May 18, 2013Assad Suggests Peace Talks Would Fail Because West Wants to Prolong War
By ANNE BARNARD
BEIRUT, Lebanon — President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, in a rare interview with a foreign newspaper, appeared to dismiss the possibility of serious progress arising from any peace talks, and to back away from earlier statements by Syrian officials that the government was willing to negotiate with its armed opponents.
“We do not believe that many Western countries really want a solution in Syria,” Mr. Assad told Argentina’s Clarín newspaper in an interview published online on Saturday, blaming those countries for supporting “terrorists” fighting his government.
“We support and applaud the efforts, but we must be realistic,” he said, referring to efforts by the United States and Russia to broker talks they hope will be held in June. “There cannot be a unilateral solution in Syria; two parties are needed at least.”
Mr. Assad took a hard line throughout the interview, according to a transcript in English provided in advance to The New York Times. He declared that he would run for election as scheduled in 2014 and would accept election monitors only from friendly countries like Russia and China.
He also accused Israel of directly aiding rebels by providing information on sites to attack, refused to acknowledge any mistakes in his handling of the two-year-old crisis, and disputed United Nations estimates that more than 80,000 people had died in the conflict.
All those contentions are likely to fuel what is already widespread pessimism about the potential talks. It is unclear who will talk to whom, and about what. The opposition in exile remains unable to unify fragmented rebel groups behind its political leadership, even those that nominally fall under the umbrella of the opposition’s Free Syrian Army, let alone the growing cadres of extremist Islamist fighters who openly reject the opposition leadership.
Mr. Assad’s supporters have long contended that his wide array of foreign foes, including the United States, Israel and Sunni-led Persian Gulf states, benefit less from a resolution than from a prolonged Syrian conflict that weakens Mr. Assad and his allies, Iran and Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militant group. That view is increasingly shared by some rebel leaders, increasingly frustrated with the West’s unwillingness to give them untrammeled support.
In meetings with his supporters, Mr. Assad has projected confidence, suggesting that the United States would accept his remaining in power if American officials believed that he was militarily strong and could curb jihadists. He told a group of Lebanese politicians visiting Damascus, the capital, this month that his forces were carrying out offensives to retake rebel-held territory in Homs Province and the suburbs of Damascus to increase his leverage at the talks.
“The battlefield will decide who is strong when they enter negotiations,” he said, according to one of the visitors, Abdelrahim Mourad, a former Parliament member whose party is allied with Hezbollah. “America is pragmatic. If they found out they were defeated and the regime is the winner, the Americans will deal with the facts.”
Whether that view is realistic or not, Mr. Assad’s opponents inside and outside Syria widely doubt that he is willing to make meaningful concessions — doubts he reinforced in the interview, refusing to recognize any element of the armed opposition as representing legitimate Syrian demands or even to talk to the rebels unless they disarm.
“We are willing to talk to anyone who wants to talk, without exceptions,” he said. “But that does not include terrorists; no state talks to terrorists. When they put down their arms and join the dialogue, then we will have no objections. Believing that a political conference will stop terrorism on the ground is unreal.”
Mr. Assad appeared to be backing off previous overtures by members of his government. On Feb. 25, Ali Haidar, the minister for national reconciliation, told Syria’s Parliament that the government was ready to meet with armed opposition groups.
“We, the government, and me, personally, will meet, without exceptions, with Syrian opposition groups inside and outside” the country, he said. “The president of the country has said that we will try with everyone that is against us politically. And even those who use arms — we must try with them.” However, Mr. Haidar is not part of Mr. Assad’s inner circle, so the weight of the statement was never clear.
In continuing reports of violence, opposition activists in Syria said Saturday that government forces had killed and then incinerated at least 17 people in a two-day operation in an upscale neighborhood of northwest Homs, long a hotbed of the insurgency. Some died when government forces shelled the fields surrounding the neighborhood, Al Waer, starting on Friday, and others were stabbed to death, said the Local Coordination Committees, an opposition news network with contacts in Syria. The bodies were later set on fire by soldiers and pro-government militias, the activists said.
The activists’ accounts could not be independently confirmed, but videos posted on YouTube and Facebook groups controlled by rebels showed charred bodies and shattered limbs, wrapped in red cloths and carpets.
Residents said they were able to identify 10 of the victims as members of two families, including four women and two 11-year-old children.
Also on Saturday, at least three people were killed and five wounded when a car bomb exploded in the Rukn al-Din neighborhood of Damascus, The Associated Press reported, quoting Syrian state television. The observatory reported a higher number of casualties, saying eight were killed — four soldiers and four civilians.
In other developments, the father of Syria’s deputy foreign minister, Faisal Mekdad, was abducted Saturday by a gunman in southern Dara’a Province, close to the Jordanian border, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a network based in Britain with contacts inside Syria. The government later arrested relatives suspected to be involved with the abduction, the observatory said, adding that rebels in the area had denied any responsibility.
Mr. Mekdad’s office confirmed the abduction, and residents in a neighboring village said that about 30 men, some carrying weapons, raided the family home and took the 80-year-old father, who was described by residents as “not an outspoken regime supporter and not a troublemaker.”
A spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army described the abduction as “unconvincing and strange,” given that the father did not share his son’s views and was seen as having good relations with the rebels around him. The Mekdad clan numbers in the thousands in Dara’a, where the uprising began, and includes government supporters and opponents.
In the Clarín interview, Mr. Assad elaborated on his government’s contention that the opposition was aligned with Syria’s longtime enemy, Israel, which has bombed Syrian territory three times this year in attacks believed to have targeted weapons being delivered to Hezbollah.
“Israel is directly supporting the terrorist groups in two ways,” he said. “Firstly it gives them logistical support” — a possible reference to medical aid Israel has given to Syrians wounded near the Syria-Israel border — “and it also tells them what sites to attack and how to attack them.”
Mr. Assad said international monitoring of the 2014 elections would violate Syria’s sovereignty. “We do not trust the West for this task,” he said, proposing observers from “friendly countries such as Russia or China.”
“China?” the interviewer asked, presumably perplexed because China is not known for holding free elections. Mr. Assad was silent. The reporter then asked if Mr. Assad had any “self-criticisms.” He replied: “It’s illogical to carry out self-criticism before the events have been completed. If you go to watch a film you don’t criticize it until it ends.”
He dismissed rebels’ accusations that his forces had used chemical weapons, noting that such weapons “would mean killing thousands or tens of thousands of people in a matter of minutes. Who could hide something like that?”
Hala Droubi contributed reporting from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
*********Bashar al-Assad issues defiant message: 'I'm here to stay'
In a rare interview, the Syrian president says a divided opposition could not uphold a peace deal and that he has no intention of stepping down
Martin Chulov, Beirut
The Observer, Saturday 18 May 2013 16.08 BST
Link to video: Interview: Bashar al-Assad on Syria and the international communityhttp://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2013/may/18/interview-bashar-al-assad-syria-international-community-video
Syria's embattled leader Bashar al-Assad has used a rare interview – carried out amid the sound of artillery fire resounding through his presidential palace in Damascus – to warn the United States and Russia that their efforts to bring about talks will do little to halt the civil war laying waste to his country, and that he has no intention of stepping down.
In an exclusive interview for the Argentinian newspaper Clarín, shared with the Observer, Assad says he welcomes attempts at dialogue, but believes that western states are looking for ways to fuel the violence, rather than stop it, and are seeking to topple his regime regardless of the toll.
Moscow and Washington have been in dispute over the anti-Assad uprising since it began in March 2011 but are now trying to find common ground to quell the bloodshed and destruction as its effects continue to reverberate across the region. If successful, there are hopes talks could take place at the end of this month and lead to a multilateral summit attended by key protagonists.
Assad, speaking to Clarín's reporter Marcelo Cantelmi from the library of his palace, said that a continuing lack of unity between the myriad rebel groups meant that opposition leaders would be unable to implement any ceasefire measures agreed at a summit, such as surrendering arms. "They are not a single entity," he said. "They are different groups and bands, not dozens but hundreds. They are a mixture and each group has its local leader. And who can unify thousands of people? We can't discuss a timetable with a party if we don't know who they are."
Asked about the possibility of stepping down, he said: "I don't know whether [US secretary of state] John Kerry or anyone else has received a mandate from the Syrian people to decide whether someone should stay or go. Any decision about reforms in Syria will come from Syria and neither the US nor any other state can intervene. In any case, to resign would be to flee."
Attempts to consolidate a cohesive opposition force which is committed to Syria continuing as a pluralistic state have largely been unsuccessful. The war is now into its third year, sectarian positions are hardening and regional stakeholders are being drawn ever deeper into a conflict that threatens to also consume them. Assad again blamed Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey for driving the insurgency, insisting that ending such support for the opposition must be a priority if the summit goes ahead. "There cannot be a unilateral solution in Syria; two parties are needed at least. In practice, the opposition forces are linked to foreign countries and cannot make a decision for themselves. They are one and the same, and it is they who announced that they don't want a dialogue with the Syrian state, most recently last week. Believing that a political conference will stop terrorism on the ground is unreal."
The Free Syrian Army remains nominally the umbrella rebel military group, but its power has been diminished by the rise of regional warlords and opportunists – and the creeping ascendancy of al-Qaida linked groups, which are now at the vanguard on numerous fronts. With central authority disintegrating, Syria is descending into an ungovernable domain of warlords, fiefdoms and militias, some of whom are fighting not for nationalistic aims but as part of a global jihad in the name of fundamentalist Islamist doctrine.
On both sides of the war, faith in the international community to bring about a solution has been evaporating rapidly. And in the opposition-held north of the country, there was growing frustration on Saturday at what is perceived as a disconnect between faltering global diplomacy and searing on-the-ground reality. "This is a fight to the death for the Sunnis," said Abu Hamza, a commander of a Free Syrian Army-linked brigade in Idlib province. "The regime has fired at least 200 ballistic missiles into the north against civilian areas. And the world wonders why we attack their villages? They are trying to eradicate us. We must get to them first."
Sectarianism, for so long a subcurrent in the Syrian conflict, is now a driving force for substantial elements on both the regime and opposition sides. A series of web videos posted in recent weeks chronicling atrocities committed by both sides reveals the growing depth of enmity and the willingness to lay claim to crimes that in the early months of the war would have been subject to interminable dispute. Assad denied credible reports that fighters from Lebanon's Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards had travelled to Syria to fight alongside his regime, but acknowledged that some members of both groups had been in the country.
"We do not have fighters from outside Syria," he said. "There are people here from Hezbollah and Iran, but they have been coming and going in Syria since long before the crisis." He again denied his regime had used chemical weapons, a claim regularly made by rebel groups and partly supported by western officials. He suggested that the use of such weapons could be used as a pretext to directly intervene in the crisis.
"It is probable that the issue would be used," he said. "The west lies and falsifies evidence to engineer wars, it is a habit of theirs. Of course, any war against Syria would not be easy, it wouldn't be a simple excursion.
"[Intervention] is a clear probability, especially after we've managed to beat back armed groups in many areas of Syria. Then these countries sent Israel to do this to raise the morale of the terrorist groups. We expect that an intervention will occur at some point, although it may be limited in nature."
He also rejected claims that his troops had used excessive force. "How does one define excessive force? How can one decide whether excessive force has been used or not? What is the formula to be applied?
The debate is not about the extent of the force used or the type of weapon … the issue really centres on the nature and extent of the terrorism we have suffered, and thus, what is a proper response."
Of the recent Israeli attacks, he accused Israel of doing the bidding of rebel groups, which he alleged had in turn bombed a Syrian military radar site, which allowed the Israeli jets to carry out their attack."Israel is directly supporting the terrorist groups in two ways, firstly it gives them logistical support and it also tells them what sites to attack and how to attack them. For example, they attacked a radar station that is part of our anti-aircraft defenses, which can detect any plane coming from overseas, especially from Israel."
EU decision to lift Syrian oil sanctions boosts jihadist groups
Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaida affiliate, consolidates position as scramble for control of wells accelerates
Julian Borger and Mona Mahmood
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 19 May 2013 12.51 BST
The EU decision to lift Syrian oil sanctions to aid the opposition has accelerated a scramble for control over wells and pipelines in rebel-held areas and helped consolidate the grip of jihadist groups over the country's key resources.
Jabhat al-Nusra, affiliated with al-Qaida and other extreme Islamist groups, control the majority of the oil wells in Deir Ezzor province, displacing local Sunni tribes, sometimes by force. They have also seized control of other fields from Kurdish groups further to the north-east, in al-Hasakah governorate.
As opposition groups have turned their guns on each other in the battle over oil, water and agricultural land, military pressure on Bashar al-Assad's government from the north and east has eased off. In some areas, al-Nusra has struck deals with government forces to allow the transfer of crude across the front lines to the Mediterranean coast.
Syria oil fire map Syria oil fire map
As a result of the rush to make quick money, open-air refineries have been set up in Deir Ezzor and al-Raqqa provinces. Crude is stored in ditches and heated in metal tanks by wood fires, shrouding the region with plumes of black smoke, exposing the local population to the dangers of the thick smog and the frequent explosions at the improvised plants.
Heating oil, diesel and petrol is condensed in hoses running from the tanks through pools of water and sold across the north, as far as Aleppo. The remaining crude is shipped by road on tankers to Turkey.
One leading opposition figure said: "The northern front hasn't just gone dormant; the northern front has gone commercial."
The EU announced it was lifting its oil embargo in April to help the moderate opposition. The implementation regulations have yet to be issued so the decision has not taken effect, but regional experts say the announcement intensified the race for oil – a race the western-backed moderates lost.
Joshua Landis, an expert on the region at the University of Oklahoma who runs the Syria Comment blog, said the EU decision on oil "sent a message that oil could come back online faster than most thought possible".
"Whoever gets their hands on the oil, water and agriculture, holds Sunni Syria by the throat. At the moment, that's al-Nusra," Landis said. "Europe opening up the market for oil forced this issue. So the logical conclusion from this craziness is that Europe will be funding al-Qaida."
Abu Albara, an al-Nusra fighter who spoke to the Guardian by telephone from Deir Ezzor, said: "Now, we can say that most of the oil wells are in the hands of the rebels, only a single oil facility in Hasakah is still under the control of [Kurdish fighters]. There are two other oil wells close to the Iraqi borders in the desert. The Iraqi army have surrounded them with tanks but we do not know what they are doing with them."
The al-Nusra guerilla said the group was merely guarding the wells it captured, but the rival groups have accused the Islamists of asset-stripping them for quick money.
"Jabhat al-Nusra is investing in the Syrian economy to reinforce its position in Syria and Iraq. Al-Nusra fighters are selling everything that falls into their hands from wheat, archaeological relics, factory equipment, oil drilling and imaging machines, cars, spare parts and crude oil," Abu Saif, a fighter with the Ahrar Brigade, linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, told the Guardian by phone from the Deir Ezzor area.
"The Syrian regime itself is paying more than 150m Syrian lire [£1.4m] monthly to Jabhat al-Nusra to guarantee oil is kept pumping through two major oil pipelines in Banias and Latakia. Middlemen trusted by both sides are to facilitate the deal and transfer money to the organisation."
A western diplomat watching the situation said: "We understand that in Deir Ezzor, it's a bit of a mix. Al-Nusra is there and there is sometimes co-operation with the regime for practical reasons. In some areas oil products are being given to the local communities, but there are clear dangers in these kinds of open-air refineries."
The diplomat said the EU implementation regulation for the lifting of the oil embargo would include safeguard clauses that would give the western-backed opposition, the National Coalition, the power to authorise exports. But as things stand, the coalition and its allies hold very little of Syria's oil wealth in their hands.
A former Syrian oil executive in the rebel-held areas said: "In the last few months, they seem to have figured a way to sell the oil supply across the lines from the rebels to government forces, through intermediaries trusted on both sides."
The former executive said the oil trade had spawned a growing demand for oil tanker lorries, as a single shipment could earn a profit of up to $10,000 (£6,600). He added that al-Nusra and other jihadist groups were using much of the money to win hearts and minds in areas they have captured, such as al-Raqqa city, which fell in March.
"If you look at what the money does in these places," he said, asking for his name not to be used because of the sensitivity of the issue. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist. You bring in flour, you repair the bakeries, so there are big smiles in the local community. It's an incredible marketing machine."
In April, the head of the western-backed rebel Supreme Military Council, General Selim Idriss, pledged to create a force to secure the oilfields and other economic resources in Deir Ezzor, al-Hasakah and Raqqa provinces, but that force has yet to materialise and observers doubt Idriss has the money, manpower or weaponry to displace the jihadists.
"Idriss probably felt he had to say that, to reassure the Europeans," Landis said. "But nobody takes such claims seriously. Where is he going to get 30,000 men from?"
The only rivals to the power of the jihadists in the oil region are the Kurds in al-Hasakah, and the Sunni tribes around Deir Ezzor, who have found themselves increasingly marginalised by Islamic extremists.
In one well-documented case, fighting broke out in the village of al-Musareb, near Deir Ezzor, between al-Nusra fighters and local tribesmen over ownership of an oil tanker. The al-Nusra commander, a Saudi called Qasura al-Jazrawi, was killed. As a reprisal, the jihadist group levelled much of the village and executed 50 of its residents.
Apart from the latest round of conflict the oil rush has triggered, human rights campaigners have raised concerns about the health impact of the wildcat refining industry. Skin and breathing complaints have become common while there are reports of workers on the improvised oil fields, including children, being burned to death in accidents.
An opposition activist in Hasakah, Salman Kurdi, said: "They refine oil by boiling it to very high temperatures by using gas cans, and most of the time, they blow up. It's killed many of the people who work there.
"A month ago, an explosion happened in an oil well called Shadada, in the countryside south of here, and five people were killed. They dig a big hole and put lots of fire in it and gas to make it boiling. If you travel south to the countryside, you can spot the smoke rising every few kilometres."
Ukraine gay pride marchers ready to defy violence
Organisers in Kiev determined to go ahead after cancellation of last year's event, despite rise in homophobic attacks
The Observer, Saturday 18 May 2013 19.57 BST
Efforts are going ahead in Ukraine's capital Kiev to stage a gay pride march next week in the face of data showing a sharp rise in the number of homophobic attacks reported in the city.
Organisers were forced to cancel the celebration last year, hours before it was due to start, after police said they could not guarantee the safety of participants in the face of threats from far-right and religious groups.
A report published this weekend by Amnesty International revealed what it called "endemic discrimination" by both the Ukrainian authorities and members of the public towards the country lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community, and is calling on the government to drop proposals to introduce two pieces of legislation which would further entrench homophobia by making it illegal to promote "propaganda" about homosexuality in the arts.
Ukraine faces a deadline from the European Council to show progress towards reform in human rights, including key judicial and electoral reforms, in order for Ukraine to move towards European integration. Among them is the release of key political prisoners, including its former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, currently being detained and facing murder and embezzlement charges.
Gay rights campaigners hope the pressure will further their own cause in the face of the growing violence. One non-governmental organisation in Kiev has received 29 reports of violent attacks and 36 of threats against LGBTI people in the last year alone.
Amnesty International's Ukrainian researcher Max Tucker said: "People have been beaten and in one case murdered because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Most of these crimes have not been investigated properly and have gone unpunished."
He said the violence was now being used by the authorities as a reason to further restrict human rights. "It adds insult to injury: the possibility of attack is routinely used as an excuse to deprive LGBTI people of their rights to express themselves and to hold public events in a peaceful manner."
The pride march is planned for Saturday 25 May, and although campaigners do not predict a mass turnout, it would be an important first step for Ukraine, said Stas Misthenko, one of the organisers.
"It's really important because it gives a signal that something will change and that something can change," he said. "Not just in Ukraine, but for Russia, for Belarus, for Moldova.
"The situation here makes everyday life very complicated. Maybe 90-95% of the LGBT people in this country will keep who they are a secret, even from their families. People are scared of being fired from their work or being beaten in the streets. So people do not want to show or express themselves; they hide in their apartments.
"Even on the dating websites, maybe only one in 10 gay people will put up a picture of themselves. And blackmail is rife: there are many sad cases that people will arrange to meet and then blackmail the person over their sexuality.
"LGBT people are very vulnerable. This is why seeing something like a pride march go ahead – to see other people like them on TV – is so important for the LGBT community."
05/17/2013 03:33 PM
Beaten, Bullied, Badgered: EU Study Finds Widespread Homophobia in Europe
Harassed at work and the doctor's office, bullied and assaulted in public: The gay, bisexual and transgender community is still widely discriminated against in Europe. In an new EU survey, the most comprehensive to date, more than 90,000 participants report on the extent of their harassment.
In Europe, the acceptance of homosexuals, bisexuals and the transgendered is far from a foregone conclusion. Many still face discrimination, social isolation or outright assault. That's the conclusion reached by the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) in its largest study to date. The survey shows that a large portion of the LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender) community feels it cannot openly acknowledge its sexual orientation.
Nearly half of respondents (47 percent) said they had experienced discrimination because of their sexual orientation in the past year. With 46 percent, Germany came in one percentage point under the EU average. Around one in four participants reported being the victim of an assaultor threats of violence in the past five years.
Six percent of survey participants said they had been physically attacked in the past 12 months, a portion of which occurred within their own families. Women were more frequently the victims of sexual assault. Transgender respondents reported that they consistently experience more intolerance than do gays and bisexuals.
The FRA calls the study the most comprehensive of its kind to date. The data was collected online from more than 93,000 respondents, who came from the 27 countries of the European Unionand Croatia. All of the participants were over 18 years old and identified themselves as trangender, gay or bisexual. At least 20,000 of the answers came from Germany -- more than from any other country.
Self-Censorship and Guarded Behavior
Since the size of the LGBT portion of the entire population can only be estimated, the authors of the study acknowledge that the results should not be seen as representative of the entire European LGBT community -- but just as the largest collection of related data ever assembled.
Discrimination and concealment of sexual orientation are prevalent throughout every age, gender and geographical category.
School: Two-thirds of respondents conceal their sexual orientation -- in Germany, that portion is 68 percent. The vast majority of participants recall harassment against LGBT students during their time in school. Many describe school as "hell." Ninety-one percent say they witnessed students being poorly treated just because they were perceived as gay. In Germany, the portion is only one percentage point lower.
Daily Life: Two-thirds of respondents say they do not dare hold the hand of their same-sex partner in public. In the case of homosexual and bisexual men, the proportion is 75 percent. Half of all respondents avoid certain places -- public buildings, squares or public transportation -- for fear of being harassed, threatened or attacked on account of their sexual orientation.
Work: Approximately one in five participants (19 percent) feel discriminated against at work or on the job search.
The following are quotes from the study:
"My behaviour at work involves a lot of self-censorship and a certain guarded manner." -- 31-year-old gay man, Germany
"I feel strong enough to deal with street harassment now, but I feel upset about havign to justify my lifestyle to every doctor. It is alarming that medical staff have absolutely no awareness about LGBT needs, not even gynaecologists." -- 30-year-old lesbian, Czech Republic
"I had an experience at work in terms of discrimination: A colleague told me he respected me but thought I was abnormal ... in a few words, my sexual orientation was against nature in his opinion." 28-year-old lesbian, Italy
"I experience so much discrimination, harassment and violence that it has become my daily life." -- 25-year-old transgender bisexual, Lithuania
"I got physically attacked by a bouncer in a nightclub who, when I was leaving, started talking to me. He asked me to go home with him, and I told him I'm not interested. He started pulling my coat and eventually I told him 'I am not interested, I'm gay.' After this he and his colleague beat me in the head, I fainted and when I woke up, my leg was broken." -- 27-year-old lesbian, Romania
The respondents generally expect assistance from the authorities only in exceptional circumstances. "Nothing would happen or change" is the most cited reason for why only about one in five assault or discrimination cases was reported to the police. The responses "It happens all the time" or "Did not want to reveal my sexual orientation and/or gender identity" were heard frequently from those surveyed.
Models: Denmark , Sweden and the UK
The Fundamental Rights Agency recommends that law enforcement officials be better trained to deal with the subject. If an assault occurs because of the victim's sexual orientation, that should be considered an aggravating factor with a higher penalty -- similarly to how racially motivated attacks are handled in some countries.
The leaders in Europe when it comes to rights for homosexuals and transgender citizens, are Denmark, Sweden and the UK. There, policy already takes homophobic violence into account. But even in those countries, say the study authors, there are those who need to catch up.
According to the study, prominent role models are extremely important. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who is open about his homosexuality and lives in a registered partnership, is seen in Germany as a a leading role model. "This is, of course, an important difference from other countries," said the spokeswoman for the FRA, Waltraud Heller. Interviewees from countries in which leaders make derogatory statements about homosexuality feel discriminated against more often.
One's own openness can also lead to greater acceptance, according to the study: Outed people in all countries reported less discrimination than those who do not openly deal with their orientation.
The results of the study will be presented on Friday, which also happens to be the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia, in The Hague. FRA Director Morten Kjaerum said that the EU should take action "to break down the barriers, eliminate the hate and create a society where everyone can fully enjoy their rights, no matter what their sexual orientation or gender identity is."
French same-sex marriage law signed by François Hollande
After intense protests, law allowing same-sex couples to marry and adopt children is approved, but key issues still unresolved
Staff and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 18 May 2013 10.39 BST
The French president, François Hollande, has signed a law authorising same-sex couples to marry and adopt children, after months of street protests, political slanging matches and a rise in homophobic attacks.
The move makes France the ninth country in Europe and the 14th globally to legalise same-sex marriage.
France's official journal announced on Saturday that the bill had become law after the Constitutional Council rejected a challenge by the rightwing opposition on Friday.
The first same-sex marriage is due to be held in Montpellier in the south of France on 29 May, Reuters reported.
Hollande and his ruling Socialist party have made the legislation their flagship social change, but the right to marriage and adoption for everyone regardless of sexual orientation has triggered the biggest conservative and rightwing street protests in 30 years, with more than 200 arrests. Opponents have called for another protest on 26 May.
While French opinion polls have long shown that a majority of the public support same-sex marriage, the issue of adoption is more controversial.
The law also leaves key issues on family rights unanswered. It will not grant automatic co-parenting rights for same-sex couples in civil partnerships, nor allow access to medically assisted procreation or IVF to lesbian couples. Rights campaigners want these issues to be addressed in a family law this year.
The government has referred the issue of medically assisted procreation to France's national ethics council, which will rule in the autumn. But the issue of parenting and procreation rights remains deeply divisive in opinion polls and among politicians.
The other 13 countries to legalise same-sex marriage include Canada, Denmark, Sweden and most recently Uruguay and New Zealand. In the US, Washington DC and 12 states have legalised same-sex marriage.
Ségolène Royal is back – and François Hollande has a new problem
Former presidential candidate, Hollande's partner for 30 years, re-enters public arena with a book and a renewed appetite for politics
Kim Willsher in Paris
The Observer, Saturday 18 May 2013 14.17 BST
French politicians rarely throw in the towel, even after the most crushing and humiliating of defeats. Instead, they mostly spend their time in the political wilderness busily plotting their return to public life.
And so Ségolène Royal, the former presidential candidate – who failed to become leader of the Socialists, was trounced in her attempt to become the party's 2012 presidential candidate and failed to gain a seat in parliament at the last election – emerged last week from almost a year of seclusion to publicise her new book (and let it be known she is looking for a government job).
For President François Hollande, Royal's former partner and father of her four children, who is facing recession, soaring unemployment and plunging popularity, the main and pressing priority, as one French website described it, is to persuade the French that "there's a pilot in the plane". The thorny problem of what to do about Ségolène is one he does not need.
Just 24 hours after Royal, 59, released her book, This Beautiful Idea of Courage, last Wednesday, Hollande in effect ruled out a return to government for the former family minister. He told a press conference that he had no plans for a reshuffle in the immediate future.
Royal responded in Le Monde: "There's a need to always be moving, especially when everyone is expecting a second breath. Also, it's no secret to anyone there are domains where a reshuffle is necessary, like, for example, the vast galaxy at the ministry of finance."
The finance ministry is headed by Pierre Moscovici, who in 2008 said: "There are people who detest Ségolène Royal even in the Socialist party."
The Ségolène problem is complicated by the fact that it is not just political but personal. Only weeks after he entered the Elysée, Hollande, 58, suffered his first damaging setback – and considerable ridicule – when first lady Valérie Trierweiler, 48, used her Twitter account to support Royal's rival in the June 2012 legislative elections. Trierweiler was said to have acted in a fit of jealousy.
Royal told France 5 television last week: "You know in life when one is betrayed, when someone hurts you, gratuitously to boot, when it's fierce, when it's violent, if one wants to survive it, you have to forgive. But forgiving is one thing, forgetting is another.
"You have to go forward. Those who remain resentful, who are eaten up with internal resentment, you can see it in their face, in their behaviour. I have never let myself be eaten up by resentment or vindictiveness."
In January, Royal was appointed vice-president of the new Banque Publique d'Investissement. The glossy celebrity magazine VSD called it Operation Comeback Ségo, but soon afterwards she fell out with the bank's president, Nicolas Dufourcq, and their relationship is now described as "complicated".
As the French magazine Marianne commented: "Politicians don't die – certainly not in France – certainly not Ségolène Royal ... so Ségolène Royal is coming back. But to go where? Each time it's the same question. Ministers are saying, 'She wants a position, that's for sure. But what position?'... Royal still and always provokes the same irrationality."
The magazine added: "Royal is useful. Very useful. Even if many find her just as 'unbearable' as always. Firstly because the criticisms she voices against the left in power, which started at the beginning of the promotion of her book, are absolutely fair … she knows how to point the finger at the failings of the government and the head of state."
Royal's book is more anodyne, focusing on 15 personalities from whom she says she has gained inspiration, including Nelson Mandela, Stéphane Hessel and François Mitterrand – people who, she wrote, had suffered challenges but "pulled themselves back up". She has taken care not to overtly criticise Hollande, nor does the book refer to her own political aspirations.
Peter Gumbel, an author and lecturer at the Paris Institut d'Etudes Politiques – known as Sciences Po – whose book on the French ruling class, France's Got Talent: the Woeful Consequences of French Elitism, was also published last Wednesday, is sure Royal will bounce back. "She's clearly a member of an institutional caste whose members, particularly at the top end, are guaranteed a job even if they completely mess up. I see from her CV she was once an au pair, and I'm sure she was a good one, but she's not qualified for anything else," Gumbel said.
"If you're a member of this institutional caste, you don't go quietly into the night. Just when you think you've got rid of them, they bounce back."
Royal's eulogy in her book of Mitterrand, the former Socialist president, perhaps best sums up her philosophy: "The courage of François Mitterrand was to have never considered any defeat, any reversal of fortune, as definitive."
Hungary: ‘Stern warning from Merkel’
17 May 2013
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Social Democrat candidate for the chancellor’s office Peer Steinbrück crossed swords in Berlin at a forum on Europe on May 16 over the issue of possible sanctions against Hungary, which has been accused of violating the principles of EU law.
Steinbrück, reports Népszava, raised the question of the exclusion of Hungary from the EU and asked Merkel to exert more pressure on Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, both personally and within the framework of the European People’s Party, of which they are both members.
The chancellor voiced her agreement with the European Commission on the need to modify the contested Hungarian legislation and remarked that she preferred persuasion to threats. She also pointed out that she is demanding “changes to laws or constitutional amendments, if they do not comply with EU treaties.”
Merkel is now deployed in all
Not immediately send a "cavalry" Angela Merkel, but made it clear, "everything should be done to ensure that our Hungarian friends good ride let's turn." The kimértségéről famous German chancellor in addition to the family of the European party Fidesz ever more strongly expressed when he spoke fully agrees with the Commission that Hungary should change those laws that are not in line with EU treaties.
Everything must be done to Hungary to return to the right path, but not exclusion from the European Union should be in view, because if that happens, then the union community is unable to influence developments in Hungary - Angela Merkel said in Berlin. The Chancellor of the German public broadcaster WDR event company in response to the European Social Forum was Chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück raise, said: "do not need to immediately send the cavalry." However, the chancellor stressed that fully agrees with the Commission that Hungary should change those laws that are not in line with EU treaties. He said this several times already spoken with Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who assured him each time that the Hungarian government note of the criticism seriously. "We pay attention to the party in our family," the Budapest leadership's reaction - Merkel stressed.
Steinbrücke Hungary concerning the possible exclusion of opinion is promising to reply Merkel also said that if there are doubts, the Hungarian legislation and compatibility with the EU Treaties, the "first to speak, and to amend the laws." Hungary was very helpful during the reunification of Germany, which the Germans will never forget. However, "no quibble", if any, that may be anti-Semitic tendencies or other harmful processes unfold. In this case, "to continue an open dialogue to which we are accustomed to," and everything should be done to achieve a "good ride let's turn our Hungarian friends" - stressed by the German Chancellor.
All Attila Mesterházy I commented to our magazine: the overthrow of the Fidesz conspiracy theory, because the unusually harsh words from her conservative chancellor criticized Viktor Orban and his government. It also means - said president and group leader of the Hungarian Socialist Party - the People's Party, the political solidarity of the family so far over toward Urban.
Revelation is extremely heavy - commented Merkel's words Balázs this newspaper. The former EU commissioner, former Secretary of State that it is also important that those who said that the Europe's largest, most respected head of state, but it does not matter that what he said is stronger than ever distancing people from Fidesz party. The European People's Party as well, although never had a single and a certain number of members have already expressed serious concerns about the activities of the Orbán government, so far has shown a very strong solidarity. That's why Merkel is likely people will follow a harder, more defined stance next to the institutions of the Union, showing manifestations. Merkel expressly encouraged the European Commission to act by the end of the ongoing legal investigations. Balazs reminded the Council of Europe is in the process of monitoring process is in the EU, at the same time being prepared, the European Parliament Tavares report, the European Commission's investigation, so you need to prepare the most serious consideration Orban's government in a few weeks.
Laszlo Kovacs Merkel's statement fits into the series, characterized by an ever-higher level, more explicit warnings addressed to European politicians against the Orban government. The former foreign minister, a former EU commissioner said the gravity of the statement is not only in the fact that the German chancellor is not only the EU but also the whole of Europe's strongest economy of a country with the leader, but also the style typical of restraint, unusual in him such strong statements . The Socialist politician, it is also contradicted by the leaders of Fidesz and Viktor Orban's false claims that behind criticisms of the government is a conspiracy of the left and the action of the big international monopolies, as Merkel's party people, and hardly represent the interests of the monopolies. The wording of the Chancellor is that Smith is fitting, because if Hungary would be excluded from the union - which had not yet example - or the government decides to exit, then the country would be in a position such as Belarus. This in turn would be a disaster - said Smith.
There are many conclusions can be drawn yet Merkel's words as they were in the heat of a debate, in fact, specifically the debate partner, the Social Democrats were raised by Steinbrueck responses - Laszlo told this Valki. In international law, it is important circumstance that the Chancellor of the next sentence confirmed fully agrees with the Commission that Hungary should change those laws that are not in line with EU treaties. This means that Merkel shares the Commission's concerns, and the legal position is that it is necessary to amend the Basic Law and other laws. However, the Chancellor's no way support an idea that withdrawal of voting rights in Hungary or foreclosure we recommend. Formulated in such a way not only to the European Union institutions. The German chancellor is clearly in support of European institutions that have conducted ongoing investigations - summed up the expert, who also said our questions, Merkelről may have been for a long time to know that you do not condone the current Hungarian government activities, even even if they belong to the same family of European party Fidesz. The Chancellor's words, by all means determining the position of the European People's Party, Merkel as the most important member of the party line.
Judge Marianna, Tibor Lengyel / The People's Voice
May 18, 2013
A Prison Site’s Future Stirs Up the Ghosts of Its Notorious Past
By DOUGLAS DALBY
MAZE, Northern Ireland — On a quiet country road south of Belfast, only the sudden appearance of a watchtower and portions of walls offer any hint of what was once Europe’s most notorious prison. After the last inmates walked out the gates in 2000, the bulldozers moved in, leaving little of the top security fortress intact.
The road signs and the buildings of the old Maze prison have proved far easier to erase than the vivid memories of the events that took place here, particularly the 1981 hunger strike in which Bobby Sands, an Irish Republican Army leader convicted of a firearms charge, and nine of his comrades died in pursuit of the right to be treated as political prisoners rather than criminals.
Now, 15 years after the Good Friday peace accord paved the way for the controversial early release of hundreds of paramilitary prisoners — pro-British unionists as well as republicans opposed to British control over Northern Ireland — the site of the old prison has once again become a vortex of political discord.
After more than a decade of indecision, the power-sharing local government recently agreed to build a center devoted to the study of peace and conflict resolution on part of the old prison site, along with an industrial park for high-tech companies.
The government commissioned Daniel Libeskind, the architect best known for his work at the ground zero site in Manhattan and the Jewish Museum in Berlin, to design the center to reflect the complexities of the conflict, known as the Troubles, that claimed more than 3,000 lives over 30 years.
But instead of being embraced as a powerful symbol of reconciliation and a shared future, the proposed peace center has already become mired in the continuing dispute between unionists and republicans over how the story of the Troubles will be told.
The prototype designs Mr. Libeskind released this month have been eclipsed by the controversy surrounding the site itself, particularly the single remaining H-shaped cellblock containing the small hospital where the hunger strikers spent their last days.
Although the cellblock will not be part of the new center, some pro-British unionists contend that the site will become a “shrine to terrorism.”
“This is the most toxic and divisive site that you could possibly choose for such a building,” said the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, Mike Nesbitt. “It is clear there will be an undue focus on the prisoners rather than their innocent victims.”
Other unionists who have supported the project in the local government assembly have dismissed such views as “scaremongering rubbish.”
“The idea that representatives like myself who put on a uniform to fight I.R.A. terrorism and who walked behind the coffins of comrades and family members murdered by the I.R.A. would now countenance a shrine to the I.R.A. is such a nonsense that it says more about the motivation of those who allege it than it does about us,” said Jeffrey Donaldson, an elected representative of a rival unionist party.
One former hunger striker who supports the peace center, Pat Sheehan, 55, contends that its opponents are guilty of overstating the symbolic importance of the site to republicans.
“The people who died are not in the walls or floors of the H-blocks,” he said. “They are alive and well in the hearts and thoughts of another generation who have been inspired by their sacrifice.”
The election of Mr. Sands to the British Parliament weeks before he died bestowed a populist legitimacy on the I.R.A. campaign and eventually propelled Sinn Fein, the I.R.A.’s political wing, to power in the local assembly.
“His victory exposed the lie that the hunger strikers — and by extension the I.R.A. and the whole republican movement — had no popular support,” the Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, said of Mr. Sands.
Mr. Sheehan went 55 days without food and would probably have been next to die had the protest not collapsed under pressure from the prisoners’ families. At the time, his doctors told him he might not survive anyway because of the damage his long fast caused to his liver. But he recovered and is now a Sinn Fein representative in the local Parliament.
In a recent interview, Mr. Sheehan recalled his decision as a 23-year-old to volunteer for the hunger strike.
“The British saw us as the soft underbelly and believed if they could break us it would be a crushing blow to the I.R.A. struggle,” he said. “Bobby Sands believed he was going to die; those of us who went on hunger strike all believed we were going to die, and you had to have total tunnel vision to cope with that decision — you can’t let anything impinge.”
Another former hunger striker, Gerard Hodgkins, 54, spent nearly half his adult life behind bars at Maze and described the fast as the only leverage available to the prisoners. In his small west Belfast apartment, reminders of his prison days are all around, including images of the 10 men, their faces frozen in perpetual youth, on every wall.
“I figured, what more can they do to us?” Mr. Hodgkins recalled. “We had been tortured; we lived in almost total isolation from the outside world in a brutal regime; we wore only blankets and were covered in our own filth in freezing cells. Something had to give, and our choices were very limited.”
Since the Good Friday agreement of 1998, a new industry has sprung up in Belfast as thousands of visitors now embark on guided “terror tours” around the notorious spots where atrocities took place, taking in the peace walls and the vivid murals commemorating the main events.
After Mr. Libeskind’s center opens in 2015, the 15-mile trip to Maze is likely to be included as an evocative finale to the tours.
The body organized to see the project through, the Maze Long Kesh Development Corporation, is eager to play down the history of the prison, pointing out that the site has a long and varied past. It was once a Royal Air Force base and then a racetrack.
The corporation’s chairman, Terence Brannigan, has described the redevelopment plans, and the industrial park’s promise of 5,000 jobs for a moribund economy, as “an opportunity we simply cannot afford to ignore.”
“We have already had significant international interest shown in developing the site, and we anticipate that global investors will be excited about what is an unprecedented development opportunity,” Mr. Brannigan said.
But for most people, the real attraction will not be the industrial park intended to lure high-tech industries, but the chance to glimpse the ghosts of a troubled past.
In a statement last month, Mr. Libeskind said, “It is truly meaningful to build a hope-filled common ground, to tell individual stories and to do so at Maze Long Kesh.”
Critics are dismissing such sentiments as wishful thinking.
“When a group of Irish-Americans turn up with flowers, who will create an international incident by telling them they can’t lay them there?” Mr. Nesbitt said. “People make shrines, and I guarantee you that whatever anyone says, this place will become a shrine.”
Angelina Jolie's revelation of her mastectomy is just the latest from a brave and dedicated woman
Well before the actress fought stigma by announcing that she had undergone the operation, she had worked to publicise the horrors of the Bosnian war
Janine di Giovanni
The Observer, Sunday 19 May 2013
An article written by Hollywood actor Angelina Jolie provoked headlines around the world when she chose "not to keep my story private" and revealed she had undergone a double mastectomy to lower her risk of breast cancer, which was high due to her genetic inheritance. The impassioned letter, published in the New York Times, did not fit the stereotypical celebrity image. But Jolie's act of extraordinary courage didn't seem out of character at all to me. I already knew from my own experience that she was a woman of tremendous strength, focus and perseverance.
In the spring of 2010 I was working in Bosnia, tracking the movements of a war criminal not yet caught by the international criminal court, when I heard that Angelina Jolie was in nearby Foca. This was not the kind of place for one of the most famous women in the world to be roaming. It is an eastern Bosnian town with connotations of evil, since it was the scene of some of the most gruesome war crimes of the 1992-95 war. It is still an unpleasant place to be. Jolie was there with her partner, Brad Pitt, scouting for locations for her directorial debut. It was to be a film about the rape camps during the Bosnian war, and she had written the script.
Over the next few days the Bosnian press – sensitive at the best of times to depictions of their heartbreaking three-and-half-year war – had a field day. They leaked the news that Jolie's plot was about a Bosnian Serb commander running a rape camp, akin to the Foca camps, and a beautiful Bosnian Muslim woman who falls in love with him. But this is not the plot of In the Land of Blood and Honey, not by a long shot.
I read more, and realised that the film was trying to show how, before the war, cultural and ethnic divides were practically non-existent in the former Yugoslavia, and how Jolie wanted to portray a country shattered by conflict. But still, I went to see my first screening of the film in a defensive mood: I was waiting to pick it apart with a fine-tooth comb. It seemed obscene to me that Hollywood stars should get their hands into the Bosnian conflict, which was still raw, still bleeding. It had broken my heart in two, and I was only a reporter.
I remember emerging from Jolie's film for the first time on a cold winter morning, stunned. My first thought was that I needed a whisky. I don't drink whisky and it was only 11am. The scenes were so realistic, so close to the war that I had lived with, so emotional, I excused myself and went home to ruminate and eventually cry. My two colleagues did go out and down that whisky.
I've since watched Blood and Honey three more times, each time having more respect for Jolie's attention to detail and her determination to get everything right. As a veteran reporter from the Bosnian war, I went into the screening room a cynic, and emerged wondering how a woman who was 17 at the time of the war, and who admits she knew nothing about it at the time, could put her finger so clearly on such a complicated conflict.
When I met Jolie some time later, shortly before the release of her film, I was equally amazed at her knowledge of the region, and the care she had put into acquiring skills to direct an entirely Bosnian cast, some of whom did not speak English. She had studied and read books on the Balkans like a diligent schoolgirl, taken notes, enrolled in a course in humanitarian law. She filmed Blood and Honey twice, once in Bosnian, once in English. She cast the actors to perfection: from the young, cheeky and tragic soldiers, the defenders of Sarajevo, to the leading lady who opens the film as a young woman and ends it scarred and emotionally battered by war – and her Serb lover.
Most important to me was the background of Sarajevo, a city that means so much to me. And while Blood and Honey is a bleak story, it is also a love story about a city that never fell, that never sank to its knees.
She used actors who had been through the war, actors who had lost family, actors who wore their older brothers' uniforms. She was intensely sensitive to other's reactions, and as she later told me she spent a lot of time listening to people. She knew in some ways she was taking on an impossible task and she wanted to be prepared.
By the time Blood and Honey came out, Jolie had been working at the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) as a special envoy for nearly a decade. She had seen her share of horror and not through a jeep's rear window. Jolie was a traveller who put on a backpack and took a torch and rain gear, who drove on bumpy roads like the rest of us. She listened to people in the same way – with empathy and compassion – as Audrey Hepburn did in her role at the UN decades before.
Jolie's desire to capture the Bosnian war on film came out of her direct experience of working with refugees. She wanted to make a film that would recount the horror of the war that took place in the last decade of the 20th century in a city three hours' flight from London, and how it eroded Bosnian society. She wanted to show how the multi-ethnic culture had been destroyed (as Syria's is being destroyed, right now). She wanted to show how war came home to families – to women, to children.
The details in Blood and Honey were things that perhaps no one else would notice. But for a small group of us who reported the war and remained loyal to the country that once was Bosnia, they were important: the black war humour; the longing for cigarettes and fresh fruit; even the love story at its core.
Yes, love. Because as anyone who has lived through war knows, love and war are interlinked on a primitive level, even if one does not want to admit it. Adrenaline, emotions, fear, death, attraction, longing, sadness, love, sorrow, the need to connect with another human being – they all go in the same basket. And somehow, Jolie – who was born and raised in Los Angeles and could have had a career never setting foot in African refugee camps or interviewing women who had been raped in war – got it.
She also had a keen sense that by tackling the Bosnian war she was putting her head in the lion's mouth. She had sent me a note asking me not to judge the film without seeing it, and that we were on "the same side" – meaning the side of the good; the side of the civilians who suffer during time of war, who lose their innocence, their lives, their work, their homes, their dignity.
Her humanitarian work had, in some ways, prepared Jolie for Blood and Honey. I was living in the Ivory Coast in 2002 when she arrived en route to Sierra Leone on one of her first missions. A group of UN friends held a small dinner for her, nothing fancy, at a friend's house. Her Bosnian cast, who were at first shocked to hear that Lara Croft was coming to direct a film about Bosnia, adored her with a fierce loyalty. They were amazed how down to earth, how motherly, how kind, she was to them. Most of all, they appreciated the fact that she did not want to leave the Bosnian war forgotten.
At the New York premiere in December 2011 they were tearful as they described what it was like to work with someone who was so involved with a film that depicted their lives.
Perhaps the proof of her loyalty to the project was that the afternoon following the world premiere in Sarajevo she held a small private lunch for a select group of us who had reported the war, at the Holiday Inn, our old wartime home. She wanted to know what she, and we, could do to move forward from the war, to make Bosnia a better place. "Let's look to the future," she said.
Over cappuccinos and sandwiches, she carefully noted all of our suggestions – from microclimate tomato farms to peace reconciliations – in a little book. I remember thinking what a brilliant listener she was. She asked questions about what concrete work could be done. Her questions were intelligent, razor-sharp. Then Jolie left with Pitt to rejoin their kids in Paris. But not before leaving the most hardcore cynical group of reporters on earth convinced that, once in a while, Hollywood produces the absolute real thing.
**************Angelina Jolie has done something extraordinary
In publicly discussing her double mastectomy, the actor has challenged the celebrity industry to rethink its bizarre values – and she has done all women a huge service
The Guardian, Tuesday 14 May 2013 14.48 BST
Link to video: Angelina Jolie reveals she has had a double mastectomyhttp://www.guardian.co.uk/society/video/2013/may/14/angelina-jolie-double-mastectomy-video
Of course, Angelina Jolie is not the first actress to have had a mastectomy, that most medical of terms referring to the removal of at least one of the anatomical attributes that actresses are expected to hoik up for the sake of their career. In fact, off the top of my head, I can name four: Christina Applegate, Olivia Newton John, Lynn Redgrave and Kathy Bates have all publicly discussed their mastectomies.
Nor is she the first to have a preventive double mastectomy: Sharon Osbourne (not an actress but very much a woman in the public eye) announced only last year that she had one after discovering, as she told Hello! magazine, that she had "the breast-cancer gene".
Yet while Jolie may not be the first, she has done something that is – by any standards – pretty extraordinary and brave, even on top of having a preventive double mastectomy. She is certainly the highest-profile woman to make such an announcement in a long time, and she is arguably one with the most at stake. For a young, beautiful actress to announce that she has had her breasts removed is, as career moves go, somewhat akin to a handsome leading man announcing he is gay, and that is disgusting and ridiculous on both counts. Ultimately, she has challenged not just her own public image but also the wearisome cliche of what makes a woman sexy, and how a woman considered to be sexy talks about her body.
Judging from her clear, calm and plain-speaking article in the New York Times discussing why she elected to undergo a double mastectomy, Jolie views publicising her decision as simply a matter of public service:
"I chose not to keep my story private because there are many women who do not know that they might be living under the shadow of cancer. It is my hope that they, too, will be able to get gene tested, and that if they have a high risk they, too, will know they have strong options," she writes, while acknowledging the issues of financial access that prevent too many women from getting tested and treated.
Jolie is by now surely used to having certain parts of her body scrutinised by the media – more than most other female celebrities, in fact, and that is truly saying something. Her body shape is often watched for signs of an incipient eating disorder. Her leg got its own Twitter feed after the 2012 Academy Awards. The most personal elements of her life have long been part of the pop-cultural discourse, from her troubled relationship with her difficult father, to her children, to her marriages, to the eternal hoo-hah over the Aniston-Pitt-Jolie triangle that, one suspects, has fascinated the tabloids far longer than it has the participants.
Yet Jolie herself has always maintained the kind of personal privacy that now only the most A-list of actresses can afford. She rarely gives interviews and she doesn't pose next to naked on the cover of men's magazines. Even as Lara Croft, her most obviously sexy role, she generally wore a bodysuit as opposed to a bikini. For a woman who has routinely won in those most crucial of elections – the Sexiest Woman in the World – Jolie has, really, never shown much interest in sharing herself or her body with the public. This makes her decision to do so now in the most personal of ways more powerful, but also, to a certain degree, more understandable.
For almost a decade now, she has been very determinedly trying to move away from the kind of sexualised films that made her famous, such as Tomb Raider and the eminently forgettable Original Sin with Antonio Banderas, in favour of movies such as A Mighty Heart and Changeling, in which she played, respectively, a grief-struck widow and a grief-struck mother, arguably at the cost of her career. For all her much-vaunted sexiness, Jolie has not relied on her body for acting roles for a long time (and at times, it has looked like she wasn't even that interested in acting, full stop, preferring instead to focus on her UN work and motherhood). As such, for her then to announce how she has altered it is not quite as potentially career-altering for her as it would be for those who have been led to believe that their breasts are the only currency they have to offer.
Jolie ends her New York Times article discussing the "challenges" of life, but this is a rare instance of her opting for euphemisms. In earlier paragraphs, with the kind of forthrightness one rarely sees from any member of the entertainment industry, she proffers descriptions of her "nipple delay", the removal of her breast tissue, temporary fillers, expanders, tubes, blood, scarring and bruising. "I do not feel any less of a woman," she writes. "I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity."
That breasts do not exist just to turn on other people will not come as a surprise to any sentient adult human being. Nor, it should go without saying but sadly does not, do breasts make the woman. But brutal, mature reality does not generally have much of a place in the fantasy land where the myths of celebrities and public perception intermix. In fact, in this fantasy land of celebrity puffery and tabloid nonsense, Angelina Jolie was, only 24 hours ago, still, in the eyes of the media, the sex-crazed, blood-drinking, man-stealing seductress (albeit one with six children) that she has been pretty much since she came to the public eye decades ago. Only last weekend I read an article – and I'm using that term in the loosest sense – claiming that Jolie was so adamant to have her wedding before Jennifer Aniston's that she and Brad Pitt had already booked a "romantic getaway honeymoon" for themselves. Now we know that, contrary to looking up "sexxxxxy hotels" on the internet while having mind-blowing sexy sex, Pitt and Jolie have actually been otherwise engaged at the Pink Lotus Breast Center, while Jolie was being treated for her double mastectomy. Rarely has the disjunct between celebrity gossip rubbish and the actual truth looked so ridiculously exposed.
Earlier this week, Bret Easton Ellis also wrote a powerful, albeit very different, piece in Out magazine about how gay figures in the public eye are expected to be saintly: "Being 'real' and 'human' (ie flawed) is not necessarily what The Gay Gatekeepers want straight culture to see," he wrote.
One could make a similar argument about how beautiful young women are presented in the press: they are expected to be perfectly proportioned, always photogenic and with all conventionally sexy attributes in their proper place. But part of being a "real" and "human" woman is facing the possibility of breast cancer and dealing with it accordingly.
Not long ago, discussions of mastectomies at all were taboo (it was – and let us all pay our respects here – Betty Ford who started the fightback against this when she discussed hers openly in 1974). But the truth is that Jolie – and Applegate, Redgrave, and the rest of the public few – are merely the tip of a pragmatic iceberg as there are plenty of other high-profile women – women whose "bikini bodies" are probably being discussed in celebrity magazines today – who have endured similar operations. But they have decided – for the sake of their careers, for the sake of their mental wellbeing – to keep the fact hidden from the press.
And, really, who can blame them? What woman would want to be asked about their mastectomy in every interview they give for their rest of their lives? What woman could endure knowing that every time they are photographed – on a red carpet, in a film, papped on a beach – that strangers around the world are scrutinising their body to see whether and how much their chest has changed? A mastectomy involves more than enough pain – both emotional and physical – without even beginning to think about the prurient and ghoulish interest of millions.
When it comes to celebrities, cynicism is generally the instinctive response. But for Jolie to take all that on, at no benefit to her but simply to draw attention to the illness and ways it can be prevented and treated, should only be applauded. For the celebrity world to begin to grow up and treat its women as adults as opposed to sex objects is still the hope. And for the cost of testing and treatment to get more funding worldwide, thus allowing more women's lives to be saved, is still the ideal.
In the USA...ABC’s Jonathan Karl is an Alumnus of a Conservative Media Training Program
By: Sarah Jones
May. 18th, 2013
ABC’s senior political correspondent Jonathan Karl, of the now infamous Benghazi email lie, is an alumnus of a conservative media training program Collegiate Network. He stands now accused of making himself vulnerable to being used for political purposes, as he still refuses to apologize for taking the word of a Republican and passing it off as having access to the actual documents.
Fair Org reported:
Karl came to mainstream journalism via the Collegiate Network, an organization primarily devoted to promoting and supporting right-leaning newspapers on college campuses (Extra!, 9-10/91)—such as the Rutgers paper launched by the infamous James O’Keefe (Political Correction, 1/27/10). The network, founded in 1979, is one of several projects of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, which seeks to strengthen conservative ideology on college campuses. William F. Buckley was the ISI’s first president, and the current board chair is American Spectator publisher Alfred Regnery. Several leading right-wing pundits came out of Collegiate-affiliated papers, including Ann Coulter, Dinesh D’Souza, Michelle Malkin, Rich Lowry and Laura Ingraham (Washington Times, 11/28/04).
The Collegiate Network also provides paid internships and fellowships to place its members at corporate media outlets or influential Beltway publications; 2010-11 placements include the Hill, Roll Call, Dallas Morning News and USA Today. The program’s highest-profile alum is Karl, who was a Collegiate fellow at the neoliberal New Republic magazine.
CN has received funding from the Sarah Scaife Foundation, Scaife Family Foundation, The Carthage Foundation, Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, John M. Olin Foundation, and the JM Foundation. But it’s administered by ISI. ISI claims to be non-partisan and tax exempt (cough), but read Reagan’s thanks to ISI for the “troops”, “By the time the Reagan Revolution marched into Washington, I had the troops I needed—thanks in no small measure to the work with American youth ISI had been doing since 1953.”
On January 27, 2010, Talking Points Memo reported that three of the four men arrested for allegedly attempting to wiretap Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office were involved with conservative student newspapers that were supported by the conservative Collegiate Network, administered by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. TPM also pointed out that the Leadership Institute is a “group that aims to recruit and train conservative activists.”
Does this mean that Jonathan Karl is not a good reporter? No, it doesn’t. One can have an ideological bent and still be an excellent reporter. If not, most reporters would be out of work. However, it’s troubling that our media doesn’t require the disclosure of this bent (thaanks, Fox). But the real problem comes from him allowing his desire for an anti-Obama scandal to be true to cause him to drop his standards. His crime isn’t being taken in by a source with a grudge or running with that source, even, though you’d think he would want to get a second, non partisan source to corroborate the claims of a Republican from Capitol Hill.
Jonathan Karl did something unforgivable when he claimed to have reviewed the emails.
Journalism experts are not impressed with Karl, and say that he has made himself vulnerable to being used for political purposes. They call his reporting at best sloppy and at worse a deliberate attempt to conceal the nature of his source. Here’s a roundup from Media Matters:
“At best, it’s extremely sloppy. At worst, it’s a deliberate attempt to conceal the secondhand — and possibly distorted — nature of the information ABC was relying on so as to put its shoulder to the wheel of a highly prejudicial reading of the affair,” said Edward Wasserman, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, and a Miami Herald columnist. “Whether best or worst is true, it’s highly problematic ethically, and the failure to acknowledge and correct is even worse.”
Tim McGuire, journalism professor at Arizona State University and former president of the American Society of News Editors, criticized Karl for failing to adhere to basic standards of ethics.
“If the ethical journalist is dedicated to transparency Mr. Karl seems to have failed that standard,” he said in an email. “The Benghazi story raises such trust issues anyway it seems to me all the details of what Mr. Karl saw are crucial to both sides.”
Tom Fiedler, dean of the Boston University College of Communication and former Miami Herald executive editor, (snip) said that Karl’s reporting has suffered from its inconsistent and at times false descriptions of what he had reviewed.
“At minimum, Karl should have acknowledged on the air and in his on-line postings that he had only seen (or had read to him) summaries, and that he couldn’t say whether those summaries were in context of the original e-mails,” he added. “This caveat is no small thing as Karl could well have left himself vulnerable to being used for political purposes.”
Following his lead, CBS’ right wing Sharyl Attkisson “also presented a set of email “summaries” as authentic emails, but stopped short of explicitly claiming that she had “obtained,” “reviewed,” or ha otherwise actually seen the real emails…”
This is not acceptable. It’s made worse by Karl’s partisan background and the stench of O’Keefe-esque associations. If this were Fox News, we’d be headlining, “Jonathan Karl started his career in the living rooms of serial liars and extremists, pallin’ around” with Ann Coulter, Dinesh D’Souza, Michelle Malkin, Rich Lowry and Laura Ingraham.” But remote associations are not character indictments per se, no matter how cravenly the right used Sarah Palin to suggest otherwise. They do, however, smell a bit rotten when the same person just forwarded the agenda of said associates by misleading the public in the same sort of way as the associates.
Karl has won numerous awards for his reporting, but he’s also accused of being a bit naive in reporting Republican talking points. This time, his ability to believe got the better of his judgment and what I presume to be his standards. That’s not something to be brushed aside lightly.
Bias should be disclosed, but bias should also inform your values, not your facts or your standards.
Yes, everyone makes mistakes and yes, it’s not entirely Karl’s fault that he got taken by a source. It is his fault that he did not explain that the emails were never provided to him directly, and that he was taking a Republican’s word for what they said. That was also just plain stupid, and unworthy of a blogger let alone an award winning journalist.
*********Bill Maher Goes Where The Media Won’t By Calling Republican Obstruction Treason
By: Jason Easley
May. 18th, 2013
Bill Maher did something that the mainstream media won’t. He made the case that the Republican obstruction of Obama has crossed over into treason.
Bill Maher: What about trying to repeal it for the 37th time? Is that a wise use of our resources and time? I mean, at some point obstruction becomes I don’t know, treason. They’ve also blocked Obama’s head of the EPA. There’s no head of the circuit court in DC. At some point, it becomes more about hating him than loving their country.
Michael Moore: No. They hate America. That’s what it is.
Maher: They hate America?
Moore: Yeah, I think these conservatives and right wingers really, for as much as they say they love this country. They hate it. They hate the government. They hate the people.
Maher: Those are really two different things, aren’t they?
Moore: No. Well it shouldn’t be, the government is supposed to be of, for, and by the people. Right? So why is the government the big evil bastard here?
Maher: Cause Merica got taken over by a Kenyan socialist. That’s why… That’s why we need our guns. We might have to take over the government.
Maher and Moore’s discussion brings up an interesting point. Republicans started out by hating this president. Their hate was reflected in obstruction. By obstructing and opposing everything that this president has tried to accomplish, Republicans created the perception that they hate government. Since the American people, not only elect the government, but count on the government to provide safety and security, obstruction has created the perception that Republicans hate the American people.
The mainstream media is so busy treating Obama hate and conspiracy theories as a legitimate point of view that they never stop to consider whether or not they are playing a role in damaging the country. The media loves to talk about the dysfunction in Washington, but they will never acknowledge the role that they continue to play in legitimizing Republican obstruction.
The media is so terrified of the right that they will never bring up the fact that congressional Republicans have violated their oaths of office by refusing to do the duties that they were elected to carry out. This behavior has gotten so extreme that Republicans have taken to boycotting committee hearings for Obama nominees.
Treason is the act of willfully attempting to overthrow the government. All the recent Republican talk of Obama impeachment certainly looks like an attempt to overthrow the elected government, but I think one of the definitions of traitor also fits what Maher and Moore discussed.
A traitor is, “One who betrays another’s trust or is false to an obligation or duty.” Republicans have definitely betrayed the trust of the American people, and have been false to their sworn duties.
The mainstream media will never talk about the fact that Republican obstructionism has crossed over into traitorous behavior. The media lacks the guts to do what Bill Maher did. Until the media stops rewarding Republicans for betraying their own country, the crimes against the the American people in the name of “freedom” will continue.
***********Bill Maher, ‘The Obama administration isn’t dirty. The air is dirty.’
By: Jason Easley
May. 18th, 2013
Bill Maher summed up the difference between the bogus Obama scandals that are being pushed and the real scandal of conservative climate change denial, ‘The Obama administration isn’t dirty. The air is dirty.’
Here’s the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4q-Xx6gzYE&feature=player_embedded
Please don’t tell me that freedom died because Susan Rice broke the sacred bond between citizens and talk shows. In a poll this week, four in ten Republicans said Benghazi is the worst scandal in history. Second worst, Kanye West snatching the mic from Taylor Swift.
****************The GOP’s Lies and Misinformation Are The Real Benghazi Scandal
By: Crissie Brown
May. 18th, 2013
For months, Republicans have accused the Obama administration of lying and omitting crucial information about Benghazi. In fact Republicans have done that, by sweeping aside the confusing facts and rumors that swirled on that tragic day.
Filmmaker Billy Wilder is credited with the quote “Hindsight is always 20/20,” although the quote is unsourced and may not have originated with him.
It’s also not entirely true. Mystery still swirls around many historical events. Some were not well-documented at the time, like the fire that devastated Montréal today in either 1763 or 1765. For others, important records have been hidden or lost. Playwright Christopher Marlowe was believed to have been killed in a drunken brawl in 1593, until 1925 when a newly discovered coroner’s report revealed a very different story.
Others were documented at the time, but people rejected the official story. The reasons may have little or nothing to do with the evidence, and the speculation (“Lizzie Borden took an axe/And gave her mother forty whacks“) may become better known than the actual verdicts. Borden was acquitted, but she was later suspected to be lesbian and public opinion turned against her.
Add in conspiracy theories, some later proved by evidence, others based on wishful thinking and a need for our chaotic world to make sense, and we find that hindsight is not always 20/20.
Still, the past is often clearer than the present, especially amidst the stress and chaos of violence. The phrase “fog of war” originated with this quote by Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz:
War is an area of uncertainty; three quarters of the things on which all action in War is based are lying in a fog of uncertainty to a greater or lesser extent. The first thing (needed) here is a fine, piercing mind, to feel out the truth with the measure of its judgment.
Such was the case on September 11, 2012, as armed men attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi at 9:40pm, four hours after protests began outside the U.S. embassy in Cairo. In the ensuing days, similar protests against a film about Islam erupted at U.S. diplomatic posts around the world.
I am not arguing the Benghazi attack was a protest that turned violent. We now know it was a planned attack. But that is 20/20 hindsight. At the time, with protests at U.S. diplomatic posts worldwide, it was not unreasonable to consider that Benghazi might be part of that pattern.
And that’s probably one reason Republicans consistently ignore those other protests when discussing the Benghazi attack. Bringing in those other facts – and they are facts – would muddy their claim that “everyone knew” Benghazi was a terrorist attack.
The parable of the blind men and the elephant is attributed to both Buddhism and Jainism. Regardless of its source, the story is familiar and apropos. Six blind men walk up to an elephant, each touching a different part. They then argue about what they have touched, each insisting that his experience is the full and complete truth. In the Buddhist canon Udana, the parable concludes:
O how they cling and wrangle, some who claim
For preacher and monk the honored name!
For, quarreling, each to his view they cling.
Such folk see only one side of a thing.
So it is with Benghazi. It may well be that former Libyan deputy chief of mission Gregory Hicks suspected terrorism almost immediately. Other Americans in Benghazi and Tripoli may have suspected likewise. The terrorists attacking the consulate and its CIA annex certainly knew who they were and what they had planned.
But other Americans in Libya may have suspected otherwise, and Americans in Cairo knew the crowd outside the embassy were, in fact, protesting a film. Halfway around the world, conflicting and confusing information flowed into Washington. Other information, also conflicting and confusing, had been arriving in the weeks and months before the attack. Still more information, also conflicting and confusing, would arrive in the days and weeks after.
Republicans have since sifted through that mountain of conflicting and confusing information for the handful of reports that 20/20 hindsight supports, and they tell the story as if the rest of the conflicting and confusing evidence never existed. Oh, and if the information doesn’t fit their theory, they doctor it.
Meanwhile, even as the Benghazi consulate was still burning, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney conflated Cairo and Benghazi, criticizing the State Department for a Cairo press release that Romney framed as being part of the mythical Obama Apology Tour. And last week Peggy Noonan breathlessly insisted that “The Obama White House sees every event as a political event. Really, every event, even an attack on a consulate and the killing of an ambassador.”
Political factors clearly weighed in the White House response over the following weeks. But, again, Noonan and Republicans make that argument that in isolation … omitting the fact that Mitt Romney began politicizing Benghazi before the bodies had even been recovered. Like the protests happening in Cairo and elsewhere, and like the confusing and conflicting information flowing into the State Department and CIA, Romney’s shamefully political attack doesn’t fit the Republican story of Obama Lied To Steal An Election.
So Republicans just leave all of those inconvenient facts out of the story, lying by omission while they accuse President Obama of lying by omission. And that’s the real scandal of Benghazi.
************Rand Paul Continues to Use Disproved Talking Points to Attack the President
By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
May. 18th, 2013
"Look, you can't tell these kinds of lies without having cojones this big..."
“Look, you can’t tell these kinds of lies without having cojones this big…”
In his Thursday column in the Washington Times, Rand Paul (R-KY), in his eagerness to continue an already disproven attack on President Obama, hyperbolically accused the president of a “staggering abuse of power” and acting as though “we no longer have a Constitution.”
Paul claimed Thursday that his drone filibuster “was about the limits of power” (it was not, of course; it was about grandstanding). I guess though that Paul would know about the abuse of power, since he is using his own to smear a president with what has already been proven to be Republican-manufactured lies.
Yet, according to Paul, Obama has “failed the test of power” because,
From the cover-up in Benghazi to letting the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) target the Tea Party to First and Fourth Amendment violations in obtaining records from the press, Mr. Obama has shown disregard for the Bill of Rights and his responsibilities as commander in chief.
But the actual facts reveal a president who has performed superbly and with integrity as commander in chief. On the other hand, Rand Paul has failed the test of honesty and integrity. Rather than admit Thursday that his talking points were no long relevant – since we all know that Republicans altered White House emails to make the president appear guilty of a cover-up – Paul pretended the doctored emails were valid:
The handling of the tragedy in Benghazi continues to raise more questions than it produces answers. The White House‘s original story, that no one was told to “stand down” on the night of the attack, was contradicted last week by Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens‘ deputy, Gregory Hicks. Mr. Hicks testified that he spoke with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on the night of the attack and that a special-forces unit was stopped from deploying.
When you consider Republicans like Paul have been ignoring every fact which comes to light in order to ask more irrelevant questions, I suppose Paul has a point. But the continued questions and lack of answers are due to a Republican unwillingness to admit they manufactured the scandal in the first place.
The problem for Paul, you see, is that his charge is not true. In other words, it is what people in the ethics business call a lie, and what the Bible calls (and condemns) “false witness.”
You see, it is already known, because of Hicks’ own testimony, that Hilary Clinton had nothing to do with stopping the unit’s deployment to Benghazi, but rather, as Brian Tashman at Right Wing Watch writes, “that the order [to stand down] came from Special Operations Command Africa, not the State Department or anyone in the Obama administration…”
If Paul doesn’t know this, it is because, like Boehner and facts he doesn’t know, he does not wish to know it. I can watch the testimony and if I can watch it, Paul certainly can. Here, let me throw him a rope:
And it would be just a tad more honesty than Paul could bear to admit that, in any event, the four Americans he and his fellow Republicans pretend to be so upset about, were already dead by this time. The special forces team, because its training does not include resurrection, could not save already dead people, but they could assist and protect the living in Tripoli, and that is exactly what they did.
Certainly, Paul could see this. He simply chooses not to. The facts have already disproven his “scandal” several times over. He cannot afford facts. Neither could Fox News nor Sean Hannity nor Steve Doucy, who all ignored the little detail that Obama did not order anyone to stand down. The literal last thing any Republican wants here is the truth.
Back in the days before he became a senator, Paul called for a “modern day revolution.” It is unclear what this revolution has been about for Paul other than as a revolution in his own fortunes; it certainly hasn’t been about anything virtuous, like say, honesty, or integrity.
I suppose it is possible the former ophthalmologist is simply myopic, but I would argue that it is a self-imposed myopia, where seeing truths that are inconvenient to his ideology simply cannot be permitted. It’s a neat trick, and not one, I would surmise, he learned in medical school, but rather from his conservative authoritarian father, who has been pretending to be a libertarian for years.
There has, in fact, been a staggering abuse of power, but it has been a uniquely Republican abuse, as Paul and other Republican politicians do all in their power to use their positions of power to destroy not only the president, but the Democratic front-runner for the next election. In the course of their inquisition, they have used everything but facts, employing every under-handed trick that Capitol Hill has to offer. The one thing they have not used is fact.
Paul dishonestly claimed Thursday that “the lengths to which Mr. Obama has gone to circumvent the Constitution are staggering” but what is actually staggering are the lengths to which Mr. Paul has gone to circumvent the truth.
Paul is right about one thing. He concludes that “With great power comes great responsibility,” and that “Power corrupts. Absolutely.” He would know: he is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Homeland Security committees, after all, and has behaved in a most irresponsible manner in being complicit in a manufactured scandal created by manufactured “facts.” Shame on you, Mr. Paul. Shame on all of you.
**************Republicans Attack Science To Advance Religion and Oil Industry Profits
May. 18th, 2013
A quotation attributed to Winston Churchill, “A well educated population is the cornerstone of democracy,” was Churchill’s praise for America’s universal education system that Republicans are attempting to bring to a whimpering end. It is in Republicans’ paymasters’ best interest to keep the public ignorant regarding science, because if their sycophants ever understood why science is so important to the nation’s well-being, they would lose a major share of their supporters; especially conservative Christians. Science has been under assault from the religious right because it disproves the mythos inherent in ancient Bronze Age understanding of the world, and to indoctrinate the next generation of Americans into believing fantasy over science, religious groups and Republicans are on a campaign to bring an end to science to advance religion and oil industry profits.
A couple of weeks ago a parent of a student enrolled in a Christian private school was shocked and appalled that his child was being taught creationist dogma as science. The image of the child’s 4th grade science quiz is not a joke, but it is typical of science instruction at private religious schools all over America, and unfortunately, it is being taught in public schools in Republican-controlled states such as Louisiana where Governor Bobby Jindal admitted he was thumbing his nose at the Constitution in pursuit of inculcating ancient fairy tales to public school children in lieu of science. Republican attacks on science have nothing whatsoever to do with religion or religious freedom, but to advance the interests of the dirty energy industry that is wholly responsible for the dangerous climate change that jeopardizes the world’s population.
The latest assault on science in Congress is courtesy of Lamar Smith (R-TX), who proposes ending what Republicans call “frivolous and wasteful research” in what may be the worst attack on the National Science Foundation (NSF) in history. Smith is the new chair of the House of Representatives science committee, and his legislation replaces scientific peer review at the NSF with funding criteria chosen by conservative Christians in Congress, and to guarantee that every other federal science agency is beholden to money-changers in Congress, it will set in motion a process requiring all federal science research to follow suit. If Smith’s bill becomes law, then it will be climate science deniers on big oil’s payroll who decide what scientists are allowed to research; not the scientific community. Smith’s bill is bad news for American scientific research to be sure, but it is horrible news for any chance America will ever address or take steps to combat global climate change and will provide anti-environmental groups like Koch Industries and fossil fuel advocates cover to continue pouring dangerous chemicals into the air that reached record levels last week.
Over the past few years, scientists and environmentalists gave particularly close attention to the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and late last week a monitoring station in Hawaii discovered that the daily mean concentration reached a level that is higher than at any time in human history at 400 parts per million according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA is focused on the condition of the oceans and the atmosphere, and the 400 ppm threshold is 50 ppm over what climate scientists have designated the safe zone for avoiding the worst impacts of climate change. It is noteworthy that it was not the bible, or young-Earth creationists, who noted that the dirty energy industry helped exceed the “safe zone” to avoid deleterious damage of climate change, but then again there is no mention of carbon dioxide destroying the atmosphere in the bible, so the creationist crowd and energy industry has no interest in the dangerous milestone.
The president of the American Meteorological Society, J. Marshall Shepherd, who is also a scientist, said that within the next year climate scientists will “see 400 ppm consistently, and that avoiding the future warming will require a large and rapid reduction in greenhouse gases.” It is not the kind of news Republicans’ in the employ of the energy industry want to hear, because nearly every scientist, environmentalist, and climate-conscious policymaker in the world agree it will require, at a minimum, slashing fossil fuel use, and in the meantime, taking bold steps to adapt for a world with higher temperatures, higher seas, and more extreme weather. Already climate change is wreaking havoc on the environment and is costing Americans hundreds-of-billions of dollars in natural disaster reparations that are the result of drought conditions, flooding, devastating wildfires, and extreme weather events across the nation.
The damage from global climate change is immeasurable, and because Republicans and their energy industry masters can no longer deny the Earth is becoming dangerously warm, they deny the cause and their first line of attack is refuting the scientific community’s findings and warnings by pandering to science-deniers clinging to thousands of years old myths and fairy tales. Their advocacy for teaching the next generation of voters that science is found in the Christian bible book of Genesis all but assures them of a well-trained and scientifically retarded voting bloc that is not only suspicious of science, but will reject it out of hand because they were indoctrinated to believe an all-powerful deity handed down “real science” to Moses.
If Republicans and their creationist voting bloc want their children to enter adulthood with an understanding of the world that rivals stone age cave-dwellers, that is their prerogative and more power to them. However, their assault on real science is an existential threat to every American including those who believe tyrannosaurus ate plants with man on the 6th creation day, and adamantly believe their tenure on this Earth is approaching its end because they will be spirited away when Jesus returns in five years. However, for Americans and the rest of humanity, the prospect of a world ravaged by droughts, water and food shortages, and air saturated with poisonous fossil fuel emissions is a clear and present danger that cannot be ignored if they are to survive.
It is possible that some Americans are too ignorant to understand the importance of scientific research that warns and helps combat the dangers of a rapidly warming Earth, but Republicans know all too well the predicament their dirty energy advocacy is creating for Americans. Still, they have made their decision to help big oil and the Koch brothers defame the scientific community and deny the preponderance of evidence that climate change is man-made, and if they can create the next generation of young-Earth anti-science advocates, and control what scientists research now, then they can rest assured that in their pursuit of profits, they helped create a world that neither dinosaurs nor man can exist in.
If you think Benghazi is worse than slavery, the Trail of Tears, Japanese internment, Tuskegee, purposefully injecting Guatemalan mental patients with syphilis, WMDs, and the fact that banks today are still foreclosing on mortgages that they don’t own, then your hard on for Obama has lasted for more four hours, and you need to call a doctor.
And while the press has been occupied with scandal, the biggest scandal, and the most important story of the century so far happened last week. Scientists reported that the level of carbon dixoide in the atmosphere has passed the long feared milestone of 400 parts per million, and unless you’re a chimney sweep, that’s bad news. Because humans have never lived through it.
You think Susan Rice gave bogus talking points about Benghazi? What about the bulls**t talking points the entire Republican Party has been spewing on climate change since the 90s? I wanna see the emails to find who came up with the talking points that global warming is just a theory, and that it needs more study, and that climate change is hoax.
The Obama administration isn’t dirty. The air is.
The fact that Republicans are more interested in chasing imaginary Obama scandals than doing something about climate change isn’t a coincidence. The right’s talking points on climate change came directly from the fossil fuels industry. In 1991, The New York Times reported, “Coal-burning utility companies and coal producers, disturbed by public acceptance of the idea that burning fossil fuels will change the climate, are deciding whether to go national this fall with an ad campaign they tried in three markets earlier this year…The goal of the campaign, according to one planning document, is to “reposition global warming as theory” and not fact.”
The debate over climate change isn’t really about science. For Republicans, and the special interests who fund them, the climate change issue is all about money, and maintaining our dependence on fossil fuels. From 2002-2010, conservative billionaires spent $120 million to fund a network of more than 100 climate change denial organizations. The purpose of the effort is to deny the human role in climate change, and to oppose environmental regulations.
The air is dirty because Republicans are taking dirty (dark) money. Until people connect the dots, and demand that special interest money be removed from our politics, our planet will continue to die. The Obama scandals are a smokescreen to cover up the fact that Republicans would rather destroy the planet to enrich the few.
The air is definitely dirty, and Republican greed is the reason why.
Europe: the week ahead
Tax avoidance, François Hollande and the French economy will all come under the spotlight this week in Brussels
Ian Traynor, Europe editor
The Guardian, Sunday 19 May 2013 18.29 BST
Tax dodgers will get an earful this week in Brussels. With public outrage soaring over the perceived failure to pay their dues by the likes of Amazon, Eric Schmidt's Google and other squillion-dollar transnationals, European leaders will feel bound to berate and deplore, bemoan and declare. And that will pretty much be that.
An EU summit on Wednesday in Brussels will declare combatting tax evasion and VAT fraud to be the next big common European endeavour. David Cameron will claim credit for the offensive and seek to salvage his dwindling authority – at home and in Europe – by promising to put tax dodgers at the top of the G20 agenda.
There is certain to be enough hot air to propel the 30 leaders ballooning over Brussels. But a draft of what the summit will decide, obtained by the Guardian, shows that they will decide very little. The eight-page document drafted on Friday speaks of "reflecting" on this, "accelerating" that, "responding" to this. And returning in December to have another try at policy-making which has been stuck for years because of resistance from banking secrecy havens such as Austria and Luxembourg.
The real game-changing moves in the effort to clamp down on corporate tax dodging are coming from the Obama administration. "The US pressure is immense," said an EU diplomat. "It's a real steamroller going on at a global level."
The Europeans are playing catch-up. But they won't catch up this week. Instead, the real heavy lifting, leading to another, more important summit next month, is an almighty tussle over how to emerge from four years of financial and currency crisis. More the political than the financial fallout. How, when, and in what form should economic and fiscal policy-making be pooled in the eurozone in order to put political flesh on the very brittle bones of the currency union, a fragility cruelly exposed by the turmoil of the past three years?
This is crystallising into a straightforward Gallic-Teutonic contest, with a weak President François Hollande in Paris issuing challenges to a strong Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin who blithely ignores the French entreaties.
A detailed survey of eight EU countries last week from Pew, the US pollsters, underlined the yawning gap between France and Germany and Berlin's isolation on the euro crisis. Number-crunching the sophisticated data, the pollsters concluded that the Germans were living on a different continent from the rest of the EU, such were the divergent views.
Guido Westerwelle, the German foreign minister, is alarmed at the implications of this for Germany's image and place in Europe and the world. But Merkel seems quite unfazed, happy to be the whipping girl for everyone else's frustrations provided the policies work – the aim being to get Europe fit, competitive and efficient for the global contest that could leave it lagging at the back.
As long as the eurozone's hospital ward keeps taking the medicine and the pills are working, the patients can whinge all they like about the German doctor. This is the impression that Merkel gives.
Hollande, in what appeared an attempt to show that he is not asleep at the wheel, last Thursday set out his vision for the eurozone, for the first time in any detail. Predictably, it clashed utterly with Berlin's. It was very French, almost identical to proposals previously tabled by his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, and previously rejected by Merkel. Hollande said he wanted a eurozone government within two years, with its own budget, tax base, and eventually pooled debt issuance or eurobonds. The idea is that Hollande and other national eurozone leaders would meet once a month to decide policy, supported by a new eurozone secretariat.
But after three years of crisis management, it is absolutely clear that the Germans will not accept liability for anything they do not control. That means eurobonds or German taxpayers' money being used to finance other governments automatically will not happen for a very long time. Nor will the Germans countenance a common eurozone fund that would be used to prop up other countries' stricken banks.
"It's a good relationship, but very difficult," said Peter Altmaier, the German environment minister. "There are things that the French don't understand about Germany and that Germans don't understand about France."
In public, the Germans are wary of lecturing the French about how to put their own house in order. The Dutch are less shy. The prime minister, Mark Rutte, responded to Hollande's blueprint by telling him to forget about Europe and to tackle France.
As France wrestles with recession, soaring unemployment, missed debt and budget targets, and structural stagnation, Merkel also is keen to see Hollande get to grips with a domestic agenda.
The European commission has agreed to give Hollande an extra two years to meet the euro rules on the budget deficit target of 3% of GDP. But Berlin is leaning strongly on the commission to force structural economic reforms on France in return for the concession. "France is the really big concern," said Norbert Barthle, of Merkel's Christian Democrats. "We're prepared to give them two years but right now [commissioner] Olli Rehn has to connect this to strict conditions. Binding. Otherwise the German government will not support it."
There is a long history of Franco-German friction at the heart of the EU. But things have rarely been so imbalanced as they are now. As the summits come and go, it will be September at the earliest, when Merkel hopes to win a third term, before serious accommodation can begin to be reached on both sides of the Rhine.
"Hollande's and Merkel's ideas on European economics are so far apart," said Munich's Süddeutsche Zeitung on Saturday. "The economic dynamics are working in Merkel's favour. So Merkel is playing a waiting game. If she's re-elected, he will have to move."
Five things to watch out for
• Monday sees the first in a series of votes on the same sex marriage bill, with rebellious Tory MPs threatening to derail its passage with an amendment to extend civil partnerships to heterosexual couples.
• Major Tim Peake will be announced on Monday as the UK's first 'official' astronaut in 20 years. He will join the crew on the International Space Station in 2015.
• On Wednesday the IMF will be in London to deliver its annual verdict on the health of the UK economy.
• The Hay Festival of arts and literature begins on Thursday in Herefordshire.
• In the first all-German Champions League final, Bayern Munich face Borussia Dortmund at Wembley stadium on Saturday night.
David Cameron writes to Britain's tax havens, calling for transparency
PM urges havens to 'get our own houses in order' before G8 summit in June, where he claims tax avoidance will be a priority
guardian.co.uk, Monday 20 May 2013 06.00 BST
David Cameron has written to the leaders of Britain's offshore tax havens stressing the need to "get our own houses in order" as he pushes for international action to tackle avoidance schemes.
In a message to 10 crown dependencies and British overseas territories Cameron said he backed their right to be low tax jurisdictions but insisted that rules needed to be set and enforced fairly.
The move comes ahead of next month's G8 summit in Northern Ireland, where Cameron will push for an agreement aimed at clamping down on tax evasion and avoidance.
He said he wanted the G8 to "knock down the walls of company secrecy" to reveal who really owns and controls firms.
Cameron's initiative came as he prepared to raise the issue of corporate tax dodging with Google's boss, Eric Schmidt at a meeting in Downing Street.
The internet fim's executive chairman is a member of Cameron's business advisory group, which has its regular quarterly meeting on Monday, just days after Google was given a mauling by a House of Commons committee over its tax affairs.
The group holds its meetings behind closed doors and Downing Street does not reveal the content of its deliberations but a source inside No 10 confirmed that tax will be up for discussion, insisting that "nothing is off the table" when Cameron meets the group of 16 business leaders.
The PM's letter calling for more transparency about tax information and the ownership of companies was sent to leaders in Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Gibraltar, Anguilla, Montserrat, the Turks and Caicos Islands, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.
Cameron wrote: "As you know, I have made fighting the scourge of tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance a priority for the G8 summit which the UK is hosting next month.
"With one month to go, this is the critical moment to get our own houses in order. I am looking to all the overseas territories and crown dependencies to continue to work in partnership with the UK in taking the lead on two critical issues: tax information exchange and beneficial ownership."
He told the leaders: "I respect your right to be lower tax jurisdictions. I believe passionately in lower taxes as a vital driver of growth and prosperity for all.
"But lower taxes are only sustainable if what is owed is actually paid – and if the rules to achieve this are set and enforced fairly to create a level playing field right across the world. There is no point in dealing with tax evasion in one country if the problem is simply displaced to another."
He welcomed commitments made by the territories to exchange tax information but said there was also a need to improve its quality and accuracy.
"Put simply, that means we need to know who really owns and controls each and every company," he said.
"This goes right to the heart of the ambition of Britain's G8 to knock down the walls of company secrecy.
"Some of you have already led the way with public commitments to produce action plans on beneficial ownership – and I hope those who have yet to can do so as quickly as possible.
"Getting the right content in these plans will now be critical. These will need to provide for fully resourced and properly managed centralised registries, that are freely available to law enforcement and tax collectors, and contain full and accurate details on the true ownership and control of every company."
Ed Miliband has pledged to write new rules to tackle corporate tax dodgers if he wins the next election, even if there is no international consensus for action.
In an interview with the Observer, he said Cameron's government was "dragging its feet" on the issue.
May 19, 2013
British Leader Faces Rising Tide of Criticism From His Own Party
By STEPHEN CASTLE
LONDON — Prime Minister David Cameron’s leadership came under mounting strain on Sunday over European policy and social issues, with one senior figure saying Mr. Cameron had lost control of the Conservative Party.
That critic, Geoffrey Howe, a former cabinet minister, accused the prime minister of “running scared” of his party’s right wing, which has become increasingly unhappy with Britain’s role in the European Union.
Local party activists, meanwhile, have reacted furiously to published reports that an ally of Mr. Cameron’s had made disparaging remarks about the Conservative rank and file, calling them “mad, swivel-eyed loons” who were forcing their lawmakers to take extreme positions against their better judgment.
Making matters worse, Parliament is scheduled to debate measures on Monday to legalize same-sex marriage in Britain, a step that Mr. Cameron supports but that the right wing of the party, and many of its local activists, intensely dislike.
A petition from senior figures in local Conservative Party associations, attacking Mr. Cameron’s support for the bill, was delivered to the prime minister’s office at 10 Downing Street on Sunday.
Mr. Howe wrote an article for The Observer criticizing Mr. Cameron’s plan to renegotiate British ties with the European Union if he is re-elected, and then hold a referendum on membership of the bloc in 2017.
“By making it clear in January that he opposes the current terms of United Kingdom membership of the European Union, the prime minister has opened a Pandora’s box politically and seems to be losing control of his party in the process,” Mr. Howe wrote.
One of a dwindling number of prominent Conservatives willing to argue publicly in favor of remaining in the union, Mr. Howe resigned as deputy prime minister under Margaret Thatcher in November 1990 after breaking with her over European policy, prompting a challenge to her leadership that brought her resignation a few weeks later.
Mr. Howe’s view is shared by some commentators in Britain who say Mr. Cameron was unwise to try to appease his right wing by offering the referendum on a renegotiated membership in the union. Since many on the right want Britain to leave the union entirely, the argument runs, no concession short of withdrawal is likely to satisfy them.
Last week, more than 100 Conservative lawmakers voted to criticize Mr. Cameron’s failure to enshrine his promise of a referendum in law. Though the measure did not pass, it illustrated that many Conservatives do not trust Mr. Cameron to keep his promise, and that the party is alarmed at the rise of a populist anti-European party in Britain that did surprisingly well in local elections this month, mainly at the Conservatives’ expense.
Many on the Conservative right also chafe at having to govern in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, the most pro-European of Britain’s political parties, and fault Mr. Cameron for failing in the last general election to win an outright majority that would allow the Conservatives to govern on their own.
The dispute over the derogatory comments about party members touched another raw nerve. With his wealthy background and elite education, Mr. Cameron is seen by some as aloof and out of touch, a perception that he has amplified by appointing advisers from similar backgrounds.
Reports on the remarks appeared in several newspapers, including The Daily Telegraph, which leans Conservative; the comments were attributed to a senior party figure whom the newspapers did not identify.
05/20/2013 01:04 PM
Jobless Youth: Europe's Hollow Efforts to Save a Lost Generation
Europe is failing in the fight against youth unemployment. While the German government's efforts remain largely symbolic, Southern European leaders pander to older voters by defending the status quo.
Stylia Kampani did everything right, and she still doesn't know what the future holds for her. The 23-year-old studied international relations in her native Greece and spent a year at the University of Bremen in northern Germany. She completed an internship at the foreign ministry in Athens and worked for the Greek Embassy in Berlin. Now she is doing an unpaid internship with the prestigious Athens daily newspaper Kathimerini. And what happens after that? "Good question," says Kampani. "I don't know."
"None of my friends believes that we have a future or will be able to live a normal life," says Kampani. "That wasn't quite the case four years ago."
Four years ago -- that was before the euro crisis began. Since then, the Greek government has approved a series of austerity programs, which have been especially hard on young people. The unemployment rate among Greeks under 25 has been above 50 percent for months. The situation is similarly dramatic in Spain, Portugal and Italy. According to Eurostat, the European Union's statistics office, the rate of unemployment among young adults in the EU has climbed to 23.5 percent. A lost generation is taking shape in Europe. And European governments seem clueless when they hear the things people like Athenian university graduate Alexandros are saying: "We don't want to leave Greece, but the constant uncertainty makes us tired and depressed."
Instead of launching effective education and training programs to prepare Southern European youth for a professional life after the crisis, the Continent's political elites preferred to wage old ideological battles. There were growing calls for traditional economic stimulus programs at the European Commission in Brussels. The governments of debt-ridden countries paid more attention to the status quo of their primarily older voters. Meanwhile, the creditor nations in the north were opposed to anything that could cost money.
In this way, Europe wasted valuable time, at least until governments were shaken early this month by news of a very worrisome record: Unemployment among 15- to 24-year-olds has climbed above 60 percent in Greece.
Suddenly Europe is scrambling to address the problem. Youth unemployment will top the agenda of a summit of European leaders in June. And Italy's new prime minister, Enrico Letta, is demanding that the fight against youth unemployment become an "obsession" for the EU.
Big Promises, Scant Results
These are strong words coming out of Europe's capitals today, but they have not been followed by any action to date.
For instance, in February the European Council voted to set aside an additional €6 billion ($7.8 billion) to fight youth unemployment by 2020, tying the package to a highly symbolic job guarantee. But because member states are still arguing over how the money should be spent, launching the package has had to be postponed until 2014.
A recent Franco-German effort remains equally nebulous. Berlin and Paris want to encourage employers in Southern Europe to hire and train young people by providing them with loans from the European Investment Bank (EIB). The concept is supposed to be unveiled at the end of May. German Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen is its strongest advocate.
In contrast, German efforts to combat the crisis have been limited to recruiting skilled workers from Greece, Spain and Portugal. But now politicians are realizing that high unemployment in Athens and Madrid is a threat to democracy and could be the kiss of death for the euro zone. Perhaps it takes reaching a certain age to recognize the problem. "We need a program to eliminate youth unemployment in Southern Europe. (European Commission President José Manuel) Barroso has failed to do so," says former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, now 94. "This is a scandal beyond compare."
Economists also argue that it's about time Europe did something about the problem. "The long-term prospects of young people in the crisis-ridden countries are extremely grim. This increases the risk of radicalization of an entire generation," warns Joachim Möller, director of Germany's Institute of Employment Research, a labor market think tank. "It was a mistake for politicians to acknowledge the problem but do nothing for so long," says Michael Hüther, head of the Cologne Institute for Economic Research, which is closely aligned with employers. And Wolfgang Franz, former chairman of the German Council of Economic Experts, says that "unconventional approaches" are called for to combat not just youth unemployment but also its long-term negative consequences. "Someone who is unemployed in his or her younger years will spend a lifetime struggling with poorer career opportunities and lower pay," he adds.
In Berlin, the German government is now trying to create the impression that it is doing as much as possible while spending as little as possible. The Franco-German proposal to help Southern European employers is a case in point. Under the plan, the €6 billion from the EU youth assistance program would be distributed to companies through the EIB and thus would multiply, as if by magic. In the end, speculate the plan's proponents, 10 times as much money could be brought into circulation, putting an end to the credit crunch facing many Southern European small businesses.
But even the EIB can't quite imagine how this approach would result in €60 billion. "That number isn't coming from us," say officials in Luxembourg. It seems that €20-30 billion would be a more realistic figure for the coming years.
As it is, there are doubts over the usefulness of broad injections of cash. The first measures coming from Brussels were ineffective and came to nothing. Last year, the European Commission promised the crisis-stricken countries that they could use unspent money from structural funds to implement projects to provide jobs to unemployed youth. Some €16 billion had been applied for by the beginning of this year, funds intended to benefit 780,000 young people. But the experiences are sobering, and concrete successes are few and far between.
An Alternative Solution?
The German cabinet is hastily putting together a different, cost-effective solution. At a roundtable convened by the Ministry of Education two weeks ago, officials from nine departments and representatives of various associations discussed how Germany's dual vocational education and training model could be exported to other countries. Companies tout the advantages of the German system, with its emphasis on practical application, and are critical of the overly academic system in Southern Europe.
According to a draft of a position paper the German cabinet intends to discuss in June, Germany wants to support the crisis-stricken countries in "incorporating elements of dual vocational education and training into their respective systems." The government intends to set up a new "Central Office for International Educational Cooperation" at the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training, which could send advisors to the crisis-stricken countries when needed. Ten new positions have already been approved for the new office.
Economist Wolfgang Franz thinks it's the right approach. "We have to improve education and training, especially in the crisis-stricken countries," he says. But there is one thing that irritates him. "We should have started this long ago," says Franz, noting that this criticism also applies to the troubled countries themselves, which failed to implement many reforms when they were needed.
Spain, for example, has lagged behind the rest of Europe for years when it comes to education. It holds the questionable record of having the highest percentage of school dropouts in the EU: 24.9 percent. Paradoxically, Spain's conservative government slashed €10 billion in education funding in 2012. It also eliminated tax breaks for companies that hire newcomers to the job market. The curtailment of support for education is especially noteworthy, given that the majority of the country's 6.2 million unemployed are poorly trained and educated.
Spain's problem is that workers are divided into two classes. Since the Franco dictatorship, it has been virtually impossible to fire people who already have jobs. Young people, on the other hand, have often had to settle for occasional jobs with almost no social security benefits. They were the first to be affected by the crisis. Those who had jobs lost them, and those who didn't were unable to find work -- even people as qualified as 25-year-old Ignacio Martín.
After earning a double degree in political science and law from the renowned Charles III University of Madrid, Martín worked without pay as a legal advisor to immigrants. He and two friends now represent a small actors' union, for which they are paid €950 a month. Martín earns so little that he is unable to afford a room in the capital. Instead, he lives with his unemployed mother in Aravaca, a Madrid suburb.
The key to combating youth unemployment is to reform the divided labor market. But as an internal report by the German government shows, the crisis-stricken countries have hardly made any progress on this front. According to the report, Portugal potentially has "additional efficiency reserves in its school system," while Greece is showing only a few signs of progress, such as a plan to "assist young unemployed women."
The problems associated with a divided labor market are especially striking in Italy, where older workers with employment contracts that are practically non-terminable hold onto jobs, making them inaccessible to younger workers. The words on a demonstrator's T-shirt in Naples summed up the mood among young people: "I don't want to die of uncertainty."
In Athens, young university graduate Stylia Kampani is now thinking of starting over. She is considering moving to Germany. And this time, she adds, she might stay there.
BY SVEN BÖLL, MARKUS DETTMER, FIONA EHLERS, MANFRED ERTEL, CORNELIA SCHMERGAL AND HELENE ZUBER
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
05/17/2013 01:09 PM
Beuys Biography: Book Accuses Artist of Close Ties to Nazis
By Ulrike Knöfel
For decades, Joseph Beuys has been exalted as a heroic icon of postwar avant-garde German art. But a new biography accuses him of having been a serial liar who never completely emancipated himself from the views of Nazism and a bizarre cult.
Joseph Beuys spent his entire life dying, his widow once said. In January 1986, his heart did in fact stop beating. Urns with his ashes were committed to the depths of the North Sea. Since then, he has been regularly resurrected -- as a myth, a heroic figure, a saint of contemporary art history and an innovator, even on the political scene. During the nearly 30 years since his death, he has become larger than life and, ultimately, sacrosanct: a German icon.
Beuys, born in 1921 in the western German town of Krefeld, is viewed by many as the only genuine avant-gardist of the postwar era because he was a provocateur, someone who irreversibly shattered the limits of what was customary. He created a new type of art with honey pumps and wedges of fat, made works out of rust, tree bark and clumps of earth, and created a world of images in brown and gray. What's more, he staged performances in which he conversed with hares or dissected their corpses with knives, events in which he smashed a piano to bits or rolled himself up in felt to become a living mummy. Beuys was the Düsseldorf professor of art who, in the wake of his many protests and subsequent summary dismissal, had to be escorted by police from the academy.
Everyone had an opinion on Beuys. It was thanks to him that people started talking about art in the 1970s -- although they were usually simply outraged. He planted 7,000 oak trees in the western German town of Kassel, which was one of several controversial art projects that divided the entire country, and he made use of every opportunity to intensify rejection of himself and his work. For example, Beuys maintained that the Berlin Wall was too low, writing that it would have better proportions with an extra five centimeters (two inches) in height. Today, that sounds funny.
At the time, people ridiculed him and his work, but the sound of their laughter inevitably also echoed their fears of nonconformity. Those who like him admired him for precisely this reason.
Uncovering the Man Behind the Myth
The author of a new Beuys biography, Hans Peter Riegel, has set out to uncover the man behind the myth. In Riegel's view, Beuys was neither a deranged artist nor an innocent genius, but rather a fairly reactionary and dangerous figure. There is no doubt that Beuys was a devotee of the teachings of Rudolf Steiner, who died in 1925 and was the founder of anthroposophy, which forms the basis for Waldorf education. According to Riegel, Beuys even saw himself as the new Steiner, as a chosen one, and he was obsessed with Steiner's occultism and his racial theories -- and with the abstruse ideas of a Germanic soul, a German spirit and a special mission for the German people. He says that Beuys allowed Steiner's worldview to infiltrate his highly symbolic art and, in fact, permeate each and every one of his works.
The author also contends that Beuys surrounded himself with former and long-time Nazis, who were his artistic patrons and his political comrades-in-arms. Beuys was one of the first members of Germany's environmentalist Green Party, and he spoke a great deal about democracy. Ultimately, however, the artist strove for a totalitarian society, at least according to Riegel, who maintains that here again Beuys was following in the footsteps of Steiner and his bizarre ideas.
Riegel met with SPIEGEL in a Zurich villa, in an office paneled with dark wood that serves as his PR agent's conference room. He was wearing a suit and had brought along binders and a laptop. He spoke a great deal, perhaps out of habit, or perhaps because he was tense. His book is likely to be construed as quite a provocation in its own right.
Riegel is a Swiss citizen now, although he originally hails from Germany. During his studies in Düsseldorf, he served as an assistant to the painter Jörg Immendorff. Later, he worked as a consultant and organizer for diverse exhibition tours of the painter's work. At the time, Riegel had already started pursuing a career in the advertising industry, and he later became a business consultant.
Three years ago, Riegel published a book about the late Immendorff with the same publisher, the Aufbau Verlag in Berlin, and he didn't tread lightly with his old friend. During the final years of his life, which were marred by serious illness, Immendorff had unleashed his own big scandals, in which cocaine and prostitution played a role. But Riegel described the painter as a man without talent -- and that was doubtlessly an even greater disgrace.
Now, the author has turned his attention to Beuys, who was Immendorff's teacher. Riegel, who was born in 1959, knew him personally at an early age, and he experienced the love-hate relationship between Beuys and Immendorff. In fact, for a long time, he acted as a sort of courier between the two artists. Riegel has studied several things during his life, including art theory. But his book is less a description of Beuys the artist as it is a portrayal of the man behind the artwork, whom, in Riegel's opinion, the experts have treated with too much reverence and naivety.
Some of what he reveals is already relatively well known, while other things appear forgivable. For instance, according to Riegel's research, Beuys never received his high school diploma, although after the war he apparently maintained that he had. Otherwise it would have been infinitely more difficult for him to gain entry into the Düsseldorf's legendary Arts Academy.
Riegel aims to show that the artist was a habitual liar. There is, for example, Beuys' wartime legend of how he was rescued by Tartar tribesmen. As the story goes, after the aircraft radio operator's Stuka bomber crashed over the Crimea in 1944, he was saved by nomadic Tartars, who treated his wounds with animal fat and wrapped him in felt to keep him warm. This account, which he often repeated, was rarely questioned during his lifetime and wasn't exposed as pure fiction until years after his death. Certain details have even been transmitted to posterity: Until recently, many art historians believed that Beuys had a metal plate in his skull as a result of his wartime injuries.
Life as an Artistic Creating
For Beuys, a personal life story was something that could be shaped retroactively, like a malleable social sculpture. It was probably even surprising for him how easily he got away with his reinterpretations and ambiguities.
When Beuys talked about World War II and the Third Reich, it always sounded as if he had experienced a different dictatorship and a different war. It was as if everything hadn't been quite so bad and as if Kleve, the industrial town in the Lower Rhine region where he grew up, had not been quite as pervaded by Nazi mania as the rest of Germany. The way he talked about the war, one had the impression that soldiers tended to engage in philosophical discussions rather than to commit gruesome atrocities. In actual fact, though, Beuys was temporarily stationed near a concentration camp and, especially during the final weeks of the war, experienced fierce fighting with the bloody carnage of man-to-man combat.
At the same time, however, he drew attention to his wartime bravery. He later recounted that he was awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class, which, as Riegel writes, can hardly be true. Beuys liked to give the impression that he had been a pilot rather than merely a radio operator.
There is no doubt that Beuys belonged to a generation that revered heroes, went to war with blind enthusiasm and was then traumatized. Many of them had blood on their hands but refused to admit it to themselves or others. It was a deeply conflicted generation.
Riegel says that people overlooked these contradictory aspects of the artist's personality for a long time. Perhaps this was because Beuys, in contrast to many of his contemporaries, didn't try to keep his past a secret -- neither the fact that he volunteered for military service, nor that pacifism is cowardice, in his opinion. He appeared to stand by the controversial aspects of his personality, and that made him seem more honest.
Nazis in His Entourage
Beuys spoke a great deal, but he was not a gifted public speaker. Art was his substitute for rhetoric, and both thrived on a certain amount of ambiguity. One could interpret them to suit the occasion. Consequently, Beuys was stylized as an authority on coming to terms with the past. In 1968, he produced a work called "Auschwitz Demonstration." It consists of a glass case with several objects selected to convey the horror of the Holocaust. The work shows a diagram with the layout of the barracks at Auschwitz, plus the heating elements of an electric stove and large cubes of fat. Once again, everything is gray, brown and grim.
This vitrine belongs to a large number of works that were acquired by German entrepreneur Karl Ströher. Born in 1890, Ströher became one of the main artistic patrons and collectors of Beuys' works in the late 1960s. Ströher's family owns the famous Wella hair cosmetics company, which has its headquarters in the western German city of Darmstadt.
Not much is known about Ströher's activities during the Hitler years. At the meeting in Zurich, Beuys biographer Riegel opened an envelope and pulled out a copy of a court decision from 1949 that declared Ströher to be a Belasteter (or "offender," the second-most damning category of Nazi sympathizer according to the classification system used by denazification tribunals at the time) and sentenced him to 10 months in prison. The entrepreneur had donated large amounts of money to the Nazi Party and benefited from defense contracts awarded to his companies.
Ströher once wrote to Hitler, noting that, as a Freemason, he was not granted "the finest honor befitting a German, (namely) to be able to serve in the new army," yet he was determined to help "build the new Reich." After 1945, Ströher kept quiet about his Nazi past and even today, over 25 years after his death in 1977, he is still widely viewed as a generous supporter of avant-garde art.
Many such figures have surfaced in Beuys' entourage. Whether he did it on purpose or not, he opened the doors to society for many people. Thanks to Beuys, the public took note of these individuals; thanks to him, they were on the right side. Riegel discloses additional documents that prove, for example, that Erich Marx was a member of the Nazi Party. Today, Marx is one of the leading patrons of the arts in Berlin. He was a real estate developer, and his company built and operated a number of clinics. What's more, his name as a supporter of the arts is primarily linked to Beuys' name. His collection is housed in the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum for Contemporary Art in Berlin.
Forming Groups with Former Nazis
Or take Karl Fastabend. He joined the Nazi Party in 1932, became a member of the SS in 1933, and later was promoted to the rank of Hauptscharführer (literally "head squad leader," the second-highest enlisted rank in the SS). Decades later, he wrote texts for Beuys and acted as a kind of press liaison for him. Fastabend wrote and spoke about "matters of survival for the people" and the "will of the people." In 1971, with Fastabend's help, Beuys founded the Organization for Direct Democracy through Referendum.
Or take August Haussleiter, a journalist who embraced Nazi ideology at an early date. In the 1960s, he founded a right-wing political party called the Action Association of Independent Germans (AUD). Beuys ran for the party as a candidate for the Bundestag, the German parliament, in the 1976 general elections. Beuys and Haussleiter were also among the founding members of the Green Party.
Haussleiter and his wife, who was a former district leader in the League of German Girls (BDM), which was the girl's wing of the Nazi Party youth movement, had also founded the so-called Democratic Movement for the Protection of Life (DLB). Starting in 1974, one of the movement's ambassadors was Werner Georg Haverbeck, another dubious character whose career with the Nazis began years before the fascists seized power when he was active in the National Socialist German Students' League (NSDStB). Later, Haverbeck joined the SS and was appointed the Third Reich's head of training for the Hitler Youth movement. After the war, he became a priest and, in 1963, founded the Collegium Humanum, which was banned many years later, in part for denying the Holocaust. Like many long-time right-wing extremists, he discovered the issue of environmentalism and even became a consultant on related issues for Egon Bahr, a member of the left-leaning Social Democratic Party (SPD) who held two ministerial positions at the federal level. Beuys and Haverbeck worked together in a number of groups and committees.
These were confusing times. Old Nazis rubbed shoulders with Green Party environmentalists, while diehard right-wing extremists embraced anthroposophical notions. In the southern German town of Achberg, not far from the Austrian border, a movement was founded that was a unique combination of anthroposophical concepts and very traditional German values, and that supported by people like Haussleiter. And then there was Wilhelm Schmundt, an anthroposophist and former Nazi, whose brother was Hitler's military adjutant, whereas he pursued a career as a scientist in Peenemünde, on the Baltic coast, where the Nazis developed their deadly V2 rocket. Decades later, he spoke of the great mission that Germany had "in the choir of nations" and urged new monetary and social systems. Beuys called him "our great teacher."
Exalting the Germans
In November 1985, just a few weeks before his death, Beuys gave a speech on the topic of Germany in the Munich Kammerspiele theater. He spoke of the possibility of Germany's resurrection, thanks in part to the German language, which he said could serve as the well, or source, for a new country -- a language, he added, that could lead to physical recovery and enable a deep feeling "for what happens on the soil upon which we live." Beuys went to say that a "healing process on this soil," upon which we were all born, is conceivable, adding that we must "strive to achieve a lofty goal that could be called the mission of the Germans in this world" -- and then he mentioned the "German genius."
Similar lunacy had been expressed by the linguists of the Third Reich. Beuys met such former blood-and-soil philologists among the anthroposophists in Achberg, this community of many individuals with a Nazi past. Like himself, they belonged to the Annual Standing Congress of the Third Way, an organization that sought to explore new approaches to life in the spirit of Rudolf Steiner.
Even Beuys' father-in-law, Hermann Wurmbach, a well-known professor of zoology, made a career for himself during the Third Reich. After the end of the war, he was dismissed from his university position, but he soon found a new job in academia. Riegel has found a copy of a presentation that Wurmbach gave in 1942 at the University of Bonn, during an event held under the auspices of the National Socialist German University Lecturers' League, in which he focused on the creation of a common language as a "means of fortifying the people." Wurmbach said that the German people stand above everything but, at the same time, they must find their place "in the great biological mission." "Foreign races would … interfere," he said, adding that they were "impurities."
Never Emancipated from the Past
Much of this could have been brought to light a long time ago, and should have been more openly debated, says Riegel. His book contends that Beuys never entirely emancipated himself from the prevailing National Socialistic views of his youth, and even less so from Steiner's older cult surrounding Nordic-Germanic mythology and racial theory. According to Riegel, Beuys was no staunch anti-Semite, but he did believe that the Germans had a special mission in this world.
Visits with former war comrades up until the 1970s could be another indication that he never distanced himself from Nazi ideology. Riegel has copies of photos documenting such get-togethers. There are images of Beuys holding a glass of beer while sitting between two men who are as old as him, but who seem more dignified and to hesitantly idolize him.
Beuys was a much sought-after professor. Quite a number of self-assured artists attended his classes and went on to pursue careers of their own. Would young artists who were seeking progressive approaches really have joined forces with a reactionary?
He celebrated the unsightly and disharmonious side of life, and his installations stood in stark contrast to the aesthetics of the Nazis. His work was the epitome of the kind of vaguely critical and apparently left-wing art one sees at documenta, the modern and contemporary art exhibition held every five years in the central German city of Kassel. And yet he even attended Documenta 1972, where he was an exhibitor, with this friend Fastabend, the former Nazi.
Did he flirt with the Germans' past to provoke them? That would be the answer that the admirers of his artwork could best live with.
Riegel says that German film director Oskar Roehler has expressed an interest in the biography. Roehler is still reading the book, though. "Beuys was a great artist," he says, "the greatest we had." But, the director adds, he was a big jester who made fools of people, and "judging him politically would be to whittle him down."
Riegel has tried to contact Eva Beuys, the artist's widow. He received a written rejection, but not from her. Instead, it came from VG Bild-Kunst, a company that deals in licenses for reprographic rights. It told the biographer that Ms. Beuys has no time to talk about the book project.
Translated from the German by Paul Cohen
Pig Putin's Russia ..........
Russia Targets Pollster for 'Political Activity'
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: May 20, 2013 at 7:44 AM ET
MOSCOW — Russia's only independent polling agency says it may have to close after prosecutors targeted it for 'political activity.'
Levada Center on Monday published a letter from prosecutors who said its polls and publications are "aimed at shaping public opinion on government policy" and demanded it cease publication until it registers as a 'foreign agent' under a law passed last year.
Russia has pushed strongly in recent months to enforce the law, which requires all foreign-funded NGOs that engage in spuriously defined political activities to register as "foreign agents," a term that recalls Soviet-era propaganda casting suspicion on foreigners. The measure is seen as an attempt to restrict Kremlin critics and undermine their credibility.
So far, 44 NGOs have had legal actions brought against them, according to legal aid group Agora.
Ukraine rally after journalists are beaten
Monday 20 May 2013 12.35 BST guardian.co.uk
Dozens of Ukrainian journalists have been staging a rally today outside the interior ministry in Kiev after the police initially refused to investigate the beating of two journalists.
Olha Snitsarchuk, a journalist with the Channel 5 television channel and her husband Vladislav Sodel, a photographer with the Kommersant daily, were punched and kicked by a group of men on Saturday while covering a political demonstration opposed to the government. It is believed their attackers were pro-government supporters.
Sodel told the rally that several policemen ignored his original pleas to intervene, watching indifferently as the reporters were thrown to the ground and hit.
Snitsarchuk, who suffered bruises to her face, was taken to hospital.
After a public backlash, the interior ministry agreed to launch an investigation.