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« Reply #7155 on: Jun 26, 2013, 06:47 AM »

June 25, 2013

Vigil for Mandela Continues as Family Members Hold Emergency Meeting


PRETORIA, South Africa — Singing crowds gathered outside the hospital where Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s former president, lay in a critical state for a third consecutive day on Tuesday, as family members held an emergency meeting at his ancestral village.

Mr. Mandela’s eldest daughter, Makaziwe, at least two grandchildren and clan elders gathered at Mr. Mandela’s retirement house in Qunu, the remote southern village where he grew up, according to news media reports.

The subject of the meeting was not publicly disclosed, but Naplisi Mandela, an elder of the Mandela family, told the South African Press Association that they had gathered to discuss “delicate matters” — a euphemism widely interpreted to mean preparations for Mr. Mandela’s death.

Meanwhile, in Pretoria, doctors continued to treat Mr. Mandela for a lung ailment that he contracted on Robben Island, the notorious apartheid-era prison where he spent much of his 27 years behind bars until his release in 1990. He was hospitalized here on June 8, his fourth hospitalization since late last year.

In a statement, President Jacob Zuma said Mr. Mandela’s condition was unchanged. On Sunday, he visited Mr. Mandela and pronounced that his state had deteriorated from stable to critical.

Noting that Mr. Mandela’s 95th birthday is on July 18, Mr. Zuma urged South Africans to celebrate his achievements. Still, after 18 days of anxious vigil, many appeared to be steeling themselves for the worst.

Larger-than-usual crowds gathered at the gates of the Mediclinic Heart Hospital to pay tribute to Mr. Mandela, as people dropped off cards at a growing shrine and sang songs. “There is no one like you, Nelson Mandela,” one group sang in the Sotho language.

Others sang church hymns, in some cases replacing the word “God” with “Mandela.”

“He’s our freedom fighter,” said Gerald Moshe, a 19-year-old student. “Without him, we’d be under apartheid. Now we can do anything.”

The emotional scenes were part of a perceptible shift in the national mood. Until recently, many South Africans had avoided talking about Mr. Mandela’s fate, calling it culturally inappropriate to speculate about any ailing figure, much less one as revered as Mr. Mandela, who played a central role in South Africa’s transition from white-led minority rule to historic multirace elections in 1994.

But now many are openly talking about the prospect of bidding him farewell.

“We love him, but we know that there is a time when everyone has to take a bow,” said Siya Cele, 24, a sales consultant, standing by the hospital gates. “Still,” he added, “we would prefer that it did not happen inside a hospital.”

Kgalema Motlanthe, South Africa’s deputy president, said, “We must keep him in our prayers and leave the rest to the Almighty to decide on.”

Mr. Mandela’s declining condition came as President Obama prepared to arrive in South Africa on Friday on the second leg of an African tour that will also take him to Tanzania and Senegal.

But the South African government said a planned meeting between Mr. Obama and Mr. Mandela — both the first black leaders of their countries — now looked unlikely.

“President Obama would have loved to see President Mandela, but he is indisposed,” said Maite Nkoane Mashebane, South Africa’s minister of international relations, according to Agence France-Presse.

Mr. Mandela retired from public life in 2004 and made his last public appearance before the soccer World Cup final in South Africa in 2010. Last year he moved from Johannesburg to his home in Qunu, where he had spent a happy childhood tending to his father’s animals and stick fighting with friends, according to his autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom.”

Mr. Mandela is widely expected to be buried in or around Qunu, where his family has a private graveyard.

Mukelwa Hlatshwayo contributed reporting from Pretoria.
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« Reply #7156 on: Jun 26, 2013, 06:49 AM »

Nigeria hangs four prisoners

Executions at Benin City are the nation's first in seven years after president called for more death warrants to be signed

Afua Hirsch, west Africa correspondent, Tuesday 25 June 2013 18.31 BST   

Four prisoners have been hanged in southern Nigeria, on a day of executions that have divided government figures. Four men, Chima Ejiofor, Daniel Nsofor, Osarenmwinda Aiguokhan and Richard Igagu, were hanged at Benin City prison after a court had ordered their executions on Monday afternoon.

Nigeria's attorney general, Mohammed Bello Adoke, said a fifth man, who cannot be named because his family has not been informed of his impending execution, is due to be executed by firing squad. But the attorney general said that he was against the death penalty and that Edo state, which carried out the executions, had chosen to flout a voluntary moratorium under which no executions have been carried out in Nigeria for seven years.

"I'm personally against corporal punishment and I don't believe it's a practical deterrent," Adoke said. "The state is aware of the moratorium in place. But it's not legally obliged to follow it."

Despite the moratorium, President Goodluck Jonathan recently called for more death warrants to be signed, "no matter how painful", according to reports in the Nigerian press.

Nigeria has 970 prisoners who have been convicted of the death penalty, including 19 women, but signing death warrants – which falls on state governors – has only been done in two states since the country's return to democracy in 1999.

Although an appeal court upheld the sentences shortly before the executions took place, campaign groups said that all appeals for the prisoners had not been exhausted, a violation of both Nigerian and international law.

"[We] filed an appeal against the judgment of the federal high court delivered today and also a motion for stay of execution pending the outcome of the appeal," said Chino Obiagwu, national co-ordinator of the Legal Defence and Assistance Project.

"Furthermore, all death-row prisoners filed a case pending at the court of appeal [in] Lagos challenging the decision of state governors to sign their execution warrants.

"Under the Nigerian laws, an appeal and application for stay of execution should restrain further action until the appeal is determined," Obiagwu added. "By executing the prisoners, Nigeria's government has demonstrated gross disregard to the rule of law and respect for the judicial process."

Amnesty International said that the authorities had breached the rules: "Executions are not supposed to be carried out in secret, without informing the families and the prisoners," said Lucy Freeman, Amnesty's deputy director for Africa. "The Nigerian authorities did not tell them what was happening. They didn't even know that the warrants had been signed."

In 2006, a number of prisoners were executed, including Auwalu Musa and Kenneth Ekhone, two men convicted by a robbery and firearms tribunal who did not have a lawyer and were not given the right to appeal.

Jonathan and other high-profile figures in Nigeria have called for executions as a way of clearing up prison spaces in Nigeria's severely overcrowded prisons.

"Governors talk periodically about resuming executions to decongest the prisons, but 80% of prisoners are awaiting trial, so it doesn't make any sense at all," said Freeman. "Executing four people does not decongest the prisons. It's bizarre."

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« Reply #7157 on: Jun 26, 2013, 06:52 AM »

Barack Obama to face protests in South Africa after years of laissez-faire

Trade unions, students and Muslim groups are among those determined to give the US president a bumpy landing

David Smith in Johannesburg and Afua Hirsch in Accra
The Guardian, Tuesday 25 June 2013

Symbolism will hang heavy this weekend when Barack Obama visits Soweto, the cradle of South Africa's black liberation struggle, and Robben Island, the prison where Nelson Mandela, who remained in critical condition in hospital last night, languished for years, plotting his nation's rebirth.

Obama should not expect red-carpet treatment from all South Africans, despite the historic affinity between the civil rights and anti-apartheid movements. Workers, students and Muslim groups are among those determined to give Obama a bumpy landing when he descends on Africa's biggest economy.

"NObama" is the cry from the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the South African Communist party, which have called for "all workers" to join mass protests including a march on the US embassy in Pretoria on Friday.

Academics and students have vowed to boycott the University of Johannesburg's award of an honorary law doctorate to Obama. The Muslim Lawyers' Association has called for the president to be arrested as a war criminal.

While these may appear fringe group stunts that US presidents face all over the world, South Africa is an unusual case. Cosatu and the Communist party form a "tripartite alliance" with the governing African National Congress (ANC) and expect to be heard. Cosatu in particular, with 2.2 million members, is central to the ANC's election machinery and well rehearsed in mobilising demonstrations that have been known to turn violent. The secretary general of the Communist party, Blade Nzimande, doubles as the country's higher education minister and the ANC has plenty of self-professed communists and Marxists with a flair for anti-western rhetoric.

Obama is a target for those who prefer to blame South Africa's malaise of inequality and joblessness on global capitalism rather than the ruling ANC.

Bongani Masuku, Cosatu's international relations secretary, said: "Obama is perpetuating American foreign policy. The US is an empire run on behalf of multinational companies and the ruling class of America. US foreign policy is militarising international relations to sponsor and make their own weapons."

Many in Africa had impossibly high hopes for Obama, the son of a Kenyan. But Masuku added: "I'm not disappointed because I didn't expect anything. It's not about the individual; it's not about the race he came from. It's about the class he represents. It's like he's the gatekeeper for white monopoly capital. He promised things we knew he wouldn't be able to do."

That view is not confined to militant union organisers but extends to some members of the revered struggle generation. Denis Goldberg, who stood trial with Mandela in 1963-64 and was sentenced to life in prison by the apartheid regime, said: "I don't like the idea of Guantánamo Bay; I think this is reprehensible.

"The unending assumption of depending on Chinese credits to finance your wars elsewhere – I think it's outrageous what's going on. I don't have final answers but we need to ask questions of the big powers – all of them."

Such is Cosatu's influence on the ANC that its attacks on the US – from Palestine and Guantánamo Bay to the "ruthless and savage looting of our natural resources" – have sparked warnings of a diplomatic rift.

Ian Davidson, shadow international relations minister for the opposition Democratic Alliance, said: "This is President Obama's first state visit to South Africa and is a significant event for the country to further our relations with the United States. It should not be blighted by Cosatu's cheap political-point scoring. This move by Cosatu is an embarrassment to South Africa."

On the surface, US-South African relations are cordial and have improved since the presidencies of George Bush and Thabo Mbeki, though Washington's intervention in Libya alienated many here. But while many young South Africans were caught up in "Obama-mania" five years ago, those with longer memories bitterly recall Ronald Reagan's failure to oppose apartheid.

Tom Wheeler, a former South African diplomat who began work in Washington just before the Kennedy assassination 50 years ago, said: "There's a gut anti-Americanism and anti-westernism that lurks in some of the communities. It may be a hangover from the days when a lot of ANC people travelled to the Soviet Union, and America was regarded as the great colonialist."

A demonstration is planned for the University of Johannesburg's Soweto campus on Saturday, where the president will meet young African leaders in a "town hall" event.

With first lady Michelle and their daughters, he will then travel to Cape Town to visit Robben Island and meet retired archbishop Desmond Tutu, never shy of speaking his mind on western warmongering.

Perhaps the only living South African more famous than Tutu is Mandela. Obama has met him once, in a Washington hotel in 2005. The prospect of the first black US and South African presidents coming face to face is a spin doctor's dream, but could backfire if the ailing Mandela is seen to be exploited.

Goldberg, 80, said: "I think it would be such an intrusion on an old man who's ill. We exploit Nelson Mandela and I object to that. We need to respect this great man's privacy because people go to see Nelson Mandela not to support Nelson but to gain support for themselves, and this is exploitation."

Speaking from Washington, Ben Rhodes, the White House deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said: "While we're in South Africa, we are going to be very deferential to the Mandela family in terms of any interaction that the president may have with the Mandela family or with Nelson Mandela.

"Ultimately, we want whatever is in the best interest of his health and the peace of mind of the Mandela family. And so we'll be driven by their own determinations in that regard.

"We'll be in touch with them. The president wants to support them in any way. He's supporting them with his thoughts and prayers as it is. And if he has an opportunity to see the family in some capacity, that's certainly something that we may do."

Rhodes added: "The president has always seen Nelson Mandela as one of his personal heroes."

Obama's three-nation tour, starting in Senegal on Wednesday night, is only his second to sub-Saharan Africa as president, and his first solely to the continent, after a fleeting visit to Ghana in 2009. Rhodes admitted that Africa had been "under-represented" in Obama's travel to date and said trade and investment would top the agenda.

"What we hear from our businesses is that they want to get in the game in Africa. There are other countries getting in the game in Africa – China, Brazil, Turkey. And if the US is not leading in Africa, we're going to fall behind in a very important region of the world."

But some analysts believe Obama's absence speaks volumes about how his administration has treated Africa as an afterthought.


Steven Friedman, director of Rhodes and Johannesburg universities, said: "It has to be said that one of the great ironies of the debates about how we should receive Barack Obama is that, while a lot of South Africans are very sympathetic to him because he's the first African-American president,

"I don't think that it's unkind to say that he's done absolutely nothing for this continent. In some respects, George W Bush did more for Africa than Barack Obama. So any sense that this is Africa's president who's actually out there trying to win the continent for the US is not the case. I can't remember a US administration that has shown less interest in the continent than this one."

Obama will arguably be playing catch-up with China, whose new president came to South Africa in March, managing in a couple of weeks what has taken Obama four-and-a-half years. China sped past America as the continent's biggest trading partner in 2009.

Friedman added: "Clearly China is now the dominant presence economically. I think the US still has far more political influence on the continent but this is not going to last for ever. Presumably at some point the Chinese are going to expect some sort of political dividend for their economic dominance."

Others, however, believe the picture is more complicated, noting that the US remains dominant militarily, politically and in capital investments.

Adekeye Adebajo, executive director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town, said: "Don't forget that the top countries they trade with – Nigeria and Angola – account for about 15% of their oil imports. Then you have Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. America still has very strong ties with all of those countries.

"I'm not sure this zero-sum approach where if China gains, the US loses, really holds. I don't think it's quite that straightforward, and I don't think the US has had a possessive approach to Africa in the way that France often has had. As long as it's able to protect its interests in key oil countries, I don't think it's really too worried. The US is co-operating with 35 African armies in its anti-terrorism activities, which is in some sense a sign of influence."

Senegal style

Before South Africa, there is Senegal. And for the Senegalese this trip is not just about the US president, but the first lady too.

Michelle Obama is a popular figure in many African countries, and women in Senegal say that there are specific trends emerging before her arrival.

"People in Senegal like Michelle Obama; they have received a positive impression of her," said a Dakar resident, Sophie Ly Sow. "I know women who have been copying her dresses – one dress in particular that she wore is very much in demand."

Michelle Obama has worn clothes made by African designers or featuring African-print material at high-profile events, making her the darling of some African women.

"Michelle Obama has been known to wear clothes made by African designers, and I don't think that goes unnoticed," said Kathryn Touré, until recently resident in Dakar, the Senegalese capital. "It shows a willingness for people in the White House to step out of the box and go global."

The first lady has been a particular fan of the Nigerian designer Duro Olowu, wearing one of his pieces to the United Nations general assembly in New York. Her profile in Africa was also raised by a solo trip in 2011, when she travelled to South Africa with her daughters, Sasha and Malia, and her mother. During the trip – an attempt to advance her international youth work – she met Nelson Mandela at his home in Johannesburg. Afua Hirsch

Flying visit

It is being described as the most expensive presidential tour ever, the Obama family's long-awaited visit to east, west and southern Africa will last less than a week but is expected to cost up to $100m (£65m).

The busy schedule is made possible by a monumental logistical operation.: instead of relying on local police, hospitals and other facilities, the US is in effect bringing a DIY city.

Hundreds of US secret service agents will be posted in secure facilities, while an aircraft carrier or amphibious ship with a fully staffed medical trauma centre will be offshore in case of an emergency, according to the Washington Post.

The paper said it had obtained an internal planning document that revealed: "Military cargo planes will airlift in 56 support vehicles, including 14 limousines and three trucks loaded with sheets of bulletproof glass to cover the windows of the hotels where the first family will stay.

"Fighter jets will fly in shifts, giving 24-hour coverage over the president's airspace, so they can intervene quickly if an errant plane gets too close."

On Thursday, Barack Obama will meet the Senegalese president, Macky Sall, and attend an event at the supreme court with leading regional judicial figures; the first lady will have tea with her Senegalese counterpart, and then visit the Martin Luther King school in Dakar.

Both he and Michelle will go to Gorée island, where they will tour the House of Slaves museum and meet civil society leaders. That night, they will attend a dinner hosted by Sall.

On Friday, the president will attend an event on food security, then fly to South Africa, where the next day the president will meet the president, Jacob Zuma, and hold a "town hall" event with young African leaders at the University of Johannesburg's Soweto campus. He will also hold talks with Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma chairwoman of the African Union.

Michelle Obama, meanwhile, will have tea with one of Zuma's wives, then join schoolchildren at an MTV/Google Plus event at the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre, in Johannesburg. The Obamas will attend an official dinner hosted by Zuma.

On Sunday, they will fly to Cape Town to visit the prison museum on Robben Island.Obama will then stop at a community centre focused on healthcare with retired archbishop Desmond Tutu. He will go on to give the central speech of his African tour at the University of Cape Town.

On the final day, Obama will lay a wreath at the embassy memorial and visit a power plant, while his wife will take part in an African first ladies' summit hosted by the George W Bush Institute and attended by Laura Bush. David Smith

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« Reply #7158 on: Jun 26, 2013, 07:00 AM »

Syria's oilfields create surreal battle lines amid chaos and tribal loyalties

Tribes are supplying oil and gas to both the government and rebels to spare their villages from attack – and make money

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad in Deir el-Zour, Tuesday 25 June 2013 17.17 BST   

A northern wind had been blowing since early morning, lifting a veil of dust that had blocked the sun and turned the sky the colour of ash. Abu Zayed was sitting on the porch of his unfinished concrete home, watching the storm build. He loved sandstorms. They reminded him of Dubai, where he had lived before the war. He admired the people there for turning a desert into a paradise. They had vision, he told his followers.

Six months ago, he left the Gulf emirate to join the Syrian revolution, attending opposition conferences in Istanbul and Cairo, jostling for position on behalf of his father, the leading sheikh of a powerful tribe in eastern Syria.

But Abu Zayed soon became disgusted with the bickering among the rebel leadership. "There is an opposition council in every hotel lobby in Istanbul," he said. "You can't distinguish them from the regime."

Instead, like other disaffected tribal leaders, Abu Zayed returned home to his ancestral land and put his energy into building up his clan, taking control of his energy-rich ancestral lands.

Most of the oil and gas fields in eastern Syria lie idle or pump meagre quantities that are refined using primitive techniques to generate a pittance, but Abu Zayed's land has a huge gas plant. It stands less than a mile from his home.

His father had chosen him out his 40 brothers to look after the plant because he was seen as a man of vision. The war had given him a chance to realise his dream: to build an oil-fuelled emirate.

The hard edges of Syria's frontlines – dogmatic, revolutionary, Islamist or pure murderously sectarian – almost melt away outside the oilfields. New lines emerge pitting tribesmen against battalions, Islamists against everyone else, and creating sometimes surreal lines of engagement, where rebels help maintain government oil supplies in return for their villages being spared from bombardment and being allowed to siphon oil for themselves.

"There is chaos now," Abu Zayed said. "The Free Syrian Army is chasing loot, and they don't care about civilians. The military councils are stealing the aid and then selling it. There are dozens of battalions here, we don't even know who is manning a checkpoint at the end of the street. Some people are saying the days of Bashar [al-Assad] were better, that the opposition has betrayed the people.

"But we can organise this situation," he said. "Look at this gas plant, it's under our control. Things are organised here and we can do the same for other oil and gas fields.

"Most of the people who control the oilfields around here are making about 5m Syrian pounds [£32,000] a day. They exploit a field for a few weeks, but because of the chaos, another powerful cousin or battalion soon arrives to fight for it and take control of it.

"I tell these people to lease me the field for S£10m a month. I collect all the fields under my control, bring in companies to exploit them properly and organise truck convoys to sell the gas to Turkey. Then we'll buy Patriot [missile] batteries and drones to protect the fields against the regime."

His ambition did not stop there. "Once you have economic power you can convene a council for the tribes here inside the country, and organise all the military units in one military council," he said.

Using the old definition of tribal land from the French colonial era, before the Syrian republic and its socialist laws that smashed feudal property, each tribe is now claiming ownership of the fields that lie in its wajeh (tribal territory). As the Syrian regime has crumbled, society in the desert east has fallen back on the tribes. "Even [al-Qaida affiliate] Jabhat al-Nusra can't do anything against us," said Abu Zayed. "They try to get fields but they can't. Not Nusra, not even the Americans could take these fields from us with all the weapons we have now."

He stood up and walked to the edge of the porch, the slow, deliberate, short-stepped walk of the Gulf "nobility", swaying slightly from side to side. He wore his keffiyeh [scarf] and dishdasha [robe] not in the style of the Syrian tribesmen but like the rich Sunnis of the Gulf.

Our land, our gas plant

He led me to a gleaming BMW 4x4 at the front of the house. Two gunmen jumped into the back seats, their presence just a precaution: there was no fighting in these parts, no shelling or air raids, only the wind blowing and the approaching sandstorm.

At the gates of the plant, four fighters standing guard hurriedly opened the gates. Once inside, Abu Zayed stepped out of his car and stood in front of the modern factory with its metallic chimneys, spherical storage tanks and eternally burning flames, like a benevolent ruler inspecting the latest achievement of his nation.

A few shafts of light escaped the sand veil shrouding the sun and danced wildly in the sky, bouncing off the chimneys and throwing coloured shadows at the walls. "This is a top-class factory," he said. "They built all these factories on our land and only 10 guards and two cooks from our area worked here. The rest all came from the cities. Now it's over. This is ours.

"This plant makes S£10m a day. We protect it and we wouldn't let anyone steal anything from here. We get gas and electricity from the plant and we sell the petrol that it produces."

Three engineers in blue overalls were walking about the perimeter of the factory inspecting some damaged warehouses. One of them broke away from the group and walked briskly to greet the sheikh. "Everything is going well," the broad-shouldered engineer reported to Abu Zayed. "But we shouldn't produce any more LPG [cooking gas]. We need it all pumped out today; I want to keep the tanks empty."

A shadow of annoyance flickered across Abu Zayed's face. The cooking gas was very important to him, as some of it was pumped to a nearby gas plant under the control of Jabhat al-Nusra to keep its fighters happy. The rest was bottled and sold in the market.

The engineer continued with his technical report to his new boss: "I am pumping 4.5m cubic metres of gas into the main gas grid. That's enough electricity for five times the needs of [the province of] Deir el-Zour."

Who controls the main grid? "The government," said the engineer, matter of factly. He had a weightlifter's physique but looked exhausted, with two very dark circles surrounding his small eyes and seemingly covering most of his face. "The regime wants production regardless of who is in control. I pump gas to the government and give the LPG gas to the terrorists," he said, only half joking.

"I tell the regime everything, I tell them that the Jufra field is under the control of Nusra, that the tribes have taken over the wells or have looted them. But the regime officials don't want to listen, they just want production. If we reduce production, they go mad. They tell me to send them my LPG production and I tell them the locals take that, so they shout at me. I tell them if they don't like it I will shut the plant, so then they shut up. In their heads I think the regime still consider themselves the masters. But where are they? Where are they to protect the facilities?

"I pump around 5m cubic metres of gas a day into the system that feeds the regime's power stations. Even though the regime is rationing the electricity to certain cities, if I stop pumping, the system will collapse. In the end he [Assad] doesn't mind dealing with rebels if they give him electricity."

A wall of dust loomed from behind the chimneys and moved like a giant wave over the plant, engulfing everything. Only the flame remained visible, and, as if by magic, all the lights of the factory turned on.

Caravan of tankers

The engineer invited us into his 1980s-style office. Only half the plant's workforce showed up each day, he said; the rest had all deserted. When he asked them why, he said, they told him that it wasn't only them and that he should look at what had happened to the rest of the country.

"I produce 120MW of electricity. I give this to the rebel areas because if I shut electricity off they will attack me tomorrow, and if I stop pumping gas to the government they will bomb all of this tomorrow.

"I feel like I am sitting on a bomb. The rebels fight at night," he said with a look of rebuke towards his new master "over their shares of the gasoline. They don't use Kalashnikovs any more but anti-aircraft guns. If one bullet got in the gas tanks, the whole area would explode. That's why I try to keep them empty."

As we drove back through the storm, Abu Zayed tried to explain why is he was still pumping gas to the regime. "If we don't pump, the regime will attack the plant, which is providing us with gas and electricity," he said.

"The engineer is a very honest and patriotic man. He stayed when others had fled. I brought him to my house and told him: 'Don't wag your tail and try to send fuel to others, this is our land and you have your factory here, fine, but it's ours now.'"

By nightfall the sandstorm had moved on, leaving everything covered in a thick brown layer. A cold wind was blowing over the porch, where more men had gathered.

Beyond it, a long trail of headlights followed the narrow road linking the highway to the gas plant.
Syrian rebels pump crude oil from a well to dealers who will export it or resell it to peasants Syrian rebels pump crude oil from a well under their control to dealers who will either export it or resell it to peasants to refine it themselves. Photograph: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad

This caravan of tankers and pick-up trucks was heading to the plant to fill up with petrol. As they did every night, tribesmen and their kinsmen from local rebel battalions congregated at the edge of the plant, where the pumping station is located, to scoop out the precious petrol that would be resold a few miles down the road to oil traders.

The tribesmen brought heavy 23mm anti-aircraft guns mounted on pick-up trucks as a precaution, should any disagreement arise over each group's quota. An old Russian tank stood like a muscled bouncer, ready to intervene.

Abu Zayed walked around the porch striking deals as the buyers sought his influence to increase their quotas, reduce those of other tribes, or buy tanks of cooking gas. It was the Syrian desert's equivalent of a London or New York club where major deals are negotiated.

Two commanders were sitting on the porch, watching the trail of lights and lamenting the state of revolution in theatrical voices. Each of them ruled a considerable oil fiefdom.

"Oh Hassan, what has become of us?" asked a commander with a very thick black moustache. "Where is the beauty of our early jihad? In the first days … before the damn oil came and everyone started building their fortunes, and leaving the fight."

Hassan, a notorious bandit-cum-rebel who had become one of the richest men in Deir el-Zour, replied: "I swear to Allah that with the revenue from my oil I am equipping and organising a battalion that will go fight in the city."

"Oh Hassan, this is why Allah is not rewarding me with martyrdom yet," said the commander with the moustache. "As long as the city is there waiting for us, we fight."

Oil fuels division

Hassan said the oil was dividing the tribes. "An oilfield belongs to the ancestral land of a tribe, but which clan? Which family? Which brothers? This is why everyone is arming and this is why there are daily clashes over oilfields and why a 23mm anti-aircraft gun has become a weapon of necessity."

Listening to the tribesmen lamenting the loss of their Jerusalem while busy making fortunes from the oil was Ahmad, a tall, athletic young man with a thick shock of hair always covered in gel that was now caked with dust. A barber by trade in his native Deir el-Zour and a corporal until he defected, he had a kind, self-effacing smile.

Ahmad's battalion commander had looted an oil tanker, which was then leased to Abu Zayed. The revenue from the lease supported a battalion of 200 men fighting on the frontline. Ahmad was the logistics officer in charge of collecting the rent, buying ammunition and weapons, and feeding the men.

"With the weapons you have collected, you could have liberated the city of Deir el-Zoura long time ago," Ahmad told Abu Zayed in his musical accent.

"You people of the city always blame the countryside," replied Abu Zayed. "You received weapons that would have liberated the city a few times. While we fight, you sit playing cards at the cafes in the city. We did our duty and liberated the countryside. Now it's your turn."

"And most of the fighters in the city are countryside people, not from the city," he added. "And yes, we have weapons but we have taken them with our hands. You sold your weapons."

"Have you seen the city? Ahmad replied. "We have been hammered day and night by Katyushas [rocket launchers] but look at you sitting on the veranda enjoying a breeze, there we would have been dead by now. We are eating dried bread. We mix it with water and eat it. This oil is for everyone. It's not your oil to treat like your property."

"This oil is ours, not yours, not al-Qaida's – and no one, no matter how powerful, can take it from us. We have weapons to fight America if we want – even the regime can't take this back now. And who wants to eat dried bread any more? We want to sell oil and build houses." Everyone laughed.

"You should make the ministry of oil here in the new Syria," laughed one of the men.

"And what about the gas plant," said Ahmad. "You don't think it's wrong that you are giving gas to the government that's shelling me 20km from here?"

The answer came back: "If I don't give them gas, he will bomb this whole village from the face of earth."

Later, on the frontline in Deir el-Zour, Ahmad told me how the new oil barons were draining the revolution of its strength in the east.

"Those oil lords, our version of warlords, they are the reason why we haven't won yet. They don't care if we all die here, they care about how much money they will make.

"They were with the regime and when they saw the regime collapsing decided to join the revolution. Now I don't recognise them as part of the revolution. I only see those around me on the frontlines as the real revolutionaries. The rest – they are mercenaries and they will be eradicated after the war."


Saudi Arabia: Syrian rebels must be armed

Foreign minister says involvement of Iran and Hezbollah in Syrian conflict is dangerous
Ian Black, Middle East editor, Tuesday 25 June 2013 19.14 BST

Saudi Arabia has raised the regional stakes in the Syrian conflict, warning publicly that the involvement of Iran and the Lebanese group Hezbollah is dangerous and insisting that rebels fighting the president, Bashar al-Assad, must be armed.

Saud al-Faisal, the conservative kingdom's foreign minister, made the comments after talks in Jeddah with John Kerry, the US secretary of state, who is seeking to organise support for the anti-Assad forces amid fears in the west that extremist opposition groups are becoming too powerful.

In a sign that already faltering efforts to end the Syrian crisis are in deep trouble, the UN-Arab-League envoy on Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, said it was now unlikely that a peace conference of the Assad government and opposition would take place in July.

Kerry was also meeting the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who co-ordinates the kingdom's overall effort to topple Assad, Reuters reported. The Saudis are already sending arms to rebel groups, recently including anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons, but they are also pressing for greater western involvement, diplomats and analysts say.

Last weekend the western-Arab group the Friends of Syria announced that it had agreed "to provide urgently all the necessary materiel and equipment to the opposition on the ground". But few details have been publicised. There appears to be a division of labour under which the Arab members supply weapons and the western ones non-lethal equipment, as the US and Britain are already doing.

In recent weeks Saudi Arabia is said to have taken over the lead from its Gulf neighbour Qatar in sending weapons. The government in Doha has been criticised for backing extremist factions but it now appears to be playing a less active role and deferring to Riyadh. The new emir, Sheikh Tamim, who took over from his father in a rare peaceful transition on Tuesday, is not expected to change policy on Syria, according to sources in Qatar.

The Geneva conference, which is supported by the US and Russia, was originally supposed to have been held in June.

But Brahimi told reporters before meeting US and Russian officials in Geneva: "Frankly I doubt whether the conference will take place in July. The opposition has their next meeting on 4-5 July. So I don't think they will be ready. I very, very much hope that the governments in the region and the big powers – in particular the United States and Russia – will act to contain this situation that is getting out of hand, not only in Syria but also in the region."

Kerry said: "We do not want this to be a wider war. We will to continue to provide assistance to the Syrian military coalition and to the Syrian opposition in the interim … We do not believe it is appropriate for the Assad regime to have invited the Iranians and Hezbollah to cross international lines and to have their fighters on the ground. There are no United States fighters. There are no Saudi fighters. There are no Qatari fighters on the ground."

Prince Saud said Saudi Arabia "cannot be silent" at the intervention of Iran and Hezbollah, both close Assad allies, in Syria. "The most dangerous development is the foreign participation, represented by Hezbollah and other militias supported by the forces of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard," he said. "There is no logic that allows Russia to publicly arm the Syrian regime and the foreign forces that support it."

William Hague, the foreign secretary, has insisted that the UK has still taken no decision to supply weapons to the rebels despite having pressed, with France, for a lifting of the EU arms embargo.

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« Reply #7159 on: Jun 26, 2013, 07:02 AM »

Central American farmers stay one step ahead of profit-hungry 'coyotes'

Farmers are forming co-operatives in El Salvador and Honduras to bypass the middlemen who paid a pittance for their produce

Sibylla Brodzinsky, Santa Tecla, El Salvador, Tuesday 25 June 2013 15.52 BST   

The market stalls in Santa Tecla are brimming with fruit and vegetables. But the only Salvadoran products for sale are pineapples, cabbage and coconuts. The rest comes from neighbouring Guatemala.

Customers prefer Guatemalan vegetables because "they are bigger, cleaner and last longer" than local produce, says market seller Pedro Antonio Morales as he sprinkles the broccoli, cabbage, cucumber and tomatoes with water to combat the afternoon heat. "Salvadoran vegetables come to me bruised and they cost more," he says.

Agriculture was hit hard during El Salvador's civil war in the 1980s. After a peace deal was signed in 1992, service industries and manufacturing took priority over agricultural development. More than 90% of fruit and vegetables consumed in the country are imported, according to government figures.

"The agricultural structure was abandoned," says Oscar Ortiz, mayor of Santa Tecla, a town near the capital, San Salvador, but which is predominantly rural. "The countryside was left practically empty. Many of the young people emigrated to the cities."

Not José Aníbal Mejía, who grows squash, chillies, cucumber, green peppers and green beans in the village of Boca Poza, an hour and a half's drive from Santa Tecla. He took over a farm his father had been granted as part of attempted land reform in the 1980s, and spent years scratching out a living selling his produce at whatever price buyers would offer.

"We had no choice, it was the coyotes who set the price," says Mejía, as he tours his vegetable plot in the fertile lowlands just a few hundred metres from the Pacific Ocean. Here, as in most of central America, "coyote" is a term usually associated with people who facilitate the passage of undocumented migrants from one country to another on their way to the US. But coyote is also used to denote a middleman, particularly one who takes advantage of unwitting farmers.

Mejía and his neighbours were dismayed to discover that the same 100 units of squash that the coyote was buying from them at $5 (£3.70), were selling in wholesale markets for three times as much.

Small-scale farmers in El Salvador can hope to keep 21% of the final price of their products, says Andrés Bernal, who co-ordinates an Oxfam programme that helps producers in the region gain better market access. "The coyote has the advantage of knowing the market and handling large volumes," he says.

But Mejía and his neighbours in Boca Poza are no longer at the mercy of the coyotes. The town's vegetable growers are taking their produce to farmers' markets in the cities every two weeks and selling directly to consumers, making up to 50% more than before.

For the farmers of Boca Poza, this learning experience has changed their perspective on their crops. "Sometimes we would plant things without knowing if they would sell at harvest or how much we could sell them for," says Mejía.

The farmers still sell the majority of their crops to outside buyers but, with knowledge of market forces and consumer preferences, they can negotiate better prices. "No coyote is going to fool us again," says Mejía.

In neighbouring Honduras, a group of farmers who were tired of seeing the lion's share of their produce go to middlemen decided three years ago to work with buyers in the country's largest city, San Pedro Sula, selling directly to supermarkets and fast-food chains, to offer a steady supply of lettuce, tomatoes, broccoli and other vegetables.

The co-operative, known as Aproalce, is also the wholesale buyer for other producers, but the blackberry farmers in the village of Cipresal don't consider them coyotes.

Josué Bautista arrived at a collection point with three-and-a-half buckets of berries that he and his family had picked the previous day. Before, he would have received just over $11 for the berries. Aproalce pays him as much as $27 and transports the fruit directly to juice-processing plants or supermarkets in San Pedro Sula. "The coyotes never paid us this much," says Bautista.

Carmen Torres, the head of fruit and vegetables at the Colonial supermarket in San Pedro Sula, says the blackberries she sells have never been so beautiful. She also buys cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli from the Aproalce co-operative.

"The most important thing for me is consistency and constancy," says Torres. "The producers have understood that and they have never let me down."

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« Reply #7160 on: Jun 26, 2013, 07:09 AM »

The Christian Science Monitor -

Ancient, cow-sized knobby lizard discovered in Africa

By Elizabeth Barber, Contributor / June 25, 2013 at 2:34 pm EDT

Even by paleontology standards, this newly discovered lizard was unusual-looking, an outcast in the ancient Earth’s nearly empty deserts.

The cow-sized animal, called Bunostegos, or "knobby roof” for the quantity of huge bulbs that dot its face, looking like bubbling cooking oil, presided over a lonely desert some 260 million years ago, when Earth was home to a single continent, Pangaea.

Found in modern Niger’s north desert, the lizard belongs to the genus pareiasaur, herbivore animals that lumbered around the Earth in its Permian period. Most pareiasaurs had knobs protruding from their skulls, but Bunostegos’s bulbous ones are unusual even for that class of animals, as the largest ever seen.

"Imagine a cow-sized, plant-eating reptile with a knobby skull and bony armor down its back," said lead author Linda Tsuji, of the University of Washington, in a statement.

Scientists have found that the knobbed lizard was more related to primitive lizards from which it had split off millions of years earlier than it was to its contemporaries. That supports the scientists’ hypothesis that central Pangaea was home to a desert whose sheer inaccessibility kept its ecosystem bounded off from the rest of the continent. Few animals ventured into the place, and those that did call it home seldom left it. That meant life there, including the knobbed lizard, lived in evolutionary solitude, growing more and more unlike their cousins in Pangaea’s more hospitable corridors.

“The endemic tetrapod fauna of Niger supports the theory that central Pangea was biogeographically isolated from the rest of the supercontinent by desert-like conditions during Late Permian times,” the scientists wrote in the paper, published in The Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

The knobs on the droopy-faced lizard’s head were likely scaly-skin covered bones, similar to those found on the heads of modern giraffes, but scientists are not sure what function the protrusions served. Rather than act as weapons, the horns could have helped the animals tell each other apart, avoiding awkward occasions of mistaken reptilian identity out there in the desert, scientists told BBC News.

The curious-looking animal was wiped out along with most of its contemporaries about 248 million years ago, when an unknown event, possibly an asteroid plunging into Earth, obliterated the ancient animal kingdom.

The scientists said that the lizard find could help in putting together a better portrait of the world that came before us.

"Research in these lesser-known basins is critically important for meaningful interpretation of the Permian fossil record,” said Paleontologist Gabe Bever, in a statement. “Our understanding of the Permian and the mass extinction that ended it depends on discovery of more fossils like the beautifully bizarre Bunostegos.


Discovery of new flame-headed bird species astounds conservationists

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, June 26, 2013 7:47 EDT

A new species of bird with a distinctive orange-red coloured tuft of feathers on its head has been found in Cambodia’s populous capital city, conservationists said on Wednesday.

The remarkable discovery of the Cambodian tailorbird, or orthotomus chaktomuk, in Phnom Penh — and several other locations including a construction site just outside of the city of 1.5 million people — has astounded conservationists.

“The modern discovery of an undescribed bird species within the limits of a large populous city… is extraordinary,” Simon Mahood of the Wildlife Conversation Society told AFP.

“It’s very surprising,” he added.

The small bird, which has a black-feathered throat and is the size of the more common wren, lives in thick, lowland scrub in Phnom Penh and other sites in the nearby floodplain, which the WCS said had kept it concealed for so long.

Known for its “distinct plumage and a loud call”, the bird was discovered by scientists from conservation groups, including WCS and BirdLife International.

The bird was named after a Phnom Penh riverfront area “chaktomuk” — the conjunction of three rivers — where it was found, the (WCS) said in a statement.

“The discovery indicates that new species of birds may still be found in familiar and unexpected locations,” Mahood added.

Mahood said scientists started the research on the bird in June last year explaining it is currently not a threatened species despite its habitat in the city of 1.5 million people.

But WCS recommended that the species is classified as “Near Threatened” under the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) because the bird’s “habitat is declining” due to agricultural and urban expansion.

Hong Chamnan, a Cambodian forestry official who has worked with the team, told AFP the discovery brought great “pride” to the country.

“I believe that we may have this new bird in other areas in the country,” he added.

Steve Zack, WCS coordinator of bird conservation said more study was needed to understand “the distribution and ecology of this exciting newly described species to determine its conservation needs”.

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« Reply #7161 on: Jun 26, 2013, 07:11 AM »

Astronomers find three potentially habitable planets orbiting nearby star

By Reuters
Tuesday, June 25, 2013 20:59 EDT

By Irene Klotz

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) – A neighbor star has at least six planets in orbit, including three circling at the right distance for water to exist, a condition believed to be necessary for life, scientists said on Tuesday.

Previously, the star known as Gliese 667C was found to be hosting three planets, one of which was located in its so-called “habitable zone” where temperatures could support liquid surface water. That planet and two newly found sibling worlds are bigger than Earth, but smaller than Neptune.

“This is the first time that three such planets have been spotted orbiting in this zone in the same system,” astronomer Paul Butler, with the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C., said in a statement.

Scientists say the discovery of three planets in a star’s habitable zone raises the odds of finding Earth-like worlds where conditions might have been suitable for life to evolve.

“Instead of looking at 10 stars to look for a single potentially habitable planet, we now know we can look at just one star and have a high chance of finding several of them,” astronomer Rory Barnes, with the University of Washington, said in a statement.

Additional observations of Gliese 667C and a reanalysis of existing data showed it hosts at least six, and possibly, seven planets.

The star is located relatively close to Earth, just 22 light years (129 trillion miles/207 trillion km) away. It is about one-third the size of the sun and the faintest star of a triple star system.

In addition to the three well-positioned “super-Earths,” two more planets may orbit on the fringe of the star’s habitable zone and also could possibly support life.

The research will be published this week in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics

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« Reply #7162 on: Jun 26, 2013, 07:48 AM »

In the USA....

The continuing destruction of the USA by it's "Supreme" Court ...

June 25, 2013

Supreme Court Invalidates Key Part of Voting Rights Act


WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday effectively struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by a 5-to-4 vote, freeing nine states, mostly in the South, to change their election laws without advance federal approval.

The court divided along ideological lines, and the two sides drew sharply different lessons from the history of the civil rights movement and the nation’s progress in rooting out racial discrimination in voting. At the core of the disagreement was whether racial minorities continued to face barriers to voting in states with a history of discrimination.

“Our country has changed,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority. “While any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.”

The decision will have immediate practical consequences. Texas announced shortly after the decision that a voter identification law that had been blocked would go into effect immediately, and that redistricting maps there would no longer need federal approval. Changes in voting procedures in the places that had been covered by the law, including ones concerning restrictions on early voting, will now be subject only to after-the-fact litigation.

President Obama, whose election as the nation’s first black president was cited by critics of the law as evidence that it was no longer needed, said he was “deeply disappointed” by the ruling.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg summarized her dissent from the bench, an unusual move and a sign of deep disagreement. She cited the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and said his legacy and the nation’s commitment to justice had been “disserved by today’s decision.”

She said the focus of the Voting Rights Act had properly changed from “first-generation barriers to ballot access” to “second-generation barriers” like racial gerrymandering and laws requiring at-large voting in places with a sizable black minority. She said the law had been effective in thwarting such efforts.

The law had applied to nine states — Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia — and to scores of counties and municipalities in other states, including Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx.

Chief Justice Roberts wrote that Congress remained free to try to impose federal oversight on states where voting rights were at risk, but must do so based on contemporary data. But the chances that the current Congress could reach agreement on where federal oversight is required are small, most analysts say.

Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined the majority opinion. Justice Ginsburg was joined in dissent by Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

The majority held that the coverage formula in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, originally passed in 1965 and most recently updated by Congress in 1975, was unconstitutional. The section determined which states must receive clearance from the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington before they made minor changes to voting procedures, like moving a polling place, or major ones, like redrawing electoral districts.

Section 5, which sets out the preclearance requirement, was originally scheduled to expire in five years. Congress repeatedly extended it: for five years in 1970, seven years in 1975, and 25 years in 1982. Congress renewed the act in 2006 after holding extensive hearings on the persistence of racial discrimination at the polls, again extending the preclearance requirement for 25 years. But it relied on data from the 1975 reauthorization to decide which states and localities were covered.

The current coverage system, Chief Justice Roberts wrote, is “based on 40-year-old facts having no logical relationship to the present day.”

“Congress — if it is to divide the states — must identify those jurisdictions to be singled out on a basis that makes sense in light of current conditions,” he wrote. “It cannot simply rely on the past.”

The decision did not strike down Section 5, but without Section 4, the later section is without significance — unless Congress passes a new bill for determining which states would be covered.

It was hardly clear, at any rate, that the court’s conservative majority would uphold Section 5 if the question returned to the court in the unlikely event that Congress enacted a new coverage formula. In a concurrence, Justice Thomas called for striking down Section 5 immediately, saying that the majority opinion had provided the reasons and had merely left “the inevitable conclusion unstated.”

The Supreme Court had repeatedly upheld the law in earlier decisions, saying that the preclearance requirement was an effective tool to combat the legacy of lawless conduct by Southern officials bent on denying voting rights to blacks.

Critics of Section 5 say it is a unique federal intrusion on state sovereignty and a badge of shame for the affected jurisdictions that is no longer justified.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was one of the towering legislative achievements of the civil rights movement, and Chief Justice Roberts said its “strong medicine” was the right response to “entrenched racial discrimination.” When it was first enacted, he said, black voter registration stood at 6.4 percent in Mississippi, and the gap between black and white registration rates was more than 60 percentage points.

In the 2004 election, the last before the law was reauthorized, the black registration rate in Mississippi was 76 percent, almost four percentage points higher than the white rate. In the 2012 election, Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “African-American voter turnout exceeded white voter turnout in five of the six states originally covered by Section 5.”

The chief justice recalled the Freedom Summer of 1964, when the civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were murdered near Philadelphia, Miss., while seeking to register black voters. He mentioned Bloody Sunday in 1965, when police officers beat marchers in Selma, Ala.

“Today,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “both of those towns are governed by African-American mayors. Problems remain in these states and others, but there is no denying that, due to the Voting Rights Act, our nation has made great strides.”

Justice Ginsburg, in her dissent from the bench, drew a different lesson from those events, drawing on the words of Dr. King.

“The great man who led the march from Selma to Montgomery and there called for the passage of the Voting Rights Act foresaw progress, even in Alabama,” she said. “ ‘The arc of the moral universe is long,’ he said, but ‘it bends toward justice,’ if there is a steadfast commitment to see the task through to completion.”

In her written dissent, Justice Ginsburg said that Congress was the right body to decide whether the law was still needed and where. Congress reauthorized the law in 2006 by large majorities; the vote was 390 to 33 in the House and unanimous in the Senate. President George W. Bush, a Republican, signed the bill into law, saying it was “an example of our continued commitment to a united America where every person is valued and treated with dignity and respect.”

The Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of the 2006 extension of the law in a 2009 decision, Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Holder. But it avoided answering the central question, and it seemed to give Congress an opportunity to make adjustments. Congress, Chief Justice Roberts noted on Tuesday, did not respond.

Justice Ginsburg suggested in her dissent that an era had drawn to a close with the court’s decision on the Voting Rights Act, in Shelby County v. Holder, No. 12-96.

“Beyond question, the V.R.A. is no ordinary legislation,” she wrote. “It is extraordinary because Congress embarked on a mission long delayed and of extraordinary importance: to realize the purpose and promise of the Fifteenth Amendment,” the Reconstruction-era amendment that barred racial discrimination in voting and authorized Congress to enforce it.

“For a half century,” she wrote, “a concerted effort has been made to end racial discrimination in voting. Thanks to the Voting Rights Act, progress once the subject of a dream has been achieved and continues to be made.”

“The court errs egregiously,” she concluded, “by overriding Congress’s decision.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: June 25, 2013

An earlier version of this article misstated the name of a civil rights worker murdered in 1964. He was Michael Schwerner, not Schwermer.


Texas to immediately enact voter ID law following Supreme Court ruling

By Ed Pilkington, The Guardian

Tuesday, June 25, 2013 20:47 EDT

Officials in Texas said they would rush ahead with a controversial voter ID law that critics say will make it more difficult for ethnic minority citizens to vote, hours after the US supreme court released them from anti-discrimination constraints that have been in place for almost half a century.

The Texas attorney general, Greg Abbott, declared that in the light of the supreme court’s judgment striking down a key element of the 1965 Voting Rights Act he was implementing instantly the voter ID law that had previously blocked by the Obama administration. “With today’s decision, the state’s voter ID law will take effect immediately. Photo identification will now be required when voting in elections in Texas.”

The provocative speed with which Texas has raced to embrace its new freedoms underlines the high-stakes nature of the supreme court ruling. Civil rights leaders declared the judgment to be a major setback to the fight against race discrimination in the south that has been a running sore in the US since the civil war. “This is devastating,” the reverend Al Sharpton told MSNBC.

Benjamin Todd Jealous, president of the NAACP, called the outcome “outrageous. The court’s majority put politics over decades of precedent and the rights of voters. We are more vulnerable to the flood of attacks we have seen in recent years.”

Experts in voting rights laws warned that the supreme court’s 5-to-4 majority ruling would encourage local jurisdictions such as Texas to implement measures that could disenfranchise minority voters. Under the now moribund section four of the Voting Rights Act, Texas and eight other mainly southern states as well as counties in other parts of the country, were listed as being subject to “pre-clearance” – in other words, they were barred from tampering with electoral procedures without prior federal approval.

Research by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University has shown that pre-clearance has consistently protected minority voters from discrimination. In the past 15 years, Brennan found, the Justice Department has blocked election changes from the listed jurisdictions 86 times, 43 of those in the past decade.

Myrna Pérez, author of the Brennan report, said that the most dangerous changes that could happen now were the invisible ones. “The biggest threats could come from small town officials making changes without any public notice or scrutiny – canceling an election, say, or moving the location of a polling station a week before election day.”

She added: “We will be asking people to keep vigilant.”

The Texas voter ID law was blocked by a federal court under the Voting Rights Act last August. The court found that the requirement to show photo identification before casting a ballot would have imposed “strict, unforgiving burdens” on poor minority voters and the cost of the scheme would have fallen disproportionately on blacks and Hispanics.

The Department of Justice pointed out that hundreds of thousands of registered voters in Texas were without the necessary identification and were thus at risk of disenfranchisement. A disproportionate number were Latino.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, dissenting from the ruling, highlighted a paradox at the heart of the majority opinion: “In the court’s view, the very success of section five of the Voting Rights Act demands its dormancy”.

Pamela Karlan, a professor at Stanford law school who advised the leadership of the bipartisan House judiciary committee in this case, likened the 5-4 ruling to a doctor telling a patient that their treatment had been so successful it could now be ended. “The court is saying: ‘You can stop taking your medicine now.’”

The new question, Karlan added, is what will happen to the patient once the treatment is terminated.

The answer to that question continues to divide America, both within the supreme court itself and in the wider response to its ruling. The majority judgment, written by chief justice John Roberts, focuses on how far the country has come over the past half century since Lyndon Johnson wrestled the act through a resistant Congress.

“Nearly 50 years later, things have changed dramatically. Blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare. And minority candidates hold office at unprecedented levels,” Roberts writes.

The chief justice draws on census information to underline his point. In Alabama, the proportion of black people registered to vote has increased from 19% in 1965 to 73% in 2004; and from 6.7% to 76% in Mississippi.

That rosy view of progress is shared, unsurprisingly, by Shelby County, the predominantly white area of central Alabama that brought the challenge all the way to the supreme court. Frank “Butch” Ellis, who has been Shelby County’s attorney since 1964 when the Voting Rights Act was still being debated, insisted that Alabama at that time “was a different time, a different place, it didn’t resemble what it is now.

“I know there was discrimination in 1964, but I also know that what we were doing then is not a relevant barometer of what we are doing now in 2013. It’s not fair to override our sovereign jurisdiction based on a formula that is almost 50 years old.”

Shelby County voters, who are about 90% white, have in recent years elected black mayors and a black president of the board of education, Ellis said. Pre-clearance he said was expensive and an administrative burden: “We had to go to Washington for pre-clearance just to move a polling station from one church to another church across the street.”

But for Ginsburg, backed by justices Sephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, it is the very success of pre-clearance that underlines why it must be preserved. “The Voting Rights Act has worked to combat voting discrimination where other remedies have been tried and failed,” she writes.

In her dissent, Ginsburg lists some of the insidious changes to voting laws that could now creep back into the American electoral landscape. Under pre-clearance, states including Texas have been blocked from racial gerrymandering by redrawing electoral boundaries in an attempt to create segregated legislative districts.

Other states have been barred from moving to “at-large voting” where the electoral power of minorities is diluted by the overall majority population. A similar dilution effect has been attempted by the discriminatory annexation into city limits of majority white suburbs.

Following the supreme court ruling, section two of the Voting Rights Act has been left in place. This allows for the US government to prosecute local officials anywhere in the country for implementing racially-discriminatory electoral laws.

Opponents of pre-clearance say that section two will be sufficient on its own as a safeguard against future discrimination. But the burden of challenging new electoral laws now shifts from the federal government to the individual voter.

Karlan said that by striking down pre-clearance the supreme court had “shifted the burden away from the perpetrators of discrimination and onto the shoulders of the victims of discrimination. Local minority voters will now have to find a lawyer and go to court – and for many that will be very difficult.” © Guardian News and Media 2013


June 25, 2013

An Assault on the Voting Rights Act


The conservative majority on the Roberts Court issued another damaging and intellectually dishonest ruling on Tuesday. It eviscerated enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, in which Congress kept the promise of a vote for every citizen. But it did not rule on the constitutional validity of the idea that some places have such strong records of discrimination that they must seek federal approval before they may change their voting rules. Instead, the 5-to-4 ruling usurped Congress’s power and struck down the formula that it has repeatedly reauthorized to determine which states fall into that category.

The Supreme Court invited Congress to rewrite the formula, which has a disingenuous ring. The justices know full well that lawmakers, who failed to expand the coverage formula in 2006, are extremely unlikely to do it now. And so the preclearance rule lies dormant.

The Justice Department is still free to sue jurisdictions over their voting policies after the fact, and should, as often as necessary, because such lawsuits will become an even more important tool to ensure justice. But that is not a long-term substitute for the preclearance rule. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted in her impassioned dissent, such suits have proved to be a less effective tool against politicians determined to find ways block access to the polls. The jurisdictions covered by the preclearance rule are, for the most part, firmly in that category.

Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, was right when he said that the formula used to determine the jurisdictions that are covered was written long ago, but, if anything, it is too narrow. Chief Justice Roberts was entirely wrong when he wrote that the states can no longer “be divided into two groups: those with a recent history of voting tests and low voter registration and turnout, and those without those characteristics.”

In 2006, when Congress reauthorized the voting law after extensive hearings, Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., a conservative Republican from Wisconsin, said the formula is not outdated and “states covered are not unfairly punished under the coverage formula.”

Currently, Justice Ginsburg wrote in dissent that Congress, “with overwhelming support in both houses,” had concluded that the preclearance rule should “continue in force, unabated,” because that would “facilitate completion of the impressive gains thus far made; and second, continuance would guard against backsliding.” She said that that decision was “well within Congress’s province to make and should elicit this court’s unstinting approbation.”

Speaking of racially motivated barriers to voting, Justice Ginsburg said: “Early attempts to cope with this vile infection resembled battling the Hydra. Whenever one form of voting discrimination was identified and prohibited, others sprang up in its place.” She added: “When confronting the most constitutionally invidious form of discrimination, and the most fundamental right in our democratic system, Congress’s power to act is at its height.”

The real problem with the invalidated formula, in our view, is that it does not cover all the jurisdictions that have imposed or tried to impose techniques like racially discriminatory voter-identification laws.

Invidious and pervasive voting discrimination has not come to an end, as Chief Justice Roberts suggested with his complaint that “Congress did not use the record it compiled to shape a coverage formula grounded in current conditions.” Congress has compiled a huge record showing that gerrymandering, use of at-large voting in cities with a sizable black minority to eliminate the power of minority votes and other barriers to equality in voting justifies the clearance formula the court struck down as failing to meet “current needs.”

The future of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 now lies in the hands of President Obama and Congress. If we had a federal government that was not paralyzed by partisanship, this ruling would serve as an inspiration to take action. Congressional Democrats would quickly prepare a more expansive formula, and the Republicans who voted for the old formula just seven years ago would support the new one.

President Obama quickly said he was “deeply disappointed” at the ruling and called on Congress to enact a new formula. Tragically, we cannot count on either legislative action or strong follow-through from the White House.


Democrats vow to restore voting protections after Supreme Court ruling

By Reuters
Tuesday, June 25, 2013 17:36 EDT

By Richard Cowan and Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress on Tuesday vowed to push to restore protections for the voting rights of African Americans and other minorities after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a core provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

It was unclear whether Republicans, who control the House of Representatives, would provide the support needed for any legislative effort to offset the high-court ruling, which was denounced by Democrats as a setback for civil rights.

The justices ruled 5-4 that Congress had used obsolete reasoning in continuing to force nine states, mainly in the South, to get federal approval if they made changes in election laws affecting blacks and other minorities.

The decision came after recent election cycles in which some states have tried to impose last-minute changes to voting rules. Critics complained those changes were aimed at suppressing the votes of minorities, while backers said they were designed to stop voter fraud.

Obama, a Democrat who in 2009 became the country’s first African American president, decried the Supreme Court ruling and said, “I am calling on Congress to pass legislation to ensure every American has equal access to the polls.”

The Voting Rights Act, a centerpiece of the American civil rights movement in the 1960s, was meant to ensure access to the ballot box for minorities, traditional allies of Democrats, in states where such voting rights were considered at risk.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy promised to move quickly to restore the law in the 100-seat, Democratic-led U.S. Senate.

The Supreme Court, Leahy said, had “struck down the core of the most successful piece of civil rights legislation in this nation’s history.” The Vermont Democrat said his panel would hold hearings in July and he would try to fashion a bipartisan bill. But it was unclear how far such a bill might advance.

Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the Senate’s third-ranking Democrat, voiced doubts that Congress could reverse the court ruling.

“As long as Republicans have a majority in the House and Democrats don’t have 60 votes in the Senate,” to end Republican procedural roadblocks, Schumer said, “there will be no (U.S.) preclearance” for changes in state voting laws.


In recent elections, voters in some states have had to suffer through unusually long waits to cast their ballots and other ballot-box problems, which discouraged some from voting.

If any legislation emerges from Congress, it could try to tackle such problems.

Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner, were largely silent immediately after the court’s ruling.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, asked by reporters later in the day about the Supreme Court ruling, said he had to review it, but added: “America is very different today than it was in the 1960s” amid segregation and election laws aimed at blocking blacks from voting.

Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, suggested that his state had been treated unfairly since it was among those that had to receive preclearance.

He complained that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder had refused to approve voter identification laws in Texas and South Carolina.

Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on Leahy’s committee, said he was open to trying to address concerns raised by the court about the formula for preclearance.

“The opportunity to vote is one of the most fundamental rights afforded to American citizens. And, as protectors of the Constitution, Congress must defend that right,” said Grassley, who voted for reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act in 1982 and 2006.

The current version of the law was enacted with overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress in 2006 and signed by Republican President George W. Bush.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi denounced the Supreme Court ruling as “a step backward on civil rights,” but said Congress should take it “as a cue” to take additional action itself, as it did in 2006, to bolster the law.

“It is our responsibility to do everything in our power to remove obstacles to voting, to ensure every citizen has the right to vote and every vote is counted as cast,” she said.

(Additional reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Howard Goller, David Storey and Mohammad Zargham)


John Lewis: ‘These men’ on the Supreme Court never had to pass a literacy test

By David Edwards
Tuesday, June 25, 2013 14:59 EDT

Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) on Tuesday blasted conservative justices on the United States Supreme Court after they struck down a part of a law intended to prevent the type of voter suppression that he was fighting against when he had his skull fractured during protests in the 1960s.

In a 5 to 4 decision along ideological lines on Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled that the heart of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional becauese Congress had not provided adequate justification for subjecting nine mostly southern states to additional federal oversight.

“I was disappointed because what I think what the court did today is stab the Voting Rights Act of 1965 right in its very heart,” Lewis explained to MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell. “It is a major setback. We may not have people being beaten today, maybe they’re not being denied the right to participate, to register to vote, they’re not being chased by police dogs or trampled by horses. But in the 11 states of the old Confederacy and even in some of the states outside of the South, there has been a systematic, deliberate attempt to take us back to another period.”

“And these men that voted to strip the Voting Rights Act of its power, they never stood in unmovable lines, they never had to pass a so-called literacy test,” he observed. “It took us almost a hundred years to get where we are today. So, will it take another hundred years to fix it, to change it?”

Lewis added that the country was at risk of repeating history.

“My message to the members of the United States Supreme Court is remember, don’t forget our recent history,” he said. “Walk in our shoes. Come and walk in our shoes. Come in walk in the shoes of those three young men that died in Mississippi [while registering black voters in 1964], walk in the shoes of those of us who walked across that bridge on Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965.”

“I didn’t think that on that day when President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act that I would live to see five members of the United States Supreme Court undone what President Johnson did with those pens.”


June 25, 2013

Beyond Black and White, New Force Reshapes South


The Deep South was, quite literally, a black and white world in 1965, when Congress approved the Voting Rights Act, sweeping away barriers that kept African-Americans from the polls.

And the Supreme Court decision on Tuesday, which struck down a key part of the law, is certain to set off a series of skirmishes over voting regulations between the white Republicans who control Southern state legislatures and civil rights groups seeking to maximize black voter clout.

But those who have studied the region closely say that a more unstoppable force is approaching that will alter the power structure throughout the South and upend the understanding of politics there: demographic change.

The states with the highest growth in the Latino population over the last decade are in the South, which is also absorbing an influx of people of all races moving in from other parts of the country.

While most experts expect battles over voting restrictions in the coming years, they say that ultimately those efforts cannot hold back the wave of change that will bring about a multiethnic South.

“All the voter suppression measures in the world aren’t going to be enough to eventually stem this rising tide,” said Representative David E. Price, a veteran North Carolina Democrat and a political scientist by training.

As the region continues to change, Republicans who control legislatures in the South will confront a basic question: how to retain political power when the demographics are no longer on your side.

The temptation in the short term, now that the Supreme Court has significantly relaxed federal oversight, may be to pass laws and gerrymander districts to protect Republican political power and limit the influence of the new more diverse population.

But that could be devastating to the party’s long-term prospects, especially if it is seen as discriminating against the groups that will make up an ever larger share of the future electorate.

The law guaranteeing political equality for blacks was passed nearly a half-century ago, in the wake of the startling images of violence in Selma, Ala. The nationally televised coverage shook America’s conscience and marked what President Lyndon B. Johnson would say in a speech to Congress was a moment where “history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man’s unending search for freedom.”

The act eventually imposed federal oversight over nine states and other jurisdictions — among them, Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia — requiring them to seek preapproval for election laws, like voter identification measures, redistricting maps and rules related to the mechanics of elections, like polling hours.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday essentially struck down those preapproval requirements, which had deterred states and localities from passing legislation that they knew would meet with resistance from civil rights advocates and result in protracted fights.

Alabama, for example, passed a law in 2011 requiring that voters show photo identification at the polls. The state put off submitting the legislation to the Department of Justice, however — a delay some Democrats attribute to the state’s Republicans waiting for the Supreme Court decision.

But the most meaningful impact of the ruling may be seen in the decade to come, when Southern states — freed from federal preclearance requirements — take up the redrawing of Congressional and legislative seats amid much more complex racial politics than in the days of Jim Crow.

As the white share of the population shrinks, Republican leaders are going to grapple with the same problem their Democratic counterparts faced as whites drifted from their ancestral party in the 1980s and 1990s.

“The South is going to start looking more like California eventually,” said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

For years, black and white legislators in the South have agreed to district lines that, thanks to racial packing, create safe seats for both black Democrats and white Republicans. The Obama administration’s Department of Justice approved nearly every Southern redistricting map, written by Republicans, after the 2010 census.

The one exception, Texas, offers a window into what the future may look like in a multiracial South. With almost 90 percent of its growth owing to a mix of new Hispanic, Asian and black voters, Republican legislators in Texas drew new districts in 2011 that were rejected by a federal court as discriminatory because they didn’t sufficiently recognize the political power of the new demographics.

Just as Texas is now, Georgia will, thanks to polyglot Atlanta, eventually become a state where it will be difficult for Republicans to produce a redistricting map that protects their majority in perpetuity without drawing legal challenges.

Georgia’s Hispanic population nearly doubled between 2000 and 2010, according to federal census data. In suburban Atlanta’s Gwinnett County, the most heavily Hispanic locality in the state, the Latino population rose to 162,035 from 64,137.

“The growing nonwhite share of the electorate in Georgia and other Southern states represents a threat to the continued domination of the current majority party, which means that it is in the political interest of the majority party to do whatever it can, whether through control of redistricting or through the enactment of restrictive voter ID laws, to limit the impact of these trends,” said Alan I. Abramowitz, an Emory University political scientist.

State Representative Stacey Abrams of Georgia, the Democratic leader, said such efforts would trigger a backlash.

  “They’re going to be tempted to try to take advantage of this, but they risk permanently alienating a population that will eventually be able to take its revenge,” Ms. Abrams said. “Given how quickly our Asian and Latino populations are growing and how much of the electorate they’re going to represent, to constrain their voting power would be a recipe for disaster.”

Ms. Abrams’s Republican counterpart, the House speaker, David Ralston, said the Voting Rights Act decision was an affirmation that his native region “has changed, has matured,” and that his party would demonstrate that by appealing to Georgia’s changing face.

“If we’re going to govern responsibly and lead,” Mr. Ralston said, “then we have to recognize that Georgia is a big state, it’s a diverse state, and it’s a state that’s changing.”


June 26, 2013

Supreme Court Could Make History on Same-Sex Marriage, or Not


WASHINGTON — It is usually impossible to say when the Supreme Court will announce any particular decision. There is one exception: On the last day of the term, when the court takes action on every remaining case, the process of elimination supplies the answer.

The last day of the term is Wednesday. The court has yet to issue decisions in two momentous cases on same-sex marriage.

Those facts in combination mean that shortly after 10 a.m. the justices will announce their rulings on challenges to two laws that define marriage to include only unions of a man and a woman.

One case, from New York, concerns the federal Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, which denies federal benefits to gay and lesbian couples married in states that allow such unions.

The other, from California, challenges Proposition 8, the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

The rulings will come against the backdrop of a rapid shift in public attitudes about same-sex marriage, with recent polls indicating that a majority of Americans support allowing such unions. When the justices heard arguments in the two cases in March, nine states and the District of Columbia had laws allowing same-sex marriage. Since then, three more states have enacted such laws.

The New York case, United States v. Windsor, No. 12-307, challenges the part of the 1996 law that defines marriage as between only a man and a woman for the purposes of more than 1,000 federal laws and programs. (Another part of the law, not before the court, says that states need not recognize same-sex marriages from other states.)

The case concerns two New York City women, Edith Windsor and Thea Clara Spyer, who married in 2007 in Canada. Ms. Spyer died in 2009, and Ms. Windsor inherited her property. The 1996 law did not allow the Internal Revenue Service to treat Ms. Windsor as a surviving spouse, and she faced a tax bill of about $360,000 that would not have applied to a spouse in an opposite-sex marriage.

Ms. Windsor sued, and last year the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, struck down the 1996 law.

Should the justices strike down the law, married same-sex couples would start to receive federal benefits. Should they uphold the law, the current state of affairs for married same-sex couples – Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called it “skim milk marriage” when the case was argued in March – would continue.

No ruling in the case on the 1996 law would require states without same-sex marriage to adopt it.

The case is procedurally tangled. The Obama administration argued that the law is unconstitutional, though it continues to enforce it. House Republicans intervened to defend the law, though it is not clear that they were entitled to represent the interests of the United States.

That leaves the possibility that no party before the Supreme Court had standing to challenge the appeals court’s decision.

The California case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, No. 12-144, was filed in 2009 by Theodore B. Olson and David Boies, two lawyers who were on opposite sides in the Supreme Court’s decision in Bush v. Gore, which settled the 2000 presidential election. The suit, brought on behalf of two same-sex couples, argued that California voters had violated the federal Constitution the previous year when they overrode a decision of the state’s Supreme Court allowing same-sex marriage.

Lower federal courts agreed with Mr. Olson and Mr. Boies, striking down Proposition 8.

The justices have several options in the California case. They could reverse the appeals court, leaving California’s ban on same-sex marriage in place. They could affirm the appeals court’s ruling on a theory that would allow same-sex marriage only in California. Or they could address the broader question of whether the Constitution requires states to allow such marriages.

It is also possible that the court will give no answer on the merits, deciding instead that it was powerless to hear the case because no party before it was entitled to appeal from the decisions of the lower courts. (The California officials who lost in the lower courts declined to appeal. Supporters of the ballot initiative did appeal, but it is not clear that they were entitled to step into the government’s shoes to do so.)

That last option – dismissal on standing grounds, or something similar — would lead to short-term confusion, but many legal experts say they expect it would result in same-sex marriage returning to California in a matter of weeks.


Barack Obama announces new measures to tackle climate change - video

The US president, Barack Obama, announces new plans to tackle climate change, including limiting carbon emissions from power plants. Speaking in Washington on Tuesday, Obama says he will block plans for a Keystone pipeline from Canada if it increases net carbon pollution


Obama hints that Keystone XL may be rejected

By Stephen C. Webster
Tuesday, June 25, 2013 15:47 EDT

President Barack Obama speaks about climate change to an audience at Georgetown University.

Speaking Tuesday morning about his plans to tackle climate change, President Barack Obama said that the controversial Keystone XL pipeline will only be approved if the State Department concludes that it “does not significantly exacerbate the climate problem.”

The president’s comments at Georgetown University on Tuesday are the first he’s made in months about plans for the continent-spanning pipeline that’s already under construction in some southern states. His administration has long been expected to approve the plans, much to the chagrin of his supporters and leading environmentalists. Obama also announced a series of executive actions Tuesday geared toward addressing climate change, which environmentalists largely panned as “modest” half measures that fall short of the minimum requirements to stifle the most severe changes in Earth’s climate.

“I do want to be clear,” Obama said. “Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so will be in our nation’s interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward. It’s relevant.”

Speaking to Raw Story, climate activism group spokesperson Daniel Kessler said Obama’s comments Tuesday reached “11″ on a one-to-ten scale measuring his level of surprise. “Based on the president’s own criteria, it’s very unlikely that he could approve the premise of this pipeline,” he said. “His criteria seems to be if it leads to a net increase of emissions, and everybody — including the industry — thinks this will lead to an increase in emissions.”

Rachel Wolf, a spokesperson for the anti-Keystone group All Risk, No Reward Coalition, reacted similarly. “With this promise to the American people to reject the pipeline if it will increase climate pollution, the President has taken a huge step towards rejecting Keystone XL, given that evidence has already shown that the pipeline will increase GHG emissions and have serious climate consequences,” she told Raw Story in a prepared statement.

The oil this pipeline is meant to carry is Canadian tar sands, which requires a much more energy-intensive process to mine, liquify and transport. It all adds up to about 14 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than average light, sweet crude, according to Scientific American.

Added, Canada has such a large reserve of tar sands, it’s been called the second-largest standing pool of trapped carbon energy left on Earth. Tapping that energy would add massively to greenhouse gas pollution, as the industry is aiming to produce 6 million barrels of tar sands oil per day by 2030. The numbers are so daunting that 29 of the nation’s leading scientists joined together earlier this month and issued an open letter beseeching Obama to turn down the pipeline.

The letter specifically calls out a State Department review that concluded in 2011, finding that the pipeline would not significantly exacerbate the climate crisis. However, critics of that assessment noted that it assumes Canada’s tar sands will be tapped with or without the Keystone XL pipeline’s construction, effectively negating the need to even run the equation on how much trapped carbon could potentially be unleashed.

Media reports later revealed that the State Deptartment allowed pipeline owner TransCanada to screen applicants looking to conduct the environmental impact study. That drew the ire of two members of Congress, who demanded an investigation into allegedly improper relationships between State Department employees and TransCanada lobbyists. That probe is still ongoing at the Office of the Inspector General.

Reacting to the speech, former Vice President Al Gore breathlessly praised the president’s resolve to tackle climate change, calling it “by far the best address on climate by any president ever.”

“I hope the President’s speech will be followed up by a decision to make this challenge a centerpiece of his leadership during his remaining three and a half years in office,” Gore wrote. “The hard truth is that the maximum that now seems politically feasible still falls short of the minimum necessary to actually solve the climate crisis. Continued and constant use of the bully pulpit, determined follow-through on the steps announced today, and additional steps in the months ahead can change the political reality and build a bipartisan consensus for the broader changes that are needed urgently.


June 26, 2013 06:00 AM

TX Senate Erupts Into Chaos As GOP Tries to Cheat Their Way To Abortion Ban

By CrooksAndLiars

Behold, bold Texas Democrats standing for the will of the people. I'll cut straight to the chase and tell you that SB5, the draconian Texas abortion bill that would have closed all but 5 abortion clinics in Texas is dead -- at least for now, though it will be a zombie that rises up if Gov. Rick Perry calls yet another special session.

You can stop there if you want, but if you do, you'll miss all the fun.

About 11 hours into Davis' 13-hour filibuster, Texas Republicans, aided by Lt. Gov. Dewhurst, suspended all belief along with the usual order of the Senate and tried very, very hard to end the filibuster by accusing Davis of bogus violations of the filibuster rule. Under the fiibuster rules, Davis was required to remain on the topic of the bill. When she began to discuss forced ultrasound tests for women seeking abortions, the Republicans ruled it was not germane to the bill, which would have been her third violation and would have led to a vote to end the filibuster.

Democrats began raising points of order, objections, and making motions. Without jumping deep into the weeds here, let's just say they were successfully able to continue the delays until about 10 minutes before midnight. Republicans, on the other hand, decided tossing the regular order was warranted to get this very unpopular piece of legislation passed.

Meanwhile, there were hundreds of Wendy Davis supporters in the upper gallery and hundreds more outside the chamber itself. GOP men were shouting down Democratic women as things heated up. Finally Senator Leticia Van de Putte, who came from her father's funeral in order to oppose the bill, asked what it took for a Democratic woman to be heard over the shouts of Republican men.

The chamber exploded. The video from the last ten minutes is must-see TV. Watching here at home, I was counting down right along with them, because if they did not hold a vote before midnight, the bill was dead.

At 12:02 AM there was a voice vote heard on the live feed. Shortly after that, the AP published a breaking news blurb claiming the bill had passed.

Then this happened:

Yes, your eyes aren't lying. That is evidence that someone changed the official record to backdate the vote, which took place beginning at 12:02 AM on June 26th to before 11:59 PM on June 25th.

That's stealing the vote. Or cheating. Or being a Republican.

Social media is cruel to cheaters, though. There was a YouTube live stream, there was a paper record with a timestamp of 12:02 AM for the vote, there was this image of the date discrepancy, and there were plenty of reporters who put it together and deduced that hijinks were afoot.

Just after 2 AM Texas time, the Senate was called into a caucus. After some discussion, this flew across Twitter:

    RT @becca_aa: It's officially official, #SB5 did not pass; Senators on the floor to make public announcement soon #txlege

    — Texas Tribune (@TexasTribune) June 26, 2013

In an ironic and delicious twist, another tweet mentioned the fact that in 48 hours or so, Texas Gov. Rick Perry will address the National Right to Life Convention in Dallas.

Lt. Governor Dewhurst now haz a sad:

    Without recognizing Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, for a motion to adjourn Sine Die, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst stepped down from the dais after ruling that time had expired on SB 5, telling the senators, "It's been fun, but, um, see ya soon."

    He then told reporters that "an unruly mob using Occupy Wall Street tactics" derailed legislation that was designed to protect women and babies.

    He said he was "very frustrated."

    "I didn't lose control of what we were doing," he told reporters. "We had an unruly mob."

Memo to Lt. Gov Dewhurst: Expect more angry mobs as long as you threaten women's health and their constitutional rights. It's the Texas way. Respect everyone's rights, and the mob leaves you alone.

Texas women won this round because they rose up and refused to be bullied by Republicans, but it's not really dead. Perry is expected to call another special session, because important redistricting measures and transportation bills did not come to the floor as a result of the filibuster. But for this night, real democracy happened.

This feels like a tipping point for Texas. Watching a small woman in running shoes and a back brace stand up for thirteen hours to those bullying Republican Senators in order to make sure women in Texas were not stripped of their rights was inspiring. It was real, and it's something Washington DC should consider when they play their stupid non-filibuster filibuster games on a daily basis. Last night, a small minority of scrappy Democrats backed by thousands of observers and fans defeated corrupt Republicans. That's a reason to celebrate.

Senator Wendy Davis is destined for great things. Her colleague and partner in this venture, Senator Kirk Watson (D-Austin) was a terrific understudy for her. His 40-minute long argument for appealing the decision on the third point of order, done in a very, very slow Texas drawl, was a sight to behold.

Because of Republicans' behavior in front of Texas and the rest of America, it's quite likely Texas really will turn blue, and sooner rather than later. Stay tuned, this is just the beginning.


‘Unruly mob’ shouts abortion bill to death in Texas

By Stephen C. Webster
Wednesday, June 26, 2013 9:16 EDT

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R) called them an “unruly mob,” but last night with just minutes to go, hundreds of Texas women finished out a filibuster started 11 hours earlier by Sen. Wendy Davis (D), preventing a final vote from taking place on a massive anti-abortion bill by literally shouting it to death as the special session ended.

S.B. 5 would have forced all but five of the state’s abortion clinics to close by 2014, and would have banned all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy without exception for rape or incest. Demonstrators spent days stacking the Texas legislature as final authorization neared, and it all came down to whether Republicans could ram it through before midnight Wednesday.

It initially appeared that the GOP succeeded; even The Associated Press reported that they had. But what happened Tuesday night was a far stranger thing than a simple up or down vote.

After Republicans called three points of order on Davis, citing her for wearing a back brace and allegedly going “off topic” by mentioning sonograms and Planned Parenthood, it looked like passage was all but certain. A furious debate about technicalities in Roberts Rules of Order ensued as Davis remained standing, a condition of carrying the filibuster.

With just under 15 minutes to go before midnight, Sen. Leticia Van De Putte (D) rose with a point of order that was initially ignored by the House speaker in favor of a male Republican’s point. But Van De Putte, who left from planning her father’s funeral to be in the legislature Tuesday night, refused to sit down and walk away.

When she was finally recognized for a parliamentary inquiry moments later, she uttered the words that effectively sealed the fate of S.B. 5. “Mr. President, parliamentary inquiry,” Van De Putte said. “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room?”

The chamber gallery, full of hundreds of pro-choice demonstrators wearing burnt orange, erupted in screams and cheers. Seconds later, the thunderous cries began echoing throughout the whole Capitol as thousands outside the gallery learned what was happening, sending cheers down the three-story line of protesters waiting to get into the Senate chamber. It wasn’t the crowd’s first outburst, either — Dewhurst openly threatened earlier in the evening to “clear the gallery” if the crowd became noisy again — but protesters just kept shouting even after police began taking them out of the chamber.

Online, over 165,000 people were watching the official live stream from the Texas Senate as protesters spent the rest of the special session literally screaming the bill to death, causing such a cacophony in the Senate that even when Republicans rushed to the front to pass the vote before midnight, some senators said they weren’t sure what they were voting on.

The Senate’s official timekeeper initially placed the vote as taking place just minutes after midnight on June 26, but then the official record was amended to make it appear the vote passed just before, on June 25. For the next two hours, confusion dominated online reports as headlines came galloping in announcing a Republican victory. The shouting and chanting continued for hours in the Capitol rotunda and out on the front lawn until Davis emerged and told the crowd that it appeared the bill had indeed failed.

Dewhurst confirmed Davis’s assessment just after 3 a.m., according to The Austin American Statesman, telling reporters that it failed because “an unruly mob, using Occupy Wall Street tactics, disrupted the Senate from protecting unborn babies.” He added from the floor of the Senate: “It’s been fun, but, uh, see you soon.”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), who’s said he wants to completely revoke the right to abortion, could technically call another special session right away and set Republicans to work on whatever legislation he deems to be an “emergency.” If he does, it’s not clear that Democrats will be able to stop the bill from passage, even if they stage another filibuster.

Still, on the other side of the aisle, Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa seemed pleased with the results, sending a mass email declaring victory even before the official time of Wednesday’s vote was nailed down. “We don’t know what will happen by the morning, and we don’t know yet if this bill has passed,” he wrote. “But no matter what happens, we have already won. Texas will never be the same again.”

click to watch:

click to watch:


Texas Democratic Party chair: Sen. Wendy Davis should run for governor

By Stephen C. Webster
Wednesday, June 26, 2013 0:46 EDT

Update: Davis filibuster succeeds amid chaos as Republicans fail to legally pass anti-abortion bill

Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, said he hopes that Sen. Wendy Davis (d), who conducted a 10-hour filibuster against a bill that would close all but five abortion clinics in the state and ban all abortions after 20 weeks, will run for statewide office. Speaking to Raw Story from the Texas Capitol on Tuesday night, Hinojosa said she would likely win a bid for the governor’s office thanks to her marathon filibuster.

“I’m so proud of her effort and what she’s showed Texas,” Hinojosa said. “Women deserve, in this state, to be treated with dignity. I think that she’s taken it to the Republicans in a way that was not expected. She has put them to shame and made us all very, very, very proud.”

Asked about her potential political future, Hinojosa cracked a wide grin. “Wendy is not only extremely intelligent and articulate, she’s great on the issues and she’s got a great personal story — a single mother who made it out of a life of poverty to go to Harvard law school, then gets elected to the city council and the Texas Senate by beating an incumbent Republican,” he said. “She is someone that can really, really excite people across the state of Texas, who really shows true leadership.”

“She doesn’t play games or worry about what’s going to get her votes,” Hinojosa continued. “She does what she believes is right. We’ve been sorely lacking that kind of leadership in the state of Texas for more than 20 years. So, yeah. I’m hoping she runs for statewide office, and I know that should she decide to, all of these women and men that are here today, young and old, will work their hearts out for her. She’d probably get elected governor, or whatever other office she wants to run for.”

Davis’s filibuster unceremoniously ended just after 10 p.m. CST when Republicans cited her on a third “point of order” for allegedly going off-topic by mentioning Planned Parenthood in her filibuster of S.B. 5. At the time of this writing, fellow Texas Democrats were pulling out all the stops to block a full vote on S.B. 5 by using arcane parliamentary tactics to delay until midnight, when the special session officially ends.

S.B. 5 would ban all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy — well before medical experts say a fetus is viable outside the womb — and force all but five of the abortion clinics in Texas to shut their doors by 2014.

If they succeed, it’s still possible that the bill could come up again in the days to follow if Gov. Rick Perry (R) decides to call another special session, which he could do tomorrow if he desires. Perry initially placed the anti-abortion measure on the legislature’s docket as an “emergency” provision, and said at the time he would like to see the right to abortion completely revoked in the state.

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« Last Edit: Jun 26, 2013, 08:22 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #7163 on: Jun 27, 2013, 05:33 AM »

06/26/2013 05:56 PM

Moscow Phantom: Where In the World Is Edward Snowden?

By Benjamin Bidder in Moscow

Edward Snowden has reportedly been inside the transit terminal of a Moscow airport for days now, but there is no evidence to prove it. As his absence sparks new conspiracy theories, the Kremlin is capitalizing on the case.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has goaded reporters once again. Yes, Edward Snowden is in Moscow, he told them on Tuesday night during a state visit to Finland. And yes, the fugitive whistleblower from the United States remains in the transit area of the Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport.

Snowden is a "free man," said Putin, sparking yet another frenzy among journalists in Moscow, who have been scrambling to find Snowden since Sunday. The reporters combed over the bars and fast-food restaurants in the transit zone again, not to mention the benches that stranded passengers stretch out on to rest. They also searched the terminal's "capsule hotel," called V-Express, where Snowden had allegedly checked in.

The airport has a "vast amount of locked doors," noted The New York Times on Tuesday, "something you might not notice without spending 17 hours looking for Mr. Snowden."

But there isn't a trace of him -- except, of course, for the steady stream of quotations that the Russian news agency Interfax gets from a mysterious source supposedly "close" to Snowden. The former contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA), who leaked information about America's massive Prism surveillance program, can't buy a plane ticket because Washington revoked his passport.

'Does Snowden Even Exist?'

Some 48 hours have passed since Snowden's Aeroflot flight from Hong Kong landed in Moscow on Sunday. Journalists say that not a single passenger on that flight can remember seeing him. There are no photos of Snowden in Russia. There are also no known images of him taken at the airport by surveillance cameras -- and there are a lot of cameras there.

"Was Snowden even in Moscow?" asks the Russian tabloid daily Komsomolskaya Pravda. Reader comments go one step further, asking: "Does Snowden even exist?" The information vacuum is being filled by conspiracy theories.

Putin's statements haven't ended speculation, either. If Snowden really is free, why would he stay in the airport terminal so long? Putin also claimed that Russian intelligence officials have had no contact with Snowden. But many observers refuse to believe Moscow is capable of such selfless restraint -- particularly given the fact that Ilya Kostunov, a member of Russia's parliament, said the country's intelligence apparatus must review "whether Snowden has documents that offer insights into cyber-espionage."

The Speculation Game

And wouldn't snagging Snowden be a feat for Russian intelligence, which just this May detained and expelled an American diplomat on accusations of spying? Snowden's presence in Moscow is like a "king salmon jumping into the lap of a grizzly bear," according to website of the US magazine Time.

The only thing that seems clear is that Snowden traveled to Russia. But, even if that is the case, the transit zone of the Moscow airport is a strange choice of refuge. The length of his stay could mean that his fate -- and his travel route -- are no longer under his control.

Of course, like much surrounding Snowden's case, this is only speculation. Despite the dearth of facts, there are a few possible scenarios. For example, it's likely that Snowden is having problems with his invalidated passport, which makes traveling the world virtually impossible. He could be forced to seek asylum in Russia, an option the Kremlin already floated days ago. But, in return for asylum, Snowden would probably have to share some of his secrets.

This would surely be an unprecedented propaganda coup for Putin, particularly after he scolded Washington and America's powerful intelligence agencies and portrayed himself as the potential protector of a dissident. Snowden's reputation among the Western public would suffer serious damage if he provided valuable information to the Kremlin, whose intelligence services are known for cracking down on both the opposition and human rights activists.

Perhaps Snowden has not flown out of Russia yet because the authorities there have arrested him in the hopes of finding out more details about his treasure trove of secret data.

And there's also a chance that Snowden has not flown out of Russia because Moscow is hesitant to enter into open conflict with Washington. On Tuesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry used a markedly less aggressive tone toward Moscow, saying that there was no need to "raise the level of confrontation." The United States, he added, is "simply requesting under a very normal procedure for the transfer of somebody." His Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, had reacted angrily earlier, calling threats from America "absolutely baseless and unacceptable."

Despite the often ostentatious display of diplomatic feuding between Russia and America, the fact is that both countries cooperate on many issues, ranging from the fight against terrorism to Afghanistan. Granted, President Putin has excluded the possibility of handing Snowden over, citing the lack of a legal foundation because the countries do not have an extradition treaty. However, the State Department views the matter differently, noting that recent years have seen the US transfer a number of wanted criminals to Russian authorities.

And, lastly, Moscow might also want offer to hand Snowden over in return for Viktor Bout, a notorious Russian arms trafficker serving a 25-year sentence in the US.

'Run, Snowden, Run'

No matter what has happened or what its motives have been, the Kremlin has already capitalized from the affair more than one could have anticipated when the disclosures were first made. The pro-government media in Russia, which usually display little affection for dissidents, are suddenly bursting with praise for this 30-year-old American fugitive.

"Run, Snowden, Run," ran the headline of the Rossiyskaya Gazeta, a daily published by the Russian government. And the Izvestiya daily triumphantly wrote that, in the battle against Snowden and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, the US "is trying on the black mask of Darth Vader, and this mask has the trait of adhering to the skin."

Indeed, the Kremlin's strategy in the Snowden case is clear: to make Russia's own sins pale in comparison to America's misconduct.


Edward Snowden 'not likely to gain asylum in Ecuador for months'

As NSA whistleblower waits at Moscow airport, Ecuadorean foreign minister says entry decision will be considered carefully

Miriam Elder in Moscow Julian Borger   
The Guardian, Wednesday 26 June 2013 17.26 BST   

Ecuador has said it could take months to decide whether to grant asylum to Edward Snowden, potentially confining the US whistleblower to the halls of a Russian airport for weeks to come.

Ricardo Patino, Ecuador's foreign minister, said Snowden's case was similar to that of the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, who has been granted asylum at the country's embassy in London.

"It took us two months to make a decision in the case of Assange, so do not expect us to make a decision sooner this time," Patino said during a visit to Malaysia. He said Ecuador would "consider all the risks" in granting asylum, including concerns that it could harm trade ties with the US.

Sander Levin, a US congressman, told The Hill newspaper on Wednesday that if Ecuador granted Snowden asylum there was no "basis for even discussing" extending a trade deal up for renewal in July.

Snowden fled Hong Kong on Sunday after leaking secret documents revealing US surveillance programmes.

Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, confirmed on Tuesday that Snowden had arrived in Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport and was waiting in its transit area following days of speculation as to his whereabouts.

Reporters at the airport have seen no sign of Snowden, fuelling suspicion that he is being hidden by the Russians.

Despite remarks by Putin that he hoped Snowden would leave the country soon, it appeared Snowden might have to settle in at the Sheremetyevo airport for a while.

An anonymous source told the news agency Interfax that Snowden lacked documents that would allow him to travel.

"Snowden's US passport has been cancelled, he has no other identification documents in his hands," the source said. "So he's required to stay in Sheremetyevo's transit zone, since he can't leave Russia or buy a ticket."

The official Twitter site for WikiLeaks also proposed that Snowden would be bound to the Moscow airport for the foreseeable future.

"Cancelling Snowden's passport and bullying intermediary countries may keep Snowden permanently in Russia." Commentators also denied that Snowden was cooperating with the Federal Security Service (FSB), following Putin's similar denial on Tuesday.

"Mr Snowden is not being 'de briefed' by the FSB," the group said, adding that he was well.

Yet Snowden lost a supporter on Wednesday when the Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón said he would not represent him. Snowden has been charged under the espionage act for gathering and leaking classified materials. Garzón, who represents Assange, offered no explanation.

Russian officials have been lining up to throw their support behind Snowden since he first landed in Moscow on Sunday.

On Wednesday, Alexey Pushkov, head of the Duma's international affairs committee, said: "Assange, [Bradley] Manning, and Snowden, were not spies and didn't give up secret information for money but out of conviction. They are the new dissidents, fighters of the system."

Russia's embrace of Snowden stands in stark contrast to its own record on human rights and the treatment of whistleblowers.

Putin and his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, have lashed out at the US for demanding Snowden's extradition and implying Russian involvement in his flight.

Putin presented Snowden as just another transiting passenger, and Russian news agencies on Wednesday continued their campaign of possible disinformation, citing an anonymous source who claimed that he had checked in to an airport hotel but checked out a few hours later.

Reporters staking out the hotel caught no site of Snowden and receptionists there had no memory of him.

A top story on the evening news, run from the Kremlin, discussed the possibility of Russia's granting Snowden political asylum.

Andrei Soldatov, an expert on the Russian security services, said: "I don't think he's just wandering around. It seems he is hiding in some place or they are hiding him."

Soldatov said he did not think Russia would accept Snowden permanently. "In this case, it would be completely impossible to say he was not briefed by the FSB – even now, it's quite difficult to say he's not being briefed."

He said he expected the guessing game to continue, however. "I think the Kremlin just enjoys it."

Elsewhere in Europe the reverberations continued following Snowden's revelations on the extent of British electronic eavesdropping, as the human rights watchdog, the Council of Europe, took issue with attempts by the UK foreign secretary, William Hague, to play down the impact of the disclosures.

"Privacy is a fundamental human right which is essential if we wish to live in dignity and security. It cannot be forfeited so easily," Nils Muiznieks, the council's commissioner for human rights, wrote in a commentary for the Guardian.

Muiznieks acknowledged the duty of the state to ensure national security but added: "Those who implement secret surveillance measures risk undermining or even destroying democracy while pretending to defend it."

He advocated a new set of safeguards, including greater clarity over the laws governing surveillance, firm guidelines on the use and storage of surveillance data, and the creation of oversight bodies "accountable to parliament rather than the executive".

In Westminster, British MPs are due to meet on Thursday to hear expert testimony on the impact on British citizens of Prism, the US internet surveillance program exposed by Snowden.


06/26/2013 05:08 PM

Privacy Problem?: Road Shooter Found Via Mass Data Collection

By Charles Hawley

Germans are apoplectic about the Internet spy programs Prism and Tempora. But police here this week announced the capture of a highway shooter using similar tactics. Privacy activists are concerned.

Germans are furious. Revelations that the United States and Britain -- along with Canada, New Zealand and Australia, as part of the so-called "Five Eyes Alliance" -- have spent recent years keeping a suffocatingly close watch on web and cellular communications have led politicians in Berlin to utter increasingly drastic condemnations. Over the weekend, for example, Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger referred to the British surveillance program Tempora as a "catastrophe" and said it was a "Hollywood-style nightmare."

But is there not a time and a place for mass data collection? This, too, is a question Germany is grappling with this week after the capture of a truck driver who spent years shooting at other vehicles on the country's autobahns. He was caught only after police set up a complicated surveillance system which was able to read the license plate numbers of tens of thousands of cars and trucks on the country's highways.

The operation has unsettled data protection activists. But Jörg Ziercke, head of Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), praised the effort on Tuesday, telling journalists that "we have found the famous needle in a haystack." He said there was "no alternative" to the intensive surveillance efforts the police used to capture the perpetrator.

The case involves a truck driver who fired at least 762 shots at cars and trucks on German highways and at buildings in a shooting spree that began in 2008. In several cases, his targets were only barely able to avoid accidents as a result of the shots. In 2009, one woman was hit in the neck with a bullet fired by the truck driver, identified on Tuesday only as a 57-year-old truck driver from North Rhine-Westphalia, but survived.

German officials said on Tuesday that the driver would be charged with attempted murder in addition to weapons related charges. Ziercke said the man had confessed soon after he was arrested over the weekend and said that he had acted "out of anger and frustration with traffic." He said that he saw the situation on Germany's autobahns as a kind of "war" and that he had merely been trying to defend himself.

A Police Monitoring System

Yet as unique as the case is, the methods employed by the police to solve it have attracted more attention. Initially, officers sought to attract shots themselves, driving a truck on the autobahns between Cologne, Frankfurt, Nuremberg and Karlsruhe where most of the gunfire had been reported. The police vehicle, however, was never targeted.

Plan B is the one that has raised data protection concerns. Even though Germany has a toll system which collects information on the trucks plying the country's highways, police are forbidden access to the data collected. So they essentially constructed one of their own. On seven sections of the autobahns in question, police erected equipment that was able recognize and store the license plate numbers of vehicles that drove by. Using that data, they were able to identify vehicles that passed a certain section of highway at roughly the same time as did a target vehicle.

In April, the system hit pay-dirt. In just five days, six drivers reported being shot at. Officers were able to reconstruct the likely route taken by the perpetrator and they then looked at the license plate data collected by cameras stationed along that route. By filtering through the information gathered, they were able to identify one truck that could have been at each site where shots were reported. They were then able to match up the route with the mobile phone data of the driver. "The correspondence" between the two data sets "was clear," Zierke said on Tuesday.

But were the methods employed by the federal police legal? Data protection officials aren't so sure. "Even if the search for the highway shooter was successful in the end, from a data protection perspective the preliminary verdict on the methods used is rather ambivalent," Edgar Wagner, the top data protection official for the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, said in a statement. "There is not a sufficient legal basis for such a nationwide … investigative technique."

'A Price to Pay'

He said that by his calculations, "60 to 80 million sets of data from completely innocent people" were gathered during the course of the investigation "to catch a single suspect. We have (long) known that such a procedure can be effective. But there is also a price to pay."

It is a sentiment that is shared by many in Germany. The country has had plenty of experience with state overreach, with both the Nazis and the East Germans being experts at keeping close tabs on their citizenry. That history manifests itself in an extreme sensitivity to data privacy issues and the country has been particularly watchful when it comes to the use of digital data by companies such as Google and Facebook. Indeed, government officials beyond the Justice Ministry have reacted to US and British digital spying with notable vehemence.

It is perhaps not surprising then, that Wagner is not alone with his concerns. While not directly criticizing the methods used by federal police to track down the autobahn shooter, Wagner's data-protection counterpart in North Rhine-Westphalia, Ulrich Lepper, expressed serious reservations in a Wednesday interview with the Bonn daily General-Anzeiger.

Powerful Preventative Measure

"The freedom to move around in the public space without being monitored is one of our fundamental rights," he said. "Data protection -- the right to control information about your person -- means that you can decide who knows what and when … about you. These rights can only be infringed upon on the basis of a law."

Ziercke, not surprisingly, does not share such concerns. He believes that law enforcement should have access to the data collected by the truck toll system and also argued on Tuesday that data collection could be a powerful preventative measure. "I would like to meet a data protection activist who is able to convince someone with the argument that we should not have been allowed to use that data to prevent danger," he said. "I don't find such arguments to be credible."

Ziercke's argument is notably close to that used by US President Barack Obama in defending the National Security Agency's online spying program Prism. The data gathered is useful, Obama has repeatedly insisted this month, for the prevention of terror attacks.

Germans have largely rejected that line of argumentation. Whether their scorn will be applied closer to home remains to be seen.


June 26, 2013

With Snowden Gone, Hong Kong Focuses on U.S. Surveillance


HONG KONG — The abrupt departure from Hong Kong on Sunday of Edward J. Snowden, the American former national security contractor, with the explicit approval of the Hong Kong government, has drawn the ire of the United States. But in Hong Kong the focus remains on Mr. Snowden’s exposure of American intelligence-gathering operations in Hong Kong and mainland China.

Leung Chun-ying, the territory’s chief executive, has called repeatedly for the United States to explain its surveillance activities here, brushing aside White House criticism that Mr. Snowden was allowed to fly to Moscow despite a pending American request for his arrest.

“Snowden has left, but the matter is not over,” Mr. Leung said at a tea with local journalists on Tuesday, the contents of which were confirmed on Wednesday by the government. “The Hong Kong government needs to safeguard the interests of Hong Kong.”

Mr. Snowden’s release of documents showing American efforts to hack into computers in Hong Kong and mainland China has drawn support not just from pro-Beijing groups in this semi-autonomous Chinese territory, but from pro-democracy groups that have long looked to the United States as an example of strong protections for civil liberties.

Emily Lau, the chairwoman of the Democratic Party, said that she would be very disturbed if Mr. Snowden someday came out of hiding and said that he had been forced by the local government or Beijing to leave Hong Kong against his will.

But with Mr. Snowden’s lawyers insisting this week that he left Hong Kong voluntarily, Ms. Lau said she had few other concerns about the case. She said she was focused on whether Hong Kong engaged in deliberate foot-dragging in not detaining Mr. Snowden sooner, which has been the complaint of the White House.

“My overriding concern is we operate according to the law,” she said, adding that she was not aware of any clear evidence that the Hong Kong government had broken its legal obligations.

The Hong Kong government contends it did not have a legal basis for stopping Mr. Snowden when he headed for the airport. Mr. Leung has noted that Hong Kong had posed questions to the United States last Friday about the details of an American request for his provisional arrest, which had been made six days earlier. The Hong Kong government had not yet received a reply when Mr. Snowden went to the airport Sunday morning and left the territory on an Aeroflot flight to Moscow.

Simon Young, director of the Center for Comparative and Public Law at Hong Kong University, said that in allowing Mr. Snowden to leave while legal wrangling continued, Hong Kong had acted within the letter of the law as set by its bilateral agreement with the United States for the surrender of fugitives. But Hong Kong did not act expeditiously, he said, and it is still unclear why Hong Kong did not detain Mr. Snowden on the United States’ allegation that he had stolen information, leaving the touchier issue of espionage charges for later.

Mr. Young said that based on his research, it usually took three to four days in previous cases for a request from overseas to lead to an arrest.

“It’s really about good faith and wanting to be a strong partner in these things, or keeping a distance,” he said, adding that Hong Kong had clearly chosen to keep its distance from the United States.

Security experts and democracy proponents say that mainland China’s domestic surveillance operations in Hong Kong are far more extensive than the American effort. But those operations have largely disappeared from public discussion as attention has focused on the many details released by Mr. Snowden.

Martin Lee, the founding chairman of the Democratic Party but now mostly retired from day-to-day politics, has been a lonely voice here in questioning the Hong Kong government’s handling of Mr. Snowden. Mr. Lee said that he was concerned whether Hong Kong had fully followed its obligations to detain or surrender fugitives under its bilateral agreement with the United States.

“It looks like the government turned a blind eye to all these formalities and let him go,” he said.

Mr. Lee said that if Mr. Snowden had stayed, his presence would have focused more international attention on the territory’s annual pro-democracy protest on July 1. “Now the guy’s gone, nobody is interested in Hong Kong,” he said.

The Hong Kong government considered in advance the possibility that the United States might retaliate for the decision to let Mr. Snowden leave, a person with detailed knowledge of the Hong Kong government’s deliberations said. Hong Kong has long asked that the United States issue visas on arrival to its citizens, instead of requiring them to apply in advance at the U.S. Consulate here. That pursuit of easier visa access could be hurt by the decision to allow Mr. Snowden’s departure, said the person, who requested anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivities.

But the Hong Kong government concluded that the United States was not likely to grant visas on arrival anytime soon anyway, the person said. The United States requires residents of mainland China to obtain visas in advance, and Hong Kong has been under Chinese rule since Britain returned it in 1997.

The United States has been concerned that mainland Chinese not use Hong Kong as a steppingstone to gain quick travel rights to the United States.

The United States already granted several years ago another plea of the Hong Kong government, by making available multiple-entry, multiple-year visas. The person familiar with the Hong Kong government’s deliberations said that there had been little discussion of whether the United States might revoke this privilege.

American companies that depend heavily on trade with China, importers and exporters alike, have been a powerful lobby in Washington in favor of the United States offering more visas to citizens of Hong Kong and mainland China.

Albert Ho, who was one of Mr. Snowden’s lawyers but is also a Democratic Party member of the legislature and a former chairman of the party, said Mr. Snowden’s sudden departure might have actually helped relations between Hong Kong and the United States in the long run.

“There would have been a lot of noise in the community in support of Snowden,” he said. “The longer he stayed, the more embarrassment there would have been.”

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« Reply #7164 on: Jun 27, 2013, 05:38 AM »

06/26/2013 11:09 AM

Turkish Publisher Can Öz: The Rebellion of an Apolitical Man

By Maximilian Popp

For years, Can Öz followed his father's advice to steer clear of politics. But the turmoil in Turkey has pushed the leading publisher off the sidelines and into the fray, where he is becoming a key voice of a movement still taking shape.

On May 31, Turkish publisher Can Öz met with two trusted associates: the chief editor at his publishing house and the marketing manager. He wanted to tell them about a decision he had made.

Just a short walk away, on Istanbul's Taksim Square, people had been protesting for days against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Öz couldn't sleep. He was in the streets with other demonstrators when the police brought in water cannons, sprayed tear gas and beat citizens.

Nevertheless, he was euphoric. "I've been silent for a long time," he said. "That's over now." People in Turkey were protesting and demanding their rights. Öz told his colleagues that he was going to make a statement that afternoon, but they were worried. "Don't do it!" they warned, fearing that the government could exact revenge and shut down the publishing house.

Can Öz is a friend of mine. I have known him since I studied in Istanbul. He is 32, only a few years older than me, but he has been the head of Can Yayinlari, an important literary publishing house, for the last six years. He publishes works by the likes of Umberto Eco, Daniel Kehlmann and Jane Austen in Turkish translation.

In conversations with friends, he had long criticized the policies of the Erdogan government, but he had never voiced his concerns publicly out of concern for his family and his company. The Erdogan administration has had critical intellectuals and journalists arrested. Öz had stopped talking on the telephone, fearing that his conversations would be wiretapped. In recent years, he seemed increasingly distraught, eventually becoming bitter and resigned.

Breaking the Silence

The upheaval in Turkey changed all of that. Öz initially took the side of the demonstrators on Twitter, writing that they had every right to protest. Later, in an op-ed article published in the British newspaper The Guardian on June 11, he explained why he was no longer willing to put up with Erdogan's despotism: "I am not afraid to lose my business, my wealth, or even my freedom by being jailed and sentenced; but I can not bear to live a dishonourable life any more." (sic)

Öz is wearing a polo shirt and rimless glasses, and has a three-day beard. He went to school in Boston, and he speaks English and French. Prime Minister Erdogan calls demonstrators like Öz "terrorists."

A live stream from Taksim Square is running on two computers in his apartment in a historic building in the Beyoglu neighborhood of Istanbul. Since he spoke out publicly about the revolt, he has received hate emails and threats, but also messages of support. He keeps gas masks and construction helmets in a closet. Friends knock on his door, their eyes tearing and their shirts soaked with perspiration. Öz gives them water and tries to calm them down.

Many of the demonstrators are Öz's age or younger. Most are taking part in protests for the first time. Their parents experienced the unrest of the 1960s and 1980s, when Kurds and communists revolted and radical groups fought each other in the streets. The military intervened, overthrew the government in 1980 and had people executed. It wasn't until two decades later that Erdogan and his conservative Muslim supporters were able to break the power of the generals.

Öz's parents also experienced the coup. His mother, Samiye, grew up in an upper-class Istanbul family. Her ancestors include a foreign minister and the founder of the Galatasaray football club. As a young woman in the 1970s, she went to Ankara, where she met Erdal Öz, a writer from Anatolia. Can's father was critical of the military regime in his writings, quoting Marx, Lenin and Sartre. In 1971, he was sent to prison, where he was tortured and mistreated. A flyer from that period still hangs on the wall in Öz's office today. His father said nothing to his family about his treatment in prison until a few years before his death in 2006. He advised his son to steer clear of politics.

Polarization and Protests

Memories of the chaos and brutality of the political conflict have been burned into Turkey's collective memory. The generation of those born after 1980 was considered apolitical. "We grew up with the sense that politics was dangerous. We believed that we couldn't change anything, anyway, and that it was best to stay out of politics altogether," says Öz. "Occupy Gezi changed that."

As he walks the short distance from his apartment to his office on a side street in Beyoglu, Öz encounters police officers in riot gear and people wearing gas masks. Helicopters circle above the city, and the smell of tear gas hangs in the air. He is meeting his mother. She owns half of the publishing house, while Can and his sister each own a quarter. Samiye Öz wants to talk to her son about the uprising. She took in two dozen demonstrators at her apartment on the previous evening.

Occupy Gezi is the birth of a new Turkish protest culture, says Öz. "It's not the same thing you experienced in the '70s, mother," he says, because hostile groups aren't fighting each other in this case. Instead, a young civil society is finding its voice. Fans of the Beikta football club demonstrated alongside transsexuals and anti-capitalist Muslims, says Öz. "It's as if I were living in a dream."

Journalist and film director Can Dündar is part of this group. He is familiar with the conflicts of past and present. A few years ago, Dündar directed "Mustafa," a much-noticed film about Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the modern Turkish nation, in which he portrays Atatürk as a drinker and waverer. As a result of the film, Dündar made new enemies among the Kemalists, who are devotees of Atatürk.

The dividing line in Turkish politics and society is often described as the antagonism between the secular-military elite, the Kemalists, and up-and-coming conservative Muslims. For decades, a secular class oppressed the pious in Turkey. Erdogan himself, who first became prime minister in 2003, invokes the differences in his speeches. We, the "true" Turks, he says, are the oppressed, while they, the generals and Kemalists, are the oppressors. Although Erdogan established democracy, he long ago appropriated the dirty methods of his predecessors.

Many Turks are tired of the polarization, especially because they themselves have no place in such an environment. Öz, for example, would never vote for Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP). But it was generals, the self-proclaimed heirs of Atatürk, who had his father arrested and tortured. Most young Turks are in a similar position. The Gezi demonstrators are opposed to Erdogan, but they also boo every opposition politician who tries to hijack their rallies.

A Self-Created Problem

A young, urban middle class is taking to the streets in Istanbul, Ankara and many other Turkish cities. They buy their clothes at Zara, and they fly to London on discount airlines for vacations. They are well-educated and non-ideological. Most of all, there are many of them. Istanbul alone has a population of 13 million.

Erdogan partly created the Gezi Generation himself. Many of the demonstrators who are now protesting him study at the universities that the government developed, or work in companies that cropped up during the economic boom of recent years. Öz also profits from the fact that, today, more Turks have money to buy books than a decade ago.

Erdogan wanted this progress, but he refuses to accept Turkish citizens' growing need for autonomy. And in contrast to past generations, today's demonstrators are not interested in imposing a particular worldview. On the contrary, they want people to be free to express their own worldviews. Öz believes that one of the reasons the resistance movement became united in the fight for Gezi Park, which was slated to be razed and developed, is that trees cannot be co-opted.

Mood Becomes More Agressive

It is Sunday, June 16, three weeks after the beginning of the revolt. Thousands of citizens are once again taking to the streets. The police have sealed off Taksim Square in Istanbul. Demonstrators try to reach the square through side streets. The security forces are shooting tear gas canisters, and people are stumbling, half-blind, through the alleys. When a man falls down on the street, police start to beat him.

Öz watches Erdogan's speech to hundreds of thousands of supporters in Istanbul on TV at home, together with his girlfriend, the actress Selma Ergeç. "Istanbul, are we united?" Erdogan asks.

Ergeç grew up in Germany. Her father is Turkish, her mother German. She lived in Oxford for a while, and she moved to Istanbul 10 years ago. She plays one of the lead roles in "Muhteem Yüzyil" ("Magnificent Century"), a historical television series based on the life of Suleiman the Magnificent that is broadcast in more than 45 countries every week. Despite its popularity, the government threatened to ban the program because Erdogan felt that the sultan was being portrayed as frivolous.

Ergeç says that the mood in the country is becoming more aggressive with every speech Erdogan gives. When the protests began in Taksim Square, she also took to the streets. But now she has become more careful, fearing that she, as a celebrity, could become the target of attacks. One of her fellow actors has taken a particularly strong stance against Erdogan. He has received so many death threats that he hasn't left his house in days.

The current events are the first severe test in Öz's life. In 2005, he had just returned to Istanbul from Boston, where he was studying sociology, when his father developed lung cancer. Erdal Öz was a brilliant publisher, and his authors held him in high esteem. He had founded the publishing house in Istanbul in the 1980s, after the end of the military coup, and had discovered many young, talented writers over the next two decades. He was also the publisher of books by Orhan Pamuk, who would later win the Nobel Prize in literature. But he was only moderately interested in the financial side of the business, and he had only made spoken contracts with many of his authors.

When Can Öz took over his father's job, he introduced structure to the company. Suddenly it had an accounting department, and Öz even hired a management consultant to provide him with weekly reports. Öz traveled to book fairs abroad and strengthened relationships with publishers, such as Suhrkamp in Germany and Penguin in Great Britain.

Öz says he is prepared for the government to take action against him. He has seen what has happened to fellow publishers, such as Aydin Dogan, the powerful owner of the daily newspaper Hürriyet, which is critical of the government. Dogan was almost ruined by a tax dispute in 2009.

"They destroy your credibility," says Öz. "They spread lies in their newspapers and on their TV stations, claiming that you are a crook or an alcoholic. Then they take aim at your company. They impose bizarre fines, and they call upon customers to boycott your company."

Öz says that he is willing to pay this price. He has an emergency fund set up in case business starts to plunge. In the worst case, he says, he might also go to prison.

A Movement Lacking Direction

On the evening of June 18, several hundred demonstrators gather in Cihangir Park, near Taksim Square. Now that Gezi Park has been cleared, citizens meet regularly for "open forums" in various places in Istanbul. They sit together, discuss issues and get to know each other.

The forum has already begun when Öz arrives at the park. The key question at the moment is how the revolt should progress. Very few demonstrators can imagine supporting one of the established parties, but establishing a new party is difficult. Who would pay for it? And what would be its agenda, other than rejecting Erdogan? A young woman proposes that the activists start by becoming exclusively involved in local projects, such as preserving historic buildings.

Öz believes that it's too early to define the movement's direction. "I have learned," he says, "that we are not condemned to silent obedience." People will probably be writing books and making films about the Gezi revolt soon, he adds.

The democratization of Turkey, Öz says, has only just begun.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


Turkey heads for Twitter showdown after anti-government protests

Government asks Twitter to set up 'representative office' inside Turkey in move that could presage censorship of service

Reuters, Thursday 27 June 2013 12.50 BST   

The Turkish government is heading towards a showdown with Twitter after asking it to set up a "representative office" inside the country. The move could presage censorship of the microblogging service it has accused of helping stir weeks of anti-administration protests.

The government hinted that it might even ban communications using the service if it did not comply — as happened when it blocked Google's YouTube video site for two years until the search giant opened an office there last October.

While mainstream Turkish media largely ignored the protests during the early days of the unrest, social networking sites including Twitter and Facebook emerged as the main outlets for Turks opposed to the government.

But the Turkish transport and communications minister Binali Yildirim told reporters on Wednesday that without a corporate presence in the country, the Turkish government could not quickly reach Twitter officials with orders to take down content or with requests for user data.

"When information is requested, we want to see someone in Turkey who can provide this ... there needs to be an interlocutor we can put our grievance to and who can correct an error if there is one," Yildirim said. "We have told all social media that ... if you operate in Turkey you must comply with Turkish law."

Twitter declined to respond to the government request on Wednesday, but a person familiar with the company's thinking said it had no current plans to open an office in that country.

While Ankara had no problems with Facebook, which had been working with Turkish authorities for a while and had representatives inside Turkey, Yildirim said it had not seen a "positive approach" from Twitter after Turkey issued the "necessary warnings" to the site.

"Twitter will probably comply, too. Otherwise this is a situation that cannot be sustained," he said, without elaborating, although he stressed the aim was not to limit social media.

An official at the ministry, who asked not to be named, said the government had asked Twitter to reveal the identities of users who posted messages deemed insulting to the government or prime minister, or that flouted people's personal rights.

It was not immediately clear whether Twitter had responded. The company's general policy is to protect users' identities unless it receives binding decisions from a court; in the US it has fought against orders to reveal user details.

Facebook said in a statement that it had not provided user data to Turkish authorities in response to government requests over the protests and said it was concerned about proposals indicating that internet companies may have to provide data more frequently.
Scourge — or saviour?

In the midst of some of the country's worst political upheaval in years, the Turkish prime minister, Tayyip Erdogan, has described sites like Twitter as a "scourge," although senior members of his party are regular users. He has said such websites were used to spread lies about the government with the aim of terrorising society.

Police detained several dozen people suspected of inciting unrest on social media during the protests, according to local reports. Apparently in response to the crackdown, apps offering secure connections from Turkey through encrypted systems saw rapid growth in use during the protests.

Speaking at the Brookings Institution in Washington, Twitter's chief executive Dick Costolo said on Wednesday that he had been observing the developments in Turkey, but emphasised that Twitter had played a hands-off role in the political debate.

"We don't say, 'Well, if you believe this, you can't use our platform for that,'" Costolo said. "You can use our platform to say what you believe, and that's what the people of Turkey ... are using the platform for. The platform itself doesn't have any perspective on these things."

Turkey's interior minister had previously said the government was working on new regulations that would target so-called "provocateurs" on social media, but there have been few details on what the laws would entail.

One source with knowledge of the matter said the justice ministry had proposed a regulation whereby any Turk wishing to open a Twitter account would have to enter their national identification number, but this had been rejected by the transport ministry as being technically unfeasible.

Last year, Twitter introduced a feature called "Country Withheld Content" that allows it to block tweets considered illegal in a specific country from appearing in that country; it caused some concern among users, though the company emphasises that people trying to view the tweet would be told that it had been blocked, rather than it silently vanishing from its feed.

Twitter implemented the feature for the first time in October in response to a request by German authorities, blocking messages in Germany by a right-wing group banned by police.

Turkey said last year that it had won a long-running battle to persuade Google-owned YouTube to operate under a Turkish internet domain, giving Ankara more control over the video-sharing website and requiring the company to pay Turkish taxes. In October, Google opened an office in Istanbul.

Turkey banned the popular website for more than two years in 2008 after users posted videos the government deemed insulting to the republic's founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Rights groups have long pressed Turkey to reform strict internet laws, while analysts have criticised the ease with which citizens and politicians can apply to have a website banned.

Turkey cites offences including child pornography and insulting Ataturk to justify blocking websites.

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« Last Edit: Jun 27, 2013, 06:00 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #7165 on: Jun 27, 2013, 05:40 AM »

06/27/2013 12:51 PM

Bail-Ins: EU Deal Protects Taxpayers in Bank Bailouts

Under an agreement reached early Thursday, European banks, their investors and depositors will be required to cover at least 8 percent of potential losses before governments step in with aid. It is a major step forward for the planned European banking union.

In the future, European banks, their owners and their creditors will be held accountable should financial institutions collapse -- and not just taxpayers.

European finance ministers on Thursday agreed to a deal that would require owners, creditors and depositors -- in that order -- to cover the expenses of bailing out or winding down failed banks. The reform marks another step towards a euro-zone banking union.

"We came to political agreement," German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said early Thursday morning. He said the reforms were an "important step," noting the shareholders and creditors would be "liable first and foremost."

Under the so-called "bail-in" deal, the result of what Schäuble described as "quite difficult and intense" talks, states would only intervene to rescue banks after all other actors, including depositors with more than €100,000 in their accounts, had participated to an extent representing at least 8 percent of total liabilities. The deal also would require member states to set up "ex-ante resolution funds," that would hold a sum equal to 1.3 percent of a nation's insured bank deposits. The banks themselves would be required to pay into these funds, but payouts in interventions would be cappped at 5 percent of a bank's total liabilities and would require approval from the EU in Brussels.

Germany Says Deposits Are Safe

With the new rules, the 27 EU member-states want to prevent taxpayers from getting stuck with the tab when financial institutions fail, as frequently happened during the recent global financial crisis. Schäuble said that depositors with less than €100,000 in their accounts would have nothing to worry about and that deposit guarantees would protect them not only in Germany, but also across the EU.

Meanwhile, Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who is also the head of the Euro Group, said the rules would lead to more responsible behavior on the part of banks. Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan described the deal as "a major milestone in our effort to break the vicious link between the banks and the sovereigns." "Bail-in is now the rule," he said.

The member states will now have to negotiate the new rules with the European Parliament, a process that could take until the end of the year. The deal also provides member states with wide-reaching powers of intervention when financial institutions founder. For example, it would permit smaller banks to be closed in the future under standardized European regulations. The rules on bail-ins would only be applied to larger, systemically relevant banks that are in need of restructuring and are closely interlinked with other banks.

Out of fear of a devastating chain reaction, the EU member states bailed out faltering major banks in 2008 to the tune of hundreds of billions of euros. The first instance in which investors and creditors were forced to make a major contribution was this spring in the bailout of Cyprus. The new EU rules would mark a major shift in policy.

Resistance in Berlin

Germany, the Netherlands and other countries had pushed in negotiations for a far-reaching bail-in on the part of creditors and for the most unified rules possible. France had fought for greater leeway at the national level and the ability for the state to intervene at an earlier stage in a crisis situation. French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici said it was crucial now that the permanent euro bailout fund, the European Stability Fund, had a role in financing bank bailouts defined in the new rules.

The Brussels meeting was the second after negotiators broke off talks on Saturday after more than 20 hours without a deal. Member-states had pledged to agree to the most important building blocks for a euro-zone banking union by the end of June. They had already agreed on a centralized European banking supervisory authority for the euro zone under the jurisdiction of the European Central bank. With the deal on bank resolution, a further pillar has been erected. But at least one important element -- deposit insurance -- remains to be negotiated.

At the EU summit on Thursday and Friday, European leaders are expected to push for further steps. Next week, the European Commission is to present a draft proposal for a single resolution system for the euro zone that would better integrate national resolution funds financed by the banks. The issue has already been a source of conflict between member states. Germany, for example, is opposed to the kind of centralized European fund that might see German savings banks forced to participate in the bailout of a major French bank.

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« Reply #7166 on: Jun 27, 2013, 05:52 AM »

Greece tries to fix economy with cabinet reshuffle amid strikes and protests

Antonis Samaras has rearranged his cards – but vast Greek debt keeps him playing the same hand

Helena Smith, Wednesday 26 June 2013 19.02 BST   

On his first day in office with his newly reshuffled cabinet, the Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras had a to-do list that included dealing with striking seamen and trolley-bus drivers, discussing the privatisation of Pireaus port and preparing for talks with the creditors keeping Greece's defunct economy afloat.

At the same time, tax employees prepared for battle with a 48-hour strike; protesting staff continued to occupy the main offices of the public broadcaster, ERT, while thousands of entrepreneurs representing small-and medium-sized businesses took to the streets. The focus of their fury: "hunger pensions" and cuts to a health system on the point of collapse.

For any other government, fighting fires on so many fronts would prompt a response that would be, at best, crisis management. In Greece, however, it's business as usual.

With his newly installed team, Samaras hopes to handle the myriad problems confronting the country with a new zest and tact. The reshuffle, a year and a week after he assumed power, had been long overdue. The sudden departure from the coalition government of the small Democratic Left party, Dimar, provided the perfect alibi for a radical restructuring of a tripartite alliance that had begun to look lacklustre and lazy. There was, said Samaras, "not a moment to waste" in the battle to save the debt-stricken nation.

But far from boding well, there is also a sense of déja vû about the new administration. With Dimar's exit, the coalition is now comprised solely of figures from the two mainstream political forces most blamed for the country's woes. The recycling of politicians from both the conservative New Democracy and socialist Pasok parties has been met with incredulity and derision.

Many are wondering how politicians who have already been tried and tested – frequently displaying a marked reluctance for reforms – can possibly put Greece back on its feet.

Michalis Chrysohoidis, the Pasok cadre elevated to run the transport ministry, caused uproar last year when he admitted he hadn't even read the first bailout accord outlining the onerous terms Athens had agreed to in return for funds from the EU and IMF. He was public order minister at the time.

The appointment of Adonis Georgiades as minister of health – one of the most sensitive portfolios – has caused similar dismay. A conservative extremist, Georgiades is more usually associated with the talk show he hosts exhorting the glories that were ancient Greece.

Both are indicative of a power-sharing arrangement that more resembles a balancing act. For the first time since being plunged into its worst crisis in living memory, there is an overwhelming sense that the country is in the hands of a government that is buying time.

Geopolitics have forced a semblance of stability on Greece. The German elections in September have increased expectations that what lies ahead is a slow-motion summer of little or no policymaking that could rock the boat.

But few have bought the government's argument that Greece is on the road to recovery. Even fewer believe Samaras' prognostications that with the benefit of hard work, yet more austerity will be kept at bay.

Indeed, many are certain it is only a matter of time before the crisis intensifies when the coalition is forced in the autumn to take fresh measures to avoid the collapse of the pension system.

With unemployment now at a record 27% and poverty soaring, Greeks may be forgiven for believing that the real truth lies not so much in the notion of hard labour, but in the rules of the game being changed.

Short of a deus ex machina, the crisis engulfing Greece will only be resolved when its debt load is somehow forgiven.

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« Reply #7167 on: Jun 27, 2013, 05:54 AM »

Italy agrees measures to tackle youth unemployment

With 42% of 15- to 24-year-olds out of work, PM identifies youth joblessness as one of his coalition government's priorities

Lizzy Davies in Rome
The Guardian, Wednesday 26 June 2013 18.32 BST   

The Italian government has approved a package of measures it hopes will help bring down high levels of youth unemployment as the eurozone's third-largest economy continues to limp through a two-year recession.

Faced with 42% of 15- to 24-year-olds out of work, the prime minister, Enrico Letta, identified the "plague" of youth joblessness as one of his coalition government's priorities. At a press conference on Wednesday he said he hoped measures including tax breaks for employers who hire certain under-30s on permanent contracts would boost young people's prospects.

At the same time the package was aimed at easing the employment of people on temporary contracts, and stimulating training, apprentice and internship schemes. Letta said the majority of the €1.5bn effort – a mixture of national and European structural funds – would be particularly focused on the south of Italy, where general unemployment is higher than the national average and joblessness among the young is particularly severe, at over 35%, according to Istat, the national statistics agency.

He said the government estimated that around 200,000 young people would be helped into work over the next 18 months as a result of the measures, adding that they allowed him to go to a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels on Friday with "solid arguments to fight a great battle, a European battle".

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« Reply #7168 on: Jun 27, 2013, 05:57 AM »

Ireland falls back into recession despite multibillion euro austerity drive

Official data revision of final three months of 2012 means Ireland has endured three successive quarters of recession

Henry McDonald in Dublin, Thursday 27 June 2013 12.47 BST   

Ireland is back in recession despite an austerity drive to cut its debts, official figures have confirmed.

Irish GDP shrank 0.6% in the first quarter of 2013, but the recession was confirmed when official data revised the economy's performance in the final three months of 2012 to a decline of 0.2%. It means that Ireland has endured three successive quarters of contraction and is back in recession for the first time since 2009. GDP has declined despite the presence in Ireland of multinationals such as Apple, Google, IBM and several big pharmaceutical companies.

The output drop reflects an ongoing depression in consumer demand, amid unemployment of nearly 14%. Personal expenditure declined by 3% between the fourth quarter of 2012 and the first quarter of 2013. The decrease in demand reflects Irish consumers' fears for their jobs and a reluctance to get into debt following the credit-fuelled spending boom of the Celtic Tiger years.

Capital Investment also declined by 7.4% while net exports decreased by just over €1bn (£595m) over the same period. The slip back into recession will be deeply disappointing for the Fine Gael-Labour coalition which has slashed public spending in a bid to drive down the country's debt while placating the troika of the International Monetary Fund, European Union and European Central Bank who bailed out the country in 2010.

On a brighter note, the construction industry in the Republic is showing some signs of recovery. The latest figures point to a 2.1% increase in building across the state in a sector which was devastated by the property crash of 2008-2009, and which has been a huge factor in lengthening the country's dole queues.

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« Reply #7169 on: Jun 27, 2013, 06:02 AM »

Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell In and Out of Love With Pig Putin by Ben Judah – review

In late 2011, as protests gripped Moscow, it was possible to imagine that Putin might be forced out. This lucid study explores why the revolution failed

Luke Harding   
The Guardian, Thursday 27 June 2013 12.00 BST          

These are gloomy days for Russia's liberals. Over the past year, since becoming president for a third time, Vladimir Putin has launched a wave of repression. He has forced western-funded NGOs to register as "foreign agents"; arrested anti-government demonstrators; and put on trial the charismatic blogger Alexei Navalny, the closest thing Russia's protest movement has to a leader. A long stretch in jail for Navalny beckons.

    Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell in and Out of Love with Vladimir Putin
    by Ben Judah

    Tell us what you think: Star-rate and review this book

In late 2011 and 2012, as protests gripped Moscow, it was dreamily possible to imagine that Putin might be forced out. These days, few think this. The opposition is demoralised and the talented are leaving. (In recent months chess champion Garry Kasparov has scarpered to New York; the progressive economist Sergei Guriev has upped sticks to France. Both cite reasonable fears of imminent arrest.) Putin is still unbudgeable there, dropping into Britain last week for the G8 summit and to berate David Cameron for his support for Syria's rebels.

Why did this revolution fail? In his lucid study of the never-ending Putin era, Ben Judah argues that the middle-class hipsters who gathered again in the capital last month are themselves, in part, to blame. Moscow, he points out, isn't Russia: it is an affluent mega‑city disconnected from the impoverished small towns where most Russians live. He also detects a whiff of condescension. The well-off activists who took to the streets in the wake of rigged 2011 elections show little interest in the regions, or in their less fortunate co-citizens.

So big is the gap between Moscow and the rest of the country it resembles the historical gulf between Russia's French-speaking aristocracy and its serfs. There has been a revival of the "19th-century dialectic between the intelligentsia and the masses", Judah suggests. (He updates Chekhov: since anyone with cash already lives in Moscow these days, Chekhov's three aristocratic sisters would probably cry: "To London, to London" rather than "To Moscow, to Moscow".)

Putin, by contrast, is a relentless domestic traveller. He has the "most punishing travel schedule of any leader in Russian history", as Judah puts it. Admittedly, his visits are to a Potemkin-village Russia from which dissent has been carefully edited out. But the trips form an essential part of Putin's "videocracy", his TV-mediated autocracy, with federal channels under state control. There is censorship for the masses, but freedom for the web-savvy elite. This postmodern model of control worked, at least until internet use took off.

Indeed, the president's recent fight‑back might serve as an example to other authoritarians (such as Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan) who find themselves in a tricky corner. In the face of public protests Putin launched a "culture war", pitting his conservative base – pensioners, state employees, veterans – against Moscow's beautiful people. He has also splashed around a load of cash: doubling salaries for riot police; bumping up funding for the regions; hiking pensions. The state budget has ballooned.

Last year the radical feminist outfit Pussy Riot staged an anti-Putin "prayer" in Moscow's Christ the Saviour cathedral. This was the protest movement's biggest stunt yet. And, Judah convincingly suggests, an own goal. It allowed the Kremlin to mobilise the Orthodox church in its anti-bourgeois cultural battle, and to portray the government's enemies as elitists and sexual deviants. (Pussy Riot had previously staged a public orgy in a botanical museum. Two of the three women protesters are still in jail, with Putin remarking "they got what they asked for".)

For now, Putin has snuffed out this not-quite revolution. In his travels to Russia's ignored corners, Judah discovers little support for the liberal opposition but almost universal discontent. He flies to Tuva in southern Siberia, takes the railway to the Far East, and visits the Urals tank factory town of Nizhny Tagil. Here the air "tastes metallic, thick, like toast". The roads are cracked; rotten wooden cottages sink beneath mud. Instead of too much state, Judah finds virtually no state, with Russia a "fragmented and feudalised society".

Judah's lively account of his remote adventures forms the most enjoyable part of Fragile Empire, and puts me in mind of Chekhov's famous 1890 journey to Sakhalin Island. In Nizhny Tagil he discovers that "workers" who told Putin by video they would beat up liberal activists were in fact a PR man and several managers. Here, as elsewhere, the local representatives of Putin's United Russia party are corrupt. Nothing works. A group of enterprising vigilante nationalists have slipped into this vacuum. The town's biggest scourge is heroin; the vigilantes kidnap addicts and chain them to their beds.

One of the Kremlin's recurrent nightmares, meanwhile, is that its Pacific territories. In Birobidzhan, close to the Chinese border, Judah finds the Chinese are already farming Russian land. The Slavic locals live in squalor. He meets two women selling mushrooms by the side of the road, one with a face "so riven by wrinkles it looks like cracked mud on the bottom of a dry lake". A local teenage girl tells him: "Who gives a fuck about the motherland. There is no fucking motherland."

Judah is an intrepid reporter and classy political scientist. I first met him in 2008 during the Russian-Georgian war: we found ourselves together on a Russian military truck. The Russian army had crushed an attempt by Georgia's president Mikheil Saakashvili to seize back the province of South Ossetia; Valery Gergiev, a notable Putin fan, was conducting a victory concert in its capital Tskhinvali. Judah identifies this moment as the high point of Putinism. Putin enjoyed rock-star popularity and had humiliated Saakashvili's patron George W Bush.

The mass consent Putin enjoyed during his first two presidential terms has now gone forever. Paradoxically, it is the middle-class beneficiaries of Russia's economic boom who ripped it up. Judah likens Russia's president not to Leonid Brezhnev – another Russian leader who hung on to power too long – but to Nicholas II. (The tsar, of course, survived the 1905 revolution only to be swept away in 1917.) Russians have fallen out of love with Putin but are thus far unpersuaded that the opposition can deliver anything better. Judah concludes that sooner or later an earthquake may bring down the fragile Kremlin. But then again, it might not happen at all.

• Luke Harding's Mafia State: How One Reporter Became an Enemy of the Brutal New Russia is published by Guardian Books

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