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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1073199 times)
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« Reply #5715 on: Apr 12, 2013, 07:16 AM »

April 11, 2013

Islands, and Now a Funeral, Strain Argentine-British Ties


SÃO PAULO, Brazil — Argentina and Britain, whose ties were already strained over their rival claims of sovereignty over the Falkland Islands, now seem to be having trouble getting along when it comes to a funeral.

More than 2,000 invitations have been issued around the world to next week’s ceremonial funeral with military honors in London for Margaret Thatcher, the former British prime minister who died Monday at age 87. But Argentina’s president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, did not make the list.

Breaking the silence of Argentina’s government since her death, Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman called the lack of an invitation “yet another provocation.” Mrs. Thatcher oversaw Britain’s victory in a 74-day war in 1982 over the Falklands, a sparsely-populated South Atlantic archipelago that Argentina calls the Malvinas. “What do I care if I’m not invited to a place where I didn’t think of going?” Mr. Timerman added in comments broadcast on Argentine radio on Thursday. “The woman died. Let her family mourn in peace,” he said, while also dismissing a proposal floated in London to rename Port Stanley, the Falklands capital, Port Margaret.

“What does it matter if they want to name it Port Margaret, Margarita or Margarona?” he asked. “Argentina and the United Nations don’t recognize it.”

Notable world leaders and diplomats invited to the funeral include former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada, and Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the former president of the Soviet Union, and the mere appearance of a snub adds to the tension that has festered for three decades since the Falklands war, in which 649 Argentine and 255 British service members were killed, as well as 3 civilians on the islands.

Mrs. Thatcher’s ceremonial funeral, whose dress code is black waistcoats, black ties and “full day ceremonial without swords,” is different from a state funeral hewing to stricter rules of protocol. The organizing committee for the funeral appeared ready to ease some of the tension over the lack of an invitation for Mrs. Kirchner, with the news media in Britain reporting on Thursday that an invitation had been extended to Argentina’s ambassador to Britain, Alicia Castro.

Still, Argentina and Britain remain far apart on the Falklands, where in a March referendum voters cast ballots overwhelmingly in favor of remaining a British overseas territory.

“English, get out of Malvinas,” is a phrase commonly found in the graffiti around Buenos Aires. At political rallies and some soccer matches, flags bear images of the islands with the colors of the Argentine flag. On the 31st anniversary of the war, on April 2, nationalist organizations had planned a march on the British Embassy in Buenos Aires, which was canceled because of fatal flooding.

While Argentina’s government stayed quiet over Mrs. Thatcher’s death until the issue of the funeral emerged, pro-Kirchner news media in the country did not. The morning after her death, the newspaper Página 12 summed up its stance on its front page next to a photo of Mrs. Thatcher.

“Galtieri awaits her in hell,” read the headline, a reference to Leopoldo Galtieri, the military dictator who took Argentina to war over the Falklands and died in 2003. After the war, Argentina’s military junta collapsed.

Jonathan Gilbert contributed reporting from Buenos Aires.

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« Reply #5716 on: Apr 12, 2013, 07:20 AM »

04/12/2013 11:13 AM

The Second Cooing: Raising Passenger Pigeons from the Dead

By Philip Bethge

The world has been without passenger pigeons since 1914. Now, scientists want to bring them back. Geneticist Ben Novak has embarked on the project and has begun collecting passenger pigeon DNA from natural history museums. His "de-extinction" efforts are not without critics.

The eye sockets of the slender pigeon are filled with light-colored cotton. Its neck feathers shimmer in iridescent colors, and it has a russet chest and a slate-blue head. The yellowed paper tag attached to its left leg reads: "Coll. by Capt. Frank Goss, Neosho Falls, Kansas, July 4, 1875."

Ben Novak lifts up the stuffed bird to study the tag more closely. Then he returns the pigeon to a group of 11 other specimens of the same species, which are resting on their backs in a wooden drawer. "It's easy to see just dead birds," he says. "But imagine them alive, billions of birds. What would they look like in the sky?"

Novak has an audacious plan. He wants to resurrect the passenger pigeon. Vast numbers of the birds once filled the skies over North America. But in 1914 Martha, the last of her species, died in a zoo in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Novak, a researcher with the Long Now Foundation, a California think tank, wants to give the species a second chance. At the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology in Berkeley, Novak used a scalpel to slice small tissue samples from the red-painted toes of the passenger pigeons kept there. He hopes to isolate tiny bits of DNA from the samples and use them to assemble an entire genotype. His ultimate goal is the resurrection of the passenger pigeon.

"It should be possible to reconstruct the entire genome of the passenger pigeon," says Novak. "The species is one of the most promising candidates for reintroducing an extinct species."

The art of breathing new life into long-extinct species is in vogue among biologists. The Tasmanian devil, the wooly rhinoceros, the mammoth, the dodo and the gastric-breeding frog are all on the list of candidates for revival. To recover the genetic makeup of species, experts cut pieces of tissue from stuffed zoological rarities, pulverize pieces of bone or search in the freezers of their institutions for samples of extinct animals.

The Dream of "De-Extinction"

The laboratory techniques to create new life with bits of genetic material were pure fantasy in the past. But now scientists believe that the vision could become reality, step by step. Experts in bioengineering, zoologists, ethicists and conservationists recently met in Washington, DC for a public forum on "de-extinction."

"Extinct animals are the most endangered species of them all" because "there is hardly anything left but the DNA," says Stewart Brand of the Long Now Foundation, which co-hosted the meeting with the National Geographic Society. The current showpiece project in bioengineering is the rebirth of the passenger pigeon.

The story of Ectopistes migratorius is a striking example of human hubris. When the Europeans arrived, the passenger pigeon was probably the most common bird on the American continent. The birds travelled in giant flocks, sometimes several hundred kilometers long. "The air was literally filled with pigeons," naturalist John Audubon wrote in 1831, after observing the spectacle. "The light of noon-day was obscured as by an eclipse."

During their long migrations, the pigeons devastated entire forests. They descended upon their breeding grounds in eastern North America by the millions. There are historical accounts, for example, of a breeding ground in Wisconsin the size of Tokyo, where an estimated 136 million passenger pigeons came to breed. The noise was deafening.

Living in a flock guaranteed the pigeons safety from predators. But the behavior also sealed their fate. When hunters discovered passenger pigeons as game birds, they were able to kill them with brutal efficiency, either by catching them in nets or shooting them with birdshot. They also placed pots of burning sulfur under trees until the birds, anesthetized by the vapors, dropped to the ground like overripe fruit.

In some breeding areas, hunters slaughtered up to 50,000 passenger pigeons a day. The birds were shipped by the ton in freight cars and sold to be grilled at a few cents a dozen.

Sequencing the Pigeon DNA

By the time the establishment of a closed season for the birds was proposed in the US state of Minnesota in 1897, it was already too late. The last wild passenger pigeon was shot to death in 1900. Then, Pigeon Martha -- named after Martha Washington, the country's first First Lady -- finally met her end at around noon on Sept. 1, 1914. She was the last surviving specimen in an unsuccessful program to breed the birds in captivity.

Novak's goal is to bring back the species, and he seems perfect for the job. In elementary school, he completed a project on the dodo, the extinct bird species from Mauritius. The passenger pigeon has fascinated him for years. "We caused the extinction of the species," says the 26-year-old. "Now we have a moral obligation to bring them back." To that end, the genetic detective is visiting natural history museums to take tissue samples from as many of the roughly 1,500 remaining samples of the skin and bones of the bird as possible.

The passenger pigeon's DNA has about 1.3 billion base pairs. Their sequence describes what the bird looks like, what its call sounds like and how it behaves. However, the animal's genetic material in the museums is shredded into miniscule pieces, degraded by bacteria and contaminated with foreign DNA. But that doesn't deter Novak. He and Beth Shapiro, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California in Santa Cruz, have begun to decode the bird's DNA.

The biologists have an ambitious plan. Bit by bit, they intend to match the DNA sequence of the passenger pigeon with that of its close relative, the band-tailed pigeon. Then they will essentially stamp out the divergent sequences from the band-tailed pigeon genome and replace them with synthesized passenger pigeon genetic material.

With the help of the genome created in this fashion, the scientists will create primordial germ cells for the passenger pigeon, which will then be implanted into young embryos of an easy-to-breed pigeon species. The scientists hope that once they have grown and mated, the pigeons will lay eggs that will hatch into passenger pigeons.

Chickens in a Duck's Egg

The procedure is not only complicated, but also largely untested. But, says Novak, "all the necessary steps are being studied intensively right now." For instance, he explains, biologists have already managed to insert primordial germ cells from chickens into duck eggs. The drakes that emerged a short time later actually carried the sperm cells of chickens.

Novak is already thinking beyond the hatching of the first passenger pigeon. Once a flock of the birds has been created, he plans to release them into the wild. "The passenger pigeon was a keystone species in the forest ecosystems," says Novak, explaining that the destructive force of the flocks led to a radical rejuvenation of forests. Thick layers of pigeon droppings fertilized the soil, which soon led to new growth. "Passenger pigeons are the dance partners of the forest," the scientist raves. And the "ballroom" still exists.

But even if scientists can pull off this feat, does it really make sense to bring a long-extinct species back into the world? "Conservation biology's priority must remain that of ensuring a future for species (currently) existing on the planet," retired Professor Stanley Temple of the University of Wisconsin-Madison says critically. He fears that species extinction could be trivialized in the future. "People might say: 'Can't we let them go extinct and bring them back later?'"

Zoologist David Ehrenfeld of Rutgers University also criticizes the species resurrection projects, saying that they are "extremely expensive" and, in light of a global species crisis, downright absurd. "At this very moment, brave conservationists are risking their lives to protect dwindling groups of existing African forest elephants from heavily armed poachers, and here we are talking about bringing back the wooly mammoth," he says.

Ehrenfeld also doesn't believe that revived species would stand much of a chance of survival. "Who will care for the passenger pigeon chicks?" he asks, noting that parental care is "critical" for the development of young birds.

Darkened Skies

But Novak rejects the criticism. "Passenger pigeon parents were never incredibly involved in raising their young," he says. He also plans to teach the chicks the basics of passenger pigeon life by dyeing carrier pigeons and essentially using them as flight controllers for the returning species.

"We'll ferry them with homing pigeons down to wintering grounds and back to the breeding area," he says. "After a few years, we have passenger pigeons that fly the same (routes) as their forefathers."

When that happens, clouds of passenger pigeons will darken the skies once again, and another dream could be fulfilled for Novak. "Part of me would really love a passenger pigeon as a pet," says the scientist. And perhaps, he adds, the pigeon zoo could even be expanded.

There are 50 extinct pigeon species worldwide, says Novak. He has already earmarked three of them for resurrection: the Japanese silver-banded pigeon, the Choiseul crested pigeon and the thick-billed ground dove.

"I am a pigeon nut," says Novak.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #5717 on: Apr 12, 2013, 07:21 AM »

Fossils uncover ‘weird’ chimp-human creature called Australopithecus sediba

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, April 11, 2013 20:19 EDT

She walked with a knock-kneed gait, with a heel like a chimp but the upright posture of a human, and she may provide the most complete evidence yet of early man’s closest ancestor, scientists said Thursday.

Two-million-year-old Australopithecus sediba’s awkward strut would eventually send a modern man begging for a knee or hip replacement, but scientists are stunned at how evolution equipped her for both climbing trees and walking.

The latest research on an unprecedented set of fossil bones from South Africa reveal an ancient creature with long arms and primitive shoulders like an ape, but legs that could straighten, dexterous hands and a human-like thumb for precision grip.

“Just a weird, weird combination,” said Jeremy DeSilva of Boston University, lead author of one of the six articles in the US journal Science that describe the most complete set of bones ever found for an early hominid.

The latest findings offer more distinctions from the famed hominid Lucy, who was discovered in 1974 and whose species Australopithecus afarensis roamed eastern Africa 3.2 million years ago, experts said.

“What these papers suggest is that sediba probably doesn’t come from the East African species that Lucy comes from,” said Lee Berger, who in 2008 discovered the fossil site of Malapa, north of Johannesburg, where excavations are ongoing.

Au. sediba walked in a way never before seen by researchers, with a rib cage and spine that is “very ape-like at the top and human-like at the bottom,” said Berger, a professor at the University of the Witwatersrand.

The bones of five individuals have provided some stunning firsts — the first-ever kneecap, the most well-preserved upper limb, and a complete set of foot, leg and hip pieces from an adult female that have allowed her gait to be decoded.

DeSilva said the adult female Au. sediba was a hyper-pronator, meaning her foot was tilted inward.

Without a strong heel base like humans have, she would have landed on the outside of her foot, causing her shin, knee and thigh bones to twist inwards and she strode.

Sound painful? To us, it might be. But maybe not to this female, referred to by researchers as MH2.

“They have the anatomy that allows them to do this and to do it well,” DeSilva told AFP.

The kneecap has a large ridge that keeps it in place, and likely kept MH2 and her cohorts alive in a dangerous world, he said.

Experts believe the creatures are so well preserved because they died after falling into a sinkhole. So far they have uncovered remains of an adult female, a juvenile male, a toddler, an infant and another adult.

“This could very well be a family group,” said DeSilva. “I have never seen fossils this well preserved. It’s unreal. They are stunning.”

Articles detailing Au. sediba’s hands and teeth — signaling they ate a diet of fruit, leaves and bark — have been previously published.

Other studies in the current issue of Science offer a more detailed glimpse at their jaws, teeth, rib cage, upper arms and spine.

The work is part of an ongoing project by international scientists from the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand and 15 other global institutions.

“We have this incredibly exciting look, maybe the best look at any early hominid species that had ever happened,” said Berger.

“It may be that it should be considered the best candidate ancestor for early members of the genus homo.”

Zeresenay Alemseged, head of the anthropology department at the California Academy of Sciences, described the work as a “fantastic discovery.”

“What this really tells us is that early hominin evolution was more diverse at this time than we thought.”

However, he questioned the claim that this may be the closest ancestor of modern man, noting that other fossils have shown clues of the genus homo long before Au. sediba’s time, 2.33 million years ago.

“The link to homo is not well established. The torso, the clavicle, the foot have many primitive characteristics,” he added.

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« Reply #5718 on: Apr 12, 2013, 07:41 AM »

In the USA...

April 11, 2013

Senators Agree to Start Debate on Gun Safety Measures


WASHINGTON — Pressed by shooting victims and relatives of Americans slain in gun violence, the Senate on Thursday voted to begin an emotionally and politically charged debate on gun safety proposals as advocates of new laws overcame a Republican filibuster threat.

The strong majority in favor of considering legislation that would expand background checks and increase the penalties for illegal gun sales reflected the power of a lobbying campaign by parents of students killed in Newtown, Conn., and by others who persuaded reluctant lawmakers to back them in an initial fight that looked lost just last week. The vote was 68 to 31.

“It’s remarkable,” said Senator Christopher S. Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut whose nascent Senate career has been devoted to gun safety. “You can’t turn a corner in the Capitol this week without meeting a family of a gun violence victim. It’s hard to say no to these families.”

But the victory could be short-lived. The vote in no way guaranteed passage of the gun measure; some Republicans and Democrats who voted for this initial step made clear they are not committed to supporting any final measure, even if they agreed to allow the debate.

“I am not sure I could have the courage to do what they did,” said Senator Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina, who met with family members of the Newtown victims on Wednesday. “It really does have an impact.” Mr. Burr voted to debate the bill, but said he was unlikely to go further. “Is there anything I’ve seen so far that would move me to vote for new gun laws?” he said. “No.”

The coming weeks and even months will test both the resolve and the stamina of the families, who are both the best advocates for their cause and, in many ways, least equipped for its struggle.

“Every day is hard for me,” said Mark Barden, the father of Daniel, who was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. “Making lunch for my kids is hard for me. Sleeping is hard. Waking up is hard. That being said, I just feel I need to be doing this.”

The bill will again need 60 votes to end the debate after consideration of contentious amendments offered by both supporters and opponents of new laws. Opponents of the measure could also try to filibuster individual amendments.

Should the bill reach the stage where it could pass with a simple majority, it would still face a challenge. Though Democrats control 55 seats, many from conservative states who face re-election campaigns next year have indicated that they do not intend to vote for the bill, meaning Republican votes could be required to put it over the top.

Twenty-nine Republicans opposed bringing the measure to the floor, along with two Democrats. Sixteen Republicans joined 50 Democrats and two independents in voting to proceed to consideration of the legislation. The two Democrats who voted against measure are both up for re-election in tough states in 2014: Senators Mark Begich of Alaska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas.

Next week, the Senate is expected to begin reviewing the bill in earnest by voting on an amendment offered by Senators Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia and Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, that would expand background checks to cover unlicensed dealers at gun shows as well as all online sales. It would also maintain record-keeping provisions that law enforcement officials find essential in tracking guns used in crimes.

This amendment would replace the background check provision of the original legislation, which would also create harsher penalties for the so-called straw purchasing of guns, in which people buy guns for others who are not able to legally. Subsequent amendments, dealing with mental health, a ban on assault weapons and other issues, are expected in the days ahead before a vote on the overall measure.

The omnipresence of the families this week, encouraged by President Obama, and former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, appeared to stretch even toward the House, where the journey will be even more difficult should the Senate pass legislation.

Speaker John A. Boehner, for instance, who earlier in the week reacted icily to the idea of new gun legislation, referred to the advocates Thursday after the Senate vote. “Listen, our hearts and prayers go out to the families of these victims,” Mr. Boehner told reporters. “And I fully expect that the House will act in some way, shape or form. “

Alternating between moments of intense privacy — they wept openly in the offices of senators but would not say whom they met with — and their desire to promote their cause, family members inhabited a strange world of boom mikes and cameras and procedural votes. Senators laughed and visited on the floor, as they sat in the gallery hovering above them, listening to the clerk call each vote.

Shortly after the Senate vote, Mr. Obama spoke on the phone with Newtown family members to thank them for their advocacy efforts, saying “it wouldn’t have been possible without them,” said his spokesman, Jay Carney.

History has shown that family members of those killed in natural disasters, terrorist attacks and other tragedies have been able to affect public policy, most recently those of people killed on Sept. 11, as well as people suffering illness in the aftermath.

“I think that it will make a difference,” said Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York. “It worked when we had the 9/11 legislation on the floor of the Senate. We had the first responders, the survivors, come to Washington, talk to senators, talk to House members, tell their personal stories, tell about the horrible disease that they were fighting and that they had nowhere to turn.

A sense of the oncoming debate could be seen Wednesday and Thursday as senators from both parties took to the floor to make their case for and against new gun laws.

Mr. Murphy, a freshman who in other circumstances would draw scant notice, spent hours both days on the floor with large poster-size photos of the children killed in Newtown in December. He talked about their lives, too, saying that one had an interest in the piano and another a proclivity for sharing a tiny bed with a sibling.

Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, served as the voice of the opposition, reading letters from gun owners who fear infringement on their constitutional rights, among them a pair of first-time gun owners. “Protecting our rights, the few the government has left us, is of utmost importance to us,” Mr. Lee said, quoting from a letter.

Mr. Barden, the father of the child killed in Connecticut, said he expected to return frequently to the Capitol as the debate plays out. “It’s not just about our kids,” he said. “It’s about our society that needs to continue to evolve and continue to mature. And its certainly not just about firearms.”

Jonathan Weisman contributed reporting.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: April 11, 2013

An earlier version of a photo caption accompanying this article misstated Senator Ted Cruz’s position on proceeding with gun legislation. He voted against allowing debate, not in favor of it. Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article also misstated the number of Senate Democrats who voted to cut off debate and proceed to consideration of gun-control legislation. It was 50 Democrats and 2 independents, not 52 Democrats.


April 11, 2013

For Swing-State Democrats, Political Liability on Gun Control Issue


WASHINGTON — The families of the Newtown, Conn., shooting victims who have converged on Capitol Hill this week made a point of visiting Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a freshman Democrat known for the “North Dakota nice” of her home state, but on the main issue that brought them here — limiting the capacity of gun magazines and universal background checks — she curtly rejected their pleas for support.

“In our part of the country, this isn’t an issue,” Ms. Heitkamp explained in an interview afterward. “This is a way of life. This is how people feel, and it is extraordinarily difficult to explain that, especially to grieving parents.”

Bottom line, she said, “I’m going to represent my state.”

For years, guns have been the issue that swing-state Democrats like Ms. Heitkamp have sought to bury. Leading Democratic strategists still believe the assault weapons ban and the creation of background checks were a driving force in the Republican landslide of 1994. Six years later — after the Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore lost his home state, Tennessee; once-reliably Democratic West Virginia; and Arkansas, home to Bill Clinton, amid an onslaught of advertising by the National Rifle Association — many of those strategists vowed to let the issue of gun control lie dormant indefinitely.

But many Democrats insist the mass shootings in December at Newtown, after similar shootings in Aurora, Colo., Tucson and Virginia, have changed the politics of guns.

“We’re letting our country be governed and dictated to by the extremes,” lamented Senator Joe Manchin III, a Democrat from West Virginia who once fired a rifle at President Obama’s energy bill in a campaign commercial, as he met with seven family members of children and educators slain at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

To other Democrats from rural Republican states, however, the landscape does not look all that different, especially if they are standing for re-election next year. Only two Democrats, Mark Begich of Alaska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, voted against Thursday’s procedural vote to break a filibuster to take up the gun legislation. But others are in question for the final votes.

“We might feel good about passing something new, but what we need is already law,” Mr. Begich said after the vote, echoing the traditional gun-rights argument that greater enforcement of existing laws — not additional legislation — would suffice.

Besides Senators Begich and Pryor, there are other Democrats in question for the final gun votes. Max Baucus of Montana, Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina all face tough races next year — and tough choices now.

“I don’t support the bill, but I support open debate,” Mr. Baucus, who won the endorsement of the N.R.A. in 2008, said after the vote. “Montanans are opposed to this bill — by a very large margin.”

The political perils for such Democrats are real, said Vic Fazio, a former California representative who headed the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 1994 when a four-decade Democratic House majority was swept away. There were other issues — tax increases, a failed health care overhaul — but gun control loomed large, he said. The N.R.A.’s power may have diminished since then, he said, but it has also concentrated in rural, conservative states.

President Obama, until Newtown, had been a dutiful subscriber to the theory of avoiding the gun issue at all cost since the early days of his first presidential run. As recently as the second presidential debate with Mitt Romney in October, the president greeted a voter’s question on assault weapons with a meandering answer that started: “We’re a nation that believes in the Second Amendment, and I believe in the Second Amendment. We’ve got a long tradition of hunting and sportsmen and people who want to make sure they can protect themselves.”

And supporters of the current push seem to accept that Democratic losses are inevitable.

“It’s going to be a very tough vote for a small handful of Democrats,” said Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut and one of the bill’s shepherds. “Regardless of whether we get 52 or 55 Democrats, we’ve always known we need Republicans.”

Democrats like Ms. Heitkamp staked their conservative claims on guns. Her last campaign commercial of 2012 declared “schools and tractors and guns” to be “part of how we live.” Six days after the slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary, she called the Obama administration’s gun proposals “way in extreme of what I think is necessary or even should be talked about.”

Senator Pryor, one of the most endangered incumbents next year, stood up for expanding background checks to sales at gun shows in 2011. Now he is not so sure. “As a general rule, people in Arkansas do not want any gun control,” he said Wednesday. “It’s just sort of a blanket statement.”

In 2008, after a close election, Mr. Begich, a former Anchorage mayor, cited his opposition to gun control and support for oil drilling as key to his success. In 2009, Mr. Begich, Mr. Baucus and another Democrat now in play, Jon Tester of Montana, wrote letters to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. saying he should enforce existing gun laws rather than propose additional ones.

“We love our guns,” Mr. Begich said Wednesday.

To vote for any gun safety legislation now will create a double trap for someone like Mr. Begich. Republicans will attack the vote itself, and accuse him of saying one thing to constituents and doing another when in the political hothouse of Washington.

“It’s an issue that will reveal whether they are in touch or out of touch with the people in their state,” said Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which has already begun goading the 2014 Democrats in their home states.

As if to prove the political calculus, Mr. Tester, who does not face another campaign until 2018, is taking a very different line from the senior senator from his state, Mr. Baucus. The package is more a refinement of existing laws, not an expansion, he said Thursday, and he is inclined to support them.

“I think there’s an opportunity to do some good things and ensure Second Amendment rights,” he said.

Other swing-state Democrats are trying hard to counter the pressure being brought to bear against them. Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, was governor during the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech and pressed for expanded background checks. The effort fell short, but it earned him the enmity of the N.R.A., which had already opposed his run for governor.

He still prevailed in his Senate run last year, and said he has concluded the power of the organization’s leadership is vastly overrated. He has been making that case to other members, he said.

Mr. Manchin has been pressing as well. While meeting with Newtown families on Wednesday, he called on the rifle association to post the details of his background-check legislation on the group’s Web site “and let members of the N.R.A. like me vote on it.”

One after another, the family members praised the burly West Virginian for what they called courage and perseverance.

“I have no courage compared to you all,” he answered tearfully.

But it was not clear whether emotional appeals can break through, even from Mr. Manchin.

“I think the world of Joe,” Ms. Heitkamp said. “I think Joe’s worked very hard to forge a compromise, but in the end it’s not what any other senator believes. It’s about what the people of North Dakota believe.”


April 12, 2013

With Police in Schools, More Children in Court


HOUSTON — As school districts across the country consider placing more police officers in schools, youth advocates and judges are raising alarm about what they have seen in the schools where officers are already stationed: a surge in criminal charges against children for misbehavior that many believe is better handled in the principal’s office.

Since the early 1990s, thousands of districts, often with federal subsidies, have paid local police agencies to provide armed “school resource officers” for high schools, middle schools and sometimes even elementary schools. Hundreds of additional districts, including those in Houston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, have created police forces of their own, employing thousands of sworn officers.

Last week, in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shootings, a task force of the National Rifle Association recommended placing police officers or other armed guards in every school. The White House has proposed an increase in police officers based in schools.

The effectiveness of using police officers in schools to deter crime or the remote threat of armed intruders is unclear. The new N.R.A. report cites the example of a Mississippi assistant principal who in 1997 got a gun from his truck and disarmed a student who had killed two classmates, and another in California in which a school resource officer in 2001 wounded and arrested a student who had opened fire with a shotgun.

Yet the most striking impact of school police officers so far, critics say, has been a surge in arrests or misdemeanor charges for essentially nonviolent behavior — including scuffles, truancy and cursing at teachers — that sends children into the criminal courts.

“There is no evidence that placing officers in the schools improves safety,” said Denise C. Gottfredson, a criminologist at the University of Maryland who is an expert in school violence. “And it increases the number of minor behavior problems that are referred to the police, pushing kids into the criminal system.”

Nationwide, hundreds of thousands of students are arrested or given criminal citations at schools each year. A large share are sent to court for relatively minor offenses, with black and Hispanic students and those with disabilities disproportionately affected, according to recent reports from civil rights groups, including the Advancement Project, in Washington, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, in New York.

Such criminal charges may be most prevalent in Texas, where police officers based in schools write more than 100,000 misdemeanor tickets each year, said Deborah Fowler, the deputy director of Texas Appleseed, a legal advocacy center in Austin. The students seldom get legal aid, she noted, and they may face hundreds of dollars in fines, community service and, in some cases, a lasting record that could affect applications for jobs or the military.

In February, Texas Appleseed and the Brazos County chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. filed a complaint with the federal Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights. Black students in the school district in Bryan, they noted, receive criminal misdemeanor citations at four times the rate of white students.

Featured in the complaint is De’Angelo Rollins, who was 12 and had just started at a Bryan middle school in 2010 when he and another boy scuffled and were given citations. After repeated court appearances, De’Angelo pleaded no contest, paid a fine of $69 and was sentenced to 20 hours of community service and four months’ probation.

“They said this will stay on his record unless we go back when he is 17 and get it expunged,” said his mother, Marjorie Holmon.

Federal officials have not yet acted, but the district says it is revising guidelines for citations. “Allegations of inequitable treatment of students is something the district takes very seriously,” said Sandra Farris, a spokeswoman for the Bryan schools.

While schools may bring in police officers to provide security, the officers often end up handling discipline and handing out charges of disorderly conduct or assault, said Michael Nash, the presiding judge of juvenile court in Los Angeles and the president of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.

“You have to differentiate the security issue and the discipline issue,” he said. “Once the kids get involved in the court system, it’s a slippery slope downhill.”

Mo Canady, the executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, defended placing police officers in schools, provided that they are properly trained. He said that the negative impacts had been exaggerated, and that when the right people were selected and schooled in adolescent psychology and mediation, both schools and communities benefited.

“The good officers recognize the difference between a scuffle and a true assault,” Mr. Canady said.

But the line is not always clear. In New York, a lawsuit against the Police Department’s School Safety Division describes several instances in which officers handcuffed and arrested children for noncriminal behavior.

Many districts are clamoring for police officers. “There’s definitely a massive trend toward increasing school resource officers, so much so that departments are having trouble buying guns and supplies,” said Michael Dorn, director of Safe Havens International, in Macon, Ga., a safety consultant to schools.

One district in Florida, Mr. Dorn said, is looking to add 130 officers, mainly to patrol its grade schools. McKinney, Tex., north of Dallas, recently placed officers in its five middle schools.

Many judges say school police officers are too quick to make arrests or write tickets.

“We are criminalizing our children for nonviolent offenses,” Wallace B. Jefferson, the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Texas, said in a speech to the Legislature in March.

School officers in Texas are authorized to issue Class C misdemeanor citations, which require students to appear before a justice of the peace or in municipal court, with public records.

The process can leave a bitter taste. Joshua, a ninth grader who lives south of Houston, got into a brief fight on a school bus in November after another boy, a security video showed, hit him first. The principal called in the school’s resident sheriff, who wrote them both up for disorderly conduct.

“I thought it was stupid,” Joshua said of the ticket and his need to miss school for two court appearances. His guardian found a free lawyer from the Earl Carl Institute, a legal aid group at Texas Southern University, and the case was eventually dismissed.

Sarah R. Guidry, the executive director of the institute, said that when students appeared in court with a lawyer, charges for minor offenses were often dismissed. But she said the courts tended to be “plea mills,” with students pleading guilty in the hope that, once they paid a fine and spent hours cleaning parks, the charges would be expunged. If students fail to show up and cases are unresolved, they may be named in arrest warrants when they turn 17.

In parts of Texas, the outcry from legal advocates is starting to make a difference. Jimmy L. Dotson, the chief of Houston’s 186-member school district force, is one of several police leaders working to redefine the role of campus officers.

Perhaps the sharpest change has come to E. L. Furr High School, which serves mainly low-income Hispanic children on the city’s east side. Bertie Simmons, 79, came out of retirement 11 years ago to try to turn around a school so blighted by gang violence that it dared not hold assemblies.

“The kids hated the school police,” said Ms. Simmons, the principal. They arrested two or three students a day and issued tickets to many more.

Ms. Simmons searched for officers who would work with the students and build trust. She found them in Danny Avalos and Craig Davis, former municipal police officers who grew up in rough neighborhoods, and after years of effort, the campus is peaceful and arrests and tickets are rare. Discipline is usually enforced by a principal’s court with student juries, not summonses to the criminal courts.

“Writing tickets is easy,” Officer Avalos said. “We do it the hard way, talking with the kids and coaching them.”

With new guidelines and training, ticketing within the Houston schools was reduced by 60 percent in one year. Citations for “disruption of classes,” for example, fell to 124 between September and February, from 927 in the same period last year.

“Our role is not to be disciplinarians,” Chief Dotson said in an interview. “Our purpose is to push these kids into college, not into the criminal justice system.”


April 11, 2013

Medal of Honor Awarded to Korean War Chaplain


WASHINGTON — Supporters of the Rev. Emil J. Kapaun, an Army chaplain who died a prisoner in the Korean War, are still working to have him declared a Catholic saint for his lifesaving ministrations to them. But for now, they have the satisfaction of seeing him posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor at the White House.

In an East Room ceremony on Thursday, President Obama presented the blue sash and five-pointed star to an emotional Ray Kapaun, a nephew. At 56, the nephew has been alive for less time than his uncle’s comrades have labored to get recognition for their chaplain, who died nearly 62 years ago, at the age of 35, in a prisoner-of-war camp.

“This is an amazing story,” Mr. Obama said. “Father Kapaun has been called a shepherd in combat boots. His fellow soldiers who felt his grace and his mercy called him a saint, a blessing from God. Today, we bestow another title on him — recipient of our nation’s highest military decoration.”

He added, “I know one of Father Kapaun’s comrades spoke for a lot of folks here when he said, ‘It’s about time.’ ”

Father Kapaun was honored for his heroism during combat at Unsan, in November 1950 when his unit — the Third Battalion, Eighth Cavalry Regiment, First Cavalry Division — was attacked by Chinese Communist forces, according to the citation read aloud as Mr. Obama and Mr. Kapaun stood at attention.

The chaplain “calmly walked through withering enemy fire” and hand-to-hand combat to provide medical aid, comforting words or the last rites of the Roman Catholic Church to the wounded, the citation said. When he saw a Chinese soldier about to execute a wounded comrade, Sgt. First Class Herbert A. Miller, he rushed to push the gun away. Mr. Miller, now 86, was at the White House for the ceremony with other veterans, former prisoners of war and members of the Kapaun family.

“This is the valor we honor today,” Mr. Obama said. “An American soldier who didn’t fire a gun, but who wielded the mightiest weapon of all, a love for his brothers so pure that he was willing to die so that they might live.”

At such ceremonies, the president, who wrote a best-selling memoir, seems to relish the narrative of a compelling tale. For this one, he went beyond the citation, saying “the incredible story of Father Kapaun does not end there.”

Since the priest was from a small town near Wichita, Kan., like Mr. Obama’s grandparents who helped raise him, “I have a sense of the man he was,” Mr. Obama said. He told of how Father Kapaun carried Mr. Miller and helped soldiers who faltered on a forced march to a prisoner-of-war camp, where the Chinese sent them after the attack. Through the winter, as the American prisoners froze to death, he offered his clothes, sneaked out to bring back grain and cleaned the soldiers’ wounds.

Guards tortured him for his shows of faith, but on Easter, Father Kapaun offered Mass in church ruins at the camp as guards looked on.

One of the veterans told him, the president said, that the chaplain “kept a lot of us alive.”

The priest had a blood clot, dysentery and then pneumonia, and in May 1951, guards sent him into isolation, without food or water, to die. As Mr. Obama recounted, based on testimony from Father Kapaun’s comrades, the priest looked at the guards and said, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

His remains were never recovered. At war’s end, the surviving P.O.W.’s walked out of the camp with a four-foot wooden crucifix they had made in his honor.


Science discovers ‘magic trick’ that causes partisan voters to switch parties

By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, April 11, 2013 15:05 EDT

Researchers in Sweden have discovered a clever way to trick partisan voters into switching parties, through the application of a simple survey and some slight of hand.

Exploiting a known defect in human psychology called “choice blindness,” researchers writing for the journal PLoS One got 162 voters to fill out surveys pinpointing their views on key issues like taxes and energy, then covertly switched the survey with one created to show the exact opposite answers. Participants were then confronted on why they gave the faux responses.

What the researchers found is astonishing: A whopping 92 percent of respondents did not catch that their answers were manipulated, and only 22 percent of the switched answers were noticed by participants. During questioning after the survey, 10 percent of the subjects actually switched their preference in political party, while another 19 percent of previously partisan voters said they’d become undecided.

Since 18 percent of the participants went into the study saying they were undecided to begin with, researchers noted that their findings suggest a full 47 percent were open to changing their vote. They also noted their findings seem to run contrary to the political wisdom of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), who suggested months before election day that 47 percent of the country had already ruled him out.

Researchers added that they found “no connection between gender, age, level of political engagement, overall political certainty, or initial political affiliation, in relation to magnitude of change in voting intention.”

“It’s a dramatic demonstration of the potential flexibility that is there,” lead researcher Lars Hall, from Lund University, told the scientific publication Nature. “Unfortunately I don’t know how to tap into that flexibility without the magic trick. If I did I wouldn’t be talking to you. I’d be selling my secret to Hillary Clinton or [Republican New Jersey governor] Chris Christie. Or both.”

Hall’s previous research into choice blindness has revealed that the flaw can lead to many inconsistencies in what humans say they find attractive in mates, what moral values people think they hold most dear, and which products people believe they prefer at the supermarket. A similar “magic trick” was employed in all three scenarios, finding less than one third of participants in each study realized their stated preferences were manipulated to reflect something else entirely.

This video is from the Lund University Choice Blindness Lab, published on Wednesday, April 10, 2013.


8-year-old follows Tenn. lawmaker around Capitol until he drops welfare bill

By David Edwards
Friday, April 12, 2013 9:11 EDT

A Tennessee lawmaker has relented and agreed to drop his bill linking academic performance to the family’s welfare benefits after an 8-year-old girl shamed him by following him around the state Capitol.

On his way to vote on Thursday, state Sen. Stacey Campfield (R) was confronted by 8-year-old homeschooler Aamira Fetuga, who presented him with a petition signed by people opposing his welfare bill, according to the Tennessean. Nearby, a choir of about 60 activists sang “Jesus Loves the Little Children.”

“You are so weak, to not listen to a child,” a parent said as Campfield walked away with the girl following.

“Why do you want to cut benefits for people?” 8-year-old Fetuga asked after she caught up with him on a Capitol escalator.

“Well, I wouldn’t as long as the parent shows up to school and goes to two parent-teacher conferences and they’re exempt,” the state Senator explained.

The confrontation continued during what appeared to be long, uncomfortable walk to the Senate floor for Campfield.

“Using children as props is shameful,” he grumbled at one point.

But the protest tactics may have worked because Campfield decided to withdraw the bill before Thursday’s vote after several other former supporters began to express doubts.

“You can say that withholding the money from the parents doesn’t harm the child, but you’re fooling yourself,” Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R) pointed out.

Under Campfield’s bill, families could have lost up to 30 percent of welfare benefits from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program if a child did not attend school regularly and make “satisfactory academic progress.”

Campfield, however, said he was not giving up on the idea. He asked the state Senate to further study the bill, giving him the opportunity to bring it back up next year.

“To me, it’s not a dead issue at all,” he told reporters. “This may be a slight detour, but honestly I think this could hopefully make it even better.”

As for the protests, Campfield remarked, “It is what it is.”

“There’s always going to be detractors.”

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« Reply #5719 on: Apr 14, 2013, 06:29 AM »

China and US push for dialogue with North Korea

John Kerry visits Seoul and Beijing to ease fears of tensions ahead of anniversary

Tania Branigan in Seoul
The Observer, Saturday 13 April 2013 17.07 BST   

Washington and Beijing stressed they would handle tensions on the Korean peninsula through dialogue and consultation as fears rose that Pyongyang may be planning to test a missile to mark the anniversary of the birth of its first leader, Kim Il-sung.

US secretary of state John Kerry met Chinese president Xi Jinping and other senior leaders in Beijing, saying afterwards: "We are able ... to underscore our joint commitment to the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula in a peaceful manner."

Standing alongside China's top diplomat, state councillor Yang Jiechi, he added: "We agreed that this is critically important for the stability of the region and indeed for the world and for all of our nonproliferation efforts."

Yang said: "We maintain that the issue should be handled and resolved peacefully through dialogue and consultation. To properly address the Korea nuclear issue serves the common interests of all parties. It is also the shared responsibility of all parties."

While Kerry warned on Friday that a missile launch would be "a huge mistake", Washington and Seoul said they would stand by their commitments in the defunct 2005 six-party aid-for-denuclearisation agreement if the North took "meaningful" steps. North Korea has said its nuclear weapons are non-negotiable and on Friday described them as its "treasured" guarantor of security.

Prior to his arrival in Beijing, Kerry urged China to "put some teeth" into ensuring the North denuclearises. China is Pyongyang's main ally and provides much of its food and oil. Analysts say Beijing has been increasingly frustrated with North Korea, but that it fears a shift in policy could prompt instability in its neighbour and thinks the US should do more.

Adam Cathcart, an expert on relations between Beijing and Pyongyang, at Queen's University Belfast, said: "Kim Jong-un is not a puppet of Beijing. One of the things he has clearly been doing since he came to power has been to show that he is his own man, in the mould of his father and grandfather, who lived with Chinese influence and hated it." He also cautioned that if China really stepped up pressure on the North it could escalate the situation, adding: "Americans have to be a little bit careful what they wish for."

Meanwhile, Pyongyang has denied involvement in a cyber attack on South Korean broadcasters and banks last month, in a statement released via the official KCNA news agency.


April 14, 2013

US, Japan Raise Chance of New NKorea Nuclear Talks


TOKYO (AP) — The United States and Japan on Sunday offered new talks with North Korea to resolve the increasingly dangerous standoff over its nuclear and missile programs, but said the reclusive communist government first must lower tensions and honor previous agreements.

North Korea has a clear course of action available to it, and will find "ready partners" in the United States if it follows through, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters.

Japan's foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, who appeared with Kerry at a news conference, was more explicit, saying that North Korea must honor its commitment to earlier deals regarding its nuclear and missile programs and on returning kidnapped foreigners.

The officials agreed on the need to work toward a nuclear-free North Korea and opened the door to direct talks if certain conditions are met.

Their comments highlight the difficulty in resolving the North Korean nuclear situation in a peaceful manner, as pledged by Kerry and Chinese leaders in Beijing on Saturday.

Gaining China's commitment, Kerry insisted, was no small matter given Beijing's historically strong military and economic ties to North Korea.

The issue has taken on fresh urgency in recent months, given North Korea's tests of a nuclear device and intercontinental ballistic missile technology, and its increasingly brazen threats of nuclear strikes against the United States.

U.S. and South Korean officials believe the North may deliver another provocation in the coming days with a mid-range missile test.

"The question," Kerry said, "is what steps do you take now so we are not simply repeating the cycle of the past years." That was a clear reference to the various negotiated agreements and U.N. Security Council ultimatums that North Korea has violated since the 1990s.

"We have to be careful and thoughtful and frankly not lay out publicly all the options," Kerry said.

Given their proximity and decades of hostility and distrust, Japan and South Korea have the most to fear from the North's unpredictable actions.

Kerry said the U.S. would defend both its allies at all cost.

He also clarified a statement he made Saturday in Beijing, when he told reporters the U.S. could scale back its missile-defense posture in the region if North Korea goes nuclear-free.

It appeared to be a sweetener to coax tougher action from China, which has done little over the years to snuff out funding and support for North Korea's weapons of mass destruction program.

China fears the increased U.S. military presence in the region may be directed at it as well.

Kerry said America's basic force posture wasn't up to debate. "There is no discussion that I know of to change that," he said.

But he said it was logical that additional missile-defense elements, including a land-based system for the Pacific territory of Guam, deployed because of the Korean threat could be reversed if that threat no longer existed.

"There's nothing actually on the table with respect to that. I was simply making an observation about the rationale for that particular deployment, which is to protect the United States' interests that are directly threatened by North Korea," Kerry said.

Kerry's visit to Japan followed two days of meetings in South Korea and China.


April 13, 2013

North Korean Leader, Young and Defiant, Strains Ties With Chinese


BEIJING — The last known face-to-face contact between Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, and senior Chinese officials did not end well.

A member of China’s Politburo, Li Jianguo, led a small delegation to Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, in November. He carried a letter from China’s new leader, Xi Jinping, which is said to have contained a simple message: Do not launch a ballistic missile.

Twelve days later, Mr. Kim did just that.

The relationship between North Korea and China, extolled in the past to be as close as “lips and teeth,” has faltered ever since as Mr. Kim, a political neophyte believed to be in his late 20s, has continued to defy Mr. Xi, a 59-year-old seasoned statesman.

How far the alliance between the powerhouse China and the impoverished North Korea has soured is now debated openly in the Chinese news media. Few call it a serious rift, though a spirited debate appears to be under way within the Chinese government over how to handle Mr. Kim.

But with Secretary of State John Kerry in China this weekend on his first visit as the United States’ chief diplomat, some things are clear.

The personal relationships among Mr. Kim and his Chinese counterparts appear to be less familiar than when his father, Kim Jong-il, was in charge. Analysts suggest that could be a result of the significant age differences between the inexperienced Mr. Kim and the much older Chinese leaders.

There has been no publicized visit of Chinese leaders to North Korea since the embarrassing trip in November when Mr. Kim thumbed his nose at Mr. Xi’s request for restraint.

As relations frayed after Mr. Kim carried out North Korea’s third nuclear test in February, China suggested sending several senior officials to Pyongyang, including Dai Bingguo, a state councilor and experienced North Korea hand who retired in March, Chinese analysts said.

But Mr. Kim rebuffed the overture, the analysts said, a sign that the Chinese interpreted as the new leader wanting to show he is less dependent on Beijing than his father.

It not clear whether Mr. Xi has ever met Mr. Kim.

Mr. Xi last visited Pyongyang in June 2008 when he was vice president. He arrived before Kim Jong-il had a stroke, a period when the succession process that led to the appointment of Kim Jong-un as president had not yet begun.

Speculation mounted in 2010 and 2011 that Mr. Kim would replace his ailing father after the son was reported to have participated in one or more of the four official North Korean delegations to China in those years, a period when the Chinese were encouraging North Korea to open up its economy.

On at least one of those trips, Kim Jong-il did meet with Mr. Xi, who at that time was vice president, said John Delury, associate professor of East Asian studies at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea. “However, there was never evidence Kim Jong-un did in fact go with his dad,” Mr. Delury said. “I assume he did not, until there is positive evidence.”

In August 2012, Mr. Kim’s uncle by marriage, Jang Song-thaek, a four-star general who is considered a close adviser to the new leader, visited Beijing and met with the Chinese leaders at the time, President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.

It was assumed that Mr. Jang was setting the stage for a visit to China by the new, young leader, an idea that the Chinese appeared to be pushing as a way of showing what promise economic overhaul held for the repressed North Korea. Little came of the visit.

In the Chinese news media, Mr. Kim is getting a mixed reception. The state-run news media here have stopped short of calling Mr. Kim unflattering names, as they did when they labeled President George W. Bush “Little Mr. Bush.”

In contrast, China’s social media sites have unleashed waves of satirical jokes, images and names aimed at Mr. Kim, who is often described in disparaging terms by ordinary Chinese.

China often censors comments on the Internet that run counter to Communist Party policy or are too critical of foreign policy. The barbs against Mr. Kim have been left intact.

A common description of Mr. Kim on social media sites is “The Kid.” Another favorite: “Fatty, the Third.”

That is a reference to the portly men who have made up the Kim dynasty: the founder of the state, Kim Il-sung, whose birth on April 15, 1912, will be celebrated Monday; his son, Kim Jong-il, who died in December 2011 after ruling the country since 1994; and his son, the current leader, Kim Jong-un. Their girth stands in contrast to the fact that much of the North Korean population struggles to get enough to eat.

In China’s state-run news media, the once-generous coverage of the North has become less tolerant. Some commentators called North Korea’s announcement that it would restart its Yongbyon nuclear reactor as “out of control” and “crazy.”

A fairly stern editorial in Global Times on the eve of Mr. Kerry’s visit on Saturday suggested there was a limit to China’s forbearance. “When Pyongyang’s acts seriously violate China’s interests, we will by no means indulge it,” the editorial said.

The People’s Daily online edition on Thursday urged North Korea not to “misjudge the situation,” and criticized the government for violating United Nations resolutions against nuclear testing and the launching of ballistic missiles.

The less favorable news media coverage of North Korea is also accompanied with tough words for the United States. “Do not add fuel to the flames,” People’s Daily said, a reference to the sending this month of nuclear capable B-52 and B-2 bombers by the Obama administration as a show of support for the American ally, South Korea.

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« Reply #5720 on: Apr 14, 2013, 06:35 AM »

April 13, 2013

China Makes Inroads in Nepal, and Stanches Tibetan Influx


CHOSAR, Nepal — The wind-scoured desert valley here, just south of Tibet, was once a famed transit point for the Tibetan yak caravans laden with salt that lumbered over the icy ramparts of the Himalayas. In the 1960s, it became a base for Tibetan guerrillas trained by the C.I.A. to attack Chinese troops occupying their homeland.

These days, it is the Chinese who are showing up in this far tip of the Buddhist kingdom of Mustang, northwest of Katmandu, Nepal. Chinese officials are seeking to stem the flow of disaffected Tibetans fleeing to Nepal and to enlist the help of the Nepalese authorities in cracking down on the political activities of the 20,000 Tibetans already here.

China is exerting its influence across Nepal in a variety of ways, mostly involving financial incentives. In Mustang, China is providing $50,000 in annual food aid and sending military officials across the border to discuss with local Nepalese what the ceremonial prince of Mustang calls “border security.”

Their efforts across the country have borne fruit. The Nepalese police regularly detain Tibetans during anti-China protests in Katmandu, and they have even curbed celebrations of the birthday of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, according to Tibetans living in Nepal.

In the first eight months of 2012, the number of Tibetan refugees crossing the Himalayas into Nepal was about 400, half as many as during the same period in 2011. Tibetans blame tighter Chinese security in Tibet, as well as Chinese-trained Nepal border guards, for the reduced migration.

The Nepalese government has also refused to allow 5,000 refugees to leave for the United States, even though the American government has said it would grant the refugees asylum.

“Nepal used to be quite easy for Tibetans, to get jobs here and integrate into the community,” Tashi Ganden, a former monk and prominent political prisoner in China, said as he sat on a cafe rooftop in the bustling Tibetan Boudhanath neighborhood of Katmandu. “That was before the Chinese influence.”

Nepal is one of the world’s most impoverished countries, made poorer by a decade-long civil war between Maoist guerrillas and the military that ended in 2006, and by the continuing instability of the government. The nation is bordered by India and China, and Nepalese leaders have sought to use China as a counterbalance to long-running Indian influence.

The courtship between Nepal and China has gained momentum in recent years, as China has poured in aid money, infrastructure expertise and, in Lumbini, believed to be the birthplace of Buddha, investment in Buddhist sites. Meanwhile, it has been assigning ambassadors to Nepal who have backgrounds in security work.

Former President Jimmy Carter told reporters in Katmandu on April 1 that Chinese pressure was making the journey of Tibetans to Nepal more difficult. “My hope is that the Nepali government will not accede,” he said, according to Reuters.

Shankar Prasad Koirala, the joint secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs, said in a telephone interview that Nepal had not turned its back on the refugees. “The government of Nepal is assisting them and treating them on humanitarian grounds,” he said.

Other Nepalese officials have explained that Nepal abides by a “one-China policy” and does not tolerate anti-China separatist activities on its soil.

China’s campaign to block Tibetans from entering Nepal increased in 2008 after a widespread Tibetan uprising. Since then, at least 110 self-immolations by Tibetans living under Chinese rule have further prompted Chinese officials to tighten security in Tibetan towns and along the border with Nepal.

The practice of protest by self-immolation has reached Katmandu, making Nepalese officials even more anxious about the Tibetan issue. In February, a Tibetan monk, Drupchen Tsering, 25, died after setting fire to himself near a revered Buddhist stupa, or dome-shaped shrine, in Boudhanath.

Tibetans in the area asked for the monk’s body, but local officials had it cremated in the middle of the night late last month, saying no family members had claimed it, and later posted notices warning against public ceremonies, according to the International Campaign for Tibet, an advocacy group based in Washington.

There has been a clampdown on open religious celebrations in recent years, with some Tibetans detained for days. Those celebrations include festivities around the birthday of the Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in India and had a representative in Katmandu until the office was shut down by the government in 2005.

One young man, Tsering, said he went to a monastery in Katmandu in April 2012 for a birthday ceremony, only to find the Nepalese police blocking the area. The gathering was moved to an assembly hall. “We can’t even celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday,” he said. “Things have changed a lot.”

Mr. Tashi, the former monk, said dozens of Tibetans were pre-emptively detained in January 2012 when Wen Jiabao, the Chinese prime minister at the time, made an unannounced four-hour visit to Katmandu. Mr. Wen had scheduled a visit for the previous month, but it was canceled because of concerns over protests by Tibetans, local residents said. During his visit, Mr. Wen agreed that China would give Nepal $1.18 billion in aid over three years, among other support.

The earliest Tibetan refugees arrived in Nepal in 1959, when the Dalai Lama fled Tibet, and they settled in refugee camps, of which there are still 13. A Tibetan enclave sprang up around Boudhanath. Some Tibetans became rich by making carpets and handicrafts, and prominent Tibetan monasteries amassed wealth and purchased prime real estate in the Katmandu Valley.

The population was bolstered by more recent political refugees, like Mr. Tashi. The Tibetans used to be given refugee cards that guaranteed them some rights, but Nepal ended that practice in 1998.

These days, refugees pay about $5,000 to smugglers to get them to Nepal. They generally stay six to eight weeks at a transit center in the Katmandu Valley run by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, then board a bus for India. There, the Tibetans hope to get an audience with the Dalai Lama.

Some are pilgrims who eventually try to make their way back to Nepal and then Tibet. There is suspicion among longtime refugees that some of the refugees are spies for China.

Before the Tibetan uprising five years ago, 2,000 to 4,000 refugees reached the transit center each year. That dropped to 500 to 600 in 2008, as Chinese security forces locked down Tibetan towns, and crept back up to 850 the next year. It has remained low ever since.

For decades, there had been an understanding that Nepalese border guards would allow refugees they encountered to continue on to sanctuary. But now Tibetans suspect that the low numbers of refugees reaching Katmandu could be in part a result of guards sending back Tibetans they catch, especially since China is now involved in border security training programs.

There is no independent monitoring of the Nepalese security forces on the border. Last year, CNN broadcast video of unknown Chinese men in plain clothes harassing a CNN cameraman on the Nepalese side of the border while a guard stood by.

“We don’t really know what happens in border areas now,” said Kate Saunders, a researcher for the International Campaign for Tibet.

For China, the Mustang region is one of the most delicate border areas, given the history of the Khampa guerrilla resistance there and the flight through the kingdom in 1999 of the Karmapa Lama, who was secretly escaping to India from Tibet. The border only opens now on rare occasions for a market between Tibetans and local residents.

People of Mustang could once cross into Tibet with a letter from the king to make a pilgrimage to Mount Kailas, the holiest mountain in Tibetan Buddhist cosmology. But the Chinese cut that off a dozen years ago.

“We’ve asked our government to try to reopen it,” said Jigme Singi Palbar Bista, the prince of Mustang. “Our people have always looked to the spiritual light of Tibet.”

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« Reply #5721 on: Apr 14, 2013, 06:54 AM »

U.S. and China announce cybersecurity collaboration amid hacking dispute

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, April 13, 2013 18:15 EDT

China and the US, which are embroiled in a bitter dispute over hacking, have agreed to set up a cybersecurity working group, US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Saturday.

“All of us, every nation, has an interest in protecting its people, protecting its rights, protecting its infrastructure,” he told reporters on a visit to Beijing.

“Cybersecurity affects everybody,” he said. “It affects airplanes in the sky, trains on their tracks, it affects the flow of water through dams, it affects transportation networks, power plants, it affects the financial sector, banks, financial transactions.

“So we are going to work immediately on an accelerated basis on cyber.”

The world’s two largest economies have traded accusations this year over cyber-attacks after a US research company said in February that a Chinese army unit had stolen huge amounts of data, from mostly US companies.

China dismissed the report as “groundless”, saying its defence ministry websites were often subjected to hacking attacks originating in the US.

The American Chamber of Commerce in China also said late last month that over a quarter of its members have experienced data theft.

Beijing’s foreign ministry dismissed the report and called on the US to stop “hyping cybersecurity issues”.
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April 9, 2013

How a Single Spy Helped Turn Pakistan Against the United States


The burly American was escorted by Pakistani policemen into a crowded interrogation room. Amid a clatter of ringing mobile phones and cross talk among the cops speaking a mishmash of Urdu, Punjabi and English, the investigator tried to decipher the facts of the case.

“America, you from America?”


“You’re from America, and you belong to the American Embassy?”

“Yes,” the American voice said loudly above the chatter. “My passport — at the site I showed the police officer. . . . It’s somewhere. It’s lost.”

On the jumpy video footage of the interrogation, he reached beneath his checkered flannel shirt and produced a jumble of identification badges hanging around his neck. “This is an old badge. This is Islamabad.” He showed the badge to the man across the desk and then flipped to a more recent one proving his employment in the American Consulate in Lahore.

“You are working at the consulate general in Lahore?” the policeman asked.


“As a . . . ?”

“I, I just work as a consultant there.”

“Consultant?” The man behind the desk paused for a moment and then shot a question in Urdu to another policeman. “And what’s the name?”

“Raymond Davis,” the officer responded.

“Raymond Davis,” the American confirmed. “Can I sit down?”

“Please do. Give you water?” the officer asked.

“Do you have a bottle? A bottle of water?” Davis asked.

Another officer in the room laughed. “You want water?” he asked. “No money, no water.”

Another policeman walked into the room and asked for an update. “Is he understanding everything? And he just killed two men?”

Hours earlier, Davis had been navigating dense traffic in Lahore, his thick frame wedged into the driver’s seat of a white Honda Civic. A city once ruled by Mughals, Sikhs and the British, Lahore is Pakistan’s cultural and intellectual capital, and for nearly a decade it had been on the fringes of America’s secret war in Pakistan. But the map of Islamic militancy inside Pakistan had been redrawn in recent years, and factions that once had little contact with one another had cemented new alliances in response to the C.I.A.’s drone campaign in the western mountains. Groups that had focused most of their energies dreaming up bloody attacks against India were now aligning themselves closer to Al Qaeda and other organizations with a thirst for global jihad. Some of these groups had deep roots in Lahore, which was why Davis and a C.I.A. team set up operations from a safe house in the city.

But now Davis was sitting in a Lahore police station, having shot two young men who approached his car on a black motorcycle, their guns drawn, at an intersection congested with cars, bicycles and rickshaws. Davis took his semiautomatic Glock pistol and shot through the windshield, shattering the glass and hitting one of the men numerous times. As the other man fled, Davis got out of his car and shot several rounds into his back.

He radioed the American Consulate for help, and within minutes a Toyota Land Cruiser was in sight, careering in the wrong direction down a one-way street. But the S.U.V. struck and killed a young Pakistani motorcyclist and then drove away. An assortment of bizarre paraphernalia was found, including a black mask, approximately 100 bullets and a piece of cloth bearing an American flag. The camera inside Davis’s car contained photos of Pakistani military installations, taken surreptitiously.

More than two years later, the Raymond Davis episode has been largely forgotten in the United States. It was immediately overshadowed by the dramatic raid months later that killed Osama bin Laden — consigned to a footnote in the doleful narrative of America’s relationship with Pakistan. But dozens of interviews conducted over several months, with government officials and intelligence officers in Pakistan and in the United States, tell a different story: that the real unraveling of the relationship was set off by the flurry of bullets Davis unleashed on the afternoon of Jan. 27, 2011, and exacerbated by a series of misguided decisions in the days and weeks that followed. In Pakistan, it is the Davis affair, more than the Bin Laden raid, that is still discussed in the country’s crowded bazaars and corridors of power.

Davis was taken to Kot Lakhpat prison, on the industrial fringes of Lahore, a jail with a reputation for inmates dying under murky circumstances. He was separated from the rest of the prisoners and held in a section of the decaying facility where the guards didn’t carry weapons, a concession for his safety that American officials managed to extract from the prison staff. The United States Consulate in Lahore had negotiated another safeguard: A small team of dogs was tasting Davis’s food, checking that it had not been laced with poison.

For many senior Pakistani spies, the man sitting in the jail cell represented solid proof of their suspicions that the C.I.A. had sent a vast secret army to Pakistan, men who sowed chaos and violence as part of the covert American war in the country. For the C.I.A., the eventual disclosure of Davis’s role with the agency shed an unflattering light on a post–Sept. 11 reality: that the C.I.A. had farmed out some of its most sensitive jobs to outside contractors — many of them with neither the experience nor the temperament to work in the war zones of the Islamic world.

The third child of a bricklayer and a cook, Davis grew up in a small clapboard house outside Big Stone Gap, a town of nearly 6,000 people in Virginia coal country. He became a football and wrestling star at the local high school, and after graduating in 1993, Davis enlisted in the Army and did a tour in Macedonia in 1994 as a United Nations peacekeeper. When his five-year hitch in the infantry was up, he re-enlisted, this time in the Army’s Third Special Forces Group based at Fort Bragg, N.C. He left the Army in 2003 and, like hundreds of other retired Navy SEALs and Green Berets, was hired by the private security firm Blackwater and soon found himself in Iraq working security for the C.I.A.

Little is known about his work for Blackwater, but by 2006, Davis had left the firm and, together with his wife, founded a security company in Las Vegas. Soon he was hired by the C.I.A. as a private contractor, what the agency calls a “Green Badge,” for the color of the identification cards that contractors show to enter C.I.A. headquarters at Langley. Like Davis, many of the contractors were hired to fill out the C.I.A.’s Global Response Staff — bodyguards who traveled to war zones to protect case officers, assess the security of potential meeting spots, even make initial contact with sources to ensure that case officers wouldn’t be walking into an ambush. Officers from the C.I.A.’s security branch came under withering fire on the roof of the agency’s base in Benghazi, Libya, last September. The demands of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had so stretched the C.I.A.’s own cadre of security officers that the agency was forced to pay inflated sums to private contractors to do the security jobs. When Davis first deployed with the C.I.A. to Pakistan in 2008, he worked from the agency’s base in Peshawar, earning upward of $200,000 a year.

By mid-February 2011, with Davis still sitting in prison, anti-American passions were fully inflamed, and daily street protests and newspaper editorials demanded that the government not cave to Washington’s demands for Davis’s release but instead sentence him to death. The evidence at the time indicated that the men Davis killed had carried out a string of petty thefts that day, but there was an added problem: the third man killed by the unmarked American S.U.V. fleeing the scene. Making matters even worse for Davis was the fact that he was imprisoned in Lahore, where the family of Nawaz Sharif dominated the political culture. The former leader of the country made no secret about his intentions to once again run Pakistan, making him the chief antagonist to President Asif Ali Zardari and his political machine in Islamabad, a four-hour drive away. As the American Embassy in Islamabad leaned on Zardari’s government to get Davis released from jail, the diplomats soon realized that Zardari had little influence over the police officers and judges in the city of the president’s bitter rival.

But the most significant factor ensuring that Davis would languish in jail was that the Obama administration had yet to tell Pakistan’s government what the Pakistanis already suspected, and what Raymond Davis’s marksmanship made clear: He wasn’t just another paper-shuffling American diplomat. Davis’s work in Pakistan was much darker, and it involved probing an exposed nerve in the already-hypersensitive relationship between the C.I.A. and Pakistan’s military intelligence service, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or I.S.I.

Ever since the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (the Army of the Pure) dispatched teams of assassins to lay siege to luxury hotels and other sites in Mumbai, India, in November 2008, killing and wounding more than 500 people over four days of mayhem, C.I.A. analysts had been warning that the group was seeking to raise its global profile by carrying out spectacular attacks beyond South Asia. This spurred the agency to assign more of its expanding army of operatives in Pakistan toward gathering intelligence about Lashkar’s operations — a decision that put the interests of the C.I.A. and the I.S.I. in direct conflict. It was one thing for American spies to be lurking around the tribal areas, hunting for Al Qaeda figures; it was quite another to go into Pakistani cities on espionage missions against a group that the I.S.I. considered a valuable proxy force in its continuing battle with India.

The I.S.I. had nurtured the group for years as a useful asset against India, and Lashkar’s sprawling headquarters outside Lahore housed a radical madrassa, a market, a hospital, even a fish farm. The group’s charismatic leader, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, had been put under house arrest at various times, but in 2009 the Lahore High Court quashed all terrorism charges against him and set him free. A stocky man with a wild beard, Saeed preached out in the open on many Fridays, flanked by bodyguards and delivering sermons to throngs of his followers about the imperialism of the United States, India and Israel. Even after the U.S. offered a $10 million reward for evidence linking Saeed to the Mumbai attacks, he continued to move freely in public, burnishing his legend as a Pakistani version of Robin Hood.

By the time Raymond Davis moved into a safe house with a handful of other C.I.A. officers and contractors in late 2010, the bulk of the agency’s officers in Lahore were focused on investigating the growth of Lashkar. To get more of its spies into Pakistan, the C.I.A. had exploited the arcane rules in place for approving visas for Americans. The State Department, the C.I.A. and the Pentagon all had separate channels to request visas for their personnel, and all of them led to the desk of Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s pro-American ambassador in Washington. Haqqani had orders from Islamabad to be lenient in approving the visas, because many of the Americans coming to Pakistan were — at least officially — going to be administering millions of dollars in foreign-aid money. By the time of the Lahore killings, in early 2011, so many Americans were operating inside Pakistan under both legitimate and false identities that even the U.S. Embassy didn’t have accurate records of their identities and whereabouts.

The American Embassy in Islamabad is essentially a fortress within a fortress, a pile of buildings enclosed by walls topped with razor wire and surveillance cameras and then encircled by an outer ring of walls that separates a leafy area, called the Diplomatic Enclave, from the rest of the city. Inside the embassy, the work of diplomats and spies is kept largely separate, with the C.I.A. station occupying a warren of offices in its own wing, accessed only through doors with coded locks.

After Davis was picked up by the Lahore police, the embassy became a house divided by more than mere geography. Just days before the shootings, the C.I.A. sent a new station chief to Islamabad. Old-school and stubborn, the new chief did not come to Pakistan to be friendly with the I.S.I. Instead, he wanted to recruit more Pakistani agents to work for the C.I.A. under the I.S.I.’s nose, expand electronic surveillance of I.S.I. offices and share little information with Pakistani intelligence officers.

That hard-nosed attitude inevitably put him at odds with the American ambassador in Islamabad, Cameron Munter. A bookish career diplomat with a Ph.D. in history, Munter had ascended the ranks of the State Department’s bureaucracy and accepted several postings in Iraq before ultimately taking over the American mission in Islamabad, in late 2010. The job was considered one of the State Department’s most important and difficult assignments, and Munter had the burden of following Anne W. Patterson, an aggressive diplomat who, in the three years before Munter arrived, cultivated close ties to officials in the Bush and Obama administrations and won praise from the C.I.A. for her unflinching support for drone strikes in the tribal areas.

Munter saw some value to the drone program but was skeptical about the long-term benefits. Arriving in Islamabad at a time when relations between the United States and Pakistan were quickly deteriorating, Munter wondered whether the pace of the drone war might be undercutting relations with an important ally for the quick fix of killing midlevel terrorists. He would learn soon enough that his views about the drone program ultimately mattered little. In the Obama administration, when it came to questions about war and peace in Pakistan, it was what the C.I.A. believed that really counted.

With Davis sitting in prison, Munter argued that it was essential to go immediately to the head of the I.S.I. at the time, Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, to cut a deal. The U.S. would admit that Davis was working for the C.I.A., and Davis would quietly be spirited out of the country, never to return again. But the C.I.A. objected. Davis had been spying on a militant group with extensive ties to the I.S.I., and the C.I.A. didn’t want to own up to it. Top C.I.A. officials worried that appealing for mercy from the I.S.I. might doom Davis. He could be killed in prison before the Obama administration could pressure Islamabad to release him on the grounds that he was a foreign diplomat with immunity from local laws — even those prohibiting murder. On the day of Davis’s arrest, the C.I.A. station chief told Munter that a decision had been made to stonewall the Pakistanis. Don’t cut a deal, he warned, adding, Pakistan is the enemy.

The strategy meant that American officials, from top to bottom, had to dissemble both in public and in private about what exactly Davis had been doing in the country. On Feb. 15, more than two weeks after the shootings, President Obama offered his first comments about the Davis affair. The matter was simple, Obama said in a news conference: Davis, “our diplomat in Pakistan,” should be immediately released under the “very simple principle” of diplomatic immunity. “If our diplomats are in another country,” said the president, “then they are not subject to that country’s local prosecution.”

Calling Davis a “diplomat” was, technically, accurate. He had been admitted into Pakistan on a diplomatic passport. But there was a dispute about whether his work in the Lahore Consulate, as opposed to the American Embassy in Islamabad, gave him full diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. And after the shootings in Lahore, the Pakistanis were not exactly receptive to debating the finer points of international law. As they saw it, Davis was an American spy who had not been declared to the I.S.I. and whom C.I.A. officials still would not admit they controlled. General Pasha, the I.S.I. chief, spoke privately by phone and in person with Leon Panetta, then the director of the C.I.A., to get more information about the matter. He suspected that Davis was a C.I.A. employee and suggested to Panetta that the two spy agencies handle the matter quietly. Meeting with Panetta, he posed a direct question.

Was Davis working for the C.I.A.? Pasha asked. No, he’s not one of ours, Panetta replied. Panetta went on to say that the matter was out of his hands, and that the issue was being handled inside State Department channels. Pasha was furious, and he decided to leave Davis’s fate in the hands of the judges in Lahore. The United States had just lost its chance, he told others, to quickly end the dispute.

That the C.I.A. director would be overseeing a large clandestine network of American spies in Pakistan and then lie to the I.S.I. director about the extent of America’s secret war in the country showed just how much the relationship had unraveled since the days in 2002, when the I.S.I. teamed with the C.I.A. in Peshawar to hunt for Osama bin Laden in western Pakistan. Where had it gone so wrong?

While the spy agencies had had a fraught relationship since the beginning of the Afghan war, the first major breach came in July 2008, when C.I.A. officers in Islamabad paid a visit to Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistani Army chief, to tell him that President Bush had signed off on a set of secret orders authorizing a new strategy in the drone wars. No longer would the C.I.A. give Pakistan advance warning before launching missiles from Predator or Reaper drones in the tribal areas. From that point on, the C.I.A. officers told Kayani, the C.I.A.’s killing campaign in Pakistan would be a unilateral war.

The decision had been made in Washington after months of wrenching debate about the growth of militancy in Pakistan’s tribal areas; a highly classified C.I.A. internal memo, dated May 1, 2007, concluded that Al Qaeda was at its most dangerous since 2001 because of the base of operations that militants had established in the tribal areas. That assessment became the cornerstone of a yearlong discussion about the Pakistan problem. Some experts in the State Department warned that expanding the C.I.A. war in Pakistan would further stoke anti-American anger on the streets and could push the country into chaos. But officials inside the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorism Center argued for escalating the drone campaign without the I.S.I.’s blessing. Since the first C.I.A. drone strike in Pakistan in 2004, only a small number of militants on the C.I.A.’s list of “high-value targets” had been killed by drone strikes, and other potential strikes were scuttled at the last minute because of delays in getting Pakistani approval, or because the targets seemed to have been tipped off and had fled.

So, in July 2008, when the C.I.A.’s director, Michael Hayden, and his deputy, Stephen Kappes, came to the White House to present the agency’s plan to wage a unilateral war in the mountains of Pakistan, it wasn’t a hard sell to a frustrated president. That began the relentless, years-long drone assault on the tribal areas that President Obama continued when he took office. And as the C.I.A.’s relationship with the I.S.I. soured, Langley sent station chiefs out to Islamabad who spent far less time and energy building up good will with Pakistani spies than their predecessors had. From 2008 on, the agency cycled a succession of seasoned case officers through Islamabad, and each left Pakistan more embittered than the last. One of them had to leave the country in haste when his identity was revealed in the Pakistani press. The C.I.A. suspected the leak came from the I.S.I.

Even many of the operations that at first seemed likely to signal a new era of cooperation between the C.I.A. and the I.S.I. ended in recriminations and finger-pointing. In January 2010, a clandestine team of C.I.A. officers and American special-operations troops working in Karachi traced a cellphone to a house in Baldia Town, a slum in the western part of the sprawling city. The C.I.A. did not conduct unilateral operations inside large Pakistani cities, so the Americans notified the I.S.I. about the intelligence. Pakistani troops and policemen launched a surprise raid on the house.

Although the C.I.A. didn’t know in advance, hiding inside the house was Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a man considered to be the Afghan Taliban’s military commander and the second in command to Mullah Muhammad Omar, the leader of the Taliban. Only after suspects in the house were arrested and questioned did the C.I.A. learn that Baradar was among the detainees. The I.S.I. took him to a detention facility in an industrial section of Islamabad and refused the C.I.A. access to him. “At that point, things got really complicated,” one former C.I.A. officer said.

Was the entire episode a setup? Rumors had circulated inside Pakistan that Baradar wanted to cut a deal with the Americans and bring the Taliban to the negotiating table in Afghanistan. Had the I.S.I. somehow engineered the entire arrest, feeding intelligence to the C.I.A. so that Baradar could be taken off the street and the nascent peace talks spoiled? Had the I.S.I. played the C.I.A.? Months later, senior C.I.A. officials at Langley still couldn’t answer those questions. Today, more than three years later, Mullah Baradar remains in Pakistani custody.

As Davis languished in the jail cell in Lahore, the C.I.A. was pursuing its most promising lead about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden since 2001, when he escaped from Tora Bora, in Afghanistan, and fled across the border into Pakistan. A small group of officers inside the agency’s Counterterrorism Center had become convinced that Bin Laden was hiding in a large compound in Abbottabad, a quiet hamlet north of Islamabad. For months, Panetta had been pushing clandestine officers to find a shred of hard proof that Bin Laden was hiding in the compound. The intelligence-gathering operating in Abbottabad had become the highest priority for the C.I.A. in Pakistan.

It was therefore more than a bit inconvenient that one of its undercover officers was sitting in a jail in Lahore facing a double murder charge. Pakistan’s Islamist parties organized street protests and threatened violent riots if Raymond Davis was not tried and hanged for his crimes. American diplomats in Lahore regularly visited Davis, but the Obama administration continued to stonewall Pakistan’s government about the nature of Davis’s work in the country.

And then the episode claimed another victim. On Feb. 6, the grieving widow of one of Davis’s victims swallowed a lethal amount of rat poison and was rushed to the hospital in Faisalabad, where doctors pumped her stomach. The woman, Shumaila Faheem, was certain that the United States and Pakistan would quietly broker a deal to release her husband’s killer from prison, a view she expressed to her doctors from her hospital bed. “They are already treating my husband’s murderer like a V.I.P. in police custody, and I am sure they will let him go because of international pressure,” she said. She died shortly afterward and instantly became a martyr for anti-American groups inside Pakistan.

The furor over the Davis incident was quickly escalating, threatening to shut down most C.I.A. operations in the country and derail the intelligence-gathering operation in Abbottabad. But the C.I.A. stood firm and sent top officials to Islamabad, who told Ambassador Munter to stick to the strategy.

By then, though, Munter had decided that the C.I.A.’s strategy wasn’t working, and eventually even high-level officials in the agency began to realize that stonewalling the Pakistanis was only causing the I.S.I. to dig in. After discussions among White House, State Department and C.I.A. officials in Washington, Munter approached General Pasha, the I.S.I. chief, and came clean. Davis was with the C.I.A., he said, and the United States needed to get him out of the country as quickly as possible. Pasha was fuming that Leon Panetta had lied to him, and he was going to make the Americans squirm by letting Davis sit in jail while he considered — on his own timetable — the best way to resolve the situation.

Back in Washington, Ambassador Haqqani was summoned to C.I.A. headquarters on Feb. 21 and taken into Panetta’s spacious office overlooking the agency’s campus in Langley, Va. Sitting around a large conference table, Panetta asked Haqqani for his help securing Davis’s release.

“If you’re going to send a Jason Bourne character to Pakistan, he should have the skills of a Jason Bourne to get away,” Haqqani shot back, according to one person who attended the meeting.

More than a week later, General Pasha came back to Ambassador Munter to discuss a new strategy. It was a solution based on an ancient tradition that would allow the matter to be settled outside the unpredictable court system. The issue had already been discussed among a number of Pakistani and American officials, including Ambassador Haqqani in Washington. The reckoning for Davis’s actions would come in the form of “blood money,” or diyat, a custom under Shariah law that compensates the families of victims for their dead relatives. The matter would be handled quietly, and Davis would be released from jail.

Pasha ordered I.S.I. operatives in Lahore to meet the families of the three men killed during the January episode and negotiate a settlement. Some of the relatives initially resisted, but the I.S.I. negotiators were not about to let the talks collapse. After weeks of discussions, the parties agreed on a total of 200 million Pakistani rupees, approximately $2.34 million, to offer “forgiveness” to the jailed C.I.A. officer.

Only a small group of Obama administration officials knew of the talks, and as they dragged on, Lahore’s high court was preparing to rule on whether Davis would be granted diplomatic immunity, a decision the C.I.A. expected to go against the United States and worried might set a precedent for future cases in Pakistan.

Davis remained in the dark about all of this. When he arrived for his court appearance on March 16, he was fully expecting to hear that the trial would proceed and that the judge would issue a new court date. He was escorted into the courtroom, his wrists cuffed in front of him, and locked inside an iron cage near the judge’s bench. According to one person’s account, General Pasha sat in the back of the courtroom, his cellphone out. He began sending out a stream of nervous text messages to Ambassador Munter, updating him about the court proceedings. Pasha was one of the most powerful men in Pakistan, and yet the I.S.I. had little control over the mercurial courts in Lahore, and he wasn’t entirely sure that things would proceed according to plan.

The first part of the hearing went as everyone expected. The judge, saying that the case would go ahead, noted that his ruling on diplomatic immunity would come in a matter of days. Pakistani reporters frantically began filing their stories about how this seemed a blow to the American case, and that it appeared that Davis would not be released from jail anytime soon. But then the judge ordered the courtroom cleared, and General Pasha’s secret plan unfolded.

Through a side entrance, 18 relatives of the victims walked into the room, and the judge announced that the civil court had switched to a Shariah court. Each of the family members approached Davis, some of them with tears in their eyes or sobbing outright, and announced that he or she forgave him. Pasha sent another text message to Munter: The matter was settled. Davis was a free man. In a Lahore courtroom, the laws of God had trumped the laws of man.

The drama played out entirely in Urdu, and throughout the proceeding, a baffled Davis sat silently inside the cage. He was even more stunned when I.S.I. operatives whisked him out of the courthouse through a back entrance and pushed him into a waiting car that sped to the Lahore airport.

The move had been choreographed to get Davis out of the country as quickly as possible. American officials, including Munter, were waiting for Davis at the airport, and some began to worry. Davis had, after all, already shot dead two men he believed were threatening him. If he thought he was being taken away to be killed, he might try to make an escape, even try to kill the I.S.I. operatives inside the car. When the car arrived at the airport and pulled up to the plane ready to take Davis out of Pakistan, the C.I.A. operative was in a daze. It appeared to the Americans waiting for him that Davis realized only then that he was safe.

The Davis affair led Langley to order dozens of covert officers out of Pakistan in the hope of lowering the temperature in the C.I.A. – I.S.I. relationship. Ambassador Munter issued a public statement shortly after the bizarre court proceeding, saying he was “grateful for the generosity” of the families and expressing regret for the entire incident and the “suffering it caused.”

But the secret deal only fueled the anger in Pakistan, and anti-American protests flared in major cities, including Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore. Demonstrators set tires ablaze, clashed with Pakistani riot police and brandished placards with slogans like “I Am Raymond Davis, Give Me a Break, I Am Just a C.I.A. Hit Man.”

The entire episode — and bin Laden’s killing in Abbottabad later that spring — extinguished any lingering productive relations between the United States and Pakistan. Leon Panetta’s relationship with General Pasha, the I.S.I. chief, was poisoned, and the already small number of Obama officials pushing for better relations between Washington and Islamabad dwindled even further. Munter was reporting daily back to Washington about the negative impact of the armed-drone campaign and about how the C.I.A. seemed to be conducting a war in a vacuum, oblivious to the ramifications that the drone strikes were having on American relations with Pakistan’s government.

The C.I.A. had approval from the White House to carry out missile strikes in Pakistan even when the agency’s targeters weren’t certain about exactly whom they were killing. Under the rules of so-called “signature strikes,” decisions about whether to fire missiles from drones could be made based on patterns of activity deemed suspicious. For instance, if a group of young “military-age males” were observed moving in and out of a suspected militant training camp and were thought to be carrying weapons, they could be considered legitimate targets. American officials admit it is nearly impossible to judge a person’s age from thousands of feet in the air, and in Pakistan’s tribal areas, adolescent boys are often among militant fighters. Using such broad definitions to determine who was a “combatant” and therefore a legitimate target allowed Obama administration officials at one point to claim that the escalation of drone strikes in Pakistan had not killed any civilians for a year. It was something of a trick of logic: in an area of known militant activity, all military-age males could be considered enemy fighters. Therefore, anyone who was killed in a drone strike there was categorized as a combatant.

The perils of this approach were laid bare on March 17, 2011, the day after Davis was released from prison and spirited out of the country. C.I.A. drones attacked a tribal council meeting in the village of Datta Khel, in North Waziristan, killing dozens of men. Ambassador Munter and some at the Pentagon thought the timing of the strike was disastrous, and some American officials suspected that the massive strike was the C.I.A. venting its anger about the Davis episode. More important, however, many American officials believed that the strike was botched, and that dozens of people died who shouldn’t have.

Other American officials came to the C.I.A.’s defense, saying that the tribal gathering was in fact a meeting of senior militants and therefore a legitimate target. But the drone strike unleashed a furious response in Pakistan, and street protests in Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar forced the temporary closure of American consulates in those cities.

Munter said he believed that the C.I.A. was being reckless and that his position as ambassador was becoming untenable. His relationship with the C.I.A. station chief in Islamabad, already strained because of their disagreements over the handling of the Davis case, deteriorated even further when Munter demanded that the C.I.A. give him the chance to call off specific missile strikes. During one screaming match between the two men, Munter tried to make sure the station chief knew who was in charge, only to be reminded of who really held the power in Pakistan.

“You’re not the ambassador!” Munter shouted.

“You’re right, and I don’t want to be the ambassador,” the station chief replied.

This turf battle spread to Washington, and a month after Bin Laden was killed, President Obama’s top advisers were arguing in a National Security Council meeting over who really was in charge in Pakistan. At the June 2011 meeting, Munter, who participated via secure video link, began making his case that he should have veto power over specific drone strikes.

Panetta cut Munter off, telling him that the C.I.A. had the authority to do what it wanted in Pakistan. It didn’t need to get the ambassador’s approval for anything.

“I don’t work for you,” Panetta told Munter, according to several people at the meeting.

But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came to Munter’s defense. She turned to Panetta and told him that he was wrong to assume he could steamroll the ambassador and launch strikes against his approval.

“No, Hillary,” Panetta said, “it’s you who are flat wrong.”

There was a stunned silence, and National Security Adviser Tom Donilon tried to regain control of the meeting. In the weeks that followed, Donilon brokered a compromise of sorts: Munter would be allowed to object to specific drone strikes, but the C.I.A. could still press its case to the White House and get approval for strikes even over the ambassador’s objections. Obama’s C.I.A. had, in essence, won yet again.

As for Raymond Davis, he tried to settle back into his life in the United States after being flown out of Pakistan. He found work as a firearms instructor, but in the end he couldn’t stay out of trouble. On Oct. 1, 2011, just seven months after his abrupt departure from Pakistan, Davis was eyeing a parking spot in front of a bagel shop in Highlands Ranch, Colo., a suburb of Denver. So was Jeffrey Maes, a 50-year-old minister who was driving with his wife and two young daughters. When Maes beat Davis to the spot, Davis shouted profanities through his open window. Then he jumped out of his car and confronted Maes, telling the minister that he had been waiting for the parking spot.

According to an affidavit given by Maes, he told Davis to “relax and quit being stupid.”

Davis struck Maes in the face, knocking him to the pavement. Maes said in court that when he stood up from the fall, Davis continued to hit him. The minister’s wife, later recalling the episode, said she had never in her life seen a man so full of rage. Just last month, after protracted legal proceedings, Davis pleaded guilty to a charge of third-degree misdemeanor assault and was sentenced to two years of probation. A judge ordered him to pay restitution and attend anger-management classes.

On the streets and in the markets of Pakistan, Raymond Davis remains the boogeyman, an American killer lurking in the subconscious of a deeply insecure nation. On a steamy summer night last summer, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed — the head of Lashkar-e-Taiba and the reason Davis and his team were sent to Lahore in the first place — stood on the back of a flatbed truck and spoke to thousands of cheering supporters less than a mile from Pakistan’s Parliament building in Islamabad. A $10 million American bounty still hung over Saeed’s head, part of a broader squeeze on Lashkar-e-Taiba’s finances. But there he was, out in the open and whipping the crowd into a fury with a pledge to “rid Pakistan of American slavery.” The rally was the culmination of a march from Lahore to Islamabad that Saeed ordered to protest American involvement in the country. The night before the march reached the capital, six Pakistani troops were killed by gunmen riding motorcycles not far from where the marchers were spending the night, leading to speculation that Saeed had ordered the attack.

But Saeed insisted that night that he was not to blame for the deaths. The killers were foreigners, he told the crowd, a group of assassins with a secret agenda to destabilize Pakistan and steal its nuclear arsenal. With a dramatic flourish, he said he knew exactly who had killed the men.

“It was the Americans!” he shouted to loud approvals. “It was Blackwater!” The cheers grew even louder. He saved the biggest applause line for last: “It was another Raymond Davis!”

This article is adapted from “The Way of the Knife: The C.I.A., a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth,” published by the Penguin Press.

Mark Mazzetti is a national-security correspondent for The Times. He shared a 2009 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Editor: Joel Lovell

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« Reply #5723 on: Apr 14, 2013, 07:17 AM »

Trial of corruption crusader Alexei Navalny divides Russia

The state accuses Alexei Navalny of embezzling funds, but his supporters say he is paying the price for criticising Vladimir Putin

Miriam Elder in Moscow
The Observer, Saturday 13 April 2013 14.46 BST   

Russia has plunged into a propaganda battle over the trial this week of the leading opposition activist, Alexey Navalny.

Navalny will stand trial in the provincial city of Kirov, 500 miles north-east of Moscow, for allegedly leading a criminal group to embezzle 16m roubles (£335,750) from a state-owned timber company while advising the regional government several years ago.

However, his supporters believe – and now at least one top Russian official has hinted – that the case has been orchestrated to punish and ultimately silence Navalny, a lawyer, anti-corruption crusader, popular blogger and leading voice of the anti-Kremlin street protests that gripped Russia last year.

Journalists and supporters of Navalny have booked all flights to Kirov and all hotel rooms in the city. "It's hard to know how many people to expect," said Georgy Alburov, a Navalny associate who flew to the city last week to set up a headquarters for supporters and the press.

Media savvy and with a huge presence on Russia's internet, Navalny has won tens of thousands of supporters who follow his work online and donate funds to his anti-corruption campaigns. He has no access to Russia's federal television channels, tightly controlled by the Kremlin and used to demonise any opposition to President Vladimir Putin.

Navalny, 36, faces up to 10 years in prison if found guilty. He became a force to be reckoned with during last year's electoral season, when Putin returned to the Kremlin following four years as prime minister. Protests rocked the capital and Putin fought back by arresting dozens of demonstrators, including the punk group Pussy Riot, and enacting repressive laws that critics say were designed to instil widespread fear. The protests fizzled out and anger at Putin retreated online.

Navalny returned to conducting stinging investigations of corruption involving officials from Putin's inner circle. Last summer he uncovered the fact that Alexander Bastrykin, the head of Russia's investigative committee and a close Putin ally, had secret property holdings in the Czech Republic. In recent months he exposed several MPs' secret ownership of luxury properties in the US and Canada. Two have since resigned.

In an interview published on Friday, Vladimir Markin, the spokesman for the investigative committee, a powerful department similar to the US FBI, admitted that Navalny's activities prompted the case against him.

"If a person uses all his power to bring attention to himself, who, you can even say, teases the authorities – saying, 'look, I'm so good compared to everyone else' – then interest in his past and the process of exposing him goes faster," Markin told Izvestiya, a pro-government newspaper. He denied, however, that the case was political. "Politics only figures in this case because of the person involved and his actions," he said.

Navalny's supporters have accused the government of holding the trial far from Moscow in order to cover up the fact that it is a political trial. "But Alexei has a lot of supporters – I don't think it will go off as quietly as our government wants it to," said Alexandra Astakhova, a journalist at Vedomosti, a respected financial daily, and the curator of a Facebook group called "The case against Navalny is a case against us all".

The group features Russians of all stripes contributing photographs of support for the embattled opposition leader – from toddlers to people in their 80s.

"We all want to show that we're not scared," Astakhova said. "People got interested in Pussy Riot on a global scale because it included so many themes – feminism, gay rights, religion. They're trying to turn the case against Navalny into a vulgar political-economic case to lessen the attention. Our goal is that that not be the case."

Yet behind all the activism lies a sense of dread. Kremlin critics have long expected the authorities, intolerant of high-level dissent, to move against Navalny. Navalny himself has said that he was prepared for arrest.

Those who have dared to criticise Putin to a large audience – from the fallen oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky to former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko – have suffered harsh fates. Now, many Kremlin critics say, it is Navalny's turn.

"There are dreams when you know ahead of time how they will end – but there's nothing you can do to change the nightmarish logic of their plot or wake up from the dreamy horror," wrote Yury Saprykin, a journalist and opposition activist, describing the case against Navalny. "And I … can't think up a way for us all to get out of this nightmare."

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« Reply #5724 on: Apr 14, 2013, 07:19 AM »

April 13, 2013

A Push Against Tax Havens Gains Support in Europe


DUBLIN — Europe’s efforts to crack down on tax havens gained momentum on Saturday as finance ministers from nine countries agreed to share more bank information. Ministers from Belgium, the Netherlands and Romania joined their French counterpart in a push for more automatic exchanges of bank records that already had the backing of Britain, Italy, Poland and Spain. For France, the issue has taken on greater urgency since Jérôme Cahuzac, the former budget minister, quit after he acknowledged having foreign holdings in Switzerland that he previously denied.

“The surge in member states’ appetite for progress and action in the fight against evasion is extremely welcome,” Algirdas Semeta, the European Union commissioner for taxation, said at a news conference on Saturday after two days of meetings where ministers discussed adoption of Europe-wide laws modeled on the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, a United States initiative to find hidden accounts overseas.

“The tools are already on the table, waiting to be seized,” said Mr. Semeta, referring to plans in Europe to provide greater exchanges of information on interest earned on savings, including from trusts and foundations.

Mr. Semeta said that the European crackdown against tax evasion could eventually extend to dividends, capital gains and royalties, significantly expanding the revenue earned by national treasuries. He also encouraged countries to bring forward a date, currently foreseen for 2017, when those revenues are meant to fall under the microscope. Europe is also being pushed toward greater transparency by the recent release of an investigative report on thousands of offshore bank accounts and shell companies, and by the prospect of a meeting of finance ministers from the Group of 20 leading economies next Thursday in Washington, where tax transparency is expected to be discussed.

In the French case, the Socialist government of François Hollande was deeply embarrassed by the revelations at a time of economic hardship for many citizens, and the French finance minister, Pierre Moscovici, led the calls for reforms at a hastily assembled news conference on Friday evening.

Taking leadership over the issue of tax havens “is very important for ensuring that citizens can trust the efficiency and fairness of our tax systems,” said Mr. Moscovici, who was flanked by Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister, and George Osborne, Britain’s chancellor of the Exchequer, and by ministers from Poland, Spain and Italy.

The initiative should eventually cover “all kinds of revenues,” and would be similar to the American tax compliance act, Mr. Moscovici said.

One European tax haven, Luxembourg, bowed to such pressure on Wednesday and said it would begin forwarding the details of its foreign clients to their home governments.

Standing in the way is Austria, which has resisted agreeing to an automatic exchange of banking information between European Union countries.

Chancellor Werner Faymann of Austria recently suggested that talks were possible, and European officials said they expected Austria eventually would offer concessions. But the country’s finance minister, Maria Fekter, has showed no signs of backing down.

“We will fight for bank secrecy,” Ms. Fekter said on Saturday. “We are no tax haven,” she said. A day earlier she sought to portray Britain as one of the European Union’s biggest tax havens.

Mr. Osborne said at the news conference on Friday evening that he was pushing for more transparency from the Cayman Islands and British Virgin Islands.

“The places that you can hide are getting smaller and smaller and fewer and fewer,” Mr. Osborne said. “We are in advanced stages of discussions with them,” he said of talks with the two territories. “But I think they are in no doubt about what we expect of them,” he said.

More European countries are expected to join the campaign in coming weeks after Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, said on Friday that the bloc’s 27 leaders would discuss the issue at a summit meeting of leaders next month in Brussels.

David Jolly contributed reporting from Paris.
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« Reply #5725 on: Apr 14, 2013, 07:22 AM »

Top French gangster escapes in spectacular jailbreak

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, April 13, 2013 14:59 EDT

One of France’s most dangerous gangsters, known for brazen attacks on cash-in-transit vehicles, on Saturday blasted his way out of jail after taking several wardens hostage, officials said.

Redoine Faid, who risked a heavy sentence over the 2010 death of a policewoman, used explosives to blast through five prison doors and break free in the northern town of Sequedin.

Police and helicopters were trying to track the 40-year-old, who set fire to his getaway car in the south of the city of Lille before getting into a second vehicle.

State Prosecutor Frederic Fevre said Faid, who had already been France’s most wanted a few years ago, was a “particularly dangerous prisoner” and was still armed and in possession of explosives.

Fevre said Faid had four hostages with him during the jailbreak. One was released just outside the prison, another a few hundred metres away and then the final two were left along a highway.

Wardens unions described the prison break as “an act of war” and also argued that the Sedequin jail was inadequate for such dangerous convicts.

“This escape and hostage-taking were methodically prepared,” the CGT union said, complaining that searches on detainees were not thorough enough.

A woman who was visiting her imprisoned son described the chaos caused by Faid’s spectacular escape.

“I thought my last hour had come. Suddenly, everything started blowing up. The walls started shaking, as did the windows and the doors. I was really scared,” Rose Lafont said.

Prison union leader Etienne Dobremetz said Faid had received a visit from his wife earlier on Saturday morning.

Contacted by AFP, her lawyer vehemently denied any suspicion of involvement in her husband’s escape.

“It happened very quickly, it was clearly very well organised, we are still busy putting the facts together,” a local administrative official said.

Faid is also known for co-authoring a book in 2010 upon his release on parole after a decade in prison for robbery, about his delinquent youth and rise as a criminal in Paris’ impoverished crime-ridden suburbs.

He said his life of crime was inspired by American films such as ‘Scarface’ and ‘Heat’ — in which actor Robert de Niro carries out an armoured car heist.

After his first robbery, Faid, of Algerian extraction, fled to Israel where he wore the Jewish skullcap and picked up Hebrew to blend in.

Despite vowing he had turned his back on crime Faid was in 2010 suspected of being the mastermind of an armed robbery in which a young policewoman was killed in a shootout.

Faid, nicknamed Doc, landed back in prison in 2011 for failing to comply with his parole conditions and was due to serve the remaining eight years of his original sentence.

He faced 30 more years over the policewoman’s death however.

“I wasn’t surprised when I heard about his escape although there were no signs that anything was in the works,” his lawyer Jean-Louis Pelletier told AFP.

He described his client as an extremely intelligent and well connected person.

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« Reply #5726 on: Apr 14, 2013, 07:37 AM »

04/13/2013 12:59 PM

Relief at Ruling: Top Court Grants Foreign Media Access to Nazi Trial

Germany's top court has ruled that foreign media must get access to the trial of a suspected neo-Nazi charged in connection with the murders of 10 people, including eight of Turkish descent. A Turkish newspaper had filed a complaint. The row had threatened to harm Germany's image and was overshadowing the trial starting April 17.

The Turkish government on Saturday welcomed the ruling by Germany's highest court requiring that foreign media should have access to the trial of Beate Zschäpe, an alleged member of a German neo-Nazi terror cell that killed 10 people, most of them of Turkish origin.

The ruling by the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe was a "step in the right direction," said the Turkish Foreign Ministry. It added that Turkey now hoped the Munich Higher Regional Court where the trial is due to start on April 17 would guarantee proper access to the proceedings for Turkish media representatives.

Although most of the victims were of Turkish origin, not a single journalist from a Turkish media outlet had been provided with a reserved seat. The Munich court had allocated 50 seats to all media on a first-come-first-served basis, but, in the event, none went to Turkish journalists.

Its refusal to make any changes despite repeated calls from foreign and German media and politicians sparked criticism that it was being insensitive and unnecessarily intransigent.

Court's Refusal Angered Turkey

The controversy threatened to damage Germany's international image and was overshadowing coverage of the trial. German authorities are already under fire for botching the investigations into the killings and for failing to consider they may have had a racist motive.

Zschäpe is one of three suspected members of the National Socialist Underground (NSU), the group believed to be responsible for killing eight shopkeepers of Turkish descent, a Greek man and a policewoman between 2000 and 2007.

Turkish newspaper Sabah had filed a complaint with the Constitutional Court, saying the decision not to guarantee seats to Turkish media had violated its right to equality. The court ruled in its favor late on Friday.

"(The Munich court should) provide an appropriate number of seats to representatives of the foreign media with a special connection to the victims of the accused," the Constitutional Court said in a statement.

"It would be possible to open up not fewer than three places for an additional contingent (in the small courtroom)," it said, adding that it was for the court to decide how to allocate the extra seats.

Westerwelle 'Very Relieved'

The German government and German politicians from all parties welcomed the decision. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told SPIEGEL ONLINE: "I am very relieved about the Karlsruhe decision."

The chairman of the Turkish Community in Germany, Kenan Kolat, said: "I am very pleased about this ruling. It has averted a judicial scandal. It was extremely necessary." The issue could have "cast a shadow over the entire trial," Kolat told Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger newspaper on Saturday. "I hope the court will now find a workable solution."

It's unclear what action the Munich court will now take to meet the requirement. A spokeswoman said the court would make no comment until it had reached a decision.

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« Reply #5727 on: Apr 14, 2013, 07:39 AM »

04/12/2013 04:13 PM

Rust in Peace: East Germany's Forgotten Factories

By Fabienne Hurst

After Germany's reunification, factories across former East Germany shut down, fracturing communities and falling into disrepair. A new photo book details the abandoned workshops of a planned economy cut loose.

Broken windows, graffiti and weeds -- the former "Clara Zetkin" rayon factory, in the town of Elsterberg, is now nothing more than an echoing, empty ruin, its bare walls reflected in puddles on the floor. This factory in the state of Saxony was once what was known as a Volkseigener Betrieb (VEB), the term for publicly owned industrial enterprises in former communist East Germany. Twenty-five years ago, thousands of workers spun coal and petroleum into thin strands of rayon here under the bright neon lights that made it possible to work around the clock. Now, electrical cables hang from the ceiling like thick cobwebs.

Leipzig-based photographer Maix Mayer has captured this and many other industrial ruins in a book of photography titled "Die vergessenen Orte der Arbeit" ("Forgotten Places of Work"). In the winter of 2012, Mayer spent hours wandering through decommissioned factories and power stations across former East Germany, from Magdeburg to Leipzig to Görlitz. "These VEB sites were sometimes as large as 15 hectares (37 acres), with thousands of employees going in and out -- veritable towns in their own right," the photographer says. He also recalls how his footsteps echoed as he walked through the 150-meter (500-foot) production hall at the Elsterberg factory in December.

The days he spent in these abandoned, unsecured factories, where rainwater froze in puddles on the floor, didn't bother the 53-year-old. He believes architectural photographers have a duty to engage in a process of mourning as part of their work: "Creating something that people can remember," as Mayer puts it.

He let the caretakers of these ruins shut him inside the factory grounds, which are not accessible to the public, until dusk fell. Most of the sites are watched over by former employees, many of whom still feel a deep attachment to the places where they used to work. In the case of the Elsterberg rayon factory, it was Wolfgang Haupt who opened the factory gates for Mayer. The 64-year-old was manager here from 1965 to 2008. Sometimes he still goes to visit the factory site, but says it makes him sad. "This place fills me with melancholy," Haupt says. "I spent my entire working life in these buildings."

Not Exactly 'Flourishing Landscapes'

From 1909 on, Elsterberg was inextricably linked with the chemical industry. Although the town's industrial equipment was shipped to the Soviet Union in 1948 as war reparations, the factory recovered quickly and, as a publicly owned enterprise under the East German government, grew to be the region's most important employer. "Chemistry brings bread, wealth and beauty" -- every child in this town of 5,000 was familiar with the slogan of the chemistry program run by the country's Socialist Unity Party (SED). Up to 3,000 people worked at the factory here, including at times foreign workers who came from Cuba, Mozambique and Vietnam to keep the constantly whirring machines running. "The spools were always turning," Haupt recalls.

But then came July 1, 1990. On that date, a few months after the celebrated fall of the Berlin Wall, East and West Germany entered into an economic and monetary union, marking the end of the German Democratic Republic's planned economy. At the time, there were around 8,500 publicly owned enterprises in the GDR. Treuhand, the government agency that privatized East German state-owned enterprises, broke these down into 13,000 individual operations, which it then further split into 15,000 private companies.

But the agency's initially stated intention to "privatize quickly, restructure resolutely and decommission carefully" soon fell by the wayside. The 600 billion deutsche marks in revenue originally promised as part of the plan ended up being a modest 60 billion deutsche marks -- while the costs associated with the project ballooned to 300 billion deutsche marks.

West German investors, it turned out, weren't interested in East Germany's often inefficient and environmentally questionable factories. Within three months, 150,000 people were out of work, while another half a million were handed reduced working hours. By the time Treuhand wrapped up its work in 1994, some 64 percent of workers in the "new" German federal states -- the ones that had previously comprised the GDR -- had lost their jobs. The "flourishing landscape, where it pays to live and work" that Chancellor Helmut Kohl promised East Germans had failed to materialize.

In Elsterberg, a West German company called ENKA GmbH, based in Wuppertal, took over the rayon factory after reunification and restructured it completely, with modern equipment and optimized operations, rendering much of the labor force redundant. Of the initial 1,200 employees, just 400 remained. "That was very nearly the end of us," Haupt says. Even for those who kept their jobs, everything changed. Day and night, Haupt and his colleagues pored over textbooks that explained the new computer technology, desperately trying to keep up with the fresh demands placed on them. "We found ourselves thrust into a whole new world," he says.

Anger at the Owners

Despite competition from countries with lower wages, textile products from Elsterberg remained in demand -- until the facility suddenly shut down in 2009, despite its full order books. "We were so angry," Haupt recalls. Specifically, the workers were angry at the factory's last owners, the ENKA Group from Wuppertal and the ICI Group from Frankfurt am Main. "They were never concerned with finding a buyer for the factory. Their intention from the start was simply to shut it down," Haupt claims. He believes the owners were only interested in selling off the factory's equipment, which has since been disassembled and rebuilt in Poland and India. Only the expensive environmental protection system, once so important to the factory's works council, wasn't shipped along with the rest of the equipment.

Ultimately, the city bought the abandoned factory from an insolvency administrator for the symbolic price of €1. The buildings on the site have been gradually falling into decline ever since. The city hopes to bring new industry to the site, but Haupt knows the chances are slim. "We aren't even connected to the highway yet," he says.

In 2008, the former factory manager received an assignment from the company's upper management to write up the history of the factory, which would turn 100 years old the following year, but the facility ended up closing before it could celebrate its 100th anniversary. Haupt nonetheless completed his written history. He, too, was engaged in a process of mourning.

This article originally appeared in German on, SPIEGEL ONLINE's history portal.

Translated from the Germany by Ella Ornstein

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« Reply #5728 on: Apr 14, 2013, 07:44 AM »

Portugal's fed-up youth pack and go as their nation slides into reverse

Job prospects are grim, health and education are in crisis and, with more austerity to come, emigration is increasingly the only solution

Martin Roberts in Lisbon
The Observer, Saturday 13 April 2013 17.19 BST   

Young men like Bernardo Lima are close to giving up on Portugal. Although he speaks five languages and has a degree in international relations, he has only been able to find bar work since he graduated three years ago and uses his skills merely to serve tourists.

"The future in Portugal is grim. I've often thought of emigrating. My brother lives in Finland and I may join him. He found work there quickly, as an architect," Lima said between making cups of coffee in a central Lisbon cafe.

The latest figures show that in 2011, after a respite of about 15 years, Portugal went back to being the country of net emigration it had been for centuries, and the government has now set up a website to advise job seekers heading abroad. Many more will follow in the footsteps of Lima's brother, leaving a country famous for the melancholy of its most famous poet, Fernando Pessoa.

On 5 April, the constitutional court cast doubt on a government austerity programme by ruling against proposed cuts in holiday bonuses for civil servants and pensioners, as well as other reductions that would have trimmed the budget by €1.3bn in order to meet tough targets set by international lenders.

Two days later, prime minister Pedro Passos Coelho said the ruling forced him to find further savings, although unions say education and health services are already in a parlous state after several rounds of cuts since 2008. Teachers and health workers fear deeper cuts threaten to turn the clock back 40 years to when the country was an impoverished backwater and mass emigration offered the only way out.

In Brussels, the warning lights have begun to flash. How much more pain can the Portuguese take before they say "enough" and trigger yet another eurozone crisis, right next door to Spain?

Only 11% of Portuguese stay on at school until 18, the Portuguese Teachers' Federation estimates, well below a European average of 46%, and that hobbles the economy. Middle-school teacher Graça Dias cannot see how Portugal can catch up while the classrooms are crowded, schools are closed, teachers are sacked in droves and specialised subjects are axed from the curriculum.

"The big concern is over lack of investment in education leading to more backwardness for future generations," said Dias, who teaches history in Freiria, a village 30 miles from Lisbon.

She says that standards have risen since she began teaching 25 years ago, "but now we're regressing 50 years. All that matters today is teaching the three Rs, not making people think." Some schools, particularly those in rural areas, are asking parents for money or raiding tuck shop takings to buy toilet rolls, Dias said. "And with more cuts this absurd situation could become widespread."

Healthcare is also under pressure. "Today, nurses complain that drips are of such poor quality they have to go through three or four to find a good one, and swabs fall apart and leave bits of lint in the cuts they are meant to clean," said José Carlos Martins, president of the Portuguese Nurses Union.

The union estimates that one million Portuguese avoided going to see a doctor last year, and 500,000 went without treatment, due to measures which include raising once nominal contributions in casualty wards to as much as €50. In the past four years, some 3,000 out of 37,000 nurses have lost their jobs.

Martins also notes that Portugal's health service made savings of €845m in 2012, far more than the €550m ordered by the International Monetary Fund, the EU and European Central Bank as a condition of bailing the country out.

"The prime minister's announcement of more health cuts is absurd," he said. "We reckon that deep down the government's aim is to use this fuss over the constitutional court to speed up privatisation of public services."

"The EU and the ECB are garrotting the economy," Aménio Carlos, leader of the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers said while overlooking disused shipyards on the Tagus.

"They say social spending must be cut, but at the same time wealth cannot be created to kickstart the economy. This is criminal," he added. "There are old people who cannot afford medicines, and that is condemning people to death."

Carlos says Portugal has untapped potential in agribusiness, while fisheries and shipbuilding could thrive in a country with a long seafaring tradition. Other possible growth-drivers include mining and exporting rolling stock to its former African colonies.

"This government behaves like someone who has been wounded, knows they haven't long to live and is ready to take as much revenge as possible," Carlos said.

Portugal has over the generations turned fatalistic resignation into an art form. People were said to be able to withstand anything, as long as they had fado music, football and the Virgin of Fátima. That all changed in 1974, when people took to the streets and ended half a century of dictatorship after a revolt by junior army officers. Just 12 years later, Portugal was an EU member and a mainstream European democracy.

"We put up with things, and then some, but when the explosion comes the outcome isn't peaceful at all," said Vasco Lourenço, who as a 31-year-old captain helped organise the "Revolution of the Carnations", as it became known.

Lourenço pointed out that Grândola Vila Morena, the folk song whose radio broadcast was the secret signal to start the revolt, was becoming popular again and he saw several parallels with 1974.

"All that makes up the welfare state in most European countries only came about in Portugal after the revolution. Today, that is all being destroyed," he said, just a couple of blocks from where the Salazar regime threw in the towel 39 years ago this month.

"I don't think it's possible to withstand things much longer without a popular revolt, or a social explosion," Lourenço added.

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« Reply #5729 on: Apr 14, 2013, 07:47 AM »

04/12/2013 04:58 PM

SS Massacre in Italy: Report Slams Prosecutors for Ignoring Leads

By Felix Bohr

Last October, German prosecutors shelved an investigation of former SS soldiers suspected of participating in a 1944 massacre in Italy. A new report blasts investigators for ignoring potentially important clues -- and might prompt authorities to reopen the case.

The murderous horde came to the small Tuscan village of Sant'Anna di Stazzema at dawn. They raged throughout the afternoon, and when it was over, the SS thugs had killed 560 civilians. It was Aug. 12, 1944.

The event -- which is considered perhaps the most egregious of many war crimes German soldiers committed on Italian soil during World War II -- took place as the Germans were retreating up the Italian peninsula. The action was justified as being part of the fight against partisans -- but the victims of the bloodbath were overwhelmingly women, the elderly and over 100 children. The villagers were systematically shot and their corpses were then heaped in the church square and set alight. For good measure, some 300 members of the SS tank division Reichsführer SS set much of the village on fire as well.

In October 2012, when prosecutors in the southwestern German city of Stuttgart shelved an investigation against eight surviving soldiers who had participated in the gruesome massacre, it sparked an uproar in Italy. Italian President Giorgio Napolitano publicly criticized the decision not to put the men on trial.

The episode is one of the reasons why German President Joachim Gauck traveled to the mountain village in Tuscany a few weeks ago. At a monument commemorating the crime, he said it injures "our feeling of justice deeply whenever perpetrators cannot be convicted because the instruments of the constitutional state do not allow it."

But now Carlo Gentile, a Cologne-based historian working on behalf of an association of victims of the massacre in Sant'Anna di Stazzema, has released an official expert assessment of the surrounding legal drama. The document casts great doubts on the Stuttgart prosecutors' decision -- which could lead to a reopening of the investigation and legal proceedings.

Unknown or Ignored Clues

According to Gentile's findings, important documents and witness testimony was either "not at all known to" or ignored by investigators. The historian also faults prosecutors for supposedly having failed to pursue potentially useful clues. Prosecutors made "clear mistakes with regard to historical data," he charges, and did not take into consideration "the topography and the chronological sequence" of the massacre.

When the investigation was shelved in 2012, Rainer Stickelberger, then-justice minister of the state of Baden-Württemberg, stressed in a press release that officials in Stuttgart, the state capital, had "thoroughly exhausted" all possibilities. He likewise expressed his regret that prosecutors had "not succeeded in bringing the perpetrators to justice despite the major investigative efforts," which had failed to find proof of individual guilt.

In 2005, an Italian court convicted 10 former SS soldiers involved in the massacre and sentenced them to life in prison. However, the men were tried in absentia owing to a German policy of not extraditing its own citizens.

In his report, Gentile stressed that most of the eight surviving SS soldiers held leadership positions. What's more, he says that some of the soldiers participating in the Sant'Anna di Stazzema massacre also had "relevant experience with serving in concentration camps and military units known to have committed crimes."

Gentile criticized the investigators in Stuttgart for not having looked into "all the indications of the participation of SS and Wehrmacht units," the latter referring to Germany's WWII-era army. The German lawyer representing the victims' association says that he has forwarded a copy of Gentile's report to the public prosecutor's office in Stuttgart.

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