Vietnam's Communist party appoints first US-educated official to top post
Nguyen Thien Nhan's appointment to elite politburo aimed at boosting Vietnam's image among investors in Europe and US
Reuters in Hanoi
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 12 May 2013 14.57 BST
Vietnam's ruling Communist party has appointed for the first time a U.S.-educated official to its powerful politburo, a landmark decision as pressure mounts to reform an economy stagnating after years of boom growth.
The top decision-making body of the party that has ruled Vietnam since 1975 voted to increase its membership and bring in Nguyen Thien Nhan, a deputy prime minister overseeing education, health and technology, it said on its website (dangcongsan.vn).
Nhan, 59, a former vice mayor of Ho Chi Minh City, received a master's degree in public policy at the University of Oregon in 1993 and joins an elite group long dominated by politicians educated locally or in the former Soviet Union.
Vietnam's ruling party is facing its toughest economic challenges in years and has vowed reforms to tackle crippling debt in its banking system, and mismanagement at scores of cash-sapping state-owned firms.
Economists say policymakers have acted effectively to rein in inflation but have been too slow, or reluctant, to implement the sweeping structural changes needed to revive what was a promising "tiger" economy now growing at its slowest pace in 13 years, and put Vietnam back on foreign investors' radar.
Vietnam's economy is hamstrung by weak credit growth and consumer demand that has forced 113,000 businesses to close since 2011, when inflation soared to over 2% and foreign investors delivered only a sixth of the $64bn pledged.
The politburo also elected its second female member, Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, deputy chairwoman of parliament. Ngan, also 59, is a former deputy minister of trade and finance. The two appointments will increase the politburo's size to 16 members.
Carlyle Thayer, an emeritus professor at the Australian Defense Force Academy in Canberra said Nhan's selection was likely aimed at boosting Vietnam's image among investors in Europe and the United States.
"Nhan's elevation is a reflection of the risk-adverse leadership in Vietnam," he said. "Despite his promotion and assumption of greater responsibility he is still responsible to the politburo and its consensus decision-making."
Chinese official latest to be investigated in leadership's anti-corruption drive
Liu Tienan, deputy head of economic planning agency, to be questioned about 'suspected serious disciplinary violations'
Associated Press in Beijing
guardian.co.uk, Monday 13 May 2013 07.09 BST
Chinese authorities have launched an investigation into the deputy head of the economic planning agency, the latest high-level official to become ensnared in the new leadership's anti-corruption drive.
The ruling Communist party's disciplinary agency said in a one-sentence statement on its website that Liu Tienan, deputy head of the cabinet's National Development and Reform Commission, was being investigated for "suspected serious disciplinary violations".
The statement by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection on Sunday did not provide further details. But the investigation is being seen by Chinese state media as the party's response to corruption allegations against Liu made by a prominent journalist in December.
Liu, 58, wields significant power in his position as deputy chief of the planning agency in charge of steering the world's second largest economy. Liu had also been director of the National Energy Administration, which carried out the country's energy policy, until he was replaced in March.
The journalist who first publicly accused Liu of corruption, Luo Changping, deputy editor-in-chief of the respected Caijing magazine, said in posts on his microblog in December that Liu had shady ties with a businessman, was involved in large, problematic bank loans and fabricated his academic qualifications.
Luo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In announcing the investigation into Liu, the party did not address Luo's specific allegations against the official. The National Energy Administration's press office initially dismissed Luo's allegations as "pure slander".
China's new leadership under the Communist party chief, Xi Jinping, has vowed to root out the widespread graft that has angered the public and undermined the party's legitimacy.
Liu is the latest high-level official to be investigated for corruption since Xi took power. In December, a deputy party secretary of Sichuan province was removed from his post following state media reports that he was suspected of influence-peddling and questionable real estate deals.
May 13, 2013
Syrian Troops Take Full Control of Strategic Town
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian troops have taken full control of a town near the highway linking the capital Damascus with Jordan, a new advance in the regime's campaign to drive rebels from the strategic south, an activist group said Monday.
Rebels seeking to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad are trying to carve a pathway from the Jordanian border through the southern province of Daraa, in what is seen as their best shot at capturing Damascus.
A few weeks ago, they scored significant gains, but have since suffered setbacks in a regime counteroffensive.
In recent days, regime troops and rebel fighters battled over Khirbet Ghazaleh, a town near the Damascus-Jordan highway.
Regime forces retook Khirbet Ghazaleh on Sunday and rebels withdrew from the area, said Rami Abdul-Rahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Troops reopened the highway, restoring the supply line between Damascus and the contested provincial capital of Daraa, he said. Regime forces were carrying out raids and searching homes Monday in Khirbet Ghazaleh.
Damascus, still overwhelmingly under regime control, is the ultimate prize in a largely deadlocked civil war.
Rebels control large parts of the countryside in northern Syria, but those areas are further away from the capital than the Jordanian border.
Arab officials and Western military experts have said Mideast powers opposed to Assad have stepped up weapons supplies to Syrian rebels, with Jordan opening up as a new route.
The uprising against Assad erupted in March 2011 and escalated into a civil war. Over the weekend, the Observatory issued a new death toll, estimating that more than 80,000 Syrians have been killed, almost half of them civilians. In February, the U.N. said at least 70,000 Syrians were killed.
Western leaders are facing growing pressure to find a way to end the conflict — both because of the rising death toll and fears that neighboring Israel or Turkey could inadvertently get pulled deeper into it.
Turkey has blamed the Assad regime for twin car bombs Saturday that killed 46 people and wounded scores in a Turkish border town that serves as a hub for Syrian refugees and rebels.
Turkey signaled restraint Sunday, saying it won't be dragged into the quagmire, but tensions between the former allies are running high.
Earlier this month, Israel attacked suspected shipments of advanced Iranian missiles in Syria with back-to-back airstrikes. Israeli officials signaled there would be more such attacks unless Syria refrains from trying to deliver such "game-changing" missiles to ally Hezbollah, an anti-Israel militia in Lebanon.
For now, the West is placing its hopes on a diplomatic plan that ran aground in the past but now appears to have stronger Russian backing.
Last week, the U.S. and Russia agreed to revive the idea of negotiations between Syria's political opposition and members of the regime on a transitional government, accompanied by an open-ended cease-fire.
Through the conflict, Russia sided with Assad, sending him weapons and shielding him against Western attempts to impose international sanctions.
However, British Prime Minister David Cameron suggested en route to a White House meeting with President Barack Obama that Russia is ready to find common ground with the West. Cameron met last week with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the new Syria initiative.
"While it is no secret that Britain and Russia have taken a different approach to Syria I was very struck in my conversations with President Putin that there is a recognition that it would be in all our interests to secure a safe and secure Syria with a democratic and pluralist future, and end the regional instability," Cameron said late Sunday. "We have got a long way to go, but they were good talks."
In the USA...
Things go Badly for Darrell Issa When David Gregory Fails to Be a GOP Shill
By: Sarah Jones
May. 12th, 2013
Darrell Issa (R-CA) made a fool of himself on “Meet the Press” Sunday as he tried to defend his Benghazi conspiracy. David Gregory (R-TV) pushed back hard, even bringing up the GOP’s defunding of security.
Issa even accused General David Petraeus of lying for the administration. As soon as Gregory would call Issa on one thing, he’d say he was investigating something else. Issa accused Tom Pickering of refusing to testify when in fact, Issa had not invited him to speak and Pickering was told that the Republican majority did not want him there. Issa ended up backtracking on that one, too, and it was super awkward when it came out that Issa never asked for him to appear.
Turns out, Issa was just making inaccurate, unfounded accusations so as falsely infuse his Benghazi hearings with the aura of nefarious dark secrets, because that is what Issa does for a living.
The worst news for Issa was that Gregory refused to be his usual GOP shill, which is an alarming indication that Republicans have pushed their Benghazi conspiracy one wingnut too far.
Here’s the edited-for-brevity transcript from NBC. I’ve bolded the highlights (commentary in italics). It’s long, but it’s really a must-read if you want to see just how empty the Republican conspiracy is, and just how vulnerable Republicans are making their party with this line of attack:
GREGORY: Chairman, my reporting of the immediate aftermath of this talking to administration officials is that CIA Director David Petraeus made it clear when he briefed top officials that there– that there was a spontaneous element to this, that it was not completely known that this was a terrorist attack right away. You don’t give any credence to the notion that there was some fog of war, that there were– there were conflicting circumstances about what went on here.
REP. ISSA: (Issa is actually accusing Petraeus of lying) David Petraeus said what the administration wanted him to say is the indication. Ambassador Pickering heard what the administration wanted to hear…
GREGORY: What is– what is the big picture here? You are saying that administration officials–are these political advisors to the president, are these non-political appointees–bullied the CIA into saying what the polit– the political advisors in the White House wanted him to say? Is that your charge? (Even David Gregory knows how absurd this charge is.)
REP. ISSA: David, we’re not making charges. (and Issa walks it back as soon as he is called out on it.)
GREGORY: No, no. You just said…
REP. ISSA: David…
GREGORY: …the CIA was– had to back down from what they originally wanted to say and that David Petraeus said what the White House wanted to say. I mean, those are very serious charges.
REP. ISSA: Those– those talking points are not the starting talking points, they’re the ending talking points. So we’re not reaching every conclusion. We are not accusing who changed that. (Really? That’s not what he just said.) ….
GREGORY: And I just want to be clear what you believe the lie was. (Issa has already lost David Gregory. Things are not going well.)
REP. ISSA: (Follow this non-answer in which Issa manages to get in his accusations and then pretends the accusations are not the point, because he can’t defend the accusations.) … Either way, they were, in fact, covering up an easy attack that succeeded that was about– was from the get-go really about a terrorist attack. It was never about a video. So when we look at what we know, the question is, how do we prevent a facility from being under protected, how do we respond better if we have seven hours or more of an attack, and how do we get the truth out? (Issa never established that there was a cover up, see how he slid that one in there as a given?) …
GREGORY: …You know, Former President Bush gave an interview this week in which he talked about e-mail in the executive branch, particularly his own. I want to play that for you and then ask you about it.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: –learned that I didn’t e-mail anybody when I was president. I– I was fearful of– of congressional intrusion into my e-mails so– which is kind of sad really because a lot of history’s lost when presidents are nervous about their personal papers being subpoenaed.
GREGORY: That was a couple of weeks ago. Congressional intrusion was his fear. Now, what we’re talking about with regard to Benghazi does not involve a president’s e-mail but it involves e-mails in what’s called the interagency process. And what your critics have asked is, are you reading into something that is not there, discussions about what happened, about what the various inputs of information are. Are you over reading?
REP. ISSA: … We have a basic difference of opinion with the executive branch. Not a Republican, not a Democratic, but a basic dis– difference… (It’s just that when a Republican is in office, they refuse to even respond to congressional subpoena and Republicans defend that, but Issa wants you to know that this is not political.)
GREGORY: What did Secretary of State Hillary Clinton fail to disclose or fail to do that makes her a target for you?
REP. ISSA: Hillary Clinton’s not a target. (Then why are all of the Republican dark money groups, including Fox News, making ads about Benghazi and aiming them at Hillary, and why did the Republicans send the press a notice that Hillary was going down because of Benghazi?) President Obama’s not a target. (Yet Republicans claim he might be impeached over this.)The target is how did we fail three different ways, fail to heed the warnings of an impending attack, fail to respond properly during the attack? At least– we certainly could have done better and I think everyone knows that. (So, it’s not about a cover up, it’s about how to do things better in the future — see that?) And then failed to get the truth to the American people at a timely fashion. (The Obama administration got that info out to the public a lot faster than the Bush administration, which actually never got the facts re Iraq out to the public. For eight years.)
GREGORY: You don’t hold the president and the secretary of state responsible for those failings?
REP. ISSA: …But one of the problems with this ARB report is, it doesn’t seem to find anybody at the high level of state department or anyone else to have failed… (Seriously, now they’re going after lower level people? Republicans are suggesting this is an impeachable offense of Obama’s. And here’s Issa unable to provide reason or fact for their witch hunt, so now he’s going after the Littles.)
GREGORY: You’ve got Republicans talking about this being Watergate. One Republican raising the specter of impeachment. Conservative groups raising money off of the Benghazi story. Are you hurting your own credibility and your own find– fact-finding mission by politically overreaching? (Issa lost Gregory totally. Gregory is fact-checking him on things he doesn’t need to. This is bad.)
REP. ISSA: Well, if I was, then I would be. But I’m not. (Thanks for clearing that up!) … No. Congress has an obligation to say, what did you do to make sure it doesn’t happen again? And Charlene Lamb and other low-ranking people being reassigned to other jobs. That’s not going to prevent these three separate mistakes from happening again.
GREGORY: The issue of security that you talk about, how do we prevent this from happening again? The reality chairman, as you know, is it it’s happened throughout our recent history. Just look at some of the attacks on diplomatic compounds or facilities or U.S. interests over the years. You go back…
REP. ISSA: You know, Gregory Hicks, in fact, testified to what happened in Bahrain under his watch.
GREGORY: Hold on, let me just go through…
REP. ISSA: How in fact they prepared for a possible attack and they survived the attack even though they lost a few cars…
GREGORY: But look– but look at these attacks on U.S. interest spanning Republican and Democratic administrations including President Bush’s administration. Why is there not more of an effort to beef up security after these attacks happen and even, you– you know, even before this happened in Benghazi? (Oh, God, do not go to the Republican defunding of security, David, or else all is lost for Issa….)
REP. ISSA: David…
GREGORY: And isn’t this Congress’s job to spend the money to beef up security? (BOOM goes the dynamite.)
REP. ISSA: David, I– well, first of all, money is spent by the– the secretary of state and her people. We appropriate the money. (Apparently Issa, who listed other areas of great security concern, does not understand the word appropriations – as in, you have X amount, and you must make it work all over the world. Good luck. Oh, and by the way, we’re decreasing your funding and then we’re going to blame you for not being able to see into the future.)
GREGORY: But do you need a select committee on– on something like this? Something like (Unintelligible) or is your– your investigation sufficient here?
REP. ISSA: You know, let’s not blow things out of proportion. (It’s a little late for this warning, Issa.) This is a failure, it needs to be investigated. Our committee can investigate. Now, Ambassador Pickering, his people and he refused to come before our committee that… (Issa is accusing Tom Pickering of refusing to appear when he was not invited. Nice one, Issa.)
AMB. THOMAS PICKERING (Former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs/Chair, Accountability Review Board on Benghazi): That is not true.
GREGORY: All right. We’re– we’re going to get to Ambassador Pickering.
REP. ISSA: … We’re inviting him on Monday along with Admiral Mullen to come, to go through, with his papers, a private deposition so we can get the facts in a nonpartisan way. (Yes, he is inviting Pickering on Monday, as in, the future. He was not invited when the cameras were rolling, so Issa lied when he accused Pickering of refusing to show up. He was not even invited yet.)
AMB. PICKERING: Of course. I’ve said the day before the hearings, I was willing to appear to come to the very hearings that he disclu– he excluded me from. The White House told me back that he said…
REP. ISSA: One second. Please– please don’t tell me I excluded you. (Only Issa can make accusations here, Pickering.)
AMB. PICKERING: Well, the– the majority was– we were told the majority said I was not welcomed at that hearing. I could come at some other time. (Pickering is referring to the Republican House majority because it was a House hearing – in other words, the Republicans did NOT WANT PICKERIG when the TV cameras were on. He can come for a nice, non-partisan private depo and I’m sure Republicans will share all of that info with the public. Just kidding.)
REP. ISSA: (Issa admits that Pickering did not refuse to come on, but rather that he was not asked. Why does anyone believe a word out of Issa’s mouth anymore?) …He could have been the Democratic witness. And we would have allowed him. The Democrats requested no witness.The fact is, we don’t want to have some sort of a stage show… We’re inviting them on Monday. We’ll go through, not in front of the public but– but in a nonpartisan way questions and answers and then obviously…
Oh, yes, it’s obvious that this is non-partisan. Let’s see. Issa accused Republican hero General Petraeus and co-chairman of the State Department’s Accountability Review Board on the Benghazi attacks Ambassador Pickering of lying and/or refusing to testify. Both Pickering and Petraeus have thrown water on the Republican witch hunt. Republican former Defense Secretary Robert Gates also threw water on the Benghazi conspiracy today.
The real reason Republicans did not invite Pickering to their Benghazi show when the cameras were rolling is that he told MSNBC, “I believe, in fact, the Accountability Review Board did its work well. I think the notion of, quote, a cover-up has all the elements of Pulitzer Prize fiction attached to it.”
Issa deserves an award for dancing his way through an interview with David Gregory that did not show him in the best light. Gregory came prepared with the facts, and it showed. When you’ve lost David Gregory on a Republican cause, it’s really over.
John McCain Goes Wacko Bird and Accuses Hillary Clinton of Benghazi Cover Up
By: Jason Easley
May. 12th, 2013
Sen. John McCain went total wacko bird on This Week when he accused Hillary Clinton of being part of a Benghazi cover up.
Transcript from ABC News:
RADDATZ: Would you call this a cover-up?
MCCAIN: I’d call it a cover-up. I — I would call it a cover-up in the extent that there was willful removal of information, which was obvious. It was obvious. Mr. Hicks said in his testimony, his jaw dropped when he saw Susan Rice do that — I was on — I was on another Sunday morning show after Susan Rice, my jaw dropped. I said, look people don’t bring rocket-propelled grenades and mortars to spontaneous demonstrations.
RADDATZ: Do you blame Hillary Clinton?
MCCAIN: …I think that the secretary of State has played a role in this, and I…
RADDATZ: Do you think she had a role in those emails?
MCCAIN: …I — she had to have been in the loop some way. But, we don’t know for sure. But I do know that her response before the Foreign Relations Committee, who cares? Remember when she said, well who cares how this happened, in a rather emotional way? A lot of people care, I say with respect to the secretary of State. And she…
RADDATZ: So would you like to see her back on The Hill testifying again?
MCCAIN: Oh, sure. We — we need a select committee that interviews everybody. I don’t know what level of — of “scandal”, quote, unquote, this rises to. But I know it rises to the level where it requires a full and complete ventilation of these facts. Now here we are nine months later, and we’re still uncovering information, which frankly contradicts the original line that the administration took. And so, we need the select committee, and I hope we’ll get it. And the American people deserve it, and…
What evidence does Sen. McCain have that there was a cover up, and that Hillary Clinton was involved in it? He has none, but this little detail isn’t about to stop him from calling for a select committee to investigate Benghazi. No sir, John McCain isn’t about to let any more potential Sunday show appearances get out of his clutches by letting this attempt to smear Obama and Clinton die the death that it so richly deserves. John McCain is a team player, and Team Republican wants him to go down with the sinking ship on Benghazi.
If you listen to congressional Republicans talk about Benghazi, they can’t provide any actual evidence of wrongdoing, but they all “know” that there was a cover up. What’s really happening here is that the Republican call for a select committee is really about trying to get the mainstream media to spread their Benghazi lies.
The reason why McCain wants Clinton to testify again is because that is the only way that these hearing will generate any media attention outside of Fox News. When Republicans have old man McCain on the Sunday talk shows talking cover up, it’s clear that they intend to beat the ghost of this dead horse until the end of time.
John McCain called Rand Paul and Ted Cruz wacko birds when they floated drone conspiracy theories, but the Arizona senator expects to be taken seriously when he launches into a Benghazi cover up conspiracy.
This is a case of the wacko bird pot calling the wacko bird kettle black.
Even Republicans Are Destroying Their Own Party’s Benghazi Conspiracy Theories
By: Sarah Jones
May. 12th, 2013
Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, himself a Republican, mocked Republicans on CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday for their criticism of the Obama administration’s handling of Benghazi, saying they had a “cartoonish” impression of military capabilities. Gates also scoffed at the idea that the State Department engaged in a cover up to protect Hillary Clinton. When asked, his answer was a definitive, “No.”
He continued, “I worked with Secretary Clinton pretty closely for two and a half years, and I wouldn’t want to try and be somebody… trying to convince her to say something she did not think was true.”
Gates, who was appointed by George W. Bush but stayed on for two years at Obama’s request, said that some critics of the administration have a “cartoonish impression of military capabilities and military forces.”
Gates was not impressed with Republican criticism, “It’s sort of a cartoonish impression of military capabilities and military forces. The one thing that our forces are noted for is planning and preparation before we send people in harm’s way, and there just wasn’t time to do that.”
Since the only people screaming about Benghazi are Republicans with a political agenda, Gates was calling Republican ideas about the military “cartoonish.”
Gates fiercely defended the administration. He shot down the many Republican suggestions for how things should have been handled during the Benghazi attack, “Frankly, had I been in the job at the time, I think my decisions would have been just as theirs were. We don’t have a ready force standing by in the Middle East, and so getting somebody there in a timely way would have been very difficult, if not impossible. I would not have approved sending an aircraft, a single aircraft, over Benghazi under those circumstances.”
Gates made the critics look like children playing war games when he pointed out that their suggestion to send a small number of special forces troops in without knowing what the threat is would have been “very dangerous.” Gates explained that the critics’ suggestions were ridiculous, because sending special forces in without “knowing what the environment is, without knowing what the threat is, without having any intelligence in terms of what is actually going on on the ground, would have been very dangerous.”
As a Republican, Gates strident defense of the administration and scathing dismissal of the Republican criticism carries more weight than if he were a Democrat. As a Democrat, fair or not, he could be dismissed as playing the partisan. This is a moment when Obama’s strategy of reaching across the aisle to Republicans and appointing or keeping on several key Republicans is paying off.
Gates, a former Air Force Officer, is an unimpeachable source for how to handle a situation like Benghazi. In 1974, he served on the National Security Council. He worked for 26 years in the CIA and he served under President George H. W. Bush as the Director of Central Intelligence. In 2008, U.S. News & World Report named him one of America’s Best Leaders. He knows more than the Congressional pipsqueak chicken hawks whinging about how their G.I. Joe would have handled Benghazi. He’s actually been in charge in similar situations, he understands the complexities of gathering intelligence.
Any day now, someone is going to ask House Republicans about their strutting talk of defunding of Libya, which led to their own party rebuking them. Or maybe they’ll be asked about their defunding of security. Or maybe someone will ask John McCain if he knew ahead of time about the security issues in Benghazi as he claimed, why didn’t he say something. Or maybe someone will ask Republicans how the sequester is impacting our ability to protect ourselves at home and abroad, given their efforts to defund the government on the day of the Boston bombing.
It’s called overplaying your hand.
Kristol shreds Karl Rove’s super PAC over anti-Hillary Benghazi attack ad
By David Edwards
Sunday, May 12, 2013 11:41 EDT
Conservative Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol is lashing out at Karl Rove and his American Crossroads super PAC for using last year’s attacks in Benghazi to attack former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ahead of the 2016 presidential race.
During a Fox News panel segment on Sunday, Kristol complained that there had been a “partisan reaction” to both the attacks in Benghazi and the news that the Internal Revenue Service had targeted tea party groups to find out if they had violated their tax exempt status.
Kristol pointed to a web video released by American Crossroads last week that attacked Clinton for allegedly participating in a Benghazi “cover up.”
“I do not like the conservative Republican groups putting ads up about Hillary Clinton,” he said. “What is the point of that? That is just fundraising by American Crossroads and these other groups. It’s ridiculous! There’s no campaign going on!”
“Let’s pull the partisanship back. It’s a genuine outrage what happened in Benghazi, it’s a genuine outrage what the IRS did… So I wish the Republicans would just be quiet for while — I mean, the partisan Republican groups that are fundraising off this — would be quiet on both issues for a while, and let’s find out what really happened.”
Benghazi report author defends Clinton despite ‘grossly inadequate’ security before attack
By Arturo Garcia
Monday, May 13, 2013 8:09 EDT
The 42-year veteran of the U.S. State Department who wrote a report chiding it for “grossly inadequate” security measures at the consulate building in Benghazi, Libya leading up to a September 2012 attack defended former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton on Sunday from repeated Republican criticism.
Ambassador Thomas Pickering told MSNBC host Alex Witt that GOP lawmakers’ insistence that Clinton was part of a cover-up after the attack “seems to me to have drifted now very much into the realm of political partisanship.”
Pickering co-chaired the department’s Accountability Review Board (ARB) concerning the Sept. 11, 2012 attack, which resulted in the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. He also pushed back on accusations from House Intelligence Committee member Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-CA) that the board’s report focused on low-level staffers.
“We did, of course, see Secretary Clinton. We saw her two deputies. We saw the undersecretary,” Pickering told Witt. “The assistant secretary, who was among those who we felt failed in the performance of duty, is not a low-level official.”
According to the Associated Press, Pickering also said in an appearance on Meet The Press Sunday that he was willing to be part of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s May 8 hearing on the attack but was blocked from participating. Committee member Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) said he would request private testimony from both Pickering and retired Adm. Mike Mullin, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Pickering’s ARB co-chair.
The report, (PDF) released in December 2012, concluded that security at the facility was not equipped to handle the attack due to “systematic failures and leadership and management deficiencies” by senior State Department staff members. Pickering said it constituted “the most thorough account of the events leading up to Benghazi and what actually happened the night of the attacks.”
However, he did not offer an opinion on the much-criticized talking points issued by the White House after the attack, later found to be edited multiple times.
“I did not study in detail the question of the talking points,” he told Witt. “Therefore, I have to tell you I reserve judgement on that particular issue. Had I been asked to study that in detail — it was not part of our report — I would certainly have an opinion for you.”
And then there is this.........
Rand Paul: UN has secret plot to ‘CONFISCATE and DESTROY ALL’ of America’s guns
By Eric W. Dolan
Sunday, May 12, 2013 11:58 EDT
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) on Saturday warned President Barack Obama was working on behalf of “anti-American globalists” in the United Nations who were plotting against the U.S. Constitution.
In a fundraising email sent on behalf of the National Association on Gun Rights, Paul alleged the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty was a secret plot to completely disarm American civilians.
“Ultimately, UN bureaucrats will stop at nothing to register, ban and CONFISCATE firearms owned by private citizens like YOU,” Paul wrote. “So far, the gun-grabbers have successfully kept many of their schemes under wraps. But looking at previous attempts by the UN to pass global gun control, you and I can get a good idea of what’s likely in the works.”
Paul said the United Nations would “CONFISCATE and DESTROY ALL” of civilian firearms in the United States and ban the sale of all semi-automatic weapons. He also alleged the United Nations was controlled by “petty dictators and one-world socialists” who were plotting to usurp American sovereignty.
“These anti-gun globalists know that as long as Americans remain free to make our own decisions without being bossed around by big government bureaucrats, they’ll NEVER be able to seize the worldwide power they crave,” Paul wrote.
The United States voted with 153 other nations to approve the treaty in April, but it still needs to be ratified by the U.S. Senate. Republicans have vowed to block the treaty.
Iran prepares for high-stakes presidential election
Hashemi Rafsanjani's last-minute entry makes race more unpredictable, but many voters have bitter memories of 2009
Ian Black, Middle East editor, and Tehran Bureau correspondents
guardian.co.uk, Monday 13 May 2013 16.02 BST
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, gazes down from a giant coloured backdrop that adorns the wall of the Tehran ministry that has been registering candidates for next month's presidential election. Slightly above and behind him are the unmistakably baleful features of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini – a reminder that the political system of the Islamic Republic he founded back in 1979 remains as complex and opaque as ever.
Next month millions of Iranians will vote for a replacement for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the abrasive populist Khamenei anointed in 2005 and who won a second term four years later in a contest which that is widely believed to have been rigged. Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the Green movement leader who claimed victory in 2009, is still under house arrest, his supporters in disarray, in prison or in exile.
Barring the unexpected – albeit a regular feature of Iran's idiosyncratic polls – no one openly in the opposition will be permitted to run on 14 June. But Saturday's last-minute registration of Hashemi Rafsanjani, a powerful former president and the pragmatic éminence grise of Iranian politics for decades, has dramatically overturned the assumption that this will be a contest only between dyed-in-the-wool conservatives.
It is a complicated business – for Iranians as well as foreigners. "One constant of our elections is the big surprise," laughs Farah, a middle-aged professional. "Another is the way Iranians appear uninterested but will rush and vote at the last minute." Even experts are confused. "Many questions remain to be answered," admitted Sadegh Zibakalam, an astute Tehran University political scientist.
The stakes are certainly high – for the Islamic Republic and perhaps the world. Iran's nuclear confrontation with the west, international sanctions, a disastrous economic crisis and hopes for domestic change could all be affected by the result. "The battle for the presidency is not just about the executive branch but the future direction of Iran as a whole," argues Mohammad Ali Shabani, editor of the Iranian Review of Foreign Affairs.
Iran's state media is already praising the exemplary organisation of the polls and predicting a huge turnout – to be trumpeted as proof of a fully functioning democratic system. Yet beneath the officially orchestrated enthusiasm there is a sense of apathy – not least because of the bitter memories of how the protests that erupted after the announcement of Ahmadinejad's 2009 victory were ruthlessly crushed.
"These elections will be rigged just like the last ones," predicts Morvarid, an insurance executive, who does not believe that any candidates who are out of ideological step with Khamenei will survive vetting by the jurists of the guardian council. Other sceptics say they will vote to avoid punishment but will spoil their ballots.
The counter-argument is that this suddenly exciting election might make a real difference. "If we do not participate then they [the regime] will have the majority and will get on with their agenda," warns Mohammad, 25.
But Parisa, his student girlfriend, counters furiously: "What happened in the last elections proved only one thing and that is that we're not important. Our friends were beaten, jailed, even raped – for what? Some left the country. Several died or are still unaccounted for. If we vote it means that we condone everything that happened to us and to our friends." Loyalists say it is their duty to help defend the Islamic revolution.
"It's deja vu," says Ali Ansari of St Andrews University. "The last election is casting an enormous shadow over this one. It's affecting the way everyone is behaving. Sure, the regime needs a bit of theatre to generate interest, but they will stop well short of allowing anything like last time to happen. There is an overwhelming cynicism about the system. People are not going to be duped again."
Ahmadinejad's successor will be chosen from a field that includes the Khamenei hyper-loyalist Saeed Jalili, a high-profile nuclear negotiator. Hassan Rowhani, who also handled the nuclear issue, is more centrist. Mohammed Baqer Qalibaf, the Tehran mayor and a former senior revolutionary guard officer, combines a modernising agenda with a reputation for competent management. Ali Akbar Velayati, a one-time foreign minister, is another strong conservative candidate.
Rafsanjani's last-minute decision – "the triumph of hope over experience", quipped one pundit – is intriguing. Now 78, he has a record going back to before the 1979 revolution, and is credited with having persuaded Khomeini to end the ruinous eight-year war with Iraq.
Beaten by Ahmadinejad in 2005, he did not openly back the Greens in 2009 but he did urge the government to address people's grievances afterwards. Unlike Mohammed Khatami, the reformist president whose 1997-2005 tenure is now bathed in a retrospective golden glow, Rafsanjani has kept channels to Khamenei open.
"Iran is always puzzling because it doesn't lend itself to simplification," muses Roberto Toscano, Italy's ambassador to Iran when Ahmadinejad first won. "This time the complexities and contradictions are really wild. The supreme leader wants a subservient and disciplined sidekick but he also needs a president to solve some very delicate problems. The supreme leader had a very bad surprise with Ahmadinejad. He thought he would be his altar boy but it turned out that Ahmadinejad wanted to be the priest."
Khamenei – whose theocratic authority is backed by the revolutionary guards, intelligence services, the judiciary and religious endowments – retains control of national security issues including Syria and nuclear policy. He has already warned Iranians not to vote for candidates who advocate a conciliatory approach towards the US. Still, a president with credibility can serve his purposes too.
"This election is necessary to boost the self-confidence of the regime in nuclear talks, in dealings with the outside world and to prove to Iranians that the regime is solid and in control," says a veteran analyst. "With a big turnout the regime can say: 'We got out 40 million voters in elections that were held peacefully and with massive support: you have to deal with us; we are here to stay.'"
Repression, intimidation and censorship of opposition journalists mean that there is less talk about issues and more about personalities. But the sorry state of the economy is clearly the main worry. The consensus among experts is that it is in the worst shape it has been since the end of the war with Iraq in 1988.
"It doesn't matter to me who becomes the president, but by God's grace, I hope it's someone who can resolve the nation's economic problems," said Hamid Reza, a middle-aged government employee. "I am sick of the stress and worrying about daily price rises and inflation."
But Morvarid, the insurance executive, insists that it is political change that really matters. "I'm struggling with the economic situation, but I'm not going to buy their rubbish about how much they're going to fix everything," she says. "If someone can come and improve the political situation – even without necessarily improving the economy – that person gets my vote over an undemocratic candidate who happens to know the economy."
Only reformists dare to say openly that bread-and-butter problems are linked inextricably to foreign policy. "Iranians feel that if there can be better relations with the west things will improve economically at home," argues Mohamed Karoubi, whose father Mehdi ran alongside Mousavi last time – and who also remains under house arrest. "The people are under heavy pressure. They are suffering from a shortage of medicines. Everyone has problems because of the sanctions."
With a month to go before polling day there is plenty of scope for further drama. Observers say one crucial question is whether Ahmadinejad's controversial former aide – Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, who is loathed by Khamenei and his supporters – will be allowed to run.
If he is disqualified, some believe that the outgoing president, who remains in office, may turn openly on Khamenei – perhaps by spilling the beans on what really happened in 2009 or by refusing to rig the results again. It is also tantalisingly unclear whether Rafsanjani will be a serious candidate or intends rather to play the role of kingmaker.
"I wonder," ponders Ansari, "if this is a technocratic/reformist last-ditch attempt to seize back the Islamic Republic through the ballot box."
In any event it would be wrong to dismiss this election as meaningless, as do radical opponents of the regime. Significant changes took place, after all, under both Rafsanjani and Khatami. "Iran is not a democracy but it is not a totally centralised Soviet-style system either," says a respected Iranian observer who is now in exile.
"There is a degree of political debate about the distribution of resources, transparency and administration. This limited debate gives the system sufficient flexibility to correct some of its mistakes. It also sucks all the energy away from the idea of overthrowing the regime."
Individual choices count, with many still influenced by, and fiercely loyal to, Khomeini's vision. "Look, the main thing at stake is the protection of the regime from foreign influence," said Mohammad, an engineer with the paramilitary Basij.
"When I vote, my main priority is to help contribute to a strong base of support for the revolution and the supreme leader, and then I vote for whoever I believe is the most fitting candidate."
Pakistan election winner Nawaz Sharif tells rival Imran Khan to stop sledging
Prime minister-to-be says former national cricket captain, defeated in the polls, needs to 'show the sportsman's spirit'
Jon Boone in Lahore
guardian.co.uk, Monday 13 May 2013 19.08 BST
It is not known when Pakistan's next prime minister last strode on to the lush cricket pitch outside the front door of his luxurious home to wield a bat.
But after an election with no shortage of tired cricket metaphors, Nawaz Sharif could not resist picking a sporting theme to chide his most tenacious political opponent, the captain of the national team that won the World Cup in 1992.
Speaking to journalists on Monday, he said Imran Khan needed to "show the sportsman's spirit" and pipe down about allegations of rigging in last Saturday's election that have enraged Khan's youthful supporters.
The EU election observer mission broadly praised the elections on Monday, but said Taliban violence had "unbalanced the playing field" in some places. Nawaz himself said the election had been "by and large fair".
Many of Khan's supporters were shell-shocked by the failure of their Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party (PTI) to sweep to power, which instead is projected to win 32 seats when all the votes are tallied, as compared with the 124 won by Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party. That number will allow Sharif to govern without coalition partners.
Large crowds of PTI supporters held demonstrations on the streets of Lahore and Karachi on Monday, demanding re-polling and expressing enormous disappointment at the outcome.
Sharif, meanwhile, makes no attempt to hide his vast wealth, made during a business career that inevitably attracted a slew of corruption allegations, and on Monday he cheerfully opened up his lavish Lahore estate, which resembles an American country club, to a group of foreign journalists.
The acres of immaculate gardens are home to peacocks and lions – ornamental lions – almost everywhere you look. A pair of stuffed big cats, the party's emblem, stand guard at the entrance of a huge reception room, where Sharif answered questions on the long list of challenges awaiting him.
On the subject of Pakistan's relationship with the US and the deeply unpopular air strikes launched by CIA drones in the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, Sharif said they were "challenging our sovereignty". But he will not be ordering the drones to be shot down, as Khan promised.
Instead, he said: "We will sit with our American friends and we will certainly talk with them on this issue."
He has been accused of turning a blind eye to vicious sectarian extremist groups in his home province of Punjab, which the PML-N has controlled for the last five years.
And he rejected the idea that the left-leaning and secular rivals to PML-N were wiped out because an onslaught of Taliban violence prevented them from voting. They failed, he said, because this was "a performance-related election" and they did not deliver while in office.
Nonetheless, tackling militancy and extremism would be crucial, he said, because it was hurting the economy – the prime concern of the PML-N, a party of businessmen.
He also promised to look into the expulsion from Pakistan on election day of Declan Walsh, the New York Times' Islamabad bureau chief.
Walsh, a former long-serving Guardian correspondent, was thrown out of the country at three days' notice with no explanation beyond a two-sentence letter accusing him of mysterious "undesirable activities".
Sharif is committed to sending the generals back to barracks, despite first entering politics under the tutelage of the former military dictator Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s.
He fell out of love with the military after his last government was abruptly terminated in 1999 by Pervez Musharraf, his army chief at the time, who went on to rule Pakistan for nine years.
Invited on Monday to publicly slap down the military establishment, Sharif played it safe, saying he had "never had a problem with the army" and that the 1999 coup was the work of Musharraf alone.Sharif was far happier answering questions from the large contingent of journalists from India, with which Pakistan has fought three major wars since 1947.
He said he wanted to renew the diplomatic charm offensive he was pursuing before he was deposed and sent into exile by Musharraf.
When asked whether he would invite Manmohan Singh, India's prime minister, to his oath-taking ceremony he said he would be happy to."What is the sentiment in India about the election [in Pakistan]?" he asked one journalist, knowing Indians have been closely monitoring his bold calls for peace between the warring countries.
"People have been extremely welcoming of your victory because they see you as an old friend," the journalist replied. Sharif smiled.
Hundreds of Bangladesh textile plants shut indefinitely
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, May 13, 2013 14:34 EDT
Hundreds of factories which form the hub of Bangladesh’s garment industry are to close indefinitely after worker unrest sparked by the death of more than 1,100 colleagues, employees announced Monday.
As the search for bodies from last month’s collapse of a factory complex wrapped up, the textile industry’s main trade body said all operations at the nearby Ashulia industrial zone on the outskirts of Dhaka were being suspended until further notice.
Shahidullah Azim, of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said the decision was made “to ensure the security of our factories”.
Local police chief Badrul Alam told AFP workers in 80 percent of the factories had walked out earlier in the day to demand an increase in salaries as well as the execution of the owner of the collapsed Rana Plaza complex in the town of Savar.
Most of Bangladesh’s top garment factories are based at Ashulia and there has been “virtually no work” there since the April 24 Rana Plaza tragedy, Azim said.
Tensions in Ashulia had been further inflamed by the discovery of a dead female garment worker on Sunday. Police said they suspect that the death was a suicide sparked by a “love affair”.
Ashulia is home to around 500 factories which make clothing for a string of major Western retailers including Walmart, H&M, Tesco and Carrefour.
News of the indefinite closure represents yet another body blow to the industry, which has pleaded with Western retailers not to pull out of Bangladesh and promised to come up with a credible safety framework.
Swedish fashion giant H&M said Monday it was among the companies that would sign an agreement drafted by global unions to improve safety in the Bangladeshi textile factories it uses.
The collapse of the nine-storey Rana Plaza, which housed five separate garment factories, was the worst industrial disaster in Bangladeshi history and the latest in a long line of deadly tragedies to blight the textile industry.
A fire at a garment factory in Dhaka last November killed 111 workers and a blaze at another plant killed eight people last week.
Bangladesh’s army announced Monday that it was wrapping up its search for bodies at Savar, saying it now believed a total of 1,127 people were killed.
The army general in charge of the marathon recovery effort said that he was now handing over operational control to civilian administrators and expected his troops to be back in their barracks by Tuesday afternoon.
“The army’s recovery operation is almost over,” Brigadier General Siddiqul Alam told AFP.
“We don’t think there are any more bodies in the rubble.”
Many of the three million employed in the industry earn a basic 40 dollars a month, a wage condemned as “slave labour” by Pope Francis.
Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi micro-loan pioneer who won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, on Monday urged manufacturers and Western retailers to ensure that garment workers are paid a living wage.
“We don’t want to make Bangladesh a country of slaves. We want to make it a country of modern women. We want to make sure that they get rightful salaries from the world,” he said in Dhaka.
Bangladesh is the world’s second-largest apparel maker and the $20 billion industry accounted for up to 80 percent of annual exports last year.
Some activists have said that wages are kept low as trade unions have been hamstrung by government restrictions.
However the Bangladeshi government on Monday approved changes in the labour laws that would make it easier for trade unions to organise themselves.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s cabinet “approved some amendments to the labour laws that removed the barriers”, cabinet secretary Musharraf Hossain Bhuiyan told AFP.
The government’s chief factory inspector Habibul Islam also told AFP his department filed cases against 161 garment factories in the Dhaka region and 16 in the city of Chittagong after they failed to ensure safety measures.
“We first issued notices against them to fix their safety related problems at their plants. Then we filed cases against them under the country’s labour laws after they failed to respond to the our notices,” Islam said.
The factory owners face a maximum three months in jail if they’re found guilty, he said.
Many of the criminal notices predate the Rana Plaza disaster and previous government crackdowns have resulted in few actual prosecutions.
Fashion chains sign accord to help finance safety in Bangladesh factories
Legally binding deal reached as Dhaka plans to relax law on forming unions and raise minimum wage for garment workers
Jason Burke in Delhi, Saad Hammadi in Dhaka and Simon Neville
guardian.co.uk, Monday 13 May 2013 19.11 BST
Some of the world's biggest fashion chains, including H&M, Zara, C&A, Tesco and Primark, have signed up to a legally binding agreement to help finance fire safety and building improvements in the factories they use in Bangladesh.
The move came on Monday, as the Bangladeshi government agreed to allow the country's four million garment workers to form trade unions without permission from factory owners, a major concession to campaigners lobbying for widespread reforms to the industry following the collapse of the Rana Plaza building last month that killed more than 1,100 people.
On Sunday, the government also announced a plan to raise the minimum wage for garment workers, who are paid some of the lowest wages in the world to sew clothing bound for global retailers. Those working at the eight-storey Rana Plaza, which housed five garment factories when it collapsed on 24 April, were paid as little as £25 ($38) a month.
"I believe labour should be justly appraised. We want to save the industry but at the same time we want to uplift the standard of living of our workers. We do not want slave labour," Abdul Latif Siddiqui, minister for textiles, told the Guardian.
Several major western firms have now signed up to a legally binding accord agreed by local labour organisations that aims to ensure basic standards of workplace safety in the 5,000 or more garment factories in Bangladesh after widespread criticism of international firms working with local garment producers in one of Asia's poorest countries.
The Swedish company H&M buys more clothes from Bangladesh than anyone else and said it hoped other retailers would sign up to the agreement, which aims to make mandatory independent factory safety inspections, public reports, and repairs and renovations.
A spokesman said H&M hoped to create an environment "in which no worker needs to fear fires, building collapses or other accidents that could be prevented with reasonable health and safety measures".
Spanish firm Inditex, parent company of Zara and the biggest fashion retailer in the world, added its support to the deal.
Primark, one of the key customers at the collapsed building, became the first UK retailer to sign up, having originally refused to sign up to a similar agreement, saying it would prefer to work with the Ethical Trading Initiative on a different proposal.
A spokesman for the firm said: "This accord is substantively different to the version originally proposed, and as a result Primark has been able to sign it."
C&A, which also used the factory, has also signed up to the agreement.
The death toll from the collapse, the world's worst industrial accident since the Bhopal disaster in India in 1984, now stands at 1,127.
Rescuers on Monday continued to search for survivors after a woman was discovered alive under the rubble on Friday. Reshma Begum is now recovering in hospital and on Monday vowed never to work in a garment factory again.
But no further bodies were found at the site, in the Dhaka suburb of Savar, indicating that all may now have been retrieved, a spokesman for the army, which is co-ordinating the salvage operation, said.
Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan, a government spokesman, said ministers had agreed to amend the law to lift legal restrictions on forming trade unions in most industries.
"No such permission from owners is now needed," Bhuiyan told reporters after the meeting presided over by the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina. "The government is doing it for the welfare of the workers."
Local and international trade unions have long argued for such changes. Writing in Monday's Guardian, Prof Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel laureate and internationally respected social activist who pioneered microfinance, called for both a minimum wage and a 50 cent (33p) surcharge on garments made in Bangladesh which would finance a social welfare fund assuring safety at work, health care and pensions for workers.
On Sunday, the government set up a new minimum wage board that will issue recommendations for pay raises within three months, the textiles minister, said.
The new wage board will include representatives of factory owners, workers and the government, he said.
Abdus Salam Murshedy, former president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said owners welcomed the move which campaigners said was long overdue. Activists are demanding a minimum monthly wage of 8,000 takas, or £67.
"The standard of living has become much more expensive than it was two years ago. The cost of essential items, house rents and utilities are very high in and around Dhaka," said Mushrefa Mishu, president of Garment Workers' Unity Forum.
Yunus, founder of the microfinance pioneer Grameen bank, said the garment industry had brought many benefits to Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in Asia, but should be reformed.
Bangladesh is the third-biggest exporter of clothes in the world after China and Italy. The industry has allowed millions of women from poor rural backgrounds to earn a living. However minimum wages for garment workers were last raised by 80% to 3,000 takas (£25) a month in 2010 following protests by workers.
Since 2005, at least 1,800 garment workers have been killed in factory fires and building collapses in Bangladesh, according to research by the advocacy group International Labour Rights Forum.
In November, 112 workers were killed in a garment factory in Dhaka. The factory lacked emergency exits, and its owner said only three of the eight-story building were built legally.
Endemic corruptions means owners and constructors can routinely ignore health and safety regulations.
The owner of the Rana Plaza and eight other people, including garment factory owners, have been detained. Authorities say the building owner added floors to the structure illegally and allowed the factories to install heavy equipment such as generators that the building was not designed to support.
Myanmar: Leader to Visit White House
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: May 13, 2013
Myanmar’s reformist president, Thein Sein, will visit the White House next week, the first such trip by a Myanmar head of state in almost 47 years and a sign of warming ties. Myanmar state television announced the visit Monday, saying it came at the invitation of President Obama. It gave no exact date, but Congressional staff members who were briefed on the trip said Mr. Thein Sein will meet Mr. Obama on Monday. The United States has been a prime mover in urging Mr. Thein Sein to introduce reforms after five decades of repressive military rule ended when he became the elected head of state in 2011. In November, Mr. Obama became the first sitting American president to visit Myanmar.
May 14, 2013
Japanese Mayor: Wartime Sex Slaves Were Necessary
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
TOKYO (AP) — An outspoken nationalist mayor said the Japanese military's forced prostitution of Asian women before and during World War II was necessary to "maintain discipline" in the ranks and provide rest for soldiers who risked their lives in battle.
The comments made Monday are already raising ire in neighboring countries that bore the brunt of Japan's wartime aggression and have long complained that Japan has failed to fully atone for wartime atrocities.
Toru Hashimoto, the young, brash mayor of Osaka who is co-leader of an emerging conservative political party, also said that U.S. troops currently based in southern Japan should patronize the local sex industry more to help reduce rapes and other assaults.
Hashimoto told reporters on Monday that there wasn't clear evidence that the Japanese military had coerced women to become what are euphemistically called "comfort women" before and during World War II.
"To maintain discipline in the military, it must have been necessary at that time," Hashimoto said. "For soldiers who risked their lives in circumstances where bullets are flying around like rain and wind, if you want them to get some rest, a comfort women system was necessary. That's clear to anyone."
Historians say up to 200,000 women, mainly from the Korean Peninsula and China, were forced to provide sex for Japanese soldiers in military brothels.
China's Foreign Ministry criticized the mayor's comments and saw them as further evidence of a rightward drift in Japanese politics under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
"We are appalled and indignant about the Japanese politician's comments boldly challenging humanity and historical justice," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a daily media briefing. "The way they treat the past will determine the way Japan walks toward the future. On what choice Japan will make, the Asian neighbors and the international community will wait and see."
Asked about a photo of Abe posing in a fighter jet with the number 731 — the number of a notorious, secret Japanese unit that performed chemical and biological experiments on Chinese in World War II — Hong again urged Japan not to whitewash history so as to improve relations with countries that suffered under Japanese occupation.
"There is a mountain of definitive iron-hard evidence for the crimes they committed in the Second World War. We hope Japan will face and contemplate their history of aggression and treat it correctly," Hong said.
Abe posed, thumbs up, in the aircraft during a weekend visit to northeastern Japan.
South Korea's Foreign Ministry expressed disappointment over what it called a senior Japanese official's serious lack of historical understanding and respect for women's rights. It asked Japan's leaders to reflect on their country's imperial past, including grave human rights violations, and correct anachronistic historical views.
Hashimoto said he recently visited Okinawa in southern Japan and told the U.S. commander there "to make better use of the sex industry."
"He froze, and then with a wry smile said that is off-limits for the U.S. military," he said.
"I told him that there are problems because of such formalities," Hashimoto said, explaining that he was not referring to illegal prostitution but to places operating within the law. "If you don't make use of those places you cannot properly control the sexual energy of those tough guys."
Calls to the after-hours number for U.S. Forces in Japan were not answered.
Hashimoto's comments came amid continuing criticism of Abe's earlier pledges to revise Japan's past apologies for wartime atrocities. Before he took office in December, Abe had advocated revising a 1993 statement by then Prime Minister Yohei Kono acknowledging and expressing remorse for the suffering caused to the sexual slaves of Japanese troops.
Abe has acknowledged "comfort women" existed but has denied they were coerced into prostitution, citing a lack of official evidence.
Recently, top officials in Abe's government have appeared to backpedal on suggestions the government might revise those apologies, apparently hoping to ease tensions with South Korea and China and address U.S. concerns about Abe's nationalist agenda.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga repeated the previous government position and said those women went through unbearable pain.
"The stance of the Japanese government on the comfort women issue is well known. They have suffered unspeakably painful experiences. The Abe Cabinet has the same sentiments as past Cabinets," he said.
Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura said Hashimoto's remark was unhelpful given the criticism Japan faces from neighboring countries and the U.S. over its interpretation of history.
"A series of remarks related to our interpretation of (wartime) history have been already misunderstood. In that sense, Mr. Hashimoto's remark came at a bad time," Shimomura told reporters. "I wonder if there is any positive meaning to intentionally make such remarks at this particular moment."
Hashimoto, 43, is co-head of the newly formed Japan Restoration Party with former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, who is a strident nationalist.
Sakihito Ozawa, the party's parliamentary affairs chairman, said he believed Hashimoto's remarks reflected his personal views, but he expressed concerns about possible repercussions.
"We should ask his real intentions and stop this at some point," he said.
Associated Press writers Elaine Kurtenbach, Miki Toda and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo, Sam Kim in Seoul and Zhao Liang in Beijing contributed to this report.
May 13, 2013
China Warns Officials Against ‘Dangerous’ Western Values
By CHRIS BUCKLEY
HONG KONG — The Chinese Communist Party has warned officials to combat “dangerous” Western values and other perceived ideological threats, in a directive that analysts said on Monday reflected the determination of China’s leader to preserve top-down political control even as he considers economic liberalization.
The warning emerged on Chinese news Web sites that carried accounts from local party committees describing a directive from the Central Committee General Office, the administrative engine of the party leadership under Xi Jinping.
The central document, “Concerning the Situation in the Ideological Sphere,” has not been openly published, and most references to it disappeared from Chinese news and government Web sites by Monday afternoon, apparently reflecting censors’ skittishness about publicizing such warnings. But what did come to light in the local summaries exuded anxiety about the party’s grip on opinion.
Mr. Xi has been credited with strengthening national cohesiveness since he became general secretary in November, said a summary of a party organization meeting last week of the Commission of Urban-Rural Development of Chongqing, a municipality in southwest China.
“At the same time, the central leadership has made a thorough analysis of and shown a staunch stance toward seven serious problems in the ideological sphere that merit attention, giving a clearer understanding of the sharpness and complexity of struggle in the ideological sphere,” said the account, which later disappeared from the commission’s Web site.
The Chinese government has confronted demands for democratic changes from activists emboldened by Mr. Xi’s vows to respect the law. In recent days, some activists have cited rumors that the party issued a warning against seven ideas that are considered anathema, including media freedom and judicial independence. But the official summaries did not include such language.
Officials must “fully understand the dangers posed by views and theories advocated by the West,” said the account from Chongqing, which said officials must “cut off at the source channels for disseminating erroneous currents of thought.”
“Strengthen management of the Internet, enhance guidance of opinion, purify the environment on the Internet, give no opportunities that lawless elements can seize on,” it said.
Reports on other local party committee Web sites in northeast and southwest China also described the directive, although in less detail.
The demands for ideological conformity show that Mr. Xi and other leaders want to inoculate the public from expectations of major political liberalization, even as they explore loosening some state controls over the economy, several analysts said.
“If anything, there seems to be some regression in the ideological sphere,” said Chen Ziming, a prominent political commentator in Beijing who supports democratic change. “I think that there will be some steps forward in economic reform, but there are no notions of political reform. Such warnings reflect that mentality.”
Calls for orthodoxy from Chinese leaders are by no means new. But Mr. Xi is caught in a sharpening conundrum, trying to satisfy widespread public expectations for cleaner, more accountable government and a fairer share of prosperity while also defending centralized control, said Minxin Pei, a professor at Claremont McKenna College in California who specializes in Chinese politics.
“I think in his mind he has two conflicting priorities,” Professor Pei said.
“The top priority is to maintain the party’s rule,” he said. “But he also has this immediate political priority; that is, he wants to show he will end this period of stagnation. But clearly the two priorities are in conflict with each other.”
Mr. Xi has commissioned officials and researchers to study seven areas of potential economic change, including loosening state controls on bank interest rates and on resource prices, said a Chinese businessman with close links to senior leaders, confirming a report in The Sydney Morning Herald on Monday.
Some of the proposals are likely to be endorsed by a meeting of the party’s Central Committee late this year, said the businessman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing concern about harming his ties to leaders.
On Monday, the prime minister, Li Keqiang, reinforced the theme of change, urging officials to cut red tape stifling market competition, according to Xinhua, the state news agency. “The market is the creator of social wealth,” Mr. Li said. “Let go of the powers that should be let go.”
Yet Mr. Xi has accompanied such signals of change with the messages defending party tradition and control. In December, he said China must absorb the lessons of the collapse of the Soviet Union, for which he blamed political ill-discipline and ideological laxity under Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
More recently, Mr. Xi told officials that the Chinese Communist Party might not have survived if it had disowned Mao Zedong in the same way that the Soviet Union condemned Stalin, a party newspaper, The Guangming Daily, reported last week.
If Mr. Xi is to advance some economic liberalization, he must first convince potential opponents that he will not jeopardize one-party control, said Robert Lawrence Kuhn, an American businessman who wrote an authorized biography of the former party leader Jiang Zemin and has met Mr. Xi and other senior officials.
“It’s not an irrational combination in the Chinese system,” Mr. Kuhn said in an interview. “My guess is that some of the talk is designed to consolidate a position so that he’s not attacked by the extreme left. People can read into Xi what they like, because he gives each side the opportunity to see what they like.”
Agricultural workers from Ukraine may be needed in future, May told
Home secretary must consider bringing in more eastern European workers or face job losses in Tory heartlands, migration advisers say
Alan Travis, home affairs editor
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 14 May 2013 11.59 BST
The home secretary, Theresa May, has been warned that she needs to consider bringing in more eastern European workers from countries such as Ukraine and Russia to the UK or face a sharp rise in fruit and veg prices and job losses in Conservative heartland seats.
The official migration advisory committee (Mac) says British farmers should be able to recruit a sufficient number of seasonal fruit and vegetable pickers in the first one or two years after labour market restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian workers are lifted in December.
But it says there will be a lack of available seasonal migrant labour in the medium term, which will lead to a rise in labour costs and a 10-15% increase in supermarket prices.
Its report, published on Tuesday, warns that shops and supermarkets are likely to turn to cheaper foreign fruit and vegetables, leading to job losses in the British horticultural industry.
The industry is concentrated mostly in Kent, East Anglia and Herefordshire, and local Tory MPs have already issued warnings to the home secretary.
The seasonal agricultural workers scheme (SAWS), which allows an annual quota of 21,250 Bulgarian and Romanian workers to come to Britain for a maximum of six months, accounts for a third of Britain's seasonal agricultural workforce. The scheme is due to close at the end of this year, and the migration experts expect sufficient numbers of Romanians and Bulgarians will come in the short term. But in the medium term of one to two years they would be increasingly likely to move to other permanent, better-paid jobs in the hospitality, care and construction sectors.
The scheme is crucial to the supply of strawberries, salad, apples and other soft fruit and vegetables to British shops and supermarkets.
David Metcalf, the Mac chairman, said migrant workers were not displacing British labour. He said British workers did work in fruit and vegetable picking but wanted permanent jobs and did not want to be tied to a farm living in a caravan or a pod, as required by many farmers.
"We are not saying British workers are lazy," said Metcalf. He said British employers had made great efforts to recruit British workers.
The migration experts say the home secretary should consider replacing the seasonal workers in the scheme with labour from outside Europe – in particular countries such as Ukraine which has a high number of agricultural students.
Metcalf said a decision to replace the scheme in this way would mean the government taking a decision to protect the British horticulture industry as a favoured sector.
The seasonal agricultural workers scheme dates back more than 60 years.
The Mac report says any decline in the supply of seasonal labour could lead to increased pay, increased recruitment costs and a fall in efficiency in production. Supermarkets told the migration experts there was very little flexibility on price for British fruit and vegetables and they were highly likely to switch to imported produce.
Metcalf said: "Growers, operators and workers told us that the labour supply from Bulgaria and Romania will not immediately dry up following the closure of SAWS – but there could be long-term implications that need to be addressed.
"If growers cannot get the required labour, evidence suggests that a replacement SAWS would help horticulture thrive in the long run, but it is ultimately for the government to decide if this sector is a priority."
A government spokesman said: "We are grateful for the Mac's report and note its conclusion that there is little evidence the supply of seasonal labour will decline in the next one or two years.
"We shall consider the Mac's advice very carefully. However, in general we want to encourage employers to recruit from the resident labour market where possible," he said.
May 13, 2013
Bulgarian Vote Fails to Produce Clear Winner
By MATTHEW BRUNWASSER
SOFIA, Bulgaria — After an apathetic vote to replace the government that resigned amid angry demonstrations and a bloody crackdown, the results on Monday showed that hopes for change were so low that only party hard-liners turned out to vote, handing another mandate to the same parties in the previous government.
With 96 percent of the vote counted Monday morning, the governing party of former Prime Minister Boiko Borisov had received 31 percent and the Socialist Party, the former Communists, 27 percent. Turnout was 53 percent, a record low, according to a survey by Alpha Research in Sofia.
But with no party winning enough support to govern alone, negotiations to form a stable government looked so daunting that commentators in Sofia are saying that the real fight for power has just begun.
Mr. Borisov and his government resigned in February after the largest protests in 15 years, with demands including better living standards, a more representative government, and an end to government corruption and incompetence. At the time, it seemed possible that Mr. Borisov’s political career might end. Now, a return to office seems possible.
But the other three parliamentary parties will not make it easy. Mr. Borisov looks completely isolated and the Socialist Party has said it would do whatever it could to prevent his party from returning to power and the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms has said that it would not join. The xenophobic far-right Ataka Party has also said it would decline to participate.
Some Bulgarians linked the voter apathy to the failure of the protests to achieve real change.
While the protests provided an outlet for the public to express its grievances, said Blagoy Boychev, 27, an actor, “the protesters expected some grandiose changes which didn’t happen,” and disappointment increased as a result.
“Most of the Bulgarian people have exceptionally poor political literacy,” he said, drinking beer on a bench in a park at the Church of the Seven Saints in Sofia.
Accusations of corruption played out just before voting began with the announcement that 350,000 illegal ballots had been found in a printing plant owned by a city councilor from Mr. Borisov’s party, Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria, or GERB. The prosecutor’s office said the ballots had been ready for distribution to polling locations, but some news media reports disputed the claim.
The office has not specified for which electoral region or regions the ballots were printed.
The timing of the announcement — on Saturday, the so-called day of consideration, when campaigning and alcohol sales are banned before the polls open — raised claims that it had been intended to damage GERB, the ruling party.
The Central Electoral Commission declined to comment.
Sergei Stanishev, the head of the Socialists, called the illegal ballots a huge fraud that was “unique in scale and arrogance.” In a news conference, Mr. Stanishev said the government of Mr. Borisov, a former firefighter, karate champion and owner of a private security company, “has returned us to the 19th century.”
President Rosen Plevneliev, who is also from GERB, said the authorities should complete their investigation before people draw any conclusions. “I refer with confidence to the actions of institutions and support their efforts,” he said.
Atanas Lozanov, 64, a retired truck driver, had a different interpretation.
“It means that no one can fix this country, everything is corruption, and that no matter who wins the elections, it will be the same thing,” Mr. Lozanov said.
Charges of electoral fraud are not uncommon here. Since Bulgaria joined the European Union in 2007, the European Commission has been highly critical of it for failing to clean up its weak judicial system and systemic corruption.
“The mess is huge,” said Katerina Sakalova, 64, a retired teacher. “Our country is beautiful, but the state is so run down that I don’t see how it can be fixed in less than 10 years.”
Ms. Sakalova added, “I dream that things will change for the better for my grandchildren because I want them to live in Bulgaria and not have to leave.”
05/14/2013 09:24 AM
Pew Study: Europeans Rapidly Losing Faith in Europe
By Gregor Peter Schmitz in Washington
In just the last 12 months, support for the European Union has plummeted on the Continent. Furthermore, many have lost faith in their elected representatives. Only in Germany do people still view the EU favorably, and the split with the rest of Europe is widening.
Europe's ongoing economic crisis and lasting currency woes are beginning to rapidly erode faith among Europeans in the EU project. That is the result of a new survey undertaken by the renowned Pew Research Center in Washington D.C. and released on Monday evening.
The institute polled 8,000 people in eight European Union member states in March and arrived at some disturbing results. In just one year, the share of Europeans who view the European Union project favorably plummeted from 60 percent in 2012 to just 45 percent this year. Furthermore, only in Germany does a majority continue to support granting more power to Brussels in an effort to combat the ongoing crisis.
"The European Union is the new sick man of Europe," read the survey's opening lines. "The effort over the past half century to create a more united Europe is now the principal casualty of the euro crisis. The European project now stands in disrepute across much of Europe."
Of particular concern is the situation in France, where fully 91 percent of those surveyed believes that the country's economy is in bad shape, 10 percent more than in 2012. Furthermore, 67 percent believe that President François Hollande is "doing a lousy job handling the challenges posed by the economic crisis" -- a rating that is 24 percentage points worse than received by his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy. Seventy-seven percent of French respondents believe that European integration has made the country's economic situation worse.
Dimmer View of Europe
Of the eight countries surveyed -- which include Germany, Britain, France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Poland and the Czech Republic -- only the Greeks and Italians hold a dimmer view of European economic integration than do the French. It is yet another burden for the Franco-German tandem that once provided the impetus for integration on the European continent.
Furthermore, people across the EU have nothing but bad things to say about their political leaders. In Italy, where Prime Minister Mario Monti was recently voted out off office, only 25 percent are satisfied with their government's management of the crisis, fully 23 percentage points lower than last year. Ninety-six percent are dissatisfied with the country's direction, comparable to the 97 percent and 94 percent measured in Greece and Spain respectively.
In addition, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, broadly respected across Europe last year for her handling of the euro crisis, is losing support. Even as majorities in five of the eight countries survey still believe she is doing a good job, support plunged by 24 points in Spain, 19 in Italy and six points at home in Germany over the last 12 months.
Deep Gap between Germany and the Rest
The deep gap between perceptions in Europe is also disturbing. Whereas a mere 1 percent of Greeks, 3 percent of Italians, 4 percent of Spanish and 9 percent of French view their economic situations as good, fully 74 percent of Germans are pleased with the economy.
"Overall, the 2013 survey highlights more starkly than ever the differences between the views of Germans and other Europeans on a range of issues," the report notes. "Germans feel better than others about the economy, about their personal finances, about the future, about the European Union, about European economic integration and about their own elected leadership."
Yet as sanguine as the Germans may be about their current situation, others in Europe are less impressed. When asked about other EU countries, respondents in six of the countries surveyed say they find Germans to be the least compassionate. Five countries see Germany as the most arrogant country. Germans themselves have a slightly different view. They view their own country as being the most trustworthy, least arrogant and most compassionate in Europe.
05/14/2013 09:11 AM
Threat to the EU: German Exceptionalism Poses a Challenge
A Commentary by Bruce Stokes
Southern Europeans have grown impatient with Germany's self-imposed role as Europe's iron fist in recent months, but their criticism seems to have left the majority of Germans unfazed. A new study reveals the growing rift in public opinion on the state of the European Union.
The euro crisis has exposed a range of intra-European problems long hidden from the harsh light of day. Not the least of these is German exceptionalism. Over the last two generations one goal of the European project has been to narrow the differences between Germany and the rest of Europe. But recent economic difficulties have only amplified those dissimilarities.
The contrast between German sentiment today and that of other Europeans could not be more stark, according to a new Pew Research Center survey of eight European Union nations. Germans feel better than others about the economy (by 66 points over the EU median), about their personal finances (by 26 points), about the future (by 12 points), about the European Union (by 17 points), about European economic integration (by 28 points) and about their own leadership (by 48 points). And in some cases - in their attitudes about the economy and about the EU - these differences between German and other European sentiment are growing.
Such German exceptionalism may only complicate Europe's efforts to deal with its current troubles because Germans have different concerns, different priorities and favor different solutions.
High Hopes for the Economy
Not surprisingly given Germany's relatively good overall economic performance in the last year, the economy and Germans' sentiment about economic issues is what most prominently sets them apart from other Europeans. Three-quarters (75 percent) of the German population thinks their national economy is doing well, compared with nine percent in the rest of Europe who feel good about domestic economic conditions.
Germans are also less concerned about individual economic problems than are other Europeans. Just 28 percent of Germans think the lack of employment opportunities is a very big problem compared with a median of 80 percent in other EU nations. Only 37 percent of Germans fret about public debt. Fully 71 percent of their fellow Europeans are very concerned. And 31 percent of Germans are very worried about inflation, while 68 percent of others are.
What Germans (51 percent) are most worried about is the growing gap between the rich and the poor. They want fixing this problem to be the Berlin government's priority economic concern. No other European people place such an emphasis on reducing inequality.
Calls for a Stronger Europe
It is the growing gulf between Germans' perception of the European Union and the sentiment of other Europeans that may pose the greatest threat to the European Project.
Belief that economic integration would strengthen national economies was the founding principle of what became the European Union. And 54 percent of Germans still hold to that belief. In no other European country does a majority now agree.
Similarly, 60 percent of Germans look favorably on the European Union as an institution. While such positive sentiment is down eight points in Germany since 2007, that decline is the smallest of any nation surveyed. Moreover, about half of the Germans (51 percent) would like to see Brussels have more decision-making power to deal with Europe's economic woes. Nowhere else in Europe is the public so supportive of centralizing more power in the European Union.
Cultural Bias Clash
If anything, the euro crisis has only reinforced cultural stereotypes that other Europeans have about Germans and that Germans have about their fellow Europeans.
The prominent role Germany has played in Europe's response to the euro crisis has evoked decidedly mixed emotions. In six of the eight nations surveyed people see the Germans as the least compassionate people in Europe. And publics in five of the eight countries think Germans are the most arrogant.
In the wake of the strict austerity measures imposed in Greece, which many Greeks blame on Berlin, Greek enmity toward the Germans knows little bound. Greeks consider the Germans to be the least trustworthy, the most arrogant and the least compassionate.
At the same time, in every country, except Greece, people consider Germans to be the most trustworthy. This comports with the 2012 Pew Research finding that most other Europeans thought the Germans were the hardest working and the least corrupt of Europeans.
No Room for Self-Doubts
The Germans bear their own preconceptions that separate them from their neighbors. They think the Greeks and the Italians are the least trustworthy, that the French are the most arrogant and that the British are the least compassionate.
Self-criticism is also in short supply. Germans, like every other nationality surveyed, see themselves as the most compassionate people in Europe. They also see themselves as the least arrogant and the most trustworthy.
Germany's economic dynamism, its geographic centrality and its history have long posed problems for Europe. And now it is the exceptionalism of German public opinion that is a challenge. As Europeans struggle to jointly overcome the euro crisis, the burgeoning differences between German attitudes and those held by people in the rest of Europe complicate the quest for common ground in the face of Europe's current existential threat.
Bruce Stokes is director of global economic attitudes at the Pew Research Center.
Eurozone crisis sees Franco-German axis crumbling
Poll results underline the sense of estrangement between Paris and Berlin as the two countries' economic prospects diverge
Ian Traynor in Brussels
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 14 May 2013 12.45 BST
When it comes to grim reading about the current European condition, it does not rain but it pours.
The latest catalogue of unremitting gloom (unless you're a German) comes in a 49-page survey of public opinion in eight EU countries conducted in March by Pew pollsters.
The results show support for the EU has shrunk from 60% to 45% in a year on average across the eight countries.
The more detailed findings are that public support for EU integration has eroded strongly, with Germans alone in favour of handing more powers to Brussels to tackle the four-year economic and financial crisis that is severely sapping EU confidence and reinforcing the sense of inexorable medium-term decline.
"Positive views of the EU are at or near their low point in most of the countries surveyed, even among the young," said the pollsters, who talked to nearly 8,000 people.
It is striking how the policy responses of EU leaders to the currency crisis are at such odds with public opinion, as centripetal political action clashes with centrifugal national moods.
The crisis management of the past three years has essentially seen Berlin, Brussels, and others resort to technocratic fixes in an incremental process of pooling economic and fiscal policy powers in the eurozone.
Outside of Germany, however, public support for surrendering such powers from the national level to Brussels, as is happening, is declining rapidly, generating an ever widening "democratic deficit" in the EU that the leaders regularly bemoan but have done nothing to address.
In a big speech on Europe last month, the leading German political thinker, Jürgen Habermas, diagnosed the elite policy responses to the crisis and concluded that "postponing democracy is always dangerous".
Pew's findings dovetail with Eurobarometer poll results revealed last month in the Guardian that showed a collapse in public support for the EU in the union's six biggest countries, making up two-thirds of the half-billion population.
The survey results are particularly spectacular for France, reinforcing the sense of drift a year into the term of President François Hollande and underlining the estrangement between Paris and Berlin.
"The prolonged economic crisis is separating the French from the Germans – threatening the Franco-German axis that has long driven European integration. And it has separated the Germans from everyone else.
"No European country is becoming more dispirited and disillusioned faster than France. French public opinion has soured on a number of measures in the last year … Even more dramatically, French public opinion on a range of issues is now looking less like that in Germany and more like that in Spain, Italy and Greece … The French are also beginning to doubt their commitment to the European project, with 77% believing European economic integration has made things worse for France, an increase of 14 points."
Pretty much the only optimism evident in the survey is in Germany, leading the pollsters to conclude that the Germans are living "on a different continent".
This acute divergence in perception on how the crisis has affected Europe, say officials and diplomats closely involved in the crisis management, makes things much more difficult to fix because the cultural and psychological realities in the different countries are so varied.
"Overall, the 2013 survey highlights more starkly than ever the differences between the views of Germans and other Europeans on a range of issues."