06/19/2013 03:19 PM
The Rise of the Fearmongers: Germany's New Euroskeptic Elite
By Stefan Willeke
Many Germans believe it is time to abandon the euro. They're part of a growing movement spurred by influential populists from the worlds of business and academia. Their arguments stoke fear but offer no clear alternatives.
The day the euro falls apart will feel like paradise, or at least if Dirk Müller is there to host the event. Müller can come up with an unforgettable melody for even the worst of calamities. And to do so, he needs nothing more than his warm, dark voice, which can even cloak horror in ghoulish but beautiful sounds. The refrain would probably consist of a quote Müller has repeated often, because it seems to fit to every occasion: "That's it, Mr. Müller. Mr. Müller, that's it."
But, at the moment, Mr. Müller still has a problem being Mr. Müller, because his voice is threatening to abandon him. He has spent too much time in TV studios lately, talking his new book "Showdown" onto the best-seller lists, and his voice has become hoarse. The man who likes to go by the nickname "Mister Dax," because he was once a well-known stock trader and gave a face to the German stock market (and its blue-chip DAX index), still has to endure this evening in Rottweil, a town on the edge of the Black Forest in southwestern Germany. He has taken a pill against hay fever, another against the flu and a cough suppressant. It's mid-May, a week in which the mass-circulation newspaper Bild is warning against inflation, the weekly magazine Stern is running a cover story titled "Is My Money at Risk Now?" and the local paper, the Schwarzwalder Bote, is running the headline "Passion For Europe in Free Fall." It's Müller time.
In a side room at a decommissioned power plant that has been converted into an auditorium, Müller is preparing for his appearance. With a cough, he announces his "grand tour through Europe." Perhaps there is no better way to illustrate Europe's condition than in a power plant that has lost power, where a red carpet is unrolled for a man who is a gifted speaker and who plays with his initials as if they were a promise -- Dirk Müller, DM (the symbol for the former German currency, the deutsche mark).
The parking lot outside is full. It's an ordinary Thursday evening in a German town, and close to 500 people have come to the event, for which tickets cost €69.90 ($94), about the price of entry to a pop concert. But the topic is Europe's crisis, and the event turns out to be one of the most heavily attended at the Neckartal Power Plant. In a few minutes, when Müller begins speaking, a few in the audience will pull out their notepads and jot down his key points. Müller has even secured the rights to the name "Mister Dax," which is how many people address him.
He steps onto the stage and turns on his laptop. He shows the audience a photo of American warships and talks about the "battle for future global dominance." He switches to an image of a paper airplane flying in a thunderstorm. The paper airplane is a €50 bill. "In my opinion, the euro cannot function," Müller says. Suddenly the laptop crashes and the screen goes dark. Müller could simply say: "Sorry, my computer crashed." Instead, he says: "The system has collapsed."
Müller is a warner. He warns against running Europe into the ground "out of convenience," merely for the purpose of preserving the euro, which, according to Müller, is much too strong for the weak countries in the south but too weak for the strong German economy. He warns against conditions like those in Greece. "Flags with swastikas on them; that's Greece in 2013." He warns against "lost generations" in Portugal and Spain. "The euro isn't bringing us peace," he says. "In fact, the euro is the spirit of discord."
"A potential for infection is developing," he says, "and it can break out at any time."
He insinuates, quips and laces his speech with sarcasm. He doesn't claim that the Americans tried to subjugate the International Monetary Fund (IMF), or that the IMF subsequently took Europe hostage. He expresses himself more deftly rather than allowing himself to be pinned to an ideology. He doesn't shout, and he remains perfectly pleasant. The top 10 percent of the German population owns two-thirds of all wealth in Germany, he says. He then stops and insists that he is not a leftist.
Growing Uncertainty and Unrest
A strange mixture is brewing in Germany. Week after week, the voices calling for an end to the European monetary union are growing louder. There are the people who represent the financial world, such as Müller. There is the new anti-euro party Alternative for Germany (AfD), which enjoys the backing of disappointed conservatives. And then there are also sociologists with ties to the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), such as Wolfgang Streeck, the director of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne. Streek sees the monetary union as the "Babylonian captivity of a politically emancipated market system." There is also Thilo Bode, founder of the European consumer rights group Foodwatch, who sees the drachma as the cure for the ailing Greek economy.
There is growing unrest on both the left and right sides of the political spectrum. Both camps are attacking the euro from the fringes, and both aim to collect support from the center of society. Intelligent people, including entrepreneurs, trade unionists, academics and party officials, are starting to team up. Many bill themselves as genuine Europeans. There are also a few conspiracy theorists, crazies and hard-liners. But most are presentable and educated.
Müller's appearance in Rottweil was scheduled for 90 minutes, but he ends up speaking for almost three hours. No one in the room interrupts him. At the end, once the roar of applause has died down, Müller signs autographs at the book table. So many people want autographed copies of his book that he can hardly tear himself away. He finally ends up standing at the bar in the lobby, talking about the history of money. The Frankfurt Stock Exchange, he says, used to be a place where small and mid-sized companies could raise capital, but those days are gone. Today, he says, the market is a place where gamblers meet, a system that is destroying itself and losing its purpose.
It's almost midnight when Müller finally leaves the former power plant. His chauffeur is waiting in the parking lot. Müller is quick to point out that the chauffeured car has only been rented for the evening. He also notes, with suspicious regularity, how little he actually profits from his speaking engagements, and that he only receives "a fraction" of the evening's ticket revenue.
Müller has latched onto a subject that appeals to audiences. The stock wave that he was riding for years is now being replaced by the euro wave. It could become seductively powerful.
Müller is also profiting from the crisis. He is about to go on a vacation in the Maldives, where he intends to put his mobile phone on silent and relax a little. When asked about what he plans to do with his free time, he says: "Nothing much, really."
Things happen during Müller's vacation that he doesn't hear about. Bernd Lucke, an economics professor at the University of Hamburg and head of the new Alternative for Germany party, tweets: "Many countries only want to stay in the euro because they are getting billions in aid payments." One of the responses on Twitter reads: "The agreements are just for the stupid sheep, not for the EU fascists." Someone else writes: "Don't worry, Gullible Fritz will go and work for someone else."
According to a new study from Washington, some 60 percent of Germans approve of the European Union, which is 8 percent less than a year ago. About two-thirds of Germans want to keep the euro, while one-third wants the deutsche mark back. A group of respected German economists has published a case for the euro. In polls, the anti-euro party fluctuates between 2 and 3 percent. In the last two years, SPIEGEL has run seven cover stories warning against a euro that is in acute danger, crumbling or softening. And yet the euro has stood firm.
Predicting an Inevitable Collapse of the Euro
A man is going for a stroll in an upscale residential neighborhood of the Bad Godesberg district of Bonn, the former capital city in western Germany. He says that he stood at the "cradle of the euro," together with then-Chancellor Helmut Kohl and then-Bundesbank President Hans Tietmeyer. Joachim Jahnke was a member of the SPD and served as a head of section in the Ministry of Economics. Now retired, the 74-year-old dispatches weekly email newsletters that often argue against the euro. "The deutsche mark was a sort of ersatz nationality," Jahnke says.
Jahnke can speak at length over how the euro can still be saved -- through a comprehensive minimum wage in Germany, for example or through transfer payments to Southern Europe. But he also says: "The Germans will eventually be fed up with constantly paying for things." Unless something serious happens, the euro will break apart in three to five years, Jahnke predicts. Opponents of the common currency believe that time is on their side. It's like leaving a box of matches on a bench near the edge of a forest. Eventually someone comes along and puts a lit match to a dry branch.
If the common currency no longer existed, Europe's crisis-ridden countries could devalue their national currencies and strengthen their economies, because prices for their products would drop and their markets would become more competitive. This is an important argument for euro opponents -- and it's correct. But if the euro were to disappear, Germany's export economy would collapse, because the German currency would then appreciate substantially. Unemployment would rise sharply, and the engine of the economy would be eliminated. This is also true, and it's something that opponents of the euro don't like to hear. But there is also another important question: What would happen to Europe if it were deprived of the common currency?
Saving What Can Still Be Saved?
Heiner Flassbeck took the first flight from Geneva to Berlin. He was a state secretary under former Finance Minister Oskar Lafontaine, and both men failed in rapid succession. But that was in the last millennium. Most recently, Flassbeck was working as chief economist for a United Nations organization, and he now lives in a French village outside Geneva. "Germany does everything right," say his neighbors. Flassbeck claims the opposite is true, but the French don't believe him. Perhaps it'll be different in Berlin.
The Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, which is associated with the Left Party, has invited Flassbeck to speak, and the auditorium in the building occupied by the Neues Deutschland newspaper is full. Flassbeck has a dark tan and is wearing a suit and tie. A few days earlier, he appeared at a conference sponsored by the Ver.di public services union, and he has also recently spoken in Basel, Warsaw and Paris. He was interviewed by the German business newspaper Handelsblatt, and he has written articles in the weekly newspaper Die Zeit. Things are suddenly going well for Flassbeck, and even he seems surprised.
He refers to the economy as a machine that requires servicing. But the leftists in the room don't like the word "machine," and they aren't interested in servicing anything. When a member of the audience calls him "Heiner," Flassbeck frowns disapprovingly. During the break, he stands at a bar table and grumbles about the "drivel" he is forced to put up with here. The leftists are engaged in ideological debates, Flassbeck says, whereas he is here to talk about numbers.
If he established a party, it would have only one item on its platform: Flassbeck is right. Of course, he had long anticipated that Europe was heading for a crisis. He can now repackage the theories he has always espoused and, in doing so, make himself seem younger than he is. Flassbeck glances at the vats of soup covered with napkins and rails against "this Socialist fare." He has no objection whatsoever, he adds, to eating lunch in a restaurant instead.
Before long, Flassbeck is sitting at a restaurant table in Berlin's trendy Mitte district, trying to choose between ravioli with or without truffles. With truffles, he finally decides. "I have studied all the world's financial crises," Flassbeck says, and he concludes that what Europe needs to do now is "to save what can still be saved."
But what will be left of the euro zone if the crisis-ridden countries withdraw?
"Germany," Flassbeck replies. "Hmm, the Netherlands, Belgium…"
"No, France has to exit."
Germany, Finland, Holland and Belgium. Is there any political vision left?
"Oh," says Flassbeck, "the political vision is dead, anyway."
The truffles are excellent, he adds.
Chancellor Merkel's much-repeated response to the euro crisis has been: "If the euro dies, Europe dies." It has been an important sentence, but it still lacks a rationale. Without it, the remark feels like an empty claim, and yet the issue deserves more than that.
In recent weeks, there has been much talk about debt, support purchases and bailout funds. But it would be more convincing if the economic reflections were not disconnected from the social dimension. The appeal of the European Union and its precursors has always been how they aim for immediate goals in order to achieve more distant ones. The common market was intended as a first great step on the road to political successes. The experiment began with a transnational organization creating a common market for coal and steel, while the common currency followed almost 50 years later. The idea was that Europe would begin in the wallet but not end there, that it would start on a small scale and then grow larger. The idea was also to weather crises, tolerate unreasonable demands and follow through to the end.
On a Friday afternoon, Bernd Lucke steps onto an ICE train at the station in the northern German city of Lüneburg, takes a seat in the dining car and immediately starts making phone calls. Lucke, chairman of the anti-euro party Alternative for Germany (AfD), is speaking loudly and clearly, as if the conductor had asked him to make an announcement. He ends his call, puts away his mobile phone and keeps talking. He turns away a little and looks around, so that it is no longer clear whether he is having a conversation with the SPIEGEL interviewer, the other passengers in the car or the entire world. We lower our voices as a signal to Lucke to lower his, but the party leader doesn't take the hint. In fact, he starts speaking even louder, as if he were personally in charge of determining the noise level in the car. Though it wasn't intended, we end up having a panel discussion with Lucke in the dining car.
Outside, the sun peeks out here and there, but Lucke says that heavy rain showers are in the forecast for southern Lower Saxony. He is headed for Clausthal-Zellerfeld in north-central Germany, where he is scheduled to deliver a ceremonial address to the "Barbara Academic Sports Association." He says that he looked into whether his hosts might be somehow politically objectionable, but found that they were OK.
He leaves the car shortly before Hanover, where the train stops and the doors open. A young mother with a stroller is standing at the exit. Lucke rushes over and offers to help her. The woman can hardly say "No, thank you" quickly enough to prevent Lucke from taking control of her stroller. In Hanover, the weather is still pleasant. If it doesn't start raining, says Lucke, it'll be the weather forecast that was wrong, not him.
It's odd, he says, but a journalist from the Wall Street Journal was supposed to join him, and yet he hasn't heard from the man.
When asked to describe what constitutes the "alternative" in the name of his party, Lucke says that he had preferred the name "adieu" but failed to convince others. We have to ask him several times about the alternative, and about what would change in this country if Lucke could exert some influence, until he finally understands, saying that it's about politics and about structuring things, not just the euro. Lucke, the economics professor, suddenly seems highly inept, saying things like: "The government must become fiscally responsible. It has to take the will of the people seriously." He has no idea what alternative he is supposed to describe. He calls himself a European, but he has no use for Europe. He has done nothing but open a betting shop at which customers can place wagers on the demise of the euro.
When Lucke gets off the train in Goslar, a small historic city in Lower Saxony, a young man addresses him on the platform. The stranger walks excitedly alongside Lucke, and says that he initially couldn't believe that he had actually spotted Bernd Lucke, the man from the talk shows. But suddenly he was quite sure, he says. "It's very nice that you are gracing Goslar with your presence, Professor Lucke," says the young man, before he shuffles away. Lucke watches him go and says: "See?"
At home in Winsen an der Luhe, Lucke rides his bike to the commuter train station in the morning and takes it to nearby Hamburg, where he delivers his lectures, and takes the same train back home in the evening -- or at least that used to be his daily routine. Now he's a person whose opinion European politicians discuss in prime time. He gives them something to think about, although sometimes they have trouble coming up with answers. The fight against the euro has catapulted his life into the world of grand gestures. He would never admit it, but he owes a lot to the euro. He is a person who sticks to numbers and relations, but they say nothing to him about the underlying ideas.
Defining the Notion of 'Europe'
A story about Europe could begin in June 1914, and it could be about Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb who killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, in Sarajevo. The ensuing events led to the outbreak of the World War I, which was a European war until shortly before it ended and resulted in carnage that would have previously seemed unimaginable. A European story could also begin in 1870, when one of the Franco-Prussian wars erupted, which is commemorated by the Victory Column in Berlin. But a European story could also begin earlier, in 1813, at the Battle of the Nations, near the eastern German city of Leipzig, when the European powers fought what was the biggest war in European history prior to World War I.
Also worth mentioning is the SPD's 1925 Heidelberg Program, in which there were suddenly calls for a "United States of Europe."
And then there was the Morgenthau Plan, which didn't materialize but called for the destruction of German industry after World War II. A far more extensive account would have to be devoted to the American Marshall Plan, the European reconstruction program worth billions that benefited Germany in particular. One could talk about solidarity, aid payments and borrowed trust. Or about overcoming the logic of war, about the attempt to abandon the categories of victory and defeat, and to replace them for a spirit of cooperation.
Perhaps the story should return to Sarajevo, where the 1984 Winter Olympics were held, an event that resembled a festival of cultures before the city was transformed into the hell of the Bosnian war eight years later. We would end up with a contradictory story, but it would be instructive, because it would tell us that Europe has already been tested more severely than by an economic crisis.
But to engage in this discussion, it's important to recognize more in the European Union than merely a series of financial transactions. One has to divine the historical dimension, and the sheer magnitude and importance of events. One has to have a political consciousness, or at least a memory -- and maintain it.
Tenacious Campaigning Against the Euro
On June 11, as Germany's Federal Constitutional Court is debating a complaint against the euro bailout policy, Hans-Olaf Henkel is at Berlin's Tegel Airport, boarding an Airbus jet bound for Vienna. He likes to spend time abroad, where he is treated as a guest and isn't contradicted as often. He was just in London, where he blasted the euro at an event, after former Chancellor Schröder had just lauded the European idea. Henkel likes to use the term "unity euro." It's reminiscent of the name of the state party in the former East Germany, the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), and it sounds somehow calamitous. The British were on his side, Henkel says with a chuckle.
In the 1990s, Henkel was a hard-nosed president of the Federation of German Industries (BDI). He is a holdover from the cretaceous age of industrial society, and he would be forgotten today if he hadn't clung to the TV studios. The talk show is Henkel's greenhouse. Outside, he would be overgrown with weeds by now. But as soon as artificial light is added, he straightens up, stretches his neck and blossoms. The anti-euro party AfD has made Henkel into its best-known advocate. The euro is preventing him from withering away.
In the flight to Vienna, Henkel talks about a man who called him an "asshole." It was an anonymous email with a very short message: "Asshole." The only thing identifying the sender was the email address, but when Henkel turned the matter over to his attorney, he said that he couldn't help him. It was too time-consuming, he said, and it wouldn't be possible to find out who the sender was.
Undeterred, Henkel sat down at his computer and searched the Internet for the email address. After a considerable effort, he finally found the same email address on a welcome message in the electronic guestbook of a hotel in Bavaria. It had to be the person he was looking for. Henkel called the hotel and said that he wanted to send the guest photos from a vacation they had taken together. The hotel gave him the person's phone number. Henkel's attorney called the number and demanded €1,000 (Ed's note: In Germany, so-called "crimes against one's honor," such as insulting words or gestures, can lead to hefty fines and sometimes even jail sentences). Henkel wanted the man who had called him an "asshole" to donate the money to the good people of Amnesty International.
A Dangerous and Divisive Issue
The story offers insight into how tenaciously Henkel wages his campaign against the euro. If we wonder why the prophets of doom are capable of filling entire auditoriums with people, the answer is always the same: fear. They take advantage of the fears of those with less education, their fear of losing what they have achieved and their fear of being robbed. For these people, it's easy to envision our faraway neighbors in Southern Europe as thieves. In this way, the populists' arguments combine with the emotions of their audiences. It's a dangerous mixture.
The AfD is a political force worth taking seriously. It has the potential to draw voters away from the major parties, especially Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Professors are among the supporters of the AfD, which lends it more credibility, especially among voters without an academic education. Unlike the Pirate Party, the anti-euro party has a clear central theme that everyone understands. It is a disciplined organization, not some chaotic group. And the key question surrounding the euro is not being asked in the governing bodies of the major parties. Indeed, the demise of the euro is a topic with a fuse.
The character with whom opponents of the euro identify most is the businessman, and the character they despise most is the historian. The businessman sees the euro as nothing but a means of payment, something replaceable, a few paltry coins and bills. The historian sees through the euro and recognizes a political rationale. The businessman shrinks the euro's importance while the historian enlarges it. The businessman holds up a €10 bill and says: This could soon be 20 deutsche marks again. The historian recognizes the contours of the continent in the €10 bill.
When the flight has landed in Vienna, Henkel gets up and asks: "What should I call my book? 'Euro Deceivers?' Or perhaps 'Euro Liars'?" He isn't quite sure. Maybe the word "liar" is too strong. The new book comes out in a few weeks, he says, and perhaps he'll have Oskar Lafontaine write the introduction. Henkel feels good when he surrounds himself with people who thrive on subversive theories. No one wanted to give a laudatory speech for Thilo Sarrazin, the politician who published an anti-immigrant and -Muslim tirade in 2010 that sparked major public outrage. But Henkel agreed to do it.
Henkel gives one of his presentations at a tourist hotel in the afternoon. He usually begins by saying that he initially made the mistake of believing in the euro. "My mistake" -- it's an expression he likes to use. People who acknowledge their mistakes seem confident. Then he attacks the euro. The interesting thing is that Henkel has the shrewdness to approach the European drama from an economic standpoint. The sad thing is that his shrewdness doesn't generate any political ideas, or at least nothing that a government could do anything with. When asked what the alternatives are, he praises the quality of training in German companies. He suddenly sounds like someone from the chamber of commerce.
On the way back to the airport, Henkel says that he has made up his mind. The book will be called "Euro Liars."
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
06/19/2013 09:22 PM
Mr. Sunshine: 'Yes We Can' Memories Flood Back on Feel-Good Trip
An Analysis By Florian Gathmann, Veit Medick and Philipp Wittrock
Barack Obama's first official trip to Berlin was short on substance but rich in symbolism. For a few hours in the searing summer heat, his relaxed charm and eloquent idealism triggered memories of the heyday of "Yes we can," before drone attacks, Prism and realpolitik.
What a scorcher! And no one felt it more on this big day in Berlin than the people gathered on Pariser Platz square. Some of the invited guests didn't even show up because of the sudden heatwave engulfing the capital. Some 4,000 sweated it out in the blazing sunshine until Barack Obama finally arrived. Behind the bullet-proof screen, the sweat dripped off his brow, so he took off his jacket, threw it down behind him and rolled up his sleeves. "We can be a little more informal among friends," he called out to the crowd.
Of course, it was the searing heat that prompted him to abandon the dress code. But there was also something symbolic in his gesture. The message was, "We know each other; we don't need to get all dressed up when we meet." And the subtext was: "All this talk about a cooling in trans-Atlantic relations is nonsense."
Barack Obama went on a charm offensive during his first official visit as president. He knows that Germans had enormous expectations of him when he was elected president for the first time four-and-a-half years ago. And he knows he has dashed many of those hopes. He's not the big savior who has brought peace to the world. He hasn't closed the Guantanamo prison camp yet. And the recent revelations of the NSA's Prism Internet surveillance program have severely dented people's faith in his civil-liberty credentials. Obama wanted to repair some of the damage -- and that was evident throughout this day in both his gestures and words.
His speech was peppered with grand references to freedom, security and solidarity, the values he associates with the trans-Atlantic partnership. "Our alliance is the foundation of global security," he said. In fact, he addressed so many issues that one ended up wondering what he left out. He called for new efforts to combat global warming, defended his drone program and said he still intended to shut Guantanamo. He praised the progress made in the fight against terrorism, and he demanded equal opportunities for his "gay and lesbian friends."
Nuclear Disarmament Initiative
Obama only went into specifics on the issue of nuclear disarmament, where he announced his initiative for a sharp reduction in strategic nuclear weapons. It fitted well with the setting -- after all, he was standing on the frontline of the Cold War. But one couldn't help shrugging one's shoulders at it. After all, the nuclear arsenals of the US and Russia don't pose the most pressing threat to world security anymore. And his initiative may peter out anyway. Russian was quick to pour cold water on it. But Obama won't mind. He made his announcement -- apart from that, this day was all about conveying the right symbolism and atmosphere.
On Wednesday morning, he put his arm around German President Joachim Gauck. The pupils of the Berlin's John F. Kennedy international school were delighted when he engaged in small talk with them. "Hey guys," he greeted them. "How are you?" and "Good to see you."
"It was simply great," said 12-year-old Sean, and his friend Harun next to him couldn't stop beaming. Gauck was also impressed by the visitor. The two presidents had a very open conversation, with Obama explaining the Prism program rather than just brushing aside any objections to it.
Later on, it was the same story with Chancellor Angela Merkel. When he held a joint news conference with her at midday, he wouldn't stop talking. He spent minutes giving elaborate reassurances that ordinary emails weren't being sifted through, and that encroachments on privacy were all limited by court-approved processes. But he also nodded politely when Merkel said there was a need for "proportionality and balance."
Exhaustion in the Evening
The chancellor, the head of the conservative Christian Democrats, appeared a bit tense. Perhaps the issues on the agenda -- Afghanistan, Syria and the drone wars -- were too serious. But she still offered a small demonstration of trust by addressing Obama with the informal "Du" rather than the formal "Sie" in German. There are no doubt differences between the two, but they weren't going to get in the way of harmonious longer-term relations. Right afterwards, at a private lunch between the two in the Chancellery, the mood eased even more. At the big speech at the Brandenburg Gate, Merkel exuded a vibe that was far more casual. "I welcome you among friends," she said, smiling. Even Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, who has been fiercely critical of Obama on account of the Prism program, waved an American flag.
The government in Berlin is fully aware that nice snapshots with the US president are like gold dust for the chancellor just three months before the September 22 general election. She'll also likely have no trouble getting over the fact that the US president took time to meet with her challenger. Obama spent 40 minutes speaking to her rival for the Chancellery, Peer Steinbrück of the center-left Social Democrats, a party roughly equivalent to the US president's Democrats. The meeting took place in an office right next to the Brandenburg Gate, and sources close to Steinbrück said the atmosphere was relaxed. They were also reportedly pleased by the fact that Obama came to the meeting very well prepared.
Steinbrück also received an invitation to Wednesday night's dinner, where events took on a slightly more formal air. The red carpet got rolled out at Berlin's Charlottenburg Palace, where the chancellor threw a banquet in honor of the president. More than 200 invited guests enjoyed a performance by cellists with the Berlin Philharmonic and a meal prepared by Michelin-starred Tim Raue, a German celebrity chef.
As Merkel spoke at the dinner, Obama was already wiping sweat from his brow again. When she greeted him at the door, the president explained how he'd had to change his shirt during the day. Now he thanked her for a "warm reception" in both a figurative and literal sense. You could see the sense of relief on Obama's face that the day had gone very well, but it also betrayed exhaustion after his packed 25-hour visit. It's just about to end though. Air Force One is waiting at Tegel Airport to take the president and his family back home to the US after dinner -- in an air-conditioned cabin.
06/19/2013 05:18 PM
The President in Berlin: Obama Through the Prism of the Cold War
By Charles Hawley
History is everywhere in Berlin, as US President Barack Obama and his family found out on Wednesday. And the lessons of that past are clear -- which helps explain the president's challenging task of seeking to assuage German doubts about the Prism surveillance program.
The Obamas slept in no man's land. The Ritz Carlton, where US President Barack Obama and his family stayed on Tuesday night as part of their 25-hour whirlwind visit to the German capital, is located on Potsdamer Platz, a part of Berlin that didn't exist 24 years ago. It was nothing but an open space littered with East German mines and trapped behind the Berlin Wall.
Berlin, of course, is full of such places of historical significance. And the Obama family visited many of them on Wednesday. The president himself delivered his keynote address at the Brandenburg Gate, itself trapped for 28 years in the death strip created by the Berlin Wall. Prior to that, he visited with German President Joachim Gauck, a well-respected pastor from the former East Germany who played a role in the peaceful dissolution of the communist state, and Chancellor Angela Merkel, likewise a product of East Germany.
First Lady Michelle, along with Sasha and Malia, visited the Holocaust Memorial across the street from their hotel before heading up to the Berlin Wall Memorial just north of the city center.
The city, in short, is not only one of Europe's most lively. It is also full of people and places that have something to say about the perils of excess state power. And at a time when Germany and many other countries in the world are full of questions about the US's far-reaching Internet monitoring program Prism, Obama's trip to Berlin seems timely indeed.
German leaders have seemed eager to ensure that their concerns about the digital spying operation be taken seriously. Several have blasted both Obama and the National Security Agency, perhaps none as vociferously as Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger.
Wednesday, despite the day-long Barack-fest in the German capital, was no different. Philip Rösler, Angela Merkel's vice chancellor and head of her junior coalition partners, the Free Democrats, said on public television that he was "extremely unsettled" by the spying program. Former German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier of the opposition Social Democrats added that, while he understood US security concerns, "that can't be synonymous with mass surveillance."
Merkel too voiced careful criticism of the program during the pair's joint press conference at the Chancellery. She made sure to emphasize that Germany had received important intelligence from the US which played a role in thwarting planned terrorist activity here. But, she added: "I made clear that, despite the necessity, the issue of balance is an important one."
Obama was ready for questions about the Prism program, which has been likened in both the US and German press to George Orwell's "Big Brother," made famous in his novel "1984." Rather than trying to dodge reporters' queries, he took time to defend the program and explain its importance for US security. At the press conference, Obama also fielded difficult questions about some additional elements of US foreign and domestic policy that many in Germany find problematic, including Washington's policy of using drones to hunt down suspected terrorist leaders in Afghanistan and the border regions of Pakistan, and the ongoing existence of the Guantanamo detention camp.
Shrimp and Asparagus
Still, issuing an elaborate justification for a vast state surveillance program at exactly the same time as his wife and daughters were placing flowers at the remnants of the Berlin Wall is nothing if not ironic. East Berlin, after all, was the mother of all spy-states. Visitors to the Wall memorial learn that the state, known counter-intuitively as the German Democratic Republic, maintained a network of well over 100,000 citizen spies to keep close watch on their neighbors in addition to thousands of professional moles. Presumed enemies of the state were locked up.
Prism, of course, can hardly be compared to such a state-sponsored system of thought control. Still, media reports indicate that the NSA, using a data mining tool called "Boundless Informant," collected some 97 billion pieces of information in March of this year alone.
From the Chancellery, following a lunch of shrimp, asparagus and veal, Obama moved on to the highlight of his visit, a keynote speech in front of the Brandenburg Gate. Here too, though, the president was dogged by history. Presidential speeches in Berlin have become known for their inspired oration, celebrations of freedom and pleas for peace. John F. Kennedy is beloved in the German capital for his 1963 "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech. Ronald Reagan demanded of Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987 that he "tear down this wall." And Bill Clinton, in 1994, hailed East Germans, saying they had "turned your dreams of a better life into the chisels of liberty."
Obama added himself to the list in July 2008 in his speech at the Victory Column, just down the street from the Brandenburg Gate, as a presidential candidate. "This city, of all cities, knows the dream of freedom."
'Ich Bin Ein East Berliner?'
His speech on Wednesday was a clear effort to continue the tradition. Following an introduction from Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit and Chancellor Merkel outlining thehighlights of German-American relations, Obama praised Berlin as a symbol of freedom and the fight against tyranny. Of the wall which once cut off the very place where he stood, he said "no wall can stand against the yearning for justice, the yearning for freedom, the yearning for peace that burns in the human heart."
He then made the surprise policy pitch that had already leaked to the media on Wednesday morning: that of seeking to further reduce the US and Russian arsenals of strategic nuclear weapons.
Obama is a gifted orator. But it remains to be seen whether the president's impassioned words in front of Berlin's pre-eminent Cold War symbol will be enough to assuage deep German disappointment over the fact that Obama has failed to live up to expectations. Prior to the speech, Peter Thompson of the Guardian aptly summed up the feeling, tweeting: "Given PRISM will his speech become known as the "Ich bin ein East Berliner" speech?"
That seems overly harsh. Still, there was hardly a place in Obama's trip through Berlin on Wednesday that was not laden with historical baggage, much of it of the negative kind. Of the city's past, Obama said in his speech that "that history speaks to us."
Many in Germany will be hoping that he hears the message.
06/19/2013 07:05 PM
The Right Tone: Why Germany Should Love Obama a Little More
A Commentary By Roland Nelles
Barack Obama unleashed a full charm offensive in Berlin on Wednesday and he did a great job. It's high time for people to appreciate this US president a bit more again.
A gifted speaker like Barack Obama serves to immediately remind the listener of the rhetorical shortcomings of German politicians. If only our elected representatives could speak so beautifully. Germans have a tendency to dismiss the American political pomp as some kind of Hollywood show. And there may be something to that, but it wouldn't hurt if Angela Merkel and her rival for the chancellery Peer Steinbrück were to exude a bit of Obama's style. It would certainly make the election campaign currently going on in Germany livelier.
President Obama embarked on an astounding charm offensive in Germany on Wednesday. He hugged President Joachim Gauck, cuddled Merkel and cracked jokes with people waving to him from the road sides. He reminded people governed by Merkel here that there's more to politics than just calculating pension formulas -- it's also about emotions, enthusiasm and vision.
In his speech at the Brandenburg Gate, Obama covered a broad gamut of issues -- from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the Arab Spring. Freedom and the fight against poverty -- those were the main topics the president used in Berlin to win over his listeners. Obama stands for a better America. In contrast to his predecessor George W. Bush, Obama doesn't try to impose his terms on the world -- he seeks cooperation. He tries to find common ground with other countries and people rather than seeking to emphasize differences. That alone is of particular value in a world in which ever more fanatics are spouting off about some "conflict of civilizations."
Obama preaches tolerance. That's why this visionary politician continues to fascinate people, especially in a city like Berlin, the multicultural capital of Germany. More than 60 percent of all Germans are satisfied with the work he is doing. The simple truth is this: Although Obama hasn't achieved many of his goals, he should be given credit for at least pursuing the right things.
Germany is a partner on this path, albeit not the most important one. Talk of poor relations between Berlin and Washington is of course nonsense. At no other time since World War II has the level of exchange between the two countries been as deep as it is today. German firms earn billions of euros in the United States, and each year tens of thousands of Americans visit Germany. A large number of them come to Berlin.
At the same time, it is also correct to say that Obama isn't the amazing president many here had hoped he might become. He's a man who inspired a lot of hope with his speeches, but it's not as if he can walk on water. And that became very clear for his German audience during his Berlin visit.
How Obama Is Different from Others
It's good that Obama called for non-proliferation in Berlin. But what will become of that? Four years ago in Prague, Obama evoked a "world without nuclear weapons". But in the time since, he hasn't come much closer to this noble goal. For that to happen, the Russians have to play along -- not to mention hawks in the United States.
In the war on terrorism, Guantanamo remains open even though Obama would like to close it. He allows drones to fire missiles and he allows Internet users to be monitored. As a presidential candidate, he was critical of the Bush administration's surveillance mania. Didn't he want to do everything better? Obama respected the desire of the majority of his people for greater security -- but in doing so he has upset his allies. Like many presidents before him, Obama practices realpolitik.
What's different with Obama is his tone.
Obama tries to promote his policies abroad. He doesn't stray from his positions, but he does explain himself and he tries to address peoples' concerns comprehensively -- especially pertaining to something like the NSA's Prism spying program. He noted in Germany that the electronic eavesdropping program has saved lives -- in Germany, as well. He doesn't arrogantly skate around criticism. Instead he fights for trust. By doing so, he deserves it.
Five years ago, 200,000 Germans cheered Obama when he gave a speech at Berlin's Victory Column during his first election campaign. Today he is greeted in a friendly manner and also celebrated. But the mass euphoria has passed. It is time to view Obama for what he really is: A calculating politician, of course, but also one who is trying to create a better world.
He's no more and no less than that.
Barack Obama: NSA is not rifling through ordinary people's emails
US president is confident intelligence services have 'struck appropriate balance', he tells journalists in Berlin
Kate Connolly in Berlin
The Guardian, Wednesday 19 June 2013 14.41 BST
Barack Obama has sought to address European concerns over internet privacy in the wake of the National Security Agency surveillance scandal, insisting US authorities are not "rifling through the emails" of ordinary people and he is confident the US intelligence services have "struck the appropriate balance" between security and civil rights.
"I was a critic of the previous administration for those occasions in which I felt they had violated our values and I came in [to office] with a healthy scepticism about how our various programmes were structured," Obama told the press conference in Berlin's chancellery. But, he added, having examined how the US intelligence services were operating: "I'm confident that at this point we have struck the appropriate balance".
Obama's remarks on the NSA dominated the 45-minute press conference, which also covered Syria, the global economic crisis and Guantánamo, with observers suggesting he had used the occasion as an opportunity to confront European scepticism over the US government's attempts to justify their surveillance operations, which have triggered deep concerns both at home and abroad.
In Germany the practices have widely been compared to those of the Gestapo and Stasi, the state intelligence arms that operated during the Nazi and communist dictatorships. Questions surrounding them have dominated the runup to the Obama family's 25-hour visit to the German capital, which comes almost exactly 50 years after John F Kennedy flew into the city and delivered his legendary "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech.
In what came across as something of a charm offensive, Obama even went into a degree of detail over the way the NSA's programme worked, saying he wanted to be very specific about the programmes that "have caused so much controversy".
"Essentially one programme allows us to take a phone number that has been discovered … through some lead that is typical of what our intelligence services do. And what we try to discover is has anybody else been called from that phone." He stressed that initially no check on content took place. "Nobody's listening in on the conversation at that point – it's just determining whether or not if for example we found a phone number in Osama bin Laden's compound after the raid, had he called anybody in New York or Berlin." But from that point, to listen in to the conversation a court's permission would have to be sought, he insisted, adding that the process applied only "very narrowly to leads that we have obtained on issues related to terrorism or proliferation of weapons of mass destruction".
He added: "This is not a situation in which we are rifling through the ordinary emails of German citizens or American citizens or French citizens or anybody else. This is not a situation where we simply go into the internet and start searching any way that we want. This is a circumscribed, narrow system, directed at us being able to protect our people and all of it is done with the oversight of the courts."
Delivering his six-minute defence as a staid Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, looked on, Obama concluded by saying the procedure had saved lives. "We know of at least 50 threats that have been averted because of this information not just in the United States, but in some cases threats here in Germany. So lives have been saved, and the encroachment on privacy has been strictly limited by a court-approved process to relate to these particular categories," he said.
Merkel responded with a distinct air of scepticism, saying it was a reflection of German concerns that she and Obama had discussed the issue "at length and in great depth".
"People have concerns precisely about there having possibly been some kind of across-the-board gathering of information," she said. "The unanswered questions – and of course there are a few – we will continue to discuss." She acknowledged that information received by US authorities had helped foil an Islamist terrorist plot in the Sauerland region of Germany in 2007.
US races to mollify Hamid Karzai over plans for peace talks with Taliban
Afghan president suspends long-term security talks with Americans amid anger over Taliban press conference in Qatar
Dan Roberts in Washington and Emma Graham-Harrison in Kabul
The Guardian, Wednesday 19 June 2013 22.32 BST
The US was scrambling to salvage a plan to open peace talks with the Taliban on Wednesday amid a diplomatic row between Washington and the Afghan president Hamid Karzai over how the process was announced.
Repeated phone calls by John Kerry, the US secretary of state, appeared not to have mollified Karzai, who accused the Obama administration of duplicity. Irritated by a press conference in Qatar at which the Taliban effectively portrayed itself as a government in exile, Karzai suspended talks on a long-term security deal to keep US troops in Afghanistan after Nato leaves in 2014.
News on Tuesday that American diplomats would sit down with Taliban leaders – the first direct talks since the US helped oust the group from power in 2001 – prompted speculation that real progress towards a negotiated end to the war in Afghanistan might be in sight.
But while the Taliban hinted at meeting US demands of a break with al-Qaida – saying Afghan soil should not be used to harm other countries – there was only the barest of nods to the Afghan government's request that they talk to the current administration and respect the constitution. They infuriated Karzai by displaying a white Taliban flag and repeatedly referring to the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan", the name the group used when they ruled from Kabul.
The Taliban also claimed responsibility for a rocket attack on the Bagram air base that killed four Americans on the same day that the tentative deal about talks was announced.
On Wednesday the US suspended plans to attend the talks, which were due to begin in Doha, the capital of Qatar, this week. Ambassador James Dobbins, its special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, will now remaining in Washington until further notice.
A state department spokeswoman said the US had also asked the Qatari government to remove a sign from outside a new Taliban office in Doha that proclaimed it as representing the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan".
However, wider tensions remain, particularly over the US role in the newly announced peace talks. "We are still in discussion with the Afghan government about the appropriate next steps," said state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, who confirmed Dobbins would remain in the US for now. "I don't have any updates on if and when he will travel."
Afghan forces take control of Nato security following news of peace talks Afghan national forces will lead all military operations in the country from 19 June, Karzai has said. Photograph: Xinhua/Landov/Barcroft Media
Earlier on Wednesday, the Associated Press reported president Karzai would not now continue peace talks with the Taliban unless the US stepped out of the negotiations. He also suspended talks with the US about handing over security to Afghan forces, citing the Taliban naming of its office as one of Kabul's concerns.
In a statement Karzai said the office was "totally contradictory to the guarantees that were made by the USA to Afghanistan".
The US says all four parties, including Qatar, had agreed that the Taliban would describe their office in Doha as "the political office of the Afghan Taliban" rather than anything that would hint at diplomatic recognition of Taliban sovereignty claims over Afghanistan.
The BBC reported later that the subsequent removal of the sign in Doha might have placated Karzai somewhat and that he may be willing to continue with security handover talks at least.
Nevertheless, the affair has cast a shadow over what Washington had hoped would prove to be breakthrough peace negotiations with the Taliban after 12 years of fighting in the country.
The State Department said the US remained committed to making the talks happen, but acknowledged it had been a shaky start. "We always knew there would be bumps in the road," said spokeswoman Psaki. "Clearly this has been challenging."
She denied that Washington had been partly to blame for the breakdown in relations after conflicting messages about the US role appeared to be relayed to Kabul on Tuesday. "I am not going to place fault," said Psaki. "The conditions were agreed by all four parties."
The US had pledged the Taliban would only be able to use the Doha as base for talks, not as a political platform, and Karzai felt the Tuesday press conference was a clear violation of that promise, an official Afghan source told the Guardian.
More significant than the name of the Taliban office is the insistence of the US in taking part in broad negotiations at all. The Afghan government would prefer the US to restrict its role to fringe issues such as the fate of prisoners held by the Taliban.
Washington concedes that the process has to be "Afghan-led" to be successful, but the state department repeated claims made by unnamed administration officials on Tuesday that the US wishes to discuss broader issues with the Taliban such as renouncing violence, links with al-Qaida and women's rights in the country.
Psaki also rejected criticism that the US had caved in by agreeing to meet with the Taliban before it severed links with al-Qaida.
In 2011, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton had described the issue as an "unambiguous red line for reconciliation with the insurgents", without which the Taliban would not be allowed to be part of a political peace process.
This apparent precondition is now a US negotiating aim instead. "We don't expect that they would decry Al-Qaeda and denounce terrorism immediately off the top – this is the end goal," said Psaki on Wednesday.
Kerry rang Karzai on Tuesday night after the initial announcement of talks began to rattle the Kabul government and again on Wednesday following the angry Afghan statement in response. "I don't think there was any confusion but this is a fluid process and it is not unusual for them to be speaking regularly," said Psaki.
Additional reporting by the Associated Press in Kabul
Taliban peace talk plans lead Afghan women to fear loss of rights
Afghanistan's women fear Taliban's return to power would 'wipe away' hard-won achievements of past 11 years
Emma Graham-Harrison and Mokhtar Amiri
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 19 June 2013 21.09 BST
Even the dimmest prospect of peace would be welcome in most countries that have endured more than three decades of conflict, but news this week that the Taliban planned to sit down for peace talks with the US was met with trepidation by many in Afghanistan.
Women in particular are nervous, because Taliban rule was so bitter for them. They lost the right to an education, to most work, even to show their face in public.
After 10 years of slowly clawing back basic protections, the prospect of losing them again is terrifying, particularly for older women, who remember being confined to their homes.
"If they return to power in Afghanistan again, all the achievements of the past 11 years will be wiped away," said Aroozo Parwani, a 35-year-old teacher. "The doors of schools and universities will close in women's faces. The duty of Afghan women is to make large protests all over the country and say we don't want the Taliban back, or for them to have an office in Qatar."
The Taliban have changed in some ways, most obviously embracing television and other modern technology they once outlawed, to get their message across to followers and foes.
Some supporters of talks argue the group have modified their harsher attitudes to women too, while officials in Washington say the US will not broker a deal that does not protect the rights of women and minorities.
But it is hard to pin down the real policies and beliefs of a fragmented movement pushed into the shadows by the exigencies of fighting an insurgent war against a super-power and its allies, and there are fears the newfound enthusiasm for women's learning will vanish when they gain power.
"There should be concrete terms for them to demonstrate the changes," said activist Palwasha Hassan. "Girls' schools have been under attack, teachers have been killed, women leaders have been assassinated. The real change will show in stopping these actions ... we will remain concerned until the end." There are fears that deals cut in secret may undermine women, with mistrust of both the government and the Taliban negotiating teams.
These concerns were heightened after female lawmakers discovered this month that a group of conservative male colleagues had made a secret last-minute addition to a law they passed that cut dozens of government jobs for women.
"My wish is that ... they should keep the channels of negotiation as open as possible," said activist and academic Orzala Ashraf Nemat. "We deserve to know what is being negotiated on our behalf, there shouldn't be secrets. The people of Afghanistan find themselves surprised often enough."
If talks do begin in earnest, women are keen to have serious representatives at the table, not just a token female face chosen because she can be trusted not to rock the boat.
"The voices of Afghan women are missing again from the whole rhetoric," tweeted the outspoken Wazhma Frogh after talks had been announced by the US and the Taliban, and then rejected by Afghan President Hamid Karzai in a dramatic couple of days.
The focus on the Taliban office has also underlined Afghan women's desire to ensure that as the search intensifies for a negotiated end to the war, their rights are not seen as a bargaining chip that can be traded in for peace.
"Its funny to suggest that peace and women's rights are two (opposing) sides. The war is not happening because women are getting their basic rights," said Nemat. "Even if we go sit in our homes this war will not be over ... The cause of war is clear to every single person who sits around those negotiating tables, so why should we pay the price?"
India to let government officials access private phone calls and emails
Security agencies will not need court approval to access data under new surveillance programme, say sources
Reuters in New Delhi
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 20 June 2013 10.14 BST
India has launched a wide-ranging surveillance programme that will give its security agencies and even income tax officials the ability to tap directly into emails and phone calls without oversight by courts or parliament, several sources say.
The expanded surveillance in the world's most populous democracy, which the government says will help safeguard national security, has alarmed privacy advocates at a time when allegations of massive US digital snooping beyond American shores have set off a global furore.
"If India doesn't want to look like an authoritarian regime, it needs to be transparent about who will be authorised to collect data, what data will be collected, how it will be used, and how the right to privacy will be protected," said Cynthia Wong, a researcher at New-York-based Human Rights Watch.
The Central Monitoring System (CMS) was announced in 2011 but there has been no public debate and the government has said little about how it will work or how it will ensure that the system is not abused.
The government started to quietly roll the system out state by state in April this year, according to government officials. Eventually it will be able to target any of India's 900 million landline and mobile phone subscribers and 120 million internet users.
The interior ministry spokesman KS Dhatwalia said he did not have details of CMS and therefore could not comment on the privacy concerns. A spokeswoman for the telecommunications ministry, which will oversee CMS, did not respond to queries.
Indian officials said making details of the project public would limit its effectiveness as a clandestine intelligence-gathering tool.
"Security of the country is very important. All countries have these surveillance programmes," said a senior telecommunications ministry official, defending the need for a large-scale eavesdropping system like CMS.
"You can see terrorists getting caught, you see crimes being stopped. You need surveillance. This is to protect you and your country," said the official, who is directly involved in setting up the project. He did not want to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject.
The new system will allow the government to listen to and tape phone conversations, read emails and text messages, monitor posts on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn and track searches on Google of selected targets, according to interviews with two other officials involved in setting up the surveillance programme, human rights activists and cyber experts.
In 2012, India sent in 4,750 requests to Google for user data, the highest in the world after the US.
Security agencies will no longer need to seek a court order for surveillance or depend, as they do now, on internet or telephone service providers to give them the data, the government officials said.
Government intercept data servers are being built on the premises of private telecommunications firms. These will allow the government to tap into communications at will without telling the service providers, according to the officials and public documents.
The top bureaucrat in the federal interior ministry and his state-level deputies will have the power to approve requests for surveillance of specific phone numbers, emails or social media accounts, the government officials said.
While it is not unusual for governments to have equipment at telecommunication companies and service providers, they are usually required to submit warrants or be subject to other forms of independent oversight.
The senior telecommunications ministry official dismissed suggestions that India's system could be open to abuse.
"The home secretary has to have some substantial intelligence input to approve any kind of call tapping or call monitoring. He is not going to randomly decide to tape anybody's phone calls," he said.
"If at all the government reads your emails, or taps your phone, that will be done for a good reason. It is not invading your privacy, it is protecting you and your country," he said.
The government has arrested people in the past for critical social media posts, although there have been no prosecutions.
In 2010, India's Outlook news magazine accused intelligence officials of tapping telephone calls of several politicians, including a government minister. The accusations were never proved, but led to a political uproar.
India's junior minister for information technology, Milind Deora, said the new data collection system would actually improve citizens' privacy because telecommunications companies would no longer be directly involved in the surveillance – only government officials would.
"The mobile company will have no knowledge about whose phone conversation is being intercepted," Deora told a Google Hangout, an online forum, earlier this month.
Syrian refugee children left to die at roadside, charity told
Save the Children hears refugees' horrifying testimonies of hundreds of injured civilians left to their fate amid warfare
The Guardian, Thursday 20 June 2013
Injured people, including children, have been left to die by the roadside as growing numbers of families flee Syria's civil war, refugees have told Save the Children.
One refugee, Mohammed, who recently arrived in Lebanon after walking five days without food or water, in a group of 5,000, described how people hid behind thin almond trees as they came under fire.
"Hundreds of people were injured on the road, but we couldn't take them all, we had to leave them there," he told the charity. "People died on the journey, and when they did, we could not even bury them because the ground was too hard to dig a hole in. So instead we collected stones to cover their bodies."
The war in Syria, now in its third year, has left at least 93,000 people dead and forced some half a million people to flee last year. In the last six months, the numbers fleeing have more than doubled to 1.6 million, of whom 540,000 are in Jordan. Syrians are also in Turkey, Egypt and Lebanon in large numbers. More than half of all Syrian refugees are children.
The testimonies of Syrian refugees, gathered by Save the Children to mark World Refugee Day, today, bring home the brutality of the conflict within Syria and the desperate plight of civilians.
Amni, a mother of three, described how she was forced to leave behind a 12-year-old boy whose mother had been shot and killed on the first day of their flight from Syria.
"He had been hit with shrapnel on his chest and stomach … his wounds were rotten. Small insects had worked their way into his flesh.
"He couldn't move. But I couldn't carry him, I had to carry my daughter who had been shot. So we had to leave. We left him on the ground, left him to his fate. He shouted after me, begging us not to leave him. But I could not help him."
People are leaving Syria not just to escape the fighting and bombing but also sexual violence.
"Why did we leave Syria? You might think it was the bombs … but no," Roha, now in Lebanon with her six-year-old daughter, told Save the Children. "Although the bombing was very bad, we could live with it, we could survive. What we could not live with was the constant threat of sexual violence. In my street there was a young girl who was hurt like that in front of her father as punishment, and then they killed him."
Motasem, 16, said two of his cousins were killed by snipers. He said students no longer went to school because they feared schools had become targets.
"When children are injured in Syria, they die," Motasem said. "They die because there is no way to rescue them, to move them. We are surrounded. Even if we could have, there was nowhere to take them. So children died from these fragments of bombs."
Justin Forsyth, chief executive of Save the Children, said: "Ultimately the only solution to this crisis is an end to the violence in Syria, but in the meantime we urgently need to be able to reach those trapped inside Syria.. Unless we can, I am afraid we will hear more horrifying stories of children forced into ever more desperate circumstances."
The G8 countries meeting in Northern Ireland declared their support for convening peace talks for Syria, to be held in Geneva, "as soon as possible", and for a pledge of $1.5bn (£960m) in humanitarian aid. But neither move is expected to end the conflict.
June 19, 2013
While Claiming Battle Gains Against Rebels, Syria’s Assad Is Facing Currency Crisis
By RICK GLADSTONE
Even as President Bashar al-Assad of Syria is proclaiming battlefield momentum against the insurgency with the help of his Hezbollah ally, he appears to be facing a new threat: a rapidly weakening currency that has unnerved many Syrians.
The currency, the Syrian pound, fell about 30 percent in value against the dollar over the weekend, partly on news that the United States intended to arm some elements of the rebellion seeking to topple Mr. Assad.
Money traders and economists said the plunge might have been accelerated by the apparent unwillingness — or inability — of Syria’s Central Bank to halt it by buying pounds with dollars or euros, suggesting the government’s supply of foreign exchange reserves is running low.
The Central Bank governor, Adib Mayalah, announced Tuesday that to help stabilize the pound, Syria would tap into a $1 billion credit line provided by Iran. That appeared to be helping on Wednesday. But the effects of that aid are considered temporary at best, as Iran is facing its own severe financial constraints.
For Mr. Assad, a number of basic financial problems appear to be coalescing after more than two years of conflict: Western sanctions that have collapsed Syria’s main money-earning industries of oil and tourism, a near-collapse of regular commerce inside the country and the cost of fighting the insurgency, which has left more than 93,000 people dead and millions displaced.
The pound, which traded at about 70 per dollar before the uprising against Mr. Assad began in March 2011, has been eroding gradually since then and was trading at 170 per dollar last week. Money traders in Syria and the United States said it nose-dived starting last Friday and had weakened to 220 per dollar by Monday, reflecting some chaotic selling by Syrians worried that the pound could weaken further and wipe out their savings if they did not convert to dollars or euros.
Syria experts who once estimated the Central Bank had at least $17 billion in foreign exchange reserves before the conflict now believe that because of Mr. Assad’s international isolation and the cost of the war that amount has dwindled to as little as $2 billion.
“Syria’s government doesn’t have cash,” said Andrew J. Tabler, a Syria scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “They might be good at shooting people, but they’re not so good at the economic stuff.”
Others said the Central Bank’s effort this week to arrest the pound’s decline had strengthened it to about 190 per dollar by Wednesday, but they suspected the pound would resume falling.
Some were suggesting it could go to 500 to the dollar, which could cause enormous inflation problems in Syria.
A Syrian expatriate currency market trader, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he has relatives in the country, said he believed the credit line from Iran was a short-term psychological tool and might not even exist. A further strengthening of the pound would be a telling indicator.
“Unless they’re able to knock it back to 150, I would imagine it would just be a cosmetic process,” he said. “I’m personally extremely skeptical.”
In a separate possible signal of Iran’s frugality, officials of the Palestinian militant organization Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, said Wednesday that Iranian financial assistance had declined sharply in recent months. They attributed it to Hamas’s decision to break with Mr. Assad over his efforts to crush the Syria uprising.
“We are suffering from a financial crisis and we are trying to go beyond the problem,” said Ghazi Hamad, deputy minister of foreign affairs in the Hamas government.
Officials in Gaza refused to disclose figures, but experts in Gaza estimated that Iran had been channeling about $20 million a month to Gaza.
Fares Akram contributed reporting from Gaza.
Tanzania's agriculture revolution: land grabs or a welcome business boom?
Tanzania is a test case for the G8's food security alliance. But will the millions invested by agribusiness really support independent farmers and their need for tenure?
Jessica Hatcher in Iringa
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 20 June 2013 11.34 BST
Mawalima Yamba, 62, shared her husband with another woman. As the second wife she didn't stand to inherit much. When her husband became terminally ill and died, she inherited a small stretch of poor scrubland that borders an unfinished road in Iringa, western Tanzania; the fertile land went to his first wife.
There was a separate area of land that Yamba had farmed, but never expected she could own. Encouraged by her husband before he died, she applied for legal ownership. Yamba now holds title deeds to a six-acre plot of good land, where she grows pumpkins and maize.
Holding land deeds is rare in Tanzania. According to the NGO Concern, less than 10% of the population have formal certificates of ownership for the land they farm, making them vulnerable when investors begin sniffing around. Land titling means fair compensation must be paid if land belonging to individuals is appropriated. About 80% of Tanzanian land is classified as "village land" and cannot be sold to outsiders, but only 70% of communities on that land have official plans related to its use, says Concern.
Tanzania is a test case for the new alliance for food security and nutrition, an initiative launched at the G8 last year by US president Barack Obama. The scheme champions the private sector to achieve agricultural growth and lift 50 million people out of poverty by 2022. More than 40 multinationals, including Unilever, Diageo and SABMiller, have signed up to the alliance, and will invest millions of dollars in the nine African countries that have joined.
In Tanzania, G8 member states will support the government to implement the agriculture and food security investment plan. This will include mediating and attracting commitments from the private sector, and annually reviewing performance.
A key focus is the southern agricultural growth corridor of Tanzania (Sagcot), an area covering about a third of the country, earmarked for attention by the government in 2009 to develop its agricultural potential. The corridor stretches from Dar es Salaam in the east to Morogoro, Iringa, Mbeya and Sumbawanga heading west.
While the alliance could give a much needed boost to the area – 20 years ago, Iringa was the breadbasket of Tanzania – there is concern that smallholder farmers could be pushed off their land to make way for large-scale, business-backed programmes.
There is no doubt that agriculture in Tanzania needs urgent attention. About 75% of the population of 46 million people are small-scale farmers, according to the African Development Bank. Like Yamba, these farmers rely on their land for income and food, but only 6% of the government's budget is spent on agriculture.
There is a widely held view that Tanzania has plenty of available land. And it did, until the population exploded. Between 2002 and 2012 the population increased by 30%. President Jakaya Kikwete has warned that if population growth continues at the same rate, the country will struggle to provide basic services by 2016 due to "resource scarcity".
Much of the land not being used for agriculture in Iringa lacks access to water. There is a large underground aquifer that could provide supplies, but it would take a huge investment to get it working.
"Tanzania needs a revolution in its agriculture – but all the pieces needed, such as land tenure for smallholders, are not yet there," says Concern's country director, James Davey.
In Iringa, lack of information about which land will be targeted is fuelling speculation about "grabs", says Concern's deputy country director, Burton Twisa, who says local people need real information on what land is being targeted and which crops will be grown.
Concern educates people on the importance of land titling. When modern title deeds were introduced in 2001, many people couldn't understand why it was necessary as families had lived on their land for centuries. But, since 2000, African land has been increasingly targeted by investors. Almost 5% of the continent's agricultural land was bought or leased by investors between 2000 and 2010, according to estimates.
"Even on the boundaries there's no land not owned," says Emmannuel Nyang'uye, chairman of the village land committee in Ilabiole, Iringa. The population in Nyan'uye's village was less than 1,500 10 years ago. He says it is now more than double.
In Kimande, 70km north of Iringa, the only spare land is reserved for forests, and even parts of that are being chopped down, according to Philbert Kihango, the village's most senior official. He says he doesn't understand Sagcot but hopes to improve yields with machinery, a move he says people would support.
While farmers are happy to be given new tools, most do not want to give up their independent way of life – or their land. "Wages will not sustain you in the long term," says Abasi Kalesi, from Kimande, where he owns land along the Ruaha river that is rich in nutrients for growing rice.
Kalesi would happily be contracted to supply rice to larger firms through Sagcot. He'd like to see storage facilities, improved infrastructure, better seed quality, access to markets and marketing techniques. But he would not be happy to sell his land.
Sagcot has yet to roll out in any of the six clusters identified two years ago. But the people of Iringa are expectant. Yamba has been warned by her local MP not to accept any offer by an investor for her "worthless" roadside scrubland. When the new road from Iringa to Dodoma is finished, it could be worth a fortune, he says.
Nigeria makes light of scepticism about new alliance on hunger and nutrition
Nigeria's agriculture and rural development minister believes private sector involvement will be a big positive for Africa
guardian.co.uk, Monday 10 June 2013 17.01 BST
NGOs have expressed concern over the new alliance for food security and nutrition, the G8 initiative that seeks to enlist the private sector in efforts to boost African agriculture.
But Akinwumi Adesina, Nigeria's minister for agriculture and rural development, who was in London at the weekend for the nutrition summit, insists that the new alliance can work for Nigeria, and for Africa.
"For too long we have seen agriculture as a way of managing poverty, but to create wealth, you need the private sector," he said.
Nigeria, along with Benin and Malawi, are the latest countries to sign up to the new alliance, joining the original six.
Under its "co-operation framework", Nigeria will receive hundreds of millions of dollars in funding – subject to availability – from donors including the US, France, Germany and the UK. In addition, 28 companies have signed letters of intent to invest in a range of projects. Most of the companies are Nigerian, but big multinationals – including Cargill, Syngenta and Unilever – have also signed letters of intent.
Cargill, a private company and one of the dominant firms in the grain business, is investing in starch and sweeteners to realise the potential for cassava. By buying cassava from smallholder farmers and also investing in a sweetener plant, said Adesina, Cargill will be working with smallholder farmers to create a market.
"We are creating wealth for our own people," said the minister, who insisted that communities will be involved in projects and not displaced from their land. "There is no acquisiton of land for speculative purposes," he said.
Adesina added that the voluntary guidelines on responsible governance of land tenure and access rights to land, fisheries and forest resources will be ingrained in Nigeria's approach to business, not just with multinationals but also local companies.
The voluntary guidelines adopted last year by the UN's committee on world food security (CFS) were the culmination of six years of negotiations involving governments, international organisations and civil society groups brought together under the CFS umbrella. The guidelines are seen as a safeguard against "land grabs", where large tracts of land in the developing world are leased to commercial investors.
The principles cover a wide range of issues including recognition and protection of legitimate tenure rights, even under informal systems; promotion of equal rights for women in securing title to land; and the creation of transparent record-keeping systems that are accessible to the rural poor. The first annual report (pdf), released at the weekend, was unclear on whether other alliance countries were fully signed up to the voluntary guidelines.
The report said: "Strengthening the policy dialogue in each country with the close and continued involvement of both local and international private sector and civil society organisations could help shape and prioritise policy reforms that encourage responsible investments."
It does seem that a "strengthening of the policy dialogue" is needed, at least in Mozambique, which joined the alliance last year along with Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Ghana. Eric Munoz, senior policy adviser at Oxfam America, wrote in a blog:
"I have found a lack of systematic country-level civil society participation in the negotiation of co-operation framework agreements, which means that questions of risk to farmers are not being adequately addressed. In Mozambique, for example, farmers organisations, which are part of Oxfam's Grow [food justice] campaign, only learned about major changes to seed, land and fertiliser regulations at the launch event for the new alliance in that country … despite its general recognition as a key country-owned process across African countries, there are real concerns that the new alliance is operating as a parallel forum, undermining rather than reinforcing CAADP [the comprehensive Africa agriculture development programme], and that this initiative is not following the good practice guidelines developed by the CFS, including on land tenure reform."
Mark Goldring, chief executive of Oxfam GB, who attended the nutrition for growth summit on Saturday, acknowledged the importance of the private sector in developing agriculture, but insists that it is no substitute for government action, which was crucial in China and Vietnam in boosting smallholder farmers. He also believes that it should be a requirement for all companies and countries that take part in the new alliance to sign up to the voluntary guidelines.
"Nothing in the new alliance requires you to observe best practice in land rights," said Goldring. "If there is a lot of money at stake, there is a danger of abuse. The new alliance should require companies and countries to sign up to the voluntary guidelines."
Olivier De Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, said the CFS voluntary guidelines lacked an effective enforcement mechanism. He argued that governments in sub-Sahran Africa or south-east Asia with poor governance, or tainted by corruption, will continue to seek investors at all costs.
On Monday, ahead of a meeting on the right to food in Dakar, Senegal, he said: "It is essential to create legislative frameworks based on the right to food, recognised under international law, in order for the interests of the poorest, who are often smallholders, herders and fishers, to be put at the heart of national food security strategies."
Brazil protesters win U-turn on fare rises
Rio and São Paulo leaders back down on public transport fare increases in face of mass unrest
Jonathan Watts in Rio de Janeiro
The Guardian, Thursday 20 June 2013
Authorities in Brazil's two biggest cities have made a U-turn on public transport fare increases in the face of mass protests that have overshadowed the country's build up to next year's World Cup.
In advance of major demonstrations on Thursday, the leaders of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro announced that bus and subway price rises will be rescinded, but it is far from certain that this will be enough to mollify public unrest.
Although the demonstrations began on a small scale last week in opposition to the fare rises, they have spread rapidly to encompass a variety of frustrations. A quarter of a million people took to the streets in at least 12 cities on Monday to call for better public services, an end to corruption, punishment for police brutality, and less wasteful spending on the World Cup.
Sporadic protests have continued since and spread to smaller cities, occasionally resulting in violence. Among the most recent incidents was a clash on Wednesday between police and demonstrators in the north-eastern city of Fortaleza ahead of a Confederations Cup game in the city between Brazil and Mexico. The 15,000 protestors were forced back from the Castelão stadium perimeter with pepper spray, tear gas and – by one account – rubber bullets. A police car was torched and some supporters were obstructed on their way to the game.
President Dilma Rousseff has attempted to placate the protesters by declaring her government willing to listen. She also held meetings with several regional governors, urging them to step back on fare increases and to ensure police restraint.
São Paulo's mayor Fernando Haddad reluctantly accepted, but said the loss of revenue for fares would affect other areas of the budget. "This will represent a big sacrifice and we will have to reduce investments in other areas," he said.
The organisers of the demonstrators have yet to respond, but protest groups on Facebook and other social network sites that have rallied the public continue to call for "a million man march" on Thursday. There is also expected to be a protest near the Maracanã ahead of a Confederations Cup game in the afternoon.
Fifa president Sepp Blatter has called on Brazil's protesters to stop linking their demonstrations to the tournament, which is a dry run for the World Cup. "I can understand that people are not happy, but they should not use football to make their demands heard," Blatter said on Globo TV, a domestic station.
But several of Brazil's national team players have expressed their support for the demonstrators. "I see these demonstrators and I know that they are right," the forward Hulk told a press conference in Fortaleza on Tuesday. "We know Brazil needs to improve in many areas and must let the demonstrators express themselves."
Fifa's tournaments have become a focus for many demonstrators, who feel the 12 stadiums the country has built or renovated at huge cost show how public money is spent on projects that benefit construction companies and TV stations rather than hospital and schools. This argument has been eloquently expressed in English in a popular YouTube video titled "No, I'm not going to the World Cup", which has drawn more than 1.5m hits.
The video's narrator, Carla Dauden, said: "Suddenly there is all this money available to build new stadiums and the population is led to believe the World Cup is the change they need for their lives to get better. "But the truth is that most of the money from the games and the stadiums goes straight to Fifa and we don't see it so we don't get it and the money from tourists and investors goes to those who already have money." The government says the $13.3bn spending on the tournaments is also being used to improve roads, metro services, airports, communications and public security, all of which would help boost the country's economic and social development.
This point was emphasised by Blatter, who said Fifa did not impose the tournament on the hosts. "Brazil asked to host the World Cup," Blatter said. "They knew that to host a good World Cup they would naturally have to build stadiums.
"But we said that it was not just for the World Cup. Together with the stadiums there are other constructions: highways, hotels, airports … Items that are for the future. Not just for the World Cup."
He and Rousseff were booed by the crowd at the opening ceremony of the Confederations Cup on Saturday.
June 19, 2013
Brazil’s Leftist Ruling Party, Born of Protests, Is Perplexed by Revolt
By SIMON ROMERO
SÃO PAULO, Brazil — The protests were heating up on the streets of Brazil’s largest city last week, but the mayor was not in his office. He was not even in the city. He had left for Paris to try to land the 2020 World’s Fair — exactly the kind of expensive, international mega-event that demonstrators nationwide have scorned.
A week later, the mayor, Fernando Haddad, 50, was holed up in his apartment as scores of protesters rallied outside and others smashed the windows of his office building, furious that he had refused to meet with them, much less yield to their demand to revoke a contentious bus fare increase.
How such a rising star in the leftist governing party, someone whose name is often mentioned as a future presidential contender, so badly misread the national mood reflects the disconnect between a growing segment of the population and a government that prides itself on popular policies aimed at lifting millions out of poverty.
After rising to prominence on the backs of huge protests to usher in democratic leadership, the governing Workers Party now finds itself perplexed by the revolt in its midst, watching with dismay as political corruption, bad public services and the government’s focus on lifting Brazil’s international stature through events like the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics inspire outrage.
On Wednesday, tens of thousands protested outside the newly built stadium where Brazil faced off against Mexico in the Confederations Cup, as the police tried to disperse them with tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray. In what would normally be a moment of unbridled national pride, demonstrators held up placards demanding schools and hospitals at the “FIFA standard,” challenging the money Brazil is spending on the World Cup instead of on health care or the poorly financed public schools.
With support for the protests escalating — a new poll by Datafolha found that 77 percent of São Paulo residents approved of them this week, compared with 55 percent the week before — Mayor Haddad and Geraldo Alckmin, the governor from an opposition party, bowed on Wednesday night, announcing that they would cancel the bus and subway fare increases after all. Other cities, including Rio de Janeiro, pledged to do the same.
But while the fare increases might have been the spark that incited the protests, they unleashed a much broader wave of frustration against politicians from an array of parties that the government has openly acknowledged it did not see coming.
“It would be a presumption to think that we understand what is happening,” Gilberto Carvalho, a top aide to President Dilma Rousseff, told senators on Tuesday. “We need to be aware of the complexity of what is occurring.”
The swell of anger is a stunning change from the giddy celebrations that occurred in 2007, when Brazil was chosen by soccer’s governing body to host the World Cup. At the time, dozens of climbers scaled Rio de Janeiro’s Sugar Loaf Mountain, from which they hung an enormous jersey with the words “The 2014 World Cup is Ours.”
“We are a civilized nation, a nation that is going through an excellent phase, and we have got everything prepared to receive adequately the honor to organize an excellent World Cup,” Ricardo Teixeira, then the president of the Brazilian Football Confederation, said at the time.
Since then, the sentiment surrounding Brazil’s preparations for the World Cup, and much else overseen by the government, has shifted. Mr. Teixeira himself resigned last year, under a cloud of corruption allegations, and while the Brazilian government says it is spending about $12 billion on preparing for the World Cup, most of the stadiums are over budget, according to the government’s own audits court.
The sheen that once clung to the Workers Party has also been tarnished by a vast vote-buying scheme called the mensalão, or big monthly allowance, in a nod to the regular payments some lawmakers received. The scandal resulted in the recent conviction of several of high-ranking officials, including a party president and a chief of staff for Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who was a popular Brazilian president.
“There’s been a democratic explosion on the streets,” said Marcos Nobre, a professor at the University of Campinas. “The Workers Party thinks it represents all of the progressive elements in the country, but they’ve been power now for a decade. They’ve done a lot, but they’re now the establishment.”
The economic growth that once propelled Brazil’s global ambitions has slowed considerably, and inflation, a scourge for decades until the mid-1990s, has re-emerged as a worry for many Brazilians.
But expectations among Brazilians remain high, thanks in large part to the government’s own success at diminishing inequality and raising living standards for millions over the last decade. The number of university students doubled from 2000 to 2011, according to Marcelo Ridenti, a prominent sociologist.
“This generates huge changes in society, including changes in expectations among young people,” he said. “They expect to get not only jobs, but good jobs.”
Unemployment is still at historical lows — partly because of the very stadiums and other construction projects that have become the source of such ire among some protesters. But well-paying jobs remain out of reach for many college graduates, who see a sharp difference between their prospects and those of political leaders.
“I think our politicians get too much money,” said Amanda Marques, 23, a student, referring not to graft but to their salaries.
Earlier this year, Mr. Alckmin, the governor, announced that he was giving himself and thousands of other public employees a raise of more than 10 percent; his own salary should climb to about $10,000 a month as a result. High salaries for certain public employees have long been a festering source of resentment in Brazil, with some officials earning well more than counterparts in rich industrialized nations.
Both Mr. Alckmin and Mr. Haddad followed the protests together in Paris last week on their smartphones. But at the time, Mr. Alckmin dismissed the protests as the equivalent to a routine strike by air traffic controllers in Paris, something “that happens.”
“What has to be done is be strong and stand firm to avoid excesses,” he told reporters then, before the protests had spread on the streets of São Paulo and dozens of other cities across Brazil.
By this week, it was clear how thoroughly officials had miscalculated. At one point on Tuesday night, protesters tried to break into the Municipal Theater, where operagoers were watching Stravinsky’s “Rake’s Progress.” The doors to the elegant theater remained shut and as the show went on, they spray-painted the outside of the recently renovated structure with the words “Set Fire to the Bourgeoisie.”
William Neuman contributed reporting from São Paulo; and Andrew Downie from Recife.
UN warns of worst refugee crisis in nearly 20 years
Conflicts in Syria, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mali push number of displaced people to more than 45 million
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 19 June 2013 11.26 BST
The world is in the throes of its most serious refugee crisis for almost 20 years, as conflicts in Syria, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mali have forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes, the UN's refugee agency has said.
In its global trends report (pdf), UNHCR said more than 45.2 million people were displaced last year, the largest number since 1994. This includes 15.4 million refugees, 937,000 asylum seekers, and 28.8 million internally displaced people (IDPs) – those forced to find refuge within the borders of their own countries.
"These truly are alarming numbers. They reflect individual suffering on a huge scale and they reflect the difficulties of the international community in preventing conflicts and promoting timely solutions for them," said António Guterres, UN high commissioner for refugees and head of UNHCR.
The number of 28.8 million IDPs is the highest level in more than two decades, mainly because of the war in Syria. The three-year conflict, which has claimed 90,000 lives, has led to 4.25 million Syrians being internally displaced and more than 1.6 million refugees, concentrated in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Last week the UN launched its biggest appeal – $5bn (£3.2bn) – as it warned that half of Syria's population will need humanitarian aid by the end of the year.
Globally, 7.6 million people fled their homes last year, of whom 1.1 million were refugees and 6.5 million internally displaced. This is equivalent to a new refugee or internally displaced person every 4.1 seconds.
African countries have emerged as pioneers in addressing the problem of IDPs. In December, the Kampala convention, the world's first legally binding instrument to outline the obligations of governments to protect and assist IDPs, came into force.
Signed, although not necessarily ratified, by 37 of the 53 members of the African Union, the convention binds governments to provide legal protection for the rights and wellbeing of those forced to flee within their countries because of conflict, violence, natural disasters or development projects.
Under the convention, governments must gather data and identify IDPs to understand where they are and what they need, provide personal identification documents, trace families and help reunite them, and consult IDPs in decisions on their needs.
Children under 18 comprise 46% of refugees. A record 21,300 asylum applications submitted during 2012 were from children unaccompanied or separated from their parents.
Countries bearing the biggest burden of refugees tend to be in the developing world. Pakistan last year continued to host more refugees than any other country (1.6 million), followed by Iran (868,200) and Germany (589,700). Developing countries host 8.5 million refugees (81% of the world's total compared with 70% a decade ago).
Afghanistan remains the largest source of refugees, a position it has held for 32 years. One in four refugees worldwide is Afghan, with 95% located in Pakistan or Iran. Somalia, another war-ravaged country, was the second-largest source of refugees in 2012, although the rate of outflow has slowed as the country has stabilised. Iraqis were the third-largest refugee group (746,700), followed by Syrians (471,400).
As for solutions, voluntary repatriation provides the most durable response, followed by local integration and resettlement to a third country, although this option is open to few refugees.
According to the report: "Voluntary repatriation is the durable solution for the largest number or refugees. It requires the commitment of the country of origin to protect and to reintegrate its own citizens back into their home communities."
Over the past 10 years, 7.2 million refugees were repatriated, but only 836,500 were resettled. Last year, more than 500,000 were able to return home. The main countries of return were Afghanistan, Iraq, Ivory Coast and Syria. Most of the Afghans and Iraqis had been in exile for many years before their return. Of the repatriating Syrian and Ivorian refugees, most returned after only one or two years in exile, but with the prospects for continued violence in Syria and DRC, returns to these countries are likely to be poor.
The world's four largest refugee camps are in Kenya, known collectively as Dadaab, home to about 500,000 refugees. Nyaragusu camp in Tanzania is the world's fifth-largest camp, home to 68,100 refugees, mainly from DRC.
World’s poorest will feel brunt of climate change, warns World Bank
By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian
Wednesday, June 19, 2013 22:02 EDT
Millions of people around the world are likely to be pushed back into poverty because climate change is undermining economic development in poor countries, the World Bank has warned.
Droughts, floods, heatwaves, sea-level rises and fiercer storms are likely to accompany increasing global warming and will cause severe hardship in areas that are already poor or were emerging from poverty, the bank said in a report.
Food shortages will be among the first consequences within just two decades, along with damage to cities from fiercer storms and migration as people try to escape the effects.
In sub-Saharan Africa, increasing droughts and excessive heat are likely to mean that within about 20 years the staple crop maize will no longer thrive in about 40% of current farmland. In other parts of the region rising temperatures will kill or degrade swaths of the savanna used to graze livestock, according to the report, Turn down the heat: climate extremes, regional impacts and the case for resilience.
In south-east Asia, events such as the devastating floods in Pakistan in 2010, which affected 20 million people, could become commonplace, while changes to the monsoon could bring severe hardship to Indian farmers.
Warming of at least 2C (36F) – regarded by scientists as the limit of safety beyond which changes to the climate are likely to become catastrophic and irreversible – is all but inevitable on current levels, and the efforts of governments are limited to trying to prevent temperature rises passing over this threshold. But many parts of the world are already experiencing severe challenges as a result of climate change, according to the World Bank, and this will intensify as temperatures rise.
Jim Yong Kim, the bank’s president, warned that climate change should not be seen as a future problem that could be put off: “The scientists tell us that if the world warms by 2C – warming which may be reached in 20 to 30 years – that will cause widespread food shortages, unprecedented heatwaves, and more intense cyclones.
“In the near-term, climate change – which is already unfolding – could batter the slums even more and greatly harm the lives and hopes of individuals and families who have had little hand in raising the Earth’s temperature.”
The development bank is stepping up its funding for countries to adapt to the effects of climate change, and is calling for rich countries to make greater efforts at cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
Rachel Kyte, vice president of the World Bank, said it had doubled its aid for adaptation from $2.3bn (£1.47bn) in 2011 to $4.6bn last year, and called for a further doubling. She said the bank was working to tie its disaster aid and climate change adaptation funding closer together.
Aid from the bank to help poor countries cut their greenhouse gas emissions and pursue environmentally sustainable economic development stands at about $7bn a year, and is backed by about $20bn from regional development banks and other partners.
The report’s authors used the latest climate science to examine the likely effects of global warming of 2C to 4C on agriculture, water resources, coastal ecosystems and fisheries, and cities, across sub-Saharan Africa, south and south-east Asia.
Kyte said the effects would be to magnify the problems that developing regions experience. More people would be pushed into slums, with an increased risk of disease. “We are looking at major new initiatives [in] cities; cities need billions of investment in infrastructure, but many developing cities are not really creditworthy,” she said.
She pointed to Jakarta, where rising sea levels and decades of pumping freshwater from underground sources beneath and around the city were increasing its vulnerability to flooding. Choices would need to be made soon in many cities on how to stem the likely effects, but Kyte warned that the plans must be future-proof, citing Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, which has been forced to rethink its flood preparations despite spending $2bn on them.
Green campaigners emphasised the need to try to avoid 2C of warming, which scientists stay is possible if countries bolster their ambitions to cut greenhouse gas ambitions in the near future.
Stephanie Tunmore, climate campaigner at Greenpeace International, said: “Fossil fuels are being extracted in burned in the name of development and prosperity, but what they are delivering is the opposite.
“Some major impacts from climate change are already unavoidable and rich countries must urgently support the poor and vulnerable to adapt. But massive increases in the future costs of adaptation and damage can only be avoided by investing in a clean energy future now.”
The World Bank has come under fire in the past for funding coal-fired power plants in some developing countries. However, it said the move was the result of old policies and was being phased out.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
European space agency enlists Russia to search for life on Mars
Wednesday, June 19, 2013 14:36 EDT
By Irene Klotz
PARIS (Reuters) – The European Space Agency signed final contracts with Thales Alenia Space Italy for work on a pair of missions to assess if the planet Mars has or ever had life, officials said at the Paris Airshow this week.
Until last year, the ExoMars program was a joint project between ESA and the U.S. space agency NASA. But NASA dropped out, citing budget problems.
The Russian space agency Roscosmos stepped in to provide two Proton rockets to send an orbiting atmospheric probe and test lander to Mars in January 2016, and a follow-on rover in August 2018 that will drill below the planet’s surface to look for spores and bacteria.
Roscosmos also is providing a landing system for the rover and scientific instruments.
“It took some time, some energy, some efforts from a lot of different parties. It was not easy to move from an ESA-NASA cooperation to an ESA-Roscosmos cooperation,” Jean-Jacques Dordain, head of ESA, told reporters after signing a 230 million euros ($300 million) contract with Thales Alenia.
Thales Alenia, selected as the ExoMars prime contractor five years ago, plans to spend 146 million euros on the 2016 orbiter and lander. The satellite is being designed to search the thin Martian atmosphere for telltale gases associated with biological activity. It also will serve as the key communications relay for the 2018 rover.
The lander primarily is intended to test the technologies needed to touch down on Mars, a notoriously difficult task that has bedeviled nearly all of Russia’s previous efforts and has given NASA trouble as well. The United States currently has two operational rovers on Mars, Curiosity and Opportunity.
After pulling out of the ExoMars program, NASA said it would send a second Curiosity-type rover to Mars in 2020.
The rest of the ExoMars budget will be spent on the 2018 rover, a mission that will make the first direct search for life since NASA’s 1970s-era Viking landers.
Instead of sampling the planet’s radiation-blasted surface as the Viking probes did, the ExoMars rover will use a radar sounder to search for subterranean water and then drill down about 6 feet for samples that will be processed through onboard laboratories.
“If there is any life and if we discover it, it will be unambiguous,” said Vincenzo Giorgo, Thales Alenia’s vice president of exploration and space. “On Viking everybody thought, ‘We found it, we found it,’ but then nobody could prove it.”
Thales Alenia Space is a joint venture owned 67 percent by France’s Thales and 33 percent by Italy’s Finmeccanica.
(Reporting by Irene Klotz; Editing by John Wallace)
NASA Cassini probe to photograph Earth from 898 million miles away
By Stuart Clark The Guardian
Wednesday, June 19, 2013 14:50 EDT
Nasa’s Cassini spacecraft will take an image of Earth from 1.44bn kilometres away. From there, our planet will look like the expected images of alien earths around other stars
Nasa takes pictures of Earth all the time – but not like this. The Cassini spacecraft is in orbit around Saturn, and so is currently 1.44bn kilometres away. From that distance, Earth is only going to appear as a pixel or two across.
The image, which will be taken on 19 July at around 10:30pm BST, will show our whole, living breathing world of six billion inhabitants, as a single point of light.
It is expected that the Earth will look like a “pale, blue dot”. This was the phrase used to describe an image of Earth taken in 1990 from even further away. The Voyager 1 spacecraft was 6bn kilometres away, roughly the distance to Pluto’s orbit, when it took pictures of most of the planets in the solar system.
Because of Earth’s predominant oceans, the planet appeared as a pale blue dot but was difficult to pick out on the final image.
This attempt should provide something more photogenic. The great ringed world of Saturn will be eclipsing the Sun so its rings will be visible but the great bulk of the planet itself will be in silhouette. Earth will appear to the bottom right of the ring system.
A pale blue dot is what we should expect the first picture of a habitable planet around another star to look like. Although all surface details will be lost in such a confined image area, it will retain a lot of information that can be extracted.
Since 2005, the European Space Agency’s Venus Express spacecraft has been turning its instruments back on Earth while in orbit around Venus. Across the gulf of space, the VIRTIS instrument registers enough light to tell the chemical composition of Earth’s atmosphere. Such studies will be vitally important to tell whether a newly discovered planet world has a breathable atmosphere.
An earlier attempt to do this was made by Carl Sagan using Nasa’s Jupiter-bound spacecraft Galileo during its flyby of Earth in 1990. The subsequent results were published in a Nature paper, cheekily titled, “A search for life on Earth from the Galileo spacecraft”.
Cassini has imaged Earth from Saturn twice before, in 2006 and in 2012. This time, however, is different because it will be the first time with a visible light camera.
This will show us what our eye would see if we were in a spacecraft at Saturn, looking back towards home. North America and part of the Atlantic Ocean will be in view at the time, although impossible to discern.
In a press release announcing the attempt, Nasa invited the public to acknowledge the event by waving at the planet when the photo is being taken. Hmmm. Did somebody just say cheese?
Stuart Clark is the author of Voyager: 101 Wonders Between Earth and the Edge of the Cosmos (Atlantic).
© Guardian News and Media 2013
[Ligeia Mare, shown here in a false-color image from NASA's Cassini mission, is the second largest known body of liquid on Saturn's moon Titan.]
Study of Siberian cave reveals permafrost could thaw within decades
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, June 19, 2013 13:47 EDT
Areas of permafrost could start to thaw within decades, freeing long-stored greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, according to a study released on Wednesday that measured ancient stalagmites in a Siberian cave.
Continuous permafrost — land that is frozen all year round — starts to thaw when temperatures rise around 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, its authors said.
Earth has already warmed by around 0.8 C (1.4 F) since the start of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-18th century, and on current trends, the threshold could be reached “within 10-30 years,” they said.
“An urgent global effort (in) reducing emissions of greenhouse gases is required,” they warned.
A team led by Gideon Henderson at Oxford University’s Department of Earth Sciences looked at speleothems — stalagmites and stalactites — at Ledyanaya Lenskya cave near Lensk, eastern Siberia.
Speleothems grow when water from the surface seeps through the roof of the cave.
Caves themselves are usually at about the same temperature as the mean average air temperature at the surface.
Thus when the surface temperature drops below zero C, the ground freezes and there is no water seepage to promote the growth of speleothems.
As a result, speleothems in permafrost regions are faithful recorders of when their region was frozen and when it was above freezing, with traces of uranium and lead isotopes providing the pointers in time as to when these periods occurred.
The evidence from Ledyanaya Lenskaya suggests that its speleotherms grew substantially around 945,000 years ago, and again around 400,000 years ago.
Those bursts of permafrost thaw coincide with periods when Earth’s surface warmed by 1.5 C (2.7 F) in relation to the pre-industrial benchmark, with a margin of error of 0.5 C (0.9 F), according to the research.
The study will be presented at the Geological Society of London on June 27, the society said in a press release.
The state of the permafrost is a big question in climate science.
Nearly a quarter of the northern hemisphere’s land surface is permafrost, sequestrating an estimated 1,700 billion tonnes of carbon gas from vegetation that died millions of years ago.
If this land starts to thaw, the locked-up gas is released to the atmosphere, which adds to global warming emitted by fossil fuels, according to a much-feared scenario.
This in turn causes more permafrost to melt, emitting more gas, creating a vicious circle, which in scientific terms is called a positive feedback.
UN members have pledged to limit warming to 2 C (3.8 F) under a pact that would be agreed by 2015 and take effect by 2020.
On Wednesday, a report by the World Bank said there was a growing likelihood of 4 C (7.2 F) or even more by 2100, “in the absence of near-term actions and further commitments” on carbon emissions.
In the USA...
FBI director admits using surveillance drones on U.S. soil
Wednesday, June 19, 2013 18:28 EDT
By David Ingram
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States uses drones for surveillance in some limited law enforcement situations, FBI Director Robert Mueller said on Wednesday, sparking additional debate about President Barack Obama’s use of domestic surveillance.
The acknowledgement came in response to questions from U.S. senators who said they wanted to know more about the federal government’s increasing use of unmanned aircraft.
“Does the FBI use drones for surveillance on U.S. soil?” Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa asked during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
“Yes,” Mueller said, adding that the use was in “a very, very minimal way and very seldom.”
Mueller did not go into detail, but the FBI later released a statement that said unmanned aircraft were used only to watch stationary subjects and to avoid serious risks to law enforcement agents. The Federal Aviation Administration approves each use, the statement said.
The FBI used a drone during a hostage-taking in Alabama this year after a gunman, Jimmy Lee Dykes, snatched a boy off a school bus and held him in an underground bunker, according to the statement.
The U.S. government has made no secret of its use of drones to monitor the United States border with Mexico.
The Obama administration has been defending its surveillance tactics since former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden released secret documents revealing a massive database of daily telephone records, as well as coordination between the NSA and social media companies.
The programs are designed to target militants outside the United States who are suspected of planning attacks, but they inevitably gather some data on Americans, U.S. officials said.
In a May speech, Obama defended the use of armed drones abroad but said the United States should never deploy armed drones over U.S. soil.
The Justice Department had disclosed that two domestic law enforcement agencies use unmanned aircraft systems, according to a department statement sent to the Judiciary Committee and released on Wednesday by Grassley’s office. The two are the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Grassley sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday asking why the Justice Department did not earlier mention the FBI’s use of drones.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California said she was concerned about the privacy implications of drone surveillance.
“The greatest threat to the privacy of Americans is the drone and the use of the drone, and the very few regulations that are on it today,” Feinstein said.
Mueller reiterated that drone use is rare. “It is very narrowly focused on particularized cases and particularized needs,” he said.
Mueller is due to retire when his term expires in September.
(Reporting by David Ingram; Editing by Howard Goller and Stacey Joyce)
June 19, 2013
F.B.I. Director Warns Against Dismantling Surveillance Program
By CHARLIE SAVAGE
WASHINGTON — Robert S. Mueller III, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, warned Wednesday that dismantling the National Security Agency’s once-secret program that is keeping records of billions of domestic phone calls by Americans would slow down investigators as they seek to stop terrorist attacks.
Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mr. Mueller addressed a proposal to require telephone companies to retain calling logs for five years — the period the N.S.A. is keeping them — for investigators to consult, rather than allowing the government to collect and store them all. He cautioned that it would take time to subpoena the companies for numbers of interest and get the answers back.
“The point being that it will take an awful long time,” Mr. Mueller said.
Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the director of the N.S.A., had hinted at a House hearing on Tuesday that he was evaluating changes to the domestic calling log program and that he would eventually report back to Congress on the advantages and disadvantages of changing it. He also raised the issue of “speed in crisis” as a major detractor.
In his testimony, Mr. Mueller provided more details about why national security officials were reluctant to take such a step. First, he said, under current law companies are not required to retain such records, and some dispose of them much sooner than five years. Second, rather than being able to instantly query the complete database to see who a suspect has been in contact with, he said, investigators would have to present legal paperwork to a half-dozen carriers and wait for them to gather and provide the records.
“In this particular area, where you’re trying to prevent terrorist attacks, what you want is that information as to whether or not that number in Yemen is in contact with somebody in the United States almost instantaneously so you can prevent that attack,” he said. “You cannot wait three months, six months, a year to get that information, be able to collate it and put it together. Those are the concerns I have about an alternative way of handling this.”
Mr. Mueller did not explain why it would take so long for telephone companies to respond to a subpoena for calling data linked to a particular number, especially in a national security investigation.
Lawmakers also pressed Mr. Mueller to explain what attacks, if any, have been prevented by the N.S.A. program, which came to light following recent leaks by Edward J. Snowden, a former N.S.A. contractor.
Mr. Mueller referred — but in greater detail than had been provided at Tuesday’s hearing — to newly declassified information linking the program to a case in which several men in San Diego were discovered to have sent about $8,500 to Al Shabab, a terrorist group in Somalia.
Specifically, he said, the N.S.A. identified a terrorist-linked phone number in East Africa and decided to run the number against the domestic calls database, discovering that the suspect number had been in contact with a telephone number in San Diego. Investigators then used other legal authorities to obtain the name and address of the person who used the line in San Diego, and then obtained an individual warrant to start monitoring that line.
“That is one case where you have 215 standing by itself,” he said, referring to Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the statute that a secret court ruling has said permits the vast collection of calling logs.
The domestic call log program, which vacuums up “metadata” like which numbers were in contact, and the time and duration of the calls, began as one of the Bush administration’s post- Sept. 11 surveillance programs, without court oversight or statutory authorization.
It later was brought under the authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and rooted to a provision of the Patriot Act that allows the F.B.I. to obtain business records “relevant” to a counterterrorism investigation.
Under recently declassified procedures, the N.S.A. may only consult the database about numbers for which there is reasonable suspicion to believe they are linked to terrorism, and such consultations are audited. Fewer than 300 such numbers were the basis of inquiries in 2012, the agency has said.
Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was not satisfied with that example, asking, “Is it possible to say how many where 215 has been critical? Because we’re talking about billions of phone numbers. How many?”
Mr. Mueller said there had been “anywhere from 10 to 12 where 215 was important in some way, shape or form,” although it was not “instrumental” in all of them, as it was in the San Diego case.
But he warned that counterterrorism investigators need such tools to connect the dots, adding that Congress should decide whether the domestic calling log database program should be retained.
“What concerns me is you never know which dot is going to be key,” he said. “What you want is as many dots as you can. If you close down a program like this, you are removing dots from the playing field,” he said. “Now, you know, it may make that decision that it’s not worth it. But let there be no mistake about it. There will be fewer dots out there to connect” in trying to prevent the next terrorist attack.
Michael S. Schmidt contributed reporting.
June 19, 2013
Silicon Valley and Spy Agency Bound by Strengthening Web
By JAMES RISEN and NICK WINGFIELD
WASHINGTON — When Max Kelly, the chief security officer for Facebook, left the social media company in 2010, he did not go to Google, Twitter or a similar Silicon Valley concern. Instead the man who was responsible for protecting the personal information of Facebook’s more than one billion users from outside attacks went to work for another giant institution that manages and analyzes large pools of data: the National Security Agency.
Mr. Kelly’s move to the spy agency, which has not previously been reported, underscores the increasingly deep connections between Silicon Valley and the agency and the degree to which they are now in the same business. Both hunt for ways to collect, analyze and exploit large pools of data about millions of Americans.
The only difference is that the N.S.A. does it for intelligence, and Silicon Valley does it to make money.
The disclosure of the spy agency’s program called Prism, which is said to collect the e-mails and other Web activity of foreigners using major Internet companies like Google, Yahoo and Facebook, has prompted the companies to deny that the agency has direct access to their computers, even as they acknowledge complying with secret N.S.A. court orders for specific data.
Yet technology experts and former intelligence officials say the convergence between Silicon Valley and the N.S.A. and the rise of data mining — both as an industry and as a crucial intelligence tool — have created a more complex reality.
Silicon Valley has what the spy agency wants: vast amounts of private data and the most sophisticated software available to analyze it. The agency in turn is one of Silicon Valley’s largest customers for what is known as data analytics, one of the valley’s fastest-growing markets. To get their hands on the latest software technology to manipulate and take advantage of large volumes of data, United States intelligence agencies invest in Silicon Valley start-ups, award classified contracts and recruit technology experts like Mr. Kelly.
“We are all in these Big Data business models,” said Ray Wang, a technology analyst and chief executive of Constellation Research, based in San Francisco. “There are a lot of connections now because the data scientists and the folks who are building these systems have a lot of common interests.”
Although Silicon Valley has sold equipment to the N.S.A. and other intelligence agencies for a generation, the interests of the two began to converge in new ways in the last few years as advances in computer storage technology drastically reduced the costs of storing enormous amounts of data — at the same time that the value of the data for use in consumer marketing began to rise. “These worlds overlap,” said Philipp S. Krüger, chief executive of Explorist, an Internet start-up in New York.
The sums the N.S.A. spends in Silicon Valley are classified, as is the agency’s total budget, which independent analysts say is $8 billion to $10 billion a year.
Despite the companies’ assertions that they cooperate with the agency only when legally compelled, current and former industry officials say the companies sometimes secretly put together teams of in-house experts to find ways to cooperate more completely with the N.S.A. and to make their customers’ information more accessible to the agency. The companies do so, the officials say, because they want to control the process themselves. They are also under subtle but powerful pressure from the N.S.A. to make access easier.
Skype, the Internet-based calling service, began its own secret program, Project Chess, to explore the legal and technical issues in making Skype calls readily available to intelligence agencies and law enforcement officials, according to people briefed on the program who asked not to be named to avoid trouble with the intelligence agencies.
Project Chess, which has never been previously disclosed, was small, limited to fewer than a dozen people inside Skype, and was developed as the company had sometimes contentious talks with the government over legal issues, said one of the people briefed on the project. The project began about five years ago, before most of the company was sold by its parent, eBay, to outside investors in 2009. Microsoft acquired Skype in an $8.5 billion deal that was completed in October 2011.
A Skype executive denied last year in a blog post that recent changes in the way Skype operated were made at the behest of Microsoft to make snooping easier for law enforcement. It appears, however, that Skype figured out how to cooperate with the intelligence community before Microsoft took over the company, according to documents leaked by Edward J. Snowden, a former contractor for the N.S.A. One of the documents about the Prism program made public by Mr. Snowden says Skype joined Prism on Feb. 6, 2011.
Microsoft executives are no longer willing to affirm statements, made by Skype several years ago, that Skype calls could not be wiretapped. Frank X. Shaw, a Microsoft spokesman, declined to comment.
In its recruiting in Silicon Valley, the N.S.A. sends some of its most senior officials to lure the best of the best. No less than Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the agency’s director and the chief of the Pentagon’s Cyber Command, showed up at one of the world’s largest hacker conferences in Las Vegas last summer, looking stiff in an uncharacteristic T-shirt and jeans, to give the keynote speech. His main purpose at Defcon, the conference, was to recruit hackers for his spy agency.
N.S.A. badges are often seen on the lapels of officials at other technology and information security conferences. “They’re very open about their interest in recruiting from the hacker community,” said Jennifer Granick, the director of civil liberties at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society.
But perhaps no one embodies the tightening relationship between the N.S.A. and the valley more than Kenneth A. Minihan.
A career Air Force intelligence officer, Mr. Minihan was the director of the N.S.A. during the Clinton administration until his retirement in the late 1990s, and then he ran the agency’s outside professional networking organization. Today he is managing director of Paladin Capital Group, a venture capital firm based in Washington that in part specializes in financing start-ups that offer high-tech solutions for the N.S.A. and other intelligence agencies. In effect, Mr. Minihan is an advanced scout for the N.S.A. as it tries to capitalize on the latest technology to analyze and exploit the vast amounts of data flowing around the world and inside the United States.
The members of Paladin’s strategic advisory board include Richard C. Schaeffer Jr., a former N.S.A. executive. While Paladin is a private firm, the American intelligence community has its own in-house venture capital company, In-Q-Tel, financed by the Central Intelligence Agency to invest in high-tech start-ups.
Many software technology firms involved in data analytics are open about their connections to intelligence agencies. Gary King, a co-founder and chief scientist at Crimson Hexagon, a start-up in Boston, said in an interview that he had given talks at C.I.A. headquarters in Langley, Va., about his company’s social media analytics tools.
The future holds the prospect of ever greater cooperation between Silicon Valley and the N.S.A. because data storage is expected to increase at an annual compound rate of 53 percent through 2016, according to the International Data Corporation.
“We reached a tipping point, where the value of having user data rose beyond the cost of storing it,” said Dan Auerbach, a technology analyst with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an electronic privacy group in San Francisco. “Now we have an incentive to keep it forever.”
Social media sites in the meantime are growing as voluntary data mining operations on a scale that rivals or exceeds anything the government could attempt on its own. “You willingly hand over data to Facebook that you would never give voluntarily to the government,” said Bruce Schneier, a technologist and an author.
James Risen reported from Washington, and Nick Wingfield from Seattle. Kitty Bennett contributed reporting.
Forget the GOP, House Republicans Are Rebranding Wombs
By: Crissie Brown
Jun. 19th, 2013
Yesterday House Republicans proved they’ve had more than enough of that rebranding nonsense, thankyouverymuch.
Yes, it was pure political theater, because President Obama already announced he would veto House Resolution 1797, the so-called “fetal pain” bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks. The president won’t have to veto it, as the companion bill offered by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) stands no chance of passing. But similar bills have been offered in state legislatures across the country, as Guttmacher Institute policy analyst Elizabeth Nash told the New York Times:
These laws are flying through. The attention has really been at the state level around abortion issues. Now what you also see at the federal level is very disturbing, and it shows that abortion opponents are very emboldened.
These bills openly defy the Supreme Court’s holding in Roe v. Wade that states cannot unduly restrict a woman’s health care choices before the point of fetal viability, for which data show the 50% survival rate is 24 weeks. Most women don’t know they’re pregnant until they’re several weeks along, and the hormones that home pregnancy tests detect peak at 7-10 weeks after implantation.
That’s a narrow window, and Republicans want to narrow it still more by invoking the junk science of ‘fetal pain’ in the second trimester. While most researchers agree that the parts of the brain that register physical pain are not mature until 24-26 weeks, Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) says he’s seen sonograms with male fetuses with their hands Down There at just 15 weeks.
And if a male fetus has its hands Down There, then said fetus must be Walking Willy Up The Hill … so mom is now an incubator.
Alternatively, fetuses – male and female – reach and kick randomly until their brains develop enough to control movement. But why let neurological development get in the way of male privilege?
And that’s what this is about. These are the same Republicans who refuse to appoint members to the Independent Payment Advisory Board – a panel of medical experts created by Obamacare to report on health care costs and most effective treatments, but explicitly barred from denying or rationing care – because they say the IPAB would be “standing between you and your doctor.”
So government standing between a patient and a doctor is bad … unless the patient is a woman and her doctor performs abortions. Then government standing between a patient and a doctor, and even requiring the doctor to perform a trans-vaginal ultrasound that the woman neither needs nor wants, is just fine.
We can’t have medical experts reviewing treatment histories and reporting that Profytyx, while lucrative for the drug company that created it, does nothing to improve patient outcomes. That would be Big Government Run Amok. But politicians forcing women to have probes shoved up their Down Theres – based on junk science – is Government Ensuring Informed Consent.
House Republicans want government small enough to fit in your womb. And we need to make sure women remember that in 2014.
Thanks to Obamacare Healthcare Costs Fell for First Time in Almost 40 Years
By: Sarah Jones
Jun. 19th, 2013
This is a BFD. Consumer healthcare costs fell in May for the first time in almost 40 years.
The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that U.S. consumers’ health-care costs fell in May for the first time in almost four decades,”The latest evidence that government policies and an expansion in generic drugs are holding back prices.”
Analysts attributed the falling costs to ObamaCare constraining government payments to doctors and hospitals, which they say is tricking down to consumers.
Alec Phillips, a Goldman Sachs GS -0.50% economist who follows health care trends, told the WSJ, “The slowing of healthcare inflation right now seems to be driven by onset of new policies. That is probably going to be a temporary factor.”
He explained that costs may rise in the next year, but a Pricewaterhouse Coopers report pointed out that provisions not yet implemented in the Affordable Care Act could help contain costs next year, “supporting proponents’ views that the law will push down costs in the long run.”
Ironically, analysts say other factors are contributing to the slowdown, for example, consumers are bearing more responsibility for the costs which makes them shop around more, which drives the prices down. In other words, the competitive market created by ObamaCare is working.
Randall Ellis, a professor of health-care economics at Boston University, explained to the Journal, “I think this is a longer-term trend. It appears that the reforms will stick and health-care exchanges and other policies will bring competitive pressure to markets.”
Conservatives call this the “free market”. This aspect of ACA was taken directly from conservative ideology, yet Republicans made ObamaCare their number one enemy and continue to waste taxpayer money trying to repeal it, while offering no alternative for the millions of uninsured. Those who already have insurance used to fund the uninsured via higher costs passed down to them due to the uninsured using emergency rooms for routine medical care. So this system implements a fairer disbursement of costs, and makes people accountable for their own medical care.
ObamaCare faces numerous challenges in implementation, and we should expect tweaks to be made along the way. But one of the reasons the law was so “long” (which allegedly prohibited Republicans from allowing their well paid legislative aides to read it) was precisely because lawmakers did their best to address the many issues such a huge change would create.
Recently debunked Republican scandal monger Darrell Issa (R-CA) jumped on a report issued Wednesday by U.S. Government Accountability Office that the computer systems to help Americans gain coverage on the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges may not be ready on time. Naturally, he sees only gloom and doom, “This law has been unpopular and unwieldy every step of the way. We are seeing a rollout marred by missed deadlines and incomplete programs.”
Perhaps if Republican governors around the country had started implementing the changes when they were required by law to do so, instead of waiting for the results of the 2012 election, things would be moving forward more quickly. But also, the healthcare plan is not nearly as unpopular as Republicans pretend it is. In fact, buried in the early polls they often cite was the fact that some people didn’t like it because it didn’t go far enough. They wanted universal healthcare, like many civilized nations enjoy.
The economy is improving, the deficit has been reduced by a rate not seen since Eisenhower, and now ObamaCare is using the free market to drive down prices. Sure, the path won’t be unfettered. But progress is being made, and the real BFD is this: Once again, a Democrat has taken the mantle of fiscal responsibility while Republicans sat sucking their thumbs over lost elections.
Republicans could have had a part in ObamaCare, and could have claimed some victory if only they had been willing to participate in the process. They chose to make it their enemy, and sit on the sidelines instead of engaging in the vigorous debate of ideas so essential to democracy. Luckily for us, President Obama sought input from willing experts and he ended up embracing part of a Republican idea in order to help the people.
June 19, 2013
Obama Readying Emissions Limits on Power Plants
By JOHN M. BRODER
WASHINGTON — President Obama is preparing regulations limiting carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants, senior officials said Wednesday. The move would be the most consequential climate policy step he could take and one likely to provoke legal challenges from Republicans and some industries.
Electric power plants are the largest single source of global warming pollution in the country, responsible for nearly 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. With sweeping climate legislation effectively dead in Congress, the decision on existing power plants — which a 2007 Supreme Court decision gave to the executive branch — has been among the most closely watched of Mr. Obama’s second term.
The administration has already begun steps to restrict climate-altering emissions from any newly built power plants, but imposing carbon standards on the existing utility fleet would be vastly more costly and contentious.
The president is preparing to move soon because rules as complex as those applying to power plants can take years to complete. Experts say that if Mr. Obama hopes to have a new set of greenhouse gas standards for utilities in place before he leaves office he needs to begin before the end of this year.
Heather Zichal, the White House coordinator for energy and climate change, said Wednesday that the president would announce climate policy initiatives in coming weeks. Another official said a presidential address outlining the new policy, which will also include new initiatives on renewable power and energy efficiency, could come as early as next week.
Ms. Zichal said none of the initiatives being considered by the administration required legislative action or new financing from Congress.
In a speech in Berlin on Wednesday, Mr. Obama echoed his assertive talk on climate policy since his re-election, talk that some climate advocates have criticized as going beyond his actions. He said the United States and the world had a moral imperative to take “bold action” to slow the warming of the planet.
“The grim alternative affects all nations — more severe storms, more famine and floods, new waves of refugees, coastlines that vanish, oceans that rise,” Mr. Obama said. “This is the global threat of our time.”
He added, “We have to get to work.”
Republicans criticize Mr. Obama’s climate policy as government overreach that is holding back the economy. Some Democrats, including those hawkish about climate action, also worry that tough new standards on power plants could slow job growth and raise energy costs, particularly in places like the industrial Midwest that depend on cheap power from coal.
But administration officials signaled that Mr. Obama had decided the risks from climate change outweighed the potential economic and political costs from taking steps to address it.
“He is serious about making it a second-term priority,” Ms. Zichal said at a forum Wednesday in Washington sponsored by The New Republic magazine. “He knows this is a legacy issue.”
Ms. Zichal suggested that a central part of the administration’s approach to dealing with climate change would be to use the authority given to the Environmental Protection Agency to address climate-altering pollutants from power plants under the Clean Air Act.
“The E.P.A. has been working very hard on rules that focus specifically on greenhouse gases from the coal sector,” she said. “They’re doing a lot of important work in that space.”
She did not specifically mention standards for existing power plants, but other senior officials have said in recent days that Mr. Obama has decided to start work on such regulations.
A 2007 Supreme Court decision gave the E.P.A. authority to regulate greenhouse gases, and it has already done so for vehicles. Environmental advocates said that addressing power plant pollution must be the centerpiece of any serious climate policy.
“To paraphrase Joe Biden, this is a big deal,” said Daniel F. Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign, an advocacy organization. “Nothing he can do will cut greenhouse gases more.”
Last year, the E.P.A. proposed greenhouse gas regulations for new power plants that would essentially ban the construction of any additional coal-fired plants. The administration was required to complete that regulation by mid-April, but it missed the deadline in a sign of the pitfalls of such complex rule making. The E.P.A. has not said when it expects to complete the rules.
The timing of the new policy on existing power plants is driven in large part by the timetables the Clean Air Act sets for a major rule-making. The law requires the agency to publish proposed guidelines. States are then required to submit plans for meeting the guidelines, which the agency must review and which the public must be allowed time to comment on.
“All of that takes time, and we’re in a race against time,” said Vickie Patton, general counsel at the Environmental Defense Fund.
Regulation of existing power plants is further complicated by the pending nomination of Gina McCarthy to become E.P.A. administrator. Ms. McCarthy has for the past four years run the agency’s office responsible for enforcing the Clean Air Act.
Senate Republicans are holding up her nomination over unrelated issues. Republicans and industry leaders also worry about her intentions on power plant regulation. In a carefully worded statement, she told committee members during her confirmation proceedings that the agency “is not currently developing” any such regulations.
The administration has been quietly stitching together a suite of global warming policy measures for the president to unveil this summer to make good on promises in his election night acceptance speech, his second Inaugural address and his State of the Union address.
Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff, and his deputy, Rob Nabors, have regularly met with cabinet secretaries and their deputies to adapt to a changing climate and to propose new measures that do not require Congressional action.
Mr. Obama’s coming speech is also expected to highlight measures that the Department of Energy can take to make appliances and industrial equipment more efficient and to reduce the energy wasted in public and private buildings.
06/20/2013 05:30 PMSoccer Fans Revolt: Protests Rage on in Brazil
By Frederik Schäfer
Brazil's footballers are celebrating their advancement in the Confederations Cup, but in Fortaleza, their fans continue to protest high ticket prices, corruption and other social issues. The players are left walking a thin line.
Demonstrators threw stones at the police, and officers responded with rubber bullets and smoke bombs, as violent scenes played out on the streets of Fortaleza, Brazil on Wednesday night.
"We won't let the police get us down," said Regis, 23, an art student and protester. "We are prepared to fight for a better Brazil."
Only three kilometers (just under two miles) away, Brazil's golden boy, known simply as Neymar, would later lead his team to a convincing 2-0 win over Mexico in the Confederations Cup. The fans in the stadium celebrated, but in football-crazy Brazil, the dominant issue these days is not the strength of the national soccer team, but the ongoing street protests.
All of Brazil is in revolt, with the country seeing its largest demonstrations in 20 years. On Monday evening, more than 200,000 protesters poured into the streets of the largest cities. The Brazilian government and the international football organization FIFA fear that the protests could also spill over into the stadiums of the Confederations Cup.
Brazilian police have deployed an enormous number of officers to block off the area around the Castelão stadium in Fortaleza. Demonstrators tried in vain to get by the security forces, injuring at least five police officers with stones in the process.
In return, demonstrators faced rubber bullets, smoke bombs and pepper spray from police. "The police must protect the right of the 60,000 fans to see the game," said Cid Gomes, the governor of the Brazilian state of Ceará, of which Fortaleza is the capital. "Imagine if the demonstrators got into the stadium. That would be a tragedy."
Known for Beaches, not Protests
Fortaleza is a favorite vacation spot in Brazil. Giant high-rise hotels line up one after the other in the city, and during the high season, it is hard to see the white sand on the beach through all of the umbrellas and lounge chairs. The city is not known for having a subversive subculture. So it is noteworthy that here some 25,000 people have taken to the street to protest the costs of these large sporting events, corruption, high costs of living, and to demand a better educational system.
Some fans held up posters in the stadium shortly before the most recent game began. "It's not just about 20 Centavos, but rather billions, stolen from public funds," reads one poster that refers to the increase in bus fares in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. The rise in fares has been cancelled for now, but the protests continue.
As the national anthem is sung in the stadium, the fan with the poster puts his right hand over his heart and sings along enthusiastically. The fans make clear that their anger is not directed against their team, but rather at the government.
A Thin Line
The players on the national team, or Seleção, show solidarity with the protesters, but do not venture too far with their statements. Bayern Munich's player Dante, who, after David Luiz broke his nose in the game against Mexico, can hope at starting in the matchup against Italy, said after the game's close: "Naturally, we are following the protests. These people want to make our country better, and I hope that in the end they reach their goals."
Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said that his players can say whatever they think, but they should also be aware of their own special responsibility. The message was clear: Don't ruin things for yourselves, either with the demonstrators, or with the government.
The players are walking a thin line. Under no circumstances does the team want to be seen as representative of the heavily criticized government. But on the other hand, the players are the protagonists of the large events at the heart of the demonstrations. "Seleção belongs to the people," said Scolari. "We are the people. We want to motivate people and to represent Brazil."
To much of the world, Brazil stands for lightness, cheerfulness, beaches and the Seleção. What the politicians have done from their lofty vantage has long played not much of a role in the lives of the people. The economic recovery of recent years has strengthened the middle class. The students from this class are no longer satisfied with fun and football. They want a political voice and to fight the corruption that is so omnipresent.
"We have seen what is possible in the Middle East," said Gabriela, 22, an architecture student and demonstrator in Fortaleza. "Why can't it work here, too?"
But to the taxi drivers, beach vendors and other local residents who live in run-down stone cottages surrounding the spectacular Castelão stadium, the protests are often not very meaningful. They would prefer to see their Seleção play in the stadium, but the high ticket prices have ensured a more timid and restrained crowd, by Brazil standards. As a result, the fans have flooded the practice sessions and cheer their players on there with songs and loud chants.
It will be noticeably quieter for the Brazilian team in Salvador da Bahia. On Thursday, the team is checking into a luxury hotel there, where 500 employees are currently on strike.
***********Mainstream media accused of belittling Brazilian protests
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, June 20, 2013 18:52 EDT
Brazilians marching against corruption and the cost of the 2014 World Cup are also angry at the media, including the influential Globo network, accused of belittling their movement.
In Sao Paulo, the country’s business and media capital, Globo TV crews have been jeered while covering protest rallies and on Tuesday demonstrators set the satellite van of another station ablaze.
Hundreds of thousands have marched in cities throughout the country over the past two weeks in Brazil’s biggest street protests in 20 years.
The mainly young demonstrators have been angered public transport fare hikes and the billion of dollars spent on preparations for next year’s football World Cup rather than on social programs.
The rare display of “people’s power”, which has forced authorities to roll back the fare increases, has received blanket media coverage, particularly by Rio-based Globo, the world’s second-largest commercial TV network.
“Globo always manipulates facts and tries to put the demonstrators in a bad light, focusing on the vandalism of a few hooligans,” said Leitane Luranque, one of thousands demonstrators at Monday’s rally in Sao Paulo.
“And they consistently underestimate the number of demonstrators.”
It is a complaint frequently heard among protesters.
Globo, part of a group that includes radio networks, newspapers and pay-TV operations, is routinely vilified on Brazilian social networks as well as in “Get out, Globo” graffiti scrawled by the demonstrators.
Reporters and protesters say Globo crews often do not wear logos identifying their network so as to avoid being assaulted.
Givalnido Manoel, a member of the leftist Socialism and Freedom Party, charged that Sao Paulo’s major newspapers such as Folha de Sao Paulo and O Estado de Sao Paulo, also grossly underestimate the size of the protests.
“I walked for six hours throughout the city Monday night and there must have been at least 200,000. And the mainstream media reported 65,000. That does not make sense,” he said.
On Tuesday, the area around Sao Paulo City Hall looked like a war zone as extremists stoned and tried to overturn a van of the Record television network, forcing the crew to flee before the vehicle was set ablaze.
Record later issued a statement stating the attack was the work of “a minority of vandals” and that most of the demonstrators were not to blame.
“Record reaffirms its commitment to faithfully covering the peaceful protest of thousands of people and deplores the fact that small groups are trying to impose their views through violence,” the statement added.
Also Tuesday, two reporters told AFP they were covering the protest for the conservative weekly Veja, adding: “But keep it quiet. Here it’s better not to say who we work for.”
Celso Schroeder, president of the National Federation of Journalists, said the risk of violence against journalists comes not just from the demonstrators but also from police.
Several reporters were injured last week by police in incidents which were caught on film and which Sao Paulo authorities promised to investigate.
“You cannot equate journalists with the companies they work for. There is no question that there is a big media concentration in Brazil and this means that the companies play a political role, but one has to make a distinction between the journalists and their employers,” Schroeder said.
Widespread disillusionment with mainstream media has led many young protesters to turn to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Instagram for news.
**********Brazil protests: president to hold emergency meeting
Night of protests draws vast crowds in cities across Brazil, with a total turnout estimated at 2 million
Jonathan Watts in Rio de Janeiro
guardian.co.uk, Friday 21 June 2013 10.43 BST
Link to video: Violent clashes in Brazil as 2 million protesthttp://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2013/jun/21/violent-brazil-2-million-protest-video
Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff, and key ministers are to hold an emergency meeting on Friday following a night of protests that saw Rio de Janeiro and dozens of other cities echo with percussion grenades and swirl with teargas as riot police scattered the biggest demonstrations in more than two decades.
The protests were sparked last week by opposition to rising bus fares, but they have spread rapidly to encompass a range of grievances, as was evident from the placards. "Stop corruption. Change Brazil"; "Halt evictions"; "Come to the street. It's the only place we don't pay taxes"; "Government failure to understand education will lead to revolution".
Rousseff's office said she had cancelled a trip to Japan next week.
A former student radical herself, Rousseff has tried to mollify the protesters by praising their peaceful and democratic spirit. Partly at her prompting, Rio, São Paulo and other cities have reversed the increase in public transport fares, but this has failed to quell the unrest.
Rio de Janeiro protests An Anonymous mask stands out in the crowd. Photograph: Pedro Koeler/Demotix/Corbis
A vast crowd – estimated by the authorities at 300,000 and more than a million by participants – filled Rio's streets, one of a wave of huge nationwide marches against corruption, police brutality, poor public services and excess spending on the World Cup.
As a minority of protesters threw rocks, torched cars and pulled down lamp-posts, police fired volleys of pepper spray and rubber bullets into the crowd and up onto overpasses where car drivers and bus passengers were stuck in traffic jams. At least 40 people were injured in the city and many more elsewhere.
Simultaneous demonstrations were reported in at least 80 cities, with a total turnout that may have been close to 2 million. An estimated 110,000 marched in São Paulo, 80,000 in Manaus, 50,000 in Recife, and 20,000 in Belo Horizonte and Salvador.
Clashes were reported in the Amazon jungle city of Belem, in Porto Alegre in the south, in Campinas north of São Paulo and in the north-eastern city of Salvador.
Thirty-five people were injured in the capital Brasilia, where 30,000 people took to the streets. In São Paulo, one man died when a frustrated car driver rammed into the crowd. Elsewhere countless people, including many journalists, were hit by rubber bullets.
Huge crowds of demonstrators march in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Huge crowds of demonstrators march in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photograph: ZUMA/Rex Features
The vast majority of those involved were peaceful. Many wore Guy Fawkes masks, emulating the global Occupy campaign. Others donned red noses – a symbol of a common complaint that people are fed up being treated as clowns.
"There are no politicians who speak for us," said Jamaime Schmitt, an engineer. "This is not just about bus fares any more. We pay high taxes and we are a rich country, but we can't see this in our schools, hospitals and roads." Many in the mostly young, middle class crowd were experiencing their first large protest.
Matheus Bizarria, who works for the NGO Action Aid, said people had reached the limit of their tolerance about longstanding problems that the Confederations Cup and World Cup have brought into focus because billions of reals have been spent on new stadiums rather than public services. Rio is also due to host a papal visit to World Youth Day next month, and the Olympics in 2016.
"It's totally connected to the mega-events," Bizarria said. "People have had enough, but last year only 100 people marched against a bus price rise. There were 1,000 last week and 100,000 on Monday. Now we hope for a million."
Initially the mood in Rio was peaceful. When a handful of people began tearing down posters for the Confederations Cup, the rest of the crowd sat down around them and shamed them with shouts of "No violence" and "No vandalism".
But later protesters pulled down security cameras, smashed bus stops and torched cars. Every hoarding that advertised the Confederations Cup was destroyed.
Police had increased their numbers more than 10-fold from Monday, and were quickly on the offensive.
After a confrontation near the city hall, they drove back the crowd, who fled coughing with tears streaming down their cheeks. At least one person was hit by rubber bullets, and showed the bruise on the leg where he was hit.
Others were furious that the police actions were indiscriminate. "Where we had been tranquil, then suddenly they started firing gas into the crowd. People were scared and appalled," said Alessandra Sampaio, one of the protesters.
"They are cowards. They wanted to disperse the crowd never mind who it was. I'm very angry, it was a real abuse of power."
Victor Bezerra, a law student, said the police actions were like something from the dictatorship era. "These are bad days for Brazil. The police were acting just like they did 30 years ago."
The crowd were driven into side streets and back towards the central station by lines of police backed by officers on horseback and motorbikes, carrying shotguns.
"Look at this. It's hard to believe. Terrible!", said Ellie Lopes, a 22-year-old passerby, as she surveyed the debris and flames.
After riot police cleared the entire central area, they were still dispersing gatherings in the Lapa music and bar district late into the night. As helicopters buzzed overhead, they fired teargas into the crowded square next to a concert by the band Cannibal Corpse. Hotdog kiosk vendors found themselves with sore running eyes, inadvertently pushed onto a moving frontline.
Despite the crackdown, many said they would return to the streets for the next demonstration, planned for Saturday.