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« Reply #5910 on: Apr 23, 2013, 06:33 AM »

April 22, 2013

In China, Breathing Becomes a Childhood Risk

By EDWARD WONG
IHT

BEIJING — The boy’s chronic cough and stuffy nose began last year at the age of 3. His symptoms worsened this winter, when smog across northern China surged to record levels. Now he needs his sinuses cleared every night with saltwater piped through a machine’s tubes.

The boy’s mother, Zhang Zixuan, said she almost never lets him go outside, and when she does she usually makes him wear a face mask. The difference between Britain, where she once studied, and China is “heaven and hell,” she said.

Levels of deadly pollutants up to 40 times the recommended exposure limit in Beijing and other cities have struck fear into parents and led them to take steps that are radically altering the nature of urban life for their children.

Parents are confining sons and daughters to their homes, even if it means keeping them away from friends. Schools are canceling outdoor activities and field trips. Parents with means are choosing schools based on air-filtration systems, and some international schools have built gigantic, futuristic-looking domes over sports fields to ensure healthy breathing.

“I hope in the future we’ll move to a foreign country,” Ms. Zhang, a lawyer, said as her ailing son, Wu Xiaotian, played on a mat in their apartment, near a new air purifier. “Otherwise we’ll choke to death.”

She is not alone in looking to leave. Some middle- and upper-class Chinese parents and expatriates have already begun leaving China, a trend that executives say could result in a huge loss of talent and experience. Foreign parents are also turning down prestigious jobs or negotiating for hardship pay from their employers, citing the pollution.

There are no statistics for the flight, and many people are still eager to come work in Beijing, but talk of leaving is gaining urgency around the capital and on Chinese microblogs and parenting forums. Chinese are also discussing holidays to what they call the “clean-air destinations” of Tibet, Hainan and Fujian.

“I’ve been here for six years and I’ve never seen anxiety levels the way they are now,” said Dr. Richard Saint Cyr, a new father and a family health doctor at Beijing United Family Hospital, whose patients are half Chinese and half foreigners. “Even for me, I’ve never been as anxious as I am now. It has been extraordinarily bad.”

He added: “Many mothers, especially, have been second-guessing their living in Beijing. I think many mothers are fed up with keeping their children inside.”

Few developments have eroded trust in the Communist Party as quickly as the realization that the leaders have failed to rein in threats to children’s health and safety. There was national outrage in 2008 after more than 5,000 children were killed when their schools collapsed in an earthquake, and hundreds of thousands were sickened and six infants died in a tainted-formula scandal. Officials tried to suppress angry parents, sometimes by force or with payoffs.

But the fury over air pollution is much more widespread and is just beginning to gain momentum.

“I don’t trust the pollution measurements of the Beijing government,” said Ms. Zhang’s father, Zhang Xiaochuan, a retired newspaper administrator.

Scientific studies justify fears of long-term damage to children and fetuses. A study published by The New England Journal of Medicine showed that children exposed to high levels of air pollution can suffer permanent lung damage. The research was done in the 1990s in Los Angeles, where levels of pollution were much lower than those in Chinese cities today.

A study by California researchers published last month suggested a link between autism in children and the exposure of pregnant women to traffic-related air pollution. Columbia University researchers, in a study done in New York, found that prenatal exposure to air pollutants could result in children with anxiety, depression and attention-span problems. Some of the same researchers found in an earlier study that children in Chongqing, China, who had prenatal exposure to high levels of air pollutants from a coal-fired plant were born with smaller head circumferences, showed slower growth and performed less well on cognitive development tests at age 2. The shutdown of the plant resulted in children born with fewer difficulties.

Analyses show little relief ahead if China does not change growth policies and strengthen environmental regulation. A Deutsche Bank report released in February said the current trends of coal use and automobile emissions meant air pollution was expected to worsen by an additional 70 percent by 2025.

Some children’s hospitals in northern China reported a large number of patients with respiratory illnesses this winter, when the air pollution soared. During one bad week in January, Beijing Children’s Hospital admitted up to 9,000 patients a day for emergency visits, half of them for respiratory problems, according to a report by Xinhua, the state news agency.

Parents have scrambled to buy air purifiers. IQAir, a Swiss company, makes purifiers that cost up to $3,000 here and are displayed in shiny showrooms. Mike Murphy, the chief executive of IQAir China, said sales had tripled in the first three months of 2013 over the same period last year.

Face masks are now part of the urban dress code. Ms. Zhang laid out half a dozen masks on her dining room table and held up one with a picture of a teddy bear that fits Xiaotian. Schools are adopting emergency measures. Xiaotian’s private kindergarten used to take the children on a field trip once a week, but it has canceled most of those this year.

At the prestigious Beijing No. 4 High School, which has long trained Chinese leaders and their children, outdoor physical education classes are now canceled when the pollution index is high.

“The days with blue sky and seemingly clean air are treasured, and I usually go out and do exercise,” said Dong Yifu, a senior there who was just accepted to Yale University.

Elite schools are investing in infrastructure to keep children active. Among them are Dulwich College Beijing and the International School of Beijing, which in January completed two large white sports domes of synthetic fabric that cover athletic fields and tennis courts.

The construction of the domes and an accompanying building began a year ago, to give the 1,900 students a place to exercise in both bad weather and high pollution, said Jeff Johanson, director of student activities. The project cost $5.7 million and includes hospital-grade air-filtration systems.

Teachers check the hourly air ratings from the United States Embassy to determine whether children should play outside or beneath the domes. “The elementary schoolchildren don’t miss recess anymore,” Mr. Johanson said.

One American mother, Tara Duffy, said she had chosen a prekindergarten school for her daughter in part because the school had air filters in the classrooms. The school, called the 3e International School, also brings in doctors to talk about pollution and bars the children from playing outdoors during increases in smog levels. “In the past six months, there have been a lot more ‘red flag’ days, and they keep the kids inside,” said Ms. Duffy, a writer and former foundation consultant.

Ms. Duffy said she also checked the daily air quality index to decide whether to take her daughter to an outdoor picnic or an indoor play space.

Now, after nine years here, Ms. Duffy is leaving China, and she cites the pollution and traffic as major factors.

That calculus is playing out with expatriates across Beijing, and even with foreigners outside China. One American couple with a young child discussed the pollution when considering a prestigious foundation job in Beijing, and it was among the reasons they turned down the offer.

James McGregor, a senior counselor in the Beijing office of APCO Worldwide, a consulting company, said he had heard of an American diplomat with young children who had turned down a posting here. That was despite the fact that the State Department provides a 15 percent salary bonus for Beijing that exists partly because of the pollution. The hardship bonus for other Chinese cities, which also suffer from awful air, ranges from 20 percent to 30 percent, except for Shanghai, where it is 10 percent.

“I’ve lived in Beijing 23 years, and my children were brought up here, but if I had young children I’d have to leave,” Mr. McGregor said. “A lot of people have started exit plans.”

Amy Qin and Shi Da contributed research.


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« Reply #5911 on: Apr 23, 2013, 06:34 AM »

April 22, 2013

U.S. and China Put Focus on Cybersecurity

By JANE PERLEZ
IHT

BEIJING — The United States and China held their highest-level military talks in nearly two years on Monday, with a senior Chinese general pledging to work with the United States on cybersecurity because the consequences of a major cyberattack “may be as serious as a nuclear bomb.”

Cybersecurity has become a sudden source of tension between the two countries. China has bristled over the growing body of evidence that its military has been involved in cyberattacks on American corporations and some government agencies. Last month, the Obama administration demanded that the Chinese government stop the theft of data from American computer networks and help create global standards for cybersecurity.

At a news conference on Monday after talks with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the Chinese general, Fang Fenghui, said he would be willing to set up a cybersecurity “mechanism,” but warned that progress might not be swift.

“I know how difficult it is,” General Fang said. “Anyone can launch the attacks — from the place where he lives, from his own country or from another country.”

General Dempsey arrived in Beijing on Sunday for his first visit to China. His predecessor, Adm. Mike Mullen, held talks in Beijing in July 2011.

General Dempsey’s three-day visit comes as mistrust has mounted between Beijing and Washington over a host of issues, including differences over North Korea, Washington’s strengthened military posture in the Asia Pacific region, China’s assertiveness in the South and East China Seas and basic problems of how the two militaries should communicate in a crisis.

China invited General Dempsey for the talks after the lengthy transition process to a new Chinese government was completed in March. His arrival followed the first visit by Secretary of State John Kerry more than a week ago, and Obama administration officials say they hope the almost back-to-back talks will yield a starting point for better relations after a rocky period of drift.

At the news conference, General Fang, who is the chief of the People’s Liberation Army General Staff and a member of the powerful Central Military Commission, also talked of wanting a “new kind of military relationship that is consistent with the state-to-state relationship.” He spoke with a confidence that reflected the growing strength of China’s military, including expanding its naval presence.

“The Pacific Ocean is wide enough to accommodate us both,” General Fang said, a suggestion that it was time for the United States to understand the American military would not be able to dominate forever. President Xi Jinping used the same phrase on the eve of his visit to Washington as vice president in February 2012.

General Dempsey did not allow the remark to go unnoticed. The United States, he said, is looking for a “better, deeper and more enduring relationship” with the Chinese military — but in the context of “other historic and enduring alliances.”

“We do have treaty obligations,” he said, a reference to the American alliances with Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Australia. “We will build and recognize the historic alliances, and there will be points when that creates friction.”

Defending the Obama administration’s decision to “pivot” toward Asia — a policy widely interpreted as a response to China’s expanding influence — General Dempsey said it was not as though “we’ve disappeared and are about to reappear.” He said he had told General Fang in their private conversation before the news conference that the United States sought to be a “stabilizing” factor and that the absence of the United States in the Asia Pacific region would be “destabilizing.”

After a decade of concentrating on Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States will now carry out an Asia Pacific policy of “three mores,” General Dempsey said, bringing more interest, more engagement and more quality assets to the region.

General Fang raised the issue of North Korea’s latest nuclear test, a detonation in February just 100 miles from China’s northeast border.

“North Korea has already concluded a third nuclear test, and it could conduct a fourth nuclear test,” he said.

China is North Korea’s main ally and economic patron, and the United States has urged the Chinese to use their influence to halt the North’s bombast and threats of nuclear attacks on American targets.

General Fang reiterated that China was opposed to North Korea’s developing nuclear weapons, and asked for a reopening of the so-called six-party talks that aimed to persuade the North to abandon its nuclear weapons program. The talks collapsed several years ago.


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« Reply #5912 on: Apr 23, 2013, 06:36 AM »

April 23, 2013

Tensions Flare Between China and Japan Over Islands and Shrine

By MARTIN FACKLER
IHT

TOKYO – Tensions between Japan and Asian neighbors rose on Tuesday when a large group of Japanese lawmakers paid a symbolically charged visit to a Tokyo war shrine, while Chinese paramilitary ships and a flotilla of boats carrying Japanese nationalists appeared to converge on disputed islands.

The group of 168 mostly low-ranking conservative lawmakers visited the Yasukuni Shrine in central Tokyo in what local news media described as the largest mass visit by Parliament members in recent memory. The shrine of the indigenous Shinto religion honors Japan’s war dead, including several who were executed as war criminals after World War II. This has made Yasukuni, and the political leaders who visit it, a target of criticism by China and South Korea, which suffered under Japan’s early 20th-century empire building.

Last year, a group of 81 lawmakers visited the shrine during the same season, when Yasukuni celebrates a three-day spring festival.

This year’s mass visit comes at a time when Japan’s relations with both those neighboring countries have frayed because of disputes over territory and history.

The shrine is viewed by many in China and South Korea as a symbol of how Japan remains unrepentant for its brutal wartime expansion across Asia. For many Japanese nationalists, visits to the shrine appear have become a way of standing up to what they see as the increasingly insistent demands of China, which has usurped their country as the dominant power in Asia.

Analysts said the size of the visit was partly a byproduct of December’s landslide election victory by the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, which installed a hawkish prime minister, Shinzo Abe, and an increased number of rightists in Parliament. But they also called it the latest example of how Japanese ultraconservatives have become more vocal in recent years, amid growing unease in Japan over China’s rising power and its increasingly forceful stance on their long-simmering dispute over the contested islands.

On Tuesday, that dispute appeared to heat up even further when the Japanese Coast Guard reported that eight Chinese patrol ships had entered waters near the islands, the largest number to appear at one time since the dispute flared up last summer. The Coast Guard said the Chinese ships converged from several different directions into waters near the uninhabited islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in Chinese.

The Chinese ships appeared at the same time as 10 boats carrying members of a Japanese fringe ultranationalist group also arrived off the islands. The boats were followed by Japanese Coast Guard ships apparently seeking to ensure that they did not attempt a landing, as some nationalists did last summer.

Those landings, and the decision in September by the Japanese government to buy three of the islands from their private owner, set off violent street demonstrations in China. Accusing Japan of disrupting the hazy status quo that had prevailed, China has sent armed ships from various coast guard-like civilian agencies on an almost daily basis into or near waters around the islands, in an apparent challenge to Japanese control.

On Tuesday, the Japanese Foreign Ministry summoned the Chinese ambassador to lodge a formal protest over the latest intrusions, which the top Japanese government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, called “unacceptable.”

Mr. Suga told reporters that while he did not know why China had sent the ships, he did not think they were meant to protest an earlier round of visits to Yasukuni over the weekend by leading members of Prime Minister Abe’s government. On Monday, the Chinese government criticized those visits, and the South Korean foreign minister, Yun Byung-se, also canceled a trip to Japan.

There was no immediate response by China or South Korea to Tuesday’s visit by the large group of lawmakers. The leader of the group, which includes members of the governing Liberal Democrats as well as opposition lawmakers, said they had the right to honor Japan’s war dead without causing an international incident.

“It is common in any country that a parliamentarian offers prayers for the souls of the departed war heroes who gave their lives in defense of their country,” the leader, Hidehisa Otsuji, a Liberal Democratic lawmaker, told reporters after praying at the shrine. “The angry reactions are hard to comprehend.”

Chris Buckley contributed reporting from Hong Kong.
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« Reply #5913 on: Apr 23, 2013, 06:38 AM »

Australia poised for tech start-up boom: Google study

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, April 23, 2013 7:51 EDT

Tech start-ups could be worth Aus$109 billion (US$111 billion) to the Australian economy by 2033 — on a par with retail or education — and create half a million jobs, a report for Google found Tuesday.

The PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) study “The Startup Economy” said that by global comparisons there is “no better time to be an entrepreneur in Australia”, with some 1,500 tech start-ups and support for the industry expanding rapidly.

Were growth to accelerate to a rate of 5,600 new start-ups by 2023, PwC said the sector could account for 1.1 percent of gross domestic product, from 0.1 percent currently.

Ten years later, in 2033, that figure would be 4.0 percent, according to the PwC projections. If achieved, it would mean 540,000 new jobs.

The report called for Australia to flaunt its technological successes, which include the invention of WiFi Internet technology and bionic Cochlear hearing technology.

It also boasts several global success stories in the start-up sector, including investor firm Computershare and software developer Atlassian, among whose clients are Boeing, NASA, Sony, HSBC and American Express.

But Google Australia, which commissioned the study, said tapping the sector’s potential would require hard work, including increasing the success rates for start-ups and boosting computer science education.

Some 1,100 of today’s 1,500 start-ups are expected to fail by the end of 2013 and numbers of domestic computer science graduates have fallen two-thirds in the past decade.

“In the short-term it’s estimated we’ll need to have 2,000 more tech entrepreneurs drawn from the existing workforce each year,” said Alan Noble, engineering director at Google Australia.

“My hope for the long-term is that success will breed success.”

The report said greater government funding for early-stage projects would be needed, with current levels at one-tenth that of the United States and one-twentieth that of Israel.

The government could also play a major role as purchaser of tech start-up services, with spending in the sector last year totalling Aus$41 billion.

Industries such as finance, manufacturing, mining and healthcare all had significant scope for tech start-ups, with few firms yet targeting those sectors, the report said.

“A strong homegrown tech sector is vital to future Australian jobs and wealth,” Noble said.
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« Reply #5914 on: Apr 23, 2013, 06:43 AM »


Syrian regime has used chemical weapons, says Israeli analyst

Military intelligence chief says Bashar al-Assad's regime has used lethal chemicals – probably Sarin – against opponents

Harriet Sherwood in Tel Aviv
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 23 April 2013 12.08 BST   

The Syrian regime has deployed lethal chemical weapons, probably the nerve gas Sarin, in recent months, Israel's top military intelligence analyst has told a security conference in Tel Aviv.

"There's a huge arsenal of chemical weapons in Syria. Our assessment is that the [Assad] regime has used and is using chemical weapons," said Brigadier-General Itai Brun, head of military intelligence research at the Israeli Defence Forces.

Photographs of victims which showed them foaming at the mouth and with contracted pupils were signs that gas had been used, Brun said at a conference organised by the Institute of National Security Studies. "To the best of our understanding, there was use of lethal chemical weapons. Which chemical weapons? Probably Sarin."

He specifically referred to 19 March among "a number of incidents" in which chemical weapons had been used by the regime, and criticised the lack of response by the international community.

"The regime has increasingly used chemical weapons" from its "huge arsenal", Brun said. "The very fact that they have used chemical weapons without any appropriate reaction – this is a very worrying development, because it might signal that this is legitimate."

The British and French governments said in letters to the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, last week that there was credible evidence that Syria had used chemical weapons since December in or near the cities of Homs, Aleppo and Damascus.

President Bashar al-Assad's regime claimed opposition forces used chemical weapons last month. State television claimed that more than 30 people had been killed in an attack near Aleppo after "terrorists fired rockets containing chemical materials".

Opposition activists said regime forces had fired poison gas, hitting their own troops and nearby civilians.

On a visit to Israel last month, the US president, Barack Obama, said the deployment of chemical weapons inside Syria could be a "game changer" for the United States.

Israel has repeatedly warned of the risks of Syria's stockpiles of chemical weapons falling into the hands of the regime's Lebanese allies Hezbollah or jihadist groups currently embroiled in the two-year civil war inside Syria.

In January, Israeli military planes attacked a convoy of anti-aircraft weapons that it said were being transferred to Hezbollah in Lebanon. The attack also damaged a site near Damascus believed to be a chemical and biological weapons research facility.

Last week, the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, said Israel would defend itself if Syria's chemical weapons and anti-aircraft weapons fell into the hands of Hezbollah or jihadists.

"We are prepared to defend ourselves if the need arises and I think people know that what I say is both measured and serious," he told the BBC. Brun echoed Netanyahu's comments at Tuesday's conference, saying: "We have to be very bothered by the possibility that chemical weapons are going to get into the hands of less responsible actors … It is certainly possible that there will be other incidents of attack against Israel by other organisations that obtain different types of weapons."

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Damascus fragments as the din of war grows louder

Abbasiyeen area of Syrian capital reminds some of Beirut of late 70s – stalemate punctuated by sniper and mortar fire, and death

Ian Black in Damascus
The Guardian, Friday 19 April 2013 16.11 BST   

In happier times the noise that came from the Abbasiyeen stadium in Damascus was nothing more threatening than the roar of the fans whenever Syria's national football team scored a goal. But in the third year of the uprising against Bashar al-Assad the sporting arena echoes to the fearful sound of high explosives targeting a rebel stronghold down the road.

Residents have got used to the din, but it has intensified in recent days. "I can't sleep any more," one local man complained as outgoing artillery fire rattled the windows and crystal chandeliers in his front room – terrifyingly close to the front line of a battle whose outcome could determine the fate of this country.

From the square next to the stadium – now occupied by troops of the Syrian army's elite Fourth Division – it is only a few hundreds yards to the neighbouring district of Jobar, though access is blocked by a massive concrete barrier. YouTube clips show snipers on the other side firing at unseen targets – "fighting for freedom", the caption says.

For some the scene recalls divided Beirut in the late 1970s, the darkest days of Lebanon's civil war. Others are reminded of Iraq, ravaged by sanctions, war and sectarianism. "Welcome to Baghdad," quipped a young Syrian, surveying the mushrooming checkpoints, blast walls and special vehicle lanes that make moving around Damascus such a time consuming and nerve-racking affair.

Still, the official mood is upbeat. "Things will slow down," predicted a Sunni industrialist who is close to Assad. Loyalists dismiss the notion of a full-scale battle for the capital as opposition propaganda or media exaggeration. "They can dream about it," said Anas, a middle-class businessman. "They can plant car bombs like al-Qaida but the army is too strong for them."

State media report daily on operations by the "heroic" armed forces against "armed terrorist gangs" like Liwa al-Tawhid in Jobar or the Free Syrian Army in nearby Qaboun – both suburbs of Damascus proper, not the surrounding Damascus region, which is now largely beyond government control. "The steadfastness of the army will defeat the terrorist plots and conspiracies," the slogan says.

In the city though, the reality is stalemate punctuated by sniper and mortar fire. There are no ground operations by an army unused to street fighting and, it is said, worried about casualties and mass defections: thus the constant use of artillery and air strikes – like the one that killed 10 children in Qaboun last weekend.

Irreverent Damascenes note that while Syrian TV correspondents can go no further than the road sign pointing to Jobar, al-Jazeera – vilified as the tool of Assad's arch-enemy Qatar – has a reporter based permanently on the rebel side.

Nowhere in the capital is the war closer than it is at Abbasiyeen. "Everyone in my area who has kids is leaving in the summer as soon as school is finished," said a well-heeled woman. "They'll go anywhere, to Beirut, Canada, anywhere just to get out."

But nowhere is its presence far away. News of death is shockingly routine. Mudhar, an Alawite and government sympathiser, was phoned one afternoon to be told that his mother had just been shot dead by a sniper in Harasta to the north-east of the city.

Almost in passing, at the end of a long conversation, another man produced a photograph of his nephew, a volunteer with the new National Defence Army. Adnan's arm was blow off by a shell and he had bled to death while fighting in the Deraa area the previous day. Old friends catching up chat in hushed tones about how the decapitated corpse of the son of the Damascus police chief was found in the Barada river.

Another acquaintance spoke of a relative who was detained months ago. Earlier this week his family was told by the Mukhabarat secret police to come and collect his body, with no explanation of what happened. No wonder passersby give a wide berth to sinister-looking security installations, notorious for torture and abuse in horrific conditions.

Stress levels are understandably high, with pharmacists reporting a constant demand for tranquillisers and sleeping pills. "Is it just me, or does everyone else also have daily dreams and nightmares about shootings and killings and orphans and all?" one woman tweeted.

March – which marked the second anniversary of the start of Syria's agony – was the bloodiest month of the crisis far; an estimated 6,000 people were killed after intensified fighting around Damascus and Deraa.

The violence and polarisation mean political activists opposed to the regime are now far less in evidence in the capital than they were a year or so ago. Many who opposed the militarisation of the uprising have left the country or are keeping their heads down. Countless others are in detention without trial.

"It is hard and it makes me anxious," admitted Sana, who has been summoned by the Mukhabarat about comments she posted on Facebook. "If you are taken in by one branch of the security services each one will want to question you. But you get used to these things."

Small, peaceful protests still take place – filmed and quickly uploaded to YouTube – but they attract little attention locally. In Medhat Pasha Souq, the picturesque covered market in the heart of the old city, a few dozen people mounted a flash demonstration the other day, chanting "God Protect the Free Army" before dispersing.

In this atmosphere suspicion is rife, and there are rumours of rebel "sleeper cells" stockpiling weapons and waiting to attack inside Damascus when the order is given. "Yes, there are such cells," said Rafiq, a Syrian journalist with his own Kalashnikov-toting bodyguard – a sure sign of privileged links to the secret police. "But a lot of them have been caught. People are helping the Mukhabarat more than they did before." The barrier of fear is still largely intact.

Security on the ground is in the hands of the popular committees, whose members carry pistols and machine guns and are authorised to patrol their own localities and communities – Christians in the Bab Touma area of the old city and members of the tiny Shia minority in an adjacent quarter. This is a sign, some fear, of a society starting to fragment under intolerable pressure. "It's a mistake to arm people on a sectarian or religious basis," warned a former Baath party stalwart. "It is a catastrophe in the long term."

Short-term prospects looks bleak too. The Sayyida Zeinab Mosque, a golden-domed Shia shrine to the south of the city, is protected by men of the Abu Fadl al-Abbas Brigade, an umbrella unit that comprises Iraqi Shia militia, Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon and a contingent of Iranian Revolutionary Guards – a coalition of loyal foreign friends helping the Assad regime to face down its domestic and foreign enemies.

No one can predict what will happen next, but some believe the government can live with the status quo as long as it continues to control Damascus. It will probably be helped by a palpable sense of exhaustion, misery and fear – in Abbasiyeen and beyond. "Until a few months people were still arguing, for and against the government and the opposition," said Zena, a student. "Now they don't care any more about politics. They just want the killing to stop and to be able to live their lives again."


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« Reply #5915 on: Apr 23, 2013, 06:47 AM »


Délestron – the cartoon villain shining light on Ivory Coast's blackout woes

Superhero has become an internet sensation after turning up heat on electricity companies following spate of power cuts

Monica Mark in Lagos
guardian.co.uk, Monday 22 April 2013 20.16 BST   

For decades, Ivory Coast has been a shining exception along the electricity-starved coast of west Africa, keeping the lights on at home while lighting half a dozen neighbours. Then came Délestron, glinting eyes visible beneath a black hood, a super-villain who brings terror wherever he strikes.

The cartoon character, whose name is a play on délestage – French for blackouts – has become a social media hit amid fears that once-rare power cuts could become more widespread for the region's top power exporter.

"If I see a tweet that Délestron is paying a visit in this or that quartier, I know not to bother going there to charge my phones," said Thierry Coulibaly, who operates a mobile call centre from a giant phone-shaped shack in the commercial capital, Abidjan.

Corruption and under-investment mean sub-Saharan Africa's 47 nations produce a maximum of 68 gigawatts of power daily between them – roughly the same as Argentina alone.

But while the roar of generators is familiar across most of west Africa, blackouts have come as a rude shock in Ivory Coast. Even during an eight-year political crisis that split the country and triggered two wars before ending in 2011, outages remained so rare that hardly anyone owns a generator.
Délestron Délestron. The caption reads: 'Where will I strike tonight?' Photograph: Chabatheo/Charles Dadié

"It's a nightmare," said fishmonger Fatoumata Touré in Abidjan's Abobo district. "I refrigerate 2m CFA francs [£3,000] worth of stock every week and it keeps going off."

Délestron's popularity highlights how a growing segment of the region's inhabitants are harnessing social media to hold politicians to account for failing to deliver services, often despite huge energy reserves. Dressed in boots and hotpants in the tropical heat, Délestron has stung the state-owned electricity company into responding with a competing character, Electra. She has, so far, failed to put the government in a good light. "It's a light-hearted way of looking at the problem but it would be great if it pushed the government into taking up its responsibilities," said the cartoon's creator, Charles Dadié.

The mines and energy minister, Adama Toungara, said gangs stealing cables and rods had caused the recent disruptions. He added: "There are no blackouts to speak of in Ivory Coast." Still, plans to pour 20bn CFA francs into revamping crumbling national grids will be the first upgrade in 20 years.

With shortages rippling across to Togo, Benin, Mali, Ghana and Burkina Faso – all of whom feed off Ivory Coast's grid – Dadié added: "When Délestron is not in Ivory Coast, he's wreaking havoc nearby. He's a pan-African hero."

Urban youths across the region are turning to social media to vent their frustrations as infrastructure creaks beneath a rapidly expanding population. Senegal's popular movement Y'En A Marre (Fed up!) was sparked by weeks of power cuts before polls last year. The rap collective garnered momentum through online forums and forced long-time President Abdoulaye Wade to back down from running for a third term.

"Social media has been really important for mobilising young people, but its main importance is in alerting the diaspora to bring outside pressure," said Fadel Barro, who came up with the idea of Y'En A Marre during a 24-hour bout of darkness in his flat in Senegal's capital, Dakar. "The problem is when there are so many power cuts, you can't use [social media] to reach those people who can't switch on the internet."


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« Reply #5916 on: Apr 23, 2013, 06:49 AM »

April 22, 2013

No Bunker-Buster Bomb in Israel’s Weapons Deal With U.S.

By THOM SHANKER and DAVID E. SANGER
IHT

TEL AVIV — American and Israeli defense officials welcomed a new arms sale agreement on Monday as a major step toward increasing Israel’s military strength, but Israeli officials said it still left them without the weapons they would need if they decided to attack Iran’s deepest and best-protected nuclear sites.

The mixed message came as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and his Israeli counterpart, Moshe Yaalon, reaffirmed their commitment to stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, while sidestepping a continuing disagreement between the two countries about how close to allow Iran to get toward such a goal.

In public, Mr. Hagel again said that Israel had the right to decide by itself how to defend the country, and both officials said military action should be a last resort. But a close adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that “the fundamental difference of views on how much risk we can take with Iran is re-emerging.”

The new weapons sale package includes aircraft for midair refueling and missiles that can cripple an adversary’s air defense system. Both would be critical for Israel if it were to decide on a unilateral attack on Iran.

But what the Israelis wanted most was a weapons system that is missing from the package: a giant bunker-busting bomb designed to penetrate earth and reinforced concrete to destroy deeply buried sites. According to both American and Israeli analysts, it is the only weapon that would have a chance of destroying the Iranian nuclear fuel enrichment center at Fordo, which is buried more than 200 feet under a mountain outside the holy city of Qum.

The weapon, called a Massive Ordnance Penetrator, weighs about 30,000 pounds — so much that Israel does not have any aircraft capable of carrying it. To do so, Israel would need a B-2 bomber, the stealth aircraft that the United States flew nonstop recently from Missouri to the Korean Peninsula to underscore to North Korea that it could reach its nuclear sites.

The Obama administration has been reluctant to even discuss selling such capability to the Israelis.

Iran has consistently denied that it wants nuclear weapons and has called its uranium enrichment activities peaceful.

The Fordo site has become an increasing source of concern to the Israelis. When they referred last year to Iran’s entering a “zone of immunity,” Israeli officials said the phrase referred to the moment when the facility would be complete, and immune from attack by Israeli forces. All the centrifuges that enrich uranium at the site have since been installed, but only about a quarter of them are now operating.

Israel has asked the United States for weapons like the Massive Ordnance Penetrator in the past and has been turned down. American officials declined to say whether the yearlong negotiations with Israel that resulted in the new arms package had included a discussion of the new bomb.

Instead, they pointed to a decision by President Obama to send advanced refueling tanker planes to Israel that would make it possible for the country’s fighter aircraft to reach as far as Iran. A similar refueling capability was turned down during the administration of President George W. Bush.

George Little, the Pentagon press secretary, said the arms package to Israel was “unprecedented” and would “guarantee and augment our strong ally’s qualitative military edge for a generation to come.”

The debate is about more than just equipment. Israel’s position has been that Iran cannot be allowed to build up too large a stockpile of medium-enriched uranium that could allow it to then race for a bomb. When Mr. Netanyahu addressed the United Nations in New York last September, he drew a red line across a cartoon picture of a bomb, which aides later said indicated that Iran would not be allowed to amass enough medium-enriched uranium to get enough fuel to make a single weapon.

But most of Iran’s production of that uranium is occurring inside the mountain at Fordo. So far, Iran has stayed just below Mr. Netanyahu’s red line, converting some of the fuel to a metallic form that can be used in a nuclear reactor — but that would take significantly more time to further enrich it to bomb-grade material. To the United States, this has offered up more time for a diplomatic solution. To many Israeli officials, it is a ploy, intended to buy time as Iran installs a new generation of centrifuges that could speed its production.

“It’s all about timetables,” said Dore Gold, the president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and a member of Mr. Netanyahu’s inner circle of strategists. “If you say the goal is to halt Iran in the enrichment phase, you don’t have much time. If you are waiting for Iran to weaponize” — the position the Obama administration has taken — “maybe you can give it another year or more.”

Mr. Yaalon suggested that there was still time. “There are other tools to be used and to be exhausted, whether it is diplomacy, economic sanctions,” he said.

Mr. Yaalon avoided mentioning another element of the strategy: sabotage of the Iranian program, which has included cyberattacks on enrichment facilities and the assassination of Iranian scientists. He urged support for Iranians who oppose the current government in Tehran, especially in advance of a presidential election scheduled for June.

But without “a credible military option,” Mr. Yaalon warned, “there is no chance” that the Iranian government will curtail its nuclear ambitions.

During a news conference with Mr. Yaalon at the Israeli Ministry of Defense, Mr. Hagel pledged that the United States would sustain its commitment to ensuring Israel’s “qualitative military edge,” and he was emphatic in discussing Iran.

“Iran will not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon,” Mr. Hagel said. “Period.”

That was far more definitive than anything he said in his confirmation hearing. There he talked about a strategy of containing Iran — a strategy that seemed at odds with Mr. Obama’s stated position — before correcting himself for the record to align with the administration’s position.

The United States has promised Israel $3.1 billion in military financial assistance in this fiscal year, the highest amount ever. Mr. Hagel cited the $460 million the United States has already given to Israel for its missile-defense systems and noted the $220 million request for the next fiscal year.

After his meetings in Tel Aviv, Mr. Hagel toured northern Israel by helicopter, crossing into the Golan Heights occupied by Israeli forces. The flight took him within a couple of miles of the Syrian side of their disputed border and about 30 miles from the Syrian capital, Damascus.

On Monday evening, Amos Yadlin, the former head of military intelligence in Israel, told the annual conference of Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies that while any Israeli attack would only delay Iran’s program, “this delay could be important because we may have a regime change.”

Mr. Yadlin, now the director of the institute, described the tactical differences between the United States and Israel on dealing with Iran as a “time gap.”

“Israel has defined what the trigger is, what the red line is,” he said. Iran, he concluded, “is already there.”


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« Reply #5917 on: Apr 23, 2013, 06:55 AM »


Two arrested in Canada over alleged passenger train terrorist plot

Police say men had direction and guidance from al-Qaida elements in Iran and that attack was still at the planning stage

Isabeau Doucet in Montreal and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 23 April 2013   

Two men were arrested on Monday night and charged with plotting a terrorist attack against a Canadian passenger train with support from al-Qaida "elements" in Iran, Canadian police said.

Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, and Raed Jaser, 35, who live in Montreal and Toronto, were planning to derail a Via Rail passenger train in Toronto but posed no immediate threat, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted police.

"This is the first known al-Qaida-planned attack that we've experienced in Canada," said Superintendent Doug Best.

RCMP assistant commissioner James Malizia said the two men had direction and guidance from "al-Qaida elements located in Iran," though there was no reason to think the planned attacks were state-sponsored.

Police said the men did not get financial support from al-Qaida, but declined to provide more details.

"It was definitely in the planning stage but not imminent," RCMP chief superintendent Jennifer Strachan said. "We are alleging that these two individuals took steps and conducted activities to initiate a terrorist attack. They watched trains and railways."

Strachan said they were targeting a railway, but did not say if it was a cross border route.

A spokeswoman for the University of Sherbrooke in Montreal said Esseghaier studied there in 2008-09. More recently, he has been doing doctoral research at the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique, a spokeswoman at the training university confirmed.

This is the first time Canadian police have laid charges related to an al-Qaida-supported attack on Canadian soil. Neither man is a Canadian citizen, but police would not comment on their nationality.

The two suspects, who are expected to appear in a Toronto court on Tuesday, were arrested in Toronto and Montreal as part of a major national security investigation called Project Smooth which was initiated in August 2012.

The attack was thwarted by a cross-border joint task force between Canadian police, the intelligence branch, the FBI and US department of homeland security.

Via Rail tweeted on Monday that thanks to unprecedented co-operation between law enforcement and security units of various departments "at no time was there an imminent threat to the public".

Law enforcement officials said the terror suspects had no connection to the Tsarnaev brothers, who are suspected of last week's Boston Marathon bombings, nor to the high school friends from London, Ontario who joined al-Qaida in the Maghreb and died in a bloody shootout in January after taking the In Amenas gas complex in Algeria hostage.

Al-Qaida's relationship with Iran's government is unclear but has occasionally been fractious in the past. However, Bruce Riedel, a CIA veteran who is now a Brookings Institution senior fellow, said al-Qaida has had a clandestine presence in Iran since at least 2001 and that neither the terror group nor Tehran speak openly about it.

"The Iranian regime kept some of these elements under house arrest," he said in an email to the Associated Press. "Some probably operate covertly. Al-Qaida members often transit Iran travelling between hideouts in Pakistan and Iraq."

Canada severed diplomatic relations with Iran, closed its Tehran embassy and expelled Iranian diplomats from Canada in September 2012 with Canada's foreign minister, John Baird, calling Iran "the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today."

Security sources told the Canadian broadcaster CBC that the alleged plot was potentially more dangerous than the bombings and hostage-takings planned by the so-called Toronto 18 in 2006, a home-grown plot to set off bombs outside Toronto's stock exchange, a building housing Canada's spy agency and a military base. Their goal was to scare Canada into withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and the arrests made international headlines.

***********

Canada terror plot suspects due in court over attempt to derail train

Chiheb Esseghaier and Raed Jaser planned to derail Toronto passenger train backed by 'al-Qaida elements' in Iran, say police

Isabeau Doucet in Montreal and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 23 April 2013 10.02 BST

Two men were expected to appear in court in Toronto on Tuesday charged with plotting a terrorist attack against a Canadian passenger train with support from "al-Qaida elements" in Iran, according to Canadian police.

Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, and Raed Jaser, 35, who live in Montreal and Toronto, were planning to derail a Via Rail passenger train in Toronto but posed no immediate threat, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted police (RCMP).

"This is the first-known al-Qaida-planned attack that we've experienced in Canada," said Superintendent Doug Best.

RCMP assistant commissioner James Malizia said the two men had direction and guidance from "al-Qaida elements located in Iran", though there was no reason to think the planned attacks were state-sponsored.

Iran issued an angry denial of any links with the alleged terror plot. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told reporters that there is "no firm evidence" of any Iranian involvement and groups such as al-Qaida have "no compatibility with Iran in both political and ideological fields."

He called the Canadian claims part of hostile policies against Tehran, and accused Canada of indirectly aiding al-Qaida by joining Western support for Syrian rebels. Some Islamic militant factions, claiming allegiance to al-Qaida, have joined forces seeking to topple the regime of Bashar Assad, one of Iran's main allies in the region.

"The same (al-Qaida) current is killing people in Syria while enjoying Canada's support," said Mehmanparast.

In a separate comment, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi called the claim by Canadian authorities "the most ridiculous fake words."

"I hope Canadian officials resort to more wisdom," he said.

Police said the men did not get financial support from al-Qaida, but declined to provide further details.

"It was definitely in the planning stage but not imminent," the RCMP chief superintendent, Jennifer Strachan, said. "We are alleging that these two individuals took steps and conducted activities to initiate a terrorist attack. They watched trains and railways."

Strachan said they were targeting a railway, but did not say if it was a cross-border route.

A spokeswoman for the University of Sherbrooke in Montreal said Esseghaier, reported to be from Tunisia, studied there in 2008-09. More recently, he had been doing doctoral research at the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique, a spokeswoman at the training university confirmed.

Canadian press reported that Esseghaier was threatened with expulsion for his disruptive behaviour and strict religious views that alienated his colleagues.

Raed Jaser is reported to be a Palestinian with citizenship in the United Arab Emirates, who has permanent resident status in Canada.

This is the first time Canadian police have laid charges related to an al-Qaida-supported attack on Canadian soil. Neither man is a Canadian citizen

The two suspects were expected to appear at a bail hearing in a Toronto court. They were arrested in Toronto and Montreal as part of a major national security investigation called Project Smooth, which was initiated in August 2012.

The attack was thwarted by a cross-border joint task force between Canadian police, the intelligence branch, the FBI and US department of homeland security.

Via Rail tweeted on Monday that thanks to unprecedented co-operation between law enforcement and security units of various departments "at no time was there an imminent threat to the public".

Law enforcement officials said the terror suspects had no connection to the Tsarnaev brothers, who are suspected of last week's Boston Marathon bombings, nor to the high school friends from London, Ontario who joined al-Qaida in the Maghreb and died in a bloody shootout in January after taking hostages at the In Amenas gas complex in Algeria.

Al-Qaida's relationship with Iran's government is unclear but has been fractious in the past. However, Bruce Riedel, a CIA veteran who is now a Brookings Institution senior fellow, said al-Qaida has had a clandestine presence in Iran since at least 2001 and that neither the terror group nor Tehran speak openly about it.

"The Iranian regime kept some of these elements under house arrest," he told Associated Press. "Some probably operate covertly. Al-Qaida members often transit Iran travelling between hideouts in Pakistan and Iraq."

Canada severed diplomatic relations with Iran, closed its Tehran embassy and expelled Iranian diplomats from Canada in September 2012 with Canada's foreign minister, John Baird, calling Iran "the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today".

Security sources told the Canadian broadcaster CBC that the alleged plot was potentially more dangerous than the bombings and hostage-takings planned by the so-called Toronto 18 in 2006, a home-grown plot to set off bombs outside Toronto's stock exchange, a building housing Canada's spy agency and a military base. Their goal was to push Canada into withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.



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« Reply #5918 on: Apr 23, 2013, 06:56 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
04/22/2013 01:37 PM

American Psycho: Do Tsarnaev Brothers Represent New Breed of Terrorist?

By Gregor Peter Schmitz

After last week's terror attacks in Boston, Americans themselves seem to have been surprised by their measured response. The more they get to know about the Tsarnaev brothers, though, the more it will become clear that they will now have to get used to a new breed of terrorist.

When Americans are forced to live in fear, as they again had to do in these days of terror in Boston, they often comfort themselves with the notion that cave dwelling is for terrorists and that we, on the other hand, don't have to hide. These words could be heard during the collective relief after the capture of suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, as a whole city chanted the mantra "Boston Strong".

But as the Americans learned more about the Tsarnaev brothers, this line of argumentation started falling apart, because Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, together with his brother Tamerlan, the men believed to be responsible for the marathon attack, weren't cave dwellers of any kind. He didn't wear a Taliban beard, he doesn't appear to have dreamed of virgins in paradise and reports even suggest he had a girlfriend in the United States.

Tsarnaev even lived in a penthouse that could be the embodiment of the American Dream in the university city of Cambridge. The Chechen-born man attended one of the country's best schools there, one whose graduates include film stars like Matt Damon or Ben Affleck. Many who attended the school went on to Harvard or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology right around the corner.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev even received a scholarship, and, on an Internet page, indicated that "career" and "money" were his life's goals. He spoke almost accent-free English. He smoked pot, he drank alcohol, he liked rap music and he posed proudly in his robe, with a red flower affixed to it, at his graduation. As America searched for the bombers, he calmly attended a party at his college. Tsarnaev was an "All-American Boy," friends say, one who was well on his way to becoming an American success story, regardless of his older brothers' problems. And, yet, in the end, this promising student became a murderer who placed a backpack with a bomb in the middle of a crowd of people.

That kind of transformation is almost more disturbing than the hatred of a man like Osama bin Laden. The Americans have long believed that they have been more successful at integrating Muslims than the Europeans. In principle, it's also true. What the Americans generally feared was that "sleepers" might be smuggled into the country. They were less afraid that Muslims living within the population would suddenly start turning against the country. They remained faithful that the appeal of the American dream would be enough -- why, they seemed to ask, would a person in the land of opportunity want to plan the American nightmare?

'I Don't Have a Single American Friend'

But Dzhokhar's brother, who was 26, felt so alienated despite having a wife, a child and success as a boxer that he wrote: "I don't have a single American friend. I don't understand them."

In retrospect, the Americans probably should have registered sooner that their faith in their ability to successfully integrate immigrants wasn't as foolproof as they often believed. Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani man who attempted to set off a bomb on Times Square in 2010, had successfully applied for US citizenship shortly before the incident. Nidal Malik Hasan, who shot and killed 13 people at the Fort Hood military base in Texas one year earlier, had even worked as an Army psychiatrist. In his novel, "The Reluctant Fundamentalist," author Mohsin Hamid describes a successful Wall Street banker with Pakistani roots who slowly becomes radicalized after 9/11. Hamid's conclusion is that even those who have success can still feel they are excluded from society, and that terrorism is not the exclusive realm of those without prospects.

YouTube videos and tweets alone cannot explain how pronounced such thinking was on the part of the Boston bombers. But in the Internet age, extremist ideas can also influence American Muslims who on the surface appear to be perfectly integrated. "Muslims in the US are more resistant, but not immune from the radical message," the Wall Street Journal quoted a New York Police Department paper from 2007 as stating.

A New Breed of Terrorists?

Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum, for her part, sees a new breed of terrorists who have more in common with the disillusioned European Muslims who killed in Madrid or London despite having grown up there. "Educated and brought up in Europe, these young men nevertheless felt out of place in Europe," she wrote. "Unable to integrate, some turned to a half-remembered, half-mythological homeland in search of a firmer, fiercer identity."

Were the Tsarnaev brothers also in search of that kind of identity? The elder brother spent half a year in Dagestan in 2012, where it is believed he became radicalized. Even though they had little idea of daily life in the country their family came from, the brothers appeared to be increasingly identifying with Chechnya as their true homeland. Already, calls are growing for stricter monitoring of the US' Muslim population. But a more fruitful debate would be one that asked whether they truly feel at home in the United States.


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« Reply #5919 on: Apr 23, 2013, 06:58 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
04/22/2013 06:04 PM

The Lessons of Boston: Beating Terror with Calm

An Essay By Ullrich Fichtner

In the years since 9/11, the response to acts of terror has been disproportionately strong in the United States. After Boston, President Obama took pains to remain calm, breaking with a deplorable tradition. The more routine our response to these crimes, the weaker they become.

The flashes of two explosions, severed limbs, three dead, including a child, thousands of innocent people attacked by murderers who transformed a cheerful day in the worst way possible. That's what happened in Boston, and the bad news is: It will happen again, sooner or later, in another place and at another time, because this is the world in which we live today.

What happened in Boston is part of everyday life in Baghdad and Kabul, a constant threat in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and a nagging fear in Moscow, Lahore and Islamabad. Major acts of violence have become traumatic events in Beslan in the Russian Republic of North Ossetia, in Balinese and Tunisian villages, in Egypt, Algeria and Norway. They have engraved themselves into the history of large, proud cities like London, Madrid, Mumbai and Marrakesh, Istanbul, Jakarta and New York.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, these places have all seen terrorist attacks committed by murderers motivated by the delusions of Islamism or right-wing extremism, or the master plans of nationalism and separatism. Of course, none of these -isms can ever amount to more than half-baked palaver because, in the end, their proponents will never be able to explain why it makes sense to indiscriminately kill children.

That's why our sadness is mixed with inexpressible rage, a rage that can become overpowering, especially in the United States. In the days of former President George W. Bush, the killers were always threatened with death and war, and with relentless pursuit to the ends of the earth. Promises were made to do everything humanly possible to hunt down the terrorists, without recognizing that the real danger of terrorism lies in its ability to trigger such indiscriminate verbal outbursts. The barbaric thought patterns of the attackers begin to exert their real toxic effect when the innocent victims turn to violence themselves.

Breaking with a Deplorable Tradition

Since 9/11 America has, too often and too quickly, been willing to question the strength of the civil, constitutional state. Torture was countenanced as "enhanced interrogation," and to this day terrorist suspects are put to death by drone strike, without a hearing or a trial. The detention camp at Guantanamo Bay remains a symbol of the idea that the leading power in the West tends to bend its own values. All of this strengthens instead of weakening terrorism.

The first official reactions heard in America after the bombings in Boston are encouraging. President Barack Obama took pains to remain calm, breaking with the deplorable tradition of the Bush years to promise revenge while invoking the rule of law. Obama knows full well that the United States needs no new anti-terrorism laws, no new government agencies, no expansion of police and intelligence operations and, most of all, no more inflammatory speeches.

The dramatic search for the two bombing suspects was undeniably a manhunt, and the social networks, especially Twitter, were filled with false accusations and hateful tirades. But none of this changes the quality of Obama's behavior, whose speech was statesmanlike in a positive sense: relaxed and filled with confidence in the president's own, broadly legitimized civil power.

Queen Elizabeth II served as a role model when she managed to set a similar tone after the London bombings in 2005. She spoke to her subjects of her sadness and sympathy for the victims, she thanked the emergency services and the people of London, and then she said, briefly and concisely: "Those who perpetrate these brutal acts against innocent people should know that they will not change our way of life."

This is what the voice of civilization sounds like, and it cannot be allowed to fall silent merely because a few cave dwellers are constantly feeling marginalized. Today and in the future, we should always reiterate the thoughts of the Queen's and Obama's calm words whenever terror happens to strike once again. In fact, the message to such murderers must always be the same: You cannot change our lives. You can blow up your bombs, but our culture, our values and our societies are stronger than your desire to destroy them. These are the best answers to terror of any stripe.

A Double Standard

They are also based on a levelheaded assessment of this violent era that began at the beginning of the century. Unfortunately, many Americans still lack this levelheadedness. The desire to put casualty figures into perspective shortly after a horrible attack may seem indecent, but one observation repeatedly comes to mind: The response to acts of terror is always disproportionately large in the United States. The social networks only amplify this tendency. Anyone following the flood of tweets on the Boston bombings could be led to believe that American victims are more important than others.

It doesn't take a prophetic gift to predict that the media reaction to Boston will, once again, be far more extensive and prolonged than is usually the case in comparable situations in other countries. When almost 800 people died and more than 1,500 were injured by four suicide bomb attacks in the Sinjar area of Iraq in August 2007, the media response was loud, and yet it was much quieter than is now the case in the Boston bombings, which have killed three people and injured more than 180. The bombing in Baghdad that killed 27 people on Thursday had already been relegated to the second page of newspapers by Friday.

A double standard is being applied here, and that is a scandal that is hardly ever mentioned. But if we truly hope to undermine terrorism, we in the West should show the same amount of sympathy and compassion for the stories of victims around the world as for those in America. Only then can we create an international movement against terror.

Instead, a sort of Western navel-gazing routinely takes place, one that distorts perception. The New York Times, which should have known better, compared the scenes near the finish line of the Boston Marathon to a war zone, which is precisely the kind of language Obama avoided in his speech. Two bombs exploding in Boston do not make the city a war zone, even if the television footage repeated for days on end suggests otherwise.

Absolute Security

Boston only becomes a war zone if people's minds are constantly filled with the language of war, with the verbal images that only occur to those who see themselves in a state of war. Regrettably, this is precisely what has happened to many Americans -- and particularly many American politicians -- in recent years.

Instead of steadfastly dedicating themselves to the country's development, its culture and its many social problems, but also building on its many strengths, they have allowed the dangerous and diffuse feeling of an ongoing national threat to eat away at them. Instead of holding on to their own way of life, as the Queen put it, they proceeded to change for the worse, in the misguided hope of being able to create absolute security. But absolutes cannot be had in democracies.

We have to admit to ourselves that there is no fully satisfactory answer to the question of how governments and free societies should react to the threat from the fragmented micro-terrorism of today. We seem to have solved the technical side of the problem, more or less. Robust security apparatuses have been created around the world since the shock of 9/11. Their success in the effort to combat terror is undeniable, and the professional work of police officers, intelligence agents and soldiers has helped thwart countless attacks.

A Serious Threat for the US and Europe

Nowadays, the courts also have sufficient latitude to conduct investigations and even to convict perpetrators of merely planning attacks that have yet to be carried out. But this doesn't solve the problem of how to minimize the constant stress societies face, the political and cultural damage terrorists inflict. It is unclear how to prevent this stress from transforming our open, free societies into closed societies that lack freedom. It poses a serious threat to both the United States and Europe.

This raises a few questions that are tinged with anxiety. Is the Netherlands today, after the murders committed by Islamist fanatics, and after the shrill debates over immigration and the Muslim minority, still the same country it was 10 or 20 years ago? After the horrific acts of madman Anders Breivik, can Norway still preserve its sophisticated democracy without compromise? Has Great Britain, which probably has more surveillance cameras in public areas than any other country, truly been able to preserve its way of life in the decades since IRA terrorism and the more recent activities of Muslim extremists?

The world of statistics and sociology gives us an idea of how mysterious social debates and collective states of mind can sometimes be. For instance, the fear of crime in a society can be completely disconnected from the actual threat. It can be small, even though the threat is high, but it can also be completely exaggerated when there is hardly any threat at all. The media plays an important and often inglorious role in this context, and when its influence is combined with that of politicians, it can shape the self-perception of societies in critical ways.

In the years since 9/11, the United States has long misjudged the real levels of danger. The threat of a devastating attack existed and still exists today, but in the cold light of day, the individual's concrete risk of becoming a victim of terrorism was extremely small. It was certainly completely out of proportion with the heated debate being conducted at the same time on terror and how the country could protect itself most effectively and with the most brutal means possible. This is changed much by the sad events in Boston.

The lesson of Boston is not, as one reads and hears here and there, that terror has returned to America. In the precarious times in which we live, terrorism is always an awful possibility, and when it strikes, we shouldn't pretend to be more surprised than we really are. The more routine our response to terror, the weaker it becomes. The more we emphasize the civil strength of our modern, democratic societies, the more senseless all attacks will become. This is the real lesson of Boston: Bombs and terror cannot destroy our way of life. The Boston Marathon will take place in 2014. And it will once again be a day of celebration.


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« Reply #5920 on: Apr 23, 2013, 07:02 AM »

Woolly mammoth, dodo and Neanderthal man: Scientists debate ethics of reviving extinct species

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, April 22, 2013 7:18 EDT

Woolly mammoths stomp through the Siberian tundra as the giant moa strides the forest floor of New Zealand and Tasmania’s dog-like “tigers” stalk their prey under the cover of night.

This is not a snapshot of times past, nor next year’s sequel to Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park.”

Instead, it is a scenario that some biogeneticists see as plausible in our own lifetimes: the resurrection of species driven to extinction, sometimes thousands of years ago.

Next Thursday will be 60 years since Francis Crick and James Watson published their paper unveiling the structure of DNA, the double-helix genetic code for life.

Today, some experts believe that by harnessing this breakthrough knowledge, the first extinct species could be revived within years.

They could be cloned from genetic material teased from preserved tissues, with the reprogrammed egg implanted in a cousin species.

Farther down the road, other species could live again through artificially-reconstituted sequences of their DNA, goes the argument.

“For the gastric frog it would take maybe a year or two years. For a mammoth maybe 20, 30 years, maybe sooner,” evolutionary geneticist Hendrik Poinar of Canada’s McMaster University told AFP of ongoing “de-extinction” efforts.

In 2009, researchers announced they had cloned a bucardo, also called a Pyrenean Ibex, using DNA taken from the last member of this family of Spanish mountain goats before she died in 2000.

This was the first cloned animal born from an extinct subspecies, but the success was mixed — the kid, borne by a domestic goat, died within 10 minutes from a lung abnormality.

Just last month, a team at Australia’s University of New South Wales said they had cloned embryos of the gastric-brooding frog which died out in 1983 and was named for its weird reproductive technique of swallowing its eggs, brooding them in its stomach and then spitting out the offspring.

The cloned embryos all died within a few days.

Australian teams are also working on reviving the Tasmanian tiger with DNA obtained from an ethanol-preserved pup of the dog-like, marsupial predator that died out in the 1930s.

In Japan, geneticists said in 2011 they planned to use DNA from frozen carcasses to resurrect within six years the woolly mammoth which died out during the last Ice Age.

And in Britain, Oxford University scientists have obtained genetic data from museum-held remains of the dodo, the flightless Indian Ocean island bird hunted to extinction by 1680.

Scientists believe reconstruction would be feasible for most animals for which DNA has survived, possibly going back 200,000 years — a limit that would exclude a “Jurassic Park”-like revival of the dinosaurs.

The DNA sample would have to be well preserved and techniques would have to improve to reduce the risk of deformity, miscarriage and premature death, a characteristic of animal cloning today.

“The way it is going now, I can see why people would imagine it (de-extinction) is possible,” said Poinar.

“I could envision that if there were no laws preventing it and the ethics had been worked, out, swathes of land in Siberia repopulated with mammoths and cave lions.

“The discussion is really: ‘Should we?’”

London School of Economics sociologist Carrie Friese fears that ethics have been left by the wayside in the rush to resurrect.

“My concern is that the focus is too much on: ‘Can we do this?’ rather than what we do with the living being that is the result,” she said.

Many animals went extinct exactly because their natural habitats were destroyed, said Friese.

Lacking a broad gene pool to adapt to the wild, their cloned progeny could find themselves doomed to life as museum exhibits. Nor would they have authentic parents to socialise them or teach them to how to fly, forage or hunt.

“An animal is more than its genome,” said Friese. “How does a dodo learn to be a dodo?”

Stanford University bioethicist Hank Greely is one of those who enthusiastically favour species resurrection.

“I think the strongest reason to do it is just that it would be awesome,” he said. “It would be seriously cool.”

But he also cautioned against inflicting inappropriate, excessive pain and suffering in the scientific quest.

For this and other reasons, Neanderthal cloning, which would most likely involve a human surrogate, remains off limits — even though high-quality genetic data is available.

Others say de-extinction efforts divert time and money from preserving endangered species.

“Reconstitution of extinct species is of limited conservation value and could even be a distraction,” said Colman O Criodain of conservation group WWF.

But there are also potential benefits: a harvest of knowledge from studying living versions of extinct animals, and potential environment spinoffs too.

Some believe returning mammoths to Siberia could turn the barren, mossy tundra back into the fertile grasslands it was thousands of years ago.

And technology may help us develop methods to add genetic diversity for species on the brink today.

Transparent debate, not scientific stealth or hubris, offers the only path through this ethical minefield, said Poinar.

“What it really comes down to is having a very poignant and honest discussion about what really are the reasons, what are the pros and what are the cons of it,” he said.


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In the USA...

April 22, 2013

Boston Suspect Is Charged and Could Face the Death Penalty

By KATHARINE Q. SEELYE, MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT and WILLIAM K. RASHBAUM
NYT

BOSTON — Lying grievously wounded in a hospital bed, the surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings admitted on Sunday to playing a role in the attacks, said law enforcement officials, and on Monday he was charged with using a weapon of mass destruction that resulted in three deaths and more than 170 injuries.

Uttering the word “no” once, but mostly nodding his responses, the suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, was charged in a brief but dramatic bedside scene in the intensive care ward of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where he is recovering from multiple gunshot wounds sustained during his capture last week.

Mr. Tsarnaev made his admission on Sunday morning to specially trained F.B.I. agents who had been waiting outside his hospital room for him to regain consciousness. After he woke up, they questioned him, invoking what is known as the public safety exception to the Miranda Rule, a procedure authorized by a 1984 U.S. Supreme Court decision which in certain circumstances allows interrogation after an arrest without notifying a prisoner of the right to remain silent.

In the course of questioning him about whether he knew of any other active plots or threats to public safety, he admitted that he had been involved in laying the bombs that killed three people at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

He said that he knew of no other plots and that he and his brother had acted alone, and he said he knew of no more bombs that had not been detonated.

At the legal hearing Monday, he shook his head in response to most questions. The brief bedside session began when Magistrate Judge Marianne B. Bowler asked a doctor whether Mr. Tsarnaev was alert, according to a transcript of the proceeding.

“You can rouse him,” the judge told the doctor.

“How are you feeling?” asked the doctor, identified in the transcript as Dr. Odom. “Are you able to answer some questions?” He nodded.

Judge Bowler then read Mr. Tsarnaev his rights. Also present were two United States attorneys and three federal public defenders, who will be representing him. Judge Bowler asked if he understood his right to remain silent, to which he nodded affirmatively, according to the transcript.

The only word Mr. Tsarnaev uttered, apparently, was “No,” after he was asked if he could afford a lawyer.

Judge Bowler said, “Let the record reflect that I believe the defendant has said, ‘No.’ ”

At the end of the session, Judge Bowler said: “At this time, at the conclusion of the initial appearance, I find that the defendant is alert, mentally competent, and lucid. He is aware of the nature of the proceedings.” If convicted, he faces the death penalty or life behind bars.

Mr. Tsarnaev is being treated for what court papers described as possible gunshot wounds to the “head, neck, legs and hand.” One law enforcement officer said the wound to the neck appeared to be the result of a self-inflicted gunshot. The charges were lodged in a criminal complaint unsealed Monday in United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, the first step in a lengthy process.

The White House said that Mr. Tsarnaev would not be placed in military detention. “We will prosecute this terrorist through our civilian system of justice,” said Jay Carney, the White House press secretary.

He noted that it was illegal to try an American citizen in a military commission, and that a number of high-profile terrorism cases had been handled in the civilian court system, including that of the would-be bomber who tried to bring down a passenger jet around Christmas 2009 with explosives in his underwear.

The charges against Mr. Tsarnaev were made public about the same time that Boston, like many cities across the country, held a moment of silence at 2:50 p.m., the time of the explosions a week before. Hundreds of people gathered in Copley Square, near the scene of the attacks, after which church bells tolled mournfully in a cold, wintry wind.

Already, hundreds of mourners had attended a funeral at St. Joseph Church in Medford, Mass., for Krystle Campbell, the 29-year-old restaurant manager killed near the finish line of the marathon. In the evening, hundreds more attended a memorial service at Boston University for Lu Lingzi, 23, a Chinese graduate student who was killed in the bombings.

A service is planned Wednesday for Sean Collier, 26, the M.I.T. campus police officer who was killed in his car Thursday night.

Mr. Tsarnaev and his brother,Tamerlan, 26, are accused of going on a violent spree that ended in Tamerlan’s death and Dzhokhar’s capture in a boat parked in a driveway in Watertown, Mass., about seven miles west of Boston. New details were included in the affidavit accompanying the criminal complaint, which also outlined the evidence that law enforcement agencies have collected linking the two suspects to the bombings. However, there was no mention in the affidavit of the killing of the campus police officer, nor any explanation why it was not mentioned.

The affidavit, sworn by Daniel R. Genck, an F.B.I. special agent assigned to the Joint Terrorist Task Force in Boston, cited surveillance video as it detailed the movements the brothers made around the time of the bombings.

In chilling detail, the affidavit described how a man it referred to as “Bomber Two,” whom it identified as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, could be seen “apparently slipping his knapsack onto the ground.”

Video from a nearby restaurant, Forum, showed the bomber remaining in place, checking his cellphone and even appearing to take a picture with it, the affidavit said. Then he seemed to speak into his phone.

“A few seconds after he finishes the call, the large crowd of people around him can be seen reacting to the first explosion,” the court papers said. “Virtually every head turns to the east (towards the finish line) and stares in that direction in apparent bewilderment and alarm. Bomber Two, virtually alone among the individuals in front of the restaurant, appears calm. He glances to the east and then calmly but rapidly begins moving to the west, away from the direction of the finish line.”

“He walks away without his knapsack, having left it on the ground where he had been standing,” the court papers said. “Approximately 10 seconds later, an explosion occurs in the location where Bomber Two had placed his knapsack.”

Just seven hours after the F.B.I. released pictures of the two suspects on Thursday afternoon to the public, one of the suspects emerged in Cambridge, pointing a gun at a man sitting in his car.

The affidavit said that the driver eventually escaped and his stolen vehicle was located soon thereafter in Watertown. As the two suspects drove around, they tossed at least two small homemade bombs from the car window, the affidavit said. When the police caught up with the men on Laurel Street, they engaged in a gunfight.

At the scene of the shootout, the F.B.I. found more clues: two unexploded bombs and the remnants of “numerous” exploded devices, which were similar to those found at the scene of the marathon bombings — and at least one was in a pressure cooker, the affidavit said. “The pressure cooker was of the same brand as the ones used in the Marathon explosions,” it said.

As the legal process was playing out, investigators were still working feverishly to determine the motives for the attacks. A lawyer for Katherine Russell, who married Tamerlan Tsarnaev in 2010, said that Ms. Russell found out that her husband was a suspect in the bombings only after the authorities released the photos on Thursday.

“She was shocked,” said the lawyer, Amato A. DeLuca. “She had no idea.”

Mr. DeLuca said that he had been speaking with law enforcement authorities but declined to say whether Ms. Russell had. He also declined to elaborate on whether his client had seen changes in her husband recently. He did say that his client did not speak Russian, so she could not always understand what her husband was saying.

Katharine Q. Seelye reported from Boston, Michael S. Schmidt from Washington and William K. Rashbaum from New York. Reporting was contributed by Michael Cooper and John Eligon from New York; Richard A. Oppel Jr., Serge F. Kovaleski and Jess Bidgood from Boston; and Peter Baker from Washington.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: April 23, 2013

An earlier version of this story described incorrectly the rule invoked in the questioning of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. It is the public safety exception to the Miranda rule, authorized by a 1984 Supreme Court decision; it is not a special Justice Department public safety exception.

***********

April 22, 2013

Officials Say They Had No Authority to Watch Older Suspect

By ERIC SCHMITT and MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT
NYT

WASHINGTON — Amid questions about whether the F.B.I. missed an opportunity to discover that one of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings may have become an extremist, law enforcement officials defended their actions on Monday, saying they had no legal basis to monitor him in the months leading up to the attack.

The agency first looked into the suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, in 2011 in response to a request from Russia, which told the F.B.I. that he “was a follower of radical Islam.” But once investigators closed the background check on Mr. Tsarnaev after concluding that he posed no terrorist threat, a senior law enforcement official said, it would have been a violation of federal guidelines to keep investigating him without additional information.

“We had an authorized purpose to look into someone based on the query we received,” the official said. “You can do a limited investigation based on that request.”

Senior F.B.I. and intelligence officials will be forced to explain to the Senate Intelligence Committee in a classified briefing on Tuesday the steps they took — and did not take — before and after Mr. Tsarnaev returned last July from a six-month trip to Chechnya and Dagestan, predominantly Muslim republics in the North Caucasus region of Russia.

In a statement Monday, Senator Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat on the panel, said: “There are many questions I want answered, such as how and when the suspects became radicalized, details of the F.B.I.’s initial investigation into Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s activities, the nature of the terrorist threat in southern Russia, and more information on our counterterrorism cooperation with Moscow.”

The exchange between the F.B.I. and Russian authorities on Mr. Tsarnaev’s potential links to extremist groups has cast a spotlight on a counterterrorism relationship that has endured even as diplomatic relations between the countries have gone through ups and downs.

However, it also reflects what Daniel Benjamin, the State Department’s former top counterterrorism official, said on Monday was “a culture of wariness” between the two former cold war rivals. Even as the United States responds to Russian requests for details on potential extremists, Mr. Benjamin said, the authorities must be careful not to provide information that could “expose sources and methods or get us involved in an abuse of human rights that we couldn’t condone.”

Soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Moscow and Washington created a special counterterrorism working group to help improve cooperation.

James W. McJunkin, a former top F.B.I. counterterrorism official, recalled a long-running investigation a few years ago into possible money laundering and other material support to terrorist groups by American citizens of Chechen or Russian origin in several Northeastern states.

Russian authorities provided the F.B.I. with cellphone numbers and e-mail addresses of several possible suspects, and even though the inquiry in the end did not yield any arrests, Mr. McJunkin said, “we now have a better understanding of how these kinds of cases work and how we can better recognize trends and patterns.”

In Mr. Tsarnaev’s case, the Russian government expressed fear that he could be a risk “based on information that he was a follower of radical Islam and a strong believer, and that he had changed drastically since 2010 as he prepared to leave the United States for travel to the country’s region to join unspecified underground groups,” the F.B.I. said in a statement.

The F.B.I. responded by checking government databases for any criminal records or immigration violations as well as activity on Web sites that promote extremist views and activities. The investigators found no derogatory information, officials said.

When they asked the Russians for more information to justify a search of Mr. Tsarnaev’s phone records, travel history and other more restricted information, they received no reply, a senior United States official said.

As a last resort, the F.B.I. sent two counterterrorism agents to interview Mr. Tsarnaev and members of his family. According to an F.B.I. statement, “The F.B.I. did not find any terrorism activity, domestic or foreign.”

After Mr. Tsarnaev’s visit to Dagestan and Chechnya, signs of alienation emerged. One month after he returned to the United States, a YouTube page that appeared to belong to him was created and featured jihadist videos.

Posting such videos alone, without overt threats of violence, should not necessarily sound alarms, some counterterrorism specialists said Monday.

“I tend to view this stuff as certainly interesting, and evincing some degree of extreme beliefs, but probably not exactly a flashing warning sign,” said Evan F. Kohlmann, a terrorism analyst with the consulting company Flashpoint Global Partners.

Anecdotes suggest that Mr. Tsarnaev became more religious in the last several years and may have embraced more conservative Islamic ideas.

On Monday, a spokesman for the Islamic Society of Boston, a Cambridge mosque, said Mr. Tsarnaev disrupted a talk there in January, insulting the speaker and accusing him of deviating from Islam by comparing the Prophet Muhammad to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It was the second time he had disrupted an event at the mosque because he felt that its religious message was too liberal, said the spokesman, Yusufi Vali, according to a report in The Boston Globe.

**********

White House: Immigration reform will enhance national security

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, April 22, 2013 17:33 EDT

The White House warned Monday that attacks on the Boston marathon should not derail momentum towards immigration reform, President Barack Obama’s best shot at a big second-term legacy achievement.

The fact that the two suspected perpetrators of the bombings were of Chechen origin and were living legally in the United States has led some reform advocates to fear their actions could be used to slow the drive for change.

Asked whether the aftermath of the Boston attacks could slow momentum behind a Senate effort to pass comprehensive new immigration laws, White House spokesman Jay Carney said: “I would simply say that it should not.”

“One of the positive effects and one of the reasons why we need comprehensive immigration reform is because it will enhance, when implemented, our national security,” said Carney.

“One of the reasons why we need comprehensive immigration reform is we need to bring out of the shadows the roughly 11 million residents of this country who are here illegally.

“The process of moving along the earned path to citizenship and the various hurdles that have to be cleared in that process, allows for much more information to be known by the relevant authorities and agencies about these individuals.”

“It also enhances the entry and exit procedures that are part of the immigration process.”

Suspects Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, and his brother Tamerlan, 26, have lived in the United States for over a decade.

The older brother, killed after a shootout with police last week, was a US resident who had applied, but not yet been granted US citizenship, reports said.

His younger brother, who is under armed guard in a Boston hospital, became a US citizen on September 11, 2012.

A bipartisan group of senators last week unveiled the latest attempt to reform creaking US immigration laws.

Immigration reform is currently being examined in committee ahead of a crucial debate due to begin within weeks, and faces a tough test from opponents who warn granting legal status to undocumented immigrants equates to amnesty.

********

April 22, 2013

Flights Delayed Across Country Amid Budget-Cut Furloughs of Air Controllers

By MATTHEW L. WALD and JAD MOUAWAD
NYT

WASHINGTON — Flights were delayed by up to two hours across the country on Monday, the first weekday that the nation’s air traffic control system operated with 10 percent fewer controllers. Pilots, gate agents and others were quick to blame furloughs caused by mandatory across-the-board budget cuts, but the Federal Aviation Administration said it was too soon to tell.

The agency said in a statement, however, that “travelers can expect to see a wide range of delays that will change throughout the day depending on staffing and weather-related issues,” and that there were special “staffing challenges” at radar centers in New York, Dallas-Fort Worth, Jacksonville and Los Angeles. At those centers, controllers had to space airplanes farther apart so that they would not have to take on more planes than they could manage at a time.

The F.A.A. said it would not have a firm count of how many delays were the result of air traffic control staffing until Tuesday.

The agency said the public can get a snapshot of overall delays at its Web site, faa.gov.

Delays piled up throughout Monday as the airlines, including US Airways, JetBlue and Delta, were forced to cancel some flights because of cutbacks. Shuttle flights between Washington and New York were running 60 to 90 minutes late. But Southwest Airlines said it did not see any unusual delays.

Airline executives were furious over how the aviation agency handled the government-inflicted chaos, and privately said the agency was seeking to impose the maximum possible pain for passengers to make a political point. The airlines had hoped that Congress would intervene and restore some of the financing, but so far lawmakers have not acted to help the F.A.A.

The pilots’ union, and trade groups representing large airlines and regional carriers, filed a suit on Friday seeking to avert the furloughs. The F.A.A. calculated that the furloughs would affect up to 6,700 flights a day. There are 30,000 to 35,000 commercial flights a day.

On Capitol Hill on Monday, Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader, said: “Americans arriving at the airport to take off on their summer vacations already face long lines at security checkpoints. Soon they’ll face long waits in the terminal as well.”

In fact, while employees are being furloughed across the federal government, the aviation system is unusually visible, said Paul S. Hudson, the president of FlyersRights.org, the largest airline passenger organization. “The federal government does not supply direct services to the American public in most areas,” he said. “This is one that they do.” He said that members of Congress were “playing chicken” over the budget, but that they amounted to “a direct shot to the throat of the economy as well as to air travelers directly.”

Passengers found the delays irritating.

Lauren Bernstein, a television producer, was waiting at Newark Liberty International Airport for a flight to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where she was meeting three friends, all turning 30 this month, for a one-week vacation. The United Airlines flight was supposed to leave at 11:34, and about noon, gate agents announced that it would be in the air by 1 p.m. Dunkin’ Donuts in hand, and episodes of “House of Lies” loaded into her iPad, she waited.

“It’s frustrating,” she said. “You obviously don’t want them to try to put too many planes in the air with not enough people, and have safety issues. But there needs to be some solution.”

“Luckily, I do not have a connection,” she said. Her flight landed nearly two hours late.

Other passengers took the delays in stride, at least for now. Bill Perry, 48, a trucking company manager from Chattanooga, Tenn., said he had no problem waiting half an hour to help the government balance its budget. “We need to tighten up anyway, so this isn’t any big deal to me,” Mr. Perry said.

At Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, Roger Eldredge, a Delta gate agent, sought to deflect blame in explaining to passengers that Flight 486 to La Guardia would be leaving at 4:20 p.m. rather than 3:40 p.m. “If you’ve watched the news the last couple of days,” Mr. Eldredge announced, “you may understand the delay. It has nothing to do with Delta. It has to do with F.A.A. furloughs.”

Mr. Eldredge’s partner at the gate, Derek John, said the delays, typically 30 to 60 minutes, had lengthened on Monday afternoon as the slowdown compounded across the country. Mr. John said he had heard passengers grumble that Washington should solve the fiscal crisis. “But I don’t argue with safety,” he said, “so it makes sense to me.”

The controllers themselves, who face 11 unpaid days between now and the end of September, are complaining more loudly. “Our nation’s aviation system should never have been allowed to be turned into the political football that it has become,” the National Air Traffic Controllers Association said on Friday.

The F.A.A. cuts began Sunday, but airlines initially reported few problems. By Sunday evening, the situation had changed, according to a United Airlines spokeswoman, Megan McCarthy.

Some experts said it was possible that even if the reduced staffing persisted, the F.A.A. would improve its management as it got used to the situation.

One expert on air traffic, Daniel A. Baker, a spokesman for FlightAware of Houston, said that it was always difficult to parse what had caused delays, but that some appeared to be coming from staffing problems. “It can ruin your afternoon, but it’s not what people had pictured,” he said, adding that many feared worse.

Matthew L. Wald reported from Washington, and Jad Mouawad from New York. Kevin Sack contributed reporting from Atlanta.

***********

April 22, 2013

State Department Criticized by E.P.A. on Pipeline Report

By JOHN M. BRODER
NYT

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency sharply criticized the State Department’s impact statement for the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, saying the report failed to adequately consider the climate change impacts of building the pipeline or to realistically assess alternative pipeline routes or modes of transport.

In a relatively unusual public squabble between agencies, a top E.P.A. official said in a letter to State Department officials that the department’s latest environmental statement for the 1,700-mile pipeline provided “insufficient information” to adequately judge the project, and that the E.P.A. could not sign off on the pipeline unless more complete studies were performed.

The letter was one of more than a million documents submitted as part of the public comment phase of the project. At the end of February, the State Department issued an environmental-impact statement for the pipeline, saying there was no conclusive environmental or economic reason not to build the project. The pipeline would carry a heavy form of oil known as bitumen from oil sands formations in Alberta to refineries in Texas.

Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to make a recommendation to President Obama on the pipeline later this year. The State Department must determine whether the project is in the national interest because it crosses an international border.

The E.P.A. comments cheered environmentalists, who have made stopping the pipeline a major cause. But it was not clear whether it would affect the decision on the project.

Cynthia Giles, the E.P.A. assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance, said that the State Department had failed to adequately support its two fundamental conclusions supporting the project — that the climate change effects of building the pipeline would be negligible, and that Canada would develop the oil sands regardless of whether the $7 billion pipeline is built.

Ms. Giles said that the State Department significantly underestimated the long-term climate change impact of developing the Canadian oil formations. She also questioned the study’s conclusion that Canada would find other modes of transportation — chiefly rail — to ship the oil without a pipeline.

Critics of the pipeline have seized upon these two issues as reasons to veto the project. They say that Canadian oil is substantially dirtier than other forms of oil, and that if Canada cannot easily get the oil to the American market, it will slow development of the oil sands.

Anthony Swift, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the E.P.A. report “tremendous,” and said it proved that the State Department had not yet adequately considered the wide range of environmental issues that have long concerned the pipeline’s opponents.

A senior State Department official said the department had been closely working with the E.P.A. to analyze the pipeline’s environmental effects and would take the agency’s concerns into consideration.

Dan Frosch contributed reporting from Denver.

************

Hypocrite John Boehner Praises Law Enforcement for Boston While Cutting Their Funding

By: Jason Easley
Apr. 22nd, 2013
PoliticusUSA

John Boehner praised the response of federal, state, and local law enforcement in the Boston area, while his House budget slashed funding for the hiring and training of cops.

After suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was taken into custody, the Speaker said, “Tonight, the thanks of a grateful nation go out to every single federal, state, and local law enforcement official who went above and beyond to apprehend the Boston bombing suspect. It was a job well done under trying circumstances, to say the least. We are also proud of the people of Boston and Watertown for showing great resolve and assisting authorities throughout the ordeal. This has been a long day and a long week, but along the way we have gained many examples of courage and character. Humbled and inspired, let us now turn all our thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families. God bless America.”

That all sounds well and good, until you realize that the budget that Republicans passed in the House cuts federal funding for the hiring and training of local and state police officers.

According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, federal grant programs for hiring and training state and local law enforcement officers are slated for big cuts in the House passed budget.

Public safety programs that are threatened with large cuts under the Ryan budget include:

Justice Assistance Grants (JAG). Most of these grants go to help local law enforcement agencies train police officers, supply them with police cars, bulletproof vests, and other equipment, and cover overtime. The rest help states and localities operate other aspects of their criminal justice systems, including prosecuting criminals, taking other actions to reduce crime, and protecting victims and witnesses.

Funds to hire state & local police officers (COPS). These funds help state and local law enforcement agencies hire police officers. In 2012, these grants helped to fund or maintain more than 800 law enforcement positions nationally.

This hypocrisy is nothing new. Last year, Boehner issued a statement praising first responders in Aurora, CO for their quick actions, while the House’s 2012 budget called for deep cuts in federal funding for first responders. In 2011, House Republicans tried to slash $100 billion in funding for first responders. While running for vice president last year, Rep. Paul Ryan praised first responders on 9/11, while proposing a $12 billion cut in first responder funding.

If you want to know how Republicans feel about law enforcement and first responders, don’t listen to their words. All you have to do is read their budgets to understand where the Republican Party’s true priorities are. If House Republicans are grateful for the jobs that law enforcement officers and first responders do, they could show their appreciation by not trying to slash their budgets.

When it comes to praise from John Boehner and his House Republicans, actions really do speak louder than words.

*********

The GOP’s Boston-inspired Insanity

By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Apr. 22nd, 2013
PoliticusUSA

Erik Rush TweetYou don’t even have to read the article to see how perfectly a piece like, Why can’t Negroes Understand How Awesome the GOP is? grasps the underlying point: that where any group outside of white Evangelicals is concerned (and not even all of them – see here and here), the GOP is completely out of touch with America. As Joshua Holland wrote recently on AlterNet, “right-wingers in Congress…represent a whole different country.” It’s the country of their dreams, certainly, but it is not the country in which we actually live.

It might seem strange to objective observers that arch-conservative George F. Will told Republicans on ABC’s This Week recently that “conservatism begins with facing facts,” because there is no visible evidence to support his contention. Rather, Republicans have proven themselves to be fantasy fan-boys par excellence. A scientific study even gives the lie to Wills’ claim, revealing that conservatives are more likely than liberals to twist facts in favor of their moral convictions. Imagine a liberal’s surprise. After all, it wasn’t a liberal suggesting that if a Muslim exploded a couple of bombs in Boston that all Muslims should be killed. Or a little less extreme, perhaps: if a Muslim blows somebody up, ban all Muslims from entering America. Shouldn’t the same standard apply when a Christian kills somebody?

It would help if the GOP would get with the program, meaning, with our shared reality: a place where logic must, of necessity, apply. But they don’t like our shared reality – our present any more than our past. That’s why people like David Barton make money re-writing that past. That’s why gay people are responsible for North Korea’s threatening to nuke everybody. That’s why abortion is responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing.

Their wishful, imaginary present is not supported by our past (let alone by our present), so to make the present relevant, they must re-write the past (and the present) to justify it. It’s a mess. One lie begets another. So public school textbooks teach that the Bible is history and that the Iliad and Odyssey are mythology and that many other beliefs are folklore. Even more bizarrely, science fact is relegated to “unproven” and “theory” while the Bible is held to be the indisputable, inerrant word of a God that cannot be proven to exist. And “gay rights are not equal to civil rights because being black is not a sin.” But what is sin, after all? Sin is merely “missing the mark” in the original Greek. I think most liberals would agree as to who is actually missing the mark here.

These attempts to obfuscate remind me a bit of an episode of the British comedy The Black Adder, in which one of Edmund the Black Adder’s cronies tells him that the eyes of the Spanish Infanta are “as blue as the blue stone of Galveston”:

    Percy: You know, they do say that the Infanta’s eyes are more beautiful than the famous Stone of Galveston.
    Edmund: Mm! … What?
    Percy: The famous Stone of Galveston, My Lord.
    Edmund: And what’s that, exactly?
    Percy: Well, it’s a famous blue stone, and it comes … from Galveston.
    Edmund: I see. And what about it?
    Percy: Well, My Lord, the Infanta’s eyes are bluer than it, for a start.
    Edmund: I see. And have you ever seen this stone?
    Percy: (nods) No, not as such, My Lord, but I know a couple of people who have, and they say it’s very very blue indeed.
    Edmund: And have these people seen the Infanta’s eyes?
    Percy: No, I shouldn’t think so, My Lord.
    Edmund: And neither have you, presumably.
    Percy: No, My Lord.
    Edmund: So, what you’re telling me, Percy, is that something you have never seen is slightly less blue than something else you have never seen.
    Percy: (finally begins to grasp) Yes, My Lord.

Percy finally began to grasp the weakness of his position. Sadly, the Republicans have not, and what’s worse than being more clueless than an utterly clueless TV character? The answer is very little.

Republicans have shown at every opportunity that they are incapable of grasping such an elementary truth. Ideology forbids any such admissions. Letting logic intrude leaves a Republican open to charges of being a RINO, or “Republican in name only.” Accepting actual facts leaves a Republican open to charges of “compromise.” As in, you can’t let facts or truth play any part in repeating an ideological or doctrinal statement. So a couple of crazies who blow people up in Boston are not as they seem: they are living proof that Democrats are terrorists and should not be allowed to own guns and that gay people should not have rights. Without causality there is no reality and the GOP has shown its disdain for causality.

You can readily see how there can be no role for science (or sanity) in a Republican America, let alone America’s contentious historical record. I am thinking, of course, of our treatment of blacks, of Native Americans, of women, of workers, of religious minorities, of foreign countries who had the temerity to think they had the right to govern themselves. If you look at America’s track record in Latin America, you see an analogy with regard to the female reproductive system. Rather than being a thing in and of itself, Latin America is an adjunct to the United States, its “back yard.” In the same way, a woman (and her reproductive system) are an adjunct to man, a sort of backyard or playground for his penis and without any real purpose of its own.

Republicans like to beat people over the head with the Bible, it is true, but they also like to beat people over the head with their penises, and from where I am standing, one prospect is every bit as unsavory as the other. I mean, look, the Bible was written by a group representing about 1% of Israel’s population. They were all well-off. They all had penises. Nobody writing the Bible, Old or New Testament, had a vagina (or even a passing familiarity with one, seemingly). The Republican Party Platform compares well to this, also being written by men; men probably as unconcerned about what women might want or think as the authors of the Bible.

It would not be so bad if the GOP did not insist on forcibly sharing their mental shortcomings with the rest of us. God is punishing us for this; God is punishing us for that. I mean, if they wanted to indulge in their bizarre fantasies, we would all be fine with it, probably. I mean, they’d lose every election, for starters (no downside there!). Even with all the corporate money in the world and gerrymandered congressional districts, they’re having a hard time staying relevant. But they insist on “sharing” their “largesse” with the rest of us, almost literally at gun-point. But we can no more agree that their platform is spot on than we can agree that the earth if flat or that God makes tornadoes, hurricanes, and volcanic eruptions. We can be told that up is down and down is up, and they can even print it in school textbooks, but gravity is going to expose the lie every time.

It is less easy to expose Republican lies, particularly if it is insisted that God is the guy responsible for the effects of gravity, leaving us trapped in their nut-house. And worse, it is the way of things to roll downhill, unfortunately. It is the Republicans who like to talk about America being sodomized, but if their god (aka “God”) has his cock up the GOP’s ass, it won’t take much brainpower to realize where THEIR cock is right now. That’s right: squirm America. Feel free to scream.


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« Reply #5922 on: Apr 24, 2013, 07:22 AM »


Enrico Letta nominated as Italy's new prime minister

Deputy leader of centre-left Democratic party agrees to form coalition government after two months of political stalemate

Lizzy Davies in Rome
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 24 April 2013 12.21 BST   

Italy appeared to be on the verge of resolving its weeks-long political stalemate after the country's president asked a senior figure in the centre-left Democratic party (PD) to form a grand coalition government including Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right People of Freedom (PdL) party.

Enrico Letta, deputy leader of the PD, said he had accepted a mandate to become Italy's prime minister-designate with "a sense of deep responsibility" given the "very difficult, fragile, unprecedented" situation of the country.

"The country is waiting for a government. Everyone knows this is situation that cannot go on like this," he said, adding that politics in Italy had "lost all credibility".

Letta said he would try to form "a government of service to the country".

He was speaking after meeting Giorgio Napolitano, who was re-elected head of state at the weekend. The 87-year-old said he had chosen Letta because he was from a younger generation but already had significant experience in parliament.

Letta will now have to pick ministers for his cabinet. The government, which is expected to make the reform of Italy's electoral law and the restarting of its stagnant economy its priorities, will then face confidence votes in parliament. Letta, at 46, would become one of Europe's youngest leaders.

The move comes after two months of political paralysis in which the centre-left under Pier Luigi Bersani failed to form a minority government, was rebuffed by the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and refused to enter into a grand coalition with Berlusconi's PdL. Bersani, severely compromised by the deadlock and by the chaotic presidential election that followed, has now resigned.

Letta, who was his deputy for four years, is viewed as a moderate who has support within in his own party and is not unacceptable to the centre-right. His uncle, Gianni Letta, is one of Berlusconi's senior aides.

Giuliano Amato, a former prime minister who had also been tipped for the role, said he was "absolutely" satisfied with Napolitano's selection of Letta. Fittingly for a week of swirling speculation and political intrigue, the 74-year-old Amato was on his way to an exhibition, opening on Thursday, celebrating Machiavelli's The Prince.

The other protagonist in the drama, Matteo Renzi, the young mayor of Florence who on Tuesday had appeared to have the backing of many in his party, was reported on Wednesday to have been effectively blocked as a possible premier by Berlusconi.

The billionaire former prime minister was quoted as having told allies he did not want to give a helping hand to the man he believes will be his most formidable opponent in the future.


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« Reply #5923 on: Apr 24, 2013, 07:28 AM »


Serbia's unabated quest for coal causes tremors among mining communities

Development bank continues to fund coal projects as Serbia proves another frontline in battle between energy and environment

Claire Provost in Serbia   
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 24 April 2013 12.03 BST   

Vitomir Simić, 53, points at the faded, black and white photograph of his parents, still hanging on the wall of the home he abandoned in Radljevo, a village south-west of Belgrade, Serbia. Its modest frame hides only an inch of the giant fractures that ripped open the walls of the house where he was born, and forced him and his three children to flee.

Simić works nearby in the Kolubara coal mine, helping to maintain the giant excavators that gouge the earth day and night. This relentless quest for coal has expanded the boundaries of the mines, threatening whole villages and causing the landslides and tremors that have destroyed homes like his. Like many others from the villages in the Kolubara basin, Simić has been displaced by the very mine he works for.

Kolubara is the heart of Serbia's coal-dependent energy sector, and the fact that it powers every second lightbulb in the country is savoured by politicians and state officials increasingly under pressure to justify its social and environmental impact. In recent years, Kolubara has been marred by complaints from local communities, targeted by environmental campaigners, and tainted by allegations of corruption.

Tensions between the mine and local residents escalated in 2011 when hundreds of police arrived in Vreoci, 10km from Radljevo, to stand guard as workers dug up the village cemetery. "We were under siege," recalls Zeljko Stojković, a community activist with the Ecological Society Vreoci, a local NGO. Not only was it painful for those with relatives in the cemetery, he says, but it stands as a prime example of how the mine is choosing what to move, and how, based on its needs alone.

"It was done by force to expand the field," says Stojković, who was also president of the village council at the time of the excavation. "Our demand was first they give us a plan for collective resettlement, including public infrastructure, and not first the graveyard and leave people here with all these pits."
MDG Serbia Vitomir Simić indicates damage to the wall of the home he abandoned in Radljevo, a village south of Belgrade, Serbia. Photograph: Claire Provost/guardian.co.uk

While Radljevo is now on the frontline of Kolubara's westward expansion, Vreoci is at the centre of the complex, sandwiched between two of its largest pits. This has had devastating consequences for the local environment, says Stojković. "All the coal comes through Vreoci … and all negative impacts remain here, even waste water from this dirty processing ends up in the centre of the village. There are health problems, breathing problems, cancers, life expectancy is shortened. People are constantly under stress."

Politicians and state officials are quick to argue that Kolubara's expansion is critical to securing a stable supply of electricity for the country and that in comparison, complaints are very few. "Usually, the demands have been met. If you look at it [people are] mainly satisfied," says Dragan Alimpijev, mayor of Lazarevac, the municipality to which Vreoci belongs. "People who are complaining, it is not a large number."

"The problem is this from the past: we could not move the mines," says Ljubomir Aksentijevic, special adviser to Serbia's energy minister, who acknowledges that the resettlement of homes near the mines has moved too slowly but argues that a distinction must be drawn "between individual cases, which can be tragic, and the general picture". The government is working to avoid problems like this, he says, and will plan for new hydropower plants, for example, to be built away from settlements.

This is likely to be little consolation to Stojković, whose organisation is now trying to hold Kolubara's financiers to account. In July 2011, more than 70 people travelled from Vreoci to the Belgrade offices of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), to demand it take responsibility for the actions of Elektroprivreda Srbija (EPS), the state energy company that owns the Kolubara mine.

Last year, the Ecological Society Vreoci and the village council filed a formal complaint (pdf) with the EBRD, requesting that the bank suspends its support for activities in Kolubara until the entire resettlement of Vreoci is completed.

"The EBRD … [should] put pressure on Kolubara and EPS to respect the rights of the inhabitants and the right to a healthy environment and the survival of the community. Not only to give money to the client and not control his behaviour," Stojkovi insists. "The bank cannot turn a blind eye to this, saying the credit it gives does not have negative impacts."

Headquartered in London, the EBRD is an international financial institution owned by 64 mainly European countries, the European Union and the European Investment Bank. Its mandate is to promote private sector development and open market economies. The UK is one of its major shareholders.

The EBRD has given millions in loans to EPS over the past decade and is considering financing a new lignite-fired power plant, Kolubara B. In 2011, it agreed with KfW, the German development bank, to finance the purchase of mining equipment and new systems to reduce the variability of the coal from Kolubara that gets sent to power stations.

In a polished office in New Belgrade, EBRD senior adviser Ian Brown says the bank's 2011 loan is not about expanding the mines but about making operations more efficient, reducing emissions and local pollution. The resettlement of Vreoci is not directly related to the bank's investment, he says, flatly: "We are well aware of Vreoci … but it is not a direct part of EBRD's investment."

With a per capita GNI just over $5,690 - below that of Colombia and South Africa and just ahead of Peru and the Domincan Republic - Serbia is a middle-income country and one of only a handlful of European states that remain on the OECD list of countries eligible for official development assistance, or aid. With unemployment standing at around 27%, and rising daily, job creation is an urgent priority.

Development banks like the EBRD and the World Bank have been criticised for years for continuing to finance large coal projects while also committing to tackle climate change. Environmental campaigners in Serbia also argue that continued support for coal mines in the country will undermine its search for renewable energy and damage its ability to meet EU targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

But Matteo Patrone, head of the EBRD office in Belgrade, says it would be unrealistic and economically unsustainable for Serbia to abandon lignite. "We cannot avoid coming to terms with the reality of this country, which is dependent on lignite. What we can do is improve the conditions of the use of lignite," he says. "Projects like this will not change the world but will probably improve the conditions of the reality which is there."

Simić now lives in Ub, a small town 10km west of Radljevo, where he says housing is more expensive than in the villages. Despite his grievances, however, he insists he is not against the mine. "It gives us work. It is necessary for the whole country. I'm not against the mine. I don't want to obstruct their work," he says.

Zvezdan Kalmar, from the Centre for Ecology and Sustainable Development, a Serbian NGO, says the government and the EBRD should pull their money out of coal and put it into renewable energy and energy efficiency projects instead, like insulating and retrofitting homes to make better use of energy. Estimates suggest that Kolubara's coal reserves will last only another 30 to 50 years, and making the mines more efficient might mean fewer workers are needed, he warns. "In energy efficiency and renewables there are more jobs, and more sustainable jobs, not like in Kolubara. We need to open that market."

Alimpijev says his office is thinking hard about the future after coal but that investors have shown little interest in alternatives. "We have a lot of projects to build new factories and firms but at this moment we do not have enough funds to invest."


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« Reply #5924 on: Apr 24, 2013, 07:34 AM »


Croatia: Respecting the rule of law

23 April 2013
Le Temps Geneva

Croatia will join the European Union on July 1, the first such entry since the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008. But this should not mean that membership conditions concerning respect for the rule of law are sidestepped, as there were for some states in the last enlargement.

Jean-Sylvestre Mongrenier

The Eurozone crisis and the ensuing economic woes are monopolising the attention of European leaders, yet enlargement continues apace. On July 1, Croatia will become the 28th member of the European Union. The EU's historic mission into its hinterlands and to its boundaries must not overshadow the strain the European project is under and the scepticism of public opinion towards it.

The previous entry, in early 2007, revealed a certain lack of preparation on the part of the new members. Romania and Bulgaria were far from the level required, particularly regarding the rule of law and the battle against corruption and organised crime. To make up for the delay in meeting their commitments, the EU Commission had to devise a cooperation and monitoring system but, even today, neither Bulgaria nor Romania are capable of joining the Schengen Area.

Certainly, the EU has learned some lessons from this and proceeded cautiously when it came to Croatia. The number of issues addressed during the entry negotiations was increased and Brussels designed a specific, reinforced monitoring system. The idea was to allow the Commission to evaluate to what degree the entry requirements were being respected. Croatia's entry into the Schengen Area is also subject to specific requirements.

If the March 28 monitoring report is to be believed, Croatia is ready to join the EU. The EU Heads of state and government approved the entry more than a year ago. The entry treaty for Croatia is on course for ratification and has been ratified by 19 of the 27 member states.
Respecting the rule of law

Nonetheless, the report calls attention to the progress required to improve the judiciary. More specifically, it calls for the need to respect the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary. In Croatia, as in Romania or even Hungary, cases concerning former prime ministers were not always carried out according to European legal standards.

The case of Ivo Sanader, the head of Croatia's government from 2003 to 2009 is telling. The trial in which he was found guilty of corruption in an affair involving a hostile take-over bid of Hungarian energy firm MOL, as well as some German-Austrian banks, was hailed as progress towards the rule of law. Yet it seems that some of the expert opinions were arbitrarily ignored, with little respect for procedure. In the end, the ruling condemned the decision to authorise the sale of the leading national energy company to a foreign competitor but did not address the corruption charges. This is a far cry from an independent judiciary, in line with European standards.

This weakness in the rule of law exists, to varying degrees, in several east and central European countries; it is a by-product of the legacy of the authoritarian practices of regimes in eastern Europe. This state of affairs feeds the pessimism of a large part of these populations thus contributing to the intense strain on the European project. EU enlargement seems devoid of meaning, in other words, of significance and of direction.

Boomerang effect

These kinds of attitudes can result in a boomerang effect, especially since the Eurozone crisis is leading to a lack of understanding, even to hostility. This explosive cocktail could imperil the central aim of enlargement – creating a vast pan-European commonwealth based on a common idea of law and justice.

Therefore, any new enlargement must be subjected to strict reforms aimed at establishing the rule of law – in theory as well as in practice. The lessons learned from Croatia's entry must be incorporated into the Commission's enlargement strategy. This requires stricter criteria for entry and more careful monitoring to ensure their respect by the current candidates (Serbia and Macedonia) and by any future candidates (from other republics of the former Yugoslavia or Albania).

In the end, it is of crucial importance for the EU to place the rule of law at the centre of its enlargement policy and to extend the rule of law to its neighbours. Europe's "Grand Idea" joins up with Immanuel Kant's perpetual peace project and devising such a confederation of free republics would be a civilising step.


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