06/28/2013 11:01 AM
EU Subsidies Lost: Cameron Hijacks Summit with Rebate Spat
By Carsten Volkery in Brussels
The European Union summit on Thursday night was supposed to be a demonstration of European harmony -- until British Prime Minister David Cameron arrived. He insisted that the UK budget rebate go untouched, launching hours of pointless debate.
The British are nothing if not predictable. On Thursday evening, European leaders gathered in Brussels for an EU summit that was supposed to be dedicated to combating the economic crisis that has gripped the Continent. Appallingly high youth unemployment was on the agenda as was help for mid-sized companies in Europe, which have recently experienced difficulty in securing financing.
Controversial issues were nowhere to be found on the list of talking points. Europe wanted to go into the summer break on a harmonious note.
But even before the meeting got started, British Prime Minister David Cameron managed to find conflict where none was wanted. As he arrived in Brussels, he said he was going to focus on defending the so-called UK rebate -- the sum of money Britain gets back from it EU budget contributions due to the limited benefits it receives from European agricultural subsidies.
Other summit participants were less than impressed. Cameron is "never happy" when it comes to the EU budget, complained European Parliament President Martin Schulz.
The Cameron offensive was particularly surprising given that the European Council and Parliament on Thursday morning had finally reached an important agreement on the bloc's budget. Following months of at times acrimonious debate among EU member states, a deal was reached on the budget for the years from 2014 to 2020. And it largely reflected the demands made by Britain, namely that it would be capped at €980 billion ($1.28 trillion). Demands for improvements made by the Parliament were largely rejected. All that was left for EU leaders on Thursday night was to give the deal their thumbs up.
Defending the UK Rebate
But Cameron was able to find something that he didn't approve of. In addition to the budget, the EU also recently reached agreement on a reform to the bloc's agricultural budget and subsidies, a deal which changed the system of calculation used to determine the British rebate, negotiated by Margaret Thatcher in 1984. If the agricultural budget shrinks, so too does the rebate received by London -- and Cameron could easily imagine how that would be received in the euro-skeptic press back home. He insisted that the size of the rebate remain unchanged, as per the deal made at the European budget summit in February.
That, though, was something that French President François Hollande could not accept; the rebate, after all, is essentially financed by Britain's EU partners.
The sums involved in the conflict were relatively miniscule given the amounts often at stake in EU agreements. But both sides in the debate were more concerned with questions of principle and the summit devolved, as so many of them do, into a marathon of cooking the numbers.
In the end, a "satisfactory solution" was found, as Chancellor Angela Merkel said following the meeting without revealing any of the details. But many participants were left with the impression that the hours of discussion devoted to the question were little more than a waste of time.
Symbolism and Youth Unemployment
Aside from that debate, however, not much happened in Brussels on Thursday evening. The euro crisis has been quiet for some time now and the German general elections this autumn have put the brakes on decisions of substance. Indeed, many in Brussels have been complaining for months that Berlin is uninterested in addressing vital issues for fear of endangering Merkel's re-election. The chancellor herself has said that she knows of no European decision that has been delayed as a result of German elections. But European Council President Herman van Rompuy was originally scheduled to present proposals for the reform of the common currency on Thursday, but -- at the behest of the Germans -- his presentation has been pushed back until the next summit in October.
Instead, the 27 EU leaders focused on sending a positive message. The €6 billion earmarked for the fight against youth unemployment, for example, is now to be spent by the end of 2015 rather than by 2020 as originally planned. The hope is that a stronger effect will be the result. To further demonstrate that they were taking the issue seriously, leaders also invited labor union and employer representatives.
Still, European Parliament President Schulz said the measure was "but a drop in the ocean." And he wasn't alone. Both Italy and Spain demanded on Thursday night that more money be made available for the fight against unemployment, but Merkel rejected the request. We can't just keep focusing on "new funds," she said, adding that the money already committed "cannot be disregarded."
She also noted that the next summit focusing on youth unemployment is scheduled to take place in Berlin next Wednesday. Together with Hollande, Merkel is to lead a meeting of EU labor ministers and employment agency heads to discuss the best practices in dealing with soft labor markets.
Not everyone seemed particularly convinced by her optimism. Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker noted that, under his presidency in 1997, the European Council agreed on a guarantee to provide young jobseekers with work or training within six months. "Only very few countries actually did so," Juncker said. "I hope that we are more successful this time."
June 27, 2013
Obama Looks to History and Future in Senegal
By MICHAEL D. SHEAR
DAKAR, Senegal — President Obama looked across the Atlantic Ocean as he stood in a stone doorway at Gorée Island, a symbolically important landmark that serves as a reminder of ships bound for America bearing African slaves in shackles.
America’s first black president spent about a half-hour inside the slave house on the edge of the water, walking quietly with his wife, Michelle Obama, a descendant of slaves, by his side.
Photographers briefly captured a reflective-looking president in the “door of no return.” Afterward, Mr. Obama was stoic, describing the visit only as a “very powerful moment” that helped him to “fully appreciate the magnitude of the slave trade,” which for so long defined the history of blacks in the United States.
“Obviously, for an African-American, an African-American president, to be able to visit this site, I think gives me even greater motivation in terms of human rights around the world,” he said.
Mr. Obama formally opened his visit to the African continent earlier in the day at the Palace of the President, where he met with President Macky Sall of Senegal to discuss opportunities for greater trade and investment that could bolster the economies of both countries.
“I see this as a moment of great promise and great progress for the continent,” Mr. Obama said. “All too often, the world overlooks the amazing progress that Africa is making.”
In his first extended visit to Africa since becoming president, Mr. Obama was greeted by some large crowds, including women dressed in traditional white garb to signify peace.
Despite that greeting, some Africans have criticized Mr. Obama for what they say has been a lack of attention and investment. As president, he spent one day in sub-Saharan Africa in 2009, delivering a speech in Ghana.
Mwangi S. Kimenyi, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said: “Africans have been largely disappointed, especially when they look at the focus on Africa by the previous presidents. They therefore have a feeling that President Obama is still not in tune with the emerging continent.”
Meanwhile, Chinese leaders have traveled extensively in Africa in the last several years, investing billions of dollars in infrastructure throughout the continent.
American officials concede the challenge from China and other countries but insist that the United States has not been absent.
“China’s paying a lot of attention to Africa,” Mr. Obama said in his news conference. “Brazil, Turkey, India are heavily invested in trying to expand trade and commerce with Africa.”
White House officials said the president’s trip would provide an opportunity for American businesses to increase their investments in African countries and to bolster trade with their counterparts on the continent.
“We, frankly, have heard a high-demand signal from the U.S. private sector for us to play an active role in deepening our trade and investment partnerships in Africa,” said Benjamin J. Rhodes, Mr. Obama’s deputy national security adviser.
For Mr. Obama’s administration, the weeklong visit to Africa is an important part of shaping policy regarding trade, security and human rights.
But for the president himself, it is also a personal journey to countries that count him as one of their own.
As he walked onto Gorée Island from a ferry on Thursday afternoon, hundreds of residents of the area screamed with glee, many of them wearing white T-shirts emblazoned with his face and the words: “Welcome home, Mr. President.”
If the slave quarters made him somber, then the long rope line packed with eager faces had the opposite effect. Mr. Obama had a broad smile on his face as he shook the many hands reaching out to touch him. He held a baby for the cameras and moved briefly to the beat of bongo drums.
Since becoming president in 2009, Mr. Obama has often deflected questions about the racial barrier he broke in that first election.
When asked about his efforts to raise the quality of life for African-Americans, he often responds by saying that he was elected to be the president of all Americans.
But here, in Africa, it is harder for him to avoid the history he has made.
In the days ahead, Mr. Obama will have more opportunities to reflect on the connection he feels with Africa. He is scheduled to deliver the marquee speech of his trip to college students in South Africa.
“This is going to be a continent that is on the move,” Mr. Obama said at the end of a news conference in Senegal. “It is young. It is vibrant and full of energy. And there’s a reason why a lot of other countries around the world are spending a lot of time here.”
He will not visit Kenya, where his father was born. That has become a source of disappointment for many there. And anger about some of Mr. Obama’s policies — including his embrace of some of the antiterrorism efforts of President George W. Bush — has dampened the enthusiasm for his arrival in some places.
In his remarks to reporters, Mr. Obama gave little indication of his personal motivations on the trip. Instead, he repeated his belief that the United States should not “lose focus” on cultivating relationships with African countries.
“The reason I came to Africa is because Africa is rising,” Mr. Obama said. “And it is in the United States’ interests — not simply in Africa’s interests — that the United States don’t miss the opportunity to deepen and broaden the partnerships and potential here.”
Adam Nossiter contributed reporting from Dakar, and Alan Cowell from London.
June 27, 2013
In Mandela, Obama Found a Beacon Who Inspired From Afar
By MICHAEL D. SHEAR
DAKAR, Senegal — Barack Obama had been a United States senator for just weeks in early 2005 when Oprah Winfrey offered to carry a message for him to Nelson Mandela, the iconic South African leader.
Mr. Obama disappeared into a back room in Ms. Winfrey’s television studio to write the note, but he was gone so long that his spokesman, Robert Gibbs, popped his head in after half an hour.
“You’ve got to give me some time here,” Mr. Obama, pen in hand, told Mr. Gibbs, who recalled the moment recently. “I can’t just wing a note to Nelson Mandela.”
Mr. Obama had been hoping to have his first face-to-face meeting as president with the ailing 94-year-old leader during a three-country, weeklong trip to Africa that began on Wednesday. But Mr. Mandela was hospitalized on June 8 for a chronic lung infection, and on Thursday he remained in critical but stable condition.
A meeting between Mr. Mandela and Mr. Obama would have been rich with symbolism and symmetry for people on both continents: two men from different generations who made history as the first black presidents of nations with deep racial divides. Both embraced a cool pragmatism in their attempt to be post-racial leaders, and both have inspired as well as disappointed many supporters.
Mr. Mandela has long been a beacon for Mr. Obama, who recounted again on Thursday how the revolution unleashed by Mr. Mandela a world away had inspired his own activism. Friends of Mr. Obama say that for him and many of his contemporaries, the fight against apartheid was the equivalent of the civil rights movement of an earlier generation.
“My first act of political activism was when I was at Occidental College,” Mr. Obama said Thursday at a news conference here in Dakar, referring to a brief speech he gave at the time. “I got involved in the anti-apartheid movement back in 1979-80 because I was inspired by what was taking place in South Africa.”
Recalling Mr. Mandela’s long imprisonment, Mr. Obama said, “I didn’t necessarily imagine that Nelson Mandela might be released.”
Mr. Obama rarely dwells on his own strides against racial barriers and has for the most part steered away from invoking Mr. Mandela’s struggles in public or in private. Aides say he considers it presumptuous to compare his own life to that of Mr. Mandela, who was imprisoned for 27 years, part of that time in a tiny cell on Robben Island, before forging an end to apartheid and becoming South Africa’s first black leader.
But Mr. Obama’s closest advisers say people do not realize how much Mr. Mandela has been an inspiration to Mr. Obama in some of the president’s most difficult moments. Valerie B. Jarrett, a senior adviser and close friend of Mr. Obama’s, said Mr. Mandela had given Mr. Obama “the strength to persevere.”
In the foreword that Mr. Obama wrote to Mr. Mandela’s 2010 book, “Conversations With Myself,” he describes the early impact that Mr. Mandela’s struggle had on his life and his entry into politics.
“His sacrifice was so great that it called upon people everywhere to do what they could on behalf of human progress,” Mr. Obama wrote. “In the most modest of ways, I was one of those people who tried to answer his call.”
Mr. Obama hinted in the foreword at what might be his most important lesson from Mr. Mandela’s struggles, the need to be stubborn in the face of obstacles. Like Mr. Mandela, who angered some black South Africans who wanted a more radical reordering of the country’s wealth, Mr. Obama has sometimes disillusioned his most ardent supporters.
Mr. Obama’s embrace of some of his predecessor’s antiterrorism policies has frustrated liberals. Revelations about secret surveillance programs have prompted concerns about privacy. And frequent budget clashes with Congress have left those who expected a new tone in Washington disillusioned.
“All of us face days when it can seem like change is hard — days when our opposition and our own imperfections may tempt us to take an easier path that avoids our responsibilities to one another,” Mr. Obama wrote in the foreword. “But even when little sunlight shined into that Robben Island cell, he could see a better future — one worthy of sacrifice.”
In 2006, Mr. Obama stood inside that cell during a visit to South Africa as a senator. After the tour, Mr. Gibbs remembered Mr. Obama as quiet and somber.
“You could see it immediately on his face,” said Mr. Gibbs, who was with Mr. Obama on the trip. “It is almost impossible to comprehend spending that amount of your time imprisoned and in the conditions he was. Nobody really had to say anything. You felt the gravity of history literally on your shoulders.”
During that trip, Mr. Obama did not meet with Mr. Mandela, who was out of the country at the time. The two have met in person only once, in a spontaneous encounter in Washington in 2005, when Mr. Mandela was in town and was urged by advisers to take a few minutes to meet a rising Democratic senator named Barack Obama.
Mr. Obama was in a car, on the way to a meeting, but diverted to the Four Seasons hotel in Georgetown, where Mr. Mandela was staying. The conversation produced a lasting image of Mr. Obama, in silhouette, standing next to a reclining Mr. Mandela.
David Katz, Mr. Obama’s driver and personal aide at the time, took the photo, a copy of which now sits in Mr. Mandela’s foundation office. Another copy is on Mr. Obama’s desk in the Oval Office.
“He was subdued and reflective and honored to have met a man like Nelson Mandela,” Mr. Katz recalled of the young senator’s demeanor after the five-minute exchange. “He was processing the experience, processing the history.”
Mr. Mandela, who was already a retired statesman at the time, expressed admiration for Mr. Obama after meeting him, said his granddaughter Tukwini Mandela. “He thought that President Obama was a very intelligent young man and that he liked him very much,” she said in an e-mail.
Mr. Obama’s engagement in Mr. Mandela’s history began with the speech while he was a student at Occidental College in Los Angeles, where he urged the board of trustees to divest the college of South African investments as a protest against the country’s apartheid policies. At the time, Mr. Mandela was nearing the end of his second decade in prison.
In his brief remarks, Mr. Obama told the crowd that although South Africa’s racial struggles were “happening an ocean away,” it was “a struggle that touches each and every one of us.”
In the few instances since then that Mr. Obama has mentioned Mr. Mandela publicly, it has usually been in conjunction with other renowned leaders. When Mr. Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, he said, “Compared to some of the giants of history who’ve received this prize — Schweitzer and King, Marshall and Mandela — my accomplishments are slight.”
In a separate interview with Russian television that year, Mr. Obama was asked about his heroes.
“Internationally, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi,” Mr. Obama said. “I always am interested in leaders who are able to bring about transformative change without resort to violence, but rather changing people’s minds and people’s hearts.”
Aides said Mr. Obama identified with Mr. Mandela’s willingness to work, pragmatically and without anger or emotion, alongside those who had imprisoned him for so many years.
“The discipline, foresight, endurance — it all really struck a chord,” said Mark Lippert, a longtime foreign policy aide to Mr. Obama who now serves as the chief of staff to Chuck Hagel, the secretary of defense. “He admired Mandela’s ability to rise above it.”
Lydia Polgreen contributed reporting from Johannesburg.
Nelson Mandela is a hero for the world, says Barack Obama
US president begins tour of Africa with speech describing his personal memories of the ailing former leader of South Africa
Afua Hirsch, West Africa correspondent
The Guardian, Thursday 27 June 2013 19.07 BST
Nelson Mandela is "a hero for the world", Barack Obama said on Thursday, adding that his thoughts are with the former South African president and his family as he remains in a critically ill condition.
"He is a personal hero, but I'm not unique in that regard," the US president said. "I think he's a hero for the world and if/when he passes, we know his legacy will linger on throughout the ages."
Speaking in Senegal, the first stop on a six-day tour of Africa – only his second trip to sub-Saharan Africa since being elected in 2008 – Obama recounted the impact Mandela had made during his early years in political life.
"When I was in law school in 1991, to see Nelson Mandela step forward after 27 years of captivity and not only help usher in democracy and majority rule – but as importantly for him to say, 'I embrace my former captors and my former oppressors, I believe in one nation, and I believe in judging people on the basis of their character and not their colour' – gave me a sense of what is possible in the world when righteous people … work together on behalf of a larger cause," he said.
Obama was speaking after an hour-long meeting with President Macky Sall of Senegal, in which they discussed trade and economic investments. The US president also toured the country's supreme court, and with first lady Michelle Obama visited the tiny Gorée Island, 3km off the coast of the capital, Dakar, where a fort used to imprison slaves has been preserved.
The US has said that the west African country is a "strong democratic partner" in the region.
Obama is due to leave Senegal and travel to South Africa on Friday with his family. He plans to hold talks with President Jacob Zuma and to visit Robben Island, where Mandela was imprisoned.
"[The first family] will visit Robben Island and have the opportunity to take in the remarkable history there and pay tribute to the extraordinary sacrifices made by Nelson Mandela in his pursuit of freedom for the people of South Africa," deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told journalists ahead of the trip.
But there has been speculation that if Mandela dies, Obama will reschedule his visit to South Africa, a major partner for the US on the continent, and return at a more appropriate time.
Obama's present plan is to travel from South Africa to Tanzania, the final stop on his African journey.
The trip has caused controversy in the US and Africa. Media outlets in the US have repeatedly questioned the cost of the trip – estimated at up to $100m – while commentators in Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, and Kenya, from which part of Obama's family hails, have said they felt snubbed by the president's failure to visit.
Nelson Mandela's family lash out at 'vultures' in foreign media
After a tense 20 days in Pretoria's heart hospital, relatives of anti-apartheid hero launch emotional attack on foreign journalists
David Smith in Johannesburg
The Guardian, Thursday 27 June 2013 19.49 BST
It was the day the pressure became too much to bear. As Nelson Mandela clung to life in hospital and hundreds of people gathered to pray for a miracle recovery, his family lashed out at the foreign media for "a racist element" and behaving like "vultures".
Thursday began with knife-edge anxiety over the 94-year-old's deteriorating health and concern about what news the day would bring. After visiting him in hospital in Pretoria, South African president Jacob Zuma reported that Mandela was "much better" than the night before and "remains critical but is now stable".
Every such statement, along with countless rumours and tweets, only adds to the jumpiness of media organisations seeking any scrap of information. The anti-apartheid hero's relatives in particular have come under intense scrutiny.
On Thursday the situation reached boiling point as his eldest daughter Makaziwe, who has emerged as the senior member of the Mandela family, launched an emotional attack.
"There's sort of a racist element with many of the foreign media, where they just cross boundaries," she told the national public broadcaster SABC.
"You have no idea what is happening at the hospital. In the middle of Park Street they just stand. You can't even get into the hospital. It's like truly vultures waiting when a lion has devoured a buffalo, waiting there for the last carcasses. That's the image that we have, as a family."
It is understandable that journalists are interested in Mandela's health, she added, "but they are going overboard".
Makaziwe contrasted the situation with the death of Margaret Thatcher earlier this year. "Is it just because we're an African country, that they feel they don't have to respect this? I just think it's crass. If people think they really care about Nelson Mandela, they should respect that. Part of him should be respected, not everything of him should be out in the public."
Makaziwe and other family members are regularly filmed as they visit the hospital on a daily basis. When Makaziwe called a family meeting in Mandela's ancestral home of Qunu on Tuesday, its content was the subject of wildly conflicting reports. Recently Makaziwe has been the subject of unwanted headlines .
Mandela's eldest grandchild Ndileka Mandela, who was at the meeting in Qunu, endorsed Makaziwe's comments. "I didn't see this with Margaret Thatcher or when George Bush was in hospital," she said. "The manner in which it's covered makes us incensed. Why don't people think, 'If it was my loved one, would I want all these details made public?'
"We appreciate all the love and support but the way it's done makes our blood boil. It's not been like this anywhere else. You guys want a pound of flesh. In the absence of details you speculate. We are going through a difficult time as a family and this doesn't make it easier."
Ndileka said she held media responsible but added: "I don't think the South African media would go to London and camp outside Buckingham Palace."
Mandela's eldest grandson, Mandla, also spoke out against the intensifying speculation. "I call upon those responsible to desist from spreading mischievous rumours about Madiba's state of health," he said, using Mandela's clan name. "Our government has been keeping all of us informed in this regard and there is no reason to doubt the accuracy of the information they provide to the public.
"At the end of the day my grandfather's fate like that of everyone else lies with God and our ancestors. However, many of us will continue to pray and hope for his recovery."
Mandela has spent 20 days in the hospital with a recurring lung infection – his fourth hospitalisation in six months. Many South Africans appear to be slowly coming to terms with the prospect of losing the father of the nation, who spent 27 years in prison resisting white minority rule.
How to cover Mandela's declining health has been a fraught topic in recent years. There was a lack of official information when he was hospitalised in January 2011. Later that year it emerged that two international news agencies had pointed hidden cameras at the former president's home, prompting headlines such as "Madiba spied on". A mutual distrust lingers between presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj and some local and foreign journalists.
William Bird, director of Media Monitoring Africa, said: "Some media, and international media in particular, have revealed details that might be of interest to the public but are not in the public interest. This is understandable but not ethical. Against that, the kind of official information we've been getting is very limited. At least say, 'We saw him, he was awake or he wasn't.' They should have been trying to communicate a lot more."
He added: "The hype around it is pretty extraordinary. It's not comparison between Mandela and Thatcher, it's a comparison between Mandela and Princess Diana, and in that case there was a frenzy. At that time you saw similar rumours not about Diana's health but about how she died."
What was officially disclosed on Thursday yesterday gave a new flicker of hope. Zuma had cancelled an official trip abroad to visit Mandela at the Mediclinic heart hospital for the second time in less than 24 hours. He was informed by the medical team that Mandela had stabilised.
"I cancelled my visit to Mozambique today so that I could see him and confer with the doctors," Zuma said. "He is much better today than he was when I saw him last night. The medical team continues to do a sterling job. We must pray for Tata's health and wish him well. We must also continue with our work and daily activities while Madiba remains hospitalised."
The presidency added that it was "disturbed" by rumours being spread about Mandela's health and appealed for respect for his privacy.
In her SABC interview, Makaziwe acknowledged that "anything is imminent. I can also state that God only knows when it is the time to go."
She continued: "We will live with hope until final end comes. I don't want to lie. He doesn't look good. But he's still opening his eyes. He might be waning off, but he's still there. I think for us as his children and grandchildren, as long as he's still there, we want to give him the positive support, the positive energy."
Officials did not deny claims that the statesman is on a life support machine. "Yes, he is using machines to breathe," Napilisi Mandela, a relative, was quoted as saying in media reports after visiting the hospital on Wednesday. "It is bad, but what can we do."
Mandela's grandchildren gathered up cards, flowers and toys outside the hospital on Thursday and took them inside.
They gave thanks for the public's support. Members of a Salvation Army choir prayed and sang outside the hospital and the African National Congress (ANC) youth league paid tribute.
Crowds from South Africa and around Africa and the world gathered at the site as well as outside Mandela's former home in Soweto.
As many, including the government, continue to live on their nerves, there is little prospect of the media winding down. The US president Barack Obama arrives on Friday
Kenya's laptops for schools dream fails to address reality
Kenya wants to be Africa's digital heart but its e-learning strategy ignores the need for more trained teachers and less inequality
Kenya recently announced an ambitious plan to deliver 1.3m laptops to schoolchildren. The project will cost more than $600m (53bn Kenyan shillings/£400m) and implementation will begin this year.
This is not simply a procurement issue or a small part of a larger educational strategy. It is the strategy. The budget, released this month, claims that the government "has prioritised transforming the educational system to e-teaching and e-learning". By contrast, the budget contained only 34.7bn shillings for healthcare, and 67bn for the police. In a country with extremely limited financial resources, this is a very bold move.
In some ways, the strategy seems to reinforce the image of Kenya as Africa's digital heart. The country has embedded digital services in its national development plan, is building a technology park dubbed "silicon Savannah", is a pioneer in creating digital services and software (such as the M-Pesa mobile money transfer system and the Ushahidi crisis reporting platform), and has one of the highest internet penetration rates on the continent.
But Kenya is characterised by deep economic inequalities. In the shadow of Nairobi's gleaming skyscrapers are millions of people who live in poverty. About half the country's 41 million people live below the national poverty line, and measures including the Gini coefficient show large gaps between rich and poor. More than 15 million Kenyans still don't have access to safe water or sanitation.
Despite free primary education, more than 1 million Kenyan children of school age aren't attending classes. Having a well-educated population is without doubt a way for the country to help itself out of poverty. But is betting the farm on e-teaching and e-learning a sensible strategy? More importantly, is it an equitable or just development approach?
Many of the project's specifics have yet to emerge, but there are still some important points to be made.
First, laptops alone won't solve any of the structural and social issues – including a lack of trained teachers, intermittent power supplies and thousands of malnourished children – facing Kenya.
Irrespective of how many stories we hear about the effectiveness of laptops being dropped off to villages in rural Africa – the approach adopted by One Laptop per Child's Nicholas Negroponte, for instance – technology alone cannot provide an education. Among other things, children still need functioning schools, electricity and, crucially, trained teachers – tens of thousands are required, according to the Kenya National Union of Teachers.
Second, information and communication technologies are an amplifier of capabilities, skills, and social and economic positions. Supporters of education projects based on laptop distribution often point to their success in connecting the previously disconnected. But while information technologies and the communication networks that link them are fantastic tools for people with the existing knowledge, skills and social networks to take advantage of them, they are less useful to those starting from a less privileged position. It is hard to see how the programme could do anything to address inequality without tackling its deeper roots.
Third, there is a long history of people and states framing technology as a solution to economic, social, political and environmental problems. IT becomes intertwined with notions of modernity and progress. Naively, they are seen not just as a tool, but as a panacea for development. Kenya's laptop project shows us how powerful these visions can be. Why get involved in the messy business of hiring thousands of teachers, building functioning schools, creating a stable electricity supply, and ensuring that all children are well-nourished, when laptops and e-learning will thrust the country into the digital economy?
Increased access to IT undoubtedly holds much promise for some of Kenya's youth. But the worry is that the resources invested in the project could have been better spent. Policymakers in other low-income countries will undoubtedly be watching closely; we need to ask who will ultimately benefit from the project and who may get left behind.
Egyptian activists hope for 'second revolution' a year after Morsi's election
Opposition plans large-scale demonstrations on Sunday, with some hoping army may step in to facilitate transition of power
Patrick Kingsley in Cairo
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 27 June 2013 16.28 BST
Egypt is holding its breath for mass demonstrations to mark the first anniversary of President Mohamed Morsi's election on Sunday, amid speculation the army might intervene in the event of large-scale civil unrest.
Opposition activists claim an unverifiable 15 million Egyptians have signed a petition demanding Morsi's removal, and expect a significant proportion of that number to take to the streets on 30 June. There have already been outbreaks of fighting in two cities, where Morsi's still-sizeable support base has launched counter-protests. As a result, many opposition actors hope the army, who deployed armoured vehicles on Cairo's streets on Wednesday, will be forced to intervene and facilitate a transition of power.
A senior military source told the Guardian on Thursday that the army did not want to intervene. But they stated that if Sunday's protests were as widespread and prolonged as those that drove Egypt's 2011 uprising, and if serious fighting broke out between Morsi's supporters and his opponents, then the army may regard the protests as a more legitimate representation of the people's will than the elections that brought Morsi to office a year ago – and would step in to facilitate a transition of power to a technocratic caretaker government.
The eventual scale of the protests nevertheless remains uncertain, and could yet prove highly exaggerated. But some of Morsi's opponents are convinced 30 June will be as pivotal as the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak.
"It's a second revolution," claimed Ahmed Said, a leader of the National Salvation Front (NSF), the secular opposition's largest coalition. "The semi-final was played on 25 January 2011. This is the final. I don't know how long it will take, but Morsi's going to go – and Egypt will never be the same after the 30th."
But protesters may have underestimated the size of Morsi's support, as well as the lethargy of Egypt's silent majority – many of whom may have been won over by Morsi's earthy speech to the nation on Wednesday night. Though recent polls suggested his popularity had halved since last autumn, his core following remains strong, and can mobilise just as easily as his opponents. At least 100,000 Islamists gathered in east Cairo last Friday to recognise Morsi's democratic legitimacy – and will do so again this week. They suggest his critics put their energy into campaigning for parliamentary elections, which are expected to be held in the next six months.
"Democracy all over the world works in the same way," said one of them, Sabry Roushdy, a teacher from Kafr-el-Sheikh, northern Egypt. "You come by the ballot box, and you go by the ballot box. It's not right that a section of society should bring him down just because they don't think he is good for the country."
Morsi himself refused to consider standing down during his two-and-a-half-hour speech on Wednesday. He apologised for some of his mistakes, and offered to let opponents help amend parts of Egypt's divisive new constitution. But in the main he focused on shoring up his own support – and blamed attempts to unseat him on "enemies of Egypt" bent on undermining democracy.
With all factions unwilling to make compromises acceptable to their opponents, neutral observers fear a violent outcome. "Egyptians are living in their own bubbles," said Nathan Brown, a professor of Middle Eastern politics at George Washington University. "The number of actors who think they speak for the entire Egyptian people is a little bit troubling. The presidency thinks it has been elected by the entire Egyptian people. The army think they are one hand with the people. The opposition think they are the entire society."
Brown said that "in almost any other country", such profound polarisation might lead to civil war. He ruled out such an outcome in Egypt, where the various factions have no organised militias, but nevertheless anticipated some kind of breakdown in political and civil order.
Clashes have already broken out between Islamists and their opponents in some northern cities, with two killed and more than 200 injured in Mansoura and Tanta. Many Egyptians expect even worse on Sunday, and have resorted to panic-buying food and petrol, leading to snaking queues at most gas stations, sparse shelves at many shops – and a shortage of cash at some banks.
In a sign of international concern at developments, the US ambassador to Egypt, Anne Patterson, spent much of last week trying to convince opposition leaders to rein in their demands.
Some want early presidential elections to end the impasse – but others demand Morsi's immediate departure. They want the army to help replace him with a neutral, technocratic cabinet who would oversee the re-writing of Egypt's new constitution before organising new polls.
It was the creation of the Islamist-slanted constitution last November that first sowed the seeds of major dissent. For his opponents, Morsi's unilateral decision to fast-track its completion – despite major secular objections – was the act of a dictator. It showed that while he may have been elected democratically, he is unconcerned about the wider democratic values on which successful democracy depends. For some, it also indicated Morsi was unwilling to build the political consensus that many of those who tentatively voted for him expected him to seek.
"Yes, the opposition must share their portion of the blame," said Yasser el-Shimy, Egypt analyst for the Crisis Group. "But President Morsi should have done more to reach out. The most detrimental act of Morsi's tenure so far has been that he has not assiduously built consensus and reconciliation as much as he should have."
Morsi's decision to award key government positions to his allies rather than his opponents has angered the latter camp, while he has been blamed for the repression of dozens of journalists and activists such as Bassem Youssef and Alaa Abdel Fattah. Rights campaigners also lament his failure to reform the police, whose brutality helped spark the 2011 uprising, and continues unabated. Most notably, following the deaths of more than 40 protesters in Port Said during gun battles with the police in January, Morsi chose to praise police actions, rather than investigate them. "For me, that was pretty much the end," said Heba Morayef, Egypt director for Human Rights Watch. "Those last shreds of optimism that I had were lost finally and conclusively in January, with his response to the Port Said crisis."
Morsi's allies maintain that his attempts to reform Egypt have been hampered by Mubarak-era holdovers. But that is scant consolation for Egypt's poorest, many of whom blame his government's incompetence for a marked fall in living standards. Egypt's economy is on the brink, leading to ballooning food prices, and widespread fuel shortages. "He's ruining the country," said Yasser Abdel Samir, a Mansoura resident who had spent hours queuing for petrol. "Look at this petrol queue. That's because of him. There's no water. There's no electricity. Salaries are low. Food prices are high. He's going down on the 30th."
But such an outcome is unlikely without the intervention of the military. Analysts emphasise that the army has little desire to involve itself after its mixed attempt at interim government following the fall of Mubarak. "The military will only intervene as a last measure – to prevent the collapse of the state itself," said Shimy. "They know that they will be trying to catch a falling knife if they try to take over."
Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center, argued that Morsi and his political opponents might yet agree to a compromise before such an intervention was necessary.
"I think you'll see very large protests, clashes here and there, and a certain amount of deaths around the country," said Hamid. "But the fundamental balance of power will remain. Morsi will stay, and we'll have an effective stalemate. Perhaps the reality of that stalemate, when it dawns on people that Morsi hasn't left power, will force both sides to finally get serious about sitting down and making concessions."
But for now Egypt remains dangerously split, with many past the point of assigning any legitimacy to their opponents' points of view. "Are you Brotherhood," asked one opposition activist of passersby in Mansoura this week, "or are you Egyptian?"
Rudd 2.0 comes out swinging against Coalition and the Greens
Resurrected Kevin says he is determined to get major policy settings right before going to the polls
Lenore Taylor, political editor
guardian.co.uk, Friday 28 June 2013 07.34 BST
At his first full press conference after once again becoming prime minister, Kevin Rudd managed to pick a fight on asylum policy with the Coalition and on carbon pricing with the Greens. Those who put him back in the job could not have been more pleased. This was Kevin Rudd 2.0.
Rudd was prodding the same policy weak spot Julia Gillard has been prosecuting for weeks – the obvious contradiction between Tony Abbott's policy to turn back asylum seeker boats and Indonesia's very public and repeated insistence that it will not co-operate with the policy nor accept the boats back.
He warned it could trigger a "conflict" with Indonesia, later clarifying that he was "talking about a diplomatic conflict … but you have to be wary about where diplomatic conflict goes … you end up with a pretty robust diplomatic conflict and you become a little bit concerned about where that heads."
Pushed about whether he had meant an armed conflict he clarified, "I certainly hope it doesn't, I don't believe it would."
A deeply aggrieved shadow foreign affairs spokesperson Julie Bishop appeared almost immediately to renounce his statement as "deeply irresponsible, ridiculous and absurd" because the Coalition intended to turn boats around in international waters rather than in Indonesia's territorial zone. But then she had to try to explain the discrepancy all over again – achieving what was undoubtedly Rudd's aim of turning the focus back onto the opposition.
And he did not rule out bringing forward the starting date for a floating carbon price – in technical terms an end to the politically damaging carbon tax.
Rudd said he would be speaking with his cabinet about it. Any change would need to be legislated, and would impact on other aspects of the carbon pricing scheme, making it practically difficult to start a floating price before July 2014 – just one year before it would be due to happen anyway.
But the very suggestion of a change also brought an angry reaction from Senator Christine Milne, who helped negotiate the carbon pricing regime. Again Labor strategists were delighted.
"Do you think it hurts us to be having a blue about carbon pricing with the Greens?," one asked, rhetorically.
Besides changing the conversation on both of Labor's political weak spots, Rudd gave little away about any of his own policies – a commitment to proceed with the schools funding reforms and a two-week extension of the deadline for negotiations with the states, signals that he would also be taking a fairly tough line on asylum policy, the predictable promise of economic responsibility, an open door to some changes on carbon pricing and – the possibility – somewhere down the track of a plebiscite or referendum to legalise gay marriage.
But there was also a rationale for the vague answers – this was a kinder, gentler Kevin. He was determined to get "major policy settings right" before he went to the polls.
Former communications minister Senator Stephen Conroy once accused him of having "contempt for the Cabinet. Contempt for Cabinet members. Julia Gillard said he had "very difficult and very chaotic work patterns"
Resurrected Kevin said he was taking briefings on almost everything, and that "If I have learnt one thing from my previous period as prime minister, and I have learnt quite a lot, is the absolute need for proper orderly decision-making process...proper orderly processes of Cabinet decision making." He had promised colleagues "anything major" would go through Cabinet. The only caveat was a crisis, or as the prime minister put it, "when stuff happens."
Since he won't announce until the weekend who will replace the six ministers who stood down from the frontbench as soon as he returned to the prime ministership, and they won't be sworn in until next Monday, that also provided an immediate out for any specific questions about policy.
But there were some clues. The increasing number of asylum boats was risking "a fragmenting of support for the system of orderly migration" and it would be delusional not to recognise that some of those arriving on boats were "economic migrants" rather than refugees. If he decides to go to next weeks' scheduled meeting with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono the issue would be discussed.
He did not rule out bringing forward the starting date for a floating carbon price - in technical terms an end to the politically damaging carbon tax. He said he would be speaking with his Cabinet about it. But any change would need to be legislated, and would impact on other aspects of the carbon pricing scheme, making it practically difficult to start a floating price before July 214 - just one year before it would be due to happen anyway.
He again declared that the China-driven mining boom was "at an end", with big consequences for Australia, and that it was not an economic situation in which any government could bring the budget immediately back to surplus.
And he challenged Abbott again to a debate at the National Press Club, this time on the Coalition's claim about the national debt and the deficit. He has said he is happy to debate Abbott every week.
With some inside the new cabinet arguing the government should stick with the 14 September election date so that the already legislated local government referendum could proceed, and Rudd keen to attend the G20 meeting in September in St Petersburg, the timing of the federal election is again up in the air, and Rudd did not absolutely rule out the 43rd parliament sitting again.
And as ministers who have served for decades left parliament for the final time, and Julia Gillard packed to leave the Lodge, the man whose supporters triggered three ballots for the Labor leadership during a single term of government went out of his way to pay tribute to his predecessor and demand she be treated with "appropriate respect and dignity".
He did, however, point out that the same treatment had not been meted out to him when he was deposed in 2010.
He said he had told colleagues "I will not tolerate anyone going out there and trashing Julia's reputation. I've had some experience of that and it's not pleasant."
For those in the room the press conference was like travelling back in time, the same folksy language, the same slight convoluted rhetorical style.
But in the electorate, for now at least according to early polling, and in the minds of Labor tacticians, the Rudd restoration seems to have achieved its aim of putting Labor back into the electoral game.
Policy: the difference Kevin Rudd could make
The restored Labor leader faces a few thorny issues and has already signalled his intentions in some areas
Lenore Taylor, political editor
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 27 June 2013 06.35 BST
Rudd promised to restore car industry funding when he contested the leadership in February 2012. Rudd promised to restore car industry funding when he contested the leadership in February 2012.
Besides who resides in the Lodge and Kirribilli House, what difference will the change of prime minister actually make? Re-elected prime minister Kevin Rudd has given us few clues, but here are three possibilities.
Rudd could bring forward the float of the carbon price.
Under current legislation the carbon price is fixed until June 2015 by which time it will have risen to $29 a tonne. Then it will float and effectively rise and fall in line with the international price. But with the European price crashed to around $6 a tonne there has been strong pressure from business groups, and some of the crossbench independents, to bring forward the float. Under Julia Gillard, Labor looked at this option, but in the end resisted it, in part because it had more complicated knock-on effects than are immediately apparent for the rest of the carbon pricing legislation, and in part because it would blow a hole in the budget, slashing revenue from carbon permits by around $6bn this financial year and next. The Gillard government has already scrapped proposed post-2015 tax cuts because the carbon price will now be lower than projected when the cuts were offered in the original carbon tax package.
This presents a conundrum for Rudd, but cabinet has already been considering what one source said was a “smorgasboard” of options to try to revive regional processing and find ways to stymie the people-smuggling trade. Some were scheduled to be discussed at a meeting between Gillard and the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, on 5 July. Rudd has not yet confirmed whether he will attend these annual bilateral talks.
Backbenchers say the increasing arrival of asylum seekers’ boats has been “killing” the government politically. But when Rudd stood down in 2010 as he faced certain defeat at the hands of Gillard, he urged Labor not to “lurch to the right” on asylum policy. With the rising number of boats already causing political problems, he had resisted pressure from rightwing factional leaders to resurrect tougher asylum policies. Gillard did adopt many of the policies of the Howard government, but the arrivals continued to increase.
On Wednesday night Rudd repeated a phrase he used at his very first press conference after he was elected leader of the Labor party in December 2006 with Julia Gillard as his deputy: that he “didn’t want to be a prime minister of a country that didn’t make things any more”. Gillard made some cuts to the “green car fund” Rudd set up in the midst of the global financial crisis to win written assurances from the car companies about their future investment plans. Ford has since announced its intention to close its Australian operations. Rudd promised to restore car industry funding when he contested the leadership in February 2012. Key Rudd backer Senator Kim Carr could return to the industry portfolio that Greg Combet has vacated.
What Labor needs to do to win the election: panel verdict
The dust has settled. Kevin Rudd is in. But what does Labor need to tackle, policy wise, to win against Tony Abbott?
Marieke Hardy, Ben Eltham, Stella Young, Celeste Liddle, Ben Pobjie
guardian.co.uk, Friday 28 June 2013 00.20 BST
Marieke Hardy: What Labor needs now is unity
All of us have experienced the horrors of a bad boss. The boss who is a bad communicator, the boss who expects us to work late when we're unwell, the boss we secretly dream of ditching by means of a brilliant riposte and a swift, well-timed kick of their umbrella stand on the way out. Kevin Rudd was once that boss. When the smoke of this chaotic week clears, he may still be. But that's Labor's problem now. And the onus is on them to deal with it internally, o fold over their chaotic hotbed of thrusts and parries and neatly stitch the past closed. To get on, in short, with the effing job.
Unity can't be that hard. All they need do is glance over the game plan of the Coalition after that last, distant leadership spill in 2009 and follow suit. Turnbull v Abbott. Even Joe Hockey gamely threw his hat into the ring back then, though presumably afterwards he simply high-fived everybody and insisted he had only been joking. After Abbott faced the media with a few muttered platitudes about remaining gracious, that was it – Hockey and Turnbull fell seamlessly into line, and the Coalition presented as a plausibly functional family unit.
Turnbull's teeth must be ground down to nubs by now. And yet he perseveres. Why? Because the Coalition understand, better than most, the meaning of "the greater good". For all that has come before, Labor must now shut up and unite. With dignity and with honour. It can't be that hard.
Celeste Liddle: Labor needs to re-engage with its left wing
I feel depleted over the Labor party's recent leadership change. Labor has been considered Australia's left-wing party since its inception. At this point in time though, through a number of their policies as well as their lack of solidarity particularly as leadership spill rumours swirled and Gillard continued to be attacked on the basis of her gender, I feel they have isolated a large proportion of their socialist left and have appeared politically weak. A number of my peers have expressed uncertainty and dismay at the choices going into this election and believe that the centre of Australian politics has shifted so far right that a powerful party with clear and humane social policies is currently lacking.
To win the election, I feel the Labor party needs to re-engage with its left wing. It could regain some lost votes if it looked at embracing a more humane policy on asylum seekers. It could regain votes if it committed to working collaboratively with Indigenous communities across the country, rather than just continuing the NT Intervention under a different name and rolling it out to affect more people. Reinstating university funding rather than cutting it again, this time to fund the Gonski reforms, makes sense for a party that believes in quality education for all. The ALP should make a particular effort to embrace the many women and men who fight for gender equality and who are feeling quite shaken right now. More than anything though, the ALP needs to show strength, leadership and solidarity.
Ben Eltham: Their best chance? To build a time machine
It's hard to see what the government could do to win from here. When you look at the cold hard numbers, the government's task is nearly hopeless.
Labor's parlous standing in the electorate means that Rudd starts this campaign at something like 18 points behind in the primary vote, or 12 points down in two-party preferred terms. Even a spectacularly successful campaign might hope to pull back seven or eight points. Bridging the current divide looks unimaginable.
The 2010 results have left a swag of ALP seats on razor-thin majorities; even a slight swing to Tony Abbott will deliver the Coalition six to 10 gains. For instance, Corangamite, Deakin, Greenway, Robertson, Lindsay, and Moreton are all on margins of 1.2% or less. But it gets worse. To retain government, Labor actually needs to poll better than the Opposition, not merely repeat the result last time. The retirement of Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor almost certainly gives two seats to the Coalition. Throw in Craig Thomson's seat of Dobell and Labor's electoral pendulum is already calibrated in the negative by three seats.
The government's eroded economic credibility and poor ratings on border security means that the traditional tactics of showering the electorate with tax cuts and running a fear campaign on asylum seekers are compromised, even if Labor might try them anyway. Perhaps Rudd hopes that by putting enough pressure on Abbott, he can induce a 2007-style campaign meltdown from the opposition leader. But with the Coalition this far ahead, even that might not be enough.
Labor's best chance of winning the election is to build a time-machine. If Rudd could transport the nation back to early 2010, he could avoid some of the critical errors he committed on the way to being dumped the first time. What a shame the government has recently cut back on research funding.
Stella Young: Rudd needs to inspire Australians again
On 1 July 2013, the lives of many Australians will change for the better. Monday is the day the National Disability Insurance Scheme moves from being an idea to a reality. In several launch sites around Australia, people with disabilities will finally be able to start making concrete plans for their futures.
For decades, we have not only been left off the political agenda and grumbled about as a "problem"; we've been locked up (sometimes literally) and left behind. As my girl Florence (of The Machine) Welch would say, the "dog days are over". That's how this feels; like it's finally time for us to be aspirational. A friend of mine who has lived with seriously inadequate support for the last 10 years is brimming with ideas about what kind of career she might embark on now that she'll be able to shower more than twice a week. Such is the magnitude of this change.
Indeed, aspiration is one of the fundamental principles of this reform. It's reminiscent of when Rudd became prime minister in the Rudd-slide of 2007. Australians were so ready for change. It was our Obama moment, and the aspiration for a different kind of Australia to the one we knew was palpable.
A return to the aspiration Australians associated with Rudd could be Labor's best chance. Just as we've changed the conversation about disability, from one that framed us as problems and burdens, to one in which we represent citizens with great untapped potential, we can change the way we talk about what kind of country we want to be. The leaders of our nation are supposed to move us to aim higher and do better. At least that'd be a damn good place to start.
Ben Pobjie: When everything fails ... it's time to explore Plan B
A political party's prime purpose is to develop positive policies for the betterment of the country. But the voters don't really seem to like it when you do that, so it's probably time for Labor to stop it. What the Australian people really want from their politicians is aggression. Voters want to feel that a political party is willing to rip shreds off its opposition on their behalf.
So it's time for the Labor party to become as nasty as possible. It should focus its attentions on Abbott, obviously: attack his ears, the weird way he walks, his ill-fitting suits, his inability to start a sentence without saying "ah", and anything else they can think of. Also, try to use as many hilarious catchphrases as possible: for example "the LIEberal party", "the leader of the STROPposition", "Christopher WHINE", "LNP must stand for Little Nerdy Pussies". That sort of thing.
Rumours are also useful: if Labor can spread a few rumours about what Julie Bishop puts in her hair to make it stay that way, it'll sow doubt in voters' minds as to whether she is the sort of person heading the country. The important thing is to keep it simple. People don't like governments that go on and on about "doing things". It confuses and enrages them. Australia wants one thing and one thing only from its government: to hear about why the other guys are terrible. It's up to Labor to have the courage to give us that.
Was Julia Gillard the most productive prime minister in Australia's history?
We measure the legislative output of all of Australia's governments and prime ministers
How do we measure the effectiveness of a government? There are polls, both of opinion and at the ballot box, but these don't really offer us any measure of effectiveness. You can look at the economy and measure the health of the populace - and these are both good indicators - but are not wholly under the influence of the government of the day.
One way might be to look at the ability of a government to pass legislation. Admittedly this is a quantity over quality approach, but it does offer us a quantitative measure of a government, political party or prime minister. Someone that gets a lot of legislation passed might be considered to be good at getting things done.
I took all of the Commonwealth of Australia Numbered Acts and assigned them to a prime minister, political party, and parliament based on the date of assent of the act. This isn't entirely exact, as some legislation may be introduced under one PM and passed under another, though I believe it is a good proxy.
From this dataset, I counted the total acts for each PM, party, and parliament. Then, I determined the number of days in office for each PM, and the number of days each parliament and party governed. Using these figures you can calculate a rate of acts per day, which accounts for different lengths of prime ministers' or governments' terms.
Julia Gillard had the highest rate of passing legislation with a rate of 0.495, followed by Bob Hawke at 0.491:
June 27, 2013
Mobile Deal in Myanmar Elicits Anger Over Religion
By THOMAS FULLER
The Myanmar government awarded major telecommunications contracts to two foreign companies on Thursday, a milestone in the country’s opening up to the world that was immediately tainted by religious hatred.
Hours after the announcement, a monk who is one of the leaders of a radical nationalist Buddhist movement called for a boycott of one of the two companies because it is based in Qatar, a Muslim country.
“Did the government have such little choice?” the monk, Ashin Wimala, a leader of the 969 movement, said in a telephone interview after the government announced the winners late Thursday. “Why did they award this to a Muslim company?”
The company, Ooredoo, won a 15-year concession to build and operate mobile phone networks virtually from scratch, as did Telenor Mobile Communications of Norway.
The networks are crucially needed in Myanmar, where less than 10 percent of people have a mobile phone. That is a startlingly low number at a time when mobile phones are ubiquitous even in the poorest corners of the world. In neighboring Laos, a country with similar levels of grinding poverty, mobile phone penetration is 87 percent.
But in a country that is 90 percent Buddhist and where anti-Muslim sermons and hate speech appear to have fueled rampaging lynch mobs, the award to Ooredoo drew fury.
On the Facebook page where the government announcement was posted, critical comments quickly accumulated. “Why? Why? Why Muslim company omg,” said one. “Say no to Ooredoo,” said another.
The government stood by its selection of the company, which operates in more than a dozen countries in the Middle East, North Africa and Southeast Asia. “We selected them for a license on the basis of their services: they have a good telecom service in Singapore,” U Ye Htut, a government spokesman, said by telephone.
In recent months, the leaders of the 969 movement have called for a boycott of shops owned by Muslims and products that they say are linked to companies owned by Muslims. The movement says the country’s Buddhist character is under threat and has proposed banning marriages between Muslims and Buddhists.
Over the last year, Buddhist lynch mobs have killed more than 200 Muslims and forced more than 150,000 people, mostly Muslims, from their homes.
On Sunday, the movement appeared to receive the blessing of President Thein Sein when he issued a statement calling Ashin Wirathu, the spiritual leader of the movement, “a son of Lord Buddha.”
How powerful the movement’s objections will prove remains to be seen. The telecommunication licenses are a potent symbol of Myanmar’s transition from decades of isolation under military rule to newfound freedoms for the country’s 55 million people.
The government pushed ahead with the announcement, even though members of Parliament voted Wednesday to delay awarding the contracts until a telecommunications bill currently being debated becomes law. Mr. Thein Sein wants voters to feel tangible results from the country’s economic liberalization and democratization before general elections scheduled for 2015.
Three years ago, when Myanmar was still under military rule, mobile phones were the preserve of the rich. The conditions of the license calls for a swift rollout: coverage must reach a quarter of the population within a year. Within five years, half of the population must have access to cellular data services and three-quarters must be able to make voice calls.
Both Ooredoo and Telenor have deep pockets, analysts say, a critical factor in Myanmar where the huge scale of the investment will require billions of dollars.
The chairman of Ooredoo, Sheik Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Saud al-Thani, issued a statement on Thursday saying that Myanmar would “undoubtedly become a key market” for the company.
Eric Pfanner and Wai Moe contributed reporting.
Chinese wind-turbine firm charged with stealing US trade secrets
Sinovel Wind Group accused of illegally downloading software from former supplier American Superconductor
Staff and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Friday 28 June 2013 10.38 BST
China's largest wind-turbine company has been charged with stealing trade secrets from its American former software supplier, the US justice department has announced.
Sinovel Wind Group and two of its executives were indicted in a federal court in Madison, Wisconsin, on Thursday. A former employee of the Massachusetts-based American Superconductor (AMSC) pleaded guilty in Klagenfurt, Austria, to stealing a source code for turbine controllers.
The trio are charged with stealing software developed in the US by downloading it from an AMSC computer in Middleton, Wisconsin, to a computer in Austria.
Sinovel's deputy director of research and development department, Su Liying, the firm's technology manager, Zhao Haichun, and Dejan Karabasevic have each been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit trade secret theft, theft of trade secrets and wire fraud. The company did not respond to requests for comment.
AMSC, which claimed the stolen software was used in four Sinovel turbines installed in Massachusetts, called for the Obama administration and Congress to re-evaluate the US trade relationship with China.
Daniel McGahn, the company's president, said: "The fact that Sinovel has exported stolen American intellectual property from China back into the United States, less than 40 miles from our global headquarters, shows not only a blatant disrespect for intellectual property but a disregard for international trade law." More than 500 AMSC employees worldwide lost their jobs as a result of the theft, he added.
The company said it had filed four civil actions against Sinovel in China in March 2011 after Sinovel broke several contracts, and lodged a criminal complaint against the company and some of its employees, without success.
The attorney for the western district of Wisconsin, John Vaudreuil, said on Friday: "The allegations in this indictment describe a well-planned attack on an American business by international defendants – nothing short of attempted corporate homicide."
AMSC said the software was designed to regulate the flow of electricity from wind turbines to electrical grids and to keep the turbines operational during a dip in power.
If convicted, Sinovel could face fines of up to $1.6bn (£1bn) for each count, while Su, Zhao and Karabasevic could each be jailed for up to 35 years.
June 27, 2013
Public Rage Catching Up With Brazil’s Congress
By SIMON ROMERO
RIO DE JANEIRO — One politician was elected to Brazil’s Congress while under investigation for murder after having an adversary killed with a chain saw. Another is wanted by Interpol after being found guilty of diverting more than $10 million from a public road project to offshore bank accounts.
And Brazil’s highest court, the Supreme Federal Tribunal, convicted another congressman of having poor female constituents, who could not afford more children, surgically sterilized in exchange for their votes.
Across the nation, protesters keep taking to the streets by the thousands, venting their anger at a broad range of politicians and problems, including high taxes and deplorable public services. But a special ire has been reserved for Congress and its penchant for sheltering dozens of generously paid legislators who have been charged — and sometimes even convicted — of crimes like money laundering, bribery, drug trafficking, kidnapping and murder.
“Congress is without a doubt the most despised institution in Brazil,” said Maurício Santoro, a political scientist. “A good deal of this hatred is related to the fact that Congress has a tradition of preventing its own members convicted of crimes from ever going to jail.”
Almost 200 legislators, or a third of Brazil’s Congress, are facing charges in trials overseen by the Supreme Federal Tribunal, according to documents compiled by Congresso em Foco, a prominent watchdog group. The charges range from siphoning off public funds to far more serious claims of employing slave labor on a cattle estate or ordering the kidnapping of three Roman Catholic priests as part of a land dispute in the Amazon.
Scholars of Brazil’s judicial system say legislators in corruption scandals often avoid jail, in part because of the special judicial standing enjoyed by about 700 senior political figures in the country, including all 594 members of Congress and senior cabinet members.
The standing allows these people to be tried only in the Supreme Federal Tribunal, producing years of delays in an institution bogged down by many other pressing matters in Brazilian society. Until 2001, politicians could not even be tried without the authorization of Congress, a function of the deference traditionally paid to elected officials in the legal system.
As longstanding frustrations with corruption boil over on Brazil’s streets this month, protesters have clashed with security forces in front of Congress, with some dancing on the roof in a brazen repudiation that stunned the nation.
Just as surprising to many Brazilians, Congress is now scrambling to cobble together a response. This week, legislators approved a bill to use oil royalties for education and health care. The Senate, the upper house of Congress, gave its nod to stiffer penalties for corruption, and the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, shot down an attempt to rein in corruption investigators. Senators are elected for eight-year terms, while members of the Chamber of Deputies serve four-year terms.
Also, a powerful congressional committee approved a measure to lift the veil of secrecy when lawmakers vote on whether to strip fellow members of Congress of their seats.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Federal Tribunal ordered the immediate arrest of Natan Donadon, a congressman found guilty in 2010 of embezzlement — a rare attempt to try to imprison a sitting congressman. The last time the high court made a similar move was during the military dictatorship in 1974, when justices ordered a legislator arrested for opposing a visit by the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.
Still, the fury builds in one protest after another.
“These wolves, that trash over there, they rob the people, they feast on the meat of the people by stealing public money destined to do things for us,” said Caio Fabio de Oliveira, 45, a civil servant in the Health Ministry, who was among the demonstrators against Congress this week in the capital, Brasília. “It is shameful for the Brazilian people; I work for the government, and I’m ashamed every day.”
Brazil’s Congress has a long history of behavior among its members that has contributed to such feelings of anger. In 1963, Senator Arnon de Mello shot dead a fellow legislator on the Senate floor, only to escape imprisonment, since the killing was considered an accident because he was aiming at another senator.
That gun-wielding senator’s son, Fernando Collor de Mello, was elected president of Brazil in 1989 and impeached amid a flurry of corruption charges in 1992. Yet in a political resurrection that dismayed anticorruption activists, he was elected to the Senate in 2006 and retains his seat, even as he remains embroiled in a case in the Supreme Federal Tribunal in which he is accused of profiting from an advertising contract scheme during his brief presidency.
Even when lawmakers are convicted and sentenced for crimes, it can be difficult for them to lose their seats.
José Genoino Guimarães Neto, the former president of the governing Workers Party, was sentenced to almost seven years in prison in 2012 for his role in a vast vote-buying scheme. But he and three other legislators found guilty in the scandal avoided expulsion from the lower house after party leaders resisted the high court’s order for them to be unseated.
Despite the prosecutor general’s contention that the convicted officials should have begun serving their sentences immediately after the court announced them in November, no one has gone to jail yet for the scheme, which was revealed to the public eight years ago, in 2005.
“In a universe where corrupt politicians are seldom removed from office, there are few institutional incentives for effective oversight and punishment,” said Matthew Taylor, an expert on Brazil’s legal system at American University in Washington.
Some crimes by lawmakers have been impossible to brush off.
Talvane Alburquerque, a legislator from Alagoas in northeast Brazil, was found guilty in 2012 of ordering the murder in 1998 of another member of Congress, Ceci Cunha. That killing allowed Mr. Alburquerque, Ms. Cunha’s stand-in, to temporarily take her seat in Brasília. An appeals court rejected this month a request from Mr. Alburquerque to be paroled from prison.
Then there is Hildebrando Pascoal, commonly called the “chain saw congressman.” When he ran for office, it was public knowledge that he was being investigated for operating a death squad in a remote corner of the Amazon, employing tactics like throwing victims into vats of acid or dismembering them with chain saws. But he still won by a large margin and served in Congress before he was stripped of his seat, convicted and sent to prison.
Beyond the criminal charges, voters have expressed disdain for the benefits enjoyed by congressmen, including salaries of more than $175,000 a year; generous stipends equaling almost that amount for items like housing, gasoline and electoral research; and budgets allowing them to hire as many as 25 aides each.
The frustration toward traditional politicians is so high that Congress now includes Francisco Everardo Oliveira Silva, a professional clown better known as Tiririca, or Grumpy, who was elected in 2010 to Brazil’s lower house with more ballots in his favor than any candidate in the nation’s history.
In fact, candidates from outside the establishment have been making inroads in Congress, illustrating how an institution once dominated by powerful landowners has grown more diverse. Prominent legislators now include Romário de Souza Faria, the former soccer star who is now condemning Brazil’s costly preparations for the 2014 World Cup — a rallying cry for protesters around the nation — and Jean Wyllys de Matos Santos, an openly gay member of the lower house who has emerged as an important voice on human rights issues.
But for every such newcomer, there are established power brokers in Congress who seem to remain impervious to the calls on the streets for a radical overhaul of the legislature.
One legislator who has become a target of scorn in the protests is Renan Calheiros, who resigned as president of the Senate in 2007 amid reports that a lobbyist paid for the child support of his daughter from an extramarital affair with a journalist who posed in the Brazilian edition of Playboy.
At the time, Mr. Calheiros, who denied the claims, comfortably survived a vote forced by some senators trying to oust him from their chamber. This year, he returned to his previous post as the Senate’s president, seemingly unscathed by the scandal until his name starting appearing, alongside insults, on the signs held aloft by protesters. He remains in his post.
“Congress thinks they are the owners of the country,” said Laila Oliveira, 30, a high school teacher who lives near Brasília. “And they are not.”
Lucy Jordan contributed reporting from Brasília, and Lis Horta Moriconi from Rio de Janeiro.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: June 28, 2013
An earlier version of this article misspelled the surname of a legislator from northeast Brazil who was found guilty in 2012 of ordering the 1998 murder of another lawmaker. He is Talvane Alburquerque, not Albuquerque.
NASA baffled as Voyager 1 enters unknown region of space
Thursday, June 27, 2013 18:07 EDT
By Irene Klotz
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) – Reports last summer than NASA’s long-lived Voyager 1 space probe had finally left the solar system turned out to be a bit premature, scientists said on Thursday.
Rather, the spacecraft, which was launched in 1977 for a five-year mission to study Jupiter and Saturn, has found itself in a previously unknown region between the outermost part of the solar system and interstellar space.
It is an unusual and unexpected thoroughfare, a place where charged particles from the sun have virtually disappeared and those coming from galactic cosmic rays beyond the solar system are plentiful.
By that measure alone, scientists initially thought Voyager 1 did indeed finally reach interstellar space on August 25, 2012, becoming the first man-made object to leave the solar system.
But one key measurement killed that theory. The magnetic field in which Voyager 1 traveled was still aligned like the sun’s. If the probe were truly in interstellar space, scientists expect that the direction of the magnetic field would be different.
“You can never exclude a really peculiar coincidence, but this was very strong evidence that we’re still in the heliosheath” – the bubble of plasma from the sun that surrounds the solar system, said Voyager scientist Leonard Burlaga, with NASA’s Goddard Space Fight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
Additional measurements later turned up a second odd reading. The cosmic ray particles were not uniformly distributed around Voyager 1 like scientists expected them to be in interstellar space. Instead, the charged particles, which stem from distant supernova explosions, were oriented in particular directions.
That led scientists to conclude that Voyager 1 was in some sort of magnetic boundary zone, where particles from inside and outside the solar system could easily swap places, but where the sun’s influence still reigns supreme.
“We have no explanation for why we even found this new region,” Burlaga told Reuters.
So far, Voyager’s sister probe, Voyager 2, which is exiting the solar system in a different direction, has not encountered the same phenomena – nor may it ever.
“Voyager 2 has seen exactly what the models predicted we would see, unlike Voyager 1, which didn’t,” said lead scientist Ed Stone, with the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California.
Voyager 1 may be in an unusual place where the heliosheath and interstellar space connect, he added.
Voyager 1 is now about 11 billion miles (18 billion km) from Earth. At that distance, it takes radio signals, which move at the speed of light, 17 hours to make a one-way trip to Earth.
Scientists do not know how much farther Voyager has to travel to reach interstellar space. The spacecraft, which is powered by the slow decay of radioactive plutonium, will begin running out of energy for its science instruments in 2020. By 2025, it will be completely out of power.
The research appears in the journal Science this week.
(Editing by Kevin Gray)
The Christian Science Monitor
Straight from the horse's toe: The world's oldest genome
Scientists have reconstructed the genome of a horse that lived some 700,000-years-ago, mapping out the evolutionary history of the modern horse.
By Elizabeth Barber, Contributor / June 26, 2013 at 6:45 pm EDT
Researchers have sequenced the genome of a horse that lived some 700,000 years ago – the oldest genome ever sequenced – making it possible to reconstruct an evolutionary narrative of the modern horse, whose journey through history has been intimately bound to our own.
According to a study published in the current issue of the scientific journal, Nature, the genome, of an ancient horse that lived in what is now Canada’s Yukon, is about 10 times older than the previous oldest genome, of a human that lived about 70,000 years ago. That means the hindsight of paleogenomics has been dialed backwards some 630,000 years from where it was, offering up the extraordinary possibility that scientists may be able to reproduce our prehistoric record in greater detail than ever before, tracing not just the evolution of horses but – tantalizingly – of humans.
"We have beaten the time barrier,” said evolutionary biologist Ludovic Orlando of the University of Copenhagen, a lead author of the study, in a statement. “All of a sudden, you have access to many more extinct species than you could have ever dreamed of sequencing before.”
Discovered in 2003, the ancient horse bones were bound in the world’s oldest known permafrost at Canada’s remote Thistle Creek site. A multinational team of scientists, headed by Dr. Orlando and Eske Willerslev, also of the University of Copenhagen, then extracted DNA from one of the animal’s toes after determining that the bone was a promising candidate to still have viable DNA: had the DNA not been kept cold and dry, it would have not survived those more than half-million years.
Sequencing DNA as fantastically old as that of the ice-encased horse is tough work, and the successful mapping of its genome is a testament to just how far sequencing technology has come, since the first genome, of a virus that infects bacteria, was sequenced in 1976.
The scientists mulled over fragmented and deteriorating DNA, building from disjointed strings of just 25 individual letters a complex genome that is billions of bases long. And since the DNA had accumulated bacteria tenants during its long, icy repose, scientists also had to ferret out which sequences belonged to the horse, and which to the bacteria.
That complex sequencing needed fact checking. To confirm the horse’s age, scientists compared it to younger horses’ genomes, sequencing a DNA sample from the frozen bones of a horse some 43,000-years-old, as well as samples from a donkey, five modern domestic horses, and a wild horse native to Mongolia. They say they are now confident that the horse is a staggering 700,000 years old.
Scientists had once believed that horses had followed a simple, linear evolutionary road – the sort that can be easily printed onto a T-shirt – growing from a tiny version to the modern domesticated horse, frolicking cowboy astride it. But recent developments have complicated that linearity, suggesting that the horse’s evolution looked less like a T-shirt design and more like an unruly river, swelling to enormous volumes and pitching over waterfalls, and splitting off into tributaries, some with dead-ends.
The data from the ancient horse, coupled with the data collected from the younger horse and modern samples, now suggests that Equus lineage, which includes all living horses, zebras, and donkeys, evolved from a common ancestor that galloped across the intermittently frozen grasslands some 4 million years ago – about twice as long ago as was previously believed.
“This means that our horse evolutionary record stretches back 700,000 years,” Beth Shapiro, one of the senior authors on the paper and an associate professor at The University of California at Santa Cruz, told the Monitor.
The amalgamated data also helps to tell a narrative of natural selection that created the domestic horse, Shapiro said. Scientists looked at genetic variants known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the horse’s DNA to investigate which variants had been selected throughout the horse’s evolutionary trajectory, identifying some 29 regions in the domestic horse’s genome where variants were favored over time. The Mongolian horse, called Przewalski's horse, is now believed to be the last surviving wild horse, after being isolated from the domestic horse's lineage some 50,000 years ago.
And the new data has contributed to scientists’ understanding of the population booms and busts that have dotted and complicated the horse’s evolutionary trajectory, said Dr. Shapiro – “We can now ask how large scale geological changes affected the diversity of horses,” she said.
Scientists now believe that horses have undergone some three cycles of population peaks and valleys over about two million years, with the most recent high-point during a glacier-covered period some 25,000 years ago, at the end of the last ice age. Cold periods provided sufficient grasslands for horses, while warm spells created forests than sent the horse population plunging, the scientists said.
But perhaps the most stunning part of the discovery is the very discovery itself: the fact that scientists were able to reach so far backwards in the animal kingdom’s evolutionary path and then piece together a rough tale of where the domestic horse came from, and how it did so.
The challenge for scientists now lies in recovering DNA from bones found in warmer and wetter zones, where the DNA is often so mangled that it is beyond the investigative limits of current sequencing technology, Shapiro said. To extract that DNA, if any is left at all, scientists will need currently unavailable technology to put together complete genomes from the tiniest fragments of decomposed DNA.
“It’s not that all of a sudden we’re going to be able to get DNA out of any bone,” said Dr. Shapiro. “To do so we will have to be able to capture the smallest fragments of DNA, and in most cases there won’t be any DNA left in a bone that’s 700,000 years old.”
The field of paleogenetics has been in rapid acceleration in recent years, especially in studies of human bones. The previous oldest genome was sequenced from DNA extracted from the pinky of a 70,000-year-old girl found in Siberia’s Denisova Cave.
In the USA...
Retired U.S. Marine Gen. James Cartwright under investigation for alleged Stuxnet leak
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, June 28, 2013 7:02 EDT
A former high-ranking US military officer is being probed for allegedly leaking details about a US cyberattack on Iran, a US media report said.
Citing unnamed legal sources, NBC News said retired Marine Gen. James Cartwright has been told he is under investigation for allegedly disclosing details about the Stuxnet attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Cartwright, 63, is the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The four-star general retired from the military in August 2011.
Stuxnet, tailored specifically to target Iran’s uranium enrichment operation, struck Iran in 2010 and reportedly dealt a serious blow to its disputed nuclear program.
In its report, NBC referenced a New York Times story published last year that mentioned Cartwright. The story also said the National Security Agency had developed Stuxnet in tandem with the Israelis.
Tehran is at odds with Washington and its allies who fear Iran’s nuclear activity is aimed at developing atomic weapons. But Iran insists its program is solely for peaceful purposes.
NBC News, again citing unnamed legal sources, said an original FBI investigation into the Stuxnet leak had focused on a possible White House source. By last year however, agents were honing on on Cartwright, it added.
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to an AFP request for comment. NBC News quoted Cartwright’s attorney, former White House counsel Greg Craig, as saying he had no comment.
NYPD collaborated with CIA on surveillance after 9/11
By Ryan Devereaux, The Guardian
Thursday, June 27, 2013 20:39 EDT
Campaigners for greater accountability at New York’s powerful police force have seized on a report that details for the first time the extent of the collaboration between the CIA and the NYPD in the years after 9/11.
The formerly-classified inspector general’s report also raises new questions over whether the spy agency’s partnership with the nation’s largest police department amounted to unofficial cover for CIA officers to operate in the US in ways that could otherwise be deemed unlawful.
The 12-page document, first described in a New York Times article published Wednesday night, contains the December 2011 findings of an investigation into the CIA’s training and support of the NYPD that included embedding four officers in the department in the decade following the September 11 attacks.
According to the report, one of the individuals engaged in surveillance operations on US soil and believed there were “no limitations” on his activities. The report said another officer was given “unfiltered” access to police reports that had nothing to do with foreign intelligence.
The partnership led to “irregular personnel practices,” devoid of “formal documentation in some important instances,” CIA inspector David B Buckley found. While the review found no agency employees in violation of the law and Buckley determined “an insufficient basis to merit a full investigation” into the partnership, the inspector general did say that the “risks associated with the agency’s relationship with NYPD were not fully considered and that there was inadequate direction and control by the agency managers responsible for the relationship.”
The inquiry was prompted by a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of investigative stories by the Associated Press into the NYPD’s intelligence division. David Cohen, a veteran CIA officer with no police experience, was the architect of the NYPD’s spy program and remains the department’s deputy commissioner for intelligence. The AP found that under Cohen and commissioner Ray Kelly, the intelligence division has targeted over 250 mosques along the east coast, infiltrated student groups, and mapped Muslim neighborhoods for surveillance.
The NYPD has steadfastly defended its efforts, arguing that its counterterrorism operations have stopped 14 terrorist plots since September 11 (though the NYPD’s centrality and/or credibility in virtually every alleged plot has been called into question.)
“We’re proud of our relationship with CIA and its training,” NYPD spokesman Paul Browne told the New York Times, adding terrorists “keep coming and we keep pushing back.”
In an extended interview with the Wall Street Journal in April, Commissioner Kelly was asked if changes had been made to the NYPD’s surveillance programs in the wake of the AP series. “No,” he said.
Speaking to the Guardian Thursday, NYPD critics expressed concern over the details revealed in the IG report.
“This is deeply troubling because, at the very least, it’s clear that there was insufficient legal guidance and oversight for this relationship,” Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s national security project told said. Shamsi is a lead attorney on lawsuit filed last week on behalf of several Muslim community members and organizations accusing the NYPD of unlawful surveillance.
“A key question is what information went back and forth between people even if they, at least formally, appear to have severed their relationship with the CIA,” she said. “It is very clear that there was insufficient legal guidance and oversight and that what should be a clear firewall between the CIA and local law enforcement, in terms of law enforcement and intelligence gathering, appears to be porous.”
Shamsi said “the extent to which these people who were from the CIA had access to CIA databases, operations and information while they were embedded with the NYPD” remained murky. “That’s the thing the report doesn’t address,” she said.
Faizal Patel, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, said in an email to the Guardian that the report confirmed much of what has been reported or suspected in previous years, but expressed fear that the police department had internalized the worldview of an intelligence agency.
“We already knew that the CIA inspector general was concerned about irregularities in the assignment of CIA officers to the NYPD. The IG report shows that the concern was more serious than personnel issues, but touched on the agency’s involvement in purely domestic intelligence operations,” she said.
Patel said that “at least one CIA analyst claimed that he was given unfettered access to NYPD intelligence reports” but added “the bigger issue, in my mind, is the extent to which the CIA’s way of working influenced the NYPD’s intelligence program.”
“Brooklyn is not Baghdad,” Patel said. “All New Yorkers have a stake in the city’s safety and should be treated as partners in fighting crime and terrorism. The CIA, of course, operates in very different environments. My concern is that a mindset forged in counterinsurgency operations unduly shaped the NYPD’s intelligence operations, especially its Muslim surveillance program.”
The Freedom of Information Act that eventually resulted in the disclosure of the inspector general’s report was filed 28 March, 2012 by Ginger McCall, director of the Open Government Project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington DC-based non-partisan non-profit. The IG report shows the CIA has been dishonest in describing its relationship with the NYPD, McCall told the Guardian.
“The report indicates that the CIA was not forthright with the American public about its activities,” she said, noting that the review detailed the work of four CIA employees with the department. Prior reporting had indicated there were only two. Some of those individuals, McCall said, “did have the opportunity to participate in domestic surveillance and domestic-focused investigations.”
Attorney Jethro Eisenstein has been at the head of four-decade lawsuit accusing the NYPD of violating a set of department rules prohibiting the investigation of political activity in the absence of an indication of illegal activity. Known as Handschu, the rules were developed in response to the department’s past surveillance of radical and activist groups. The rules are now at the heart of the legal debate the NYPD’s CIA-backed surveillance of Muslim communities.
Speaking to the Guardian, Eisenstein paraphrased the CIA’s assessment of its work with the NYPD, as described in the IG report, “‘We were very sloppy in dealing with the NYPD, and maybe we got too deep in bed with them, and maybe we shouldn’t be doing that.’”
Eisentein said former CIA officer Cohen’s appointment to the department brought about a dangerous shift. “Once Cohen came aboard, the whole ethos of the place changed,” he said. “They stopped being cops. They started being an intelligence agency. As far as intelligence agencies are concerned, the more information about the more people, the better. And that’s contrary to what the Handschu rules say.”
“It’s a whole different mindset. Law enforcement is about identifying, stopping illegal activity or apprehending people who have engaged in illegal activity. It’s a totally different model from intelligence gathering,” he said. Eisentein said the shift represents “a huge danger.”
“Somebody needs to look at what’s gone on in these 12 years,” he said.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
Senate approves comprehensive immigration reform bill
By Eric W. Dolan
Thursday, June 27, 2013 16:32 EDT
The Senate approved a comprehensive immigration reform bill by a 68-32 vote on Thursday afternoon. The bill now moves to the Republican-led House of Representatives, where it faces an uncertain future.
The bill gained support from key Republicans thanks to a $46 billion provision to militarize the U.S.-Mexico border. However, many Republicans said the provision was not enough to offset the 13-year pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants the legislation would provide.
Fourteen Senate Republicans joined Democrats to approve the bill.
“The Senate’s passage of immigration reform legislation is important but just one step in a long march towards justice. Today’s vote should send an unmistakable signal to the House of Representatives to take action to move immigration reform forward, delivering a real solution to our broken immigration system,” Evelyn Rivera of United We Dream said in a statement.
“Senator Pat Leahy (D-VT) and Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) made passing immigration reform a top priority and worked with leaders from both parties to move the bill quickly through the Senate,” she continued.
“Now it’s up to Speaker Boehner to follow suit—pass immigration reform with a real roadmap to citizenship this year. So far, his caucus has voted for extreme anti-immigrant legislation and slammed DREAMers by undermining the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program. House leaders have an opportunity to get on the right side of history and will have to answer to DREAMers, and voters, if they don’t.”
Treasury IG denies allegations IRS audit was politically biased
By Eric W. Dolan
Thursday, June 27, 2013 15:58 EDT
Treasury Inspector General J. Russell George fought back Thursday against “inaccurate” media reports that suggested his bombshell IRS audit was biased.
His office told several media outlets on Tuesday that the audit focused solely on tea party groups at the request of House Republicans. In a letter to Rep. Sander M. Levin (D-MI), George denied that the audit improperly omitted information on the treatment of progressive and liberal groups.
He insisted that tea party groups were treated differently than other groups.
Between May 2010 and May 2012, the investigators found that 100 percent of tea party applications were referred for additional scrutiny as potential political cases, George said. In contrast, only 30 percent of groups having the words “progress” or “progressive” in their names were referred for additional scrutiny as potential political cases.
Of the 298 cases the IRS identified as potential political cases between May 2010 and May 2012, only six contained the words “progress” or “progressive.”
However, George also admitted that the treatment of progressive and liberal groups was not fully investigated because they were included on a section of so-called “Be On the Look Out” lists that was unrelated to political cases. The audit only focused on how the IRS treated potential political cases.
“TIGTA did not audit how the criteria for the ‘Progressives’ identifier were developed in the BOLO listings,” George said.
The BOLO listing categorized the tea party under the “Emerging Issue” section, which was used to identify potential political cases. The BOLO listing categorized progressives under the “TAG Historical” section. George said investigators did not find evidence that this latter section was used as selection criteria for potential political cases.
“The term ‘Progressives’ appears, beginning in August 2010, in a separate section of the BOLO listings that was labeled ‘TAG [Touch and Go] Historical’ or ‘Potential Abusive Historical,’” George explained. “The Touch and Go group within the Exempt Organizations function Determinations Unit is a different group of specialists than the team of specialists that was processing potential political cases related to the allegations we audited.”
According to the IRS manual, the Touch and Go group processes tax exempt applications that “may involve an abusive tax avoidance transaction, fraud, or terrorism.”
George and his office faced criticism from Democrats earlier this week for not mentioning that “progressive” appeared on the BOLO lists and were among the 298 organizations in the audit, even when directly questioned.
“The failure of the IG’s audit to acknowledge these facts is a fundamental flaw in the foundation of the investigation and the public’s perception of this issue,” Levin said Thursday. “I wrote to the IG and asked him to explain these omissions. And all Committee Democrats have asked today, Mr. Chairman, that you ask Mr. George to return to the Committee to provide the appropriate context for his report and answer questions under oath regarding all of these matters.”
Former East German secret police captain says NSA spying ‘a dream come true’
By David Ferguson
Thursday, June 27, 2013 15:35 EDT
A former agent of the Stasi, the much-feared East German communist secret police, has said that the recently revealed NSA spying program would have been his agency’s “dream come true” because it has collected “so much information, on so many people.” Wolfgang Schmidt, 78, said in an interview with McClatchy newspapers that it is “the height of naivete” to think that the information will never be used against U.S. citizens.
“You know, for us, this would have been a dream come true,” Schmidt said. As a lieutenant colonel in the Stasi, he said that technology limited the secret police’s ability to satisfy its voracious appetite for information. Their listening devices, he said, could only spy on 40 telephone lines at once. Targets had to be prioritized. To take on a new spying subject, an old one had to be let go.
The retired spy said his mind reels at the notion of being able to capture data from millions of cellphones and computers simultaneously. “So much information, on so many people,” he marveled to McClatchy.
The Stasi was one of the most ruthlessly intrusive spy agencies ever to have its records exposed to public scrutiny. Stasi listening agents kept track of when and what their subjects ate, when they visited the toilet and how often they had sex with their spouses or others. Its inner workings were exposed after the thawing of relations between East and West Germany in the 1990s and many Germans still remember the desperate fear that comes from being spied on by one’s neighbors.
Privacy concerns have recently been raised about spying undertaken by the U.S. and British governments as more and more revelations have come to light about the National Security Agency’s extensive surveillance programs both domestically and abroad. President Barack Obama and other U.S. government officials have repeatedly attempted to reassure the public that the programs are only being used fairly and judiciously to track criminals and terrorists.
Schmidt, however, warned darkly that this kind of data collection has a dark side, that even though the U.S. government has claimed that the gathered data serves no nefarious purpose, it someday will.
“It is the height of naivete to think that once collected this information won’t be used,” he said. “This is the nature of secret government organizations. The only way to protect the people’s privacy is not to allow the government to collect their information in the first place.”
Ecuador cools on Edward Snowden asylum as Assange frustration grows
President Correa revokes Snowden's temporary travel document amid concerns WikiLeaks founder is 'running the show'
Rory Carroll in Quito and Amanda Holpuch in New York
he Guardian, Friday 28 June 2013 18.03 BST
The plan to spirit the surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden to sanctuary in Latin America appeared to be unravelling on Friday, amid tension between Ecuador's government and Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks.
President Rafael Correa halted an effort to help Snowden leave Russia amid concern Assange was usurping the role of the Ecuadoran government, according to leaked diplomatic correspondence published on Friday.
Amid signs Quito was cooling with Snowden and irritated with Assange, Correa declared invalid a temporary travel document which could have helped extract Snowden from his reported location in Moscow.
Correa declared that the safe conduct pass issued by Ecuador's London consul – in collaboration with Assange – was unauthorised, after other Ecuadorean diplomats privately said the WikiLeaks founder could be perceived as "running the show".
According to the correspondence, which was obtained by the Spanish-language broadcaster Univision and shared with the Wall Street Journal, divisions over Assange have roiled Ecuador's government.
Ecuador's ambassador to the US, Nathalie Cely, told presidential spokesman Fernando Alvarado that Quito's role in the drama was being overshadowed by the WikiLeaks founder, who has sheltered in Ecuador's London embassy for the past year to avoid extradition.
"I suggest talking to Assange to better control the communications. From outside, [Assange] appears to be running the show."
Earlier this week a senior foreign diplomat in Quito told the Guardian that some – though not all – factions in the government were annoyed with what they saw as Assange grandstanding.
In a message attributed to Assange sent to Ecuador's foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, and other top officials, the WikiLeaks founder apologised "if we have unwittingly [caused] Ecuador discomfort in the Snowden matter." The note continued: "There is a fog of war due to the rapid nature of events. If similar events arise you can be assured that they do not originate in any lack of respect or concern for Ecuador or its government."
Assange appears to have had a strong role in obtaining the travel document for Snowden, dated 22 June which bore the printed name, but not signature, of the London consul, Fidel Narvaez, a confidante. By mid-week Narvaez was reportedly in Moscow.
The document could have helped Snowden, whose US passport has been revoked, leave the transit lounge of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport where he has reportedly holed up since fleeing Hong Kong last weekend.
On Thursday, Correa, who previously has hailed Snowden for exposing US spying, and has earned kudos for defying Washington pressure over the affair, reduced Snowden's chances of making it to Quito.
At a press conference the president declared the travel document invalid and said Ecuador would not consider an asylum request unless Snowden reached Ecuadorean territory, an increasingly remote prospect.
"The situation of Mr Snowden is a complex situation and we don't know how he will solve it."
Correa did however ramp up defiance of the US by waiving preferential trade rights to thwart what officials called Washington "blackmail". Analysts said Correa, an economist who specialised in game theory, had so far skilfully extracted political capital from the saga without drawing US retaliation.
In a TV interview on Friday, Snowden's father said said he was worried about the involvement of WikiLeaks. "I don't want to put him in peril, but I am concerned about those who surround him," Lonnie Snowden told NBC.
"I think WikiLeaks, if you've looked at past history … their focus isn't necessarily the constitution of the United States. It's simply to release as much information as possible."
Snowden said he did not believe his son had betrayed his country. "At this point, I don't feel that he's committed treason. He has broken US law, in a sense that he has released classified information. And if folks want to classify him as a traitor, in fact he has betrayed his government. But I don't believe that he's betrayed the people of the United States."
Snowden said he had told US attorney general Eric Holder through his lawyer that his son might return home if he would not be detained before trial, could choose the location for his trial and would not be subjected to a gag order. It was not clear that Lonnie Snowden was communicating his son's views, as he also said they had not spoken since April.
Ecuador breaks US trade pact to thwart 'blackmail' over Snowden asylum
Government renounces Andean Trade Preference Act even as Snowden's prospects of reaching Ecuador from Moscow dimmed
Rory Carroll in Quito
The Guardian, Thursday 27 June 2013 19.56 BST
Ecuador has ramped up its defiance of the US over Edward Snowden by waiving preferential trade rights with Washington even as the whistleblower's prospect of reaching Quito dimmed.
President Rafael Correa's government said on Thursday it was renouncing the Andean Trade Preference Act to thwart US "blackmail" of Ecuador in the former NSA contractor's asylum request.
Officials, speaking at an early morning press conference, also offered a $23m donation for human rights training in the US, a brash riposte to recent US criticism of Ecuador's own human rights record.
Edward Snowden Edward Snowden. Photograph: Guardian
Betty Tola, the minister of political coordination, said the asylum request had not been processed because Snowden, who is believed to be at Moscow airport, was neither in Ecuador nor at an Ecuadorean embassy or consulate. "The petitioner is not in Ecuadorean territory as the law requires."
Tola also said Ecuador had not supplied any travel document or diplomatic letter to Snowden, who is reportedly marooned in Moscow airport's transit lounge because his US passport has been invalidated.
A document leaked to Univision on Wednesday showed that someone at Ecuador's consulate in London did issue a safe conduct pass for the fugitive on June 22, as he prepared to leave Hong Kong. The name of the consul general, Fidel Narvaez, was printed but not signed.
Tola said it was unauthorised: "Any document of this type has no validity and is the exclusive responsibility of the person who issued it."
The renunciation underlined divisions within Ecuador's government between leftists who have embraced Snowden as an anti-imperialist symbol and centrists who fear diplomatic and economic damage.
Some in the government are believed to be annoyed that Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder who has sheltered at Ecuador's London embassy to avoid extradition, has seized the limelight in the Snowden saga. Assange caught Quito by surprise last week when he announced Snowden had been given a safe conduct pass. Quito replaced its ambassador to London earlier this month in hope of better managing its famous guest.
The waiving of preferential trade rights followed threats from members of the US congress to drop the ATPA in July, when it is due for renewal, unless Ecuador toed the line on Snowden.
"Ecuador does not accept pressure or threats from anyone, nor does it trade with principles or submit them to mercantile interests, however important those may be," said Fernando Alvarado, the communications secretary.
"Ecuador gives up, unilaterally and irrevocably, the said customs benefits."
The announcement will enhance President Correa's reputation as a bold leader unafraid to defy the US, just like the late Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez.
Tactical calculation lay behind the decision. Even before the Snowden affair Quito feared losing the trade preferences, largely because of Republican antipathy to Ecuador's outspoken socialist leader.
"The Ecuadorans got word that renewal of ATPDEA was a long shot in any case, so instead of waiting for rejection, they took the initiative and the high road," said Michael Shifter, of the Inter-American Dialogue.
Correa loved a fight and was responding to perceived US hypocrisy and heavy-handedness, said Shifter. But the president had showed caution in refraining, so far, from granting Snowden asylum. "He appears to be weighing the political and public relations benefits against the real consequences for Ecuador's economy, should he grant the asylum request."
Juan Carlos Calderon, the editorial of Vanguardia, a weekly which has had its offices raided and staff threatened in disputes with the president, said Correa's firebrand image masked shrewd, pragmatic calculation.
Even before the Snowden affair the president tried to soothe Ecuadoreans that losing the trade preferences, which exclude thousands of products such as roses, tuna and broccoli from export duty, would have a small impact.
Not all are convinced. "This will have serious consequence for Ecuadorean producers," said Ramiro Crespo, director general of Analytica Investments, a Quito-based consultancy.
"These products which are exported to the United States have become major industries in Ecuador. If commerce is restricted there's going to be unemployment … This does not penalise the government, it penalises the people."
Edward Snowden has not weakened president, says Susan Rice
New US national security adviser says diplomatic consequences of NSA leaks are not that significant
Conal Urquhart and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 29 June 2013 10.37 BST
The incoming US national security adviser has dismissed claims that the surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden has weakened the president, Barack Obama, and damaged American foreign policy.
Susan Rice, the outgoing US ambassador to the United Nations, said it was too soon to judge whether there would be any long-term repercussions from the intelligence leaks by the former National Security Agency contractor, which were published by the Guardian.
Rice rejected suggestions that Snowden's disclosures had made Obama a lame duck, damaged his political base and hurt US foreign policy, saying: "I think that's bunk."
"I don't think the diplomatic consequences, at least as they are foreseeable now, are that significant," she added.
"I think the United States of America is and will remain the most influential, powerful and important country in the world, the largest economy, and the largest military, [with] a network of alliances, values that are universally respected."
Chuck Hagel, the defence secretary, and General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, have called Snowden's leaks a serious breach that damaged national security. Hagel said on Thursday an assessment of the damage was under way.
"There will always be difficult issues of the day and frankly this period is not particularly unique," Rice said. "I think the Snowden thing is obviously something that we will get through, as we've gotten through all the issues like this in the past."
The US has charged Snowden with espionage and demanded his extradition, but Hong Kong said the request was legally flawed and let him fly to Moscow and the Russians have so far refused.
Rice's comments came after it emerged on Friday that the plan to spirit Snowden to sanctuary in Latin America appeared to be unravelling, amid tension between Ecuador's government and Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, who is holed up in the country's London embassy.
The president, Rafael Correa, halted an effort to help Snowden leave Russia amid concern that Assange was usurping the role of the Ecuadoran government, according to leaked diplomatic correspondence obtained by the Spanish-language broadcaster Univision and shared with the Wall Street Journal.
Correa declared that the safe conduct pass issued by Ecuador's London consul – in collaboration with Assange – was unauthorised, after other Ecuadorean diplomats privately said the WikiLeaks founder could be perceived as "running the show".
Amid signs Quito was cooling with Snowden and irritated with Assange, Correa declared invalid a temporary travel document which could have helped extract Snowden from his reported location in Moscow.
June 28, 2013
While N.S.A. Leaker Stays in Hiding, Russian TV Builds a Pedestal for Him
By ELLEN BARRY
MOSCOW — While Edward J. Snowden has remained mysteriously hidden from sight during his visit to Russia this week, Russian television has been making him a hero.
On programs that were hastily arranged and broadcast on the two largest federal channels, he was compared to the dissident Andrei Sakharov, to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and to Max Otto von Stirlitz, a dashing fictional double agent from Soviet television. He was described as “the man who declared war on Big Brother and got stuck in the transit zone,” and as “a soldier in the information war, who fights, of course, on the side of Russia, or maybe the side of China.”
For as long as he remains here, one program’s host said, “the pulse of world history is beating here in Moscow.”
Since Mr. Snowden landed in Moscow on Sunday, the likelihood that he will remain in Russia has steadily crept up.
Though President Vladimir V. Putin said this week that “the sooner he chooses his final destination, the better for us and for him,” Mr. Snowden shows no sign of leaving.
The chance that Russia will turn him in has all but vanished, as evidenced by Thursday’s television programs, which were almost certainly produced under Kremlin orders and have a powerful effect on public opinion. Officials here have signaled an openness to granting him political asylum, and each passing day would seem to narrow Mr. Snowden’s options, giving the United States time to negotiate with Ecuador and Venezuela, other countries that may grant him asylum.
“I think the main thing for him right now is to guarantee his security,” said Igor Korotchenko, a former specialist in Russia’s top military command who now edits the magazine National Defense. “Already he cannot live his former life. The United States of America will look for him all over the world in order to punish him as an example to potential traitors and so that the political elite in Washington will be satisfied. They want his blood.”
“Whose protection does he want: Ecuador, Venezuela or Russia? It is hard to judge right now,” Mr. Korotchenko said. He added, “In Russia, he will find a country capable of guaranteeing his security because I think in Latin America the United States would find much opportunity to solve the problem, so to say.”
So far, there is no consensus among Russian elites on whether Russia should grant Mr. Snowden asylum, a step that would advertise the country, cold-war-style, as a haven for Western dissidents. Russia’s upper house of Parliament has invited him to testify about the impact of spying by the National Security Agency on Russian citizens, and about the activities of giant Internet companies that may have shared information with the agency.
Though Mr. Putin has made it a central goal to challenge American dominance in world affairs, the potential cost of granting Mr. Snowden asylum has come into sharper focus over the past few days. Russia will host President Obama in September, and would be stung if the visit were called off. Powerful figures like Igor I. Sechin, who as chairman of Rosneft has struck a series of bold deals with Western oil companies, may also be worried about the potential repercussions. Mr. Putin and many of those around him are former intelligence officers, and they may see Mr. Snowden as a traitor, and an unpredictable player.
Igor M. Bunin, the director of the Center for Political Technologies in Moscow, said that by far the best solution for Moscow would be to send Mr. Snowden to another country, “to Ecuador, Venezuela, to Cuba, wherever.”
“Snowden is like a hot meat pie in your hands: even if you want to eat it very much, it’s very hot and maybe it’s better to throw it on the floor,” Mr. Bunin said. “To make a deal with America to turn Snowden over would be a slap in the face of public opinion because he is already a hero in Russia and part of the West. On the other hand, not turning him over destroys your relationship with America.”
Unlike Ecuador and Venezuela, Russia has avoided staking out a position on political asylum for Mr. Snowden, and in his remarks at a news conference on Tuesday, Mr. Putin said he hoped not to become personally involved.
But on Wednesday the Kremlin apparently decided to hastily arrange two hourlong talk shows devoted to the case. Each focused less on Mr. Snowden himself than on the flaws of the United States and the threat posed by its intelligence apparatus. Aleksandr I. Shumilin, a political analyst who was invited to appear, said he had turned down the request, sensing that the result would be a “mighty propagandistic blow: not a shot from a pistol, but a shot from a cannon.”
One program featured a panel of legendary counterintelligence agents, including a man famous for meeting with Lee Harvey Oswald a few months before the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Their discussion often turned to the subject of American spying on Russia. Mr. Korotchenko, one of the guests, made the case that most of the major American consulting firms in Moscow were actually “structural units of American intelligence,” including the National Security Agency.
“The N.S.A. is a global electronic vacuum cleaner, which monitors everything,” he said “Look at the top two floors of the new building of the U.S. Embassy — it’s a huge antenna, which listens to the Moscow air.”
Similar themes were sounded a few hours later on Channel 1, when the pro-Kremlin analyst Vyacheslav A. Nikonov warned that the United States, through its dominance over the Internet, could “strongly undermine the security of other states.”
“The Internet is an invention of the U.S. Ministry of Defense,” Mr. Nikonov said. “Where is the Internet? Physically, it is in the United States. What is the Internet? It’s an American nongovernmental organization which is, of course, connected with the intelligence services of the United States.”
Many speakers argued that Mr. Snowden’s case should neutralize, once and for all, Western criticism of Mr. Putin’s domestic policies. Convincing Russian citizens of this point is especially crucial now, when Russian courts have brought serious charges against several dozen Russians who led or took part in a wave of antigovernment protests.
Aleksandr Prokhanov, a nationalist ideologue who has emerged as a leader in conservative thought, called Mr. Snowden “a soldier of the information war,” stripping the United States of its right to criticize other countries.
“For Americans, human rights is a powerful tool for influencing other countries,” Mr. Prokhanov said. “A country ‘violates human rights,’ and its president becomes a devil incarnate, the society destabilizes, the human rights issue is followed by attack planes, and the country is wiped out from the face of the earth.”
Others speakers, like Veronika Krasheninnikova, urged Russians to rally around Mr. Snowden, noting the 60th anniversary this month of the execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, who were convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage.
“I remind you that the death penalty still exists in the United States, so it’s not something impossible,” Ms. Krasheninnikova said. “One has to remember it.”
Nikolai V. Zlobin, a political analyst and writer who often appears on Russian television to articulate an American perspective and was invited to appear on both shows, said he believed Russian leaders were weighing the cost and benefit of different outcomes to Mr. Snowden’s case. In the end, he said, they can secure a propaganda coup without the participation of Mr. Snowden himself, and without granting him political amnesty.
“What happens now doesn’t matter because public opinion in Russia has already been shaped. America is lying, dishonest, and has double standards,” Mr. Zlobin said. “It’s a Christmas gift. They are trying to find the most deft way to use it, but it is unexpected, and they don’t know how to handle it.”
Senators accuse government of using 'secret law' to collect Americans' data
Bipartisan group seeks answers from intelligence chief James Clapper over scale of and justification for NSA surveillance
Dan Roberts in Washington
guardian.co.uk, Friday 28 June 2013 17.39 BST
A bipartisan group of 26 US senators has written to intelligence chiefs to complain that the administration is relying on a "secret body of law" to collect massive amounts of data on US citizens.
The senators accuse officials of making misleading statements and demand that the director of national intelligence James Clapper answer a series of specific questions on the scale of domestic surveillance as well as the legal justification for it.
In their strongly-worded letter to Clapper, the senators said they believed the government may be misinterpreting existing legislation to justify the sweeping collection of telephone and internet data revealed by the Guardian.
"We are concerned that by depending on secret interpretations of the Patriot Act that differed from an intuitive reading of the statute, this program essentially relied for years on a secret body of law," they say.
"This and misleading statements by intelligence officials have prevented our constituents from evaluating the decisions that their government was making, and will unfortunately undermine trust in government more broadly."
This is the strongest attack yet from Congress since the disclosures began, and comes after Clapper admitted he had given "the least untruthful answer possible" when pushed on these issues by Senators at a hearing before the latest revelations by the Guardian and the Washington Post.
In a press statement, the group of senators added: "The recent public disclosures of secret government surveillance programs have exposed how secret interpretations of the USA Patriot Act have allowed for the bulk collection of massive amounts of data on the communications of ordinary Americans with no connection to wrongdoing."
They said: "Reliance on secret law to conduct domestic surveillance activities raises serious civil liberty concerns and all but removes the public from an informed national security and civil liberty debate."
A spokesman for the office of the director of national intelligence (ODNI) acknowledged the letter. "The ODNI received a letter from 26 senators this morning requesting further engagement on vital intelligence programs recently disclosed in the media, which we are still evaluating. The intelligence and law enforcement communities will continue to work with all members of Congress to ensure the proper balance of privacy and protection for American citizens."
The letter was organised by Oregan Democrat Ron Wyden, a member of the intelligence committee, but includes four Republican senators: Mark Kirk, Mike Lee, Lisa Murkowski and Dean Heller.
They ask Clapper to publicly provide information about the duration and scope of the program and provide examples of its effectiveness in providing unique intelligence, if such examples exist.
The senators also expressed their concern that the program itself has a significant impact on the privacy of law-abiding Americans and that the Patriot Act could be used for the bulk collection of records beyond phone metadata.
"The Patriot Act's 'business records' authority can be used to give the government access to private financial, medical, consumer and firearm sales records, among others," said a press statement.
In addition to raising concerns about the law's scope, the senators noted that keeping the official interpretation of the law secret and the instances of misleading public statements from executive branch officials prevented the American people from having an informed public debate about national security and domestic surveillance.
The senators said they were seeking public answers to the following questions in order to give the American people the information they need to conduct an informed public debate. The specific questions include:
• How long has the NSA used Patriot Act authorities to engage in bulk collection of Americans' records? Was this collection underway when the law was reauthorized in 2006?
• Has the NSA used USA Patriot Act authorities to conduct bulk collection of any other types of records pertaining to Americans, beyond phone records?
• Has the NSA collected or made any plans to collect Americans' cell-site location data in bulk?
• Have there been any violations of the court orders permitting this bulk collection, or of the rules governing access to these records? If so, please describe these violations.
The Senators signing the letter are: Ron Wyden (D-Or), Mark Udall (D-Co), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt), Mark Kirk (R-Il), Dick Durbin (D-Il), Tom Udall (D-NM), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Jon Tester (D-Mt), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Dean Heller (R- Nev),Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt), Patty Murray (D-Wash), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Al Franken (D-Minn), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Chris Coons (D-Del), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn), Max Baucus (D-Mont), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc) and Mike Lee (R-Utah).
French police arrest four radical Islamists suspected of plotting attacks
Friday, June 28, 2013 14:05 EDT
PARIS (Reuters) – Four suspected radical Islamists arrested in the Paris region this week on suspicion of plotting attacks in France were placed under formal investigation on Friday, legal and police sources said.
Three of the suspects are French and one is from Benin. Their ages range from 22 to 34, the sources said.
Two other suspects arrested in the same raid on a suspected Islamist cell on Monday were released.
Being placed under formal investigation in France means there is “serious or consistent evidence” pointing to likely implication of a suspect in a crime. It often, but not always, leads to a trial.
France has been on heightened security alert since January, when its military intervened in Mali to help repel al Qaeda-linked Islamist rebels who had seized control of the north of the former French colony.
Separately, a Muslim convert suspected of stabbing a French soldier in Paris in a religiously motivated attack was placed under formal investigation last month.
(Reporting by Gerard Bon; Writing by Catherine Bremer; Editing by Alistair Lyon)
Anglo Irish Bank scandal 'damages democracy', Angela Merkel says
German chancellor delivers a strong condemnation of the revelations that the Irish bank's executives mocked the country's role in Anglo's bailout
Ian Traynor Brussels
The Guardian, Friday 28 June 2013 18.59 BST
Angela Merkel has expressed "contempt" for the disgraced Anglo Irish Bank executives caught on tape mocking Germany's involvement in the institution's €30bn (£25.7bn) bailout.
The German chancellor delivered a strong condemnation of the revelations, which have emerged in recordings of Anglo Irish management as they discussed a 2008 bailout by the Irish state, followed soon after by a full-blown rescue of the country by international authorities.
"I really have nothing but contempt for this," said Merkel. "It really damages democracy, the social market economy and everything that we are working for." Sounding outraged, three months before a general election where Germany's role in shoring up the eurozone will be a sensitive issue, Merkel added: "This is simply very hard to swallow for people who go to work normally every day, who earn their money."
In one excrutiating exchange on the tapes, an executive giggles as a colleague recites "Deutschland über Alles" to mark the fact that an Irish guarantee of bank deposits had lured German savings to Dublin.
The Irish taoiseach, Enda Kenny, admitted in the wake of Merkel's comments, at a summit of European Union leaders on Friday, that the furore had damaged the country's standing.
Describing the revelations as a "thunderbolt", the prime minister said: "This has damaged our reputation." The tapes were leaked to the Irish Independent just as the country ends its six-month rotating presidency of the EU.
The tapes, Kenny said, "show the contempt and the arrogance and the insolence of senior personnel working in that bank towards everybody, towards government, towards citizens, the impact on every company, every community, every family in our country. They shine a bright light on the vulgarity of what went on there." On the tapes, the bank's former director of capital markets, John Bowe, that he picked the initial bailout sum of €7bn "out of my arse".
Attending his first meeting with EU leaders since the scandal erupted in Ireland, Kenny said that everyone at the summit understood that the misdemeanours were from the past and predated his premiership. He promised judicial and parliamentary inquiries as well as criminal proceedings, where warranted.
"We do need to be able to examine the culture of the so-called tiger years which led to this situation of a toxic nexus between the banking world and the world of government and senior personnel," said Kenny. "These tapes from Anglo are actually a thunderbolt, but they shine a light on a very dark period of Ireland's recent past that we want to get away from."
Kenny described the scandal as a "sad saga that has affected every single family, every single person, every single company and every single community in our country … The people who worked the system, who controlled the system, who were the system, they have a lot to answer for."
Angela Merkel's wrecking of EU car emissions deal risks her reputation
The German chancellor's unholy alliance with the car industry does not sit well with her international stance on climate change
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 29 June 2013 11.00 BST
Let's start with an easily overlooked staff announcement from Angela Merkel's office. It was recently made public that Eckart von Klaeden, a minister of state in the chancellory who is said to be very close to Merkel, will move jobs at the end of the year and become chief lobbyist for Daimler AG. He'll be leading the "global external affairs and public policy" unit of Germany's most important car manufacturer.
Stories such as these are indicative of the unholy alliance between Germany's political class and the car industry. Few sectors wield such power in the Bundestag as Daimler and co. So to most German politics insiders it didn't come as a surprise when Germany this week derailed an EU compromise deal on car emissions. It will, however, have come as a surprise to those who have bought into Merkel's reputation as Klimakanzlerin, as a politician who is committed to acting on climate change. The US president, Barack Obama, for one, has over the years repeatedly urged the world to "look at Berlin" for inspiration on how to "save this planet". So why is Merkel risking her hard-earned reputation?
The reasons are shockingly simple. In May this year Merkel received a letter from her party comrade Matthias Wissmann, who used to be transport minister under Helmut Kohl and now happens to be president of the German car manufacturers association. Wissmann warned Merkel that she shouldn't allow Germany's "premium sector" – the car industry – to be "literally destroyed by regulations based on arbitrarily set carbon limits". Jobs were at stake, he warned.
It triggered precisely the response he would have wished for: Merkel torpedoed the EU talks. No matter that the German car industry has forever backmailed politicians with threats of its own imminent collapse. No matter that floods, draughts and tornadoes are increasingly giving us a terrifying picture of the consequences of global warming. No matter that stricter carbon limits would not only benefit the climate but also our drivers, because they'd ultimately be the ones saving money if there was pressure on the industry to build more fuel-efficient cars. As it stands, Merkel's team is failing to protect her from a major own goal on climate policy. It's nothing less than negligent.
Naturally, Merkel's advisers will be focused on the general election taking place in three months' time: the promise to protect German jobs will be central to her campaign, even if they know that those jobs can only be guaranteed in the short term. If Merkel's environment minister or economic advisers were more responsible, they would tell her the following: the German car industry only has a long-term future if it waves goodbye to its gas-guzzling days. Only by staying innovative can it continue to compete with China, India and Brazil. And there's no doubt that the price of petrol will continue to rise. It's in Germany's own interest to confront that reality.
Germany may be world champions when it comes to recycling, but when it comes to green economics, it fails to live up to its reputation. When Obama this week committed to reducing America's carbon output, the German environment minister, Peter Altmaier, tweeted: "Wenn's so weitergeht, wird's richtig gut!" – "If we carry on like this, things are going get really great!" In the light of his chancellor's subsequent actions, that just looks like hypocrisy.
The problem is how can German politicians reprimand other climate sinners when it doesn't manage to keep its own commitments? How long until other industries write to the chancellor, asking for the same special treatment as the car manufacturers? If you want to lead the world in terms of green technology, "we want to save the world, but …" just won't do.
Croatia, a nation lost in translation
Despite the fact that our country joins the European Union on Monday, we don't seem in the mood to celebrate
The Guardian, Friday 28 June 2013 18.55 BST
If Croatia could have chosen the moment for its accession to the European Union, it would not be 1 July 2013. The Pew Research Centre has just published the results of polling conducted in eight EU member states. The most disturbing finding is that the percentage of citizens in favour of the European project has plummeted from 60% a year ago to 45% now. A failing economy, Europe's north-south divide and distrust of the political elite have led to such results.
Then there are the consequences of Romania and Bulgaria joining the EU in 2007 without adequate preparation. Disappointment with the two new members was followed by a more sceptical approach to further accessions. As it is, the EU has had enough problems with former communist countries, and now yet another one is joining. Yes, Croatia is smaller and perhaps better prepared, but enthusiasm is nevertheless lacking on both sides.
When the newly independent nation began the negotiation process, Croatians regarded the EU like a rich aunt. After all, they always thought of membership not as coming in but coming back. But even so, the nationalist opposition was fairly vocal. Why join a new community of states just after leaving Yugoslavia, and a bloody war that had cost thousands of lives? If the 1991-95 wars were for independence, then why give up that newly won political sovereignty? And what about the Croatian national identity that had been reinvented and celebrated with so much energy by the first president, Franjo Tudjman? The most serious argument was that the whole region was too volatile.
However, the political elite at the time presented it in ideological terms: Croatia does not belong to the Balkans. The Balkans are the Others – Orthodox and Muslims, not Catholics. Joining the EU would reinforce the difference, and "draw the line" between them and us. This must be the only reason Croatia's Catholic church supported the yes vote in last year's referendum, when 66% voted to join the EU.
In later years, though, the important if not crucial argument about peace and stability was neglected more and more. Politicians of both right and left chose to perpetuate a rosy picture of economic benefits, investments, employment opportunities and so on. Yet with accession approaching, it became clear that this was not going to happen. The economic crisis in the EU coincided with negative results from the badly handled privatisation of state assets, with allegations of political corruption. The state bureaucracy is huge and no reform has touched it. Unemployment climbed to 20% and is still rising. Over half those unemployed are young people. In Europe, only Greece and Spain have worse jobless figures. The public debt is almost 60% of GDP. No wonder Germany fears Croatia is a future Greece.
Croatians themselves seem not to be in the mood to celebrate. In this last month before joining the EU, the media expressed anxiety, for instance about the likely competitiveness of our products – although our main industry, tourism, is doing well. One could sense an atmosphere of closing instead of opening, of fear instead of joy. When people are faced with uncertainty, they usually turn to traditional values of family and religion. Conservative civil organizations, backed by the Catholic church, held a referendum for to change in the constitution, demanding to that it define marriage as heterosexual. There is also uncertainty about how the new rules and regulations will operate.
The only people looking forward to joining the EU seem to be young people, who anticipate the possibilities of study and work abroad – there will be no more customs at our western borders, no more queueing up in non-EU queues for those who have money to shop and to travel.
It looks as if in the whole process of accession the most important elements were "lost in transition". Beyond Croatia being Europe's long-lost Catholic child, the fact is that the country was at war only two decades ago, and that peace and security should mean more to it than putative economic gains. Economic survival for this small and poor state would be even harder outside the union. This is why 1 July is a historic date, even if the actual moment of joining is really not the best one either for Croatia or for the EU.