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« Reply #7095 on: Jun 23, 2013, 07:30 AM »


On the trail of Michael Mastro: how to flee the law when you are 87

Michael Mastro was a Seattle property magnate worth $350m. Then the market crashed. In a tale described as Cocoon meets Catch Me If You Can, he and his wife filled their Range Rover with jewels, packed up the Shih Tzus and ran for the French Alps. Simon Goodley tracks them down

Simon Goodley   
The Observer, Sunday 23 June 2013   

It is 24 October 2012 and Michael Mastro, an 87-year-old former multi-millionaire Seattle property developer, is relaxing with his wife Linda at home in the French Alps. It is a magnificent setting in a tiny town called Marceau on the shores of Lake Annecy – surrounded by snow-topped mountains, it is a scene that once inspired the paintings of Paul Cézanne. The ageing couple enjoy watching local paragliders take off as they sit on their large balcony, but this utopian picture of a quiet retirement is about to be shattered.

Mastro answers an aggressive knock on the door and is greeted by a team of French policemen who march in and announce that they are arresting him and his wife. In the chaos, Linda throws pills into her mouth, which the police forcefully remove, while other officers start searching the property. The pair are then told to prepare for their immediate extradition to the United States, handcuffed and dumped in separate police cells.

"It was like the Gestapo coming in," says Linda. "I did not take anything that was suicidal – I took my migraine pills. The toilet [in the police cell] was a hole in the ground. There were lunatics in there – I don't know if they were drug-induced, but they screamed and yelled and slammed against the bars all night long… It was so ludicrous. Here we are, two senior citizens, and [the police] are so ecstatic that they'd caught us."

The idea of the Mastros – now 88 and 63 years old, but looking much younger as they sit shoulder to shoulder on a large sofa – being hauled from their home seems utterly ridiculous. But the French police really had captured a pair of international fugitives who had been on the run from US authorities for 16 months after ignoring a bankruptcy judge's order to return two massive diamond rings. Theirs is a story of a husband and wife, supposedly in their dotage, being pursued by the FBI as they fled America for Canada and then Europe – a dash that was completed with their three Shih Tzu dogs, the family Range Rover and suitcases stuffed with millions of dollars' worth of jewellery.

It is also a story of an old couple leaving their "friends and family investors" $100m out of pocket only to spend seven weeks in French jails and, after release, being electronically tagged for six months. Yet as creditors continue to circle Mastro's bankrupt empire, the French courts have resisted US efforts to bring the couple home. Comparing the tale to a pair of Hollywood movies, one observer sums up the saga thus: "It's like Catch Me If You Can meets Cocoon."

MICHAEL and Linda Mastro were once influential figures in Seattle – he as a highly successful property developer and she, as she puts it, as a member of the city's "high society". They had met in 1974 at the Peoples Bank, where Linda worked. They talk of their "perfect life" and having to "pinch themselves" at what a fortunate position they found themselves in. They lived in a $15m "waterfront residence" located in Medina, Washington state, which was stocked with cellars housing $23,000 worth of wine, a $20,000 Steinway grand piano and a $24,000 collection of works by the American glass sculptor Dale Chihuly. The couple drove a Bentley, a Rolls-Royce Phantom and the Range Rover. These were the trappings of a $350m fortune, which is what they had amassed just before Mastro joined the queue of casualties created by the financial crisis.

As the financial world began to implode in 2008, Mastro attempted to alleviate the concerns of his investors, who loaned his business money on the promise of high rates of interest. He wrote: "Our organisation is strong and healthy, in no small part because of the relationship we value so greatly with lenders including you, our friends and family. I hope this report has eased any concerns you may have."

That letter was sent at the end of September, but around two weeks later Mastro moved his most significant assets into a Belize-based "offshore asset protection trust" – of which he and his wife were the primary beneficiaries. "My lawyer in 2008 had been after me for a long time to set up diversionary accounts for estates purposes, the theory being that you don't have all your eggs in one basket," he recalls now. "We put the house in it, the cars in it, the jewellery in it… [It was done] in case you fall on hard times, then creditors can't grab everything."

Mastro describes such arrangements as commonplace, but for a routine move it proved uncannily prescient. He actually did fall on hard times as the value of his properties crashed during the financial crisis, meaning his investments were suddenly worth less than his loans. He was forced into bankruptcy in 2009 with debts of around $600m, and his creditors soon took a different view of the Belize arrangements to Mastro's lawyers. In December 2010 the courts overrode the scheme and a fire sale of the Mastros' Medina home – which they had bought for $15m – raised $8m.

With the house gone and their reputation in Seattle shredded, the couple relocated to California. But by 2011, when Mastro says he was earning hundreds of thousands of dollars from property consultancy and even harbouring thoughts of paying creditors back "a little at a time", two further setbacks occurred.

Having won a court judgement stating that two rings – which housed huge diamonds, one of 27.8 carats and one of 15.93 carats – were the sole property of Linda, the courts overturned that decision in June 2011 and ordered the jewels to be handed back. That move came shortly after a devastating blow in February.

"My husband was in the garage and fell off the step-stool and literally died," recalls Linda. "They resuscitated him and then he had a cranial. He was a vegetable for several months. He had to learn to walk again. Then everything disintegrated."

"I had a nervous breakdown," she continues. "I just wanted to get away. It wasn't that I didn't respect the court – I just couldn't take any more. The initial plan was to go to Seattle, which we did. We stayed with [Mastro's sister] a couple of nights and then I said: 'Let's just go.' I don't know what came over me."

PRIVATE jets tend not to allow Shih Tzu dogs as passengers – which was proving an irritation after a few weeks travelling across Canada and staying in "little crappy motels". The Mastros had arrived in Toronto, a city they loved and didn't want to leave, but they say their lawyers encouraged them to keep moving. "All three sets of attorneys we had, their favourite saying was 'Get out of Dodge'," Mastro says. "It didn't take much prodding to get us out of there because the press coverage was so unfavourable."

Headlines such as the Wall Street Journal's "Living Large in Bankruptcy" and the Seattle Times's "Suit alleges 'sham' transfers of IOUs to shield assets" may have irked, but there was an added urgency to disappear as well. They had fled over the US-Canadian border while still in possession of the diamond rings they could not bear to surrender, meaning they were being tailed by a US marshal intent on bringing them home to face civil contempt of court charges. "We had a friend in Seattle who had a plane, so we called his pilot and they started looking around for a plane for us," continues Linda. "We found a puddle-jumper – but it was fine, we didn't care – that would take the dogs. We went through this private firm and I thought the shortest distance would be to Portugal."

The flight on that small private plane, which stopped in Greenland, proved a devastating blow for the couple's North American pursuers, with the Mastros and the diamonds vanishing from the radar. With dry understatement Jim Rigby, the accountant hired by the US Department of Justice to recover assets for creditors, says: "If I could have afforded the emotion, I'd have been profoundly frustrated."

He would remain so until the knock on the Mastros' door in the autumn of 2012.

EVEN the Mastros' fiercest critics find it difficult to argue that they were making massive efforts to hide, having finally decided to settle by Lake Annecy on the advice of a Seattle priest and friend. They lived under their own name and appear to have become convinced that the US authorities would not follow them to Europe on a civil matter.

But unbeknown to them – and Rigby says to himself, too – a federal grand jury had finalised an indictment accusing the couple of 43 counts of bankruptcy fraud. As well as citing the timely transfer of assets to the Belize trust, the document also alleges the "fraudulent concealment" by the couple of a JP Morgan Chase bank account used to fund personal expenses and from which they withdrew almost $600,000. "I did not disclose that in the paperwork I submitted," Mastro admits now. "I'm responsible for that. My attorney said it was not necessary. Anyway, they nailed me on that."

The grand jury's charges, coupled with the couple making two extraordinary mistakes, meant their arrest was almost inevitable. First Mastro, who has needed frequent surgery since his "eardrums were blown out in World War Two", had a small hearing operation in France. Behind his wife's back, and against her pleading, he claimed the cost of the treatment on his US insurance policy.

Linda is still fuming at her husband's "sly" move, but she had left a trail, too, after following local rules and registering their Range Rover in France once they'd shipped it to Lisbon. As she explains that move – without a hint of irony relating to her fugitive status – "I have to do things right. I never even jaywalked." Whatever the reasons, the outcome was clear. US authorities now had everything they needed to ask their European colleagues to bring the suspects in.

Following that first night spent in the police station, the Mastros were transported 90 miles to a prison in Lyon, which Linda found particularly gruesome. There was a plastic mattress and a piece of "crappy muslin" as a cover, all of which contributed to Linda's openly depressed demeanour; she was put on suicide watch.

"I laid there and cried," she says, welling up as she speaks. "Then I found out that [one of my] dogs had died. That's when I gave up and they watched me. I didn't care if I got out of there. I just wanted to die."

But the Mastros' incarceration was having a revitalising effect on the case for their pursuers. Rigby now knew where they were and was feverishly searching for clues of further funds. The euphoria, however, quickly gave rise to a problem. The Mastros had been picked up in a lovely – but modest – property. If they had fled after squirrelling away millions, why was there no sign of largesse?

DAYS earlier, Rigby had hired some new recruits to assist his effort. Daniel Hall, a former lawyer turned corporate investigator, had just set up his own investigations agency called Focus, where he worked from a small office overlooking the Old Bailey, London's famous criminal court.

The case was made for Hall, whose speciality was tracing hidden assets, and on hearing news of the arrest he turned to his colleague Robert Capper, a former British intelligence officer, and dispatched him to France.

Capper immediately visited the chief of police in Annecy, only to receive an incredibly cool reception. With reason. The small station was already investigating the shooting of the 50-year-old Surrey-based engineer Saad al-Hilli, his dentist wife Iqbal, 47, and her mother, Suhaila al-Allaf, which had horrified the region weeks earlier. What's more, the police were still wrestling with exactly what had been happening in their quiet little town after a surprise drowning in the picturesque Lake Annecy a year earlier dredged up more than they'd bargained for: several bodies.

"The police had had in those past few months: two American fugitives; a massacre of Brits, which creates a media storm, and a guy who falls out of boat," Capper recalls. "And they find his body but then have to ask: who are these other three bodies we have found at the bottom of the lake? This police office has got about eight staff. It's like Midsomer."

The one piece of useful information the overworked police deputy did give Capper was that while the Mastros had been arrested in Marceau, it was not the first address the US authorities had sent French police to. The first call had been made to a property on the lake's eastern shore – the far more glamorous Veyrier-du-Lac.

"One of the things we were thinking is: 'Does this guy have money?'" says Capper. "He fled but was found in an ordinary flat. Then we discover he had been staying at Veyrier-du-Lac for the majority of the stay. That makes more sense. If you were a very wealthy man, you would stay there."

In Veyrier-du-Lac, the café owner recalled the ageing American couple with the Shih Tzu dogs who always popped in for a coffee on their way into town – and before long Capper had painstakingly pieced together a picture of their life, virtually all of which the couple now confirm: it included the magnificent Veyrier-du-Lac house, rented at around €5,000 a month; how the Mastros had been forced to leave that base because the villa had already been let for the summer to other tenants and, intriguingly, how the couple had opened a bank account in the Veyrier-du-Lac branch of Société Générale.

The account was being funded frequently by company cheques ranging in value between €2,000 and €8,000 each time. "Low enough not to set off any red flags," observes Hall conspiratorially. "Suspicious activity reports come in at more than €10,000."

Still, it raised a wider question. The Mastros had funds to finance being on the run – but where was the cash coming from? Back in Seattle, Rigby was hatching plans for a bold move that provided the answer.

A Renault Clio, with a poodle sitting in the back seat, comes to a halt right outside the Mastros' Marceau flat. Out of the car hops a velvet-suited man, looking the very antithesis of his trade. Following a request from Rigby, the French courts had appointed him as the bailiff on the French side of the Mastro case. After entering the three-bedroom property, he reaches a box room at the end of the flat's corridor.

On opening the door he is presented with a room stuffed full of cases overflowing with designer clothes and jewels: Christian Dior suits with Linda Mastro's name stitched into the inside of the seam; carrier bags full of jewellery; freezer bags full of ropes of pearls, others stuffed with earrings. After taking a moment, he finally finds the word to express his mood. "Merde," he gasps before trooping off to call his office to request reinforcements.

Also in the room that day is Capper, in a purely observational capacity, but with an entirely different focus. "The bailiff is saying: 'That's shiny, that's Louis Vuitton, I'm having that,'" he recalls. "But what's really interesting to us is the business cards, scraps of paper, written notes, luggage labels."

Also in and among the treasure are dozens of notepads in which Mastro has fastidiously handwritten every financial transaction, plus, shoved into a drawer, a folded piece of paper with names and numbers of Mastro contacts in Switzerland and a weathered business card.

The number on the business card was for a "cash for gold" shop on the shore of Lake Annecy, where the Mastros had opened an account and were making regular deposits. Over time, it is thought that the total gold they had sold came to €50,000 – all paid out via company cheques. The values, again, were between €2,000 and €8,000 a time. "It was our intention to gradually sell the jewellery [excluding the diamond rings] to meet our living expenses," confirms Mastro. "We thought we had two, three, four million dollars' worth of jewellery."

The modus operandi was becoming clearer and clearer – at least in the minds of Rigby and his investigators. They believe the Range Rover was shipped to Lisbon as a Trojan horse full of jewels which were sold to fund the Mastros' lavish, if low-profile, lifestyle. Apart from the fateful insurance payment, the Mastros never moved money via wire transfers that would have provided clues to their whereabouts. They fastidiously kept their own ledger – so when they noticed their bank balance approaching zero, they would simply sell some more gold.

These were answers, but the information posed further questions: did this ageing couple know that these actions would make their detection harder? Were they getting help?

ON MASTRO'S iPad was a series of photographs, one of which was a piece of paper containing written instructions explaining how a car could be imported to Portugal and not attract attention from customs officials.

Capper also photographed a map found in the Mastros' flat. "They had annotated in many different pens and ink all sorts of places across Europe," he explains. "So there were rings around places such as Monaco and San Sebastián as well as Annecy. A few places where they had crossed out roads. When the FBI came to France for a briefing on what I had discovered, one of the junior Annecy policemen in the room looked at a road that had been crossed out. He said: 'Oh, that's the new tunnel into Italy. There's police everywhere there.' The route into Chambéry was also crossed out. I drove that route. Every car got stopped by customs."

The Mastros ridicule the suggestion that they have acquired some sort of manual for the aspiring international fugitive which explains the secrets of avoiding detection – and insist they don't recognise the descriptions of the note on customs procedures or any map with warnings of potentially troublesome roads.

"[Rigby] got it all wrong," says Linda. "How could anybody be so stupid as to leave a car in a parking lot with jewellery in it and they've got the key? Mike and I were bent over laughing on that one."

There is an edge to her voice as, by her own admission, she is taking Rigby's pursuit personally. "In my opinion he has a vendetta against me," she says, and claims that the search of the couple's property was conducted overzealously.

Rigby dismisses any personal motive – although he acknowledges that the case is likely to be the biggest of his career. And in Rigby's defence, any neutral observer would need to point out that Linda's take on events is not always considered reliable. A 2011 judgement by the US bankruptcy courts found her "to be a witness lacking veracity, as her testimony was often transparently vague, contradictory and self-serving". Meanwhile Mastro himself openly admits to playing games with the whole bankruptcy process. In early 2009, before his empire collapsed, Mastro borrowed against his luxury cars. "I got the money, put it in my business, and I knew if I got in trouble and the trustee grabbed those cars, there would be no value in there," he admits now. "I put large loans on [the cars] to thwart Rigby."

WHO IS currently winning this game of financial chess remains a debating point. The Mastros reckon it is Rigby as, they say, he has reclaimed everything they own and they are now forced to live off a $2,000-a-month US pension plus donations from friends. Rigby suspects, but says he has no proof, that there are millions more in assets stashed away offshore. "He thinks to this day that we have much money buried overseas," Mastro says. "We don't have a cent in that respect."

But whoever is leading, the losers are obvious. Rigby has so far managed to collect $20.5m, of which the unsecured creditors, including "friends and family investors", have received just $2.2m. That compares with $1.6m that has gone on property maintenance and insurance costs, as well as fees paid to banks and Rigby.

Now there is a chance of getting creditors a few million more. At a bail hearing in France, Mastro revealed that the diamond rings were stashed in a safety deposit box in Annecy. After the box was drilled open, the rings were recovered and now, along with the items gleaned from the Marceau flat, the haul is in the hands of the FBI. There are around 300 pieces with an estimated value of $3m – but it is not yet certain in whose hands the collection will end up.

The Mastros look likely to live out their days in France after the country's courts refused America's extradition request on humanitarian grounds earlier this month. Having masterminded that case, their lawyer Thomas Terrier is making their stay as comfortable as possible by getting their jewels back. He is keeping the extraordinary four-year saga running by making a fresh claim to have the jewellery handed back to Linda. "We will now be able to say [to Rigby]: 'Why did you act that way at that time?'" Terrier says. "It was not appropriate to seize everything that way. It's another session which begins."


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« Reply #7096 on: Jun 23, 2013, 07:34 AM »


Friends of Syria will arm rebels for fight against Assad and Hezbollah

Statement pledges 'all the necessary materiel and equipment' after recapture of Qusair and as assault on Aleppo nears

Reuters
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 22 June 2013 21.03 BST   

International opponents of Bashar al-Assad, the president of Syria, agreed on Saturday to give urgent military support to Western-backed rebels, aiming to stem a counter-offensive by Assad's forces and offset the growing power of jihadist fighters.

Assad's recapture of the strategic border town of Qusair, an effort spearheaded by Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas, and an expected assault on the divided northern city of Aleppo have alarmed supporters of the Syrian opposition. The US administration has responded by saying, for the first time, it will arm rebels, while Gulf sources say Saudi Arabia has accelerated the delivery of advanced weapons to the rebels over the last week.

Ministers from the 11 core members of the Friends of Syria group agreed "to provide urgently all the necessary materiel and equipment to the opposition on the ground," according to a statement released at the end of their meeting in Qatar. The statement did not commit all the countries to send weapons, but said each country could provide assistance "in its own way, in order to enable [the rebels] to counter brutal attacks by the regime and its allies".

The aid should be channelled through the Western-backed Supreme Military Council, a move that Washington and its European allies hope will prevent weapons falling into the hands of Islamist radicals including the al-Qaida-linked Nusra front.

Ministers from the Friends group – which includes Western and Arab states as well as Turkey – also condemned "the intervention of Hezbollah militias and fighters from Iran and Iraq", demanding they withdraw immediately. As well as fighting in Qusair, Hezbollah is deployed alongside Iraqi gunmen around the Shia shrine of Sayyida Zainab, south of Damascus. Iranian military commanders are believed to be advising Assad's officers on counter-insurgency.

Two Gulf sources told Reuters that Saudi Arabia, which started supplying anti-aircraft missiles to the rebels on a small scale two months ago, had accelerated delivery of sophisticated weaponry. "In the past week there have been more arrivals of these advanced weapons. They are getting them more frequently," one source said, without giving details. Another Gulf source described them as "potentially balance-tipping" supplies.

French military advisers are training the rebels in Turkey and Jordan, sources familiar with the training programmes said. US forces have been carrying out similar training, rebels say.

Rebel fighters say they need anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons to stem the fightback by Assad's forces in a civil war that has killed 93,000 people, driven 1.6 million refugees abroad and cost tens of billions of dollars in destruction of property, businesses and infrastructure.

Louay Meqdad, spokesman for the Supreme Military Council, which is led by former Syrian army general Salim Idriss, said it had received several batches of weapons. "They are the first consignments from one of the countries that support the Syrian people and there are clear promises from Arab and foreign countries that there will be more during the coming days," he told Reuters Television in Istanbul.
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Qatar's prime minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani US

A French diplomatic source said Paris would increase non-lethal aid such as communications equipment, gas masks, night-vision goggles and bullet-proof vests. It would also provide assistance with military strategy and battlefield intelligence.

"All this has already started," a Western source said. "Broadly speaking, Western nations will do this, while Gulf Arab nations will deliver the weapons. It's a division of roles. If the northern front receives enough material and non-material support quickly, it could soon be equivalent to thousands of men, or even tens of thousands."

Idriss himself told Al-Jazeera International television on Saturday that his men were still lacking "effective air defence" against Assad's planes and helicopters. "That's why we are asking for shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles … and anti-tank missiles, modern ones with long range," he said. "We need it yesterday … because the regime is trying to recapture the whole country."

The increasingly sectarian dynamic of the war pits mainly Sunni Muslim rebels against forces loyal to Assad – who is from the Alawite minority, an offshoot of Shia Islam – and has split the Middle East along Sunni-Shia lines.

US secretary of state John Kerry said Hezbollah's role transformed the conflict "into a much more volatile, potentially explosive situation that could involve the entire region".


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« Reply #7097 on: Jun 23, 2013, 07:36 AM »

June 22, 2013

Kerry, in Qatar, Warns Taliban While Also Building Support on Syria

By ROD NORDLAND and MICHAEL R. GORDON
IHT

DOHA, Qatar — Secretary of State John Kerry warned Saturday that the newly opened Taliban office here “has to be closed” if the insurgents do not respond to demands that they negotiate in good faith.

The prospects of three-way Afghan peace talks have been thrown into doubt by the Taliban’s efforts to give their office here the trappings of an embassy, which the American and Afghan governments see as overreaching and in violation of the terms of the negotiations.

Mr. Kerry’s remarks came at a news conference with the Qatari prime minister, Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani, after a meeting of the 11-nation Friends of Syria group. The group agreed to step up its aid to Syrian rebels in response to intervention by Iran and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah in the conflict.

American and Afghan officials insist that the Taliban violated an agreement to open a political office in Qatar by presenting it as a quasi-embassy, flying their flag and posting signs reading “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” when it opened Tuesday.

On Friday, a senior Taliban official, speaking by telephone from Islamabad, Pakistan, said the insurgents had no intention of removing their flag or sign. “The government of America and of Qatar backtracked on the promise they made to us on the flag and the name,” the official said. “It was agreed we could use them.” He spoke on the condition of anonymity because the Taliban have officially canceled all interviews until they decide on a public response to the issue.

In anger over the Taliban move, Afghan officials broke off talks on future military cooperation with the United States, and said they would not be sending representatives to Qatar for the talks. American officials insisted that the Taliban office was purely for the purpose of getting talks started with the group.

“Regrettably the agreement was not adhered to,” Mr. Kerry said Saturday. He said intervention by the Qatari government had persuaded the Taliban to “step back” from their stance — they lowered the flag so it could not be seen from outside their office’s compound, for instance. “Now we need to see if we can move forward. If not we may have to consider whether or not the office will have to be closed.”

Mr. Kerry said the chief American negotiator, James Dobbins, was in Doha and “waiting to find out whether the Taliban will respond.”

The first step in talks with the Taliban would involve discussions with American officials over a prisoner swap, in which senior Taliban prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, would be exchanged for the lone American P.O.W. held by the Taliban, Bowe Bergdahl.

On Syria, Mr. Kerry met with foreign ministers from European and Arab nations on Saturday to discuss what concrete steps could be taken to strengthen the Syrian opposition militarily. It was first time the coalition had met since President Obama decided that the United States would send ammunition and weapons covertly to the opposition.

Mr. Kerry said the group would increase its military support to the rebels but declined to say what types of weapons would be provided. He said that each member had discussed what additional steps it might take and that the Obama administration would build on those plans “in order to have an impact on the ground.”

“It is not anything we say today that will make the difference to Assad,” he said of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. “It’s what happens in the days, and weeks and months ahead, and, I hope, not too many months.”

A communiqué issued by the group was also vague, referring only to its agreement to take “urgent practical steps to support the Syrian opposition.” Besides the United States and Qatar, the group includes Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

Criticizing the “internationalization” of the war, Mr. Kerry said the additional assistance was needed not just because American intelligence had concluded that Mr. Assad’s forces had used chemical weapons but also because of intervention by Hezbollah and Iran on the side of the Assad government.

“What is different is that this is now a response to what Iran and Hezbollah are doing,” he said.

Mr. Kerry denounced Hezbollah as a “terrorist” organization and said that Iran’s intervention risked a wider Shiite-Sunni war.

He also said that Russia had continued to supply arms to the Assad government while “ostensibly” talking about the need for a political solution.

Mr. Kerry added, however, that Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, still supported the proposal to hold an international peace conference on Syria and that a planning meeting with Russian, American and United Nations officials for that conference would take place this week in Geneva.


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« Reply #7098 on: Jun 23, 2013, 07:38 AM »


Hunger drives hunt for gold in South Sudan's east

Poor rains have caused food shortages and driven many to try to survive through the back-breaking work of mining gold

IRIN, part of the Guardian development network   
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 22 June 2013 10.00 BST   

About 60,000 people are thought to be mining gold in South Sudan, using the bare hands they once used to harvest crops. In the east, where poor rains have caused widespread hunger, women, children and elderly people have joined the hordes seeking their fortune through this back-breaking labour.

Like many of the ethnic Toposa people living in Eastern Equatoria state, Adele Natogo came to Nanakanak, an area of scrubland with just a few houses, a month ago, after walking five hours from Lomeyen village, in Kapoeta North county.

She left her nine children at home, hungry, after hearing that the earth around Kapoeta was filled with gold. "I'm here because of hunger, because there is nothing for my family and no food to give the children," she told IRIN.

Miners say Greater Kapoeta started to have drought and erratic rains about five years ago, around the time that Africa's longest-running civil war ended and there were hopes that, finally, peace and prosperity would come.

During the war, finds were great; gold was sold to Sudanese traders for as little as $1 a gram, and was used by southern rebels to fund their fight against the north. But life has been getting harder here since South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011.

"During the time of the Arabs and at the start of the mining, there was a lot of gold here – too much," said Angelo Longaleyang, paramount chief for the Greater Kapoeta area. "Right now, the situation has changed. Gold is not much available."

'Difficult environment for agricultural production'

The UN's World Food Programme (WFP) says "poor climatic conditions, inaccessibility, poverty and underdevelopment, and occasional insecurity" have pummelled the area, driving food insecurity.

"Many parts of the Greater Kapoeta are semi-arid, receiving low rainfall with some extreme cases where there is less than 200mm of rain per year. This makes it a difficult environment for agricultural production without a huge investment in issues such as irrigation," said WFP public information officer George Fominyen. In February, local officials appealed for aid after reporting deaths from widespread hunger.

"Last year when we cultivated, we got nothing from the ground. The sun came and burned everything, and so we were left with nothing. We decided to come to Nanakanak to do some mining, just so we can find something small to buy something to eat," said Natogo. "But there is so little gold, and even the wild fruits we used to survive on have gone."

Natogo says that in a "lucky" week, she can make $34 from selling a gram of gold, but most of it goes on food. "There are many children doing this. If you come in the evening, you'll see the sheer number of people mining here who come back to the camps," said Nanakanak community leader David Headboy.

Peter Locebe, who thinks he has been digging for 19 years, says he used to find up to 30g of gold a day. "Before, there was a lot of gold and few people, because that time there was food and people didn't care about gold. Right now, because there is hunger all over, people have come from all around to mine and [are] competing, and even walk away empty-handed," he said.

Struggling communities

His children have joined the dig. Like countless others, they have missed out on education in the world's least literate country, and are hoping for a golden ticket out of poverty.

Leaders fear for the future of their communities. When food is too expensive, the lure of local moonshine (alcoholic drink) is strong, they say.

"This work is very hard to handle. You go and dig the hole to find this soil, and you get such back pains. Your whole body hurts, and your stomach is always empty so you have no energy, and you get so sad and tired," said Locebe, himself under the influence of moonshine, despite it being only mid-morning.

Kapoeta commissioner Martin Lorika says alcoholism levels are high – the booze is brought by women from the town every day, and causes more mayhem than merriment. "They quarrel and fight sometimes. Sometimes they dance. Sometimes there are small arms," he said.

And while some families are using their money to put their children through school, most is sunk back into the country's most trusted currency: cows, which are used for dowries and are increasingly the cause of deadly cattle raids.

Headboy hopes that humanitarian assistance will "resolve this situation of hunger in the community" or at least provide enough food "to give people some strength so that they can at least look for gold".

Boosting food security

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation is assisting 3,500 households "in a very difficult area for agricultural cultivation", giving tools and seeds for "an improved variety of sorghum, allowing harvest within three months of planting, as well as cassava cuttings, maize, sesame, cowpeas and ground nut seeds", said communications specialist Sally Cooper.

Heavy rains cut off Kapoeta for several months of the year, also causing "chronic food insecurity where households that depend on markets for food can't access the food", or cannot cope with inflated prices from transportation costs, WFP's Fominyen says.

Assessments of four counties around Kapoeta showed that the lean season, when families are running out of stocks from the previous harvest, may come earlier than the usual March/April time in this area.

While providing food assistance, WFP is working on a food-for-assets programme to counter the climatic and conflict-related shocks, such as cattle-rustling, that can disrupt livelihoods.

"These involve clearing and construction of community access roads that help connect communities to markets and social services in exchange for food," says Fominyen, adding that finding technical partners in the region to implement projects is another challenge. "The governor of Eastern Equatoria has often urged international partners to work on conditional food assistance programmes – such as our food-for-assets projects – to avoid encouraging a culture of food aid dependency."

However, he added, a lack of technical partners to carry out nutrition and livelihoods projects was a problem. "We have dispatched aid agencies to deliver food from their warehouses, but some of these places are very far and we cannot reach them," said South Sudan's minister of humanitarian affairs, Joseph Lual Achuil.

Mining legislation

Other hopes rest on a mining law to attract investment and development. "What we need are international investors to come in and mine for gold and benefit the community," said Longaleyang.

South Sudan's minister of petroleum and mining, Stephen Dhieu Dau, said it would "help South Sudan … It will diversify the economy, moving away from just relying on oil," which makes up 98% of the government's budget.

"It will provide some jobs to the local community and some basic services, and provide some revenue to the government by collecting revenues and taxes." But even if exploration permits are rolled out this year, Dau admits that "it will take some time to realise the benefits".


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« Reply #7099 on: Jun 23, 2013, 07:50 AM »

13,000 people donate $1 million in Kickstarter campaign to build ‘first publicly accessible space telescope’

By Stuart Dredge, The Observer
Saturday, June 22, 2013 9:10 EDT

US technology company Planetary Resources has raised more than $1m on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter to build ARKYD, which it describes as “the first publicly accessible space telescope”.

The telescope is part of the company’s wider ambition to prospect and mine asteroids. More than 12,800 people have pledged between $10 and $10,000 (£6,500) to the campaign, which has hit its fundraising target with nine days to run.

Those who pledged more than $25 will get rewards including “space selfies” – photographs taken from the orbiting telescope showing an image of their choice with the Earth as the background.

As with other Kickstarter campaigns, the rewards increase for higher amounts. People pledging $200 or more will be able to point the telescope at any celestial object – “other than the Sun” – and have a high-definition image sent to them. Those pledging $5,000 or more will be invited to launch events and have their names etched on the spacecraft.

“The ARKYD is designed to be a fun and interactive experience that is accessible to anyone. This kind of direct access to a satellite is unprecedented. Our backers will be the first people in history to control a public space telescope,” the company’s Kickstarter pitch says.

The firm, based in Bellevue, Washington, wants to launch a fleet of telescopes to identify suitable asteroids, while also working with museums and schools to let non-astronomers use them.

The company was founded in 2009, and its financial backers include Google’s chief executive, Larry Page, and executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, as well as billionaire businessman Ross Perot Jr.

“We’re now focusing on enhancing the capabilities of the telescope and creating meaningful and epic crowd involvement,” said Planetary Resources’ co-chairman Peter Diamandis.

“We’re a hardware and inspiration company, and we’re thrilled to provide a new generation of space pioneers with the ability to take a hands-on approach to exploration.”

The company says the $1m will be used to launch the first ARKYD satellite into space, support it over its lifetime, develop the user interface required to enable the general public to access and control the satellite, and fund educational materials for use in schools.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013


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« Reply #7100 on: Jun 23, 2013, 08:13 AM »

In the USA...

June 22, 2013

Supreme Court Weighs Cases Redefining Legal Equality

By ADAM LIPTAK
IHT

WASHINGTON — Within days, the Supreme Court is expected to issue a series of decisions that could transform three fundamental social institutions: marriage, education and voting.

The extraordinary run of blockbuster rulings due in the space of a single week will also reshape the meaning of legal equality and help define for decades to come one of the Constitution’s grandest commands: “the equal protection of the laws.”

If those words require only equal treatment from the government, the rulings are likely to be a mixed bag that will delight and disappoint liberals and conservatives in equal measure. Under that approach, same-sex couples who want to marry would be better off at the end of the term, while blacks and Hispanics could find it harder to get into college and to vote.

But a tension runs through the cases, one based on different conceptions of equality. Some justices are committed to formal equality. Others say the Constitution requires a more dynamic kind of equality, one that takes account of the weight of history and of modern disparities.

The four major cases yet to be decided concern same-sex marriage, affirmative action in higher education and the fate of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which places special burdens on states with a history of racial discrimination.

Formal equality would require that gay couples be treated just like straight couples when it comes to marriage, white students just like black students when it comes to admissions decisions and Southern states just like Northern ones when it comes to federal oversight of voting. The effect would be to help gay couples, and hurt blacks and Latinos.

But such rulings — “liberal” when it comes to gay rights, “conservative” when it comes to race — are hard to reconcile with the historical meaning of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, adopted in the wake of the Civil War and meant to protect the newly freed black slaves. It would be odd, said David A. Strauss, a law professor at the University of Chicago, for that amendment to help gays but not blacks.

“What’s weird about it would be the retreat on race, which is the paradigm example of what the 14th Amendment is meant to deal with,” he said, “coupled with fairly aggressive action on sexual orientation.”

But actual as opposed to formal racial equality has fallen out of favor in some circles, Professor Strauss said. “One thing that seems to be going on with these historically excluded groups,” he said, “is that they come to be thought of as just another interest group. Blacks seem to have crossed that line.”

Justice Antonin Scalia appeared to express that view during the argument in February in the voting rights case, Shelby County v. Holder, No. 12-96. “Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements,” he said, “it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes.”

Gay men and lesbians have yet to achieve formal legal equality. They are not protected against job discrimination in much of the nation, may not marry their same-sex partners in most of it and do not have their marriages recognized by the federal government in any of it. The fact that they are asking for equal treatment may help their cause in the cases challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which for purposes of federal benefits defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and Proposition 8, the California voter initiative that banned same-sex marriage there.

But Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. suggested in March that ordinary politics would sort things out. “As far as I can tell,” he told a lawyer challenging the federal marriage law in United States v. Windsor, No. 12-307, “political figures are falling over themselves to endorse your side of the case.”

In the three months since that argument, three more states have adopted same-sex marriage, raising the total to 12, along with the District of Columbia.

Kenji Yoshino, a law professor at New York University, said the two different conceptions of equal protection are animated by different concerns. One is skeptical of government classifications based on race and similar characteristics, whatever their goals. The other tries to make sure that historically disfavored groups are not subordinated.

“Under Jim Crow,” Professor Yoshino said, “both horses ran in the same direction.” Southern states enacted laws that drew formal distinctions, and those distinctions oppressed blacks.

“These days,” Professor Yoshino said, “the two horses are running in opposite directions.”

Consider the case of Abigail Fisher, a white woman who was denied admission to the University of Texas. She says the university, an arm of the state government, should not classify people on the basis of race because that violates a colorblind conception of the Constitution’s equal protection clause.

Defenders of the university’s affirmative action program say the purpose of the classification must figure in the equal protection analysis. “What we’re really trying to do is try to make sure there aren’t castes in our society, and we will try to lift up castes,” Professor Yoshino said.

A formal conception of equality helps Ms. Fisher in her case, Fisher v. University of Texas, No. 11-345. A dynamic one helps the university.

Whichever side loses a major Supreme Court case is likely to say the decision was an example of judicial activism. That term can be an empty insult, but political scientists try to give it meaning. They say a court is activist when it strikes down a law as unconstitutional. There is a chance the court will be activist in that sense twice this week.

It may strike down central provisions of the federal marriage law and of the Voting Rights Act. Should that happen, said Pamela Harris, an adviser to the Supreme Court Institute at Georgetown’s law school, “the left will be saying out of one side of its mouth, ‘How dare you strike down the considered judgment of Congress in the Voting Rights Act?’ ” In the same breath, she said, liberals will add, “But great job on DOMA.”

There is another possibility: one or more of the cases could fizzle, said Walter E. Dellinger, who served as acting solicitor general in the Clinton administration and filed an influential brief in the Proposition 8 case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, No. 12-144. It argued that the failure of officials in California to appeal the judgment against them deprived the Supreme Court of jurisdiction to decide the case, and it was discussed at the argument in March.

Mr. Dellinger said all four remaining blockbuster cases suffer from plausible procedural flaws that could lead to their dismissal. “I’ve never heard of this before,” he said of such an end-of-term possibility.

An effort to harmonize all of the court’s big decisions may in the end prove impossible. “It’s hard to imagine somebody happy with everything they do, except Justice Kennedy,” Professor Strauss said, referring to the member of the court at its ideological center, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.

That may be just as well for the court’s reputation. In giving something to liberals and something to conservatives, as it often does, Professor Strauss said, “the court has avoided putting itself in a position where either side wants to declare war on them.”

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

June 22, 2013

A Louisville Clinic Races to Adapt to the Health Care Overhaul

By ABBY GOODNOUGH
IHT

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — One morning last month, a health clinic next to a scruffy strip mall here had an unlikely visitor: a man in a suit and tie, seeking to bring a dose of M.B.A. order to the operation.

A dozen clinic employees, who spend intense, chaotic days treating an unending stream of Louisville’s poor and uninsured, stared stonily at handouts he had brought as he made his pitch.

The visitor was Danny DuBosque, a “coach” hired to help the nonprofit clinic adapt to the demands of the federal health care overhaul. He had come to discuss a new appointment system, one that will let patients see a doctor or nurse within a few days of calling, instead of weeks or months.

“It’s a huge satisfier,” he declared — management-speak that fell flat with Dr. Michelle Elisburg, a pediatrician who was scheduled to see 26 patients that day.

“It puts me on edge,” said Dr. Elisburg, who has spent her career treating the poor. “Under this model, it’s first come first served, whoever calls fastest. But that’s not necessarily the patient who really needs to be seen.”

Mr. DuBosque, 35, raised his arms, a plea for patience. “We’re going to take the next few years going through and untangling all these issues,” he said before hurrying to another meeting.

“It’s frightening,” Dr. Elisburg, 42, murmured as Mr. DuBosque left.

The debate that morning was just one expression of the tensions rippling through medical offices around the country in the countdown to January, when the Affordable Care Act will require most Americans to have health insurance or pay a tax penalty. For doctors and their staffs, this is a period of fevered preparation for the far-reaching changes that are soon to come as the law moves out of the realm of political jousting and into the real world.

To follow how the historic law is playing out, The New York Times will look periodically at its impact in Louisville, a city of 600,000 that embodies both the triumphs and the shortcomings of the medical system in the United States.

The nation’s first hand transplant was performed here, as was the world’s first implant of a self-contained artificial heart. One of the nation’s largest insurers, Humana, is based here, and the city’s downtown area alone has four hospitals and a medical school. Health care increasingly fuels the local economy, accounting for many of the largest employers and a growing number of start-ups.

Yet for all the resources and expertise, the health outcomes in Kentucky remain “horrendous,” as Gov. Steven L. Beshear, a Democrat, put it recently. The state has some of the nation’s highest rates of smoking, obesity and deaths due to cancer and diabetes. At this point, the only sure thing about putting the law’s many pieces in place here is that it will not be easy.

The potential benefits are huge. Some 90,000 people could get medical coverage in this city alone. It could create thousands of jobs in Kentucky and, if its aspirations are realized, provide better care at lower cost. Yet the law still provokes suspicion and confusion, among both health care providers and the uninsured population it is meant to help.

Community clinics like the one Mr. DuBosque was visiting, one of seven in a network here called Family Health Centers, are at the front lines of the change. They expect that their patient load could double, even as they struggle to recruit doctors and other staff members. They serve people who, because of poverty or entrenched habits, often have a hard time staying healthy and tend to put off preventive care. Now these clinics are anticipating competition from private providers who may see newly insured patients — no matter how poor — as opportunities for profit. So they are working on improving the patient experience and their own efficiency.

The legislation allots $11 billion over five years to improve and expand community clinics across the nation. Family Health Centers is getting $5.4 million to renovate a clinic for the homeless and move a downtown clinic to a much bigger building, adding dental and X-ray departments and a pharmacy. The organization hopes to eventually serve 10,000 additional patients at that site alone, if it can hire enough doctors and nurses to treat them. Meanwhile, it is using federal stimulus money to convert 60,000 paper charts to electronic medical records, and trying to improve patient access with the new scheduling system and other changes.

“We have to change from being the provider of last resort to the first choice for the community we serve,” said Bill Wagner, the longtime executive director of Family Health Centers. “Everything we do needs to say, ‘You’re valuable to us.’ ”

Soft of voice and low-key, Mr. Wagner, 60, nonetheless acknowledges that the stakes for Family Health Centers are unnervingly high. He gets to work at 6:30 a.m. these days, relies on a steady stream of caffeine and clears his head with weekend motorcycle rides.

“We couldn’t have more balls in the air right now,” he said.

Patients and Problems

The West End of Louisville is a patchwork of poor neighborhoods, where asthma, high blood pressure and other chronic conditions are stubbornly common. In Portland, a neighborhood of one-way streets and faded shotgun homes, the biggest Family Health Centers clinic provides basic care to some 16,000 patients per year, regardless of ability to pay.

Here, Alaina Brohm, a brisk nurse practitioner, treats a diverse and challenging population: the unemployed, the chronically depressed, the obese, patients with advanced diabetes and feeble hearts. Ms. Brohm, 30, could be making more money at the retail clinics popping up in drugstores and supermarkets, diagnosing strep throats and bladder infections. Maybe someday she will. But for now, she wants a bigger challenge.

“I knew I would see it all here — a lot of chronic conditions, the worst of the worst,” she said. “I know a little bit about everything.”

Few in Louisville may feel the effects of the new health care law as tangibly as the uninsured patients who churn through Ms. Brohm’s cramped exam rooms — and how they will respond to the law is one of the crucial questions that will determine whether it succeeds. For now, many seem either wary of it or uninformed.

Marchelle Edwards, 55, had been absent from the clinic for more than a year when she arrived there one Monday in May. She had a painful infection in her foot, linked to uncontrolled diabetes. She had stopped taking medicine to control her blood sugar after her prescription ran out months earlier. She also had a bladder infection and a thyroid condition that was making her hoarse. Her daughter Tammy, who had driven her to the clinic, reported that she was subsisting on Pepsi and junk food and feeling tired all the time.

Ms. Edwards seemed to be a walking example of the potential benefits of the same-day appointment system that Mr. DuBosque had been pitching. “I just couldn’t get an appointment in here,” she said, alluding to the long wait time and why she had not bothered trying.

“Even if you made an appointment and it was two months out,” Ms. Brohm softly chided, “it would be a lot sooner than waiting a year.”

The last time Ms. Brohm had seen Ms. Edwards, in April 2012, she had referred her to a podiatrist affiliated with University Hospital, which provides most of the city’s specialized indigent care. But Ms. Edwards, a former food service worker, said she had stopped seeing the podiatrist because he charged $35 per visit.

“I stay at home and I hurt,” she said.

Ms. Brohm started her back on two medicines: one to regulate her blood sugar, and another to help with pain in her feet, a result of nerve damage from the diabetes. One would be free through a pharmacy discount program for the poor; the other would be $6 a month, an expense Ms. Edwards said was prohibitive.

“There’s only so much I can do with your toes, O.K., without surgery,” Ms. Brohm told her. “You’re going to need another referral to a podiatrist, another appointment with a financial counselor. Let me grab you a list.”

She left the room to get one, but Ms. Edwards stalked out, scowling, before she could return. Her daughter shook her head.

“Not having insurance,” Tammy Edwards said, “not being able to get the treatments and stuff that she really needs, it’s depressing for her.”

Ms. Edwards will almost certainly qualify for Medicaid under an expansion next year, which means she would pay nothing or a few dollars for most drugs and medical care, with a maximum of $450 a year.

Yet Ms. Brohm wonders whether Ms. Edwards will pursue the care she needs even if she gets Medicaid. “She’s scared of health care,” Ms. Brohm said after the appointment. “She’s one of the ones that’s more in denial. I guess it’s her defense mechanism: ‘If I don’t find out, then I won’t know.’ ”

Ms. Edwards’s case raises a crucial question about the health care law: Will insurance necessarily make unhealthy people healthier?

David Elson, 59, who has congestive heart failure and chronic kidney disease, skipped an appointment at the clinic in April because he could not afford the fee. He earns enough to pay the highest fee on the clinic’s sliding scale: $65 per visit, he said, and more if he needs blood work. He came one recent evening for an urgent visit, laboring to breathe.

Mr. Elson, who has his own business installing alarm systems, used to pay $125 a month for health insurance, he said. But then he developed diabetes, and his premium soared to more than $500 a month. He dropped the policy years ago.

His nurse practitioner, Susan Elrod, quickly determined that he had fluid in his lungs. Ashen and slumped, he had gained 50 pounds in two months — all water weight, she said — because his weakened heart had not been pumping efficiently enough. He now weighed 309 pounds, and his legs had swelled so much that large lesions had opened on them, fluid seeping out.

“We’re going to have to send you to the emergency room,” Ms. Elrod told him. “Do you feel strong enough to drive, or would you like me to call an ambulance?”

Mr. Elson grimaced, realizing he now faced a far greater expense than what he had saved by skipping his last appointment. He was already struggling to pay for his insulin — $240 a month, he said — and other drugs, which filled a plastic bag he had brought with him.

“I can’t afford to go,” he said, looking blank, after Ms. Elrod had left the room.

He went nonetheless, but not until the next morning, when a neighbor could drive him.

Mr. Elson said he earned about $24,000 a year, too much to qualify for Medicaid even under the expansion. It will cover people with incomes up to $15,856 for a household of one.

But Mr. Elson could still get federal subsidies starting next year to help him buy private coverage through the insurance marketplace, or exchange, that Kentucky is creating under the law. People with incomes up to 400 percent of the poverty level — about $46,000 for an individual — will be eligible for such subsidies if they buy coverage through an exchange. But Mr. Elson said he was certain the cost would still be too high.

“I don’t see it helping anybody,” he said, “just making everybody get insurance.”

In fact, Mr. Elson might pay about $130 a month for coverage if he signed up for a medium-cost plan, according to an estimate by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan research group. He would qualify for a subsidy that would cover 80 percent of his premium costs. The law will also prohibit insurance companies from turning him away or charging him more because he is sick.

Even Ms. Brohm, the nurse practitioner, is suspicious of the law and confused about the changes it will bring. For one thing, she worries that poor people who become eligible for Medicaid under the expansion will be required to pay a part of their medical costs.

“If it does help out with the expensive stuff, that will be very exciting,” she said. “But my concern is if they have to pay anything, will things still be done? Sometimes even a small percentage is too much for people.”

The law’s divisiveness, meanwhile, makes her uncomfortable. She knows of a restaurant chain that may be sold, she said, because the owner cannot afford to provide insurance for his employees, as the law will soon require.

“If it becomes something a lot of people argue about,” she said, “that frightens me.”

Changes on the Way

At a meeting of the Family Health Centers medical staff in May, Ms. Brohm and her colleagues listened as Dr. Peter Thurman, the medical director, delivered a pep talk of sorts. He was pressing them to complete a day’s worth of online courses about the electronic records system that the clinics were poised to adopt. More training would come later in the year.

“It’s self-preservation, in my opinion,” Dr. Thurman said.

The topic shifted to the new appointment system, which only one of the clinics, known as Fairdale, had adopted so far. The early news was good: the average no-show rate had dropped from 21 percent in March to 10.5 percent in May.

“This thing is working,” Dr. Thurman proclaimed, and went on to credit Mr. DuBosque. “Danny’s been a godsend for us, I’ll just be honest with you.”

Later that day, Mr. DuBosque drove to the Fairdale clinic on the south side of Louisville, to get some firsthand feedback. The staff had more good news: fewer patients were turning to private urgent-care centers, a growing source of competition for Family Health Centers.

“They’re acting shocked: ‘What, we can get in today?’ ” said Saundra Kay Webb, a receptionist.

Technically, Mr. DuBosque’s job is to help Family Health Centers get certified as a “patient-centered medical home.” Under that model, teams of providers take a highly organized approach to patient care, with a focus on customer service. Better access is a central goal, which is why Family Health Centers is cutting its wait time for appointments.

Electronic medical records are also essential to the medical home model, partly to reduce what Mr. DuBosque called “the sheer work of keeping tabs on things with paper charts.”

Among other things, he is learning that change sometimes comes more slowly in community clinics than in the fiercely competitive hospital sector, where he used to work. For example, Mr. DuBosque thinks it would be smart to start and end the workday later at Family Health Centers, because patients are reluctant to show up for early-morning appointments. But the idea is not catching fire.

“There’s a whole host of things we’re going to have to fight through with that,” he said. “We have a lot of staff with some established routines and schedules. But I think it’s a no-brainer.”

Doctors working full time at Family Health Centers earn about $127,000 a year, far less than many of their counterparts in private practice. In the last year alone, the clinics lost five doctors, including one who moved, one who retired and one who took a higher-paying job at a hospital. Nurse practitioners are filling the void. They now make up 60 percent of the medical staff at the seven clinics, and their role will continue to grow.

But they, too, are in high demand, and their salary at Family Health Centers, about $67,000 a year for a full-time position, comes up short compared with the private sector.

If Family Health Centers sees enough new revenue, raising salaries will be a top priority. But as with so much of the Affordable Care Act, there are still far more questions than answers.

“Will it allow a community health center to be competitive on M.D.’s against the hospitals?” Dr. Thurman asked. “I just don’t know.”

Financial Considerations

One afternoon last month, Mr. Wagner, the director of Family Health Centers, canceled his appointments and hurried to the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort, about an hour away. Governor Beshear was announcing that he would expand Medicaid in the state, a measure called for under the health care law but one that many states are opting out of. By the governor’s estimate, it would allow up to 308,000 additional Kentuckians into the program, almost half of the state’s uninsured population.

Mr. Wagner was eager to bear witness to an announcement that he deemed historic, the culmination of a goal he has spent his career trying to achieve. The Medicaid expansion could also solve Mr. Wagner’s budget problem. Family Health Centers is facing a deficit of about $3 million in its overall annual budget of $30 million, largely because so many of its 42,000 patients, 54 percent, are uninsured.

“Right now we’re living off our reserve fund, and that can only last so long,” Mr. Wagner said.

Then it was back to his office in Louisville to keep planning. That day he learned that community clinics around the country would receive $150 million to help sign up people for insurance. Family Health Centers anticipates getting about $300,000, which it will use to get the word out starting this summer. Under the law, people can start signing up in October for coverage that starts in January.

“We will undoubtedly be hiring staff who will sit in the lobbies with patients — with laptops, with tablets — to provide assistance in enrolling online,” Mr. Wagner said.

October will be a critical month at Family Health Centers. The insurance sign-up period will begin just as construction on the new downtown clinic gets under way. At the same time, the huge Portland clinic will go live with the electronic medical records, and it will have just adopted the new appointment system.

Ms. Brohm, the nurse practitioner, will be married by then, returning from her honeymoon to what may feel like a strange new world. Ms. Elrod, her colleague, will have cut her hours at Family Health Centers and started working in the relative calm of a private doctor’s office. Short of a miracle, neither Ms. Edwards nor Mr. Elson, their chronically ill patients, will have health insurance yet. But if the outreach campaign succeeds, they will have learned of their options and may be poised to sign up.

The day after Mr. Elson was admitted to the hospital, Ms. Elrod called to check on him. His breathing had improved, and the hospital had prescribed a different diuretic to help him excrete water. He had lost 10 pounds so far and would lose 20 more by the end of his five-day stay. She told him to follow up at the clinic after his release.

“Get on my schedule for Tuesday night, O.K.?” she said, then paused for his response. “O.K., if you have the money. I understand, Mr. Elson. O.K. Bye.”

**********

Art Pope’s North Carolina Digital Gestapo

By: Adalia Woodbury
Jun. 21st, 2013
PoliticusUSA

While Republicans in DC are busy passing important laws that no one cares about and don’t address any of our problems, the Koch Republic of Pope (formerly known as North Carolina) is busily establishing libertea lovers laws like making corporations tax free,   or repealing the Racial Justice Act  which in essence provides people on death row with a basis to appeal if racial bias played a role in their convictions, and basically anything else that amounts to a political orgasm for the Tea Party.

According to the State’s governor Pat McCrory  (aka Art Pope’s puppet)

    Nearly every person on death row, regardless of race, has appealed their death sentence under the Racial Justice Act,” McCrory said in a statement Wednesday. “The state’s district attorneys are nearly unanimous in their bipartisan conclusion that the Racial Justice Act created a judicial loophole to avoid the death penalty and not a path to justice.

Right, there was never no racial bias in any case at all.  That’s why the previous governor, Democrat Bev Perdue, who also supports the death penalty,  vetoed previous attempts to repeal this law.

At the time, Perdue said it’s important the death penalty be given “fairly and that the process not be infected with prejudice based on race.”

Needless to say, the voter suppression laws  endorsed by freedumb loving Art Pope got the NAACP’s attention, not to mention civil libertarians and others who have the radical idea that all American citizens should have a right to vote.  Their weekly protests, dubbed “Moral Mondays” are peaceful (sans shotguns or signs saying “We didn’t come armed this time” and have resulted in arrests. This is because in the Koch Republic of Pope freedom means understanding that attacks on the basic principles of a free society are good for the corporation. If it’s good for the corporation, it’s good for everyone.

Sounds creepy enough right?  It gets creepier of the Civitas Institute collecting pictures and data of Moral Monday protestors and posting them on their website variety. Even creepier, The Civitas Institute is part of the Art Pope political machine via the foundation named for Pope’s late father.

The Civitas Institute decided it’s going to dedicate its investigative prowess to the Moral Monday protestors who constitute a much bigger threat to  freedumb in the Koch Republic of Pope than say Art Pope, who bought the government, is part of the government and is now using his extensive propaganda machine to intimidate anyone who challenges his government’s policies. Of course, since Pope owns The Civitas Institute, the odds that he’ll be investigated are non-existent.

In the name of investigating just who these protestors are and holding the short attention span of Fox fans, the website contains the following sections dedicated to their investigation:  Introduction  Pick the protestor game  (perhaps designed for the literacy challenged website visitor) the all-important protestor database  with more info available on the average protestor than on the average KRP lawmaker, Protestor facts and figures (comes with neat graphs too)  and the endlessly useful Anatomy of a Protestor  section designed to identify the traits associated with people who are defending the voting rights of all citizens regardless of race, political orientation or financial status.

Oh, you’ll just love their mission statement:

    The vision of the Civitas Institute is of a North Carolina whose citizens enjoy liberty and prosperity derived from limited government, personal responsibility and civic engagement. (by which they mean only people who agree with them can enjoy freedom and are encourage to civilly engage.)

Of course, the Civitas Institute will claim it’s their right to post this information. Freedom of speech you know. (wink wink)

This is one of those 501 3 c groups dedicated to social welfare and have absolutely nothing to do with politics. According to Open Secrets, Civitas’ human handler, Clark Reimer,  gave money to North Carolina’s Republican Executive Committee.  Right, so this organization really is about social welfare and doesn’t have nuttin to do with politics or political parties or party politics.

Besides, transparency means knowing anything real or imagined about protestors, while shadowy politicians financed by dark money continue the important work of making their Empire more business friendly.

Of course, we also know this tactic. Extremists in the pro birth movement who advocate using violence to further their cause on their websites use it.  Names, pictures of abortion providers, abortion clinics etc. are provided for any wacko to do their bit for “the cause”.

Granted, part of Civitas’ agenda may be simply to mock the protestors, as “hippies” or “takers” in the current Tea Party nomenclature. Equally as certain is the likelihood that publishing identifiable information about protestors is a less than subtle means to intimidate them and possibly motivate the Bubbas with shotguns to help the protestors see the error of their ways and just stop with this nonsense.

When exploring their investigation of Moral Monday protestors, the first words that came to mind were “digital gestapo”.   There’s just something fascistic about a group of 1, owned by a powerful member of the government, professing to believe in freedom, posting pictures and other information about protestors (which even if true) is irrelevant – at least in the United States of America.   Your age, your occupation (or lack thereof) your race and whether you have a criminal record or not is irrelevant to whether or not you get to have an opinion about government policies.

By “sharing” this information with the probable visitors to the website, this organization is in reality, attempting to discredit both the protestors and the reasons they are protesting.  They are using that same us/them propaganda tactic that the right wing used in an effort to discredit Occupy Wall Street.  It’s the sort of tactic that was used in another time and in another country, in the name of branding their followers as the proverbial good people and opponents of their agenda as the proverbial bad people.

This is what North Carolina has turned into.  This is what happens when “conservatives” get control over all branches of government and also use their “freedom’ to intimidate opponents of the corporate owned government’s policies.

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At Their Core Flag Waving Republicans Oppose Democracy and a Free Society

By: Rmuse
Jun. 22nd, 2013
PoliticusUSA

The danger inherent in fundamentalism is it demands an absolutist and strict obedience to a concrete standard, or set of standards, that its ideologue devotees cannot waiver from or comprehend non-compliance from non-adherents. Religion, in its purest form, is steeped in fundamentalism primarily because strict obedience to its particular tenets is required by its adherents who tend toward imposing their beliefs on the rest of society. America’s version of conservatism is a fixed belief system not unlike fundamentalist religion, and regardless the U.S. Constitution, or will of the people, conservatives are ill-inclined to waiver from imposing their ideology on the people. Like religion, conservatives demand strict obedience from all members of society making it incompatible with democracy or a free society. For the past four-and-a-half years, Americans have been besieged by an axis of fundamentalist groups who exemplify anti-democratic ideology and between corporatists, evangelical fundamentalists, and conservatives, the nation risks drifting toward fascism and if not thwarted spells the end of American democracy.

Although corporatists pose a clear and present danger to America’s representative democracy, it is religious and conservative fundamentalists who openly oppose the idea of a free society, and in their rush to impose their ideology on the entire nation belie their contention they love America or its founding document. Republicans in Congress have all but brought governance to a halt with their obstructionism and demand that the nation adheres to their fundamentalist agenda or they prevent government from operating, and in conjunction with forcing bible-based laws on the people demonstrate their hatred for democracy. As Americans await a pair of Supreme Court rulings on same-sex marriage, religious fundamentalists preemptively warned that a decision contrary to their religion will leave them no choice but to defy the Court they claim is “acting beyond its constitutional role and contrary to the Natural Moral Law which transcends religions, culture, and time.” The evangelicals released a letter stating their intent to defy the High Court and ended with a threat; “Make no mistake about our resolve, this is the line we must draw and one we cannot and will not cross,” and it exemplifies the Christian-conservative mindset Republicans are pushing on the people at all levels of government.

At the beginning of the 113th Congress, Speaker of the House John Boehner promised evangelical fundamentalists that “making abortion a relic of the past” was Republican’s primary goal for 2013, and following through on his word House Republicans passed an unconstitutional ban on abortions after 20 weeks in clear violation of the High Court’s ruling that abortion is a woman’s choice, and legal, until the fetus is viable outside the womb. Fundamentalists could not care less what the Supreme Court ruled and Republicans demonstrated their allegiance is not to the Constitutional authority of the High Court, but to the absolutist standards of fundamentalist Christians. In Virginia, the state’s attorney general and candidate for governor, Ken Cuccinelli, is defending an unconstitutional law, “Crimes Against Nature,” because he feels it is his religious right to prohibit oral and anal sex between consenting adults because like opponents of same-sex marriage, he claims it is “contrary to natural moral law” spelled out in the Christian bible.

Cuccinelli has a history of demanding Virginia residents adhere to his religious fundamentalist agenda and is the poster-boy for the Christian right’s attempt to rule by biblical edict. In 2007, Cuccinelli cosponsored personhood legislation that defined a zygote is a human being and would abolish and criminalize all forms of birth control as tantamount to murder for preventing a zygote from implanting in the womb.  In 1982 the Senate rejected legislation defining human life at fertilization because it automatically defined contraception as an “abortifacient” which is a nice word for zygote killer. In 2010, Cuccinelli sent a memo to the state’s universities informing them they did not need to protect gays from discrimination, and that it would be illegal if they did. He said, “It is my advice that the law prohibits a college or university from including ‘sexual orientation’ as a protected class within its nondiscrimination policy,” and it is based on his “view that homosexual acts are intrinsically wrong. I think in a natural law based country it’s appropriate to have policies that reflect that. They don’t comport with natural law. I happen to think that it represents behavior that is not healthy to society.”

Cuccinelli, like same-sex marriage opponents and conservatives opposed to social programs, safety nets, taxes on the wealthy and corporations, represents the fundamentalist threat to democracy because they will go to any length to impose their ideology on the people regardless the U.S. Constitution, Supreme Court rulings, or the will of the people. For example, Republicans blocked expanded background checks for gun purchases despite 90% of America, including Republicans and NRA members, supported a sensible means of keeping guns out of criminal’s hands. In a January 2013 poll, 70% of Americans supported abortion rights and yet Republicans, at the behest of evangelicals, passed an unconstitutional ban after 20 weeks despite the risk of losing more women voters in the next election.

Democracy is the antithesis of, and protection from, fundamentalism because the idea of one man, one religion, one political ideology, or one religious book being set up as the absolute standard to which all people of a nation are bound will always subject the majority to tyranny. It is true that is the end goal of Christian fundamentalists in America the same as it is the goal of conservatives in the tea party and Republicans pushing libertarianism on America, but it is not democracy and certainly not the Founding Fathers intent. Admittedly not all Christians seek to impose their will on all the people, but inherent in all religions is the belief that there is only one way, one law, and one absolute that rejects all others and it is why men like Cuccinelli, conservative Christians in Congress, and same-sex marriage opponents openly threaten to defy the Highest Court in the land because a ruling may be contrary to their “natural moral law” and state categorically that the Supreme Court has no “moral authority” to rule that all Americans are protected under the 14th Amendment.

Perhaps the religious leaders who threatened there is a “line we cannot and will not cross” are ignorant of the High Court’s duty to the Constitution and the nation because it is not a moral authority; it is a legal and Constitutional authority over the entire nation. Whether the religious fundamentalists like it or not, the Constitution, and not any religious book, is the legal authority in America and that is a line that the great majority of Americans will not tolerate any group crossing regardless of what kind of fundamentalist ideologue they are.

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It’s High Time That the GOP Faces Its Real Enemy: House Republicans

By: Becky Sarwate
Jun. 22nd, 2013
PoliticusUSA

As should be apparent to anyone who paid attention to the November 2012 election cycle, the Republican party is in electoral disarray. To call their messaging strategy tone deaf is an insult to the musically-impaired, who typically find other ways to communicate successfully. In print, web and television outreach, the GOP managed to estrange women, the scientific community and minorities with all-out assaults on female reproductive rights and workplace equality, sneers at empirical evidence of climate change and of course, a view of our nation’s immigrants as persona non grata. The really neat trick about the last bungle is the speed with which the Republican party managed to destroy the 59 percent approval rating once enjoyed by former President George W. Bush amongst Latin Americans during the majority of his term.

After an embarrassing Election Day drubbing which featured President Obama trouncing Mitt Romney with regard to women voters, African-Americans and (this statistic still stuns me) enjoying a 44-point advantage amongst Hispanics, GOP loyalists (masochists?) hoped ballot box tallies would deliver the necessary wakeup call. Republican Governors and Senators, all coincidentally I’m sure, considering a 2016 run for the White House, fell all over themselves to get to the nearest microphone. The plea, in not so many words, was clear: please stop engendering long-term revulsion for our party with backward, racist rhetoric that ignores the country’s rapidly evolving demographics. In January, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal cautioned the Republican National Committee to “Stop being the stupid party,” while 2013 It Boy, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, begged his caucus to cease using “harsh, intolerable and inexcusable” rhetoric directed at illegal immigrants, or risk losing the Latino vote in perpetuity.

And for a moment, considering the speed with which the Senate managed to come together in consideration of long-overdue, comprehensive immigration reform, it appeared that GOP party members received the message. In short order, Republicans returned to their number one priority: stonewalling the President at every turn with regard to Cabinet and judicial appointments, squashing common-sense gun reforms and scandal baiting that led former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (Newt Gingrich, people!) to caution his party against “overreach.” These are, clearly, crazy times in which we live.

But while the Republican Party goes about its daily business of painting the President as the enemy of freedom, privacy and job creation, leaders in the Senate have tried to ignore the very real fact that, when it comes to creating resurgent conservative momentum, the enemy lies within. The threatening calls, quite literally, are coming from inside the House.

Consider this week’s headline courtesy of ABC News: House Committee Would Criminalize Being Undocumented. Writers Jim Avila and Serena Marshall open the piece with the rhetorical question, “One small step for immigration in the Senate, one giant leap backward in the House?” Describing the recent work of the House Judiciary Committee on immigration reform, the article notes a “First step, making it a federal crime (misdemeanor) to be in the United States with undocumented status and repealing DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), better known as the DREAM Act, that provides temporary status to people brought to the United States as children and were younger than 31 as of June 15, 2012.”

Though this proposed legislation has zero chance of passage in the Senate, or of being signed into law by President Obama, Republicans in the House have no qualms about continued waste of taxpayer time and money that results in legislation opposing the will of the American people. Depending on the poll, it is estimated that between 61 and 78 percent of voting citizens support immigration overhaul.

The response to the House’s latest shot at immigrants was immediate and profound. Avila and Marshall report that “Protestors chanting ‘shame, shame, shame, stop the pain’ and ‘Si, se puede’ (‘Yes, We Can’) caused a momentary pause in the committee at the beginning of the proceedings.” And, “The hashtag #HATEact was being used by opponents of the legislation on social media.”

Well done GOP. Nothing like welcoming Latino voters back into the fold.

However my question for today is directed at those would-be populist Republican Senators and Governors. When exactly will you stop directing your petulant, partisan griping at Obama and start taking on your real opponents, the members of your own party who will have you languishing as a fringe minority (pun most certainly intended) for all eternity?

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Mitch McConnell Admits That Obama Wasn’t Involved In the IRS Scandal

By: Jason Easley
Jun. 21st, 2013
PoliticusUSA

During a paranoid speech at American Enterprise Institute, Sen. Mitch McConnell burst the right’s bubble by admitting that President Obama wasn’t involved in the IRS scandal.

Video of full McConnell speech at AEI:

This speech was loaded with right wing red meat paranoia, but see if you can notice how McConnell is trying to change his story on the IRS scandal. Keep in mind that Republicans have been trying to claim that President Obama was involved, “Then, of course, there’s the widespread effort to stifle speech from within the government itself, something the Obama Administration has been engaged in from its earliest days. Some have traced this back even further, to the 2008 campaign. But my central point last June, and my central point today, is this: the attacks on speech that we’ve seen over the past several years were never limited to a few Left-wing pressure groups or the DISCLOSE Act, which I’ll turn to in a minute. They extend throughout the federal government, to places like the FEC, the FCC, HHS, the SEC, and as all Americans now know — even to the IRS. These assaults have often been aided and abetted by the administration’s allies in Congress. And they’re as virulent as ever.

Later McConnell blamed unions for the IRS scandal, “The federal bureaucracy, and in particular the growth of public sector unions, has created an inherent and undeniable tension between those who believe in limited self-government and those who stand to benefit from its growth. Let’s face it, when elected leaders and union bosses tell the folks who work at these agencies that they should view half the people they’re supposed to be serving as a threat to democracy, it shouldn’t surprise any of us that they would. Why would we even expect a public employee — whose union more or less exists to grow the government — to treat someone who opposes that goal to a fair hearing? When the head of the union that represents unionized IRS workers publicly vilifies the Tea Party, is it any wonder that members of her union would get caught targeting them?”

Towards the end of his speech, McConnell ruled out Obama involvement, “There might be some folks out there waiting for a hand-signed memo from President Obama to Lois Lerner to turn up. What I’m saying is that a coordinated campaign to use the levers of government to target conservatives and stifle speech has been in full swing and open view for years. It’s been carried out by the same people who say there’s nothing more to the DISCLOSE Act than transparency, and no more to other disclosure regulations than good government.”

And just like the that, the Republican leader in the Senate killed the IRS scandal. The whole allure for Republicans has always been that the IRS scandal would prove that Obama is just like Nixon. Now that the full transcripts have been released, and the evidence has been revealed for the world to see, Republicans need a new story. This is why McConnell returned to that tried in true villain of conservative mythology, the unions.

Sen. McConnell was trying to salvage something from the wreckage of the IRS scandal, that’s why he claimed that the unions are responsible for everything. Sen. McConnell is the most unpopular senator in the country. He is currently tied with his Democratic challenger to his reelection campaign. This is why McConnell’s speech was loaded with right wing buzzwords and union attacks.

While trying to fire up the right and save his job, McConnell did something that he wasn’t intending to do. He virtually killed the IRS scandal.

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Criminalizing Students Cripples Their Future and Lines the Pockets of the Corrections Industry

By: Deborah Foster
Jun. 23rd, 2013
PoliticusUSA

As someone who has worked with youth who have disabilities as part of my career, I was particularly disturbed when I recently came upon the story of a young high school student with Asperger’s syndrome who had been hounded and manipulated by someone he thought was his friend into buying this “friend” marijuana. Youth with disabilities often struggle to make friends. They’re subjected to the taunts of bullies much more often than they are extended the invitation of cliques to join them in the high stakes social gauntlet that is high school. What this article described were the machinations of an undercover cop who basically practiced the timeless art of bullying as he clearly went about his entrapment of his “friend.” Having myself been extended a false invitation to hang out with the “cool crowd” during my awkward youth, only to find it was a trick, I know the sting of being duped by someone who pretends to be your friend. This police officer did the same. At least when I woke up the next day, all I had were bad memories. This child with an autism spectrum disorder had a criminal charge to face. Righteously, his parents are filing suit against the school district for allowing their son to be targeted in his vulnerable position, for attempting to punish him even after a judge more or less let him off, and for the subsequent bullying the boy received from classmates as a result of the whole incident.

The story illustrates two major issues facing our leaders and policy-makers. First, the failed and out-of-control War on Drugs has become so pernicious, its warriors feel the need to ensnare disabled high school kids. There are hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits, but we’re spending our criminal justice dollars on undercover cops ferreting out and entrapping teens? When will our country finally say enough is enough, and end this costly and futile War?

Then, another equally disturbing issue is raised. Why are we criminalizing our youth? The now ubiquitous phrase, “school-to-prison pipeline,” has become part of our lexicon for a reason. Texas is assuring that transition for youth by electronically linking their school records to the criminal courts, so youth who miss school can be immediately prosecuted. Across the country, in story after story, we hear about children, some as young as five, being taken to jail or juvenile detention for misbehavior; misbehavior that in previous decades would have warranted the traditional detention.  Previous victims of the criminalization of students tell stories of being interrogated mercilessly, never being given access to their parents, an attorney, or even being read their rights. There is evidence that schools have very little concern for students’ rights.

Students are punished or even arrested for having too many absences, putting perfume on in class, not following the dress code, not carrying their ID, doodling on their desk, texting on school grounds, etc., with suspensions up to two weeks or even misdemeanor charges sending them to court. Alarmingly, being suspended just once in ninth grade doubles your chances of dropping out of high school (.pdf). Two suspensions and you have a 42% chance of dropping out. With three, there’s about a 50/50 chance, you’ll finish high school. And what of students who are sent to juvenile detention? New research has demonstrated that such facilities themselves are the cause of additional criminal behavior in youth. Economists Anna Aizer and Joseph J. Doyle, Jr. compared Chicago youth who went before judges who opted for juvenile detention more frequently versus those who received more lenient punishments (e.g. home monitoring or community service). Despite having similar profiles in terms of background and offenses, the youth sentenced to detention were 13% less likely to graduate high school and 22% more likely to end up in prison as adults.

Concerned teachers and administrators trace this trend back to the advent of “zero tolerance” policies, originally intended to apply to bringing guns and weapons to school, and now applied to every imaginable offense, including the most petty (.pdf). By no means is the impact racially neutral either. In the 2009-2010 school year, you had a one in fourteen chance of being suspended if you were a white child. If you were a black child, those odds go up to one in four. If you were a disabled child, your odds of suspension were one in five. You can just imagine how likely you would be to end up suspended if you were a black, disabled child. Though he wasn’t in school at the time, the case of Tremaine McMillian, the 14-year old boy, who allegedly gave police officers a “dehumanizing stare,” and thus apparently deserved to be put in a chokehold, demonstrates that African American children in particular are viewed as threatening and criminal.

All of this criminalization of children and youth has led some enlightened teachers/administrators, parents, and now young people, to protest. Members of Detroit Youth Voice, an activist group for the young, protested the school-to-prison pipeline a few months ago by taking their message to the streets and asking the Detroit Public School system to revisit their zero tolerance policies. And they have the backing of the State Board of Education which issued a memorandum stating,

    “Researchers have found no evidence that zero tolerance policies make schools safer or improve student behavior. In fact, studies suggest that the overuse of suspensions and expulsions may actually increase the likelihood of later criminal misconduct…Many students who have been suspended or expelled have no alternative opportunities for learning or other productive activities. When students are repeatedly suspended, they are at substantially greater risk of leaving school altogether, and current rates of expulsion and suspension in Michigan public schools are unacceptably high…The Board strongly urges Michigan school districts to take the following action: Review existing zero tolerance policies that are above and beyond those required in law, and limit the number of offenses mandating suspension and referral to law enforcement to those directly related to the safety of students and school personnel. Removing a child from an educational opportunity should be reserved for the most serious infractions, and not used as a means of discipline for minor occurrences…”

It remains to be seen how school districts respond to the Board of Education’s recommendations. Of course, this is evidence of progress in one state. There are still many, many more in drastic need of reform. There is also plenty of room for concern about the trend across the country to close schools in low-income, predominantly minority communities where educational resources are most needed. For example, Philadelphia has just decided to close 23 of its public schools to save money due to budget shortfalls. The irony: they are spending $400 million to build a “state of the art” prison.

Last year, I wrote about the rise of the private prison industry and the dangers of providing perverse incentives to lock people up. One would hope that private companies are not already behind the scenes lobbying for zero tolerance policies or other sorts of school policy that facilitate a school-to-prison pipeline, but it wouldn’t be too cynical to ponder the possibility. These companies not only house a high percentage of federal/state prisoners and INS-detained undocumented immigrants, they also operate many juvenile detention centers (e.g. all of Florida’s). They are likely eager to see 5 yr. old girls get 10-day suspensions from school for “making terrorist threats” with their Hello Kitty bubble-making “gun” or 6 yr. olds get arrested for having a temper tantrum. After all, the evidence suggests these kids stand a higher chance of being future inmates once they become criminalized, they prematurely leave school, and their life options are circumscribed.  If we don’t want to just fill their cells and their coffers, it is past time to end the criminalization of children.
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Edward Snowden: diplomatic storm swirls as whistleblower seeks asylum in Ecuador

Whistleblower escapes from Hong Kong to Moscow on a commercial flight despite a formal US extradition request

Tania Branigan in Hong Kong, Miriam Elder in Moscow and Nick Hopkins   
The Guardian, Monday 24 June 2013   

The intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden will on Monday attempt to complete an audacious escape to the relative safety of South America after his departure from Hong Kong aggravated already fraught diplomatic relations between the United States and China.

In a move that appeared to bewilder the White House, Snowden was allowed to flee Hong Kong on Sunday morning and head to Moscow on a commercial flight despite a formal request from the US to have the 30-year-old detained and extradited to face espionage charges for a series of leaks about the National Security Agency (NSA) and Britain's spy centre, GCHQ.

In Moscow, Snowden disappeared again, leaving the aircraft without being spotted but pursued by the Ecuadorian ambassador, Patricio Chávez, amid speculation that he will fly to Quito on Monday, possibly via Cuba.

Snowden has asked for political asylum in Ecuador, the country that has also given shelter to the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, at its embassy in London.

In a statement on Sunday night, WikiLeaks, which has been providing legal and logistical help to Snowden in recent days, said: "He is bound for the Republic of Ecuador via a safe route for the purposes of asylum, and is being escorted by diplomats and legal advisers from WikiLeaks."

"Mr Snowden requested that WikiLeaks use its legal expertise and experience to secure his safety. Once Mr Snowden arrives in Ecuador his request will be formally processed."

Ecuador's foreign minister, visiting Vietnam, said on Monday his nation had received Snowden's request for political asylum, but no decision had been taken.

"I can confirm that we received the request for asylum from Mr Snowden," Ricardo Patino told reporters in Hanoi. "We will make a decision on this, we are analysing this with a lot of responsibility."

Snowden's escape from Hong Kong infuriated US politicians, while China focused on condemning Washington over his latest disclosures, which suggested the NSA had hacked into Chinese mobile phone companies to access millions of private text messages.

Moscow was also drawn into the controversy after it emerged that Snowden's passport had been revoked before he left Hong Kong and he did not have a visa for Russia.

But Russia appeared indifferent to the uproar, with one official saying Snowden was safe from the authorities as long as he remained in the transit lounge at the city's Sheremetyevo airport.

Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, said: "I know nothing."

In Washington, congressmen fulminated at the array of powers suddenly ranged against the US. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House permanent select committee on intelligence, railed at the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, over his attitude to Snowden, suggesting an ulterior motive.

"I'm sure they would love to have a little bit of coffee and some conversation with Mr Snowden," Rogers said.

Democratic senator Chuck Schumer added: "The bottom line is very simple: allies are supposed to treat each other in decent ways, and Putin always seems almost eager to put a finger in the eye of the United States, whether it is Syria, Iran and now of course with Snowden. That's not how allies should treat each other and I think it will have serious consequences for the United States-Russia relationship."

Washington will also challenge Hong Kong over its decision to let Snowden flee. In a statement, the Hong Kong Special Autonomous Region (HKSAR) said it could not have stopped Snowden because America's request to detain him on a provisional warrant – filed in papers last week – did not fully comply with legal requirements.

"As the HKSAR government has yet to have sufficient information to process the request for provisional warrant of arrest, there is no legal basis to restrict Mr Snowden from leaving Hong Kong," the statement said.

Yet the admission that Snowden had been allowed to leave was made five hours after he had boarded an Aeroflot flight to Moscow, and the discovery of the oversight came two days after the papers had been formally sent.

On Sunday night a US justice department official said it was disappointed that Hong Kong authorities did not arrest Snowden, despite repeated contacts at senior level about the matter. "The US is disappointed and disagrees with the determination by Hong Kong authorities not to honour the request for the arrest of the fugitive," the official said.

At no point in discussions on Friday did Hong Kong raise issues regarding the sufficiency of the US arrest request, the official added. "In light of this, we find their decision to be particularly troubling."

Snowden, a former NSA contractor, had previously said he would stay in Hong Kong and fight for his freedom through the courts. He had been at a safe house after giving an interview to the Guardian revealing himself as the source who leaked top-secret US documents.

Since then, Snowden has been in touch with WikiLeaks, which revealed on Sunday that it had been instrumental in helping him find safe passage out of Hong Kong.

Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Assange said: "Owing to WikiLeaks' own circumstances, we have developed significant expertise in international asylum and extradition law, associated diplomacy and the practicalities in these matters. I have great personal sympathy for Ed Snowden's position. WikiLeaks absolutely supports his decision to blow the whistle on the mass surveillance of the world's population by the US government."

On Saturday, the South China Morning Post disclosed details of new documents from Snowden that suggested the NSA had hacked into Chinese phone companies.

For the second time in 10 days, General Keith Alexander, the head of the NSA, had to defend the agency's activities, and he did not deny the latest allegations. "To say that we're willfully just collecting all sorts of data would give you the impression that we're just trying to canvass the whole world," Alexander said.

"The fact is what we're trying to do is get the information our nation needs, the foreign intelligence, that primary mission. The case that Snowden has brought up is in defending this nation from a terrorist attack. I'm confident that we're following the laws that our country has in doing what we do. We have a set of laws that guide how NSA acts; we follow those laws. We have tremendous oversight by all three portions of the government: the courts, Congress and the administration."

But China's official Xinhua news agency said the revelations had "put Washington in a really awkward situation".

"They demonstrate that the United States, which has long been trying to play innocent as a victim of cyber attacks, has turned out to be the biggest villain in our age," it said.

The fall-out from Snowden's leaks continued to stir the surveillance debate in the UK, with Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, insisting David Cameron or the foreign secretary, William Hague, should address MPs.

On Friday, the Guardian revealed GCHQ has put taps on some of the cables that carry internet traffic in and out of the UK, and developed a storage system – codenamed Tempora – that can keep the information for up to 30 days.

The programme, which has not been disclosed before, allows GCHQ to keep a vast amount of emails and telephone calls for analysis.

Chakrabarti said: "The authorities appear to be kidding themselves with a very generous interpretation of the law that cannot stand with article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

"Revelations of blanket surveillance of the British public on such a scale amount to a huge scandal even by the standards of recent years. At the very least, the prime minister or foreign secretary should appear before the House of Commons immediately to explain how this was justified without clear legal authority or parliamentary debate."

GCHQ has said it complies fully with British law.

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Whistleblower Snowden escapes arrest in Hong Kong thanks to US errors

Edward Snowden heads for Ecuador after flight to Russia leaves authorities in various countries amazed and infuriated

Tania Branigan in Hong Kong, Miriam Elder in Moscow and Nick Hopkins   
The Guardian, Sunday 23 June 2013 19.05 BST   

Edward Snowden was five hours into his flight from Hong Kong, having already been served one of two hot meals, when news of his departure to Moscow began to electrify media organisations all over the world.

The Hong Kong authorities waited until Snowden was safely out of Chinese airspace before sending out a short press release that confirmed the intelligence whistle-blower had been allowed to leave on Aeroflot flight SU213, bound for Russia.

The 30-year-old had not been stopped on his way to Chek Lap Kok airport, and was allowed to slip away on a hot and humid morning, despite American demands that he be arrested and extradited to face trial for espionage offences.

The reason?

The Americans had mucked up the legal paperwork, the authorities claimed in a statement released at 4.05pm local time.

Hong Kong had no choice but to let the 30-year-old leave for "a third country through a lawful and normal channel".

If the sudden "discovery" of a flaw in legal proceedings prompted sighs of relief around the island and across the rest of China, there would have been sharp intakes of breath in Washington and London, where diplomats and intelligence officials had been hoping the net around Snowden was finally tightening.

A fortnight into a series of revelations that have embarrassed and infuriated the National Security Agency and Britain's GCHQ, their target was on the move again, heading, it seems, to central or south America, and potentially beyond the reach of authorities that could try to shut him up.

The escape from Hong Kong was another audacious move from Snowden, who went to ground a week ago and has not been seen since.

It was choreographed with the help of WikiLeaks, whose legal director is Baltasar Garzón, the former Spanish judge who enraged the British government by issuing an international warrant for the arrest in the UK of former Chilean president General Augusto Pinochet. "The WikiLeaks legal team and I are interested in preserving Mr Snowden's rights and protecting him as a person," Garzón said.

Once on board the Airbus A330-300, and for perhaps the first time in two weeks, Snowden would have been unaware of the diplomatic rows raging 40,000ft below him, as American officials woke up to find that the former NSA contractor had eluded them again and China reacted with indignation to his latest revelations.

The White House appears to have been caught flat-footed by the latest manoeuvres. On Saturday, President Obama's national security adviser, Tom Donilon, told CBS news he expected Hong Kong to arrest Snowden because it "has been a historically good partner of the United States in law enforcement matters and we expect them to comply with the treaty in this case".

Lawyers in Hong Kong thought so too, and reacted with amazement to the statement from the Hong Kong Special Autonomous Region (HKSAR).

Simon Young, a public law specialist at the University of Hong Kong, said the decision was "a shocker".

"The US government will be irate with their Hong Kong counterparts [and] may even question whether the Hong Kong government was acting in good faith pursuant to their treaty obligations. I'm surprised."

Ronny Tong Ka-wah, a barrister and legislator for the pro-democracy Civic party, said letting Snowden leave with a minimum of fuss must have been China's preferred option.

"If Beijing was to refuse to surrender Snowden, that might harm Sino-US relations. On the other hand, if Beijing was to allow Snowden to surrender, it might well be subject to criticism both here in Hong Kong and in European countries making noises about the conduct of the US."

The formal response from the US department of justice was measured.

"We will continue to discuss this matter with Hong Kong and pursue relevant law enforcement co-operation with other countries where Mr Snowden may be attempting to travel," a statement said.

But on Capitol Hill there was undisguised fury, particularly when it emerged that Snowden appeared to be intending to leave Moscow for Cuba, and then possibly Venezuela or Ecuador.

"Every one of those nations is hostile to the United States," fumed Mike Rogers, chair of the House intelligence committee. "The US government must exhaust all legal options to get him back. When you think about what he says he wants and what his actions are, it defies logic."

Democrat senator Charles Schumer said Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, "always seems almost eager to stick a finger in the eye of the United States, whether it is Syria, Iran and now, of course, with Snowden".

General Keith Alexander, director of the NSA, was withering too. "[Snowden] is clearly an individual who's betrayed the trust and confidence we had in him. This is an individual who is not acting, in my opinion, with noble intent."

The row overshadowed further revelations about the scope of US spying activities. Snowden left Hong Kong reeling after disclosing to the South China Morning Post that the NSA had targeted Chinese phone companies in a mass trawl of texts and phone calls.

After years of being condemned by Washington for industrial-scale stealing and spying in cyberspace, Beijing seized the opportunity to hit back, while swerving around awkward questions about Snowden himself.

The official Xinhua news agency said the revelations had "put Washington in a really awkward situation. Washington should come clean about its record first. The United States, which has long been trying to play innocent as a victim of cyber attacks, has turned out to be the biggest villain in our age."

In Moscow, meanwhile, various welcoming parties gathered at Terminal F of Sheremetyevo international airport in anticipation of Snowden's arrival. The biggest comprised reporters from the world's media, who assembled airside to greet the US fugitive and his travelling companion, Sarah Harrison, who works for WikiLeaks.

Neither of them emerged into the public lounges, provoking a new round of conspiracy theories and rumours about where they might have gone.

Russian security vehicles surrounded the plane when it landed, while plain-clothed Russian agents trawled the terminal, deflecting questions about which state agency they represented by pretending to be businessmen from Munich and journalists from state-run NTV.

Then a Venezuelan contingent was said to be there, fuelling speculation that Snowden was being whisked away to the country's embassy in Moscow, and his final destination was Caracas.

But by early evening it appeared Snowden had not left the airport at all, and Quito was a more likely final destination. The Ecuadorian foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, on an official visit to Vietnam, tweeted that Snowden had sought political asylum in his country.

An Aeroflot source quoted by Interfax said Snowden had taken a small overnight "capsule" room at a hotel in terminal E.

"He has arrived. He cannot leave the terminal, since he doesn't have a Russian visa," the source was quoted as saying.

The appearance at the airport of Ecuador's ambassador, Patricio Chávez, added to the melee.

The envoy appeared lost as he wandered around the terminal, approaching a group of journalists to ask: "Do you know where he is? Is he coming here?" A reporter replied: "We thought you did."

Before wandering off, Chávez admitted he hoped to see Snowden because "we have an interest in knowing what is happening to him". And, perhaps, how he had got there in the first place.

As Snowden settled in for the night, the American authorities announced they had revoked his passport before he had got on the flight from Hong Kong, and they hoped Moscow might intervene on their behalf.

But Russian officials have given no indication that they have any interest in detaining Snowden or have any grounds to do so. Far from it. The foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, has said Russia would be willing to consider granting asylum if Snowden were to make such a request.

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

China Said to Have Made Call to Let Leaker Depart

By JANE PERLEZ and KEITH BRADSHER
IHT
June 23, 2013

BEIJING — The Chinese government made the final decision to allow Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, to leave Hong Kong on Sunday, a move that Beijing believed resolved a tough diplomatic problem even as it reaped a publicity windfall from Mr. Snowden’s disclosures, according to people familiar with the situation.

Hong Kong authorities have insisted that their judicial process remained independent of China, but these observers — who like many in this article spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk freely about confidential discussions — said that matters of foreign policy are the domain of the Chinese government, and Beijing exercised that authority in allowing Mr. Snowden to go.

From China’s point of view, analysts said, the departure of Mr. Snowden solved two concerns: how to prevent Beijing’s relationship with the United States from being ensnared in a long legal wrangle in Hong Kong over Mr. Snowden, and how to deal with a Chinese public that widely regards the American computer expert as a hero.

“Behind the door there was definitely some coordination between Hong Kong and Beijing,” said Jin Canrong, professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing.

Beijing’s chief concern was the stability of the relationship with the United States, which the Chinese believed had been placed on a surer footing during the meeting between President Xi Jinping and President Obama at the Sunnylands estate in California this month, said Mr. Jin and a person knowledgeable about the Hong Kong government’s handling of Mr. Snowden.

The Chinese government was pleased that Mr. Snowden disclosed the extent of American surveillance of Internet and telephone conversations around the world, giving the Chinese people a chance to talk about what they describe as American hypocrisy regarding surveillance practices, said Mr. Jin and the person familiar with the consultations between Hong Kong and China.

But in the longer term, China’s overall relationship with the United States, which spans global economic, military and security issues, was more important than the feelings of the public in China and Hong Kong, who felt that the contractor should be protected from the reach of the United States, analysts said.   

Mainland Chinese officials “will be relieved he’s gone — the popular sentiment in Hong Kong and China is to protect him because he revealed United States surveillance here, but the governments don’t want trouble in the relationship,” said the person familiar with the consultations between Beijing and Hong Kong.

Mr. Snowden went public in Hong Kong on June 9, the day after the meeting between Mr. Obama and Mr. Xi ended, as the source of a series of disclosures in the British newspaper The Guardian and The Washington Post about classified national security programs.

The stream of information about the extent of American worldwide eavesdropping shifted the focus in the public sniping between the Obama administration and China over cybersecurity that had been unfolding for months.

In a series of speeches, senior officials in the Obama administration, including the national security adviser, Tom Donilon, and the defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, had taken the offensive against China, publicly accusing it of cyberespionage against American businesses. Mr. Donilon said in a speech in March that China was responsible for theft of confidential business information and proprietary technologies through digital intrusions on an “unprecedented scale.”

Supporters of Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, with his photograph at a demonstration outside the American Consulate in Hong Kong this month. � Bobby Yip/Reuters

In response to those accusations, China said that it was the victim of cyberattacks from the United States.

Mr. Snowden’s disclosures appeared to confirm the Chinese government’s argument, and put the United States on the defensive. The highly classified documents that Mr. Snowden gave to the two newspapers showed that the N.S.A. compiled logs of virtually all telephone calls in the United States and collected the e-mail of foreigners from American Internet companies.

Mr. Snowden has denied giving China classified documents and said he had spoken only to journalists. But his public statements, directly and to reporters, have contained intelligence information of great interest to China.

Two Western intelligence experts, who worked for major government spy agencies, said they believed that the Chinese government had managed to drain the contents of the four laptops that Mr. Snowden said he brought to Hong Kong, and that he said were with him during his stay at a Hong Kong hotel.

If that were the case, they said, China would no longer need or want to have Mr. Snowden remain in Hong Kong.

The disclosures by Mr. Snowden set off a surge of commentary against American “double faced” and “arrogant” behavior by many users of China’s version of Twitter.

In some instances, the Chinese news media made snide references to what it called the gap between how the United States portrayed itself, and what the United States practiced. “Washington must be grinding its teeth because Snowden’s revelations have almost overturned the image of the U.S. as the defender of a free Internet,” Global Times, which often reflects the official point of view, wrote in an editorial.

The precise details of how the Chinese government dealt with Hong Kong authorities were not immediately known.

But Beijing appears to have decided that weeks of focus on Mr. Snowden in Hong Kong and his disclosures about the American government’s global surveillance practices were enough, and that he could turn into a liability, said a second person familiar with the handling of Mr. Snowden. “Beijing has gotten the most they can out of the Snowden situation,” that person said.

A senior diplomat familiar with the way the Chinese government works said just before the departure of Mr. Snowden became public that he believed that Beijing would do all it could to keep Mr. Snowden out of American hands. The Chinese public would be outraged if the contractor was extradited, put on trial and jailed, he said. At the same time, the Obama administration would put relentless pressure on Beijing to get Mr. Snowden, he said.

“I see the sun of Sunnylands disappearing into the snow of Snowden,” the diplomat said.

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

US politicians issue warning to Russia as Edward Snowden arrives in Moscow

Senator warns Vladimir Putin of 'serious consequences' if country neglects to send NSA whistleblower back to US

Dominic Rushe in New York and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 23 June 2013 16.14 BST   

US politicians have attacked Vladimir Putin and called for Russia to hand over Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor who admitted leaking top secret spying documents.

The White House on Monday said it expected the Russian government to "look at all options available" to expel Snowden back to the US to face espionage charges.

The White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the US also registered strong objections to authorities in Hong Kong and China through diplomatic channels at the decision to let Snowden flee and "noted that such behavior is detrimental to US-Hong Kong and US-China bilateral relations".

Hayden said that given the intensified c-ooperation between the US and Russia after the Boston Marathon bombings in April and a history of working together on law enforcement matters, the United States wanted Moscow to help on the Snowden case.

"We expect the Russian government to look at all options available to expel Mr Snowden back to the US to face justice for the crimes with which he is charged," Hayden said.

A senior administration official said Snowden's claim that he leaked details of the NSA's secret surveillance programs to protect democracy and individual rights is "belied by the protectors he has potentially chosen: China, Russia, Cuba, Venezuela and Ecuador".

"His failure to criticise these regimes suggests that his true motive throughout has been to injure the national security of the US, not to advance internet freedom and free speech," the official said.

As Snowden landed in Moscow after leaving Hong Kong, where the US had requested his arrest, leading Democratic senator Chuck Schumer accused the Russian president of sticking a finger in the eye of the US.

"The bottom line is very simple: allies are supposed to treat each other in decent ways and Putin always seems almost eager to put a finger in the eye of the United States, whether it is Syria, Iran and now of course with Snowden," Schumer said on CNN's State of the Union.

"That's not how allies should treat each other and I think it will have serious consequences for the United States-Russia relationship."

Mike Rogers, chairman of the House permanent select committee on intelligence, told NBC's Meet The Press that he did not have information that Putin had prior knowledge of Snowden's flight plans but "it wouldn't surprise me".

"Putin has been planting a thorn in the world's side in Syria. We think they may not be playing honest with respect to the nuclear treaty. They are very aggressive around the world," he said. "I'm sure they would love to have a little bit of coffee and some conversation with Mr Snowden."

He added that the US should use "every legal avenue" to bring Snowden back to the US. "We will continue with extradition activities wherever he turns up."

Rogers said the leaks had damaged national security and "bad guys overseas have changed the way they operate" as a result of the leaks.

Republican senator Lindsey Graham told Fox News that Russia should "hold this fellow and send him back here for justice".

"I don't think he's a hero, I believe he hurt our nation. He compromised the national security program designed to find out what terrorists were up to," he said.

However, amid the backlash against Russia, politicians and others also rounded on the Obama administration. Graham questioned why Snowden was allowed to leave Hong Kong in the first place. "I'd like to find out why our papers were not in compliance. That would be a big mistake by the Department of Justice," he said.

Republican senator Rand Paul attacked national intelligence director James Clapper, who earlier this month admitted to giving the "least untruthful" answer to Congress when asked about the extent of US surveillance of American citizens.

Paul told CNN: "I think it is still going to be an open question with history about how this young man is judged. I do think when history looks at this they are going to contrast the behaviour of James Clapper, our national intelligence director, with Edward Snowden. Mr Clapper lied in Congress in defiance of the law in the name of security. Mr Snowden told the truth in the name of privacy." He said both had broken the law.

On Saturday House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi was booed by a crowd during a speech at activist meeting Netroots Nation when she said Snowden had broken the law.

Pelosi was heckled as she spoke about the need to balance privacy and security. One man yelled: "It's not a balance, it makes us less safe." Another shouted: "You suck!"

**********

Russia defiant as U.S. raises pressure over Snowden

By Reuters
Monday, June 24, 2013 6:35 EDT

By Lidia Kelly and James Pomfret

MOSCOW/HONG KONG (Reuters) – Russia defied White House pressure on Monday to expel former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden to the United States before he flees Moscow on the next stop of his globe-crossing escape from U.S. prosecution.

Snowden, whose exposure of secret U.S. government surveillance raised questions about intrusion into private lives, was allowed to leave Hong Kong on Sunday after Washington asked the Chinese territory to arrest him on espionage charges.

Snowden, 29, has kept out of sight in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport as Ecuador says it considers his request for asylum.

His decision to fly to Russia, which like China challenges U.S. dominance of global diplomacy, is another embarrassment to President Barack Obama who has tried to “reset” ties with Moscow and build a partnership with Beijing.

The White House said it expected the Russian government to send Snowden back to the United States and lodged “strong objections” to Hong Kong and China for letting him go.

“We expect the Russian government to look at all options available to expel Mr Snowden back to the U.S. to face justice for the crimes with which he is charged,” said Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the National Security Council.

The Russian government ignored the appeal and President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary denied any knowledge of Snowden’s movements.

Asked if Snowden had spoken to the Russian authorities, Peskov said: “Overall, we have no information about him.”

He declined comment on the expulsion request but other Russian officials said Moscow had no obligation to cooperate with Washington after it passed legislation to impose visa bans and asset freezes on Russians accused of violating human rights.

“Why should the United States expect restraint and understanding from Russia?” said Alexei Pushkov, the head of the foreign affairs committee in the lower house of parliament.

Putin has missed few chances to champion public figures who challenge Western governments and to portray Washington as an overzealous global policeman. But Russian leaders have not paraded Snowden before the cameras or trumpeted his arrival.

ECUADOR’S ROLE

Since leaving Hong Kong, where he feared arrest and extradition, Snowden has been searching for a country which can guarantee his security.

Ecuador said it had received an asylum request and Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino, on a trip to Vietnam, said it would be analyzed with a “lot of responsibility”. He was expected to hold a news conference around 7.00 p.m. (8 a.m. EDT) in Hanoi.

A source at Russian airline Aeroflot said Snowden was booked on a flight due to depart for Havana on Monday at 2:05 p.m. (6.05 a.m. EDT). The gate for the Cuba flight was blocked and security was tightened.

A State Department official said Washington had told countries in the Western Hemisphere that Snowden “should not be allowed to proceed in any further international travel, other than is necessary to return him to the United States”.

Despite the Kremlin denials, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer said Putin had probably known about and approved Snowden’s flight to Russia.

“Putin always seems almost eager to stick a finger in the eye of the United States,” Schumer, a senior Senate Democrat, told CNN’s “State of the Union”. He also saw “the hand of Beijing” in Hong Kong’s decision to let Snowden leave.

But taking the higher ground after being accused of hacking computers abroad, the Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed “grave concern” over Snowden’s allegations that the United States had hacked computers in China.

It said it had taken up the issue with Washington.

CHILL

Some Russians have praised Snowden’s revelations. Others fear a new chill in relations with the United States.

“We are a pretty stubborn country and so is the United States. Both are mighty countries, so I would say this has a good potential to turn into a big fuss in bilateral relations,” said Ina Sosna, manager of a Moscow cleaning company.

“I guess it would be best if they just let him move on from Russia to avoid any more controversy over him being here.”

Snowden was aided in his escape by WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy organization whose founder Julian Assange said he had helped to arrange documents from Ecuador.

Ecuador, like Cuba and Venezuela, is a member of the ALBA bloc, an alliance of leftist governments in Latin America that pride themselves on their “anti-imperialist” credentials. The Quito government has been sheltering Assange at its London embassy for the past year.

The New York Times quoted Assange as saying in an interview that his group had arranged for Snowden to travel on a “special refugee document” issued by Ecuador last Monday.

U.S. sources said Washington had revoked Snowden’s passport. WikiLeaks said diplomats and Sarah Harrison, a British legal researcher working for the anti-secrecy group, accompanied him.

Snowden, who had worked at a U.S. National Security Agency facility in Hawaii, had been hiding in Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to China in 1997, since leaking details about secret U.S. surveillance programs to news media.

Snowden has been charged with theft of federal government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information and willful communication of classified communications intelligence to an unauthorized person, with the latter two charges falling under the U.S. Espionage Act.

(Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska and Alexei Anishchuk in Moscow, Martin Petty in Hanoi, Sui-Lee Weein in Beijing,; Andrew Cawthorne, Mario Naranjo and Daniel Wallis in Caracas, Alexandra Valencia in Quito and Mark Felsenthal, Paul Eckert and Mark Hosenball in Washington; Writing by Dean Yates and Timothy Heritage, Editing by Elizabeth Piper)

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

NSA director: Edward Snowden has caused irreversible damage to US

Keith Alexander defends agency's broad surveillance as being in line with Americans' expectations for preventing another 9/11

Spencer Ackerman in Washington and Dominic Rushe in New York
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 23 June 2013 20.10 BST   

National Security Agency director Keith Alexander said on Sunday that whistleblower Edward Snowden betrayed the trust of Americans and defended the broad surveillance programs as necessary to prevent another terrorist attack.

As Snowden evaded an attempt on Sunday by Washington to have him arrested in Hong Kong, General Alexander told ABC's This Week: "This is an individual who is not acting, in my opinion, with noble intent ... What Snowden has revealed has caused irreversible and significant damage to our country and to our allies."

Alexander said the NSA surveillance programs Snowden had disclosed to the Guardian were tightly overseen and disputed statements from members of the Senate intelligence committee that they had not played a unique role in preventing terrorist attacks.

He read from a 2012 intelligence committee report about a law that broadened the NSA's authority to perform surveillance even when US communications are involved that said after "four years of oversight, the committee has not identified a single case in which a government official engaged in wilful effort to circumvent or violate the law".

Yet last year, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence conceded publicly that the surveillance had violated the fourth amendment on at least one occasion. The circumstances behind that violation remain classified.

Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall have disputed that the NSA's collection of phone records on millions of Americans was key to preventing any terrorist attack. Alexander said that in "a little over 10" cases, the phone records databases helped the US government find individuals inside the US connected to terrorists.

Snowden left Hong Kong and flew to Moscow on Sunday after the US charged him with espionage on Friday, effectively slipping away from arrest. Hong Kong authorities released a statement saying Washington had requested an arrest warrant for Snowden, but Hong Kong requested more information since the US had "not fully comply with legal requirements under Hong Kong law".

WikiLeaks issued a statement saying that Snowden had requested its legal advisers broker his departure from Hong Kong. "He is bound for a democratic nation via a safe route for the purposes of asylum, and is being escorted by diplomats and legal advisors from WikiLeaks," the radical transparency organisation said. On arrival in Moscow Snowden applied for political asylum in Ecuador.

The Obama administration indicated on Sunday morning it would not cease in attempts at capturing Snowden.

"As we stated yesterday, the United States had contacted authorities in Hong Kong to seek the extradition of Mr. Snowden, based on the criminal complaint filed in the eastern district of Virginia, and in accordance with the US-Hong Kong Agreement for the Surrender of Fugitive Offenders," said Nanda Chitre, spokeswoman for the Department of Justice.

"We have been informed by the Hong Kong authorities Mr. Snowden has departed Hong Kong for a third country," Chintre said. "We will continue to discuss this matter with Hong Kong and pursue relevant law enforcement co-operation with other countries where Mr. Snowden may be attempting to travel."

Snowden's passport was reportedly cancelled before he left Hong Kong.

State Department chief spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement: "As is routine and consistent with US regulations, persons with felony arrest warrants are subject to having their passport revoked. Such a revocation does not affect citizenship status. Persons wanted on felony charges, such as Mr. Snowden, should not be allowed to proceed in any further international travel, other than is necessary to return him to the United States.

"Because of the Privacy Act, we cannot comment on Mr. Snowden's passport specifically."

Douglas McNabb, founder of McNabb Associates, a law firm that specialises in extradition cases, said the US has extradition treaties with Ecuador, Venezuela and Cuba but not Russia, although he said any move involving Snowden was likely to be dictated by politics as much as the law.

Ecuador's extradition treaties date back to 1872 and 1873, Cuba's to 1904 and 1905 and Venezuela's to 1922 and 1923. "There are old but valid treaties ... But the US doesn't exactly have great international relations with [these] countries. In any of these countries, Russia included, politics is going to play a large part. This case is going to be 10% legal and 90% politics," he said.

"If I was representing him, I'd be concerned about what Russia would want from him. He's potentially a gold mine for them," he said. McNabb said Snowden could become a political pawn amid the increasingly fraught politics between Moscow and Washington.

Alexander also indicated on This Week that the NSA has procedures in place to distinguish foreign from domestic communications in its phone-records databases. Citing statistics on when NSA could query that database in 2012, Alexander said, "Two-thirds of those are foreign. One-third were in the US."

Yet the NSA has said in the past that it lacked the analytic tools to even make an assessment on how many Americans have had their communications swooped up in its databases, and that doing so would itself violate Americans' privacy. That stated inability contributed to a March exchange between Wyden and US director of national intelligence James Clapper that Clapper has conceded was the "least untruthful" thing he could have said about surveillance on Americans.

But the Guardian has published leaked NSA documents describing an analytic tool called Boundless Informant that collates stored communications by country of origin.

Alexander said that broad surveillance efforts on Americans' phone records and on foreign internet usage, disclosed by Snowden, was in line with Americans' expectations for preventing another 9/11.

"These two capabilities helped us form the dots," Alexander said. "I think that's what the American people want us to do.

*********

Edward Snowden: how Ecuador shapes up as potential political refuge

NSA whistleblower is believed to be heading to South America after leaving Hong Kong, despite US arrest warrant, via Moscow

Jonathan Watts   
The Guardian, Sunday 23 June 2013 19.19 BST   

Political cover

Although Ecuador is relatively small, it has strong regional allies and economic support from China, which strengthens its ability to resist extradition requests. The president, Rafael Correa, has shown he is not afraid of standing up to the US and Europe by granting asylum to the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange. WikiLeaks claimed on Sunday that it was helping Snowden to secure asylum in "a democratic nation via a safe route". Correa has just been re-elected to a four year term so Snowden's cover would be likely last until at least 2017.

Reputation impact

Slightly less risky than Venezuela. Correa is less of a hate figure in the US than Hugo Chávez or Nicolás Maduro. Ecuador is too small to be considered a threat, though its increasingly close ties to China might raise questions. Correa has been heavily criticised for cracking down on private media groups, though there is still a diverse range of opinion on TV and in newspapers.

Living standard

Quito is a stunning city high in the Andes with great food, decent internet, reasonable prices and easy access to Pacific beaches and Amazon forest. Crime rates are somewhat lower than Venezuela and inequality, though a major problem, is less apparent.

Climate

Quito's altitude of 2,800m (9,200ft) takes some getting used to. It has cool summers and mild winters, interspersed with the occasional mountain storm and lots of cloud cover.

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

Edward Snowden's WikiLeaks escort one of Assange's closest advisors

Sarah Harrison revealed as the WikiLeaks staffer accompanying NSA whistleblower on journey to 'democratic country'

Dominic Rushe in New York
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 23 June 2013 15.32 BST   

When WikiLeaks claimed in a tweet that it was assisting NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden's "political asylum in a democratic country" there was one detail that apparently confirmed its involvement – that Snowden was travelling with a person whose surname was Harrison.

Sarah Harrison – who WikiLeaks on Sunday published an updated biography for – has been a staff member for more than two years, and is one of Julian Assange's closest advisors.

She began her involvement with the group when as an intern at the UK-based Centre for Investigative Journalism, she was assigned to Assange ahead of WikiLeaks' publication of the Afghan war logs.

As several key members, including Assange's number-two Daniel Domscheit-Berg and several of his associates, left in a dispute with Assange, she became more important to WikiLeaks and was closely involved in the publication of the embassy cables and with Assange's personal legal battles to avoid extradition to Sweden. She has been pictured on numerous occasions attending court with the WikiLeaks founder.

Despite her closeness to Assange, Harrison may seem a strange choice to accompany Snowden, as unlike several people close to WikiLeaks – most notably human rights lawyer Jennifer Robinson – Harrison has no legal qualifications or background.

Julian Assange has made several public statements in support of Edward Snowden and told reporters last week he had been in touch with the whistleblower through intermediaries.

The direct intervention in Snowden's situation marks a departure in practice for WikiLeaks – which has previously stressed its arms-length relationship with sources – but is consistent with the organisation's world view on protecting and supporting whistleblowers.

Snowden's intended destination, his plans once he gets there, and whether WikiLeaks intends to play a longer-term role supporting or working with Snowden are not yet known.






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« Reply #7102 on: Jun 24, 2013, 04:50 AM »

Turkish transsexuals join popular protest marches

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, June 23, 2013 20:53 EDT

Hundreds of Turkish transsexuals and rights activists staged a protest in Istanbul on Sunday against the conservative government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The annual march came after weeks of unprecedented anti-government protests in Istanbul, the capital Ankara and other cities over what is seen as Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule.

The nearly 1,000 protesters set off from Taksim Square, the epicentre of the protest movement, along a main Istanbul shopping street carrying signs with slogans such as “being transsexual is not a disease”.

“This is just the beginning, the struggle continues,” protesters chanted the day after the latest protest in Taksim Square was violently dispersed.

Turkey’s Gay Pride organisation plans to hold its annual march next weekend.

Homosexuality and sex change operations are not illegal in Turkey as in many other Muslim countries, but homophobia is common and often leads to violence.


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« Reply #7103 on: Jun 24, 2013, 04:51 AM »

Bulgarian protesters: ‘Even if we are smiling, we are angry’

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, June 23, 2013 11:55 EDT

With their toddlers sticky with ice cream and their dogs panting in the summer heat, the Bulgarians protesting for the past week look very different to the gloomy crowds that toppled the government in February.

But this does not make the colourful mass with their sunglasses, bikes, songs and clever catchphrases any less determined to see the back of the new three-week-old government and for a shake-up of the whole political class.

“We want to oust these corrupt demagogues who call themselves ‘a political class’. It’s the future of our children here that is at stake — or emigration,” teacher Ilian Kamenov, 42, told AFP at a recent march in Sofia.

“I was seven when my parents took me to rallies for democracy when communism fell (in 1989),” said another, Kamelia Mitova, 31. “It’s unbelievable that I am here now for the same reasons.”

The spark that ignited this latest crisis in the EU’s poorest country was the Socialist-backed government’s decision earlier this month to appoint a 32-year-old media mogul to head a powerful state security authority.

For the protesters, this showed that the new administration was in cahoots with the same old powerful business interests and that its promises of a new era of transparency and accountability were lies.

Even though the government quickly reversed the security chief decision, between 7,000 and 10,000 people have taken part in daily demonstrations since June 14 – marching and dancing, shouting and singing along Sofia’s boulevards every evening.

On a special page on social networking website Facebook, used to great effect to organise the latest protests, the demonstrators say they want to “oust the oligarchy” and see Bulgaria governed like any other nation in the European Union.

“Even if we are smiling, we are angry” they say.

“Protest noisily, react wisely!”, is one of their slogans. “”NOresharski! NOligarchy!” is another, a pun on the name of the prime minister, Plamen Oresharski, brought in as a non-partisan safe pair of hands.

Many popular faces — writers, actors, musicians, professors, human rights activists — are seen in the rallies, just as they were during the first demonstrations in the country after the toppling of communism in 1989.

In February, by contrast, the demonstrators were mostly poorer, angrier and desperate, taking to the streets across the country after receiving winter heating bills that they simply could not pay. Seven people set themselves on fire.

“Contrary to the February protests about people’s empty pockets, these protests are about morals. These are young, well-educated people, who also earn well — Sofia’s middle class — that will be harder to appease,” political analyst Dimitar Ganev said.

“At last, people started to understand the importance of civil society that was very under-developed up till now,” said analyst Antoaneta Tsoneva from the Institute for Public Environment Development.

But most analysts were however convinced that even if protesters’ anger is justified, toppling the three-week-old cabinet and holding new snap elections risked turning a crisis into a calamity.

Instead, the president — who has openly sympathised with the protests — has urged parliament to start work on changes to the electoral code to improve people’s political representation by opening the way for new faces and smaller parties to enter the legislature at the next elections.

In order to give parliament time to do that, the new vote must be put off until May 2014 when Bulgaria will also hold elections for European parliament, Gallup analyst Zhivko Georgiev said.

This would also leave time for the government to address the most pressing social problems such as growing poverty and unemployment and falling living standards to avoid new anti-poverty rallies next winter, Sofia University political analyst Maria Pirgova added.

A protester attends an anti-government protest in Sofia, on June 22, 2013. The ‘smiling’ Bulgarians protesting for the past week look very different to the gloomy crowds that toppled the government in February, but they are just as determined to see the back of the new three-week-old government/AFP


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« Reply #7104 on: Jun 24, 2013, 04:57 AM »


Silvio Berlusconi's underage sex trial verdict expected

Italy's former PM and self-styled 'most persecuted man' is accused of paying for sex with then 17-year-old exotic dancer

Lizzy Davies in Rome
The Guardian, Monday 24 June 2013   

He is no stranger to the courtroom, having spent the past 20 years in a series of battles he says have made him "the most persecuted man by the judiciary in all the history of the entire world".

But the judgment that awaits Silvio Berlusconi – former Italian prime minister, billionaire media tycoon and bunga bunga host – in Milan on Monday is, even by his standards, of some importance.

Two and a half years after he was placed under investigation on suspicion of paying for sex with a 17-year-old girl and then accused of abusing his office to cover it up, the 76-year-old will hear the judges' verdict on a case that raised eyebrows throughout the world and contributed to Berlusconi's scandal-ridden twilight in power.

Prosecutors have called for him to serve six years in jail and be given a lifetime ban on holding public office. But even if he is found guilty, any sentence will be put on hold pending appeal. It could be several years more before a definitive verdict is issued.

Berlusconi is Italy's longest-serving postwar prime minister, and the leader of a centre-right party in the current uneasy coalition government. He denies the charges, saying, with his usual bravado, that he is once again the victim of leftwing magistrates out to get him. While the effects on him may not be felt for a while, there is speculation that a guilty verdict, on top of Berlusconi's other legal woes, could exacerbate tensions in the fractious ruling alliance.

The case in question dates back to Valentine's Day in 2010, when the then prime minister first met Karima el-Mahroug, a 17-year-old nightclub dancer, at his neoclassical villa in Arcore, near Milan.

Prosecutors claim Mahroug, widely known by her stage name, Ruby Rubacuori (Heartstealer), visited Berlusconi on a number of occasions between February and May that year, and had sex with him for money.

In Italy, although prostitution is legal, sex workers must be aged 18 or over. Berlusconi denies having "intimate relations" with the then 17-year-old Mahroug, and says he thought that she was in her early 20s. She has said she lied about her age, and denies ever having had sex with him.

Mahroug's testimony – while supporting the former prime minister's claims – has not always made pleasant hearing for Berlusconi. Recently questioned by prosecutors in another, related trial, she said she had lied about many things previously, including having exchanged phone numbers with the football star Cristiano Ronaldo. "If I didn't prostitute myself with someone so handsome, then it is impossible to think I would have done it with Silvio Berlusconi and others," she said.

In sworn testimony at the other trial – in which three of Berlusconi's former associates are accused of procuring prostitutes for him, charges which they deny – Mahroug, now 20, offered lurid details about the soirees which he described as "elegant dinners" with tasteful burlesque entertainment.

Dancers performed striptease acts as nuns, she said, and one even dressed alternately as Barack Obama and Ilda Boccassini, the prosecutor leading the case against Berlusconi. Mahroug said she never saw "contact" between the women and their host.

Features

In legal terms, the underage prostitution charge is less serious than allegations that Berlusconi abused his office on 27 May 2010 by exerting pressure on Milan police to release her from custody.

The teenager had been arrested that day on suspicion of theft, and within hours the station had received a telephone call from the prime minister, who was in Paris, saying he believed her to be a relative of the then Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak.

In testimony to court, Berlusconi said he had feared a diplomatic incident, but denied pressurising the police to release her into the care of a hygienist-turned-local politician, Nicole Minetti.

Mahroug has claimed she told people that she was related to Egypt's ousted dictator because she wanted to impress them.

In Italy, defendants are able to appeal twice before a verdict is made definitive. James Walston, politics professor at the American University of Rome, said that a conviction in this case, if it came, would have "almost no effect on Berlusconi because he's prepared everyone so well".

There are concerns, however, that the real effect of a guilty verdict could be on the country's unstable political landscape and Enrico Letta's government, which almost every day sees fresh bickering between Berlusconi's People of Freedom party (PdL) and the centre-left Democratic party (PD).

For the moment, Berlusconi is insisting that he supports the government regardless of his legal problems. But there is anger among the ranks of the PdL, and some party figures would like to see their leader withdraw support from the coalition if his "persecution" by the courts continues – a move that would trigger fresh elections.

Walston said the risk of immediate political instability as a result of the Ruby trial was small. A far bigger concern for Berlusconi and his allies is a tax fraud case in which he has already exhausted one appeal and is approaching a definitive ruling by the court of cassation, Italy's supreme court.

If that conviction is upheld, a four-year jail sentence – and, crucially, a five-year ban on public office – would come into force.

"The point of all this huffing and puffing is to put pressure on the court of cassation [appellate court], to put pressure on the government, to put pressure on [President Giorgio] Napolitano, to do something before the court of cassation hands its verdict down, because that's the important one," said Walston

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

Silvio Berlusconi and other players in his sex trial

Italy's former prime minister is due to hear the verdict in a trial in which he is accused of having sex with an underage dancer

Lizzy Davies in Rome
The Guardian, Monday 24 June 2013   

Silvio Berlusconi

Three-times prime minister whose party is back in government courtesy of Enrico Letta's left-right coalition. Denies paying for sex with "Ruby Heartstealer" when she was 17 and exerting pressure on police to release her, claiming she was related to Hosni Mubarak. Insists nothing illegal went on at his elegant soirees.

Karima el-Mahroug

Moroccan-born Mahroug attended several parties at Berlusconi's mansion in 2010. Admits receiving thousands of euros from the billionaire, but says it was simply an act of generosity on his part. Denies having sex with him and denies having worked as a prostitute.

Nicole Minetti

Anglo-Italian former dental hygienist who treated Berlusconi on the night he was attacked with a statuette of Milan's cathedral in 2009. Had recently become a regional councillor for his party when she fetched Mahroug from a police station in 2010. Accused in a separate case of procuring prostitutes for the then prime minister, she denies the charges, saying she felt a "sentiment of true love" for him. She is no longer a PdL councillor.

Ilda Boccassini

Dubbed Ilda the Red by some, the formidable prosecutor who has led the case against Berlusconi is known for her confrontation of the powerful, including mafia gangsters. Since taking on this case, she has received threatening letters and bullets in the post. A magazine owned by the Berlusconi family has published photographs of her with less than flattering captions.


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« Reply #7105 on: Jun 24, 2013, 05:00 AM »


Albanian opposition activist killed in election day shootout

PM and opposition leader condemn violence in Lac as Albanians vote in closely contested election

Reuters in Tirana
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 23 June 2013 15.18 BST

An activist was killed and a politician wounded in a shootout during a closely contested election in Albania on Sunday that is being watched by western allies worried about democracy in the country.

The opposition left scents victory in the vote, which would deny the prime minister, Sali Berisha, a third successive four-year term. But the threat of a disputed result is growing after a political row left the central election commission short-staffed and unable to certify the result.

Television pictures showed bullet casings scattered across a street and the smashed rear window of a car after the shootout in Lac. An opposition activist was killed and an election candidate of Berisha's ruling Democrats was wounded. Police said four guns were fired. Berisha condemned the violence.

Opinion polls are unreliable but point to a narrow victory for the Socialists led by Edi Rama, a former mayor of Tirana. He has been buoyed by an alliance with a small leftist party previously in coalition with Berisha.

After losing the last election in 2009, Rama called protesters into the streets and four were shot dead by security forces. Since the fall of communist rule in 1991 Albania has never held an election deemed fully free and fair, and failure again would further set back its ambitions to join the European Union.

Rama said the Lac shootout was an "effort to frighten people, to scare citizens away from the ballot boxes". "I appeal for people to vote, because a decision that takes just a few minutes will decide not just the next four years but the fate of a generation," he said after voting.

Including Albanian migrant workers abroad, there are 3.27 million eligible voters. Official results are due in the evening, but a system by which party members count the ballots has repeatedly led to disputes and delays.

Rama pulled his three representatives from the seven-member election commission in April after the coalition government sacked a member whose party had switched sides to support the Socialists.

The Socialists and the Democrats differ little on Albania's goal of joining the EU or its pro-western policy. But their confrontational relationship does not sit easy with Brussels or Albania's Nato allies.

The EU says the election is a crucial test. Albania applied to join four years ago but has not yet been made a candidate for membership.

The next government will take on an economy feeling the effects of the crisis in the eurozone, notably in Greece and Italy where about one million Albanians work and send money home. Albania has avoided recession but remittances are down and public debt and the budget deficit are rising.


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« Reply #7106 on: Jun 24, 2013, 05:02 AM »


Irish bankers 'hoodwinked' government over bailout, secret recordings show

Taped conversations back up the view that Anglo Irish bankers knew that €7bn would never be enough to save the bank

Henry McDonald, Ireland correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Monday 24 June 2013 11.11 BST   

A top banker with the financial institution that almost bankrupted Ireland boasted that he had picked the figure of €7bn (£5.9bn) they told the Irish government was needed to rescue the Anglo Irish Bank "out of his arse".

Taped phone calls between two senior executives at Anglo Irish have compounded suspicions in the Republic that bankers lured the then Fianna Fáil led government during the crash of September 2008 into a costly financial trap by saving the debt-stricken bank with public money.

In the end the Irish taxpayer was forced to hand over €30bn to save Anglo Irish Bank from collapse and resulted in the state going cap in hand to the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the EU to save the country from national bankruptcy.

The bank's audio recordings – obtained by The Irish Independent – are of conversations between two senior Anglo Irish managers in September 2008, John Bowe and Peter Fitzgerald. Initially the bank had asked Ireland's central Bank for €7bn to prop up its parlous finances following the Irish property crash. Critics of the bailout have insisted Anglo Irish bank executives always knew that the figure would be far higher – ultimately more than four times higher.

On tape Fitzgerald asks Bowe how did he arrive at the figure of €7bn to which the latter replies: "Just as Drummer (the then Anglo Irish Bank CEO David Drumm now in exile and disgrace in Boston) would say, 'picked it out my arse.'"

The conversation also tends to back up the view that Anglo Irish bankers knew that €7bn would never be enough to save the bank but once they had hoodwinked the Dublin government the taxpayer would keep picking up the tab.

In their exchange Bowe says: "Yeah, and that number is seven, but the reality is that actually we need more than that. But you know the strategy here is you pull them in, you get them to write a big cheque and they have to keep, they have to have support their money, you know."

On the Irish government getting entrapped by Anglo, Bowe adds: "If they say, if they saw the enormity of it up front, they might decide, they might decide they have a choice. You know what I mean? They might say the cost to the taxpayer is too high. But ... em ... if it doesn't look big at the outset ... if it looks big, big enough to be important, but not too big that it kind of spoils everything, then then I think you have a chance."

The two bankers are also heard laughing and joking at a time when the bank was tottering on the brink of destruction. They are heard saying they hope the bank is nationalised so "we'd keep our jobs".

Bowe who was approached over the weekend about the 2008 conversations claimed the remarks were "off-the-cuff comments" and denied he was trying to mislead the state with underestimated figures.

Fitzgerald released a statement through his solicitor stating that "I am not nor have I ever been aware of a strategy or intention on the part of the Anglo Irish Bank to mislead authorities in relation to the forecasted funding position of Anglo Irish Bank."

Despite the pair's denials, the taped conversations at a critical time in the toxic bank's history will increase the pressure for a full parliamentary inquiry into the bank rescue deal which cost the taxpayer a further €30bn after two other debt-ridden banks, the Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish Bank had to be saved from collapse.

Unlike the United States, no senior Irish banker has gone to jail or been found guilty in any court so far. The leading lights in Anglo, once regarded as masters of the financial universe who kept fuelling the Celtic Tiger, are now among the most hated figures in the Republic's history.

Anglo Irish Bank epitomised the rise and ignominious fall of the Celtic Tiger economy. It was the preferred lender for property speculators and builders. Among its stellar business clients was Ireland's one-time richest man Sean Quinn who borrowed hundreds of millions of euros from Anglo Irish to fund the building of a worldwide property which has since melted away. Quinn's gambling with Anglo Irish's loans resulted in him being bankrupt and finally jailed for failing to hand over assets to the bank once it was nationalised.


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« Reply #7107 on: Jun 24, 2013, 05:13 AM »


Nelson Mandela: former South African president in 'critical' condition

Mandela, 94, who is in a Pretoria hospital, is 'well-looked after and is comfortable', says Jacob Zuma

David Smith in Johannesburg
The Guardian, Monday 24 June 2013   

Nelson Mandela is in a critical condition in hospital, officials said on Sunday, leaving millions of South Africans fearing the worst.

The 94-year-old former president has been hospitalised four times since December but this is by far the gravest report on his health.

Mandela was taken to a hospital in Pretoria just over two weeks ago with a recurring lung infection but was said to have rallied after a few days.

"The condition of former president Nelson Mandela, who is still in hospital in Pretoria, has become critical," the South African presidency said.

President Jacob Zuma and African National Congress (ANC) deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa visited Mandela on Sunday evening, the statement continued. "They were briefed by the medical team who informed them that the former president's condition had become critical over the past 24 hours."

Zuma and Ramaphosa met Mandela's wife, Graça Machel, at the hospital and discussed the former president's condition.

Referring to Mandela by his clan name, Zuma said: "The doctors are doing everything possible to get his condition to improve and are ensuring that Madiba is well-looked after and is comfortable. He is in good hands."

The ANC, the party that Mandela served throughout his political career, said it noted with concern the update on his condition.

Jackson Mthembu, its national spokesperson, said: "We welcome the work being done by the presidency to ensure that South Africans and people of the world are kept informed on the state of Madiba's health.

"The African National Congress joins the presidency in calling upon all of us to keep president Mandela, his family and his medical team in our thoughts and prayers during this trying time."

It emerged on Saturday that the ambulance that took Mandela to hospital on 8 June broke down. CBS News reported that Mandela had to be transferred in winter temperatures to another ambulance after waiting on the side of the road for 40 minutes.

On Sunday, the presidency addressed the issue, stating that Zuma and Ramaphosa were assured by doctors that "all care was taken to ensure that his medical condition was not compromised" when the engine trouble developed.

Zuma said: "There were seven doctors in the convoy who were in full control of the situation throughout the period. He had expert medical care. The fully equipped military ICU ambulance had a full complement of specialist medical staff including intensive care specialists and ICU nurses. The doctors also dismissed the media reports that Madiba suffered cardiac arrest. There is no truth at all in that report."

Zuma appealed to the nation and the world to pray for Mandela, the family and the medical team attending to him during this "difficult time".


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« Reply #7108 on: Jun 24, 2013, 05:15 AM »


Lebanon: clashes between army and supporters of Sunni cleric continue

At least 10 soldiers are killed as army closes in on mosque where supporters of Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir are taking cover

Associated Press in Beirut
guardian.co.uk, Monday 24 June 2013 10.11 BST   

Lebanese forces battling followers of a hardline Sunni Muslim cleric have closed in on the mosque where they are taking cover in a southern coastal city, according to the national news agency. It said 12 soldiers had been killed since fighting started on Sunday.

The clashes in Sidon, 25 miles (40km) south of Beirut, are the latest bout of violence in Lebanon linked to the conflict in neighbouring Syria, and the bloodiest yet involving the army.

The news agency said the clashes had also left 50 wounded. The report said it was not clear how many gunmen had been killed or wounded in the clashes, nor whether there were civilian casualties.

The heavy fighting with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades has caused panic among residents of Sidon, Lebanon's third largest city, which until recently had been largely spared the violence hitting other areas.

The city streets appeared largely deserted on Monday, and local media reported that many residents were asking for evacuation from the area of the fighting, a heavily populated neighbourhood in the city. The news agency said a government building had been hit. The local municipality said the city was "a war zone", appealing for a ceasefire to evacuate civilians and casualties.

Many people living on high floors came down or fled to safer areas, while others were seen running away from fighting areas carrying children. Others remained locked up in their homes or shops, fearing getting caught in the crossfire. Grey smoke billowed over parts of the city.

The fighting broke out on Sunday in the predominantly Sunni city. The army says supporters of Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir opened fire without provocation on an army checkpoint.

It tied the attack to the war in Syria. Assir is a fierce critic of the powerful Shia militant group Hezbollah, which along with its allies dominates Lebanon's government. He supports rebels fighting to oust Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad.

Early on Monday, Assir used Twitter to appeal to his supporters in other parts of Lebanon to come to his aid, threatening to widen the scale of clashes.

The tweets did not give a clear statement on how the battle began. It came after a series of incidents pitting the cleric's followers against other groups in the town, including Hezbollah supporters and the army.

Fighting also broke out in Ein el-Hilweh, a Palestinian refugee camp near Sidon, where Assir has supporters. Islamist factions inside the camp lobbed mortars at military checkpoints around the camp.

Sectarian clashes in Lebanon tied to the Syrian conflict have intensified in recent weeks, especially since Hezbollah sent fighters to support Assad's forces. Most of the rebels fighting to topple Assad are from Syria's Sunni majority, while the president belongs to the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam.

Clashes in Lebanon have also mostly pitted Sunni against Shia. The most frequent outbreaks have involved rival neighbourhoods in the northern port city of Tripoli, close to the Syrian border.

The clashes in Sidon centred on the Bilal bin Rabbah mosque, where Assir preaches. The cleric is believed to have hundreds of armed supporters in Sidon involved in the fighting. Dozens of Assir's gunmen also partially shut down the main highway linking south Lebanon with Beirut. On Monday, they opened fire in other parts of the city, with local media reporting gunshots in the city's market.

By Sunday evening, the army had laid siege to the mosque, sealing off access to it from all directions.

In a statement on Sunday, the military openly linked the clashes in Sidon to the conflict in Syria. It said the attacks on its forces by Assir supporters were unprovoked, and accused the cleric of seeking to "incite strife" in Lebanon. The military vowed to hit back with an "iron fist".

Lebanon's president, Michel Suleiman, called for an emergency security meeting later on Monday.


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« Reply #7109 on: Jun 24, 2013, 05:16 AM »


Saudi Arabia shifts weekend to Friday-Saturday

King Abdullah decrees change from Thursday-Friday weekend to bring biggest Arab economy's working week into line with neighbours

Reuters in Riyadh
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 23 June 2013 15.52 BST

Saudi Arabia has announced it is switching its official weekend to Fridays and Saturdays, bringing its working week closer in line with other countries in a move long desired by many of its businesses.

The kingdom, the biggest Arab economy, had been the only member of the six-member Gulf Co-operation Council to have a Thursday-Friday weekend after Oman shifted to a Friday-Saturday weekend last month.

The surprise move, which will be applied from this week, was immediately welcomed by Saudi economists and businessmen.

"It will increase interface with the rest of the world, now things will move faster," said Ali al-Ajmi, a former vice-president at state oil company Saudi Aramco.

Abdulrahman al-Ubaid, a former vice-president at Saudi Basic Industries Corp (SABIC), one of the world's biggest petrochemical companies, also welcomed the change.

"We expect the impact to be positive on the Saudi economy, we think our business will be easier," he said. Saudi Arabia is considering opening its stock market to more direct foreign investment in the future.

Although the world's top oil exporter had discussed looking at the change in its weekend in the future, few people had expected it to make the switch so soon.

Some Saudi companies, including food producer Savola, had already announced they would change their own weekend to Friday and Saturday to improve their co-ordination with regional partners.

The fact that the change is happening in June, after schools have closed and while many Saudis are on holiday before the Ramadan fast starts on 9 July, means it will be less jarring, economists said.

"Instead of having just three working days aligned with the rest of the world, now you will have a full team for most of the working week that the rest of the world applies. One extra day does play a considerable role in increasing output," said John Sfakianakis, chief investment strategist at Masic investment in Riyadh.

Traditionally Saudis had a six-day working week, taking Fridays off – when Muslims are enjoined to attend mosque for communal prayers – but the government added Thursday to the official weekend.

Some religious conservatives had argued against moving to a Friday-Saturday weekend because it smacked of westernisation. However, that argument did not enjoy serious support, said Saudi sociologist Khalid al-Dakhil.

"In terms of religious opposition, yes there might be some, but there's absolutely no unanimity in opposing this course among religious people," he said.

A statement on Sunday on national Saudi news agency SPA said the change, decreed by King Abdullah, will take effect as of the coming weekend, "for the sake of putting an end to the negative effects and the lost economic opportunities consistently associated with variation based on work days between local departments, ministries and institutions and the regional and international counterparts."

King Abdullah issued the decree following a recommendation in April by the kingdom's Shura Council, which advises the government on new laws.


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