar disciplinary history gets detention for using headphones.
•Two middle-schoolers push each other; the white student receives a three-day, in-school suspension, while the native American student is arrested and suspended, out of school, for 10 days.
Civil rights groups have been saying for years that school discipline is not meted out fairly, citing examples like these reported last year from around the country by the US Department of Education.
High rates of suspensions and expulsions for certain groups – particularly African-Americans, Hispanics, and those with disabilities – are evident in data gathered nationally by the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR).
Data from 72,000 American public schools in the 2009-10 school year, for example, show that while African-Americans make up 18 percent of the students in this large sample, they account for 46 percent of students suspended more than once, 39 percent of students expelled, and 36 percent of students arrested on campus.
White students, by contrast, represent 29 percent of multiple suspensions and 33 percent of expulsions – but 51 percent of the students.
School leaders have to maintain a safe environment for learning, and about 4 in 10 teachers and administrators surveyed recently by Education Week said out-of-school suspensions and expulsions are an effective way to do that. Some expulsions have even been mandated by law, particularly when a student brings a gun to school.
Yet increasingly, "we're seeing suspensions for things that used to be considered typical adolescent behavior and were dealt with in less harsh ways within the school system," says Jim Eichner, managing director of programs for the Advancement Project, a national civil rights group in Washington.
While opinions differ about whether student behavior has become more disruptive or dangerous, the number of suspensions has grown dramatically in recent decades.
In 1976, nearly 1.8 million students were suspended – 4 percent of all public-school students; by 2006, the number of students suspended had nearly doubled to 3.3 million, about 7 percent of all students, according to Department of Education data.
In addition to the suspensions, 102,000 students were expelled – removed from school for the remainder of the year or longer – in 2006.
Nearly two decades of a "zero tolerance" mentality has contributed dramatically to a spike in exclusionary discipline that involves racial disparities, youth and civil rights advocates say. It has led to what they call a "school-to-prison pipeline," and the implications of this unfair, even draconian, disciplinary system are enormous, they say.
National goals to prepare more students for college and careers can't be met if so many students continue to miss out on school, a growing number of educators and lawmakers add – and society will pay down the road for more jobless and incarcerated young people.
A microcosm of that problem was captured in a groundbreaking 2011 Texas study that tracked more than 1 million students for six years. "Breaking Schools' Rules," by the Council of State Governments Justice Center in New York, found that nearly 6 in 10 students in Texas were suspended or expelled at least once between Grades 7 and 12. But the removals were mandated by law in only 3 percent of those cases. And 31 percent of students suspended or expelled more than once for discretionary reasons repeated a grade – twice the rate of similar students not suspended or expelled. Of the 15 percent of students suspended or expelled 11 or more times, only 4 in 10 graduated within one to three years of their expected graduation date.
When a lot of kids get suspended – more than 70 percent in some schools – "we've cheapened the deterrent," Mr. Eichner says. And kids "don't internalize that they did something wrong" when they feel discipline is unfair – either because it's for minor offenses or it seems racially biased.
Precious Brazel, for one, doesn't think her suspension was fair, and she offers an example of how suspensions may not resolve problems between students and authority figures.
The African-American 10th-grader at Castlemont High School in Oakland, Calif., acknowledges it was against the rules to have her kick scooter on campus. But she says the principal saw her with it and told her it was OK as long as she didn't ride it. Soon after, she got into an argument with a security guard over the scooter.
When the guard tried to take it away, "it hit her in the knee and she got upset," Precious says. The security guard also accused Precious of "cussing her out" – and Precious admits cursing, but not at the guard.
After administrators heard both sides, they sent Precious home for two days. She says it didn't cause her to think she needed to change her behavior in the future, but rather, "it made me disrespect [the security guard] more, because she was rude to me."
Discipline a civil rights violation?
In the past four years, OCR has received more than 1,250 complaints of civil rights violations involving school discipline. It has also launched 20 compliance reviews – broad scale investigations of school systems – to probe significant racial disparities in discipline rates.
Three of those reviews have resulted in voluntary plans to reduce suspensions overall and disproportionately high discipline rates for certain groups – most notably a landmark effort in California's Oakland Unified School District. (See the Monitor's profile of that program.)
Skeptics of OCR's focus on racial data say it could have unintended consequences.
In the view of Hans Bader, senior attorney at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., suspensions largely "reflect actual infraction rates." So the implication that rates for certain groups should be reduced until they are closer to those of other groups sounds like racial quotas, he says.
OCR's investigation into racial disparities isn't a problem in and of itself, says Richard Arum, professor of sociology and education at New York University, but "you have to think about how educators and administrators are going to respond to what they see as signals out of the federal government.... If [they] perceive the policy to be, 'Oh, you just can't suspend kids, particularly African-American kids,' that's not the response you would want."
That could end up creating more disruption for students of color, who report higher rates of feeling unsafe in school than their white counterparts, Professor Arum says. But if school districts rethink discipline more holistically, replacing zero tolerance with more discretion for educators, that would be a good outcome, he says.
The goal is not to force districts to make discipline rates proportional by race, Department of Education officials say, but the numbers can spark a closer look to see if a system is equitable.
"Our encouragement that schools focus more thoughtfully on the use of exclusionary discipline practices is not intended to undermine appropriate use of discipline as a tool to make schools safe and conducive to learning," says Seth Galanter, acting assistant secretary of Education for civil rights.
The Education Department offers grants and technical assistance to help teachers and administrators manage behavior more effectively and consider alternative steps before a student is suspended. One approach it advocates is Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, a schoolwide system to acknowledge good behavior and discourage problem behavior. For students with the biggest behavior challenges, it sets up individual support plans.
Zero tolerance feeds school-to-prison pipeline
Many people might assume the racial breakdown of discipline simply reflects higher rates of misbehavior by some groups of students, perhaps explained by factors such as poverty.
Research has shown that's not an adequate explanation. "There's quite a bit of literature that supports the finding that it's not just about kids behaving badly," says Russell Skiba, a professor at Indiana University in Bloomington and an expert on school violence and discipline.
His recent study of discipline data in one Midwestern state found that even after controlling for types of student behavior and poverty, African-Americans still had 1.5 times higher rates of suspension or expulsion than whites did.
Characteristics of the schools themselves made a big difference. For instance, students in schools with a high proportion of black students (not just urban, but suburban schools as well) were nearly six times more likely to receive out-of-school suspensions than students in schools with low black populations, the study found.
Also, in schools where the principal supported alternatives to suspensions, the racial disparity in discipline could be predicted to be much less than in schools where the principal had a traditional reliance on suspensions.
Discipline is not always a matter of choice. Many observers trace today's high rate of suspensions and expulsions back to the Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994, and the zero-tolerance policies in its wake. The law mandated at least a one-year expulsion for students who possessed a firearm in school, but many states and districts went on to impose tough penalties for other weapons, violence, drugs, alcohol, and even minor behaviors deemed disruptive.
Many schools also increased their relationship with police in response to incidents such as the 1999 Columbine massacre.
Now, some advocacy groups say, the degree to which schools call on police to deal with student behavior has resulted in a school-to-prison pipeline – with young people flowing into the criminal-justice system because of school-based offenses. In October, the US Department of Justice filed a lawsuit accusing local, county, and state officials in Meridian, Miss., of operating such a pipeline, routinely violating children's rights. Students as young as 10 – particularly African-Americans and children with disabilities – were allegedly arrested for minor issues including rudeness to a teacher and tardiness. They were held for days without a probable-cause hearing, the suit claims, and if they were on probation, they would automatically be sent to juvenile jail if suspended. Officials named in the suit denied the allegations.
In a separate action, the Department of Justice and the Meridian Public School District entered a consent decree March 22 that, if approved by a federal court, would amend a longstanding desegregation decree. It would limit exclusionary discipline, prohibit law enforcement from being involved if behaviors can be handled appropriately in school, boost training and due process procedures, and require monitoring of discipline data to identify and address racial disparities.
The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights considered testimony about the school-to-prison pipeline – and how some communities are trying to reverse it – at a hearing in December.
Newtown shooting results in push for cops
The claims of a school-to-prison pipeline are unfair, countered Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, in written testimony. In the past two decades, he noted, school crime as well as juvenile arrests have declined at the same time that schools have expanded the use of resource officers – typically armed police who are trained to work with students.
The hearing was an encouraging moment for advocates who want less police involvement in school discipline. But the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., happened two days later. The resulting calls for more cops in schools "is a very strong countervailing force to our reform efforts," says Eichner.
Yet civil rights groups have seen pockets of progress.
Last year, Colorado passed the Smart School Discipline Bill, which eliminates mandatory suspensions and expulsions for anything except carrying a firearm. A new law in Massachusetts says students can no longer be permanently excluded from school, and gives them the right to alternative education if they are suspended for more than 10 days, something that not all districts had provided. It also requires schools to work with students to try to improve their behavior before excluding them from school.
Several other states have passed or are considering similar laws.
Cities such as Baltimore, Chicago, and Philadelphia have also revised discipline policies. In Denver, the Advancement Project says new policies matching minor offenses with less severe discipline led to a 38 percent drop in out-of-school suspensions and a 52 percent drop in referrals to law enforcement between 2003 and 2009, and the graduation rate rose 30 percent.
The Christian Science Monitor
Gay marriage opinion shift: conservative lawmakers, pundits left scrambling
By Brad Knickerbocker, Staff writer / March 30, 2013 at 5:06 pm EDT
This being the Easter/Passover Spring break for Congress, you’d think lawmakers back in their home districts would be eager to talk about the past week’s major news story – the latest developments on same-sex marriage, which has seen one of the most pronounced and rapid shifts in public opinion and political action in recent US history.
But no, they’re trying to figure it out too, and so are most of their constituents. Meanwhile, one-by-one (or so it seems) political figures are coming out for gay marriage.
Most recently, that’s US Rep. Justin Amash, (R) of Michigan, a conservative who used to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which was argued before the US Supreme Court this past week.
“Real threat to traditional marriage & religious liberty is government, not gay couples who love each other & want to spend lives together,” Rep. Amash wrote in a Twitter exchange with The Huffington Post. “I support repealing federal definition of marriage portion of DOMA. Always have.”
Asked if gay couples should have the option to marry, Amash tweeted: “Of course. How can anyone stop a couple from getting married in their own way? I just want government out.” (Read the full exchange here.)
That’s essentially the position Sen. Rand Paul voiced recently, although the Kentucky Republican focused on the US tax code, which (as now enforced) prohibits the survivors in same-sex marriages allowed in nine states and the District of Columbia from receiving certain financial benefits when their spouses die.
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It’s hard for many Republican lawmakers to make the leap Amash did for fear of being challenged from the right by a social conservative in a party primary.
But that hasn’t kept other Republicans from speaking out.
Former Utah governor, US Ambassador, and presidential candidate Jon Huntsman took the issue head-on in a column in The American Conservative last month.
“My marriage has been the greatest joy of my life. There is nothing conservative about denying other Americans the ability to forge that same relationship with the person they love,” Mr. Huntsman wrote.
“All Americans should be treated equally by the law, whether they marry in a church, another religious institution, or a town hall…. The party of Lincoln should stand with our best tradition of equality and support full civil marriage for all Americans.” (Read his full column here.)
Huntsman was among more than 100 conservatives and Republicans who filed a friend of the court brief in the DOMA case before the Supreme Court, among them former governors, GOP administration senior officials, prominent right-leaning pundits, and actor Clint Eastwood.
In the US Senate all but nine Democrats now publicly support same-sex marriage. The wavering nine are Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Bill Nelson of Florida, Tom Carper of Delaware, and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania.
On the Republican side, it’s looking increasingly like Lisa Murkowski of Alaska will join Rob Portman of Ohio, who recently announced his switch in favor of gay marriage (in his case, tied to the fact that his son is gay).
"The term 'evolving view' has been perhaps overused, but I think it is an appropriate term for me to use," she said a few days ago as reported by the Chugiak-Eagle River Star in her home state. “I've got two young sons who, when I ask them and their friends how they feel about gay marriage, kinda give me one of those looks like, 'Gosh mom, why are you even asking that question?'"
Meanwhile, some conservative pundits seem to be changing their position – or at least their view of where things are headed – as well.
“Whether it happens now at the Supreme Court or somehow later, it is going to happen,” Rush Limbaugh said this week. “It’s just the direction the culture is heading.”
(Limbaugh blames this on “a gay Mafia that has inflicted the fear of death, political death in the Republican Party…”)
“The compelling argument is on the side of homosexuals,” Fox News host Bill O’Reilly said. “That’s where the compelling argument is. ‘We’re Americans. We just want to be treated like everybody else.’ That’s a compelling argument, and to deny that, you have got to have a very strong argument on the other side. The argument on the other side hasn’t been able to do anything but thump the Bible.”
Slate columnist Amanda Marcotte sees a pattern of “concern trolling” among some conservative pundits
“Concern trolls are largely people who know that they can't argue their viewpoint on its merits, so instead they try to undermine the persuasively argued viewpoint with their ‘concerns,’” she writes.
For Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, that concern includes the prediction that if the Supreme Court rules that DOMA is unconstitutional, that will bring on an “assault on religion,” as he put it on the PBS program “Inside Washington.”
He uses as an example a Jesuit school like Georgetown University with married student housing for heterosexual couples only. “It will get sued,” he said. “This will become an assault on religion. And the religions, which I think are sincere in their beliefs, are going to be under assault and under attack.”
Whether or not that’s true, it’s probably way too soon to tell. The Supreme Court justices this week seemed in no hurry to declare the constitutionality of same-sex marriage.
March 31, 2013
As Views Shift on Guns, Reid Corrals Senate
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER
WASHINGTON — It was, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada ebulliently proclaimed, a “happy day for me” as he stood with Wayne LaPierre, the head of the National Rifle Association, in 2010 at a new shooting range in Las Vegas made possible by federal money secured by Mr. Reid. “People who criticize this probably would criticize baseball,” Mr. Reid said before firing off a few rounds.
These days, Mr. Reid, the Senate majority leader, is far more likely to meet with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, an outspoken advocate of stricter gun control, than with Mr. LaPierre as he prepares to bring the most expansive package of gun safety legislation in a decade to the Senate floor over the next few weeks.
Mr. Reid’s evolution from a proponent of gun rights to the shepherd of legislation that would expand background checks, among other gun control measures, emerges from a complex web of political calculations that have come to define his leadership style over the last decade.
How tenacious Mr. Reid is willing to be — and whether he will extract votes one by one as he has for other big pieces of legislation — may well determine the fate of the measures.
Mr. Reid declined to be interviewed but answered questions by e-mail. “The families of Newtown and Aurora and the victims of gun violence everywhere deserve a vote on these issues,” Mr. Reid wrote. “We owe them a vote, and I will make sure they get a vote.” He added, “Only those who are afraid of a free and open debate would try to block it or shut it down.”
With guns, as with gay rights and immigration, Washington has observed in Mr. Reid an evolution — less flip-flops than slow dances to the left — that reflects shifting attitudes not only in his Democratic conference but also in Nevada, where Democrats have gained an edge in the last decade. Voter registration in the state has become increasingly Democratic as its population has swelled, and Barack Obama won the state twice, the only Democrat besides Bill Clinton to win the state in the last 40 years.
“Harry Reid is the most calculating individual I have ever covered in politics,” said Jon Ralston, editor of Ralston Reports, who has covered Nevada politics for three decades. “If he is making the right move for his members, he is making the right move for himself.”
Mr. Reid voted proudly against an assault weapons ban in both 1993 and 2004, even as most Senate Democrats voted for it, and voted for a successful 2005 measure that limited lawsuits against gun manufacturers and dealers for negligence. He has also long supported the N.R.A.
But now, in a demonstration of his loyalty to President Obama, Mr. Reid is helping him pursue his agenda for stemming gun violence. Many of the more senior members of his caucus, notably Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, also want these votes.
“He is doing what a leader needs to do,” said Senator Patty Murray of Washington, one of Mr. Reid’s protégées in the Senate, “to move the caucus forward so it stays in tune with where the American people are.”
Mr. Reid, aides said, is also motivated by both the personal angst he felt over the killing of 20 schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn., last year, as well as the anger he feels toward the N.R.A., which was widely expected to endorse him in his 2010 re-election campaign but then declined to do so.
After the Senate returns from its recess next week, it will consider a bill that would expand background checks and increase penalties for so-called straw purchases, in which someone buys a gun for another person who is unable to buy one. Mr. Reid opted not to include in the bill a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines but plans to hold a separate vote on both measures. His hope was to not let the less popular measures jeopardize passage of the expanded background checks.
Mr. Reid is almost certain to vote in favor of at least some of the new gun safety measures, if not all of them.
It would not be the first time Mr. Reid had shifted his position on a significant public policy issue. For example, in 1993, Mr. Reid co-sponsored legislation that would have stripped the citizen rights from babies born to illegal immigrant mothers, and vigorously denounced immigrants from the floor. The bill did not make it out of the Judiciary Committee.
Just over a decade later, Mr. Reid apologized for the legislation, which he called “the low point of my governmental career,” and became a proponent of the Dream Act, which would give a pathway to citizenship to some children of illegal immigrants. Immigration reform was a centerpiece of his 2010 re-election campaign, against the advice of many of his political strategists.
Similarly, Mr. Reid voted for a 1993 measure that institutionalized the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for gay members of the military. But by 2009 he had became an opponent of the policy. That year, Mr. Reid, asked to support a moratorium on the practice, said he would go further and press for its repeal, an offhand statement that ignited the repeal efforts in his chamber.
During the 2010 lame-duck session, Mr. Reid repeatedly and vociferously pressed for the repeal, including making an emotional floor speech in which he said: “Discrimination has never served America well. When it applies to those who serve America in the armed forces, it is both disgraceful and counterproductive.”
When a move to repeal the policy failed on a procedural vote, Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, went back to Mr. Reid and begged for a second vote, which he delivered, and the measure passed, with bipartisan support.
Like many Democrats — and a few Republicans — Mr. Reid has also re-evaluated his views on same-sex marriage. For years, Mr. Reid repeatedly said that “marriage is between a man and a woman,” and he voted for the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, which denied federal marital benefits to gay couples. Only recently has Mr. Reid starting saying that gay and lesbian couples have the right to marry; he co-signed the amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to find the law unconstitutional. Gay marriage was banned in Nevada by initiative a decade ago and there is now a bill to repeal the ban before the State Legislature.
“He deserves a lot of credit for having the guts to stick his neck out,” Mr. Bloomberg, an independent, wrote in an e-mail, “especially on guns and immigration when others are worried about special-interest politics.”
Mr. Reid’s biggest struggle is to balance the needs of vulnerable Democrats who are up for re-election — especially moderate, long-serving members who are largely institutionalists — with the agendas of newcomers who lean farther to the left.
Since 2006, as larger-than-life Democrats like Senators Robert C. Byrd, Edward M. Kennedy and Daniel K. Inouye have died, Democrats have had a big influx of members pressing Mr. Reid toward a more aggressive and often liberal stance.
“My role is to listen to every single member of the caucus and understand where they are coming from,” Mr. Reid said by e-mail. “Everyone won’t be 100 percent happy all the time, but I try to make sure that all voices have input on the decision-making process, and understand the steps we are taking.”
This conflict came to the fore during discussions of changing the filibuster rules; Mr. Reid ultimately chose an approach that placed fewer limitations on a minority party’s ability to filibuster than the newer members wanted.
“The Democratic caucus is a progressive caucus,” said Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio. “I think he leads us mostly the way we want to go. I think we all learned lessons on the filibuster.”
Mr. Reid remains an enigma of sorts in Washington, a quiet force whose voice is often barely audible, who skips Sunday talk shows in favor of church and lunch with his wife and remains, by all accounts, gaga for her after decades of marriage.
He is a man who relies on his members to do the routine prep work on bills until the time comes to marshal votes. He also prefers brief conversations to lengthy ones. “There isn’t one senator who doesn’t know when you talk to Harry Reid on the phone you better say what you have to say fast,” Ms. Murray said. “Many senators have found themselves talking after he has already hung up.”
March 31, 2013
Hagel Warns of Big Squeeze at the Pentagon
By THOM SHANKER
WASHINGTON — Ending his first month as defense secretary, Chuck Hagel invited six young enlisted personnel for lunch in his private Pentagon office. Without military or civilian aides, Mr. Hagel himself took extensive notes as the sergeants and petty officers poured out their concerns about pay, benefits, training and sexual assault — issues that would decide whether they make the military a way of life or just a way station in life.
At the end of the 90-minute session, which was held on Thursday, Mr. Hagel, a former enlisted soldier who was wounded twice in Vietnam, surprised them with a promise. “Remember, you always have a friend in the secretary of defense,” one of those present quoted him as saying.
Even so, Mr. Hagel did not hide the quiet storm that is gathering, one that will test his empathy with the enlisted ranks as he begins to make tough calls over coming weeks about further shrinking the Pentagon after more than a decade of war and free spending.
Even more, as President Obama — who has placed some of the military’s long-favored weapons programs in his sights — continues to negotiate with Congress over a spending and revenue deal, Pentagon officials acknowledge they are bracing for a protracted period in which they may have to manage even larger budget reductions than anticipated.
“There will be changes, some significant changes,” Mr. Hagel warned at a news conference last week. “There’s no way around it.”
Senior military commanders know the meaning of those words from Mr. Hagel: the former soldier may have to fire more soldiers and reduce or reject more weapons programs.
Mr. Hagel is expected to begin outlining those changes in a major speech this week that will differ in tone and substance from the dire warnings about budget cuts heard before his arrival. The message is that while the leadership hopes to dampen the impact of across-the-board spending cuts, there is a new Pentagon reality, and everyone must deal with it. Mr. Hagel, whose acceptance of the need to shrink the Pentagon is in step with Mr. Obama’s self-declared strategy to avoid large overseas land wars, will start to outline a rethinking of military policy to fit smaller budgets.
Already, Mr. Hagel directed Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Ashton B. Carter, the deputy defense secretary, to conduct a sweeping “Strategic Choices and Management Review” due by the end of May.
Their challenge is to trim the Pentagon while also assuring that the military continues to attract high-quality personnel and can maintain American and allied security around the world.
That lesson was made violently obvious on Mr. Hagel’s first overseas trip, when he went directly to Afghanistan, rejecting the comfortable stops in allied nations that are usually tacked on to war-zone travels. He chose a consciously understated public demeanor as he kept a grueling schedule that was interrupted by suicide bombings and caustic comments from a complex ally, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan. It was only after the trip ended that aides disclosed that Mr. Hagel had made a high-stakes gamble: He asked to halt a bilateral session at Mr. Karzai’s palace to hold an unscheduled one-on-one meeting with the Afghan president. A contentious problem was the hand-over of a detention facility at Bagram, which for the Afghans had become a touchstone of sovereignty and pride — but for the NATO alliance carried risks of letting dedicated enemies back into the fight.
The detention issue roiled relations between Washington and Kabul for the next weeks, a time in which Mr. Hagel and Mr. Karzai spoke by phone three times. But only two of those calls have been disclosed, and even those were distilled down to diplomatic pablum.
Although the heavy daily duty of negotiating with the Afghans was carried out by Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the top NATO commander, and the American ambassador, James B. Cunningham, senior alliance officials now say that it was the secret call between Mr. Hagel and Mr. Karzai that broke a deadlock that had become less about security than policy and personalities.
“The office of the secretary of defense and higher were asked to resolve the remaining issues because we felt they were clearly policy issues,” said a senior NATO official in Kabul, speaking on diplomatic ground rules of anonymity to describe negotiations. General Dunford, the official said, “elevated key policy decisions on what the U.S. was willing to accept to Hagel and the National Security Council for resolution.” That behind-the-scenes effort by Mr. Hagel, and Mr. Obama’s national security principals, “pushed it over the goal line,” the NATO official said.
The transfer-of-authority deal was announced in Washington, not in Kabul, after a final Hagel-Karzai call on March 23.
Senior Pentagon officials say that Mr. Hagel’s public air of understatement during his first days in office — which appeared as caution or even uncertainty — can be attributed less to his bumpy road to confirmation than to the time needed to find his stride in a world of complicated issues that have changed even since he left the Senate in 2009.
“I did not know him well before the nomination, and then the things that I had heard about him, well, I was somewhat apprehensive,” said Representative Howard P. McKeon, a California Republican who is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. “Then I watched as he went through the process. And some of my concerns were even strengthened.”
Mr. McKeon said he feared Mr. Hagel was halfhearted in his support for Israel — an issue on both sides of the aisle in Congress — and soft in his support for missile defense, a litmus issue for conservative Republicans.
The two have spoken several times since, including when their visits to Kabul overlapped.
Mr. McKeon said he has come around on Mr. Hagel, swayed in part by the defense secretary’s announcement that reversed an Obama administration decision that had canceled an expansion of missile defenses. Mr. Hagel instead ordered the Pentagon to spend $1 billion to deploy more interceptors along the Pacific Coast to counter the growing reach of North Korea’s weapons. And Pentagon officials have disclosed that Mr. Hagel’s next foreign trip will open with an alliance-building visit to Israel.
“I’m feeling pretty good about where he is heading now,” Mr. McKeon said.
Though the brutal confirmation hearing has not been forgotten, it has receded at least to the point where it is a safe subject for anecdote.
Mr. Hagel and aides had gathered to watch the Senate confirmation vote on television. When the total — 58 to 41 — was announced, the staff members clapped, but nervously, several recalled; it was the least supportive tally in the history of defense secretary confirmations.
Mr. Hagel took it all in and deadpanned, “Just the way we planned it.”
For America’s Hidden Hungry Children and Adults This Won’t Be a Happy Easter
Mar. 31st, 2013
Although spring officially began over a month ago, Easter and spring rites celebrate the resurgence of life whether it is the Christian symbol of resurrection, or Pagan traditions of rabbits and eggs; the common factor is renewal of life. For many Americans the significance of Easter is an assurance that death is impermanent if they follow a few hundred archaic rules and accept the resurrection story without question, and for students it is a regularly scheduled break from school before the rush toward the end of the year. However, for millions of Americans, the spring break has nothing to do with religion, the rites of spring, or a week of hedonism and debauchery in Caribbean climes, and instead, means their typical anxiety of providing for their children will be elevated, and their children will be hungrier than normal.
Over the past two years during interviews with low-income families struggling to make ends meet, a recurring theme was providing adequate food for their children. It is not uncommon for working poor parents to forego eating themselves so their children have at least one meal a day that often is reduced-price or free school lunches, and if they are lucky, a bit of breakfast courtesy of a program like Head Start for younger students. When middle class parents are struggling to find day care or extra-curricular activities to keep idle school children occupied, low-income parents are struggling to find meals for their children and this year presented an extra challenge because the holiday break begins at the end of the month and days until food stamps are issued.
On Saturday morning at the local food pantry, two families shared their stories and anxiety that they would have a tough time feeding their children over the next week, and were looking forward to one local church’s Easter egg hunt to augment their kids’ nutritional needs until their $189 worth of food stamps were ready. In both families, the parents worked two jobs at fast food restaurants and the nation’s largest retail discount chain, but because they only provided part-time work at minimum wages, they barely kept a roof over their children’s head or food on the table. Each family related that if they moved in with family or friends, they would lose their eligibility for the SNAP program, and were lucky they found tenement housing close to their places of employment they could reach on foot. Public transit was too expensive and drained valuable resources better used to feed their children.
The parents shared an all-too common story in America of a low-middle income existence that came to a screeching halt during the Great Recession, and the shame that came from not being able to provide a stable life for their families and little hope of a secure future. Republicans and conservatives regularly bemoan an entitlement culture borne of government programs to help struggling families, but these parents wanted the dignity of a living wage job and escape from the stigma of “takers” men like Paul Ryan characterize the 47.3 million Americans who qualify for the SNAP program are stuck with.
One of the parents could not understand how in the same week the news reported that S&P hit a record high, a program providing healthcare for their children was being drastically scaled back because the nation had to cut spending to reduce the deficit. He heard on Friday that President Obama was seeking funding for infrastructure improvements that would create jobs in his line of work (road construction), but lost all hope when John Boehner said the country was too broke to fix the roads. The interview became brutal when the man teared up and said he was a proud man who suffered overwhelming shame at accepting, and using, food stamps, when all he wanted was a decent job and a sense of dignity that comes with providing for his family and helping others who were much less fortunate than he was.
Doubtless there are millions of proud Americans in the same situation as the families that shared their stories, and it is almost certain there is little hope they will escape the poverty they have fallen into as a result of the recession they had no part in creating. On parting, both sets of parents refused to accept the offer of cash for themselves or their children, but they did ask about churches in the area that held Easter egg hunts with real eggs because most used plastic eggs filled with game tokens or candy they preferred their kids didn’t eat. But with three days till their food stamp allotments were ready, and no free or reduced school lunches for a week, they would “just make do with candy if that’s all there is.”
Today millions of Americans will dress up and head to their place of worship and rejoice at the resurrection story, and return home to shower their children with chocolate Easter bunnies and baskets filled with goodies. However, there are millions more who will seek out real Easter-colored eggs to feed their children, wait for their $189 worth of food stamps for the month, and wonder how they will replace the school lunch that in many, many instances is the only decent food their children regularly enjoy. The only good news is that with Congress on hiatus for a week, Republicans cannot cut safety nets any deeper in the short term meaning low-income children will have school lunches until summer when the parent’s anxiety of not being able to feed their children for a week lasts for two-and-a-half months. Happy Easter!
U.S. sends anti-missile destroyer near North Korean coast
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, April 1, 2013 17:31 EDT
The United States has positioned near North Korea a destroyer capable of shooting down missiles in the latest military move amid a showdown with the communist state, an official said Monday.
The USS Fitzgerald, which had sailed to South Korea as part of recent exercises, has been sent off the southwestern coast of the Korean peninsula instead of returning to its home port in Japan, a US defense official said.
The official, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, said that the shifting of the USS Fitzgerald was “a prudent move” meant to offer “greater missile defense options should that become necessary.”
North Korea has threatened missile attacks against the United States. The official said that the United States had earlier reduced its presence near Korean waters after the North launched a long-range rocket in December.
The December launch, which put into orbit a small satellite, set off the latest escalation cycle with North Korea. Pyongyang in February tested a nuclear bomb and has declared itself to be at a state of war with US-allied South Korea.
The United States previously took the unprecedented step of announcing test bombing by nuclear-capable state-of-the-art B-2 bombers. It has also deployed F-22 Raptor stealth fighters to South Korea as part of an ongoing exercise.
Despite the high tension, the White House said Monday that North Korea has not backed up its threats with mass troop mobilizations or movements.
North Korea to restart nuclear reactor to fuel arms program
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, April 2, 2013 5:26 EDT
North Korea said Tuesday it would restart a nuclear reactor to feed its atomic weapons programme, in its clearest rebuff yet to UN sanctions at the heart of soaring tensions on the Korean peninsula.
The announcement was the latest in a series of aggressive statements by Pyongyang that have prompted the deployment of nuclear-capable US B-52s, B-2 stealth bombers and a US destroyer to South Korea on “deterrence” missions.
A Pyongyang government nuclear energy spokesman said the move would involve “readjusting and restarting” all facilities at the main Yongbyon nuclear complex, including a uranium enrichment plant and a five-megawatt reactor.
The aim was to “bolster the nuclear armed force both in quality and quantity” as well as solve electricity shortages, the spokesman was quoted as saying by the official KCNA news agency.
The North shut down the Yongbyon reactor in July 2007 under a six-nation aid-for-disarmament accord, and destroyed its cooling tower a year later.
It was the sole source of plutonium for the nuclear weapons programme. Bringing it back on line will allow the North to restock its dwindling plutonium supply, which experts believe is enough for only four to eight bombs.
North Korea revealed it was enriching uranium at Yongbyon in 2010 when it allowed foreign experts to visit the centrifuge facility there, but insisted it was low-level enrichment for energy purposes.
The mention of “readjustment” will fuel concerns that it will be upgraded — a relatively simple technical process — into a facility for openly producing weapons-grade uranium, even if it has not already been converted.
Tuesday’s announcement triggered international alarm, with North Korea’s only major ally China among the first to voice regret at Pyongyang’s decision.
“We call on relevant parties to keep calm and exercise restraint,” said foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei.
The South Korean foreign ministry said the move was “very regrettable” and the North should “honour agreements and promises that have been made in the past”.
Kim Yong-Hyun, a North Korea expert at Seoul’s Dongguk University, said the nuclear move was in a different league from the military bluster of recent weeks.
“This goes beyond mere provocation. It’s a strong, tangible move and perhaps the one that will force the US into the direct dialogue Pyongyang wants,” Kim said.
The prospect of North Korea on a joint plutonium and uranium enrichment path is a hugely worrying one for the international community.
The North has substantial uranium ore deposits which provide a quick route to boosting reserves of fissile material, while plutonium has the advantage of being far easier to miniaturise into a deliverable nuclear warhead.
Many observers believe the North has been producing highly-enriched uranium in secret facilities for years, and that the third nuclear test it conducted in February may have been of a uranium bomb.
Its previous tests in 2006 and 2009 were both of plutonium devices.
The Korean peninsula has been caught in a cycle of escalating tensions since the February test, which followed a long-range rocket launch in December.
Subsequent UN sanctions and annual South Korea-US military exercises have been used by Pyongyang to justify a wave of increasingly dire threats against Seoul and Washington, including warnings of missile strikes and nuclear war.
But the tough talk has yet to be matched by action on the ground.
“Despite the harsh rhetoric we’re hearing from Pyongyang, we are not seeing changes to the North Korean military posture, such as large-scale mobilisations,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
The nuclear announcement followed a top-level meeting Sunday of the North’s ruling party, at which young leader Kim Jong-Un stressed the importance of upgrading the country’s nuclear arsenal.
“Modernisation of the atomic energy industry is a key to… developing the technology to produce miniaturised, lighter nuclear weapons to a whole new level,” Kim said.
The next day the North’s parliament adopted a law enshrining North Korea’s status as a nuclear weapons state.
White House says North Korean threats aren’t backed up by troop movement
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, April 1, 2013 15:22 EDT
WASHINGTON — The White House said Monday that despite days of bellicose rhetoric, North Korea had yet to back up its threats with mass troop mobilizations or troop movements.
With tensions on the Korean peninsula rising ever higher, Washington reiterated that it took Pyongyang’s war talk seriously but also noted that threats and warnings were nothing new from the isolated state.
“Despite the harsh rhetoric we’re hearing from Pyongyang, we are not seeing changes to the North Korean military posture, such as large-scale mobilizations and positioning of forces,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
“We haven’t seen action to back up the rhetoric,” Carney said, adding, “what that disconnect between the rhetoric and actions means, I’ll leave to the analysts to judge.”
Washington has warned North Korea that it will take robust efforts to defend its allies in Asia and repeatedly tells Pyongyang to stand down its nuclear program and that its “unproductive” rhetoric is self-defeating.
Earlier, the US military said it had deployed stealth fighters to South Korea as part of an ongoing joint military exercise that has triggered dire North Korean threats of armed retribution.
Two F-22 Raptor fighters arrived in the South on Sunday to participate in the annual “Foal Eagle” exercise that will last until April 30, a spokesman for the US forces in South Korea told AFP.
In an earlier show of force, Washington last week dispatched two nuclear-capable B-2 stealth bombers from their base in Missouri on a 13,000 mile round trip over South Korea.
On Saturday, North Korea declared it had entered a “state of war” with South Korea and warned Seoul and Washington that any provocation would swiftly escalate into an all-out nuclear conflict.
South Korea and the United States have met the near-daily threats from Pyongyang with their own warnings of severe repercussions, fuelling international concern that the situation might spiral out of control.
April 1, 2013
Japan Shifting Further Away From Pacifism
By MARTIN FACKLER
SAN CLEMENTE ISLAND, Calif. — The Japanese soldiers in camouflage face paint and full combat gear were dropped by American helicopters onto this treeless, hilly island, and moved quickly to recapture it from an imaginary invader. To secure their victory, they called on a nearby United States warship to pound the “enemy” with gunfire that exploded in deafening thunderclaps.
Perhaps the most notable feature of the war games in February, called Iron Fist, was the baldness of their unspoken warning. There is only one country that Japan fears would stage an assault on one of its islands: China.
Iron Fist is one of the latest signs that Japan’s anxiety about China’s insistent claims over disputed islands as well as North Korea’s escalating nuclear threats are pushing Japanese leaders to shift further away from the nation’s postwar pacifism.
The new assertiveness has been particularly apparent under the new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, a conservative who has increased military spending for the first time in 11 years. With China’s maritime forces staging regular demonstrations of their determination to control disputed islands in the East China Sea and North Korea’s new leader issuing daily proclamations against the United States and its allies, Mr. Abe’s calls for a bolder, stronger military are getting a warmer welcome in Japan than similar efforts in the past.
“This is a very serious rethink of Japan’s security,” said Satoshi Morimoto, defense minister in the last administration, who was an architect of changes in Japan’s defense policy.
Until recently, a simulated battle against Chinese forces would have been unthinkably provocative for Japan, which renounced the right to wage war — or even to possess a military — after its march across Asia in World War II resulted in crushing defeat. The purely defensive forces created in 1954 are still constrained from acting in too offensive a manner: last year, a smaller mock assault by Japanese and American forces on an island near Okinawa was canceled because of local opposition.
That recalculation — a large step in what analysts see as a creeping over the years toward a more robust Japanese military — could have broad implications for the power balance in the region, angering China and likely giving the United States a more involved partner in its pivot to Asia to offset China’s extended reach.
At the same time, the Japanese public has more fully embraced the once-discredited Self-Defense Forces. That is in part because of anxiety over China and North Korea, but also because of the military’s prominent humanitarian presence after the 2011 tsunami.
Although Japanese liberals and critics elsewhere in Asia fear that Mr. Abe is using regional tensions as an excuse to ram through a hawkish agenda, opinion polls show he has broad public support for his overall policies.
The reality of the changing geopolitics was not lost on the Japanese officers who watched their soldiers scrambling up San Clemente’s grassy hills. They acknowledged they were learning tactics from the United States Marines, who developed them during their island-hopping campaign in the Pacific against Imperial Japan.
The mock invasion was part of the joint training exercises that are held annually with the Marines. But this one broke new ground. Not only were the soldiers calling in American naval fire and airstrikes themselves, the leaders of their elite unit for the first time helped plan the war game, taking on a role closer to equals than to junior partners. And in a reversal of historical roles, wartime aggressor Japan now finds itself on the defensive against a powerful China that feels its moment has arrived.
“China is in their face, giving them the first militarized challenge that Japan has seen since the war,” said Richard J. Samuels, a political scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has written about Japanese security. “The mood has shifted toward giving more legitimacy to the guys in uniform.”
With small but significant steps, Japan has been moving for several years toward refashioning itself and its 240,000-strong Self-Defense Forces into something closer to a true partner of the United States military.
In recent years, the two countries have jointly developed a ship-borne missile system capable of shooting down ballistic missiles. Mr. Abe is calling for a broader interpretation of the postwar Constitution, which restricts Japan to acting only in “self-defense,” to include acting in defense of allies. Mr. Abe says this would allow Japanese forces to shoot down a North Korean missile heading toward the United States, something they cannot now legally do.
While the military spending increase passed by Mr. Abe and his governing party is small (0.8 percent compared with China’s double-digit gains in recent years), it is intended to bolster the defense of Japan’s southwestern islands, including the disputed ones, known as the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.
The new military budget also adds weapons that just a decade or two ago would have seemed overly offensive for Japan’s defensive forces, including financing for two F-35 stealth fighter jets. The larger budget will also add another attack submarine to strengthen the Japanese Navy’s ability to hunt the new Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning as well as money to develop a new anti-ship missile.
“This is a signal that we are still a player,” said Narushige Michishita, a specialist in security studies at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo.
Mr. Abe has also called for rewriting the postwar Constitution to scrap restrictions on the military altogether, but polls show the idea remains unpopular with the majority of Japanese. Still, in a country that for years would not acknowledge it had armed forces, the changes in budgets and tactics are significant.
The move toward a more normalized military also benefited from misfortune, the triple disaster in 2011, when an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis crippled northeastern Japan. During the grim first days of the crisis, the Self-Defense Forces were the face of the government amid scenes of devastation, and a lifeline for shocked survivors. Now, after years when they were barely seen in public, the troops are spoken of with a new warmth and have even become fixtures on television programs lauding the heroes of the rescue efforts.
The military’s own shift to a somewhat more assertive force was on display last month at Camp Pendleton, a Marine base near San Diego and San Clemente Island. This year, 280 Japanese soldiers participated in the war games, 100 more than last year’s Iron Fist, which started eight years ago with just a dozen Japanese soldiers.
The soldiers were part of the Western Army Infantry Regiment, a centerpiece of Japan’s efforts to build its own military capabilities. With American help, the 1,000-man unit is being fashioned into a Marine-style force capable of making helicopter and amphibious landings to defend Japan’s southwestern islands. This year’s military budget includes $25 million for four American-made amphibious troop carriers used by the Marines.
When asked the biggest lesson that he learned from the war games, the regiment’s commander, Col. Matsushi Kunii, said he was initially put off by the Marines’ lack of strict scheduling: Japanese military exercises, he said, typically follow a timetable with the same clocklike precision as a Tokyo subway.
“Then I realized the Americans know from real combat experience that things don’t always go as planned,” said Colonel Kunii, who was watching Japanese soldiers prepare to fire a mortar during the mock assault on the island. “This flexibility, as an organization, is the type of real know-how that we need to learn.”
April 1, 2013
Chinese Editor Suspended for Article on North Korea
By JANE PERLEZ
BEIJING — A well-known editor of an influential Communist Party journal said Monday that he had been suspended after writing an article for a British newspaper saying that China should abandon its ally North Korea.
The editor, Deng Yuwen, told the South Korean paper Chosun Ilbo that the Foreign Ministry had called the Communist Party’s Central Party School in Beijing to complain about his article in the British paper, The Financial Times. It argued that China’s strategic alliance with North Korea was “outdated” and that the wayward ally was no longer useful as a buffer against United States influence.
Mr. Deng also wrote in the article, published on Feb. 27, that the government in Pyongyang could use nuclear weapons against China.
Because of Mr. Deng’s stature — he is deputy editor of Study Times, a weekly journal of the Central Party School, which trains rising officials — the article garnered attention in Washington and Europe. Some took it as a sign that perhaps the new Chinese government led by President Xi Jinping was fed up with North Korea after its third nuclear test in February and that it would modify its support.
Chosun Ilbo quoted Mr. Deng as saying in a telephone interview: “I was relieved of the position because of that article, and I’m suspended indefinitely. Although I’m still being paid by the company, I don’t know when I will be given another position.”
Mr. Deng declined to comment on Monday afternoon.
So far, Chinese government policy makers have shown little sign of paying heed to Mr. Deng’s advice on Pyongyang.
China backed a new round of sanctions imposed by the United Nations in the wake of the third nuclear test. But as is often the case with sanctions, the question became how seriously China would enforce them.
Official Chinese statements routinely say sanctions are not the solution to the North Korean problem.
Three senior United States officials have come to Beijing in the past two weeks to request enforcement of the United Nations sanctions and to ask that China stop doing business with the North Korean Trade Bank.
The American officials left Beijing without announcing any specific agreement with China on enforcement.
Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew, who met with Mr. Xi, said after two days of talks in March, “The U.S. views the provocative actions of North Korea as very serious, and we will continue to pursue methods available to change the policy perspective in Pyongyang.” He added, “We share a common objective of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, and we will continue to discuss it.”
Shortly after Mr. Lew’s visit, the United States under secretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, David S. Cohen, and the State Department coordinator for sanctions policy, Daniel Fried, went to Beijing to discuss sanctions enforcement in more detail. They left without any announcements.
Mr. Deng’s article in The Financial Times did not deal with sanctions, but it offered a harsh critique of the Chinese government’s policy of support for North Korea and, in particular, its new leader, Kim Jong-un.
“It is entirely possible that a nuclear-armed North Korea could try to twist China’s arm if Beijing were to fail to meet its demand or if the U.S. were to signal good will toward it,” Mr. Deng wrote.
North Korea, he argued, did not view its relationship with China through the same lens of “friendship sealed in blood” that came from Chinese soldiers’ fighting and dying in the Korean War against the United States. “North Korea does not feel like this at all toward its neighbor,” he wrote.
And in a response to the Chinese policy of urging North Korea to overhaul its economy, Mr. Deng wrote: “Once the door of reform opened, the regime could be overthrown. Why should China maintain relations with a regime and a country that will face failure sooner or later?”
While working at Study Times, Mr. Deng also developed a reputation as a combative commentator for other news publications less bound to official orthodoxy. He wrote an article last year on the failures of President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, who both recently retired, saying that during their decade in power they squandered chances to make much-needed changes.
April 1, 2013
Air Pollution Linked to 1.2 Million Premature Deaths in China
By EDWARD WONG
BEIJING — Outdoor air pollution contributed to 1.2 million premature deaths in China in 2010, nearly 40 percent of the global total, according to a new summary of data from a scientific study on leading causes of death worldwide.
Figured another way, the researchers said, China’s toll from pollution was the loss of 25 million healthy years of life from the population.
The data on which the analysis is based was first presented in the ambitious 2010 Global Burden of Disease Study, which was published in December in The Lancet, a British medical journal. The authors decided to break out numbers for specific countries and present the findings at international conferences. The China statistics were offered at a forum in Beijing on Sunday.
“We have been rolling out the India- and China-specific numbers, as they speak more directly to national leaders than regional numbers,” said Robert O’Keefe, the vice president of the Health Effects Institute, a research organization that is helping to present the study. The organization is partly financed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the global motor vehicle industry.
What the researchers called “ambient particulate matter pollution” was the fourth-leading risk factor for deaths in China in 2010, behind dietary risks, high blood pressure and smoking. Air pollution ranked seventh on the worldwide list of risk factors, contributing to 3.2 million deaths in 2010.
By comparison with China, India, which also has densely populated cities grappling with similar levels of pollution, had 620,000 premature deaths in 2010 because of outdoor air pollution, the study found. That was deemed to be the sixth most common killer in South Asia.
The study was led by an institute at the University of Washington and several partner universities and institutions, including the World Health Organization.
Calculations of premature deaths because of outdoor air pollution are politically threatening in the eyes of some Chinese officials. According to news reports, Chinese officials cut out sections of a 2007 report called “Cost of Pollution in China” that discussed premature deaths. The report’s authors had concluded that 350,000 to 400,000 people die prematurely in China each year because of outdoor air pollution. The study was done by the World Bank in cooperation with the Chinese State Environmental Protection Administration, the precursor to the Ministry of Environmental Protection.
There have been other estimates of premature deaths because of air pollution. In 2011, the World Health Organization estimated that there were 1.3 million premature deaths in cities worldwide because of outdoor air pollution.
Last month, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, based in Paris, warned that “urban air pollution is set to become the top environmental cause of mortality worldwide by 2050, ahead of dirty water and lack of sanitation.” It estimated that up to 3.6 million people could end up dying prematurely from air pollution each year, mostly in China and India.
There has been growing outrage in Chinese cities over what many say are untenable levels of air pollution. Cities across the north hit record levels in January, and official Chinese newspapers ran front-page articles on the surge — what some foreigners call the “airpocalypse” — despite earlier limits on such discussion by propaganda officials.
In February, the State Council, China’s cabinet, announced a timeline for introducing new fuel standards, but state-owned oil and power companies are known to block or ignore environmental policies to save on costs.
A study released on Thursday said the growth rate of disclosure of pollution information in 113 Chinese cities had slowed. The groups doing the study, the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, based in Beijing, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, based in Washington, said that “faced with the current situation of severe air, water and soil pollution, we must make changes to pollution source information disclosure so that information is no longer patchy, out of date and difficult to obtain.”
Chinese officials have made some progress in disclosing crucial air pollution statistics. Official news reports have said 74 cities are now required to release data on levels of particulate matter 2.5 micrometers in diameter or smaller, which penetrate the body’s tissues most deeply. For years, Chinese officials had been collecting the data but refusing to release it, until they came under pressure from Chinese who saw that the United States Embassy in Beijing was measuring the levels hourly and posting the data in a Twitter feed, @BeijingAir.
Last week, an official Chinese news report said the cost of environmental degradation in China was about $230 billion in 2010, or 3.5 percent of the gross domestic product. The estimate, said to be partial, came from a research institute under the Ministry of Environmental Protection, and was three times the amount in 2004, in local currency terms. It was unclear to what extent those numbers took into account the costs of health care and premature deaths because of pollution.
April 1, 2013
Graft Forces Indonesian President to Take Party Helm
By JOE COCHRANE
JAKARTA — Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is the first directly elected president in Indonesian history. And as he entered the last 18 months of his second and final five-year term in office Monday, he was set to become the country’s first-ever lame-duck leader.
But in the uncertain political atmosphere of Indonesia’s young democracy, it has not quite worked out that way. Mr. Yudhoyono, by all appearances, was thrust back into the center of the country’s political ring over the weekend, as he was named chairman of his governing Democratic Party by proclamation during an emergency congress in Bali, to replace a party leader felled by a corruption scandal.
Party members and analysts said Mr. Yudhoyono, a retired army general under whose leadership Indonesia has continued its steady democratic transition — and today boasted one of the world’s best-performing economies — had little choice but to take the reins officially. Beset by multiple corruption scandals, the party was also facing a mid-April deadline to register candidates for legislative elections next year and would not have been able to do so without a chairman in place.
“President Yudhoyono doesn’t want to be chairman of the party, but it’s an emergency situation,” said Ramadhan Pohan, an Indonesian lawmaker and deputy secretary general of the Democratic Party. “No one else can step in and do this. There is no Democratic Party without Yudhoyono.”
That in itself may be a bigger problem. While Mr. Yudhoyono may merely be trying to salvage the political party that he and his wife founded in 2001, some analysts say he is only further cementing the tendency toward political cults of personality, which is the main downside to Indonesia’s democratic era after decades of military-backed authoritarian rule. Each of Indonesia’s main political parties is centered on one key leader, leaving little room for internal democratic debate, party platforms or even ideologies, beyond being “nationalist” or Islamic-based.
“They invest in figures, not the mechanisms of modern political parties, to resolve problems,” said Philips J. Vermonte, head of the politics and international relations department at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta. Mr. Vermonte said that while it made sense for Mr. Yudhoyono to take over the chairmanship of his party, “I don’t think it’s ideal for the political system because it depends again on one popular figure.”
The party congress on Bali, which was televised live nationally, was held to replace Anas Urbaningrum, who resigned as the Democrats’ chairman in February after the independent Corruption Eradication Commission named him as a suspect in a huge scandal involving the construction of a national sports complex in West Java Province.
Divided by infighting ahead of the one-day congress Saturday, with Mr. Urbaningrum’s supporters nearly mutinous and other party leaders plotting to become chairman and, presumably, improve their chances to become the Democrats’ presidential candidate in July 2014, party leaders opted to bypass an open vote and put forward only Mr. Yudhoyono’s name.
Party leaders said the president had grudgingly accepted but said he would not serve beyond the election cycle next year. He also appointed an executive chairman to handle his party’s day-to-day business.
A string of corruption scandals dating back to 2010 has seen the Democrats’ poll numbers drop into the single digits and has left the party without a viable presidential candidate from among its senior leadership, as Mr. Yudhoyono is barred by the Constitution from seeking a third term. Mr. Yudhoyono’s task is not only to turn around his party’s fortunes, but to protect his own legacy as a president who won two terms on a policy of zero tolerance for corruption in one of Asia’s most graft-ridden nations.
“He had no option but to accept the leadership offer because if he doesn’t, the Democratic Party will sink like the Titanic,” said Burhanudin Muhtadi, senior researcher at the Indonesian Survey Institute. “I’m not sure if he can save it. But Yudhoyono is the only hope for the Democratic Party to recover.”
It has been a steep fall from grace for the party, which won a leading 26 percent of the seats in Indonesia’s 560-seat House of Representatives in April 2009, followed by Mr. Yudhoyono’s landslide re-election that July.
The party’s treasurer, Muhammad Nazaruddin, was sentenced to nearly five years in prison in 2012 for accepting money relating to construction contracts for the Ministry of Youth and Sports, while Andi Mallarangeng, the youth and sports minister and a Yudhoyono protégé, resigned last December after being named a suspect in the sports complex scandal.
In January, the Democrat lawmaker Angelina Sondakh, a former Miss Indonesia, was sentenced to as long as five years in prison for illegally facilitating construction contracts for the youth and sports and education ministries. Last month, Mr. Yudhoyono’s youngest son, Edhie Baskoro Yudhoyono, the Democrats’ secretary-general, had to repeatedly deny that he received money in connection with the sports complex scandal after Mr. Urbaningrum implied as much during a television interview after resigning as party chairman.
Despite his party’s scandals, Mr. Yudhoyono himself remains popular, with a job approval rating in the 50s, according to recent polls. There is hope within his party that the president can turn its fortunes around before the 2014 election season, partially because the anti-corruption commission has also recently made arrests and conducted raids on the offices of leaders of rival political parties, including the Golkar party and the Islamic-based Prosperous Justice Party.
While Mr. Yudhoyono successfully ran twice as an anti-corruption presidential candidate in 2004 and 2009, graft is unlikely to be an election-year issue this time around because the top four political parties have all had members thrown in prison. Governance, social and even economic issues tend not to resonate among Indonesia’s electorate; voters tend to identify with political parties based on the personality of their top leader.
Election campaigns in Indonesia are more like outdoor parties with live music and celebrity hosts; Mr. Yudhoyono used to famously croon love songs to crowds during campaign stops.
Whatever his intent in accepting the chairmanship, analysts say Mr. Yudhoyono is only reinforcing the trend by leading his Democratic Party into an election season in which he is not even a candidate.
“This can create a precedent for the next parties in power after 2014 that it’s O.K. if ministers and presidents continue to work as party leaders. It’s not about whether the president or those in power perform well or not,” said Mr. Vermonte, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Novartis denied cancer drug patent in landmark Indian case
Supreme court ruling paves way for generic companies to make cheap copies of Glivec in the developing world
Sarah Boseley, health editor
The Guardian, Monday 1 April 2013 14.10 BST
The Indian supreme court has refused to allow one of the world's leading pharmaceutical companies to patent a new version of a cancer drug, a decision campaigners hailed as a major step forward in enabling poor people to access medicines in the developing world.
Novartis lost a six-year legal battle after the court ruled that small changes and improvements to the drug Glivec did not amount to innovation deserving of a patent. The ruling opens the way for generic companies in India to manufacture and sell cheap copies of the drug in the developing world and has implications for HIV and other modern drugs too.
Campaigners were jubilant. A ruling in Novartis's favour would have reduced poor people's access to the drug, said Jennifer Cohn, of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). "The fact that India says patents are to reward innovation as opposed to small changes does stay true to the concept of what a patent should be."
But Novartis said the decision "discourages future innovation in India". Ranjit Shahani, the firm's vice-chairman and managing director in India, said the ruling was "a setback for patients that will hinder medical progress for diseases without effective treatment options".
He said the Swiss company will be cautious about investing in India, especially over introducing new drugs, and seek patent protection before launching any new products. It will continue to refrain from research and development activities in the country. "The intellectual property ecosystem in India is not very encouraging," Shahani told reporters in Mumbai after the ruling.
Glivec is an important drug in the treatment of myeloid leukaemia and has transformed prospects for patients in rich countries. It is a targeted, biological therapy that blocks cancer growth in patients with a particular gene mutation. But like all targeted therapies, it is very expensive, costing more than £1,700 a month.
Historically India only had limited patent protection on drugs and generic companies in the country made versions of many medicines. It was only when Indian firms began to make cheap copies of HIV drugs that it became possible more than a decade ago to contemplate the treatment of millions of people in impoverished countries of Africa, where the Aids epidemic was at its worst.
But in 2005, India became compliant with World Trade Organisation rules on intellectual property and now grants patents on innovative new drugs. Patents usually run for 20 years or more from the date they are taken out.
Glivec was already on the market, however, so Novartis decided to seek a patent on a slightly altered version, potentially giving it a longer period of market exclusivity. The supreme court has thrown out the application, saying the new drug is not significantly different from the old version, and ordered Novartis to pay costs.
At stake in the legal battle was not just the right of generic companies to make cheap drugs for India once original patents expire but also access to newer drugs for poorer countries in much of Africa and Asia. India has long been known as the pharmacy of the developing world.
Dr Unni Karunakara, the president of MSF, said: "The supreme court's decision now makes patents on the medicines that we desperately need less likely. This marks the strongest possible signal to Novartis and other multinational pharmaceutical companies that they should stop seeking to attack the Indian patent law."
In a statement, the Cancer Patients Aid Association in India (CPAA), which had opposed the patent application, said: "We are very happy that the court has recognised the right of patients to access affordable medicines over profits for big pharmaceutical companies through patents. Our access to affordable treatment will not be possible if the medicines are patented. It is a huge victory for human rights."
The case hinged on the interpretation of section 3(d) of the Indian Patents Act, which does not allow patents of new versions of known drug molecules, unless they make the medicine significantly more effective than before.
Novartis argued that better physicochemical qualities, such as shape of the molecule, stability, hygroscopicity and solubility, would satisfy the test of enhanced efficacy.
But the court decided that the changes were simply an attempt at "evergreening" – refreshing the drug so that a new patent would be granted – which is common practice in Europe and North America.
Anand Grover, senior counsel and director of Lawyers Collective HIV/Aids Unit, who represented the CPAA in the courts, said: "The supreme court's interpretation of section 3(d) keeps it intact. It is alive and kicking. It gives life to parliament's intent of facilitating access to medicines and of incentivising only genuine research.
"By refusing patent monopolies on minor changes to known molecules, this judgment will facilitate early entry of generic medicines into the market for other medicines and diseases too. The impact will be felt not only in India, but also across the developing world."
The ruling is thought likely to affect drugs belonging to several other companies. Pfizer's cancer drug Sutent and Roche's hepatitis C treatment Pegasys lost their patented status in India last year. They may now find it harder to obtain a patent on new versions.
In an interview with before the ruling, Novartis threatened to stop supplying India with new medicines if it did not get the patent protection it believes its investment and innovation deserve. "If the situation stays as now, all improvements on an original compound are not protectable and such drugs would probably not be rolled out in India," Paul Herrling, who headed the company's legal battle in India, told the Financial Times. "Why would we?"
Novartis patent ruling a victory in battle for affordable medicines
Had Novartis won, it would have set a precedent for patenting of other medicines in India, delaying their reaching the poor
Sarah Boseley, health editor
The Guardian, Monday 1 April 2013 15.49 BST
The battle for affordable, life-saving medicines for poor countries was once waged on first-world city streets with banners and placards. But for some years now it has been a long-hard legal slog in offices and courtrooms.
A decade or so ago, it was mostly about access to Aids drugs. Firms that made the drugs at prices too high for all but citizens of the rich world were shamed and left on the back foot by campaigners in the US and Europe.
The activists won some famous victories, breaking the patent stranglehold of the big firms and enabling the sale of cheap generic copies. Millions of people with HIV are alive and leading normal lives in poor countries as a result.
The multinational drug companies, however, have been working hard to prevent further erosion of their profits by generic, copycat manufacturers whom they once openly called pirates.
The companies, with support from the US and European governments which want a profitable drug industry, they have worked to tighten patent protection for new drugs through national laws and trade agreements. India has been the main focus in its historical role as the pharmacy of the developing world.
Under the World Trade Organisation's trade-related intellectual property rights (Trips) rules, India agreed to bring in patents for drugs in 2005. Drugs without patent protection before that date can still be copied and sold cheaply to developing countries by generics companies.
Novartis began seeking patent protection for its cancer drug Glivec as soon as the law came into force, but as the drug was already on the market the Swiss firm could not make a standard application. Instead, it sought a patent for a slightly altered version that it said was easier for patients to absorb. Novartis argued that this was innovation under Indian law and deserving of a patent.
The stakes were high. Glivec costs around £1,700 a month. Indian generic copies cost around £115.
Campaigners, already concerned that the Indian patent law would delay important new medicines reaching the poor, could see that if Novartis won its legal case, the "evergreening" of drugs by other companies would become routine. Patents usually expire after 20 years, meaning it could be decades more before prices would drop.
"Had the Novartis case been successful, it definitely would have extended massively the ability to patent other medicines within India," said Jennifer Cohn, the medical director for Médecins Sans Frontières' access campaign.
It is an important victory, say the campaigners, but they still feel embattled. New classes of HIV drugs are being patented now in India and will not reach Africa for many years as a result, Cohn said. The same is true of new tuberculosis and hepatitis C drugs.
Campaigners also worry about trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is being negotiated between Australia, Canada, the US, Malaysia, Chile, Mexico, Peru, Vietnam and others, and require stringent patent protection.
The companies and their supporters, however, argue strongly that without the financial reward that long-lasting patents offer, they will not have incentives to develop new medicines. They also threaten to boycott countries that will not allow them a monopoly on their own drugs.
No one thinks there are any simple solutions.
April 1, 2013
Double-Digit Inflation Worsens in Iran
By RICK GLADSTONE
Iran’s double-digit inflation rate worsened for the sixth consecutive month in March, the government said on Monday, in what appeared to be an implicit acknowledgment that international sanctions linked to the disputed Iranian nuclear program are causing some economic harm.
The government’s statistics office said the rate increased in March to an annualized 31.5 percent, compared with 30.2 percent in February and 26.4 percent a year earlier, the semiofficial Mehr News Agency reported. The Mehr report did not offer an explanation for the increase except to specify that much of it was in the categories of food, beverages and tobacco.
Many economists say the real rate could be at least double the official rate, partly because it does not fully take into account the prices of many imported goods, which have become prohibitively expensive. The main reason is the severe depreciation of the rial, Iran’s national currency, as the sanctions that have limited Central Bank activities and oil exports have taken hold.
Some experts believe the Iranian inflation calculation deliberately understates the actual rate in order to present a public face of resistance to the coercive pressures inflicted by the sanctions, which have been imposed largely by the United States and European Union.
“It’s unclear how the Iranian government calculates the inflation rate, especially given the lack of transparency and accountability within the political system, but the official rate announced by the Iranian government is politically motivated,” said Alireza Nader, an Iran specialist in Washington at the RAND Corporation.
He said the prices of some food items had increased by as much as 100 percent in recent months.
“Of course inflation was high before sanctions against the Central Bank, but there are indications that sanctions have pushed Iran’s inflation much higher,” he said. “This means a more severe economic outlook for the Iranian government, and the population’s continued loss of confidence in the Islamic Republic’s ability to keep the economy afloat.”
Proponents of the sanctions have argued that they are not meant to hurt the Iranian people, but rather to create enough pressure on the government so that it is more willing to negotiate. The sanctions advocates say they are working, as reflected in Iran’s eagerness to re-engage in talks with the major powers aimed at resolving the nuclear dispute.
Iran’s foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, said last week that he was hopeful that “forward movement” would be achieved at the next round of talks on Friday and Saturday in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
Critics of the sanctions argue that despite the public Iranian expressions of optimism, there has been no sign that the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is willing to soften his hostility to what he regards as American bullying.
An Ailing Gorbachev Makes a Fierce Attack on Putin and His Restrictions
Published: April 1, 2013
MOSCOW — Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the first and last president of the Soviet Union, now 82 and increasingly frail, may have needed a helping hand to climb on stage for a speech at the state-run RIA-Novosti news agency. Oratorically, however, he seemed nimble enough, delivering a sharp poke in the gut to President Vladimir V. Putin and the Kremlin.
Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press
Mikhail Gorbachev’s speech on Saturday was itself attacked by members of President Vladimir V. Putin’s party.
“Politics is more and more turning into an imitation,” Mr. Gorbachev said. “All power is in the hands of the executive. The Parliament only seals its decisions. Judicial power is not independent. The economy is monopolized, hooked to the oil and gas needle. Entrepreneurs’ initiative is curbed. Small and medium businesses face huge barriers.”
Mr. Gorbachev, invoking “perestroika” — the Russian word for “restructuring” and the brand name of his reforms that brought about the fall of communism and helped him win the Nobel Peace Prize — called for yet another renewal of the Russian political system.
His prepared speech, posted later on the Internet, was even tougher than the remarks he delivered. In it, he wrote that by curtailing freedoms and tightening restrictions on civil society groups and the press, Mr. Putin had adopted “a ruinous and hopeless path.”
While he is still revered in the West for his role in ending the cold war, Mr. Gorbachev has largely faded into insignificance in Russia. He is remembered far more for the chaos and deprivation of the 1990s that followed him than for delivering the citizens of the Soviet Union from tyranny.
Nonetheless, his speech, made on Saturday as he briefly ventured from a Moscow hospital where he is undergoing a lengthy checkup, quickly drew angry and dismissive responses from the Kremlin.
“We have had enough restructuring,” said Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov.
Sergei Neverov, the deputy speaker of the lower house of Parliament and a leader of United Russia, the party that nominated Mr. Putin for president, said, “Mikhail Sergeyevich has already been the initiator of one perestroika, and as a result we lost the country.”
Mr. Neverov defended the policies of Mr. Putin and United Russia, which he said “helped us to preserve the state, to solve the problem of poverty and to stop the criminals trying to grab power.”
Aleksei Pushkov, a member of United Russia and chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the lower house, similarly rejected Mr. Gorbachev’s objections by criticizing Mr. Gorbachev. “The cost of a painful process, the cost of huge losses from a major transformation of our country has already occurred,” Mr. Pushkov told the Interfax news agency.
In the wake of the Soviet Union’s dissolution, he said, “it was the worst possible result: the collapse of the country and gangster capitalism.”
Mr. Gorbachev, in an interview with the BBC in early March, made similarly harsh remarks about Mr. Putin’s government, saying it was replete with “thieves and corrupt officials,” and he offered a harsh assessment of laws recently adopted in Russia clamping down on nongovernmental organizations.
“The common thread running through all of them is an attack on the rights of citizens,” he said in that interview. “For goodness sake, you shouldn’t be afraid of your own people.”
In the BBC interview, Mr. Gorbachev also defended himself. “I’m often accused of giving away Central and Eastern Europe. But who did I give it to? I gave Poland, for example, back to the Poles. Who else does it belong to?”
In his speech at RIA-Novosti, Mr. Gorbachev acknowledged that he was not well. “Now, I am seriously sick,” he said. He appeared to have gained a substantial amount of weight, and he had trouble both reading from his text and, later, hearing questions.
Never known as an eloquent speaker, he stumbled over some words, and at times seemed a bit disoriented.
In his remarks, Mr. Gorbachev allowed that Mr. Putin’s government had beaten back a rising political opposition movement in Moscow. “They managed to put down the wave of protests for some time,” he said. “But the problems of the country have not gone away.”
Specifically, he pointed to widening income disparity and corruption. “The gap in incomes and living standards between the small mostly well-to-do stratum of the population and all the rest is unacceptably high,” Mr. Gorbachev said. “Corruption has acquired a colossal scope.”
Greece's neo-Nazi Golden Dawn goes global with political ambitions
Buoyed by its meteoric domestic success, the far right party is planning to expand 'wherever there are Greeks'
Helena Smith in Athens
guardian.co.uk, Monday 1 April 2013 18.00 BST
Emboldened by its meteoric rise in Greece, the far-right Golden Dawn party is spreading its tentacles abroad, amid fears it is acting on its pledge to "create cells in every corner of the world". The extremist group, which forged links with British neo-Nazis when it was founded in the 1980s, has begun opening offices in Germany, Australia, Canada and the US.
The international push follows successive polls that show Golden Dawn entrenching its position as Greece's third, and fastest growing, political force. First catapulted into parliament with 18 MPs last year, the ultra-nationalists captured 11.5% support in a recent survey conducted by polling company Public Issue.
The group – whose logo resembles the swastika and whose members are prone to give Nazi salutes – has gone from strength to strength, promoting itself as the only force willing to take on the "rotten establishment". Amid rumours of backing from wealthy shipowners, it has succeeded in opening party offices across Greece.
It is also concentrating on spreading internationally, with news last month that it had opened an office in Germany and planned to set up branches in Australia. The party's spokesman, Ilias Kasidiaris, said it had decided to establish cells "wherever there are Greeks".
"People have understood that Chrysi Avgi [Golden Dawn] tells the truth," he told a Greek-language paper in Melbourne. "In our immediate sights and aims is the creation of an office and local organisation in Melbourne. In fact, very soon a visit of MPs to Australia is planned."
Ilias Kasidiaris, Golden Dawn MP, leaves court in Athens 4/3/13 Golden Dawn MP Ilias Kasidiaris (centre) leaves an Athens court this month where he denied assisting in a 2007 assault and robbery. He has said the party will spread 'wherever there are Greeks'. Photograph: Thanassis Stavrakis/AP
But the campaign has met with disgust and derision by many prominent members of the Greek diaspora who represent communities in both the northern and southern hemispheres.
"We don't see any gold in Golden Dawn," said Father Alex Karloutsos, one of America's leading Greek community figures, in Southampton, New York. "Nationalism, fascism, xenophobia are not part of our spiritual or cultural heritage."
But Golden Dawn is hoping to tap into the deep well of disappointment and fury felt by Greeks living abroad, in the three years since the debt-stricken nation was plunged into crisis.
"Golden Dawn is not like other parties in Greece. From its beginnings, in the early 80s, it always had one eye abroad," said Dimitris Psarras, whose book, Golden Dawn's Black Bible, chronicles the organisation since its creation by Nikos Michaloliakos, an overt supporter of the colonels who oversaw seven years of brutal anti-leftist dictatorship until the collapse of military rule in 1974.
"Like-minded groups in Europe and Russia have given the party ideological, and sometimes financial, support to print books and magazines. After years of importing nazism, it now wants to export nazism," added Psarras. By infiltrating communities abroad, the far-rightists were attempting not only to shore up their credibility but also to find extra funding and perhaps even potential votes if Greeks abroad ever won the right to cast ballots in elections.
"[Golden Dawn] not only wants to become the central pole of a pan-European alliance of neo-Nazis, even if in public it will hotly deny that," claimed Psarras, who said party members regularly met with neo-Nazis from Germany, Italy and Romania. "It wants to spread its influence worldwide."
With its 300,000-strong community, Melbourne has pride of place in the constellation of Greek-populated metropolises that dot a diaspora officially estimated at around 7 million.
Golden Dawn member, Athens 21/4/12 A Golden Dawn election rally in Athens in April.
As part of its international push, Golden Dawn has also focused on the US, a magnet for migrants for generations, and Canada, which attracted tens of thousands of Greeks after Greece's devastating 1946-49 civil war.
"It's a well-studied campaign," said Anastasios Tamis, Australia's pre-eminent ethnic Greek historian. "There is a large stock of very conservative people here – former royalists, former loyalists to the junta, that sort of thing – who are very disappointed at what has been happening in Greece and are trying to find a means to express it. They are nationalists who feel betrayed by Greece over issues like Macedonia, Cyprus and [the Greek minority] in Voreio Epirus [southern Albania], who cannot see the fascistic part of this party. Golden Dawn is trying to exploit them."
The younger generation — children of agrarian and unskilled immigrants – were also being targeted, he said. "They're the generation who were born here and grew up here and know next to nothing about Greece, its history and social and economic background. They're easy prey and Golden Dawn will capitalise on their ignorance."
Tamis, who admits that some of his students support the organisation, does not think the group will gain traction even if Australia's far-right party has been quick to embrace it. But the prospect of Golden Dawn descending on the country has clearly sent tremors through the Greek community.
"This is a multicultural society. They are not wanted or welcome here," said one prominent member, requesting anonymity when talk turned to the group.
Greek Australian leftists have begun collecting protest signatures to bring pressure on the Australia immigration minister, Brendan O'Connor, to prohibit Golden Dawn MPs from entering the country. In a statement urging the government not to give the deputies visas, they said the extremists had to be stopped "from spreading their influence within the Greek community and threatening the multicultural society that Greek Australians and other migrants have fought to defend".
The neo-Nazis have been given a similar reception in Canada, where the party opened a chapter last October. Despite getting the father of champion sprinter Nicolas Macrozonaris to front it, the group was quickly denounced by Greek Canadians as "a black mark".
The culture of intolerance that has allowed racially motivated violence to flourish in Greece – with black-clad Golden Dawn members being blamed for a big rise in attacks on immigrants – had, they said, no place in a country that prides itself on liberal values.
"Their philosophy and ideology does not appeal to Greeks living here," insisted Father Lambros Kamperidis, a Greek Orthodox priest in Montreal. "We all got scared when we saw they were giving a press conference. But it was a deplorable event and as soon as we heard their deplorable views they were condemned by community leaders and the church."
"We are all immigrants in Canada," added Kamperidis, referring to Golden Dawn's tactic of tapping into anti-immigrant resentment. "The conditions that apply in Greece do not apply here, so there is no justification for the party to flourish. The really bad thing is that in opening here it gives the impression, to people who don't know the situation, that it is supported by a lot of Greeks, which is not the case. It has hurt Greece, the Greek cause, and Greeks' reputation more than anything else."
Anti-racism activists, Athens 4/3/13 Anti-racist activists outside the appeals court in Athens this month for the case involving Golden Dawn MP Ilias Kasidiaris. Photograph: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty
Despite the resistance, the far-rightists have made concerted efforts to move elsewhere, with Golden Dawn supporters saying Toronto is next. But the biggest push by far to date has been in the US. As home to close to 3 million citizens of Greek heritage, America has the diaspora's largest community. At first, cadres worked undercover, organising clothes sales and other charitable events without stating their true affiliation. Stickers and posters then began to appear around the New York suburb of Astoria before the organisation opened a branch there.
But while Greek Americans have some of the strongest ties of any community to their homeland, senior figures have vehemently denounced the organisation for not only being incongruous with Greece's struggle against fascism, during one of Europe's most brutal Nazi occupations, but utterly alien to their own experience as immigrants.
"These people and their principles will never be accepted in our community. Their beliefs are alien to our beliefs and way of life," said Nikos Mouyiaris, co-founder of the Chicago-based Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), whose mission is to promote human rights and democratic values.
The victims of often violent persecution at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan as well as wider discrimination (in Florida in the 1920s restaurant noticeboards declared "no dogs or Greeks allowed") Greek Americans proudly recount how, almost alone among ethnic minorities, they actively participated in the civil rights movement, their spiritual leader Archbishop Iakovos daring to march alongside Martin Luther King. "Our history as a diaspora in the US has been marked by our fight against racism," said Mouyiaris.
Many in the diaspora believe, like Endy Zemenides who heads HALC, that Golden Dawn has deluded itself into believing it is a permanent force because of its soaring popularity on the back of the economic crisis. "The reality is that it is a fleeting by-product of failed austerity measures and the social disruption this austerity has caused," he said.
In Greece, where Golden Dawn has begun to recruit in schools, there are fears of complacency. Drawing parallels with the 1930s Weimar period and the rise of Hitler's National Socialist German Workers' party, the historian Mark Mazower recently warned against underestimating the threat posed by a party whose use of violence was so disturbing. "Unfortunately, the Greek state does not seem to realise the urgency of the situation," he told an audience in Athens.
After spending almost 30 years following Golden Dawn, Psarras agrees. Only weeks ago, he claimed, Michaloliakos held talks in the Greek parliament with two German neo-Nazis posing as journalists. Golden Dawn rejected the claim as "old mud".
"It is an extremely dangerous phenomenon and do I think it will get worse? Yes I do," Psarras said, lamenting that, with living standards plummeting, the organisation was opening offices in traditional middle-class neighbourhoods. There remained a simple fact too big to ignore: in 2009 the party was a political pariah, gaining a mere 0.29 % of the vote; today it had global ambitions.
"Ten years ago, if you had said Golden Dawn would become the third biggest force in Greece, you'd be called crazy," said Psarras. "Now look where it is."
************Film student in UK at heart of Greek neo-Nazi storm
Documentary-maker prompts investigation into Golden Dawn rally racism
The Observer, Sunday 24 March 2013
A British-based film school graduate who filmed rightwing extremists making inflammatory speeches has found himself at the centre of a political storm in his native Greece after his footage prompted the first official investigation into the neo-Nazi group Golden Dawn.
In the runup to last year's general election, Konstantinos Georgousis followed members of Golden Dawn, which was on its way from relative obscurity to winning support at a national level for the first time. The party won 7% of the vote and 18 seats in parliament.
Since then support for the party has doubled amid a crippling austerity regime and rising unemployment rates, which have seen a third of Greeks fall below the poverty line.
Golden Dawn is demanding tough new anti-immigrant laws, including banning non-ethnic Greeks from the military and police. Since the election the Golden Dawn Youth Front has been under fire for distributing nationalist leaflets in schools.
Georgousis, 32, a National Film and Television School (NFTS) student, spent a month with the organisation, as Greece held two general elections.
The group, founded in 1980 as an anti-immigration lobby and registered as a political party in 1993 by a handful of rightwing extremists, was accused by opponents of playing on the insecurities of Greeks. It won 21 of the 300 parliamentary seats in the May ballot and 18 in the reruns in June. Georgousis's film, The Cleaners, illustrates how the language used by group members during pre-election rallies was openly racist, referring to the Holocaust as a "solution" to the immigration problem and talking of boiling people down to "make soap".
"Even though there is a great tolerance to such fascist views in Greece, I was shocked by their hostility," said Georgousis. "Greek nationalism is not a new thing, and there is a huge acceptance of open racism and such things. There is a tendency to be a bit over-proud of being Greek, of the ancient culture, and with the current crisis a lot of the values that Golden Dawn represents are unfortunately symbolic of values that exist among ordinary Greeks.
"I was terrified that these members were proud to express their extreme ideas during campaigning openly in public. I was shocked by the way they treated immigrants."
Excerpts from the documentary were broadcast on Greek TV, and the footage was considered so incriminating that the country's criminal prosecutor has launched an investigation. The group's membership is said to have doubled in the past year as many working Greeks have seen their standard of living plummet.
Golden Dawn spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris has claimed that the film-maker "failed to officially identify himself" during the interviews with party members. He said the party condemned all acts of violence. The group has put a statement on its website claiming that the documentary was illegally filmed with a hidden camera, and that in fact its members were "joking".
The NFTS told the Observer it was totally satisfied that the party's allegations are untrue, and said that it had film evidence that the men knew Georgousis was a student film-maker and that his large video camera, a professional-looking 151 Panasonic, was on full view at all times. He had been filming with the group over a period of some 25 days.
At one point, a Golden Dawn candidate, Alekos Plomaritis, is filmed saying to camera: "I am saying these things for you, British people; we gave you the lights of civilisation …"
The NFTS has issued a statement saying: "On 5 March 2013, Channel 4 News broadcast extracts from Konstantinos Georgousis' film The Cleaners – an observational documentary about members of the Golden Dawn party, filmed in Athens in the runup to the Greek elections of May 2012. Golden Dawn members featured in the film were also fully aware of the fact that Konstantinos Georgousis was a student at the National Film and Television School in England, and that film footage of their electoral campaign would be edited and submitted as his graduation film.
"The NFTS fully endorses the authenticity of the footage and the fairness of the final film."
As for the investigation by the authorities into Golden Dawn, said Georgousis, "I am not too confident that anything will really happen with a criminal prosecution, there is a tendency to avoid such things in Greece. But I am a film-maker, not a politician. What I am working towards now is having an open screening of The Cleaners in Athens, then Greeks will perhaps talk about this and debate if they really want this hatred and resentment to fester within the country."
*************Fears in Germany as Golden Dawn moves in from Greece
Greek neo-Nazi party believed to be in Nuremberg with aim of recruiting young Greeks flocking to Germany in search of work
Kate Connolly in Berlin and Helena Smith in Athens
The Guardian, Tuesday 5 February 2013 18.26 GMT
A senior police officer claims the Greek government allowed the ultra-nationalist Golden Dawn party to infiltrate the police Link to video: Golden Dawn party infiltrates Greece's police, claims senior officer
German and Greek rightwing extremists have been forging close contacts in Germany in an attempt to strengthen their power base in Europe, according to German officials.
Members of the Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn are believed to have set up a cell in the southern German city of Nuremberg with the aim of recruiting young Greeks who have flocked to the country in search of work.
Greek community leaders in Germany have condemned the arrival of the party, also known as Chrysi Avgi, and called on authorities to clamp down on a group that they said had shown its readiness to use violence in Greece and could attempt to do the same in Germany.
Golden Dawn, which has close to 20 seats in the Greek parliament, has described the move on its website as the "answer of expat Greeks to the dirty hippies and the regime of democratic dictatorship in our homeland".
In a statement, the Bavarian office for the protection of the constitution said: "We are keeping an eye on developments."
It said Golden Dawn had "an international network of contacts, including contacts with neo-Nazis in Bavaria. These contacts are cultivated via mutual visits as well as at meetings at rightwing extremist events in Europe."
It confirmed that members of Golden Dawn and far-right German groups had organised reciprocal visits to each other's countries as well as meeting at rightwing extremist meetings outside Germany and Greece.
In Greece, Golden Dawn denied it had established links with neo-nazi groups in Germany. "All this [talk] about neo –nazis is nonsense," said Golden Dawn's spokesman, Ilias Kasidiaris.
But Kasidiaris, who shot to notoriety last year when he assaulted two leftwing MPS during a live TV debate, confirmed that the far rightists had set up a "local organisation" in Germany. "Simply there is a big community, a big colony of [ethnic] Greeks in Germany and for that reason the People's Association - Golden Dawn - decided to [set up] a local organisation in Germany too."
Expat Greeks, he insisted, were showing "mass support for the efforts of Golden Dawn, not just in Germany but wherever there are diaspora Greeks".
In an open letter, the Greek community of Nuremberg said it "condemned unanimously and categorically" the establishment of the Golden Dawn cell.
"Racist slogans, messages of intolerance as well as the stoking of anti-foreigner sentiment, divisions and fears, have no place in the Greek community," the group wrote.
It added that it believed Golden Dawn had chosen the southern German city because of its historical links with Adolf Hitler's Nazi party. Hitler chose to stage Nazi party rallies in the city due to its connections to the Holy Roman Empire and the Nuremberg laws, which stripped Jews of their German citizenship, were passed here.
"The attempt of this party to bind itself to the history of this city is blasphemous and condemned to failure," it said.The leader of the Federation of Greek Communities in Germany, Sigrid Skarpelis-Sperk, told the Guardian: "The German authorities should be alarmed at this development and should be very thorough in monitoring them, to keep them in check.""A party that has shown itself willing and able in Greece to carry out aggressive attacks on people with dark skin and foreigners, to deliver blows to politicians in public, is capable of behaving the same way in Germany," she said.
An estimated 380,000 Greeks live in Germany, mainly in the industrial Ruhr valley, though the actual figure, as – many do not register with the authorities – is believed to be nearer 900,000. Roughly-speaking in modern times they have come in three waves – after the second world war and then during the Greek dictatorship, when many Greek communists were given refuge, particularly in East Germany. The third wave is occurring now as many, particularly young Greeks, come to Germany looking for work and to escape unemployment at home.German neo-Nazi groups, such as the Bavarian-based Freies Netz Süd, have been following the political successes of Chrysi Avgi for some time, making open reference to the Greek party on their websites.
The anti-Nazi organisation Nuremberg Union Nazi Stop said it would be monitoring Golden Dawn's activities in Germany.
Over the past months Golden Dawn, which is widely considered to be racist and antisemitic, has been held responsible for numerous attacks on foreigners in Greece. The party, whose symbol resembles the swastika, won 18 parliamentary seats in last year's election. Its popularity currently stands at around 12%.
Click to watch this very disturbing video: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2012/oct/26/golden-dawn-greece-police-video
**********Rechtes Land: the online map that is tracking Nazis in Germany
Wednesday 27 March 2013 17.11 GMT The Guardian
It shows the location of Nazi groups, their activities and crimes in an attempt to counter the rise of the far-right in Germany. At first glance it looks like any other internet map, conveniently showing a smattering of cafes, nightclubs and bookshops. But Rechtes Land (Right Country) doesn't show the usual places of interest – it shows Nazis.
Launched earlier this month following public donations of €6,000, www.rechtesland.de
is the latest attempt to stem what is seen by some as growing far-right activity in Germany. Last year 900 armed police stormed 150 neo-Nazi premises in North Rhine-Westphalia, and the country has been rocked by allegations that a neo-Nazi cell in the eastern city of Zwickau called the National Socialist Underground committed 10 murders between 2000 and 2007. According to a study last year by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, a German political foundation associated with the Social Democratic Party of Germany, 9% of all Germans hold far-right views, up from 8.2% two years earlier.
The map, which shows the locations of extreme-right groups, their associations, murders, attacks and current projects, was the idea of data journalist Lorenz Matzat, although the raw information comes from a collaboration with Apabiz, a Berlin-based nonprofit organisation that runs one of the country's most extensive archives on neo-Nazi activity.
In the first two days of operation, Rechtes Land was visited by 48,000 users. Soon to be augmented with Wikipedia-style detail, the online map will include historical information from the second world war, memorial sites and everything people want to know, past and present, about extremism where they live. The data already shows 120 marches by fascist organisations in Germany in 2012 alone, says Matzat.
"I decided we should use the web to show how much fascism is still alive in Germany," he says from his office in Berlin's Kreuzberg district. "The problem is shifting and not to talk about it doesn't make it go away."
This is not The Boys from Brazil; individual addresses will not be made available to Nazi hunters, but rather a detailed digital map that shows far-right activity on a national scale, replacing a fragmented regional approach. The public will be invited to submit information, but this will have to be backed up with proof and verified.
"It is difficult to monitor the situation all over Germany. There are regions where Nazi activities are very high," says Ulli Jentsch from Apabiz. "In some regions the authorities claim there is no Nazi threat because they don't want to have bad news about their town."
Even the famously liberal streets of Berlin are only a few miles from far-right activity, says Matzat. The surrounding state of Brandenburg is often cited as a hot spot for neo-Nazi activity. "If you walk around in certain areas with coloured hair or you are a black guy, you are in danger."
************Austria's far-right heartland has a change of heart
Carinthian voters reject right-wing populism of Jörg Haider's successors in regional election
Guardian Weekly, Tuesday 12 March 2013 13.59 GMT
Four years after his death, the spirit of Jörg Haider, who hatched a brand of rightwing populism that has been copied across Europe, has finally been laid to rest. In his former powerbase in Carinthia, the far-right suffered a serious setback in the regional election on 3 March, polling only 17% of the vote compared with 44% in 2009, a few months after Haider's death.
The Social Democrats (SPO) and Greens (Grüne) now hold the majority in Austria's southernmost territory.
This major reversal brings to an end the Carinthian exception that has existed since the end of the second world war. An economically backward region, it boasted an unusually large contingent of voters who harked back to the order and full-employment policies of the Third Reich, lauded by Haider who was elected governor in 1999.
The victory of the red-green alliance led by Peter Kaiser, with 37% of the poll, clearly marks the end of an era.
A sociology graduate, Kaiser was dismissed by the SPO leadership in Vienna as too academic to achieve much in Carinthia. He owes his success to a revolt by voters, disgusted by Haider's financial practices, for which they are now paying a high price. The region is heavily in debt and tainted with an image that deters investors.
The rightwing People's party, one of whose leaders in January received a prison sentence for corruption, has launched a major clean-up in Carinthia and will be joining the red-green coalition there.
Kaiser also owes a great deal to the detective work done by the Greens to reveal the misdemeanours of the Haider era. Their leader, Rolf Holub, gave up a career as a cabaret singer and spent four years rooting through thousands of pages of evidence accumulated during the police investigation, with ramifications spreading as far as Bavaria, Croatia and Liechtenstein.
The widespread disaffection devalued much the far-right's standard stock-in-trade.
Defeat in Carinthia has dealt the Freedom Party of Austria (FPO) a serious blow, just when the party hoped to morph into a more respectable political force. It is certainly an excellent opportunity for its leader Heinz-Christian Strache to silence hardliners, who suffered most in the regional elections in Carinthia and Lower Austria [the country's north-eastern extremity].
Another source of concern is the score notched up in the regional election by a party launched by the Austro-Canadian billionaire Frank Stronach (11.3% in Carinthia, 9.8% in Lower Austria). He is targeting much the same electorate as the Freedom Party of Austria, playing on euroscepticism and fears for the future. On 5 March the headline of the national daily Die Presse read: "And now Frank Stronach".
With seven months to go till the general election, the results of this regional vote are a wake-up call to those in Austrian politics.
Eurozone unemployment hits record high of 12%
Unemployment across the 17 eurozone countries rises to 12% for the first time since the single currency was launched in 1999
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 2 April 2013 12.48 BST
Unemployment across the 17 EU countries that use the euro has hit 12% for the first time since the currency was launched in 1999.
Eurostat, the EU's statistics office, said the rate in February was unchanged and at the record high after January's figure was revised up from 11.9% to 12%.
Over the month, 33,000 people in the eurozone joined the ranks of the unemployed. Spain and Greece continued to suffer from unemployment rates above 26%, and many other countries saw their figures increase to uncomfortable levels.
Germany, however, has an unemployment rate of just 5.4%, putting Europe's biggest economy in a better position that the US, where the rate is 7.7%.
European employment table European employment table Photograph: Graphic
The February figures came before the recent Cyprus crisis, which has reignited concerns over the future of the euro. Big depositors in the country's two top banks face hefty losses under the terms of its bailout.
After Cyprus's protracted and chaotic bailout discussions, during which the country's banks closed for nearly two weeks, unemployment on the island is expected increase significantly over the coming months as the economy contracts sharply.
Many economists forecast that the Cypriot economy will shrink by 10% this year, and see unemployment rising to Greek and Spanish levels. In February, Cyprus's unemployment stood at 14%.
Prior to the Cypriot crisis, there were signs that Europe's debt crisis was easing. Stock and bond markets had risen, boosting confidence in countries' ability to finance themselves. While markets have improved, however, the eurozone economy has sunk back into recession.
A closely watched survey released on Tuesday indicated that the recession probably continued in the first quarter. The monthly purchasing managers' index (PMI) for the manufacturing sector, a gauge of business activity published by financial information company Markit, fell to a three-month low.
Though the PMI was not as bad as estimated, it fell to 46.8 points in March. Anything below 50 indicates economic contraction.
The major concern in the PMI survey was that manufacturing activity weakened across the eurozone, including Germany, Europe's export powerhouse.
Laiki's UK customers to escape Cypriot savings levy
Depositors have been transferred to Bank of Cyprus's UK arm and will be protected from levy and limits on withdrawals
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 2 April 2013 07.59 BST
Around 15,000 account holders at Laiki bank in the UK are to escape any levy imposed on savings by the Cypriot authorities.
After a week of talks since George Osborne told MPs that the government was trying to find ways to stop Laiki being "sucked" into the Cyprus bailout, the UK arm of Bank of Cyprus has taken over £270m of Laiki balances in the UK.
As Laiki operates as a "branch" in the UK, its depositors were covered by the Cyprus government for the €100,000 (£85,000) European-wide guarantee in savings but could have been subject to levies above that level.
However, as Bank of Cyprus UK Limited is a separately capitalised, UK-incorporated bank, it is subject to UK regulation and protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme which guarantees up to £85,000. Its customers will not be hit by any levy on accounts – possibly 60% on accounts above £85,000 – or restrictions on limiting withdrawals to €300 a day.
Bank of Cyprus in the UK said the customers that have transferred to it "will not be subject to the imposition of any 'levy', 'haircut' or withdrawal restrictions applicable to deposits with banks in Cyprus". It was not immediately clear how many accounts were above the €100,000 threshold.
The announcement was made with the new Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA), which opens for the first time on Tuesday as a subsidiary of the Bank of England to oversee the banking sector after the Financial Services Authority was shut down over the weekend.
Customers with overdrafts remain at Laiki. "These accounts are now frozen at Laiki Bank UK and customers in overdraft will no longer have banking facilities at Laiki Bank UK," the PRA said. Mortgages and loans are not transferred either.
The PRA had been working to resolve the threat after Osborne told MPs on the Treasury select committee last week that he wanted a solution for customers of the UK arm of Laiki. Under the deal in Cyprus, Laiki is being shut down.
In Cyprus, Laiki customers with deposits below €100,000 will be transferred to Bank of Cyprus, the island's largest bank.
The chancellor will open the new PRA with a speech at its new offices just behind the Bank of England. He will describe the new regulatory regime as "resetting" the UK financial.
Osborne will say: "They represent a fundamental change in how financial services will be regulated in the future. They do away with the discredited system that failed to sound the alarm as the financial system went wrong, and put in its place a new system that puts the Bank of England back in charge and that will help ensure a strong, safe and successful financial system in Britain."
04/01/2013 12:17 PM
Developing World: Euro Loses Attraction as Reserve Currency
Countries in the developing world are drastically reducing their euro holdings as economic instability in Europe leads them elsewhere to stock their currency reserves. Euro holdings are at their lowest level in a decade, according to the International Monetary Fund.
When the euro was first launched on Jan. 1, 1999, there were hopes in Europe that it might soon rival the US dollar as the world's premier reserve currency. And initially, it seemed that dream was not unrealistic, as countries around the world began filling their coffers with the European common currency.
Now it looks as though that trend is beginning to reverse, though. Following years of crisis, developing countries are beginning to look elsewhere for their reserve currency needs -- and have spent the last year and a half shedding euros.
That is the message to be gleaned from the latest installment of the regular International Monetary Fund report on currency reserves held by countries around the world. According to the report, developing economies shed some $45 billion worth of euros in 2012 and have sold close to $90 billion worth of euros since the second quarter of 2011.
The numbers seem to indicate that the ongoing euro crisis, fueled by high sovereign debt loads in several countries belonging to the common currency union, has eroded global confidence in the euro. During the same period, US dollar holdings among developing economies have continued to rise.
"It'll be the number two international currency but I wouldn't say there are any prospects of it challenging the dollar," Jeffrey Frankel, a professor of economics at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, told the Financial Times when asked about the report.
Lowest Level in a Decade
The IMF report indicates that the recent downturn in euro holdings marks a break following more than a decade of growth among developing nations. They now hold just a quarter of their foreign currency reserves in euros, a drop from 31 percent in 2009 and the lowest level in a decade, according to the Financial Times.
The euro's diminishing attraction as a reserve currency is almost certainly a function of the bloc's recent instability. Holdings in US dollars among developing nations likewise dropped in the third quarter of 2011 following the crisis over the debt ceiling and the subsequent Standard & Poor's downgrade of US debt, though the dollar quickly recovered.
Of particular concern for the euro zone is its stagnant economy, a situation that isn't likely to improve soon, with several countries struggling due to tight austerity programs. Furthermore, there is little appetite among northern European countries -- particularly in Germany -- for the introduction of expensive economic stimulus programs. That stance was underlined on Monday in an interview given by German Economy Minister Philipp Rösler to the German news agency DPA.
"Debt-financed stimulus programs don't make sense," he said. "What we need are structural reforms and responsible budgets." He added that: "I think we Germans have shown that it can work. You can have both with a successful belt-tightening program: solid budgets while making growth possible."