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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1079248 times)
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« Reply #6120 on: May 02, 2013, 07:03 AM »

Syria is being destroyed while Assad displays remarkable staying power

Two years in, the president still has powerful foreign friends and significant defections from the Alawite hard core are still absent

Ian Black, Wednesday 1 May 2013 18.42 BST   

It is one of the enduring features of the Syrian crisis that Bashar al-Assad has proved far more resilient than many imagined. Journalists and commentators have spent the past two years negotiating a landscape strewn with propaganda, illusions and substantial doses of wishful thinking, finally to grasp that he has real staying power.

The president still has loyal, powerful allies, as Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's leader, made clear on Tuesday. Lebanon's Shia militia, he pledged, would stand by its fellow stalwart of the "axis of resistance". Russia and Iran – "real friends" – would not let Assad fall.

Syria illustrates a sort of Middle Eastern Murphy's law – anything that can make things worse invariably happens: massacres, refugees fleeing to Jordan, tensions in Lebanon and Iraq, the use of chemical weapons, the risk of conflict with Israel. Most days see scores or more dead so that a revision of the UN's estimate of 70,000 fatalities seems long overdue. Diplomacy is non-existent. No one believes in a negotiated solution. Syria is being destroyed.

It would be wrong to describe the mood in Damascus as upbeat – it is a tense and frightened city that resounds constantly to the noise of war. But there is a sense in Syrian government circles that their arguments are starting to hit home.

Assad insisted from the start that he faced not a popular uprising for democracy and freedom – the template of the early days of the Arab spring – but "armed terrorist gangs" financed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar and supposedly allied with the US, Turkey and Israel.

Like all successful propaganda, some parts of this pitch were true, others blatantly false. Arab enmity is real enough. But the Islamist character of the uprising has been exaggerated. The US has done little more than co-ordinate arms deliveries by the Gulf states – with Barack Obama stamping on more proactive proposals by the CIA and Pentagon.

The fact that Syria's fractured opposition is so scathing about Washington has barely dented the grand conspiracy theory. Israel preferred the devil it knew in Damascus – and a Golan front that had been peaceful for 40 years – to the uncertainties of post-Assad chaos. Weapons supplied to Hezbollah by Iran are far superior to anything yet given to the Syrian rebels.

Now Assad says that the enemy is al-Qaida and that Syria and the west should be on the same side. There is certainly alarm as the Free Syrian Army (FSA) loses ground to the jihadi Jabhat al-Nusra. Thus the vetting of FSA men being trained in Jordan to fight on a new "southern front" centred on Daraa. But Jordan frets too about Syrian threats and the risk of blowback.

Following the flurry over chemical weapons, leaving the impression that US "red lines" can be surprisingly flexible, the latest signal from Washington is that Obama is considering "lethal" aid to the rebels if Russia fails to change tack and pressure Assad. Opposition expectations of the US, however, remain low.

Foreign friends apart, regime resilience is still part of the big picture. Military gains have been made in counter-attacks near Idlib and Damascus and rebel supply lines hit hard. Academic Thomas Pierret emphasises the "kin-based/sectarian character of the military" and the absence, still, of significant defections from the Alawite hard core of the army and security forces.

Syrians point out that the Assad family prepared for this crisis for decades, internally and externally. The president and his men talk of fighting to save the country and of elections in May 2014: that's another fearful year away with little prospect of immediate change and a reasonable expectation of still worse yet to come.

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« Reply #6121 on: May 02, 2013, 07:05 AM »

May 1, 2013

Photos Show Vast Destruction of Nigerian Homes in Raid, Group Says


MAIDUGURI, Nigeria — Satellite images corroborate the accounts of residents of a fishing village north of here who say that thousands of their homes were destroyed by fire during a recent storm of violence carried out by rampaging soldiers, according to Human Rights Watch.

The images show “massive destruction of civilian property” during a military raid on April 16 and 17, the organization said in a statement released early Wednesday. The raid was set off by a clash between gunmen presumed to be members of the radical Islamist group Boko Haram and a military unit based in the town, in which one soldier was killed. Residents said the soldiers then retaliated randomly against civilians, burning their houses and shooting them. Perhaps more than 200 civilians were killed, they said.

The satellite photographs show about 2,275 destroyed buildings, Human Rights Watch said, “undermining the military’s claim that only 30 houses were destroyed.” The group also said that the high number of burned buildings and “their distribution across large sections of the town” indicated that the fires had been “intentionally set and not inadvertently sparked by the detonation of rocket-propelled grenades or improvised explosive devices,” as some in the military have said in attributing the carnage to Boko Haram.

The Human Rights Watch assessment was consistent with the accounts of residents, who said soldiers had set the fires as a form of sweeping retribution for the death of one of their own. In interviews last week in Maiduguri, the state capital, refugees said soldiers doused homes with gasoline before setting them ablaze, with occupants inside. Residents also said soldiers indiscriminately shot at civilians, sometimes picking them off as they fled the flames.

For now, Nigeria’s government appears to be standing by earlier military denials of mass civilian casualties at the village, Baga, a standard response after similar episodes in the past. The local commander said last week that only six people had died, although the federal senator who represents Baga, Maina Lawan, told Human Rights Watch and the Nigerian news media that more than 220 residents were buried after the disaster.

In an unusual acknowledgment of possible culpability by the government, however, the Nigerian news media quoted President Goodluck Jonathan as saying this week that “investigations must continue.”

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« Reply #6122 on: May 02, 2013, 07:10 AM »

Why Britain is wrong to cut aid to South Africa

This slap in the face represents a failure to recognise that the UK is partly to blame for ongoing inequality and poverty in the region

Jeremy Kuper for the Guardian Africa network, Thursday 2 May 2013 12.02 BST   

South Africa remains a nation with two parallel economies co-existing side by side. On the one hand it has the infrastructure and economy of a successful developed country, but on the other there are millions of – mainly black – poor, hungry and dispossessed people often lacking basic education, merely subsisting as they struggle to survive.

Nearly 20 years after the end of apartheid, the disparity between rich and poor is (arguably) getting wider, even though South Africa has been overtaken by Brazil as the most unequal society in the world. The reasons for this may be obvious, with most economists agreeing that there is no fast way to equality.

Yes, you might say, why don't the rich white, black and Asian South Africans pay for this, and they already do. After the US, South Africans give more to charity than any other nation. It is simply not enough. Not that £19m from the UK makes a huge difference, but it is symbolic support for a few, and this is why the British government is wrong to end this lifeline.

Firstly, South Africa is, and has always been the most strategically important African country to Britain. It is a major exporter of gold, diamonds and uranium, the region has huge copper reserves and Britain has historically been the country's largest trading partner. If Britain loses its position as a key player in these markets, other EU states and China will see their stock rise in this part of Africa.

Next, this is a perceived slap in the face and represents yet another failure of British diplomacy in southern Africa. Ironically the last time British overseas policy was successful in the region was in 1979, when the incoming prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, forced through a negotiated settlement in Rhodesia to pave the way for the independence – the Lancaster House agreement. Since then there have only been failures.

Thatcher damaged brand UK throughout the 1980 through her support for the apartheid regime. People like the Conservative MP Sir Teddy Taylor regularly called for Mandela to be hanged, and was never reprimanded. The frosty relations between the Tories and the ANC were witnessed at Thatcher's recent funeral to which the ANC refused to send any senior officials. Why should they, when she called Mandela a terrorist.

The next huge failure was Clare Short's letter to Mugabe in 1997. It was in this letter that she told the previously Anglophile dictator (who greatly admired Thatcher and the Queen) that "We do not accept Britain has a special responsibility to meet the cost of land purchases in Zimbabwe." She went on to lecture Mugabe that, being of Irish descent, it had nothing to do with her anyway.

In any case, she provoked Mugabe's wrath by reneging on the aforementioned 1979 Lancaster House peace agreement, which acknowledged Britain's responsibility to help resolve the land issue. This colonial land grab helped to create the gaping inequality in Zimbabwe when Britain invaded the country less than 100 earlier and divided the land among the English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh settlers.

The Clare Short letter unleashed the final wave of farm seizures which
effectively led to the ethnic cleansing of Zimbabwe's white minority.

Britain would do well to remember that Thatcher, through her support for the apartheid regime to protect British mining and banking interests, helped to perpetuate the inequality that persists in South Africa to this day. Ultimately this has damaged British interests in the region.

There is just not enough money available to fix South Africa overnight. Britain is definitely partly responsible – had it applied sanctions as the Americans did, apartheid may have ended earlier. The inequality this aid is intended to address would have been less pronounced. And this is not something that happened centuries ago, but in the 1980s.

Finally, the International Development Secretary Justine Greening would do well to remember that as MP for Putney, home to thousands of South Africans, this move will damage her stock, Cameron's stock, and ultimately the country's.

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« Reply #6123 on: May 02, 2013, 07:12 AM »

SARS-like virus kills 5 Saudis

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, May 2, 2013 7:29 EDT

Five Saudis have died of a new SARS-like virus during the past few days and two more are being treated in an intensive care unit, the health ministry said.

In a statement cited by the Saudi SPA agency late on Wednesday, the ministry said that all the deaths occurred in the Ahsaa province in the oil-rich eastern region of the kingdom.

Known as novel coronavirus or hCoV-EMC, the virus was first detected in mid-2012 and is a cousin of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which triggered a scare 10 years ago when it erupted in east Asia, leaping to humans from animal hosts.

The health ministry said it is taking “all precautionary measures for persons who have been in contact with the infected people… and has taken samples from them to examine if they are infected.”

However, the ministry gave no figures for how many people have been examined to see if they have the lethal disease.

Sixteen people have now died from 23 cases detected in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Germany and Britain. Riyadh has accounted for most of the deaths, with 11 people including the five new fatalities.

Coronaviruses cause most common colds and pneumonia, but are also to blame for unusual conditions such as SARS which killed more than 800 people when it swept out of China in 2003.

The new virus is different from SARS, in that it causes rapid kidney failure.

The strain is shrouded in mystery, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) does not yet know how it is transmitted or how widespread it is.

A 73-year-old Saudi man died in Germany in March from the lethal new virus. He had been travelling in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia before falling ill, and was transferred to Munich from Abu Dhabi on March 19.
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« Reply #6124 on: May 02, 2013, 07:15 AM »

Zambian vice-president: 'South Africans are backward'

Guy Scott wastes little time on diplomatic language as he lets loose on Africa's biggest economy, race, Mugabe and gay rights

David Smith in Lusaka, Wednesday 1 May 2013 15.13 BST   

One of the most colourful men in African politics happens to be white. Guy Scott is the vice-president of Zambia but his race is probably the least exceptional thing about him.

On a recent afternoon in the capital, Lusaka, Scott held court with the kind of candour – and eccentricity – seldom heard from today's media-honed political class. He dismissed South Africans as "backward", insisted that Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe wants to quit, and discussed Zambia by way of references to Marlon Brando and the Klingon empire.

The 68-year-old grandfather was just back from Margaret Thatcher's funeral in London when he took the Guardian on an impromptu tour of an emerald auction at the InterContinental Lusaka hotel. Discussing similar auctions in India with a deferential salesman, Scott said: "Jaipur is a terrible dump. It produces nothing but zinc."

As officials fluttered around him, Scott, wearing a dark suit, blue striped shirt and blue and red tie, was informed that the Hollywood actor Mila Kunis recently visited a local mine as an "ambassador" for Zambian emeralds. "How come I didn't see her?" he pondered morosely.

The son of English and Scottish immigrants – his father Alexander was also an MP here – Scott then gave an interview that wasted little time on diplomatic language. Discussing neighbouring Zimbabwe, where Mugabe has ruled for 33 years, he disclosed: "I think if you asked him he'd say it was enough. That's what he said to us a few months ago. I said the way forward in African democracy is the way we do it in Zambia. He said, 'I absolutely agree, I wish it would happen to me.'"

As in lose an election? "Yes, and a smooth handover. I think he meant it, or he was toying with the idea of meaning it. He wanted to hear how it sounded, maybe. Or something."

Scott went on to describe 89-year-old Mugabe's persona. "He's a funny chap. He seems to doze off and then he suddenly laughs at a joke while in the middle of dozing. And very articulate, without a note, without a scrap of anything.

"He's an anglophone. He loves to give lectures on the English language, English weighing systems, English this or that. He was a teacher and so he taught himself all that."

Zambian president Michael Sata – whom Scott refers to as "the boss" – is known to be on friendly terms with Mugabe, who used to work as a teacher in Zambia. "I'm sure any good African nationalist admires Mugabe," the vice-president added. "Racism in Zimbabwe is a serious issue. I  was sent to school down there and it was like being in the Hitler Youth: the theories about black inferiority and this kind of stuff.

"It was a whites-only school; they tried to introduce an Indian and he was hounded out at the instigation of the parents of the boys. I think Mugabe is a product of having to contend with that."

But Scott has far less time for South Africa, the continent's biggest economy. "The South Africans are very backward in terms of historical development," he said. "I hate South Africans. That's not a fair thing to say because I like a lot of South Africans but they really think they're the bees' knees and actually they've been the cause of so much trouble in this part of the world.

"I have a suspicion the blacks model themselves on the whites now that they're in power. 'Don't you know who we are, man?'"

Scott scoffed at the inclusion of South Africa in the Brics grouping of emerging economies. "They think in Brics that the 's' actually stands for South Africa whereas it stands for Africa. Nobody would want to go in for a partnership with Brazil, China, India and South Africa for Christ's sake.

"I dislike South Africa for the same reason that Latin Americans dislike the United States, I think. It's just too big and too unsubtle."

Warming to his theme, Scott let rip at South African President Jacob Zuma, comparing him with the last apartheid leader, FW de Klerk. "He's very like De Klerk. He tells us, 'You just leave Zimbabwe to me.' Excuse me, who the hell liberated you anyway, was it not us? I mean, I quite like him, he seems a rather genial character but I pity him his advisers."

Fewer than 40,000 of Zambia's 13 million-strong population are white. Scott, a wildly popular MP for Lusaka, notes that the country has more than 80 tribes and several major language groups. "That doesn't add up to a bipolar formula for the scrap" along racial lines.

He became vice-president in 2011 but his presence baffles some African leaders at high-level meetings. "I think they regard me as a sort of mascot, a good luck charm for African politics. Michael's very clever, he knows people tend to regard him as a racist because he talks rough.

"He's usually tried it out on me already. He says things like, 'What would you be if you weren't white?' I said, 'The president?' That shut him up."

But opposition parties have accused the Sata-Scott leadership of orchestrating violence, banning rallies, throwing dissenters in jail and dragging Zambia towards authoritarianism. Scott sarcastically predicted that opponents would complain to the Commonwealth, then the UN and, if still unsuccessful, the Klingon empire.

"It's a wheeze, it's an attempt I suppose based on some of the stuff that took place in Russia to denounce a government rather than eject it," he said. "But I really am very hard-pressed to find a corner I can sit in and believe that we're looking at a one-party state again."

He added: "It doesn't help that people don't know where Zambia is and they don't know what Zambia is like. If you were to write a story about America getting out of hand and going to a one-party state, everybody knows so much about the United States that they won't believe you.

"If you say, 'Somewhere over there in the African hinterland, not far from where Marlon Brando had a house surrounded by stakes with heads of his enemies on, not far from the Congo, there's a place where there's a one-party state …' Well, there probably is, probably several. And so it's a lot easier for that because there's no built-in balance."

One recent incident in which Zambia's civil liberties credentials took a battering, however, was the arrest of a human rights activist who had appeared on live TV calling for homosexuality to be decriminalised.

Scott admitted: "The problem with this guy going on television was that we had to do something because if we had done absolutely nothing we would have got a bollocking from all these evangelical churches plus damn idiots. On the other hand, we didn't want to give him a particularly hard ride."

As newspapers and TV shows whipped up homophobia, Scott set out priorities that offer little consolation to anyone who is gay. "I think you've got so much cleaning up to do of killings and defilements and this and that, it's almost self-indulgent to think, 'Well, why don't we sit here and talk about gay rights?'

"It's indulgent politics that assumes yes, we don't actually have 7 million unemployed people. Realistically, I think even an average gay, if you gave him a list of all the concerns Zambia had, would not necessarily put gay rights on top."

He went on: "There's tonnes of gay joints in this town. Well, not tonnes but they're there, well known. It's entirely the same phenonemon you get anywhere else. It's live and let live. Stirring up and making it worse, that is the biggest danger. Let sleeping dogs lie is an easier policy."

If Sata were to die in office, Scott would make history as the first democratic white leader in Africa, albeit as a three-month caretaker until an election was held. Seeking the presidency full-time would be "a bridge too far" for qualifying rules because his parents were born outside the country.

Scott, whose wife is from Greenwich, south-east London, has health worries of his own, including a right hand that trembles slightly. "It's possibly Parkinson's, I haven't had it diagnosed yet." He is also concerned about possible cancer under one eye. "In my age group, there is on average six things wrong with you at any one time."

Scott departed, stepping into a lift and flanked by security guards, making a quip about how many emeralds he could conceal in his hand.

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« Reply #6125 on: May 02, 2013, 07:23 AM »

The Christian Science Monitor

Bolivia's Evo Morales says 'adiós' to USAID

By Sara Shahriari, Correspondent / May 1, 2013 at 4:45 pm EDT
La Paz, Bolivia

Bolivia's President Evo Morales announced today that his government will expel the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The move coincides with Bolivia's annual May Day celebration, which has been used in the past as a date for President Morales to announce big moves like nationalizing the country's oil and gas industry.

"They still believe that they can manipulate politically and economically, but those times have passed," Morales said of the US. He later accused USAID, which acts as the US government's humanitarian arm abroad, of attempting to influence local leaders through its programs, and objected to Secretary of State John Kerry's recent reference to Latin America as The United States' "backyard."

This is not the first time tensions have run high between the two countries. Bolivia ejected the US ambassador in 2008, claiming collaboration between the US Embassy and opposition political groups in Bolivia's eastern lowlands. The US subsequently expelled Bolivia's ambassador to Washington. That same year, Morales ended the US Drug Enforcement Agency's decades-long presence in the country.

"The United States government deeply regrets the Bolivian government's decision to expel the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). We deny the baseless allegations made by the Bolivian government," the organization said in a statement published on its website. According to USAID Bolivia, the organizations focuses on health, sustainable development, and environmental programs here.
'Longstanding mistrust'

Morales, a former coca farmer who remains the leader of the Andean nation's largest coca growers union, has often spoken of his experience in the country's central Chapare region, where US-backed drug eradication policies led to sometimes violent conflicts with local residents. Since his 2005 presidential victory, Morales has clashed with the US over how to manage this indigenous crop.

"Morales's contentious relationship with USAID originated as a result of the largely ineffective alternative development programs it enacted in the Chapare region, which at the peak of forced eradication required coca growers to eliminate their coca and leave unions before they receive aid," says Kathryn Ledebur, director of the Andean Information Network, a Bolivia-based advocacy group.

"This longstanding mistrust was exacerbated after his election when the government accused USAID of working with opposition groups to undermine his administration," says Ms. Ledebur.

Funding for US military, economic, and social aid to Bolivia has decreased dramatically in recent years as Morales pushed back against US influence, falling from a total of more than 85 million dollars in 2009 to a projected 20 million in 2012, according to information aggregated by Just the Facts, a guide to defense and security assistance. Despite that decrease in funding, Bolivia's overall economic situation has improved in recent years.

Today's announcement comes days after a Bolivian court ruled that Morales can run for a third term in 2014. First elected in 2005, the president ended his first mandate early and was reelected in 2009 under the country's new constitution. "This is a forceful move," activist Raul Prada, a former government official turned critic, says of today's announcement. "It's a move to be used the campaign."

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« Reply #6126 on: May 02, 2013, 07:24 AM »

May 1, 2013

Amid Fealty to Socialism, a Nod to Capitalism


HAVANA — In many ways, it was a typical May Day: Hundreds of thousands of Cuban workers — doctors, sailors, dancers, bank clerks — marched Wednesday toward this city’s vast Revolution Plaza, waving flags, holding aloft banners that proclaimed fidelity to socialism and tooting plastic horns.

But dotted among the throngs of state employees bused in before dawn to observe International Workers’ Day, there was a novel, and increasingly favored, breed: entrepreneurs whose private businesses the government is counting on to absorb thousands of the state workers it considers redundant and hopes to shed.

Their presence — albeit limited — at one of the most important fixtures in the Castro-era calendar reflects the shifting economic mix in a country where, for decades, private enterprise was anathema and the state officially provided everything anyone could need, from a job to the sugar people put in their coffee.

But the state’s ability to do that has declined significantly over the years, with salaries and subsidies like food rations unable to cover even basic needs.

“This is a way of showing solidarity with the workers and of showing that we, too, are workers,” said Orlando Alain Rodríguez, a former sommelier at a state-run hotel who opened a restaurant on a busy intersection in downtown Havana nine months ago.

“I have 19 employees with me, people who otherwise might not have jobs,” said Mr. Rodríguez, clad, along with his staff, in a yellow T-shirt that bore the name of his restaurant, Waoo Snack Bar.

The government seemed keen to send that message, too. Carmen Rosa López, second secretary of the Cuban Workers’ Union, expressed hope before the march that entrepreneurs would come. “For us, they are all workers who contribute to the development of the country,” she said, according to a state-run news agency.

That said, entrepreneurs were a tiny minority in the river of public servants and employees of state-owned companies that flowed, waving placards calling for “prosperous and sustainable socialism” to the plaza, where President Raúl Castro stood beneath a huge statue of José Martí, the revolutionary and poet.

A sea of red-clad Venezuelans and Cubans held banners dedicated to Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan leader and beneficent ally of Cuba who recently died, while a truck mounted with television screens projected pictures of the smiling former leader to the crowd.

Groups of actors and artists lent the march a carnival atmosphere, and even at 7 a.m. instructions blaring from loudspeakers were all but drowned out by drummers leading a crush of workers raising their hands and swaying their hips to a conga. Students from the National Schools of Art walked on stilts; one peeped out from a huge, papier-mâché figure of an independence fighter. Farther back, a female sailor in a crisp white uniform jiggled from one foot to another in a barely suppressed salsa move.

Since late 2010 when the government began issuing new licenses for Cubans to work for themselves and employ one another, more than a quarter of a million entrepreneurs and their employees have joined the private sector, taking the total to about 400,000.

Economy Minister Adel Yzquierdo told the National Assembly in December that, including independent farmers who lease land from the government, the number of nonstate workers was 1.1 million, double the figure in 2010. Mr. Yzquierdo said the government had, over the past two years, cut more than 350,000 people from the bloated public sector, which still employs well over four million Cubans out of a population of about 11.2 million.

The government has also turned over about 2,000 small state-owned businesses to their employees, according to news reports, part of a much-anticipated but closely guarded plan to create business cooperatives.

Many Cuban entrepreneurs and economists say the growth of the private sector has been excruciatingly slow. There is still no wholesale market from which businesses can buy the goods they need, and the government still limits the types of businesses open to entrepreneurs to fewer than 200, a situation that some hope will improve with the expansion of cooperatives.

However small, though, the private sector is changing the work culture on an island where state employees earn meager salaries and are known for surly service, inefficiency, absenteeism and pilfering.

Sergio Alba Marín, who for years managed the restaurants of a state-owned hotel and now owns a popular fast-food restaurant, said he was very strict with his employees and would not employ workers trained by the state.

“They have too many vices — stealing, for one,” said Mr. Alba, who was marching with his 25 employees and two large banners emblazoned with the name of his restaurant, La Pachanga. “You can’t change that mentality.”

“Even if you could, I don’t have time,” he added. “I have a business to run.”

Such dismissals aside, the private and state sectors compete on some levels and cooperate on others.

The state, which once had a tiny, $4 ceiling on any contract with a private-sector worker, now buys products — from vegetables to billboards — from entrepreneurs. Margaly Rodríguez, a caterer, said she had been hired several times by Palco, a state holding company, to cook for events; she, in turn, rents glassware and crockery from a state-owned restaurant.

It can be a curious symbiosis: thousands of privately owned cafes, taxis, restaurants, photocopy shops and stalls selling hardware, clothing, shoes and DVDs all compete with state-owned enterprises. But many people work in both sectors, filching goods from their state employer to supply their private business.

There are signs that state-owned companies are responding to competition, adding modern touches at dreary supermarkets (a neon sign, conveyor belts and shelves stocked with candy at checkout) and redecorating restaurants.

“We’re in this very interesting phase in which the public and private sector collaborate and compete at the same time,” said Richard E. Feinberg, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, who is doing a study of Cuba’s private sector.

New economic freedoms and the taxes paid by private-sector workers are also beginning to alter the relationship between individuals and the state, analysts say.

“The willingness of people to express an alternative point of view has definitely expanded,” Dr. Feinberg said. “But it’ll take a while before they begin to develop a class consciousness and a political articulation of their interests.”

The very fact that some of Cuba’s new entrepreneurs chose to demonstrate their solidarity at Wednesday’s highly orchestrated march is evidence that the state still has enormous power.

And, of course, many workers — both state and nonstate — stayed home. Several people who work in the private sector said that, after years when they felt pressured by their state employer to march, they would no longer go.

Others simply could not leave their businesses. One woman, a 59-year-old former nurse who said her name was Virgen and sold tiny cups of sweet coffee to people en route to the march, said she had marched every year except this one.

“If I go to the parade, who’s going to sell this?” she asked.

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« Reply #6127 on: May 02, 2013, 07:29 AM »

Originally published May 1, 2013

Human mission to Mars no longer just a dream

Plans for a mission around the planet, and ultimately for lengthier stays, are proliferating.

By Marc Kaufman
The Washington Post


The notion of landing astronauts on Mars has long been more fantasy than reality: The planet is, on average, 140 million miles from Earth, and its atmosphere isn’t hospitable to human life.

But a human voyage to the planet is now, for the first time, within the realm of possibility, according to space advocates inside and outside government. As a result, plans for a mission around the planet, and ultimately for lengthier stays, have been sprouting like springtime flowers.

The new momentum, some space experts say, comes from the successful landing of the large rover Curiosity in a Martian crater last year, the growing eagerness of space entrepreneurs to mount and fund missions to Mars and encouraging new data about the radiation risks of such an expedition.

NASA says it hopes to land astronauts on the planet within the next two decades, and the agency is developing a heavy-lift rocket and a new space capsule to achieve this goal.

It has even established an optimal time frame for this event — in the early 2030s, when the very different orbits of the two planets brings them closest to each other.

The challenges of space technology — including how to keep astronauts alive en route and on the planet — as well as government support and funding remain daunting, but the goal of landing humans on Mars is seeming less and less like a pipe dream.

“A human mission to Mars is a priority, and our entire exploration program is aligned to support this goal,” said NASA administrator Charles Bolden.

NASA has “overcome the technical challenges of landing and operating spacecraft on Mars” robotically, Bolden said. “We’re developing today the technologies needed to send humans to Mars in the 2030s.”

With both the promise and the obstacles in mind, Bolden and other top NASA planners, rocket developers and scientists, as well as leaders from the commercial-space industry and organizations and agencies abroad gathered this week at a conference at George Washington University.

Keynote speaker Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon in 1969, has just written a book that he refers to as a manifesto laying out the reasons humans can and should set their sights on not only landing on Mars but also setting up a permanent settlement there.

It is “human destiny” to explore space and settle on other planets, he writes in “Mission to Mars,” which is being released this week.

“Our world isn’t just Earth anymore, and we need to get much more serious about that,” Aldrin said in an interview, adding that the leaders who take us to Mars and the pioneers who inhabit it “will go down in human history as heroes and be honored for thousands and thousands of years.”

A Plymouth or Jamestown colony on Mars is by all accounts a distant goal, but the timetable for sending humans there for a quick orbit and return to Earth, or even a landing on one of its moons, could be considerably faster.

Investment adviser Dennis Tito, who paid $20 million to go to the international space station in 2001, recently announced plans to send two astronauts to Mars for a 2018 flyby; a Dutch group called Mars One is raising money for a landing in the 2020s. Elon Musk of the rocket and capsule company SpaceX says he will unveil his company’s Mars exploration plans in the months ahead.

Unlike the others, Musk has a significant spaceflight-track record. His Dragon spacecraft has docked three times at the international-space station during NASA-funded cargo runs.

Musk got into the space business with the ambition of sending many people to Mars. The first of these missions is “further off than I would like,” he said, “but far closer than many expect.”

The successful landing of Curiosity — at one ton, by far the largest vehicle ever flown to Mars — is put forward as one reason a human mission is increasingly conceivable.

There’s still a long way to go in terms of landing technology, said Michael Gazarik, associate administrator of the NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, because a Mars descent with humans would require a capsule weighing something like 40 tons. Nonetheless, Gazarik said the technology is being developed, and having a Mars lander by the 2030s is “plausible.”

Another reason is that the health risks associated with radiation in space and on Mars appear to be somewhat lower than previously believed.

Radiation measurements made by an instrument on Curiosity have found high — but not prohibitively high — levels of high-energy cosmic and solar rays both en route to Mars and on the surface of the planet.

Extensive shielding of astronauts would be needed, scientists have found, but the risk of later illness due to radiation would not be significantly higher going to Mars than after a long-term stay on the space station, according to Bent Ehresmann, a member of the Curiosity radiation-monitoring team.

Long-term isolation is also a significant issue, and astronauts will be staying longer at the international space station in the years ahead to study that concern. And, of course, NASA will have to design spacesuits that can withstand the bitter cold of Mars as well as its thin atmosphere, made up largely of carbon dioxide.

The biggest impediment, though, may be money. President Obama has challenged NASA to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030s, but NASA’s budget is now a small fraction of what it was in the years after President Kennedy set a precise timetable for landing on the moon.

The agency gets less than 0.5 percent of the federal budget; at the peak of the Apollo program, it was 4 percent. Also, Obama will have left office long before the big decisions about a 2030s mission are made, and his successors might have different priorities.

The funding problem is one reason private companies and space agencies from other nations are expected to play a significant role in any human mission to Mars.

But NASA remains the indispensable player or partner for any human landing on the surface.

John Grunsfeld, NASA’s director of the Science Mission Directorate, said that sending humans to Mars would be the ultimate expression of the agency’s long-term goal of more intimately combining exploration and science. Having flown on the space shuttle to the Hubble Space Telescope three times to fix and upgrade it, Grunsfeld has firsthand experience with the capabilities that only astronauts can bring.

The same would be true on Mars, he said. “In a matter of a week, astronauts could probably complete the entire [two-year] Curiosity mission.”

The Mars conference — co-sponsored by the nonprofit group Explore Mars and the GWU’s Space Policy Institute — was designed to examine the feasibility and rationale for a human mission to Mars and to highlight the public’s seeming embrace of the idea.

The country’s support for the Apollo moon program was driven in significant part by the Cold War competition with the Soviet Union, and there are no similar rivals now. Some people are also wary of a human mission to Mars because of the inherent risk and others because they believe robotic missions can answer the important scientific questions at a much lower price.

But NASA has a unique connection with Mars: All seven of the vehicles that have landed on the planet and succeeded in their missions have been sent by the United States.

That will, no doubt, change in the decades ahead, however, as Europe, Russia, India and China expand their Mars programs, with landing a human team as the ultimate goal.

“It will be done, regardless of U.S. leadership,” Aldrin said of an eventual manned Mars landing. “The real question is: How long does the exceptionalism of the United States last?”

Kaufman, a former Washington Post editor and the author of “First Contact: Scientific Breakthroughs in the Hunt for Life Beyond Earth,” is writing a book about the first months of the rover Curiosity’s exploration of Mars.


The Christian Science Monitor

How NASA dodged a derelict Soviet spy satellite

In March 2012, NASA's Fermi space telescope could have collided with a Russian naval signals satellite, were it not for an untested maneuver.  

By Eoin O'Carroll, Staff / May 1, 2013 at 5:17 pm EDT

Thanks to an emergency maneuver in March 2012, a NASA space telescope avoided a potentially nasty encounter with a Cold War relic.

More than a year later, NASA is now telling the story of how its Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope sidestepped a collision with a defunct Soviet spy satellite.

It all began on the evening of March 29, 2012, when Julie McEnery, the project scientist for the Fermi telescope, received an automatically generated email from NASA's Robotic Conjunction Assessment Risk Analysis team. Fermi was a week away from crossing paths with Cosmos 1805, a 3,100-lb. naval signals reconnaissance satellite launched by the USSR in 1986.

Cosmos was moving relative to Fermi at a speed of 27,000 miles per hour, fast enough to obliterate both spacecraft.

NASA actually predicted that the two craft would miss each other by 700 feet. But there was reason to be skeptical. After all, just two years earlier, a study found that another dead Russian satellite, Cosmos 2251, would pass within roughly 1,900 feet of an Iridium phone satellite. The prediction was slightly off, and both spacecraft became clouds of fast-moving orbital debris, in the first known collision of two intact satellites.

"It's similar to forecasting rain at a specific time and place a week in advance," said Eric Stoneking, an engineer for Fermi at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., in a press release. "As the date approaches, uncertainties in the prediction decrease and the initial picture may change dramatically."

The destruction of the Fermi telescope, which scans the sky for the most energetic kind of radiation, would have spelled a big setback for astrophysics. Since launching in 2008, Fermi has recorded a virtual fireworks display of exploding stars, bizarre flares, and even mysterious bubbles emanating from the center of the Milky Way. Data from Fermi has been used to confirm the origin of cosmic rays and to investigate the "missing" mass in our universe known as dark matter.

By the following day, the forecast had not improved much. The two satellites were predicted to occupy the same place within 30 milliseconds of each other.

"It was clear we had to be ready to move Fermi out of the way, and that's when I alerted our Flight Dynamics Team that we were planning a maneuver," said Dr. McEnery .

Fermi's maneuver was to involve reorienting itself, retracting its antenna, and firing its thrusters, which were designed to move the satellite into the atmosphere at the end of its mission, where it would burn up and not pose a threat to other spacecraft. These thrusters had never been tested.

"You can't help but be nervous thinking about highly flammable fluids heading down pipes they'd never flowed down before," said McEnery in the press release.

At noon on April 3, Fermi performed the maneuver, firing its thrusters for one second. The following day, the two satellites passed each other by a comfortable distance of six miles.

"A huge weight was lifted," McEnery said.

Since the launch of Sputnik in 1957, the Earth has become enveloped in space debris stretching for thousands of miles in every direction. The US , which tracks every artificial object in orbit larger than 10 centimeters, has counted some 17,000 objects. Of these, only about 1,200 are active satellites. The number of particles smaller than a centimeter, such as paint flakes, leaked coolant, and dust from rocket boosters, likely exceeds tens of millions. NASA says that spacecraft shielding can protect a craft from particles as large as one centimeter.

The greatest danger of space debris is that they can create a vicious circle known as the Kessler Syndrome. When objects in Earth's orbit that strike debris, they tend to create more debris, thus increasing the risk of future impacts, which would in turn create more debris, and so on, ultimately making space travel, and even the use of satellites impracticable because of the high risk of collision.


This computer simulation created by the Institute for Air and Space systems at the Technical University of Braunschweig, Germany, shows the distribution and movement of space debris at present and in future

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« Reply #6128 on: May 02, 2013, 07:33 AM »

Scientists think key to a longer life might be in the brain

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, May 1, 2013 14:41 EDT

Scientists said Wednesday they had found a brain region that controls physical ageing, and could target it to manipulate the lifespan of lab mice.

The findings may be a step towards finding the holy grail of slowing human ageing, but have yet to be tested in human subjects.

The research, published in the journal Nature, implicates the hypothalamus — a brain region that regulates growth, reproduction and metabolism, in the gradual and coordinated bodily deterioration we call ageing.

Though the brain has long been suspected of orchestrating the process, this is the first evidence to that effect.

The team said they could speed up or slow down ageing in mice by activating or inhibiting the brain signalling molecule NF-kB in the hypothalamus, which in turn affects levels of a hormone called GnRH that plays a role in the generation of neurons — the data processing cells of the brain.

By stimulating NF-kB, they caused a decline in GnRH which led to impaired neurogenesis and ageing symptoms like muscle weakening, skin atrophy, bone loss and memory impairment.

NF-kB is generally responsible for regulating the body’s response to inflammation, the New York-based team wrote.

The researchers could also slow ageing in mice by giving them the GnRH hormone.

“Our study provided interventional strategies to slow down ageing through targeting the hypothalamus,” the study’s senior author Dongsheng Cai, professor of molecular pharmacology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, told AFP by email.

“It can help to slow down ageing, which is already a big breakthrough, as it can counteract against many ageing-related diseases,” he said, while stipulating: “I don’t think ageing could be completely stopped.”

Cai said he believed the mouse results would translate into humans, “though it will need future efforts to develop safe and applicable approaches to humans.”

Commenting on the research, Harvard Medical School experts Dana Gabuzda and Bruce Yankner said the results, if validated, may have important implications for treatment of age-related diseases — particularly those linked to inflammation.

“The idea also raises the intriguing possibility that hypothalamic regulation could be therapeutically manipulated to have broad effects on the ageing process,” they wrote in Nature.

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« Reply #6129 on: May 02, 2013, 07:58 AM »

In the USA....

Jamestown colony: excavated skull proves settlers turned to cannibalism

Remains of 14-year-old girl suggest that starving settlers had to go to extreme lengths to survive harsh winter of 1609

Maev Kennedy   
The Guardian, Thursday 2 May 2013   

Gruesome archaeological evidence has emerged revealing how some of the first settlers of America survived a period of famine. The vicious winter of 1609, dubbed the Starving Time by historians, saw the colonists at Jamestown, Virginia, who had consumed every scrap of food in the settlement, turn to cannibalism. When help and supplies finally arrived the following spring, only 60 of the original 300 settlers were still alive. The skull of a 14-year-old girl, excavated last year from a rubbish dump at James Fort, has revealed a mass of cut marks, at first tentative, then fiercely smashing the skull apart to extract the brain and other soft tissue for food.

Her skull has been reconstructed by forensic artists to reveal a delicately pretty face. Although her bones give the first solid evidence of rumoured cannibalism, she is unlikely to have been the only victim.

Her bones prove accounts from those who spoke to some survivors that corpses were eaten: one husband was executed when it was claimed that he had killed his wife and salted and stored her body.

Doug Owsley, a forensic anthropologist at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington DC, who worked with archaeologists at the site, told the BBC: "There were numerous chops and cuts: chops to the forehead, chops to the back of the skull, and also a puncture to the left side of the head that was used to essentially pry off that side. The purpose was to extract the brain." "In 17th century recipes the brain is included in food - certainly not human, but it is very common with animal brains," he said. "These are desperate people, and they're very short of food."

The first cuts were hesitant and unskilled and clearly made when the girl was dead, he said. The site will mark the 406th anniversary on May 11 of the founding of the first permanent English settlement in America. A complete breakdown of relations with the initially friendly local people, who had originally helped with food supplies, was part of the cause of the winter of starvation.


Boston bombing: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's college friends charged with cover-up

Two Kazakh students and US citizen accused of disposing of Boston suspect's laptop and backpack from college dorm room

Ed Pilkington in New York
The Guardian, Thursday 2 May 2013   

Link to video: Friends of Boston Marathon bombing suspect charged with conspiring to obstruct justice

Three teenage college friends of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving Boston Marathon bombing suspect, were charged on Wednesday with covering up evidence in an attempt to obstruct the investigation into the attack, which killed three people and injured more than 260.

Two Kazakh students and a third man, a US citizen, all 19, are alleged to have disposed of Tsarnaev's laptop and a backpack containing fireworks in the frenzied hours after the names of the two Boston bombing suspects were made public.

Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov, both from Kazakhstan, and Robel Phillipos, a US citizen, appeared before a federal judge in a brief court hearing in Boston on Wednesday afternoon. Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov were charged with conspiring to obstruct justice, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in jail and a fine of $250,000. Phillipos was charged with making false statements to federal investigators, which carries a maximum sentence of eight years and a fine of $250,000.

The three men were all friends of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, who was a student at University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. His older brother Tamerlan, 26, was killed after a shootout with police in the wake of the Boston bombings. Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov shared an apartment in the nearby town of New Bedford, Massachusetts

According to the criminal complaint against Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov, the pair recognised Tsarnaev from pictures released by the authorities four days after the attack. Kadyrbayev is said to have told FBI agents that then he sent text messages to Tsarnaev, who replied "Lol", "You better not text me", and "Come to my room and take whatever you want".

The complaint alleges the Kazakh pair then went with Phillipos to Tsarnaev's dorm room at Pine Dale Hall. They were let in by Tsarnaev's unnamed roommate, who told them Tsarnaev had left some hours earlier.

The FBI says the accused men described how, while watching a movie in the room, they noticed a backpack containing seven red tubes of fireworks, emptied of their explosive powder. Kadyrbayev, by now sure of Tsarnaev's involvement in the bombings, admitted to agents that he decided to remove the backpack "in order to help his friend Tsarnaev avoid trouble".

The trio are also accused of removing Tsarnaev's laptop, which they took in order not to alert the roommate's suspicions about the backpack. They went back to the New Bedford apartment, and Kadyrbayev later threw the backpack into a dumpster, according to the affidavit.

FBI officers first detained and questioned the trio four days after the Boston bombings. The three were released, but the Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov were later taken back into custody and held by immigration authorities, accused of having overstayed their student visas.

The complaint alleges that Phillipos lied to investigators when he was first questioned, insisting that he had not played any role in the disposal of the evidence. Law enforcement officers later recovered the backpack and its contents from a landfill waste site.

There is nothing in the criminal charge sheet to suggest that the three accused men were involved in planning the marathon bombings on 15 April. Their alleged offences are confined to events after the attacks had taken place. But in a footnote to the charge sheet, the FBI said that about a month before the bombing, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev told Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev that he knew how to make a bomb.

Lawyers for the two Kazakh men made separate statements outside court in Boston in which they said their clients were innocent of the charges. Robert Stahl, representing Kadyrbayev, said the 19-year-old and his family were "just as shocked and horrified by the violence in Boston" as the rest of the country, and that Kadyrbayev "had nothing to do" with it.

'Co-operating with the authorities'

Stahl, a New Jersey-based attorney who specialises in representing people from the former Soviet Union, stressed that his client had been fully co-operating with the FBI and that he had no inkling that the items removed from Tsasrnaev's dorm room were connected to the bombings. He said that contrary to the information in the charge sheet which lists Kadyrbayev as a student of UMass Dartmouth, he was in fact an engineering student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and had violated his student visa because he had attended classes so irregularly.

Harlan Protass, representing Tazhayakov, also stressed that his client was co-operating with the authorities. "He was shocked to hear that someone who he knew was involved in the Boston marathon bombing. He considers it an honour to be able to study in the United States, and he feels for the people of Boston who have suffered," Protass said.

In the two weeks since the bombing, more than 1,000 FBI agents have been dedicated to the task of finding out how the bombings were planned and, crucially, whether there was a wider network of support behind the bombers. Early indications from the inquiry have pointed to the brothers acting largely alone, though federal agents continue to look closely at a six-month trip taken last year by Tamerlan Tsarnaev to the troubled region of Dagestan in Russia, where his parents live.

On Tuesday, a lawyer for the widow of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Katherine Russell, said she has declined to claim his body and instead authorised his family to collect it. Amato DeLuca said in a statement that his client had just learned that the medical examiner was ready to release Tsarnaev's body, and that she wants it released to the Tsarnaev family.

An uncle of the brothers, Ruslan Tsarni, told the Associated Press that the family would take the body. "Of course, family members will take possession of the body," said Tsarni, of Montgomery Village, Maryland. "We'll do it. We will do it. A family is a family." He did not give any further details of the arrangements.

DeLuca said Tamerlan Tsarnaev's widow met law enforcement officials "for many hours over the past week" and would continue co-operating. FBI agents on Monday visited her parents' home in North Kingstown, Rhode Island, where she has been staying, and carried away several bags


Tamerlan Tsarnaev's widow declines to claim husband's body

Katherine Russell authorises Tsarnaev family to collect body, which has been at medical examiner's office in Massachusetts

Staff and agencies, Wednesday 1 May 2013 23.11 BST   

The widow of the dead Boston Marathon suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, has declined to claim his body and instead authorised his family to collect it, her attorney has said.

Amato DeLuca, who is representing Katherine Russell, said in a statement that his client had just learned that the medical examiner was ready to release Tsarnaev's body and that she wants it released to the Tsarnaev family.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev's body has been at the medical examiner's office in Massachusetts since he died after a gunfight with authorities more than a week ago.

Police said Tsarnaev ran out of ammunition before his brother, 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, dragged his body under a vehicle while fleeing the scene. His cause of death has been determined but will not be made public until his remains are claimed.

An uncle of the brtohers, Ruslan Tsarni, said on Tuesday that the family would take the body. "Of course, family members will take possession of the body," said Tsarni, of Montgomery Village, Maryland. "We'll do it. We will do it. A family is a family."

He would not elaborate. Tsarnaev's parents are still in Russia, but he has other relatives on his side of the family in the US, including Tsarni.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, is in a prison hospital after being wounded in the shootout with police as he and his brother made their getaway attempt. He is charged with using a weapon of mass destruction to kill, a crime that carries a potential death sentence.

DeLuca said Tamerlan Tsarnaev's widow met law enforcement officials "for many hours over the past week" and will continue co-operating. FBI agents on Monday visited her parents' home in North Kingstown, Rhode Island where she has been staying, and carried away several bags. Until Tuesday's statement, DeLuca had declined to provide any details about Russell's contact with authorities, except to say that Russell was doing everything she could to assist with the investigation.

In addition to declining to claim the body, which is her right as his spouse, Russell has taken other steps to distance herself from Tsarnaev since arriving at her family's home on 19 April, hours after her husband was killed. Her family released a statement shortly after she was escorted home by federal agents that day saying they "never really knew" Tsarnaev. Russell has also reverted to using her maiden name instead of the name listed on her marriage certificate, Tsarnaeva.

On Tuesday, DeLuca said Russell mourned the deaths from the bombings. "Katherine and her family continue to be deeply saddened by the harm that has been caused," DeLuca said.

Terrel Harris, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, said Tuesday evening that the state had not yet received Russell's request to release her husband's body.

He said arrangements must be made to release the body and once that happens a death certificate will be filed and the cause of death made public. He said it is too soon to speculate on when that might happen.


Youth advocate: Student arrested over science project highlights school to prison pipeline

By Eric W. Dolan
Wednesday, May 1, 2013 23:17 EDT

On MSNBC Wednesday night, a youth advocate explained how the recent arrest of a 16-year-old girl over a science experiment highlighted the so-called school to prison pipeline.

Kharry Lazarre-White of The Brotherhood/Sister Sol said the line between a disciplinary infraction and a crime had become blurred in many U.S. schools.

“It’s become blurred, one, because now you have police officers in schools,” he told MSNBC host Chris Hayes. “So, you have police officers responding to issues that used to be that teachers or school safety officers responded to. Secondly, you now see this broad range of issues that would have never been seen as something to arrest a child. We have children expelled for singing too loudly in classes, for running through the hallway, for being late, but one of the most striking aspects of this is that the number one issue that you see leading towards this kind of expulsion is children who are refusing to respond to authority, children who are, quote, being defiant.”

“And when you start looking at that kind of language and especially when the disproportionate number of young people being expelled are black children in this country and you put those two issues together, you see a racial narrative, which is extremely disturbing, that black children are seeking to be controlled in a very particular way, and the result of that is a high level of suspension that’s leading to young people being put out of school, not graduating from high school, and then that has a clear determinate in terms of a life of poverty.”

Sixteen–year-old Kiera Wilmot was recently arrested, charged with a felony, and expelled from her Florida school over what she described as a science experiment. The young African American girl had mixed some household items together in a water bottle. Her experiment resulted in an small explosion, which harmed no one and didn’t damage any school property.

Bartow High School officials have admitted Wilmot did not intend any harm and that she was a model student, but have stood by their decision to expel her citing their policies.


Belief in biblical end-times stifling climate change action in U.S.: study

By Eric W. Dolan
Wednesday, May 1, 2013 16:49 EDT

The United States has failed to take action to mitigate climate change thanks in part to the large number of religious Americans who believe the world has a set expiration date.

Research by David C. Barker of the University of Pittsburgh and David H. Bearce of the University of Colorado uncovered that belief in the biblical end-times was a motivating factor behind resistance to curbing climate change.

t stands to reason that most nonbelievers would support preserving the Earth for future generations, but that end-times believers would rationally perceive such efforts to be ultimately futile, and hence ill-advised,” Barker and Bearce explained.

That very sentiment has been expressed by federal legislators. Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) said in 2010 that he opposed action on climate change because “the Earth will end only when God declares it to be over.” He is the chairman of the Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy.

Though the two researchers cautioned their study was not intended to predict future policy outcomes, they said their study suggested it was unlikely the United States would take action on climate change while so many Americans, particularly Republicans, believed in the coming end-times.

“That is, because of institutions such as the Electoral College, the winner-take-all representation mechanism, and the Senate filibuster, as well as the geographic distribution of partisanship to modern partisan polarization, minority interests often successfully block majority preferences,” Barker and Bearce wrote. “Thus, even if the median voter supports policies designed to slow global warming, legislation to effect such change could find itself dead on arrival if the median Republican voter strongly resists public policy environmentalism at least in part because of end-times beliefs.


May 1, 2013

Failure of Gun Bill Casts Shadow on Immigration Reform


WASHINGTON — As a gun safety bill dissolved on the Senate floor last month, a group of eight senators — some who had supported the failed measure — had already moved on to a policy battle they found more promising: reinventing the nation’s troubled immigration system.

But despite broader Republican support for an immigration overhaul, the inability of Congress to pass modest gun legislation involving background checks is a warning for the immigration bill’s journey.

The warning does not mean failure, especially since most Republicans believe that immigration changes, unlike gun legislation, would help them politically. But it does indicate that the road to consensus on immigration will be far bumpier than the narrative on Capitol Hill suggests.

“There was a lot of Washington talk about the gun bill’s possibilities, but I never saw that reflected in the people at home,” said Representative Jack Kingston, Republican of Georgia, who has served since 1993. “Now there is all this buzz about the immigration reform, and that is not reflected, either.”

Like the gun legislation, the immigration bill, an 800-page proposal conceived among the eight lawmakers, must go through the Judiciary Committee, where the sharp partisan differences that defeated the gun bill are already on display.

Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the lead Republican on the committee, has expressed skepticism, as has Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas. Last month, Mr. Grassley sparred with Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, in a hearing over Mr. Grassley’s suggestion that the origins of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings should be part of the immigration debate.

Just as the fight over the gun bill pivoted on a single policy disagreement — the question of keeping records on background checks — single divisive issues like whether or not immigrants here illegally should be given a pathway to citizenship can undermine other components to legislation on which there is broad agreement.

President Obama underscored on Tuesday how disagreements over basic principles can thwart a bill. Should a proposal from House Republicans not meet what he called “basic criteria,” including a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants in the country illegally, “then I will not support such a bill,” he said.

Certain buzzwords in the gun debate became toxic to supporters of gun control. Opponents insisted, for example, that a new background-check law would result in gun registries, which the legislation explicitly would have forbidden. Similarly, proponents of strong border security will most likely be skeptical of the government’s commitment to improve it, which House Republicans say is essential, and keep beating that drum.

“I think the opposition is counting on mistrust of government, hatred of Obama and the idea that Congress can’t get anything right to combine as the pathway to no,” said Frank Sharry, the executive director of America’s Voice, an immigrant advocacy group.

Many Congressional Republicans say they are bracing for Mr. Obama to blame them for any problems with the legislative process.

“I do get the sense that everything for this administration seems to be a day-to-day tactical decision, rather than a legislative strategy of how to get things passed,” said Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri. “That’s not the same as doing what it takes to get work done.”

Process could also prove an enemy. Senate leaders will need 60 votes to even start on a bill, but before then they will have to ponder numerous amendments from the left and right — all of which could injure the bill’s chances in both camps. In fact, when Mr. Obama was a senator, he fought for a “poison pill” amendment in 2007 to phase out a guest-worker program favored by Republicans, an amendment that, when attached to the bill, helped sink it.

Some House members have already started to go their own way with far more modest, incremental proposals. Republicans there will certainly produce a far different bill from the Senate’s. Should the Senate and House end up in a conference to reconcile two bills, the final measure may well end up closer to that produced in the Senate, as has been the case with other bills that have gone to conference.

If this happens, Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, might be presented with the excruciating choice of bringing a more liberal version of legislation to the House floor or failing to close the deal on immigration reform that many in his party believe is needed.

Perhaps the most important factor in the bill’s favor is its broad support among a wide variety of constituencies, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the agricultural industry, labor unions and many church groups. Unlike the gun legislation, the immigration bill has no strong single opponent analogous to the National Rifle Association. Immigration legislation also has a compelling advocate in the Senate.

Senator Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican who has the greatest stake in the success of the measure, has made broad efforts to get in front of critics, something that the gun-control lobby — more like the immigration advocacy movement in 2007 — did not really do.

“Here’s my encouragement to my colleagues who don’t agree with the bill that we’ve crafted,” Mr. Rubio said on the Senate floor last week. “Change it. Let’s work on changing it. If you believe that what we have today is broken, if you believe that the status quo on immigration is chaos and a disaster, if that’s what you believe, as I do, then let’s solve it.”

The gun measure, for all the advocacy it got from the families of Newtown, Conn., and other victims of gun violence, did not have a supporter with the ambitions of Mr. Rubio behind it. This could prove to be the bill’s best hope, or Mr. Rubio’s greatest risk.

“The political imperative on immigration compared to guns is that if you take down Rubio, you take down the Republican Party,” Mr. Sharry said. “But we understand trying to get something in a divided Congress with a bill that the president supports is a tough call. We have a real roller coaster ride ahead.”


House of Cards: Plots Against Obama Have Morphed Into Total Republican Self-Destruction

By: Sarah Jones
May. 2nd, 2013

The plots Republicans laid against President Obama in 2008 have created a lot of turmoil, civil unrest, and obstruction—but they didn’t bring down the President. Instead, some four years later, those plots are turning on the Party, according to numerous inside sources who spoke to Politico.

    The GOP leadership is dealing with an unprecedented level of frustration in running the House, according to conversations with more than a dozen aides and lawmakers in and around leadership. Leadership is talking past each other. The conference is split by warring factions. And influential outside groups are fighting them.

Yes, you knew the Republican House was a divided, chaotic mess of dysfunction. But it’s impossible to overstate just how dysfunctional it is. We’ve seen it in action, from outside conservative groups threatening Republican lawmakers over the budget to Boehner having to pull his own bills.

Freedom Works gloated recently after a humiliated Speaker Boehner and Eric Cantor had to pull a Republican “healthcare” (defund ObamaCare) bill for lack of support. It’s civil war, on top of fractured leadership with a side of gleeful outside groups prodding on the dysfunction for their own purposes. But it’s worse than that. We saw much of that last session.

This session is even worse, as their foiled plots did nothing but drive them further into camps of now divided extremism. The gerrymandered districts they carved out with their 2010 win are only furthering the extremism, as the feverish electorate within their congressional districts drives them deeper into their chosen camp of Republican extremism.

Things are so bad within the party that the House is in a perpetual state of “stalemate” according to Politico. Even House leadership are having “trouble staying on the same page”.

This results in them being unable to pass anything of any import, and instead trying to fill up their time with “frivolous” (according to Nancy Pelosi) activities like taking two days to pass legislation to extend the government’s helium reserves.

    The inability to find unifying principles is sometimes in plain view: House Republicans spent two days last week passing legislation that extended the authority of the government’s helium reserves, which Democrats would’ve allowed them to pass by unanimous voice vote.

For this reason, voters should not expect much in the way of legislation, unless it’s something Boehner can get passed with the help of Democrats. It might be fair to start referring to Boehner as the Democratic Minority Leader if this keeps up. Without Pelosi assisting him from the wings, Boehner would be doomed right now.

Voters should not expect the House to be able to negotiate a budget with the Senate, even though Republicans, Democrats and independents alike feel that the sequester cuts will hurt the economy. The Republicans in the House are too divided for that. They are too divided for immigration reform, “The House’s immigration group, which has been working for four years, hasn’t released a stitch of paper, let alone an actual bill.” They are too divided for background check legislation, too divided for much of anything. Boehner suggested that he might allow a VOTE on gun safety and immigration, and the Right flipped out. So much for that.

Republicans are divided against each other, against outside conservative groups, and against their leadership. They are a hot mess.

The House will be in session for only 126 days in 2013. This schedule is a continuation of the two weeks off one week on the schedule that the Republicans implemented when they gained the majority after the 2010 election. And on the off chance that they are at work, they’re working on things like helium reserves that could have been passed with unanimous consent. But when you can’t get the votes for anything else, drawing out the one thing you know you can get passed is your only option. This is a body that has not one piece of paper after four years of working on immigration reform.

The voters are paying House Republicans to shuffle cards and point fingers, while they obstruct and delay major legislation whose time has come. And of course, Republicans are already planning their next debt ceiling hostage taking, so they are also being paid to willy nilly defund the government as they run around like chickens with their heads cut off screaming about things like the deficit that could be fixed if only they would sit down for budget resolution talks.

Too many of the House Republicans are utterly clueless as to the national damage they’re doing to the brand. They come from safe districts, where their specific strain of tea is all the rage, from social issues to faux deficit hawk pretense. Leadership can’t get a grip on the members, and so far, even the national party can’t reign them in.

In 2013, the House Republicans will once again take the nation on a sickening journey, lurching from manufactured crisis to empty, jingoistic solutions, only this session they’re so dysfunctional that they can’t do much more than pontificate about helium ad nauseam. How fitting.

The person who deserves the most sympathy here is House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, whose job requires him to round up votes from this collection of vagabond clowns, turning on themselves with the feral hunger of the truly lost.


What Pat Toomey Was Really Saying About DC Gridlock Is Obama Hate Runs The GOP

By: Sarah Jones
May. 1st, 2013

Speaking to a roundtable of Digital First Media editors in the offices of The Times Herald newspaper, Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania lamented that the background checks legislation he co-sponsored with West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin didn’t pass because Republicans don’t want to be seen helping the President (even if it means doing the wrong thing).

Toomey explained, “In the end it didn’t pass because we’re so politicized. There were some on my side who did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it.”

Toomey tried to walk it back by adding that he meant to say Republicans across the nation in general, not just those in the Senate. “The toughest thing to do in politics is to do the right thing when your supporters think the right thing is something else.”

It’s not clear why Toomey would blame supporters, when poll after poll shows gun owners and Republicans in favor of background checks. Also, Republican voters aren’t in danger of being seen as helping the President. The only people that refers to are people who get elected, not those who vote.

The truth is that Toomey’s first statement was correct, and it revealed too much truth about his colleagues. Republican legislators are so intent on destroying Obama’s agenda that they have proven themselves willing to stab the will of the people in the back, along with common sense and integrity.

Ironically, the common sentiment — even in the way Toomey phrased it — is that DC is “too politicized”, and often this gets blamed on the President. But what we have here is yet another example of who is politicizing DC, and it’s not President Obama. Republicans cannot afford to be seen doing the right thing for the country if it would assist Obama in a cause he supports.

It doesn’t matter what that cause is – from jobs to background checks – you’re not going to get it if Obama supports it, because the Republicans don’t want him to “win”. Anything. Even if Obama doesn’t view it as a “win”, and clearly he doesn’t, the Republicans are too tangled in their web of juvenile denial to be objective about policy. If Obama is for it, Republicans are against it.

It doesn’t matter what the policy is, or if Republicans believe in the policy or if it was based on conservative principles (see ObamaCare). They are against it. It doesn’t matter if the policy would help Americans. They are against it. It doesn’t matter it the policy might save lives. They are against it. Cuz Obama. WAA.

It will be dangerous for Republicans if American voters ever catch on, and begin to associate the “causes” of jobs, health, lives of our children, and other mainstream concerns as “liberal” and “Democratic” causes. After all, by standing in opposition to those causes only because a Democrat supports them, Republicans are setting themselves up as being against causes/policies that most Americans support, while also handing those causes to Democrats on a silver platter.

To wit, Toomey is enjoying a rise in the polls in Pennsylvania after backing the popular gun safety bill, with noticeable improvement from Democrats.


Republicans Are Beginning To Censor Their Town Halls By Limiting Gun Questions

By: Jason Easley
May. 1st, 2013

Sen. Kelly Ayotte recently held a town hall where her moderator intentionally limited gun questions. This is the first sign that Republicans are resorting to censorship when faced with public backlash.

For the last couple of years, when Republicans have been faced with a constituent backlash over an unpopular vote, they have resorted to various forms of censorship at their town hall meetings. There was a wave of censorship and arrests at Republican town halls after members faced constituent outrage over their vote to kill Medicare. Rep. Steve Chabot had police seize a citizen’s camera after he tried to record the congressman talking about his vote to kill Medicare. Rep. Paul Ryan had five people kicked out, and three people arrested at one of his town halls, and Eric Cantor had the jobless kicked out of one of his events.

After facing criticism and chaos for voting against expanded background checks, the moderator for Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte did something different. He only allowed one question on guns. The moderator, former Rep. Jeb Bradley admitted that he intentionally limited the questions on guns.

Here is the video from Granite State Progress:

Bradley explained why he limited the number of questions on Ayotte’s controversial vote against expanding background checks to one, “Well, she answered in great depth at the beginning of her town hall, talked about her vote on guns, and I just felt that given we had a limited amount of time and there were a number of other questions, that people should have the chance to ask other questions as well as on guns. I mean, we could have spent an hour and a half just talking about guns. I didn’t think it would be productive. There were many, many questions on guns supporting her position, and there were some against her position, so I just – (shrugs)”

Bradley also took responsibility for not allowing more questions on guns.

Allow me to translate what Bradley was really saying, “Get it people. Her vote on background checks was just another vote. There are lots of important issues to talk about. How about we talk about some of those instead? She doesn’t want to talk about this!!!!”

This is the biggest sign yet that Republicans are feeling the heat for their vote against expanding background checks. Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Dean Heller (R-NV), Rob Portman (R-OH), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), and Mark Begich (D-AK) have all seen their job approval ratings drop since voting against expanding background checks.

Censorship at congressional town halls always begins with successful incident. Ayotte got away with allowing her moderator to limit the number of questions on expanding background checks to one. You can bet your bottom dollar that this tactic will be emulated in congressional town halls all across the country. It was a very clever move. Ayotte gets off the hook for her vote, and she gets to pin the lack of questions on the subject on her moderator.

Those who voted against background checks can try to censor all of their town halls, but they can’t escape the fallout from their shameful political calculus. When elected officials, or their moderators, censor the voices of their constituents, it is wrong.

On the plus side, when the opposition starts censoring you that means you’ve already won.


May 02, 2013 06:00 AM

Taibbi: Bankers Freak Out Over Brown-Vitter TBTF Legislation

By Susie Madrak

Matt Taibbi with some news that is making bankers very, very unhappy:

    Minds are changing on Too Big to Fail. A month ago, it was just something in the air. Now, it looks like we're headed for a real legislative confrontation. And man, is the finance sector freaking.

    Last week, on April 24th, Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Louisiana Republican David Vitter introduced legislation called the "Terminating Bailouts for Taxpayer Fairness Act of 2013 Act," or the "Brown-Vitter TBTF Act" for short. The bill is a gun aimed directly at the head of the Too-Big-To-Fail beast.

    During the Dodd-Frank negotiations a few years ago, Brown teamed up with Delaware Democrat Ted Kaufman to introduce an amendment that would have physically capped the size of the biggest banks. The amendment was bold and righteous but was slaughtered on the floor by a 61-33 margin, undermined by leaders of both parties – 27 Democrats voted against it.

    Brown-Vitter offers a different and, in a way, more elegant solution to the problem than Brown-Kaufman. Rather than impose size limits, it simply insists that banks with over $500 billion in assets maintain higher capital reserves than are currently required. Companies like J.P. Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and Bank of America will have to keep capital reserves of about 15 percent, about twice the current amount.

    The bill only has such tough requirements for just those few megabanks, which sounds unfair, except that the aim of the bill, precisely, is to level the playing field. Right now, the biggest U.S. banks enjoy a massive inherent market advantage in that they're able to borrow money far more cheaply than other banks, because everybody on earth knows the government will never let them fail and will always bail them out in a pinch, making their debt essentially U.S.-government guaranteed. Studies have shown that these banks borrow money at about 0.8 percent more cheaply than other banks, and that this implicit government subsidy is worth about $83 billion a year just to the top 10 banks in America. This bill would essentially wipe out that hidden subsidy and make the banks bailout-proof.

    As soon as Brown-Vitter was introduced, a very interesting thing happened. The Independent Community Bankers of America, or ICBA, issued a press release boosting the bill. "ICBA strongly supports this legislation," the release read, "and urges all community banks to join the association in advocating passage of legislation to end too-big-to-fail."

    This was a big thing. It was the first time since the crisis that a prominent financial industry group opposed the will of the TBTF banks. I remember covering Dodd-Frank and being told by a number of members in the House and the Senate that the sentiment of many community bankers was for breaking up or at least curtailing the power of companies like Chase and Bank of America, but that the community banking lobby was not yet prepared to take that step.

    But now, after the London Whale, the LIBOR scandal, the outrageous HSBC settlement and nearly five years of rapacious market-dominating behavior by these state-backed banks, the community banks have finally split off from TBTF.

    This is another in a series of defections on this issue that in the past year has included many Republican politicians, numerous important financial regulators (even the New York Fed has taken a semi-stand against TBTF) and, hilariously, the creator of Too-Big-To-Fail himself, former Citigroup CEO and legendary lower-Manhattan raging asshole Sandy Weill. Weill was the man for whom the Glass-Steagall Act was repealed back in the nineties, so that his already-completed Citigroup merger could be legalized. But even he came out last year and said we have to break up the banks.

    Naturally, there was going to be a response to Brown-Vitter from Wall Street. And we got it last week, shockingly not from one of the banks or a lobbying firm connected to the banks, but from the Standard and Poor's ratings agency – supposedly a strict, humorlessly conservative auditor that should always abhor risk and look favorably upon greater safety and security. The very fact that such a company came out against a bill forcing banks to have safer balance sheets is in itself absolute proof of how completely fucked and corrupt our current system is.

Click to watch:

« Last Edit: May 02, 2013, 08:05 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #6130 on: May 03, 2013, 05:44 AM »

05/02/2013 05:39 PM

Growing Anti-Semitism: World Jewish Congress Takes on Hungary

By Keno Verseck

In symbolic protest of growing anti-Semitism in Hungary, the World Jewish Congress will meet in Budapest this weekend. This has angered Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who plans to address the assembly about the criticism. But no amount of talk can erase the fact that right-wing extremism is on the rise there.

János Lázár has had enough, though usually it's difficult to unsettle the powerful head of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's office. Lázár complained bitterly on Monday at a press conference in Budapest about the international criticism of Hungary, above all that "part of the world labels all of us as anti-Semites." It is "unethical," the 38-year-old said, when "injuries in politics and business life are retaliated against with accusations of supposed anti-Semitism."

For good reason, Lázár didn't name any names. That's because in reality, neither foreign politicians nor serious observers of Hungary are patently accusing Orbán's government of being anti-Semitic or harboring anti-Semites. But Lázár's complaints did have a target -- the World Jewish Congress (WJC), which will meet in Budapest this Sunday.

While WJC assemblies take place mainly in Jerusalem, this time the world's most important representative body of international Jewish organizations and communities will hold its three-day meeting in Hungary to protest growing anti-Semitism in the country and show solidarity with the country's Jews.

'An Attempt to Unify'

Unofficially, this has displeased the government. The country is home to one of Europe's largest Jewish communities, and Orbán's conservative-nationalist coalition, which holds a two-thirds majority in parliament, would have gladly accepted the meeting if the WJC had cited Hungary's rich Jewish life as its reason.

Adding insult to injury, WJC President Ronald S. Lauder harshly criticized the Hungarian government in the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung in early April, writing that Orbán had "lost his political compass" and "often tells the right-wing fringes what they want to hear." Hungary, he said, is on a "dangerous wrong path."

Lauder took a "hasty position," Hungarian Foreign Minister János Martonyi told SPIEGEL ONLINE in reaction to the article. "President Lauder will see something radically different in Budapest." Furthermore, Hungary's chief diplomat says, "one needn't predict a permanent departure from modernity just because current Hungarian policies are marked by a clear set of values. Behind this is merely the intention to unify and strengthen a society that has lost its solidarity."

Orbán plans to address these criticisms on Sunday in a speech before the 500 WJC delegates, clearly distancing himself from anti-Semitism and right-wing extremism. He also wants to "very strongly" address the accusations of anti-Semitism in Hungary and its government, according to Lázár.

'Very Uncomfortable Feelings'

It could turn out to be a difficult balancing act for Orbán. In the past, he has repeatedly distanced himself from anti-Semitism and the far-right Jobbik party, which took 17 percent of the vote in the 2010 national election. Additionally, in recent weeks he personally saw to it that three anti-Semitic demonstrations were banned, including an "anti-Zionist mass rally" planned by Jobbik for this Saturday. And this despite criticism from some Hungarian civil liberties organizations who have called it "constitutionally unacceptable" that the prime minister "decides which demonstrations are allowed or not based on his individual tastes," as lawyer Éva Simon from the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (TASZ) says.

But parallel to Orbán's attempts to distance himself from such sentiments, the number of anti-Semitic incidents and right-wing extremist tendencies have grown in recent years -- including within the government coalition of his conservative Fidesz party and their ally, the Christian Democratic People's Party (KDNP).

Parts of Fidesz are eagerly participating in the hero worship of former far-right leader Miklós Horthy, for example, even though he was among those responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust. Then there was the fact that László Kövér, speaker of the National Assembly, Hungary's parliament, took part in a memorial for blood-and-soil novelist and fascist Arrow Cross Party ideologist József Nyírö.

Meanwhile, Hungary's national school curriculum recommends a number of pre-World War II, anti-Semitic authors for readings. And neither Orbán nor his party have distanced themselves from his friend and Fidesz co-founder Zsolt Bayer, who has penned anti-Semitic, anti-Ziganist articles, and plays a central role in rallying far-right voters. Then, in March, Budapest awarded state honors to a number of people known for their anti-Semitic, far-right extremist tendencies, including János Petrás, the singer of the far-right rock group Kárpátia.

Still, when Péter Feldmájer, president of the Hungarian Jewish Community, takes stock of the current situation, he focuses on nuances. "In our view there are no anti-Semites in the Hungarian government," he says. "But we certainly see anti-Semitic tendencies in the government majority." Most Jews in Hungary don't feel endangered, he says. "However, among most of the members of our community the increasingly intense right-wing extremist and anti-Semitic attacks are creating very uncomfortable feelings."

A Defiant Approach

The fact that the public discourse seems to be moving ever further to the right may have something to do with these feelings. Orbán himself recently called a highly criticized blood-and-country speech he gave last year "excellent." He is also calling for his country to be one of the last "strongholds of Christianity."

"In Europe, prayer and work are hardly held in high regard any longer," he said last Sunday in the western village of Ják at the rededication of an 800-year-old church. "Europe is trapped in an aggressive, secular, internationalist, anti-family vision." Hungary must follow its own Christian and Hungarian path, he said, and won't be cowed by anyone, including Brussels or its own shadow.

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« Reply #6131 on: May 03, 2013, 05:50 AM »

Greece: ‘Golden Dawn thrown out’

Ta Nea,
3 May 2013

The Mayor of Athens, Giorgos Kaminis, on May 2 banned a food distribution operation organised by the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, which offers help exclusively for Greeks.

Furious at the decision, Golden Dawn MP Yorgos Germenis "brandished a firearm", reports the daily, adding that the politician attempted to strike the mayor but instead injured a child. Police used teargas to disperse neo-Nazi activists.

It is the first time that authorities have outlawed what the newspaper describes as the “soup kitchen of hatred.” The daily wonders if the move represents a real change in the government’s attitude or if the power struggle with Golden Dawn has been motivated by the prospect of 2014 municipal elections.

Full Story

Finally tolerance Golden Dawn, with an open line Athens - Police
Hotline Municipality - Police yesterday's surgery in Syntagma Square that caused the thugs run amok Member's tilted George Kaminis

I wonder was the first rule in an undeclared war for the municipal elections of 2014 in Athens? Or was it the beginning of the end to messes and donations "for Greeks' organized for months the Golden Dawn? Regardless of what the answer is, Syntagma Square was yesterday witnessed the confrontation between George chimneys and the party of Nikos Michaloliakos.

The mayor now appears willing to stand against the ethnically pure social actions of the Golden Dawn, but also origin all lawlessness different groups tend to prevail in public places. All this while the third player was yesterday the Greek policeman with crates and limited use teargas repel bratsarades with black tops of the square.

George Kaminis always sought coordination with the Ministry of Public Order. Whether found interlocutor and, more importantly, as a supporter in the person of Nick Dendias - saw yesterday the Prime Minister - it is an issue. Another issue is if the government has now decided to terminate the impression that there is tolerance in the Golden Dawn. Impression that tends to do serious damage to the image of the country abroad, where many expect the Greek state more proactive treatment of domestic neo-fascist phenomenon. Recalled that the Minister of Public Order has recently been traveling in the U.S., where he had many important contacts at many levels. Anyway, it seems to have continued yesterday's events in the Constitution and the junction Mutual of Athens where the MP "Kaiadas" finally found the chimneys, but achieved "civilians" with his fist.

A young mother in her early twenties, and a few months old baby girl was holding in her arms "pay the bill" during attack MP George Germeni Golden Dawn, also known as Keadas detriment of Athens Mayor Giorgos furnace.

The reason for this attack was challenging the cancellation yesterday morning food distribution in Syntagma Square, organized by the Golden Dawn. However, as announced by the Municipality was an illegal act and requested the assistance of the police not to take place. Squads of riot police prevented the trucks and the Golden Dawn to set up stalls and were mikroepeisodia.

The Gunslinger. However, a few hours later, the MP of the party wanted to get revenge ... in the building Node Mutual Citizens of Athens, the old garrison headquarters, at the junction of Domokos and Philadelphia, across from Larissa Station (OSE), where he had gone the mayor. According to eyewitnesses, the mother was the one who finally accepted the person hit by the hand of MP and fearful both she and little daughter put their tears. "I was at the junction and share candles and toys to kids," says Mr. furnace. "Not to understand when and how they came, suddenly appears in front of me a gentleman and swearing did macho and went to a punched. Then the two guards intervened and removed, and the time she took a slap some girl who was next. He continued yelling and launches an attack against the guards and then told me it was the MP of the Golden Dawn, "said the 'new'.
"We passed them with rations hatred and resorted to such methods," he adds. It is characteristic that the time of the attack with one hand against the Mayor, the other Mr. Germenis holding gun and he realized the two guards.

Similar picture describes the present in the incident city councilor Helen Katsoulis vice Reception Centre of Solidarity Athens (KYADA) where it has the effect of Node Mutual.

"Clearly the MP surprised. Invaded the area without anyone to understand him and moved menacingly in order to attack against Mr Chimneys, who had come here to hand out candles and toys. Someone then shouted that he initially unknown man, MP, "has a gun," so there was panic. While two men up the mayor tried to restrain Mr. Germeni with his hands is like anevokatevazei, he found his wife on the forehead. And we put the ice in the bump she left ... "said the 'new'.

THE SHOW. Earlier, and out of this area, a few hundred meters from the old offices of the Golden Dawn Street Diligiannis where eventually become the distribution of food, incidents occurred when around 40 members of the Golden Dawn moved to the building of Node attempted to enter from the back side. They were repulsed, however, riot police, who did use chemicals. Referring then to parliamentary capacity, Mr. Germenis entered alone on the site from the front entrance, avoiding the police blockade.
"The logic of the guts will not pass," said the mayor of Athens and for this reason he repeats it moves to a complaint being filed against the MP. "The democracy will win. The logic of brute force which we saw manifested double today, and the incident against me, and unfortunately a Member is elected by the people, is not going to pass, we are not being kataptoisei "also indicated in his public statement immediately after event.

According to police, the incident formed file, in which deals with complaints about threatening move - gun show by MP.


May 2, 2013

Political Scuffle in Athens Bruises Young Bystander


ATHENS — The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, which has 18 seats in the Greek Parliament, has been widely criticized for attacking immigrants. But now its members seem to have a new target: politicians.

On Thursday, hours after the police broke up a Golden Dawn effort to distribute free food — to “native Greeks” only — a Golden Dawn legislator apparently tried to punch the mayor of Athens in the face but missed and hit a 12-year-old girl instead.

Witnesses said that the lawmaker, Giorgos Germenis, a former bassist in a heavy metal band, had a gun in his pocket as well, and that the mayor’s security detail had blocked him from pulling it. The confrontation came after the mayor, Giorgos Kaminis, asked the police to stop the food distribution program in Syntagma Square.

An amateur video posted on the Internet shows members of the mayor’s security detail restraining Mr. Germenis and repeatedly telling him to “leave the gun alone.”

The episode occurred in a municipal building where employees were distributing candles to children for the Greek Orthodox Easter, which is Sunday. The girl, who had come to collect candles, had a bruised forehead, but was not seriously injured, while the mayor was unharmed, the employees said.

Political parties from across the spectrum immediately condemned the episode.

This was by no means the first time a member of Parliament from Golden Dawn had apparently come to blows with another politician. In June, the party’s spokesman, Ilias Kasidiaris, attacked two legislators, both of them women, during a televised debate, a stunt that lifted the party’s popularity. In March, Parliament voted to divest Mr. Kasidiaris of the immunity that protects lawmakers, and he now faces trial in the attack.

In October, Parliament voted to lift the immunity of Mr. Germenis and another Golden Dawn lawmaker, Panagiotis Iliopoulos, over a string of assaults on immigrant vendors in Rafina, a port near Athens.

Immediately after the episode on Thursday, Mr. Kaminis told an Athens radio station that Mr. Germenis had tried to pull a gun on him, and Mr. Kaminis’s spokesman said the mayor would file a lawsuit. A police spokesman could not confirm whether Mr. Germenis was armed, but said a prosecutor was expected to ask Parliament to decide on whether to lift his immunity in connection with the confrontation.

In a statement, Golden Dawn denied that a girl had been hit and said it would sue Mr. Kaminis and his security guards, The Associated Press reported.

Golden Dawn’s lawmakers and supporters have organized several food handouts across the country since the party was elected to Parliament in June on an anti-austerity, anti-immigrant platform, including one such event in Syntagma Square last summer.

The mayor has since banned such events in Athens’s central square, and he had pledged to prevent Golden Dawn’s event on Thursday.

In comments to reporters, Mr. Kaminis said the most important thing was that the “hate fueled” food handout had been thwarted. He also spoke of a “victory of the democratic state over thuggery.”

Golden Dawn, once an obscure organization with a penchant for Nazi symbols, has become Greece’s third-most popular party, according to opinion polls, tapping into growing public exasperation with three years of austerity measures and a continuing influx of immigrants.

Its activities have fueled concern among human rights organizations. Last month, the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, Nils Muiznieks, described Golden Dawn as “a neo-Nazi and violent political party,” urging that it be banned under international human rights treaties.

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« Reply #6132 on: May 03, 2013, 05:55 AM »

05/03/2013 09:48 AM

Missed Opportunity?: Hopes Pinned on NSU Trial May Be Dashed

By David Crossland

The NSU neo-Nazi trial opening on Monday offers a chance for Germany to face up to the presence of violent right-wing extremists and to tackle racism in its institutions. Anti-Nazi groups warn that the lack of real change since the case came to light in 2011 means the country risks missing that opportunity.

Germany's biggest neo-Nazi trial ever will start on Monday in the glare of the domestic and international media when right-wing extremist Beate Zschäpe, 38, believed to be the sole surviving member of the National Socialist Underground terrorist group, will face charges of involvement in the murders of 10 people, most of them immigrants.

Four alleged accomplices will be in the dock with her in the mammoth trial in which over 600 witnesses will be called to testify. A total of 84 court days of have been slated but that may not be enough. There are 80 co-plaintiffs from the families of the victims -- eight men of Turkish origin, one man of Greek descent, and a German policewoman.

The case has alarmed the country's 3 million people of Turkish descent and has been a huge embarrassment to Germany because of the catalogue of errors made by the police and security authorities that exposed them to accusations of institutional racism and of having been blind to the threat of right-wing extremism.

Last week, Germany apologized for those mistakes at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, describing the murders as "without a doubt one of the worst human rights violations in Germany in the last decade."

Chancellor Angela Merkel apologized to the victims at a formal ceremony in Berlin last year.

The trial start was delayed by almost three weeks because of controversy over the allocation of seats for the media. In the first round, no Turkish news organization obtained a press pass, which caused an uproar that threatened to further tarnish Germany's reputation.

'They Photographed My Father As He Lay Dying'

The execution-style killings, all committed with the same Ceska Browning pistol, were carried out in cities across Germany between 2000 and 2007. The police never seriously considered that the motive may be racism and instead suspected that the victims, who included a flower seller, a grocer and a part-time tailor, themselves had links with criminal gangs.

"After the murderers shot my father in the face they photographed him as he lay dying," Semiya Simsek, the daughter of Enver Simsek, a flower wholesaler who was shot dead on Sept. 9, 2000 at his roadside flower stall in Nuremberg, told the newspaper Die Welt last month. He was the first victim. The police believed the family was behind the killing, and also suspected he was smuggling drugs from Holland.

"One explanation is the prejudice against foreigners and Turks that is deeply ingrained in people's minds," said Simsek. "This influenced the investigation for years and led them into the one, wrong direction."

The cases were only solved by chance, and not until November 2011, when two members of the group, Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos, committed suicide after police closed in on them following a bank robbery, one of 15 with which they had funded themselves over the years while living in Germany, untroubled by the police.

Police found the Ceska murder weapon in an apartment in Zwickau, where the two men had lived with Zschäpe for three years. She had set fire to the apartment as soon as she heard of the suicides. When she left, she handed her two cats to a neighbor but didn't help a disabled elderly lady who lived in another flat of the burning building. Zschäpe is also accused of arson and attempted murder.

Will Zschäpe Finally Testify?

She turned herself into the police a few days later, after mailing a DVD to newspapers and Muslim groups in which the NSU claimed responsibility for all the murders and for a nail bomb attack in a district of Cologne where many Turks live that injured 22 people in 2004. The film revealed the group's callousness, featuring clips of the Pink Panther cartoon character interspersed with photos of some of the murder victims lying in pools of blood.

Police handout photos of Zschäpe's expressionless face have frequently been on front pages since November 2011. Zschäpe, who had been romantically involved with both Böhnhardt and Mundlos, has so far refused to testify on the crimes.

The court will throw a spotlight on every corner of her life. Her mother, her cousin, the parents of Böhnhardt and Mundlos, fellow neo-Nazis, informants and police officers will be called into the witness box to help shed light on what motivated the NSU and how it was able to evade the police for so long, and with such apparent ease. Whether she breaks her silence will be one of the most interesting aspects of the trial.

Born in Jena in communist East Germany in 1975, she joined neo-Nazi groups in the early 1990s, met Böhnhardt and Mundlos and helped to organize far-right demonstrations. The three of them went on the run in 1998 when police issued an arrest warrant after finding four pipe bombs with 1.4 kilos of TNT in a garage she had rented. They also found a machete and a rifle in her apartment along with a homemade board game called Pogromly, a neo-Nazi version of monopoly.

The trial will expose to a broader audience the institutional shortcomings that have come to light in parliamentary enquiries underway since last year -- the security services are regionally fragmented and overly bureaucratic, say experts. Crucial information either wasn't acted on or wasn't shared among departments. Opportunities to arrest the trio, who felt safe enough to have spent a number of holidays on Germany's picturesque Baltic Sea coast,were missed.

The domestic intelligence service, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, which maintains a murky network of neo-Nazi informants, has been singled out for particular criticism, compounded by its shredding of files relating to the NSU shortly after the group was uncovered in 2011.

Its president, Heinz Fromm, quit last year. Several other heads have rolled, but he was the most senior official to go. The government has responded to the failings by setting up a central register of neo-Nazis and a new anti-extremism center which, however, focuses not just on far-right but on left-wing and foreign terrorism as well.

NSU Discovery Hasn't Triggered Much Change

But even though the Munich trial will spark a new flurry of attention, the everyday beatings, the intimidation and the abuse of immigrants by neo-Nazis around Germany will go on, say anti-racism campaigners and people who help the victims of violence.

On the ground, they say, not much has changed since the discovery of the NSU caused nationwide public uproar.

Asked whether he had the impression that authorities were getting tougher on neo-Nazis, Bernd Wagner, the founder of Exit, a group that helps neo-Nazis to quit, told SPIEGEL ONLINE: "No, I can't detect that anything has really been learned," said the former policeman. "Many police officers, especially leading ones, feel harassed and insulted by the criticism. Most of them are working in the same way they did before November 2011, the spirit hasn't changed. It seems that the political leadership and their own superiors aren't demanding it either."

Biplab Basu, an Indian-born anti-racism campaigner who works for Reach Out, a Berlin-based group that helps victims of racist violence, hasn't seen any improvement either.

"We had hoped that the behavior of authorities would change, at least for a year or two, but unfortunately we're seeing that this isn't the case," he told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

Accusations of Institutional Racism
"I'm talking about police officers on patrol," Basu said. "I recently accompanied a young black man to court. An elderly man had hurled abuse at him on a street in the Neukölln district of Berlin and then hit him with an iron bar. People called the police. When they arrived, the first thing they did was push the victim up against the wall and handcuff him. When he protested, they told him to shut up."

"Some passersby and children from a nearby playground called out that the police had got it wrong," Basu continued. "He said he forgot about the pain from the iron bar. What hurt most was that the police immediately saw him as the suspect."

Similar incidents happen frequently, said Basu. "Very, very many people say that when the police arrive, the first thing they do is ask for the victim's papers. It's the same principle as with the NSU murders. I don't think the trial will lead to much change in society."

UK Launched Reforms after Stephen Lawrence Case

Anetta Kahane, head of the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, a group that combats right-wing extremism, said Germany needed far deeper and more fundamental reforms to combat institutional racism.

She cited the changes made in British law in the wake of a racist killing in 1993, when Stephen Lawrence, an 18-year-old black man, was stabbed to death while waiting for a bus in London.

The acquittal of the five suspects in his death led to an outcry and a public inquiry that concluded the city's Metropolitan Police Force was institutionally racist and called for widespread reforms of public institutions from the police to local government and the National Health Service. The law was changed to enable a retrial and two of the original suspects got life sentences.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking last month before a memorial service marking the 20th anniversary of Stephen Lawrence's death, said it had "sparked monumental change in our society."

Black and Asian police officers in Britain say more change is needed. But Germany, says Kahane, is way behind in this respect.

Victims Seen as 'Superfluous'

"We've got to do what Britain did when it went through that painful process of checking to what extent there's a racist mindset in institutions," she told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "But nothing is happening here and the trial won't change that. We haven't got a debate about racism in Germany. That's why we don't really see the Nazis."

"If they'd done an attack like in Boston and so-called biological Germans had been among the victims, it would be different. But the NSU deliberately targeted people that not only they, but society, regard as superfluous."

Estimates of the number of people killed by neo-Nazis since the early 1990s, when there was an upsurge in far-right violence following unification, vary widely. Some put the figure at close to 200.

The true number of racist assaults is almost impossible to ascertain because many victims don't go to the police.

According to the 2011 report of the domestic intelligence agency, there were 755 violent assaults motivated by right-wing extremisism in the whole of Germany in 2011. But according to figures compiled by groups that help neo-Nazi victims, there were a total of 626 assaults in eastern Germany alone last year, suggesting that the total for Germany is much bigger than official statistics suggest.

"We have a lot of blind spots in parts of the country where we don't have many contacts who report assaults," said Robert Kusche of RAA Sachsen, an advice group. "Sometimes violence is normal there and the victims don't go to the police or contact us, but simply accept it."

Greater Public Sensitivity

The German parliament's committee investigating the NSU case is expected to submit its report in September, and it remains to be seen what recommendations it will make.

Some observers do detect a greater public awareness of neo-Nazis. When the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) launched a campaign of demonstrations targeting asylum seekers' hostels in the eastern state of Saxony last year, local groups quickly organized public resistance.

"People stood outside hostels to protect them and they organized events that attracted bigger crowds of all ages," said Grit Hanneforth, director of Kulturbüro Sachsen, a pro-democracy NGO catering for the region.

"Citizens' groups are now able to muster support relatively quickly and with more knowhow. And people know who to call and how to organize themselves when they want to oppose something going on where they live, like a neo-Nazi concert."

But Hanneforth added that combating everyday racism remains a major challenge, and that extremists are continuing to infiltrate organizations like sports and youth clubs.

"Violent attacks still happen, regardless of whether there's more pressure on neo-Nazis from the authorities. They're becoming more aggressive. I hope the NSU trial will contribute to a better public understanding that it's only dealing with the very tip of the iceberg."

Professor Hajo Funke, a leading analyst of the far right, said the NSU case had yet to bring about real change in the way the security authorities work. True, police have stepped up raids on neo-Nazi groups. But previous bans and raids haven't stopped the daily intimidation of immigrants, and they didn't stop the NSU.

An Opportunity for Change

"Law enforcement agencies haven't been jolted into action to curb the most dangerous aspect -- everyday terrorism by the far right in the form of racist assaults," Funke told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "There's been a jolt in public awareness. But not in the institutions."

The domestic intelligence agency should be dissolved and its duties moved to a unit that is far more analytical and transparent in its assessment of the domestic terrorist threat, said Funke.

Funke has been among those who have been warning for a long time that everyday terrorism could lead to organized terrorism of the sort carried out by the NSU.

"I assume there are more NSUs, but the scene is extremely well organized and very well armed," said Kahane. "Getting hold of weapons has never been a problem for them."

The NSU case, she said, was an opportunity for Germany to get to grips with its far-right problem. "If we don't seize moments like this, opportunites that may come along later will be all the more painful."


05/03/2013 11:49 AM

Girl Next Door: The Making of a Neo-Nazi

By Julia Jüttner

Having refused to comment on her alleged crimes, Beate Zschäpe, the only surviving member of the murderous NSU neo-Nazi terror cell, remains an enigma. With her trial set to begin on Monday, prosecutors hope to illuminate the character of a woman described by neighbors as outgoing and likeable.

Beate Zschäpe's family is dead. That's what she said in November 2011, on the day that she turned herself in to the police in Jena. As she put it, her family consisted of Uwe Mundlos und Uwe Böhnhardt, the two men she first met at a youth club in the eastern German city where she grew up. She was romantically involved with both of them, eventually embracing a life of crime and going underground in 1998.

She was closer to Mundlos and Böhnhardt than she was to the grandmother who brought her up, acting as her substitute mother and main anchor in life. She was closer to them than she was to her parents. She never met her father and her relationship with her mother was distant.

Originally scheduled for April 17, Beate Zschäpe's trial is now due to begin in a Munich court on May 6 after a row over foreign press access. As an alleged founding member of a neo-Nazi cell calling itself the National Socialist Underground (NSU), she is accused of complicity in the murder of eight Turks, a Greek and a policewoman, two bombings in Cologne and 15 bank robberies. Four others are charged with assisting the NSU.

Anja Sturm, Zschäpe's defense lawyer, is unwilling to comment on her client's state of mind ahead of the trial. "Any defendant, especially if they are remanded in custody, will become increasingly tense in the immediate run-up to their trial," she says. "Their mood will fluctuate between optimism and depression."

Zschäpe is allowed to follow the media coverage of her case on TV and in newspapers, but her lawyer won't confirm that her client actually does. All Sturm will say is that Zschäpe and her defense lawyers have agreed not to comment on her case.

As the only surviving member of the NSU, Zschäpe has become the face of what's been dubbed the Zwickau terror cell. For almost 14 years, she lived with two men who committed 10 racially motivated murders, carried out bomb attacks and robbed banks. Beate Zschäpe probably felt far more fulfilled during these years than she ever had before.

Formative Early Years

Zschäpe was born in Jena in January 1975. Her mother hadn't planned to have a baby. She became pregnant while studying dentistry in Romania. Her father is believed to be a Romanian student, who refused to acknowledge paternity. Zschäpe's mother left the baby with her parents in Jena and returned to her studies. Within a year, she married a childhood friend from Jena, who took care of the infant. But she divorced him as soon as she had completed her studies, remarrying and moving in with her new husband in his hometown of Camburg in Thuringia. Once again, the baby was left with its grandparents. This marriage also failed. Beate Zschäpe was five years old before she finally got to live with her mother.

They never managed to make up for the lost time. At first, they shared a cramped one-room apartment in the Lobeda district of Jena and later moved to the neighborhood of Winzerla. It was here, in a youth club, that Beate first encountered Uwe Mundlos, the son of a college professor.

They became a couple in 1993, getting engaged and immersing themselves in the local far-right scene. Eventually, she left him for Uwe Böhnhardt. Two years younger than her, he was the son of an engineer and a teacher -- and a fervent neo-Nazi.

"My daughter's political views were not the only reason for our estrangement, but they were a major cause," Zschäpe's mother told the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA). She described their relationship as "tense" and characterized by a lack of mutual affection and interest. Nevertheless, she also said that her daughter never made xenophobic, far-right comments in her presence. She was shocked when the police raided their home in 1996, recalling that it was only then that she realized the extent of her daughter's involvement in the neo-Nazi scene.

Zschäpe allegedly had a number of affairs with far-right extremists while she was training as a gardener, despite her relationship with Böhnhardt. Nevertheless, the couple and Mundlos were said to be inseparable. Together, they would visit Zschäpe's mother and grandmother, Mundlos bringing flowers and Böhnhardt wearing operating room slippers over his polished combat boots -- they were too much work to unlace.

Substitute Family

The three friends were among the founders of the far-right militant group called the Kameradschaft Jena ("Jena Comradeship"), attending rallies as well as weekly meetings held by another neo-Nazi group, the Thuringia Homeland Protection League (THS), which drew up to one hundred supporters. According to Thuringia's domestic intelligence service, THS had evolved into the state's most militant neo-Nazi group by the late 1990s, numbering up to 170 members.

By this point, the far-right network had become Zschäpe's ersatz family and her life of crime had begun. Together with Böhnhardt she vandalized a memorial to the victims of fascism in Rudolstadt and began renting a garage where they made fake bombs.

On Jan. 26, 1998, the police raided the premises and found several pipe bombs without detonators filled with 1.39 kilograms of TNT. The trio went underground. Shortly before disappearing, Zschäpe asked her grandmother for money and told her she was being chased.

In subsequent years, Zschäpe assumed over 10 different identities with apparent ease. Within the terror cell, her job was to create a veneer of respectability. She posed as a friendly neighbor, a loyal friend and a helpful roommate, explaining that one of the men she lived with was her boyfriend and the other her brother. After the NSU was discovered, investigators found out that while Mundlos and Böhnhardt often aroused suspicions -- what with their respective obsessive exercising and conspicuous tattoos -- Zschäpe appeared to have made an outgoing and likeable impression on most people she encountered.

"When she entered a room, you forgot your worries," recalls one former neighborhood acquaintance. Unlike her roommates, she cultivated outside friendships, organizing barbecues where she would get tipsy and dance in the yard. To all appearances, she was an outgoing young woman who would seek out the company of others when she and the two men went on camping trips.

Perhaps Zschäpe yearned for a normal life during her years underground. There were few people who knew of the terror cell's existence, and therefore few people she could confide in. "I would never have thought she was capable of murder and hatred on this scale," says one former neighbor. It's now up to prosecutors in Munich to prove that she was.


Oldest known Nazi concentration camp survivor dies at 107

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, May 2, 2013 12:17 EDT

The oldest known male survivor of the Nazi concentration camps, Austrian-born Leopold Engleitner, has died at the age of 107, Austrian media reported Thursday.

Engleitner passed away on April 21 but his death was only announced now in accordance with his wishes, said the daily Salzburger Nachrichten.

A Jehovah’s witness and conscientious objector who refused to serve in the Wehrmacht, the Austrian — born on July 23, 1905 in Strobl near Salzburg — was deported by the Nazis in 1939 and survived the concentration camps of Buchenwald, Niederhagen and Ravensbrueck before he was released in 1943 to carry out forced labour.

He weighed just 28 kilogrammes (62 pounds) upon his release.

Called up again in 1945, he escaped and managed to hide in the mountains.

After the war, he led a discrete life until a biography by Bernhard Rammerstorfer in 1999, “Unbroken Will”, turned him into a much sought-after speaker.

Engleitner travelled through Europe, Russia and the United States in the following years, giving lectures, including at the Los Angeles Simon Wiesenthal Center, and telling his story in schools and universities.

A recent short film about his life entitled “Ladder in the Lion’s Den” has won awards at film festivals in the US and Puerto Rico.

The world’s oldest concentration camp survivor is believed to be Alice Herz-Sommer, born in 1903.


German TV pulls crime show after star revealed to be Nazi

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, May 2, 2013 14:11 EDT

German public broadcaster ZDF said Thursday it would stop showing reruns of the wildly popular television crime show “Derrick” after it emerged that its late star had belonged to Hitler’s notorious Waffen SS.

Horst Tappert, who played the beloved baggy-eyed detective from 1974 to 1998 in a programme that ran in more than 100 countries, was a member of an SS tank regiment on the Russian front, according to archive files released last month.

“ZDF is shocked and troubled by the news that Horst Tappert was a member of the Waffen SS,” spokesman Peter Bogenschuetz told AFP.

“We have no plans to broadcast any more reruns.”

ZDF produced 280 episodes of the show, which became must-see television for generations of post-war Germans. The most recent rerun had appeared on ZDF on April 1.

Military archives uncovered by a researcher showed Tappert joined the Waffen SS at the latest in 1943 when he was 20.

Tappert, who died in 2008, was tight-lipped about his wartime past in interviews and his memoirs, saying only that he had served as a medic before being taken prisoner at the end of the war.

Meanwhile Dutch public television channel Omroep MAX said it had scrapped plans to show around 20 episodes of “Derrick” from July.

“I was shocked by the news, you don’t expect something like that,” Omroep MAX chairman Jan Slagter told national broadcaster NOS over the weekend.

“We will not honour an actor who has lied over his past.”

And the southern German state of Bavaria, where the series was set, said it was weighing rescinding Tappert’s title of “honourary detective of the Bavarian police”, awarded to the actor in 1980.

“If we had known at the time of Horst Tappert’s possible past with the Waffen SS, we would never have approved the request” for the honour, an interior ministry spokesman said.

Several prominent Germans kept quiet after the war about their service in the Waffen SS, an elite corps responsible for some of the Nazis’ worst atrocities.

A Nobel literature laureate, Gunter Grass, saw his substantial moral authority undermined by his admission in 2006, six decades after World War II, that he had been a member of the Waffen SS as a 17-year-old.

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François Hollande's annus horribilis

French president's first year in office marked by broken promises, soaring joblessness and low ratings

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris, Thursday 2 May 2013 18.34 BST   

François Hollande always said being president of France in its worst economic crisis in decades was not going to be easy. But his first year in power has been a whole lot worse than Socialists feared.

The one-year anniversary of the French left's return to the Elysée has been marked by disappointment on promises to cut unemployment, restore growth, contain the deficit and reverse Europe's one-size-fits-all austerity drive. Hollande's approval ratings have plunged to the lowest of any modern French leader. He is record-breakingly unpopular unusually early in his presidency, more even than his disliked predecessor, the rightwing Nicolas Sarkozy.

One recent poll showed three-quarters of French people were unhappy with him. Significantly, even leftwing voters have begun to lose confidence. The French electorate, already European champion in pessimism, is gloomier than ever.

The reasons for Hollande's annus horribilis, as pollsters put it, lie in a combination of the dire economy and Hollande's perceived softly-softly style. It's not that he has done nothing – the government vaunts its labour market reform and measures to companies to boost competitiveness, for example – but the population cannot seem to make sense of it. The government action has been obscured by rows – such as the unexpectedly ferocious social rift on gay marriage, or the scandal of Jérôme Cahuzac, Hollande's lying tax tsar who was secretly dodging tax. The cabinet seems divided on how far to go with spending cuts, with those furthest to the left openly criticising policy.
Jérôme Cahuzac A scandal involving tax tsar Jérôme Cahuzac has not helped François Hollande's cause. Photograph: Philippe Wojazer/Reuters

A poll last month found half of French people think the government does not know where it is going with the economy, or if it does it is deliberately hiding its plan from the people. Once-popular measures, such as lowering the threshold for wealth tax, or Hollande cutting his own and ministers' salaries, appear to have been forgotten or obscured. Things that were initially most popular – such as the 75% tax on income over €1m (£850,000), which is yet to be enforced after it was rejected as unconstitutional and required a rethink, school reform or gay marriage – are now less liked in polls.

"At the very least, there has been a government failure in explaining to people what it wanted to do," said Frédéric Sawacki of Paris University.

Hollande's biggest problem is spiralling unemployment, a symptom of France's economic decay and zero growth. All French leaders are ultimately judged on their ability to reduce unemployment. Hollande had promised to reverse the rising curve before the end of this year. But that seems far from reach. Unemployment is at 10.6% or 3.2 million people, the highest number since records began in 1996. More people are out of a job in France than at any other time.

Hollande's long-term solutions, including subsidised youth job schemes and labour reform to make hiring and firing slightly easier to weather economic downturns, have not produced quick results. Growth will be lower than predicted and the government will not meet its promised EU target to cut the deficit this year because of the stagnating economy. Highly symbolic factory closures continue, including among beleaguered car-markers, once big job-providers.

Previously when the left came to power, it made generous gestures towards the electorate then tightened the screw later. Hollande chose the opposite, saying his first two years would be hard, then the efforts would pay off. But the economy seems to leave little room for any possible bright years at the end of his five-year term. Crucially, his consensus-style of negotiation politics is seen as dithering by the electorate.

Emmanuel Rivière, of the polling firm TNS-Sofres, said: "For 15 years, the French people have had a structural problem with the way they are governed. Whether a wilful boxer like Nicolas Sarkozy or a soft-consensus man like Hollande, people think neither model works. Neither managed to stem unemployment or fight the deficit.

"Hollande's method isn't seen to live up to the feeling of urgency in France. He gave himself the whole five-year term to get results and reforms for the country. But there's a big misunderstanding around that because his campaign slogan was 'Change is now'. There's a gap between the public's hopes and what it sees right now."

One unexpected event that brought a brief boost to Hollande was the military intervention in Mali – he described a visit to the capital, Bamako, as the "most important day of my political life". But Henri Rey, of the Institute of Political Science in Paris, said the slight bounce did not have a lasting impact politically: "Mali was seen as a success, but it did not fundamentally change the equation."

The year ahead is unlikely to get any easier, with the government faced with overhauling a pensions system the state can no longer pay for, and cutting public spending while insisting it will avoid axe-swinging to the public sector and benefits. Jean-Marc Ayrault, the prime minister, has promised in parliament to fight the nation's anxiety with "action".


Hollande gambling on election defeat for Merkel as French influence fades

Relations have plunged to a new low with François Hollande's party openly criticising Merkel's self-serving approach to euro crisis

Ian Traynor in Brussels, Thursday 2 May 2013 18.06 BST   

François Hollande made his debut on the European summitry stage in May and June last year as the anti-Merkel, the first European leader of weight to openly challenge the German chancellor's austerity prescriptions as the best medicine for curing the euro's ills.

A year on, it is difficult to find anyone in Brussels or EU capitals who has been impressed by the French president or believe he has achieved anything of note. Relations between Paris and Berlin have plunged to fresh lows. There has been no meeting of minds. Fundamental, deep-seated policy divisions plague the EU's central relationship.

Last week, a draft European policy paper from Hollande's governing Socialists included a brutal attack on Merkel, denouncing not only German policies but the chancellor personally as someone interested solely in her re-election prospects, the interests of German savers, and the profits of German industry.

"For many European commentators and politicians," wrote the analyst Renaud Thillaye this week in a paper for the Policy Exchange thinktank, "he is no longer the flagbearer for a different Europe."

Witnesses at the many crisis summits in Brussels held over the past year recall a French president declining to challenge Merkel at all, failing to supply leadership to those who believed he would spearhead the effort against austerity after an election campaign built on that promise.

Hollande has found himself in the tricky position of having to decide whether he would lead a Club Med of southern countries like Spain and Italy against the German-led north, or seek an accommodation with Berlin. A year later, it appears he still has to make up his mind. "Paris has not yet really decided where it wants to be with Germany," said a senior EU diplomat.

With two Brussels summits in the next two months, Berlin and Paris said they would deliver a joint policy paper on responses to the euro crisis. This has not happened and the attempt has been suspended. Behind the scenes the Germans are worried and angry about Hollande's inaction and lack of urgency. Hollande, by contrast, appears unwilling to do Merkel any favours ahead of the crucial German ballot in September when Merkel bids for a third term. "He's waiting for the election," said the diplomat.

The main difference Hollande has made in Europe is not being his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, who was seen to have made life much easier for Merkel. Officials and diplomats say it is only since Sarkozy disappeared that it has become clear how much political cover and support he supplied to help the German leader get her way, underlining the imbalance in Berlin's favour in the Franco-German relationship. Hollande's opposition has left Merkel more isolated, but there is little evidence that he has managed to force any change of direction.


François Hollande: a year of living dangerously

The problem is not that the French president has been inactive. It is that most of his activity has backfired on him

The Guardian, Thursday 2 May 2013 22.52 BST   

Political anniversaries are artificial constructs. There is no real-world reason why a president should be judged on his first 100 days, or even on his first year. Still less when his country is prey to the worst economic crisis in decades, and in the eurozone where the margins of error are so slim. In such circumstances, judgment must surely be postponed. Yet few are today prepared to give François Hollande that leeway. Almost all of the write ups of his first year in office read like political obituaries.

He is the victim of his own success a year ago. The French political system gives the president greater power than almost any of his international colleagues. That he should have been so empowered a year ago and appear so disempowered today is a measure of the distance he has travelled. Mr Hollande must be casting envious eyes at Barack Obama, who is battling against a legislature determined to thwart everything he does. Would that the man in the Elysée had that excuse.

The problem is not that Mr Hollande has been inactive. It is that most of his activity has backfired on him. Once-popular measures such as the 75% tax on income over €1m are less popular than they were after being rejected by a court as unconstitutional – a bizarre outcome, since tax was Mr Hollande's special subject in opposition. In the turbulence generated by repeated pratfalls, some genuine progress is obscured. Most centrist prime ministers of the last decade would have been happy to have secured the labour market reform Mr Hollande extracted from the unions. But the unique feature of Mr Hollande's first year is that his reform programme has been obscured by a blizzard of conflicts: some foreseeable, such as the social rift caused by gay marriage; others, such as Jérôme Cahuzac, the tax supremo who was secretly dodging tax and lying about it, not.

The biggest irony of the president's first year is that a consensus-building politician who vowed after the divisive Nicolas Sarkozy years to bring people together, has had the opposite effect. France is a jumpier, more divided place today than it was a year ago. Decisions calibrated to cause the least possible offence end up displeasing everybody – too timorous for some, too bold for others. Mr Hollande did not in fact make too many promises during his election campaign, but those he did make now lie in shreds: growth has flatlined; unemployment stands at a record high and is growing at a rate of 900 claimants a day; the blast furnace at Florange in Lorraine is now closed. What was seen during the election campaign as Mr Hollande's greatest political asset – his image of being Mr Normal – has become in one short year a political liability. L'Express now labels him Mr Weak.

Is this verdict too harsh? Not if you judge a president's primary job to be that of constructing a national narrative which the French can embrace. Neither Mr Hollande, nor his prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault have been good at portraying themselves as the steady hand at the tiller. But how would you go about describing the long, dark and dank tunnel which France is now in? Mr Hollande has to find a new prime minister who can recapture public confidence. His record low ratings are not deserved when set against the magnitude of the economic crisis he inherited. But they are a measure of his inability to lead. The biggest danger for him is not reacting. The longer he allows his agenda to be set by others, the more he will appear to be at the mercy of events.

The drama of Mr Hollande's presidency effects Europe as a whole. German analysts accuse France of being a paid-up member of the economic Club Med for its resistance to reform. They forget they will need a strong partner to construct a deeper fiscal union, which is the only solution to the eurocrisis. Who would Germany rather be dealing with: Mr Hollande, the political heir of Jacques Delors? Or Marine Le Pen? A year ago, the choice between the Europhile left and the Europhobic far right would have been far fetched. Now it is not.

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« Reply #6134 on: May 03, 2013, 06:11 AM »

May 2, 2013

Italy’s New Leader Reassures European Leaders on Budget


BRUSSELS — The Italian government will stick to its European Union budget targets but push the bloc for more measures to relieve the region’s scourge of youth unemployment, Prime Minister Enrico Letta said Thursday during his first trip to Brussels since taking office.

The comments indicate Mr. Letta’s intention to cooperate with E.U. officials in adhering to strict spending policies, even though the measures are opposed by large segments of the political class in Rome. In return, Mr. Letta, who was sworn in last weekend, might hope to obtain flexibility from the authorities in Brussels, who want to keep a moderate pro-European in charge in Rome.

The Italian government will “maintain the engagements taken by the previous government” and will present its plans within “the next few days, the next few weeks,” Mr. Letta said at a joint news conference with José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission.

Mr. Letta faces the delicate task of governing in a coalition with former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Liberty Party. It is the first experiment in power-sharing between the right and left in Italy in decades, and one that his own Democratic Party members had fiercely opposed.

Mr. Berlusconi came back from the political dead when his coalition placed second in national elections in February, largely by promising to abolish an unpopular property tax imposed by the government of Prime Minister Mario Monti, whose newly founded political party won less than 10 percent of the February vote. Italy is still struggling to rein in public spending, even as the government is under pressure to eliminate that tax for 2013 and return the 2012 payment, as Mr. Berlusconi wants. But that would leave a hole of €8 billion, or $10.4 billion, in the national budget.

Mr. Letta has promised the Italian Parliament that he will suspend property tax contributions due in June and start a review of the tax, which is worth an estimated €4 billion a year. One of the main questions hanging over the new Italian government is how Mr. Letta would keep the country’s deficit aligned with the E.U. target of 3 percent of gross domestic product if the tax were scrapped.

Despite those uncertainties, Mr. Barroso showered Mr. Letta with praise, saying the commission wanted to remove Italy from its watch list of countries facing an “excessive deficit procedure.” Being left on the list would be a signal to investors that a member state is struggling to abide by budgetary rigor.

“Political stability is back in Italy,” Mr. Barroso said. “I am very confident that it will be possible, provided that now Italy details the measures that it intends to take, that Italy will be able to go out of the excessive deficit procedure,” he said. “But that of course now depends on the presentation in concrete terms of the plans of the new Italian government.”

The strength of Mr. Letta’s government will depend on his ability to help improve the flagging Italian economy. Unemployment is above 11 percent, with the rate rising to 38 percent for young people, and the small and midsize businesses that are the country’s economic backbone are facing a credit crunch and prohibitively high labor costs.

On Thursday, Mr. Letta demanded that a meeting of E.U. leaders in June focus on youth unemployment, which he described as the “the real nightmare of my country and the E.U.” It was “important for us to have in June some important signals for European citizens in terms of recovering hope and confidence,” he said.

Mr. Letta also lent his support to plans drawn up by the commission for a European banking union, which would aim to reduce, or even eliminate, the need for taxpayers to foot the bill for failing banks. A banking union could also help Italian businesses gain access to financing at lower interest rates and would be a sign that Europe can keep to its promises to overhaul important aspects of its economic governance.

“We cannot decide things and never see them put them in place,” said Mr. Letta, making a veiled jab at Germany. Last year the government in Berlin strongly supported the creation of the banking union. But Germany has since slowed the process by demanding changes to the E.U.’s treaties before letting the banking structure take effect.

Mr. Letta’s government, which includes seven female ministers and Italy’s first nonwhite minister, presents a fresh face to the world. Fabrizio Saccomanni, the former director general of the Bank of Italy who is Mr. Letta’s finance minister, has a strong international profile. So does the new foreign minister, Emma Bonino, a Radical Party member and former member of the European Parliament.

As a former member of the European Parliament himself, Mr. Letta is already a familiar figure in Brussels. On Thursday he took the opportunity to demonstrate his European credentials by addressing the news conference in a mixture of fluent French and English as well as his native Italian.

In many ways, Mr. Letta’s government is the triumph of a crumbling political order fighting to maintain its grip on Italy. Mr. Berlusconi wields tremendous veto power and his ministers hold the most delicate domestic portfolios, including the health and infrastructure ministries, which oversee a significant part of the national budget, as well as the portfolios for constitutional reform and simplification.

Mr. Berlusconi’s dauphin, Angelino Alfano, is deputy prime minister and interior minister. Political analysts say that Mr. Berlusconi’s priority is to try to maintain some form of immunity in his many legal entanglements.

The Northern League party has stayed in the opposition, but political analysts say that is largely because it would like control of the parliamentary committee that oversees the secret service. Under the Italian Constitution, that committee must be headed by the opposition, and the establishment is wary of entrusting it to the Five Star Movement of Beppe Grillo, a former comedian.

Rachel Donadio reported from Rome, where Gaia Piangiani contributed reporting.


May 3, 2013

Italy's Letta Names Austerity Critic Fassina as Junior Minister


ROME (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta named a leading critic of Europe's austerity programs as deputy economy minister, directly below the orthodox former Bank of Italy official chosen to head the ministry.

The appointment of Stefano Fassina, who has called for Italy to re-negotiate budget targets agreed with the European Union, provides a figurehead for critics of fiscal rigor within government and parliament.

But as one of two deputy economy ministers, it is unclear how much policymaking weight he will carry.

He will serve under Fabrizio Saccomanni, the former director general of the Bank of Italy.

Saccomanni, an orthodox policymaker considered close to European Central Bank President Mario Draghi, ruled out trying to win extra leeway on the budget as recently as Thursday, saying it would endanger Italy's efforts to exit the EU's excessive deficit procedure.

Fassina, economic affairs spokesman of the center-left Democratic Party, was a persistent critic of the austerity policies of former Prime Minister Mario Monti.

He has repeatedly called for more European authorities to switch their focus from budget rigor to promoting growth.

Like many of his counterparts in Europe, Letta faces the challenge of meeting his country's fiscal commitments while trying to coax a sickly economy back to life. He has pledged to cut taxes but has not said how he will pay for it.

Fassina was one of a series of appointments announced late on Thursday that completed the line-up of Letta's new coalition government.

Luigi Casero, a lawmaker from Silvio Berlusconi's center-right People of Freedom (PDL) party who served as economy undersecretary during Berlusconi's last government, becomes the other deputy economy minister.

(Reporting By James Mackenzie; Editing by John Stonestreet)

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