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« Reply #7575 on: Jul 17, 2013, 07:48 AM »

Bangladesh Islamic party leader sentenced to death for war crimes

Tribunal finds Jamaat-e-Islami's secretary general, Ali Ahsan Mojaheed, guilty of kidnapping and killings during 1971 war

Associated Press in Dhaka, Wednesday 17 July 2013 09.57 BST   

A tribunal in Bangladesh has sentenced a senior leader of an Islamic party to death for his role in the kidnapping and killing of people during the country's independence war against Pakistan in 1971.

The verdict came in a packed courtroom in the capital, Dhaka, in the presence of the defendant Ali Ahsan Mojaheed, the secretary general of the Jamaat-e-Islami party. The tribunal found him guilty of kidnapping and killing a journalist, a music director and a number of other people.

Mojaheed faced seven charges including genocide, murder, conspiracy and complicity in atrocities during the war. He is accused of leading a notorious group that during the war kidnapped and killed many teachers, journalists and writers who supported the cause for independence.

The court said five charges were proven beyond doubt, while the prosecution failed to prove two other charges.

The defence lawyers said they would appeal against the verdict.

Two tribunals dealing with war crimes have already delivered five verdicts against three incumbent leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami and a former chief and another man expelled from the party. Jamaat-e-Islami and its leaders had openly campaigned against the creation of Bangladesh and are accused of forming citizens' brigades to help the Pakistani army in the battle against the fighters who fought for independence. Bangladesh became independent with the help of India on 16 December 1971 when the Pakistani army surrendered in Dhaka.

Bangladesh says the Pakistani army killed 3 million people and raped 200,000 women, while about 10 million people took shelter across the border in India during the war.

Jamaat-e-Islami condemned the verdict and enforced a day-long general strike across the country on Wednesday. No major violence was reported. The party indicated that it might extend the general strike to Thursday.

Protests over previous verdicts have turned deadly.

The government of the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, formed the tribunal in 2010 amid criticism from the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist party, led by the former prime minister Khaleda Zia. Zia has said the tribunal is meant to weaken the opposition. Jamaat-e-Islami is the main political ally of Zia's party, and shared two posts in the cabinet during Zia's latest premiership in 2001-06.

Hasina's government says it pledged before the 2008 election to prosecute those responsible for war crimes. A political alliance led by Hasina's Awami League party won the election with a two-thirds majority.


July 16, 2013

Under Pressure, Bangladesh Adopts New Labor Law


Facing intense international pressure to improve conditions for garment workers, Bangladeshi lawmakers amended the country’s labor law this week. But while the officials called the new law a landmark strengthening of workers’ protections, rights groups said the law made only modest changes and took numerous steps backward that undercut unions.

Bangladeshi lawmakers adopted the new law three weeks after the United States suspended Bangladesh’s trade preferences, saying that labor rights and safety violations were far too prevalent in that country’s factories. Moreover, the European Union has threatened to revoke Bangladesh’s trade privileges for similar reasons.

Speaking about the new law, Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain, the chairman of the parliamentary subcommittee on labor reforms, told Reuters: “The aim was to ensure workers’ rights are strengthened, and we have done that. I am hoping this will assuage global fears around this issue.”

The Bangladeshi government has faced fierce pressure to improve conditions for the nation’s four million garment workers since the Rana Plaza factory building collapsed in April, killing 1,129 workers.

Under the new law, factories will be required to set aside 5 percent of profits for a welfare fund for employees, although the law exempts export-oriented factories. Apparel is Bangladesh’s dominant industry, with $18 billion in annual exports, making it the world’s second-largest garment exporter after China.

As under the old law, workers hoping to form a union must gather signatures of 30 percent of a company’s workers — a level that was onerous, labor leaders said, because many apparel manufacturers have thousands of workers. To make unionizing easier, labor leaders were urging lawmakers to adopt a 10 percent threshold. In Bangladesh, several unions might represent employees in a single factory.

Business leaders complain that Bangladeshi unions are highly political and sometimes stage disruptive strikes as a complementary tactic to political blocs’ lobbying and infighting.

In a step that could help unionization, the new law bars the country’s labor ministry from giving factory owners the list of the 30 percent of workers who want to form a union. Labor leaders said that after receiving those lists, owners often fired union supporters or pressed many to withdraw their names from the petition, bringing the number below the requisite 30 percent mark for a union to be recognized.

Some labor leaders expressed concern that government officials would still give the names to factory owners, perhaps because of collusion or bribes.

“The government says this will make it easier for workers to organize,” said Babul Akhter, the president of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation. “That’s not true.”

Mr. Akhter praised the legislation for adding some protections on fire and building safety: it strengthens requirements for permits when a factory adds floors.

Human Rights Watch said, however, that the new law would make unionizing harder. It criticized the legislation for adding more industrial sectors, including hospitals, where workers would not be permitted to form unions. The group noted that workers in Bangladesh’s important export processing zones would remain legally unable to unionize.

In addition, the government would be empowered to stop a strike if it would cause “serious hardship to the community” or be “prejudicial to the national interest.” And workers at any factory owned by foreigners or established in collaboration with foreigners would be barred from striking during the operation’s first three years.

“The Bangladesh government desperately wants to move the spotlight away from the Rana Plaza disaster, so it’s not surprising it is now trying to show that it belatedly cares about workers’ rights,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “This would be good news if the new law fully met international standards, but the sad reality is that the government has consciously limited basic workers’ rights while exposing workers to continued risks and exploitation.”

Under the new law, unions would need government approval before they could receive technical, health, safety or financial support from other countries.

An Obama administration official said various agencies were seeking to obtain the exact language of the new law in order to study it.

Roy Ramesh Chandra, a powerful Bangladeshi labor leader, said the legislation might not have done enough to persuade Europe not to suspend trade preferences or to get Washington to reinstate such preferences.

Jim Yardley contributed reporting.

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« Last Edit: Jul 17, 2013, 07:54 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #7576 on: Jul 17, 2013, 07:49 AM »

07/16/2013 04:02 PM

'Anything But Humane': Tibetan Exposes China from the Inside

By Andreas Lorenz

A high-ranking Communist Party official has written a book exposing the crimes of the Chinese against Tibetans. His fellow party members still don't suspect that he has defected to the opposition.

A Tibetan who once believed in the Chinese Communist Party and carved out a career within the Beijing bureaucracy has now decided to publish a damning report of China's policies in his country. To protect his anonymity, the official, who is known nationwide, met secretly with SPIEGEL at a restaurant in a Chinese provincial city. He hopes that what he has written about the oppression of his people will be published as a book in the West, thereby exerting pressure on leaders in Beijing.

Dorjee Rinchen got up very early on Oct. 23, 2012, the last day of his life. The 58-year-old turned the Buddhist prayer wheels at the Labrang Monastery, then returned to his hut, cleaned up and went back to the monastery.

Near the police station on the main street of Xiahe, a town in China's Gansu Province, the Tibetan farmer poured gasoline over his body and lit himself on fire. Images taken with mobile phones show the man, engulfed in flames, running down the street until he falls to the ground.

Police and soldiers immediately appeared on the scene, jostling with bystanders trying to take Dorjee's charred body to his house, according to Tibetan custom. The officers eventually relented.

Dorjee is one of more than 100 Tibetans who have turned to self-immolation since March 2011 in protest of Chinese rule in Tibet. Another man, who also took his life a few days later, left behind a letter that sums up the sentiments of these unfortunate people: "There is no freedom in Tibet. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is not allowed to return home. The Panchen Lama is in prison."

The mood is desperate in the region known as the "Roof of the World." Never before have so many Tibetans sacrificed their lives in this manner to draw the world's attention to their fate. But not everyone believes this is the right approach. A few hundred kilometers from the Labrang Monastery, a high-ranking Communist Party official is shaking his head in disapproval. The self-immolations, he says, are an "overreaction, an excessively radical act. Buddhism forbids suicide."

And yet he can understand the motives, he says. Conditions are dramatic in his native Tibet. "The economic situation, the standard of living, culture and education have greatly improved in Tibet, he says. But the government exacts too high a price from Tibetans in return for this development, he adds, noting that Beijing is trying to discipline them with violence. "There is substantial surveillance and limited freedom."

The man is a senior official in the Communist Party. He is well known, not only in Tibet but also throughout China, and no one suspects him of being a member of the opposition. He is one of the privileged, someone who long believed in the promised goal of a socialist China, one in which not only the Han Chinese, but also Tibetans and all other ethnic groups would lead a better life.

But now he intends to make a stand. "I am a Tibetan, and I work in the government. I have the authority to describe what is really going on," he says.

'Far Worse Than the West Suspects'

He has served the Chinese government since youth. Like many Tibetans, he had who come to terms with the fact that Beijing has ruled their country since the Chinese army invaded in 1950. These individuals include party officials, police officers, propagandists, journalists and engineers, all of whom behave like people who want to live in peace under foreign rule. They assimilate, parrot the party slogans and enjoy their growing affluence, though they often feel miserable in the end.

This helps to explain why this contemporary witness sat down and penned an account of the more recent history of Tibet, as seen through his eyes. He focuses on what the propagandists and chroniclers working for the system suppress or sugarcoat, writing: "Everything was and still is far worse than people in the West suspect."

He is determined to remain anonymous for as long as possible. "I don't want to mention my name, I don't want you to mention my profession, and you can only describe the place where I live in general terms," he says.

He aims to have the book published abroad, which is his only option, of course. If it emerged that he, a respected official, were in fact a Tibetan dissident who compares the "fate of the Tibetans" with that of the Jews under the Nazis, his comfortable existence would quickly come to an end. He could face a prison term and possibly even the death penalty.

The book is written in Mandarin, the language of the rulers in Beijing. The author wants as many people as possible to understand his people, who, as he says, have been "plunged into pools of blood and purgatorial fire" in exchange for a foreign utopia.

Ironically, some Tibetans were initially pleased to see the Chinese invade Tibet, because the new masters brought the promise of modernity and prosperity. They believed that the Communists, led by Mao Zedong, would help them liberate themselves from a brutal dictatorship of monks. The Tibetan people lived a harsh life under the thumb of monasteries and the aristocracy, who oppressed their subjects, treated them like serfs and whipped them into submission.

But the mood changed when the Chinese government, under Mao, did not keep its promise to allow the Tibetans to maintain their traditions and religion. The collectivization of agriculture proved to be especially devastating. Tibetan nomads were forced to settle in so-called people's communes, destroying their traditional way of life. By the 1950s, there was growing unrest.

Atrocities and Brutal Policies

In the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966 to 1976), the Red Guards, including many Tibetans, attacked their supposedly "revisionist" and "imperialist" countrymen. Thousands of monks were beaten to death or put in camps, and ancient relics were destroyed. The Red Guards used their artillery to flatten hundreds of monasteries.

The Communist Party officials wanted to destroy the culture of their subjects. Tibetan women, for example, were made to wear the kinds of trousers worn by Han Chinese women, and helpers cut off their braids. Clan elders and abbots were sent to reeducation camps, where they were forced to study Mao's directives every day.

The Chinese military brutally crushed any rebellions. When monks killed a corporal in the People's Liberation Army in 1956, a Chinese cavalry regiment exacted its revenge in the town of Qiuji Nawa in Gansu Province with an attack on about "200 innocent women and children. They surrounded a tent, threw hand grenades inside and then fired at it."

The author quotes a former soldier who witnessed a similar massacre: "Some women were stabbed in the vagina with swords and their chests were split open. Some two- and three-year-old children were grabbed and thrown into the Yellow River."

In the early 1980s, the Communist Party had to admit that it had "seriously harmed the interests of the people" with its brutal policy. By then, Tibet had become a permanently restive region. As the Communist Party official writes, Beijing's claim that "millions of Tibetan farmers" had become "masters of their own house under the party's leadership" proved to be nothing but propaganda.

In his opinion, there are many reasons for the unrest and the rage of Tibetans. One is that the long-cherished hope that the Dalai Lama could one day return home from India, where the Tibetan government in exile has its headquarters, is beginning to fade. Beijing condemns him as a "traitor" and refuses to even consider talks.

It was an affront to Beijing when, in 1987, the Dalai Lama spoke to members of the United States Congress in Washington, where he presented his Five Point Peace Plan. He demanded, among other things, that Beijing put an end to the immigration of Han Chinese to Tibet and its use of the Tibetan Plateau as a nuclear waste dump. According to the Communist Party official, after the visit "a new spirit of opposition began to grow among young intellectuals and a few officials, as well as laborers, farmers and shepherds."

Documenting Witness Reports
Then, in 1988, the Chinese made another mistake. At the end of the annual Great Prayer Festival, senior officials had gathered on a roof terrace of the Jokhang Temple in the Tibetan capital Lhasa to watch the grand procession. As it happened, they were standing directly above a room that the monks considered sacred. It was where the Dalai Lama had always slept during the festival.

Soon the group was pelted with stones. Soldiers beat their way through the crowd, and a few party officials, including the deputy party chief for Tibet, had to be lowered from a window on ropes.

Monks and nuns repeatedly took to the streets in the ensuing weeks, until Beijing finally cracked down. The central government removed senior Tibetan Communist Party officials and replaced them with Han Chinese, including Hu Jintao, who would later become General Secretary of the Communist Party and president of China. A year later, Hu ordered soldiers to open fire on protesters. According to the author, the incident resulted in the deaths of 138 people and 3,870 arrests, while many others were abducted.

The author quotes many eyewitnesses, one of whom reported: "They screened the entire urban population of Lhasa and arrested those they didn't like. First there were beatings, and then those who had been arrested were thrown into police cells."

But the cells were apparently so full that some of the detainees suffocated. "When someone died," said the witness, "it didn't mean anything more to them (the Chinese) than as if they had stepped on the grass while walking and killed an ant."

Part of the Tibetans' dissatisfaction stemmed from the fact that Chinese immigrants from other parts of the People's Republic were cultivating more and more land. In the author's opinion, this causes serious environmental damage, because the gradual disappearance of grasslands leads to desertification. "The Tibetans have less and less space in which to live, and the environment is getting colder and more severe," he says.

A conspicuous example of China's reckless environmental policy is Qinghai Lake, the official adds. Because too much pasture was cultivated and an extensive irrigation system was built, , only eight of the 108 rivers that once emptied into the lake still exist today, he says.

Tension on the Streets

Things were quiet for a few years after the unrest, which lasted until 1989. Communist Party leader Hu later attempted to placate the Tibetans with billions of dollars in investments. The mineral resources that had been discovered in the region, as well as its strategic importance as a buffer zone between China and its economically powerful rival India, were extremely important to Beijing.

But the tension is palpable in the streets of Lhasa today, partly because of the presence of Chinese security forces, who act like occupiers. "The way the members of the Armed Police behave is anything but humane. They kill people as cold-bloodedly as poisonous snakes. They indiscriminately beat local residents, loot their property and kill them if they defend themselves," the Communist Party insider writes in his manuscript.

In March 2008, as Beijing was preparing for the Summer Olympics, Lhasa's residents revolted once again. But this time schoolchildren, students and office workers joined the protesting monks, as did Tibetans from other regions. The police and military arrested about 6,000 people.

The authorities now see only one way to pacify the Tibetans: more investment, together with even harsher repressive measures. During the so-called patriotic education campaign, which takes place in all monasteries, the monks are required to distance themselves from the Dalai Lama. Many were temporarily or permanently banned from monasteries, and some lamas were imprisoned or sent to reeducation camps. Alleged supporters of people who committed suicide by self-immolation were sent to prison, including six people tied to Dorjee Rinchen, the farmer from Xiahe.

Beijing's rulers do not permit a public debate over their Tibet strategy. Very few Chinese dare to even raise the issue, and then only in Hong Kong or through foreign media organizations. Author Wang Lixiong, married to Tibetan lyricist Tsering Woeser, is one of the brave few. He believes that nothing will change as long as hostility toward the Dalai Lama translates into the livelihoods of tens of thousands of officials within the party's propaganda machine.

The Tibetan book author puts it this way: "We all have a knot in our heart." The authorities, he says, "view the monks as outsiders. They are not allowed to express their opinions, and they are certainly not permitted to participate in political decisions."

Is there a solution to Tibet's plight? The author remains faithful to his upbringing in saying that it would be wrong to permit the return of a theocratic government, a Tibet in which the abbots are in charge and "politics and religion are one" -- the kind of system many monks would prefer.

And the alternative? "We have to practice democracy," he says. "Not necessarily a Western-style democracy, but a unique, Tibetan form. Otherwise we will remain at an impasse."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #7577 on: Jul 17, 2013, 07:51 AM »

Chinese lawyer Xu Zhiyong arrested

Human rights campaigner reportedly held at Beijing jail on suspicion of gathering people to disturb public order

Associate Press in Beijing, Wednesday 17 July 2013 08.04 BST   

The Chinese lawyer Xu Zhiyong has been detained after calling for the release of activists and campaigning against government abuses, according to a rights group and a fellow lawyer.

Police also took computers and mobile phones from Xu's Beijing home, Human Rights in China said.

A scanned detention notice distributed by the New-York-based group said Xu was detained on Tuesday on suspicion of gathering people to disturb order in a public place.

No details or causes were given to support the vaguely defined charge, which is often used to punish people who speak out against abuses.

Teng Biao, another prominent Beijing human rights lawyer, confirmed Xu's detention for disturbing public order on Twitter. Teng said his telephone had been frozen and he could only communicate by computer.

Beijing police did not immediately answer faxed questions about Xu, who has campaigned for causes ranging from the closure of illegal detention centres to the public declaration of officials' personal assets.

Officers at Beijing's No 3 jail, where Xu was reportedly being held, said they were not permitted to speak to the media.

Xu has frequently been punished for his outspokenness with lengthy periods of house arrest, the most recent beginning on 12 April after he signed a letter in support of other detained activists.

China's Communist party rulers tolerate no challenge to their rule and frequently punish critics with lengthy prison sentences, such as the 11-year term given to the Nobel peace prize winner Liu Xiaobo for co-authoring a call for sweeping political reforms.

Authorities say they protect citizens' legal rights and point to vast improvements in incomes and quality of life achieved over the past three decades.

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« Reply #7578 on: Jul 17, 2013, 08:01 AM »

Cuba confirms arms bound for North Korea on ship seized in Panama

Havana says missiles, jets and other weapons were being sent for repair as vessel is held over suspected UN sanctions breach

Agencies in Panama City and Havana, Wednesday 17 July 2013 03.01 BST   

Cuba has confirmed a North Korean cargo ship seized in Panama was carrying missiles, fighter jets and other armaments that were loaded in Cuban ports but claimed it was "obsolete defensive weaponry" being sent away for repair.

Panamanian authorities stopped the freighter on Monday when weaponry was found in amongst a load of 10,000 tonnes of sugar. The Panamanian president, Ricardo Martinelli, said the ship, identified as the 14,000-tonne Chong Chon Gang, had been carrying missiles and other arms "hidden in containers underneath the cargo of sugar". He tweeted a photo of some of the equipment, painted in military green.

On Tuesday the Cuban foreign ministry said the 240 tonnes of armaments consisted of two Volga and Pechora anti-aircraft missile systems, nine missiles "in parts and spares", two Mig-21 planes and 15 engines for those planes – all of which had been bound for repair in North Korea.

"The agreements subscribed by Cuba in this field are supported by the need to maintain our defensive capacity in order to preserve national sovereignty," the statement read. It concluded by saying that Havana remained "unwavering" in its commitment to international law, peace and nuclear disarmament.

Under current sanctions aimed at North Korea's nuclear weapons programme, all UN member states are prohibited from directly or indirectly supplying, selling or transferring all arms, missiles or missile systems and the equipment and technology to make them to North Korea, with the exception of small arms and light weapons.
Link to video: Panama finds weapons on North Korean ship leaving Cuba

A private defence analysis firm that examined a photograph of the find said the ship appeared to be transporting a radar-control system for a Soviet-era surface-to-air missile system. Neil Ashdown, an analyst for IHS Jane's Intelligence, said a green tube shown in a photograph appeared to be a horizontal antenna for the SNR-75 Fan Song radar, used to guide missiles fired by the SA-2 air defence system found in former Warsaw pact and Soviet-allied nations.

"It is possible that this could be being sent to North Korea to update its high-altitude air defence capabilities," Ashdown said. Jane's also said the equipment could be headed to North Korea to be upgraded.

One container buried under sugar sacks contained radar equipment that appeared to be designed for use with air-to-air or surface-to-air missiles, said Belsio Gonzalez, director of Panama's National Aeronautics and Ocean Administration. An Associated Press journalist who gained access to the rusting ship saw green shipping containers that had been covered by hundreds, perhaps thousands, of white sacks marked "Cuban raw sugar".

The UN security council has imposed four rounds of increasingly tougher sanctions against North Korea since its first nuclear test on 9 October 2006.

The most recent resolution, approved in March after Pyongyang's latest nuclear test, authorises all countries to inspect cargo in or transiting through their territory that originated in North Korea, or is destined to North Korea if a state has credible information the cargo could violate security council resolutions.

"Panama obviously has an important responsibility to ensure that the Panama Canal is utilised for safe and legal commerce," said acting US ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo, who is the current security council president. "Shipments of arms or related material to or from Korea would violate security council resolutions – three of them as a matter of fact."

Panamanian authorities believed the ship had been returning from Havana on its way to North Korea, the Panamanian public security minister Jose Raul Mulino told the Associated Press. Based on unspecified intelligence, authorities suspected it could be carrying contraband and tried to communicate with the crew, who did not respond. Martinelli said Panama originally suspected drugs could be aboard.

The 35 North Koreans on the boat were arrested after resisting police efforts to intercept the ship in Panamanian waters on Thursday as it moved toward the canal and take it to the Caribbean port of Manzanillo, Martinelli told private radio station RPC. The captain had a heart attack and also tried to commit suicide during the operation, Martinelli said.

Panamanian officials were finally able to board the ship to begin searching it Monday, pulling out hundreds of sacks of sugar.

Luis Eduardo Camacho, a spokesman for Martinelli, said authorities had only searched one of the ship's five container sections and the inspection of all cargo would take at least a week. Panama had requested help from United Nations inspectors, along with Colombia and the UK, said Javier Carballo, the country's top narcotics prosecutor.

"Panama being a neutral country, a country in peace, that doesn't like war, we feel very worried about this military material," Martinelli said.

North Korea's government made no public comment on the case.

In early July a top North Korean general, Kim Kyok Sik, visited Cuba and met with his island counterparts. The Cuban Communist party newspaper Granma said he was also received by President Raul Castro and the two had an "exchange about the historical ties that unite the two nations and the common will to continue strengthening them".

The meetings were held behind closed doors and there has been no detailed account of their discussions.

"After this incident there should be renewed focus on North Korean-Cuban links," said Hugh Griffiths, an arms trafficking expert at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Griffiths said his institute told the UN this year it had uncovered evidence of a flight from Cuba to North Korea that travelled via central Africa.

The Chong Chon Gang had a history of being detained on suspicion of trafficking drugs and ammunition, Griffiths said. Lloyd's List Intelligence said the 34-year-old ship, registered to the Pyongyang-based Chongchongang Shipping Company, "has a long history of detentions for safety deficiencies and other undeclared reasons".

Satellite tracking records show it left the Pacific Coast of Russia on 12 April with a stated destination of Havana, then crossed the Pacific and the Panama Canal on its way to the Caribbean. It disappeared from satellite tracking until it showed up again on the Caribbean side of the canal, on 10 July, Lloyd's said.

The disappearance from satellite tracking indicates the crew may have switched off a device that automatically transmits the ship's location after it moved into the Caribbean, Lloyd's said.

Mulino, the Panamanian public security minister, said the ship crossed the Panama Canal from the Pacific to the Caribbean in June carrying a cargo of sheet metal that was inspected by Panamanian authorities.

Griffiths said the Chong Chon Gang was stopped in 2010 in the Ukraine and attacked by pirates 400 miles off the coast of Somalia in 2009.

Griffiths' institute has also been interested in the ship because of a 2009 stop it made in Tartus, a Syrian port city hosting a Russian naval base.

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« Reply #7579 on: Jul 17, 2013, 08:04 AM »

July 16, 2013

Capture of Mexican Crime Boss Appears to End a Brutal Chapter


MEXICO CITY — Body parts strewn on highways, etched with the letter Z. Videotaped torture sessions uploaded onto YouTube. Victims placed in barrels and dissolved into a “stew” of violent death.

Since the Zetas emerged less than a decade ago as the brutal new figures in the storied history of organized crime here, Mexico has experienced some of its most shocking episodes of violence, and the bloodshed has seeped into other countries throughout the region.

Founded by heavily armed former soldiers trained for war, the Zetas did not pioneer sensational acts of violence in Mexico, but they perfected the practice of carnage as message, as they expanded beyond drug trafficking into extortion, migrant smuggling, kidnapping and other crimes.

With the arrest on Monday of Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales, the Zeta crime boss so greatly feared that many would not dare utter his name in public, Mexico’s long and bloody drug war may have reached a crossroads. Nobody believes that drug trafficking will let up now that the Zetas have been weakened. And an array of ruthless gunmen in and out of the Zetas have no qualms about continuing to kill.

But Mr. Treviño’s arrest, the killing of the previous Zeta commander in October and the recent capture of several other lieutenants have rocked the trafficking organizations that did the most to damage Mexico’s image and instill the most fear among the people.

Mr. Treviño, who was better known as Z-40, after his radio call sign given by the militaristic group, was captured before dawn on Monday, with $2 million in his pickup truck, after spending time with his newborn child in a rural area near the Texas border. American authorities played a key behind-the-scenes role in his apprehension and, after his arrest, confirmed his identity through biometric and DNA tests, according to officials on both sides of the border, who were not authorized to speak publicly on the case.

The relatively quiet denouement of Mr. Treviño’s career belies the mayhem that made his organization stand out. In some ways, analysts said, the Zetas became a victim of perverse success.

The organization grew so fast, drew in so much money and hired so many gunmen quick to pull the trigger that it lost the loyalty that other Mexican crime syndicates engendered toward their leaders, while older, more established cartels sought to take down the Young Turks making business tough for everybody.

“They broke the rules of the game,” said George W. Grayson, a professor at the College of William and Mary and author of “The Executioner’s Men,” a history of the Zetas. “They wanted to brand themselves, and the brand they chose was the meanest, leanest, most sadistic organization in the Americas. Just mentioning Zetas sparks fear in the hearts of those who hear them.”

Where family and community ties bind larger cartels, the Zetas, increasingly run by young recruits trained in remote camps to kill in spectacular fashion, depended on a culture of military discipline and a hierarchy that began to fracture under the pressure exerted by Mexican and American law enforcement.

The danger remains that the splintering of the Zetas will leave smaller, dangerous gangs copying their name and tactics as they continue to extort, kidnap and deal drugs. State and local police forces are generally too corrupted, ill prepared or not committed to take them on.

But several analysts said the arrest of Mr. Treviño, led by Mexican marines but supported with intelligence from the United States — where he is wanted on drug and gun charges — could be the beginning of the end of the group as a large cartel and, possibly, the large-scale violence it carried out with such bravado.

“As a cohesive group there is probably not much left of them,” said Alejandro Hope, a former Mexican intelligence officer and now security consultant at a Mexico City research group. “But there will continue to be people who call themselves Zetas, act like Zetas and belong to gangs that use their letter.”

International pressure will be a key factor, as arresting a capo is one thing, but taking apart an organization with offshoots in several countries is another, said Alberto Islas, a security expert in Mexico City.

In this case, President Enrique Peña Nieto, who took office in December promising to reduce the violence, had made clear that Mr. Treviño, who faces organized crime, murder, drug trafficking and torture charges, was a prime target. But, after years of what it saw as too much American involvement in its security agencies, the Mexican government wanted its forces to lead the way.

A senior American law enforcement official posted along the border, who was not authorized to speak on the record, described a recent meeting with his counterparts in Mexico City. “What I got from that meeting is that Mexico wants to prove it can handle this fight on its own — or at least on its own terms,” the official said.

Still, the Mexicans recognized the need for American help, and the two governments began sharing information on Mr. Treviño several months ago, with the Americans passing along word of the birth of Mr. Treviño’s child a little more than a month ago, the official said. The Americans also shared the information that he appeared to be making trips to visit the baby in the Nuevo Laredo area, near where he was captured, the official said.

The authorities traded intelligence gleaned from conversations caught on wiretaps and informants’ tips that led Mexican authorities to Mr. Treviño’s truck, moving before dawn on a highway near the border, the official said. Mexican marines in a helicopter intercepted Mr. Treviño and arrested him and two aides without a shot. Eight guns and $2 million in cash were confiscated.

“The reason they caught him without layers of security and without firing a shot,” said Art Fontes, a former F.B.I. official who spent years tracking Mr. Treviño, “is because he had $2 million in the vehicle and he thought he could buy his way out.”

While rumors about Mr. Treviño’s capture — including a photograph of him in custody — began appearing on Twitter late Monday morning, American officials said they were not formally notified about the arrest until hours later.

Mexican officials have not acknowledged any American role in the operation. Mr. Peña Nieto, the president, congratulated the navy on Tuesday and celebrated the capture as efficient coordination among agencies — Mexican ones. “I send my recognition and congratulation to the Mexican Navy and all the institutions in charge of our nation’s public security for the efficient work they have done,” he said at an event in central Mexico.

The Zetas took in substantial sums by running the migrant smuggling business through Mexico but were also known for preying upon those seeking to reach the United States. Mr. Treviño played a role in the death or disappearance of at least 265 of them, including 72 immigrants, mostly from Central America, who were found dead in northeastern Mexico in 2010, Mexican authorities said after his arrest.

The Rev. Pedro Pantoja, a Catholic priest in Saltillo, Mexico, who has been working with migrants for 20 years, said he had just returned from Guatemala, where he saw gang members working with the Zetas collecting thousands of dollars from people looking to reach the United States. No matter who is in charge, he said, the system will remain in place as poverty and criminal logistics combine, often with violence used as a way to maintain control.

“Organized crime still has all the power, with migrants, with kidnappings and with violence,” he said. “It will continue.”

Damien Cave contributed reporting from New York.

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« Reply #7580 on: Jul 17, 2013, 08:05 AM »

Strange horned dinosaur roamed island continent Laramidia 76 million years ago

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, July 16, 2013 21:32 EDT

Dubbed Nasotoceratops titusi, the creature lived during the Late Cretaceous about 76 million years ago.

It belonged to the family of herbivore ceratops dinos, of which the famous triple-horned triceratops was a member.

N. titusi is “remarkable” even for a ceratops, according to the researchers.

Its skull — uncovered nearly intact — comprised an oversized snout, extraordinarily long, blade-like horns that pitched forward over the eyes, and a trademark bony frill at the base of the head.

From horntip to tailtip, it was about four metres (14 feet) long.

All ceratopsids have greatly enlarged nose regions, but Nasutoceratops is a champion.

Why, though, is unclear.

“The jumbo-sized schnoz of Nasutoceratops likely had nothing to do with a heightened sense of smell, since olfactory receptors occur further back in the head, adjacent to the brain,” said Scott Sampson of the University of Utah.

“The function of this bizarre feature remains uncertain.”

His colleague, Mark Loewen, said the dino’s “amazing horns” “were most likely used as visual signals of dominance and, when that wasn’t enough, as weapons for combatting rivals.”

The evidence provides more tantalising details about a 27-million-year spell in the Late Cretaceous when high temperatures melted global icecaps and forced up sea levels, says the study.

The ocean spilled into central North America, leaving two big landmasses riding above a warm, shallow sea.

One, in the east, has been called Appalachia, while an Australia-sized landmass in the west, running from Alaska all the way down to Mexico, has been named Laramidia, according to a 17-year-old theory.

Laramidia was a stomping ground for dinosaurs. Tyrannosaurs, hadrosaurs, dromaeosaurids and troodoontids have all been found there. Alberta, Montana and Alaska have provided rich finds of ceratopses.

The unusual shape of N. titusi shows how giant species differentiated to fit in to a local habitat, a process called provincialism, says the study.

At present, there are five giant (rhino-to-elephant-sized) mammals on the entire continent of Africa.

But in the late Cretaceous, there may have been more than two dozen huge species of dinosaurs living on a landmass about one-quarter that size.

“We’re still working to figure out how so many different kinds of giant animals managed to co-exist on such a small landmass,” noted Loewen. N. titusi’s monicker is a hybrid of Greek and Latin meaning large-nosed and horned-faced.

It also honours Alan Titus, a pioneer in palaentology at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, comprising 760,000 hectares (1.9 million acres) of high desert terrain in south-central Utah, where the fossil was found in 2006.

The research is published in the British journal, Proceedings of the Royal Society.

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« Reply #7581 on: Jul 17, 2013, 08:07 AM »

Sabre rocket engine could open up access to space as never before

By Stuart Clark The Guardian
Wednesday, July 17, 2013 7:05 EDT

A £60m pledge from the UK government puts Reaction Engines’ Sabre rocket on course to change space exploration forever

Imagine taking off from a runway like a normal aeroplane but flying so high and so fast that when you unclip your seatbelt, you float around the cabin. Look out of the windows: on one side is the inky blackness of deep space, while on the other is the electric blue of your home planet, Earth.

This is no joyride for a few brief minutes of space-tourism weightlessness. Instead you are three, five or even 10 times higher than those little hops. In front of you is your destination: a space station. Perhaps it is a hotel or a place of work. You are in low earth orbit – and you’ve got there in far less time than it takes for a transatlantic flight.

This is the promise of the spaceplane, and it took a step closer to reality yesterday. UK Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts confirmed the government’s £60m investment in Reaction Engines Ltd.

Spaceplanes are what engineers call single-stage-to-orbit (if you really want to geek out, just use the abbreviation: SSTO). They have long been a dream because they would be fully reusable, taking off and landing from a traditional runway.

By building reusable spaceplanes, the cost of reaching orbit could be reduced to a twentieth current levels. That makes spaceplanes a game changer both for taking astronauts into space and for deploying satellites and space probes.

If all goes to plan, the first test flights could happen in 2019, and Skylon – Reaction Engines’ spaceplane – could be visiting the International Space Station by 2022. It will carry 15 tonnes of cargo on each trip. That’s almost twice the amount of cargo that the European Space Agency’s ATV vehicle can carry.

Traditional rockets can only reach orbit by dropping off empty fuel tanks as they go. This makes them virtually impossible to re-use because even if you could collect all the parts, they would need so much refurbishment and reassembly that it’s usually quicker, easier and cheaper to build new ones.

Rockets are cumbersome because not only must they carry fuel, they also need an oxidising agent to make it burn. This is usually oxygen, which is stored as a liquid in separate tanks. Spaceplanes do away with the need for carrying most of the oxidiser by using air from the atmosphere during the initial stages of their flight.

This is how a traditional jet engine works, and making a super-efficient version has been engineer Alan Bond’s goal for decades. In 1989, he founded Reaction Engines and has painstakingly developed the Sabre engine, which stands for Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engines.

In late 2012, tests managed by the European Space Agency showed that the key pieces of technology needed for Sabre worked. No one else has managed to successfully develop such a technology.

This makes Sabre a world-leading technology and the new money will allow a full-size prototype to be made as a final test before commercial production can begin.

To reach orbit, Skylon will use Sabre to boost it to Mach 5. It will then close the air intakes and use a small amount of onboard oxidiser to turn the jets into rockets and boost itself to Mach 22. At this speed, roughly 7.5km/s, the craft will reach low earth orbit.

Used terrestrially, an aeroplane powered by Sabre engines could whiz you from the UK to Australia in just four hours, the same time it takes holidaying Brits to reach the Canary Islands.

Spaceplanes should not to be confused with space tourism vehicles such as Virgin Galactic’s Space Ship Two. The highest altitude this vehicle will reach is about 110km, giving passengers about six minutes of weightlessness as the craft plummets back to Earth before the controlled landing.

Although there is no fully agreed definition, space starts at around 100km in altitude. To have any hope of staying in orbit, you would have to reach twice that altitude. The International Space Station orbits at 340 kilometres, whereas the Hubble Space Telescope sits at 595 kilometres.

On the Reaction Engines recruitment web page, the company offers potential employees the chance to “join the organisation that will conceivably have the biggest impact on the aerospace propulsion industry since [inventor of the jet engine] Sir Frank Whittle’s original design.”

I think that might actually be an understatement. The Sabre engine could open up our access to space as never before.

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« Reply #7582 on: Jul 17, 2013, 08:31 AM »

In the of the free ?

Millions of U.S. license plates tracked and stored – and it’s not just government agencies

By Ed Pilkington, The Guardian
Wednesday, July 17, 2013 10:40 EDT

Alarming number of databases across US are storing details of Americans’ locations – not just government agencies

Millions of Americans are having their movements tracked through automated scanning of their car license plates, with the records held often indefinitely in vast government and private databases.

A new report from the American Civil Liberties Union has found an alarming proliferation of databases across the US storing details of Americans’ locations. The technology is not confined to government agencies – private companies are also getting in on the act, with one firm National Vehicle Location Service holding more than 800m records of scanned license plates.

“License plate readers are the most pervasive method of location tracking that nobody has heard of,” said Catherine Crump, ACLU lawyer and lead author of the report. “They collect data on millions of Americans, the overwhelming number of whom are entirely innocent of any wrongdoing.”

Crump said that the creeping growth of licence plate scanners echoed the debate over the National Security Agency. “It raises the same question as the NSA controversy: do we want to live in a world where the government makes a record of everything we do – because that’s what’s being created by the growth of databases linked to license plate readers.”

ACLU based their research on the results of freedom of information requests to 300 police departments and other agencies nationwide that generated 26,000 pages of documents. The mountain of training materials, internal memos and policy statements retrieved by the group has opened a door on a previously little understood world.

Crump said that it’s impossible to put a figure on the scale of the license plate scanning phenomenon as information still remains patchy. But what is clear is that by using scanners mounted on police patrol cars, on road signs and bridges and outside public buildings such as libraries and schools, databases are now storing millions of data points.

Typically, the systems collect photographs, license plate numbers, as well as the date, time and location where the vehicle was seen. What is of concern to ACLU is the fact that the information gathering is indiscriminate – it sucks in the details of all passing cars – and that the data is stored with minimal safeguards and often for long periods or even forever.

“Even if licence plate reader data is not being misused already, we should all be concerned about it lingering in government databases for years as we never know how it will be used in future,” Crump said.

The purpose of vehicle scanning is to provide law enforcers with an extra tool in their search for criminals or stolen cars. Scanned data is checked against “hot lists” of stolen vehicles, felony warrants, offenders on probation and sex offenders, and when matches are achieved the authorities are alerted to the “hits”.

But ACLU’s analysis of the information it gathered on the scanning systems found that only a minuscule proportion of recorded licence plates were related to any criminal or other law enforcement issue. In Maryland, some 29m license plates were recorded in 2012, but of those only 0.2% were “hits” associated with crimes or other wrongdoings; and of that 0.2%, about 97% were for a traffic misdemeanour or a violation of the state’s vehicle emissions rules. To express that another way, out of every 1m license plates read in Maryland, only 47 were linked to more serious crime such as a wanted suspect or terrorist organisation.

That would not matter so much were there proper controls in place for how to store the data and for how long. But ACLU found that only five states have introduced laws to govern these scanning devices, while at a local level standards vary enormously across the country.

Some authorities such as Minnesota State Patrol delete all their scanned records after 48 hours. Others are much looser in their regulations, such as the town of Milpitas in California, population 67,000, which stores almost 5m plate reads with no time limits at all.

Many police authorities have few or no regulations over use of the scanners other than that they should not be deployed to track people of personal interest such as spouses or friends. Pittsburg police department in California stated on the documents submitted to ACLU that the scanners can be used for “any routine patrol operation or criminal investigation – reasonable suspicion or probably cause is not required”. The police department in Scarsdale New York was glowing about the potential of the technology, saying the scanners had potential that “is only limited by the officer’s imagination”.

In New York city, the NYPD used license plate readers as part of their controversial monitoring of mosques in the wake of 9/11, according to an investigation by Associated Press .

Mike Katz-Lacab from San Leandro, California, became curious about the use of license plate scanners after he heard that his town’s police department was investing in a system. In 2010 he submitted requests for information on the data stored on him and was astonished that over a two-year period some 112 images had been gathered and held on him, including pictures of his two cars in front of his house, friends’ houses, the local library and so on.

One captured image showed Katz-Lacab and his daughters getting out of the car. “I was amazed by how much information they had gathered on me over a short period of time.”

The police force has recently introduce a one-year limit on storing the data, but he thinks that’s still too long. “People should be concerned about this for so many reasons: maybe they visit an abortion clinic, or have sensitive medical treatment, or attend a political demonstration – all those movements can be gleaned from this kind of data,” he said. © Guardian News and Media 2013


Bradley Manning defense lawyers say conviction would set ‘extremely bad precedent’

By Ed Pilkington, The Guardian
Tuesday, July 16, 2013 21:39 EDT

The defence team representing Bradley Manning, the US soldier who leaked reams of state secrets to WikiLeaks, has made one last attempt to persuade the judge presiding over his court martial to dismiss the most serious charge against him: that he “aided the enemy”.

Manning’s civilian lawyer David Coombs said that to convict the army private of such a severe offence would set an “extremely bad precedent”. It would place US society on a “very slippery slope, of basically punishing people for getting information out to the press.”

Addressing the judge in a military court in Fort Meade, Coombs said that “no case has ever been prosecuted under this type of theory: that an individual, by the nature of giving information to a journalistic organisation, would then be subject to” a charge of “aiding the enemy”. Conviction of such an office would bring “a hammer down on any whistleblower or anybody who wants to put information out”.

The lawyer’s comments were recorded by the Freedom of the Press Foundation, which is employing court stenographers during the Manning trial as a way of overcoming the high level of official secrecy that surrounds the case.

The “aiding the enemy” charge has become the seminal battle in Manning’s prosecution, with the US government, in its determination to come down hard on official leakers, ranged against advocates of freedom of information. Under the terms of the charge, Manning is accused of having given valuable intelligence to Osama bin Laden, al-Qaida and its affiliate groups simply by dint of having leaked documents that were then posted by WikiLeaks on the internet.

In a further charge under the 1917 Espionage Act, the soldier is accused of “wrongfully and wantonly” causing intelligence to be published on the internet when he knew that would make it “accessible to the enemy”.

Human rights groups are now focusing in on the “aiding the enemy” charge as a threat to free speech in America. Earlier this week Amnesty International derided as “ludicrous” the claim that by leaking to a news organisation an individual could be guilty of helping al-Qaida.

In spirited legal argument, Coombs told the court that the prosecution had entirely failed to show that Manning had any “actual knowledge” that transmitting documents to WikiLeaks would be beneficial to al-Qaida. He said that the webchats that the soldier conducted with the former hacker Adrian Lamo prior to his arrest indicated the opposite: “that his intent was to get this information out to spark reform, spark debate”.

Coombs reminded the court that “aiding the enemy” carries the death penalty, and although the prosecution is not pursuing a capital case against Manning, the soldier does face the possibility of life without parole. To find him guilty of such a severe offence, Coombs said, the government would have to meet a high evidential standard by proving that Manning had “actual knowledge” he was giving intelligence to al-Qaida.

But, Coombs said, the government has no such evidence. “The government has nothing, but perhaps an argument that PFC Manning might have been negligent in giving information to WikiLeaks, and that the enemy might have been able to access it. But there has been no evidence offered by the government to show actual knowledge.”

Speaking for the government, Captain Angel Overgaard said sardonically that “it would be nice if we had a videotaped confession” from Manning admitting that he knew he was making the leaked documents available to al-Qaida. “We don’t have that in this case.”

But the prosecutor said that the government had presented the court with “a mountain of circumstantial evidence … that shows that the accused did, in fact, know that by publishing information, leaking information to WikiLeaks, and having it published on the internet, that it was, in fact, going to al-Qaida.”

Colonel Denise Lind, the judge presiding over the case alone in the absence of a jury, repeated a question that has come up in earlier pre-trial hearings. “Does it make any difference if it’s WikiLeaks or any other news organisation – the New York Times, Washington Post, or Wall Street Journal?”

Overgaard huddled for a moment with her fellow prosecutors, and then replied: “No, it would not. It would not potentially make a difference.”

Overgaard said in this case Manning was a trained intelligence analyst, and as such “knew exactly what he was doing”. She added: “PFC Manning is distinct from an infantryman or a truck driver, because he had all the training. And this was his job. He knew exactly the consequences of his actions.”

The judge has indicated that she will rule later this week on the defence’s motion to have the “aiding the enemy” charge dismissed. © Guardian News and Media 2013


Eric Holder calls for review of self-defense laws after George Zimmerman’s acquittal

By Richard Luscombe, The Guardian
Tuesday, July 16, 2013 19:20 EDT

Eric Holder, the US attorney general, launched an attack Tuesday on self-defence laws he said encouraged more violence, and used George Zimmerman’s acquittal over the murder of Trayvon Martin as a backdrop to call for a deeper debate about issues of race and gun controls.

Addressing the annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Orlando, Florida, close to the town of Sanford where Martin was killed in February last year, Holder insisted it was time to look again at legislation such as the state’s stand-your-ground law that eliminated “the commonsense and age-old requirement” that people who felt threatened had a duty to retreat.

“These laws try to fix something that was never broken,” he said. “We must stand our ground to ensure that our laws reduce violence and take a hard look at laws that contribute to more violence than they prevent.

“By allowing and perhaps encouraging violent situations to escalate in public, such laws undermine public safety. The list of resulting tragedies is long and unfortunately has victimised too many who are innocent.”

The speech by Holder, the country’s first African American attorney general, was warmly received by members of the NAACP, who have been vocal since Zimmerman’s controversial murder acquittal on Saturday in their demands for the neighbourhood watch leader to face a federal civil rights prosecution.

Holder repeated his promise that Martin’s “tragic and unnecessary” death would be fully investigated by the Department of Justice as it determined whether legal action could be taken.

“The NAACP and its members are deeply and rightly concerned about this case, as passionate civil rights leaders, engaged citizens and most of all as parents,” he said.

“The Department of Justice will consider all available information before determining what action to take. But independent of the legal determination, I believe this tragedy provides yet another opportunity for our nation to speak honestly and openly about the complicated and emotionally-charged issues that this case has raised.”

Recalling stories from his own childhood, he spoke of the progress that still needed to be made in race relations in the US.

“Years ago, some of these same issues drove my father to sit down with me, to have a conversation about how, as a young black man, I should interact with the police, what to say and how to conduct myself, if I was ever stopped or confronted in a way I thought was unwarranted,” he said.

“I’m sure my father felt certain at that time that my parents’ generation would be the last to have to worry about such things for their children. Since those days our country has indeed changed for the better.

“Yet for all the progress we have seen, recent events demonstrate that we still have much more work to do and much further to go. The news of Trayvon Martin’s death last year and the discussions that have taken place since then reminded me of my father’s words.”

Holder said he had spoken with his own 15-year-old son, “not to burden him with the baggage of eras long gone, but to make him aware of the world he must still confront.”

“This is a sad reality in a nation changing for the better in so many ways,” Holder added. “I am determined to ensure that the kind of talk I had with my son isn’t the only conversation we engage in as a result of these tragic events.”

He addressed the protests that followed Zimmerman’s acquittal, which, apart from a small number of arrests in California, were largely peaceful. “In the days leading up to the weekend’s verdict, some predicted and prepared for riots and waves of civil unrest across the country. Some feared that the anger of those who disagreed with the jury might overshadow and obscure the issues,” he said.

“The people of Sanford and for most part thousands of others across America, rejected this destructive path. They proved wrong those who doubted their commitment to the rule of law and across America diverse groups of citizens are instead overwhelmingly making their voices heard through rallies and vigils designed to provoke responsible debate.

“Those who act in a contrary manner do not honour the memory of Trayvon Martin,” Holder said. © Guardian News and Media 2013


Republican tax law specialist: ‘Laughable’ to think IRS targeted Obama’s enemies

By Eric W. Dolan
Tuesday, July 16, 2013 19:13 EDT

New documents released Tuesday cast doubt on allegations that the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative groups to aid President Barack Obama.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) and other Republicans have alleged that IRS officials inappropriately flagged conservative groups that were seeking tax-exempt status for additional scrutiny because they were seen as enemies of Obama.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD), Ranking Member of the House Oversight Committee, released a 36-page memo (PDF) on Tuesday that included excepts from the committee’s 15 interviews of IRS employees involved in the screening of tax-exempt organizations.

A tax law specialist — who registered as a Republican — told congressional investigators it was “laughable that people think” the IRS targeted Obama’s enemies. She worked in the Washington, D.C. office of the IRS on several applications from tea party groups and said the IRS was concerned about “political campaign intervention activities” but lacked the guidance needed to process the applications because the law was ambiguous.

“And so the lingering length of time, unfortunately, was just trying to apply the law to the specific facts of each case,” she explained.

Several other IRS employees, both Democrats and Republicans, said they received no guidance from the White House. The IRS flagged tea party groups, the employees claimed, so their applications would receive consistent treatment.

Democrats have released a growing list of documents that cast doubt on the IRS scandal, which began in May after the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) published an audit that concluded the IRS used “inappropriate criteria” to flag tea party groups for additional review. Republicans quickly decried the findings and launched several congressional investigations.

Democrats later published the so-called “Be On the Look Out” (BOLO) memos mentioned in the audit, which showed liberal and progressive groups were also targeted.

But Republicans alleged that the party groups were automatically flagged for review, while progressive groups were not. However, a 2010 IRS presentation (PDF) on how to screen tax-exempt applications stated progressive groups and others “were of interest and should be flagged for review.” The presentation instructed screeners to “err on the side of caution” and flag all potential political groups for review.

An internal email sent in May by TIGTA’s Head of Investigations specifically stated the IRS did not target conservative groups. An investigation of 5,500 IRS emails showed the tea party was placed on the BOLO memos because “the IRS employees were not sure how to process them, not because they wanted to stall or hinder the application,” the top investigator wrote.

It is unclear why that finding, which the Head of Investigations described as “very important,” was not included in the audit.

“This new information underscores the fact that the Treasury Inspector General’s audit was fundamentally flawed and created widespread misperceptions that Republicans seized on in an effort to attack the White House. It is now all the more important that Inspector General George return to Congress to explain his glaring omissions and reasons for releasing a highly misleading report,” Sander Levin (D-MI) said last week.


July 17, 2013 08:00 AM

Elizabeth Warren Takes Her Fight for Glass-Steagall To CNBC

By karoli

I do love me some Senator Elizabeth Warren, especially when she stands tall against big banks. In her short time as Senator so far, she has managed to actually move the ball down the field.

CNBC hosts, on the other hand, are slaves to their banker masters, and spend most of their days convincing people who have nothing better to do than move their money around from place to place that Warren's plan to reinstate Glass-Steagall is nothing less than Satan's plan to take over the world.

Senator Warren is magnificent. I loved it when she responded to their skepticism about getting the bill passed by reminding them that if no one fights for something, it has ZERO chance of being passed. She then went on to cite the existence of the CFPB as something everyone thought would be dead in the water, too. Because consumer protection = bad, terrible policy if you're a banker.

Senator Warren's ability not only to communicate complex ideas and history but to also get Republicans on board with her idea is testimony to her people skills. Nowhere are those skills more on display than they are here.

As for those CNBC hosts, I can only suggest they pick themselves up, dust off their backsides, and try being a bit more polite and educated before taking on the senior Senator from the great state of Massachusetts.

Click to watch because it is really a site to behold: ""


Rand Paul: Filibuster prevents ‘extremist’ Maddow from being Supreme Court justice

By Eric W. Dolan
Tuesday, July 16, 2013 17:58 EDT

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) on Tuesday defended Republicans use of the filibuster, saying the tactic was necessary to prevent the nomination of extremists like MSNBC host Rachel Maddow.

Republicans have filibustered dozens of President Barack Obama’s executive nominations, delaying the confirmation of heads of multiple government agencies. Paul said he also plans to hold up the confirmation of James Comey for FBI director over the use of drones.

“I think the leverage of using the filibuster to get information and to make the President obey the law, I think it is a very important tool and our Founding Fathers put it in there for precisely this reason,” Paul said on Fox News.

“For that reason, to call attention to what they’re trying to do, especially if you’re in the minority you an do that and, frankly, if you didn’t have a filibuster, what would stop President Obama from appointing say Al Sharpton as attorney general or Rachel Maddow on the Supreme Court,” host Eric Bolling added.

“Right,” Paul responded. “If you were to get an extremist like that, someone with an extreme point of view, the majority here could pass it with 51 votes, but with the filibuster then it would take 60 votes, so you’re less likely to get someone with those kinds of extreme views to be nominated and approved by the Senate.”


Liz Cheney to challenge Republican senator of Wyoming

By Eric W. Dolan
Tuesday, July 16, 2013 18:14 EDT

Former Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter Liz Cheney hopes to defeat U.S. Senator Mike Enzi in next year’s Republican primary in Wyoming. In a video announcing her candidacy, the Fox News contributor attacked President Barack Obama on a wide range of issues, including the federal debt, health care, gun rights and foreign policy. Notably absent was any mention of Enzi. Cheney only said the country needed a “new generation of leaders.”


The 10 best attractions at the Athens, Georgia tea party ‘community carnival’

By David Ferguson
Tuesday, July 16, 2013 15:39 EDT

The Athens-Clarke County Tea Party Patriots of Athens, Georgia have a problem. At the group’s first annual “Liberty Convention” in June, the convention’s many sponsors declined to pay the amounts they agreed to pay for banners and program mentions. On top of that, the expected crowd of 2,500 true sons and daughters of liberty never materialized. Instead, a mere 95 patriots turned up for the festivities.

As a result, the group is deep in debt and owes more than $65,000 to its roster of speakers, including 2012 Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson and Sandy Hook “truther” journalist Ben Swann. Athens Tea Party Patriots chairman Keyantwon Stephens has said that the group will make good on its obligations, but was unable to say what kind of fundraising efforts they will undertake save a passing mention of a “community carnival.”

Being big fans of ferris wheels, bumper cars and food on a stick, we at the Raw Story Schadenfreude Desk would like to share some of our ideas for attractions at the tea party community carnival.

1. Some 2-D cut-outs of Mickey Mouse holding sheets of clean, blank paper and saying, “You must be THIS WHITE to vote in this district, kids!”

2. The Bell Curve roller coaster, in which conservatives can go up and down and round and round pretending that their racism is based on science.

3. The Cognitive Dissonance House of Mirrors, in which people on Medicare-funded mobility scooters can watch themselves waving signs protesting government health care.

4. Whac-Em-All, a game very much like Whac-a-Mole, except instead of mammalian lawn and garden pests, participants beat down minority college graduates and scream about affirmative action.

5. EBT Ball, a game in which conservatives compete for prizes by throwing tennis balls at poor people and trying to knock the food out of their mouths.

6. The Freak Tent, where some of conservatives’ worst, most fevered nightmare figures lurk, including The Cadillac Driving Welfare Queen, the War on Christmas Atheist Shock Troops, the New Black Panthers (both of them!), the African-American Turnout Machine and the birth-control-pill-popping, abortion-happy Sexually Liberated Woman and her on-again/off-again girlfriend, Angry Feminazi, who spends her days burning her bra and biting the heads off roosters, JUST BECAUSE THEY’RE MALE.

7. The Free Market Social Safety Net, a ride on which conservatives are lifted up to 150 feet in the air and then dropped. At the top, carnival personnel distribute parachutes to those who can afford them ($800 for a regular chute, $1,100 for one with an emergency back up in case the first one doesn’t open) and then kick everyone, parachutes or not, off the tower to see who hits the ground first.

8. The Downward Slide, a fast-moving ride dedicated to what the country would be like if tea partiers got their way and shrunk the government small enough to be drowned in a bathtub. Features include Big City Cholera Funtime, 20 Collapsing Bridges over the Mississippi, Guess When that Hurricane is Coming Ashore Now That NOAA’s Gone and the new unregulated agriculture ride, Toxic Treats and Tapeworms for Everybody!

9. Second Amendment Ram-It Days, a version of the carnival staple bumper-cars, but with a twist! One in every ten cars is primed to fire its guns erratically when it encounters a darker-colored car, and half of the participants have been instructed to keep their concealed weapons handy and shoot at anyone who annoys them or gets in their way. You get to guess who they are!

But of course, if the carnival fails to live up to expectations and doesn’t fill that gaping $65,000 hole, the Athens-Clarke County Tea Party Patriots could always fall back on that favorite fundraising prank of college Republicans:

10. The Affirmative Action Bake Sale, in which conservatives manage to bring a racist agenda to something as universally loved and admired as cupcakes and other fresh baked goods.

Good luck, teabaggers! Hope y’all can find your way back to personal and fiscal responsibility before you get sued!

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« Reply #7583 on: Jul 18, 2013, 06:52 AM »

Pig Putin's Russia ...

07/17/2013 03:03 PM

Navalny Trial: Pig Putin Turning Russia 'Into a Police State'

Blogger Alexei Navalny defied Putin. Now he faces six years in prison. In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, Russian human rights icon Lyudmila Alexeyeva explains why the Kremlin is trying to muzzle the opposition leader -- and why it could backfire.

Alexei Navalny made his name as a blogger and anti-corruption activist before becoming the most prominent figure in the protest movement against Russian President Pig Putin. But now Navalny is 37 years old, and he is already facing the end of his political career. If a court in the provincial Russian town of Kirov finds him guilty this Thursday, he cannot, by Russian law, run for public office.

The charge is embezzlement. Navalny was an adviser to the liberal governor of Kirov in 2009. The prosecution accuses him of abusing his position and enriching himself through the sale of wood from publicly owned forest. Officially, he is accused of stealing 16 million rubles, equivalent to approximately €400,000 ($528,000).

Lyudmila Alexeyeva, 85, is a historian, civil rights activist and long-time icon of the Russian opposition. In a conversation with SPIEGEL ONLINE, she explains why the Kremlin wants to muzzle Navalny.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Are the accusations, that Navalny defrauded €400,000 from the state when he was an adviser to a governor, true?

Alexeyeva: There is no proof of it. It is all a political trial meant to end Navalny's political career.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What punishment do you expect?

Alexeyeva: In Russia, less than one percent of trials end with an acquittal. With trials that were initiated for political reasons those chances are zero. The state prosecutor is calling for six years in prison. If Navalny is lucky, the penalty will be reduced to probation. I hate it when people are wrongly convicted.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What odds does he have in the Moscow mayoral race in September? Polls put him at 8 percent.

Alexeyeva: After all, former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, who is currently the leader of the opposition, got 13 percent in Sochi, the host city of the winter Olympics, two years ago despite the fact that the entire state apparatus was against him and numerous obstacles were placed in his path. But even if Navalny appeals, the state will probably pass a legally binding sentence quickly. Then he wouldn't be able to run for any position. Eight percent is not so bad, by the way, once you realize all of the state media are against him.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Could Navalny's popularity grow while he is in prison?

Alexeyeva: That's what happened with magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky. He was merely an oligarch in the minds of most Russians, but his imprisonment in a labor camp turned him into a martyr with a positive image. In Russia, we have a long tradition of compassion for people who have been put into labor camps or prison. If Navalny is convicted it would show that the Kremlin and Pig Putin haven't learned anything from the Khodorkovsky case.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Where is Pig Putin leading Russia?

Alexeyeva: Since his return to the Kremlin, systematically into a police state.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How should the West react if Navalny is convicted?

Alexeyeva: It should think of its own interests. What would it be like to have a kind of Soviet Union as a neighbor once again? Here, we do what we can. I am proud that no non-governmental organization submitted to the Kremlin's demand that it identify itself as a foreign agent if it receives foreign money. I find that heroic.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: When Navalny announces that he would put Putin and his associates behind bars as soon as he were to come to power, is that the right path for the opposition or is he just provoking a strong reaction from the Kremlin?

Alexeyeva: I can understand Navalny. There are many people around Pig Putin and his rulers who, as a result of their place in the sun, became billionaires. Maybe it would be best to send them out of the country with their billions. Russia wouldn't be any worse off. On the contrary! It is important to avoid worsening the situation. Way too much blood has been spilled in our country in revolutions and civil wars.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Will Pig Putin and his crew ever stop the repression?

Alexeyeva: It makes me think of Napoleon, who once said something to the effect that he is more afraid of stupid opponents than of smart ones, because he can better calculate what the smart ones will do. The Kremlin is incalculable.

Interview conducted by Matthias Schepp and Claudia Thaler in Moscow


Russia: Alexei Navalny found guilty of embezzlement

Trial widely seen as a means of discrediting opposition leader and critic of Pig Putin

Miriam Elder in Moscow, Thursday 18 July 2013 09.58 BST   
Link to video: Alexei Navalny is found guilty of embezzlement

A Russian court has found Alexei Navalny guilty of embezzlement in a trial widely seen as a means of silencing the popular Russian opposition leader.

A judge in the provincial city of Kirov, 500 miles north-east of Moscow, found Navalny guilty of embezzling 16m roubles (£300,000) from a timber firm while advising the region's liberal governor in 2009. Prosecutors have asked the judge to give him six years in prison and a 1m rouble fine. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 10 years.

The trial is widely seen as a means of discrediting an opposition leader who has gained increasing support since Pig Putin returned to the Russian presidency against a backdrop of unprecedented protests last year.

Navalny arrived in the provincial city by train on Thursday morning, backed by dozens of supporters.

After building a career in opposition politics by focusing on exposing official corruption, Navalny said he would run for mayor of Moscow in snap elections called for September. In a move that surprised many, officials allowed him to register for the race last week, prompting speculation that he could be handed a suspended or delayed sentence.

A conviction had been expected as less than 1% of Russian court cases end in not guilty verdicts.

The sentencing will be keenly watched. His supporters have promised to gather outside the Kremlin's walls on Thursday evening.

Navalny urged his supporters to keep courage and continue their fight in a blog on Wednesday.

"We know what to do, we know how to do it," he wrote. "It's important to gather courage, fight laziness, and work."


Russian opposition leader vows to destroy 'disgusting feudal system'

Alexey Navalny uses closing remarks of embezzlement case against him to condemn Pig Putin's government

Miriam Elder in Moscow
The Guardian, Friday 5 July 2013 16.03 BST   

Russia's top opposition leader, Alexey Navalny, has vowed to destroy the "feudal system of power" lorded over by Pig Putin during powerful closing remarks to a provincial court that could send him to prison for six years.

Blasting Putin's government for "occupying" power, pilfering the country of billions of dollars and leading Russia down a path of vodka-fuelled degradation, Navalny urged his followers not to be afraid as he awaits a likely jail sentence.

"My colleagues and I will do everything to destroy this feudal system that exists in Russia – this system of power where 83% of the national wealth belongs to 0.5% of the country," he said.

"Not one of us has the right to neutrality," Navalny told the court (video) in Kirov, 500 miles east of Moscow, where he is standing trial on charges of embezzlement that are widely seen as a means of silencing Putin's most virulent critic.

"Each time one of us thinks: 'I'll just stand aside and things will happen without me and I'll wait', then he is helping this disgusting feudal system that sits like a spider in that Kremlin," Navalny said.
Navalny addresses the court (in Russian).

Navalny has grown from being a politically active anti-corruption activist into the most prominent opposition leader to organise mass anti-Putin protests that shook Moscow early last year. He has continued to uncover dozens of cases of official wrongdoing, from state-run companies to prominent MPs. Last month, he announced he would run for mayor of Moscow in snap elections called for September.

In a country where independent political activism is crushed and expressing anti-Putin sentiment is increasingly dangerous, many had long expected Navalny's arrest. As Putin unleashed a crackdown against civil society unseen since the Soviet era upon his return to the Kremlin last year, prosecutors brought case after criminal case against Navalny.

In Kirov, state prosecutors allege that Navalny, 37, embezzled 16m roubles (£330,000) worth of timber from a state firm when he was advising the region's liberal governor in 2009.

On Friday, prosecutors asked the judge to hand him a six0year jail sentence and a 1m rouble fine – below the maximum 10-year sentence he could have faced, but enough to keep him in jail for Russia's next presidential election in 2018.

"If someone thinks that in hearing this threat of six years I will run away, abroad, or hide somewhere, you are very, very mistaken," Navalny said. "I'm not running anywhere – I have no other choice. I don't want to do anything else. I want to help the people of my country.

"It's been 15 years since huge oil and gas money arrived and what has it brought to the country? Did we get better access to medicine, education, housing conditions? What did we get – those of us on this or that side of the defendants' bench? The only thing that became more accessible to our people now than in Soviet times is vodka.

"We will destroy this feudal system that robs all of you," he said.

Addressing the judge, who kept his eyes cast downward during a speech that recalled the traditions of Soviet dissidents, Navalny said: "Even though you put me on the defendants' bench, my colleagues and I will protect you from all this."

The judge is due to hand down his verdict on 18 July. Less than 1% of Russian court cases end in acquittals.

Click to watch:


July 17, 2013

Russia Stacked Team With Stars for World University Games


MOSCOW — The World University Games are a sports competition drawing student athletes from around the world for tests of strength, endurance and dexterity. At this summer’s Russian version, there was a new contest: getting creamed by the hosts.

Most countries treat the biennial games as something of a good-will exchange for amateur athletes, but not the Russians, who fielded a star-studded team stacked with 18 gold-medal winners from the real Olympics who were ostensibly also studying at a university somewhere.

The Russians won 155 gold medals over the 11 days of competition. The Chinese, no slouches when it comes to international competitions, were a distant second with 26 golds, and the American team finished way back in seventh place with 11.

With people in the stands cheering and stomping for the home team in the Volga River city of Kazan, the Russians took victory lap after victory lap, leaving their winded and bewildered student competitors from around the world to stagger off the field in defeat.

“We came well prepared,” Aleksandra V. Lyskova, the spokeswoman for the Russian team, said in a telephone interview as she explained how the Russians trounced everybody else so badly.

The Russian haul of gold medals, about half the total available, was a record for the University Games, also known as the Universiade, which have been held since 1924. Russia surpassed even China’s haul of 75 gold medals, which raised some eyebrows at the last games, which were held in China.

The Russians took the games seriously in other ways too, spending $4.5 billion to prepare, according to the International Association of Student Sports.

The Russians considered the student games a warm-up for the Winter Olympics next February in Sochi, where the Kremlin longs to win the medal count and showcase the revival of Russia’s once-fearsome sporting reputation.

As the competition of student athletes progressed, non-Russian students began to whisper among themselves. While limbering up before swimming or stretching at trackside, they could hardly help noticing their Russian competitors appeared far more muscle-bound, serious and mature.

Even within Russia, though, the fielding of Olympic champions in a student competition and the predictable result — winning six times as many gold medals as the nearest competitor — did not go uncriticized. Vedomosti, the Russian business newspaper, ran a front-page editorial suggesting that Russia had fudged the rules.

“In a country with imitations of many other institutions, there’s no surprise here,” the newspaper said. “The Universiade is like an election: a little administrative resource, a little busing and stuffing, and you can serve up 146 percent.”

Team U.S.A. did include some Olympic athletes, including a weight lifter and two synchronized swimmers, but none of them won medals. The more typical American competitors were represented by the water polo team from the University of California, Los Angeles, and the volleyball team from Smithfield College in Massachusetts.

“Because we were playing these guys who were obviously bigger than us, we had to play better defense,” Paul Pickell, a senior sociology major on the U.C.L.A. water polo team, said in an interview, adding that he cherished the chance to play against such elite competitors, and lose. “When you play against a guy who is better than you, you get better. We were really fortunate.”

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« Reply #7584 on: Jul 18, 2013, 07:00 AM »

07/18/2013 11:08 AM

Welcome Money?: Rumor Lures Chechen Refugees to Germany

By Benjamin Bidder and Christina Hebel in Moscow and Hamburg

In recent months, a huge number of Russians have applied for asylum in Germany -- most of them from Chechnya. German authorities are baffled, but insiders in Russia say it all started with a rumor.

At first, it was just a rumor. People in the North Caucasus region of Russia started telling stories about how the government in faraway Germany was opening the gates into this country of fabled prosperity -- and particularly to refugees from Chechnya, the Russian republic with limited autonomy. People spoke of a "corridor" for 40,000 Chechens.

Journalists working for a newspaper owned by the Chechen government eventually telephoned the German Embassy in Moscow. The German official denied that there was any such "corridor" to Germany. But, in Chechnya, a rumor can sometimes trump a diplomat's word -- especially when a journalist on the government's payroll is on the other end of the line.

The results of these rumors can now be seen in statistics on asylum seekers to Germany. For months, federal officials have recorded an abrupt rise in the number of applicants from Russia. The Interior Ministry has reported that there were 9,957 applications in the first six months of 2013, whereas there were only 3,202 in the whole of 2012. In comparison, the first half of this year saw only 4,517 asylum applications to Germany coming from Syria, which continues to be ravaged by civil war.

German officials say that they do not compile information about the ethnic origins of asylum seekers. They are also very reluctant to release any related information, pointing out that one can never be sure that the would-be refugees are telling the truth. Speaking off the record, however, they confirm that the overwhelming majority of Russian asylum seekers come from Chechnya.

A Ruling and a Rumor

What triggered this spike in applications from Chechnya? German officials admit that they don't have an answer. But people close to Chancellor Angela Merkel's administration say there's a possibility that increases in benefit payments since 2012 have contributed to the rising number of Russian asylum seekers. In July 2012, Germany's Federal Constitutional Court ruled that asylum seekers and refugees are entitled to receive roughly the same level of benefits as the country's welfare recipients, regardless of their country of origin.

Svetlana Gannushkina, an expert on refugees with the Russian human rights group Memorial, has a better idea of what's behind the influx. Coworkers first told her about the rumors from Chechnya in April. She says people were reportedly claiming that Germany planned to give each Chechen refugee €4,000 ($5,300) and some land.

Gannushkina also says that professional human traffickers started the rumors, and that she knows of villages in which the residents of entire streets have all boarded buses and headed west.

The rumor landed on fertile soil in the North Caucasus. Chechnya has two recent wars behind it. Beginning in 1994 and then in 1999, Russian troops fought against separatist groups of the self-proclaimed Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. During the Second Chechen War, Vladimir Putin's soldiers brutally crushed the rebels. Although Russian soldiers and intelligence officials abused and abducted civilians, they still couldn't pacify the country. In 2004, Islamist rebels planted a bomb that killed Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov as he watched a Soviet Victory Day parade from the VIP seating of a football stadium. But then came his son Ramzan, the current head of the country.

'People Are Seized by Fear'

Ramzan Kadyrov fought on the Russian side during the war. A former bodyguard once accused him of torturing and murdering people -- only to end up shot dead on an open street in Vienna in 2009. Ramzan Kadyrov succeed in hunting down or driving off the rebels. Whereas Islamists in the neighboring republics of Dagestan and Ingushetia attack the police or soldiers almost every week, things are relatively calm in Chechnya.

But Kadyrov rules with an iron fist. "Women without headscarves are targeted for attacks, and female students who wear jeans or have exposed elbows aren't allowed to attend university lectures," says Gannushkina, the human rights activist. "Families no longer send their daughters to university and hide them away in their homes out of fear that men belonging to Kadyrov's guard might take a liking to them." She also says there continue to be abductions, but that no one dares to complain to human rights organizations about them. "People are seized by fear," she adds, "which is why so many believed the rumor."

The rumor is driving scores of Chechens to abandon their homeland. Most of them flee to Ukraine, from where they cross the European Union border into Poland and then into Germany. Human rights activists say that most of the refugees travel in groups organized by smugglers and enter the countries illegally. In April, federal police officers in Frankfurt an der Oder, a city that borders Poland, said that the refugees were usually families with small children.

Will Asylum Be Granted?

But what are their chances of being granted asylum in Germany? In response to an official request for information from Germany's far-left Left Party, Germany's federal government said that 24 percent of Russian refugees received a positive response to their asylum application in the first quarter of 2013. "If almost every fourth one is being accepted, there is obviously a great deal of persecution and massive human rights violations," says Bernd Mesovic, the assistant head of the refugee rights organization Pro Asyl.

In fact, he and other human rights activists fear that for these refugees, German authorities might now introduce the kind of expedited asylum procedures that are already being used for asylum seekers from Balkan countries. Mesovic says that officials might try to set an example by making fast-track decisions with a large percentage of denials.

The Chechen state newspaper Westi Respubliki responded in mid-May by ridiculing the recent stream of emigrants. During the wars, they said, Chechens fled "explosions, mass purges and kidnappings, but today they have other reasons: They're searching for the good life," reads the article. Yet not a single Chechen has seen anything of the "subsidies, apartments and cars" that are supposedly waiting in Germany for the refugees, the article scoffs.

Yet the ridicule is of little use. Hundreds have already left, and hundreds will follow -- until the rumor eventually loses its power.

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« Reply #7585 on: Jul 18, 2013, 07:02 AM »

07/17/2013 11:13 AM

Debt Paralysis: Can Austerity Alone Save Portugal?

By Martin Hesse and Helene Zuber

Portugal has meticulously implemented the austerity measures required by international creditors. But the country's restructuring is taking longer than expected, and the reformers have grown weary, leading to fresh fears of a national bankruptcy.

To get an idea of what the new Portugal could look like, it's best to leave the old Lisbon behind. The drive begins in the center of the city, surrounding Praça Dom Pedro, where old-fashioned shops sit next to chain stores found around the world, and then up Avenida da Liberdade.

After passing graffiti painted in protest against the dictates of the troika of international lenders, you finally reach one of Lisbon's many hills. At the top is the Nova School of Business and Economics. Pedro Santa Clara, a wiry man with short, silvery gray hair, wearing a perfectly tailored suit and a white shirt open at the collar, teaches there. But now the economist has slipped into the role of the pitchman, presenting what seem like futuristic models of a new campus he wants to build in a spectacular location along the coast.

"It's time to look forward," says Santa Clara.

He is referring to the business school, but he is also alluding to crisis-battered Portugal, which he believes must reinvent itself. "We have to cultivate Portugal's strengths, instead of fighting lost battles," he says.

But even if one agrees with Santa Clara's vision of a better future for Portugal, the burdens of those lost battles are heavy. The country's debts amount to 124 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP). Since private investors were hardly willing to lend Portugal money after the global financial crisis, the European Union, euro-zone countries and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) granted Lisbon a €78 billion ($103 billion) loan two years ago.

Since then Portugal, more than any of the other debt-ridden Southern European countries, has adhered meticulously to the requirements dictated by the so-called troika, consisting of the European Commission, the IMF and the European Central Bank (ECB). By cutting pensions, trimming the public-sector workforce and making the labor market more flexible, the government has held out the prospect of a return to the international financial markets next year.

But, in the third year of the recession, there are growing doubts that Portugal will then be able to refinance itself under its own steam and eventually reduce its debt to a tolerable level. And now the political stability the country has maintained for so long is also in jeopardy.

Finance Minister Vítor Gaspar, a political independent and the man who had been viewed as a guarantor of Portugal's course of austerity measures, plunged the country into a crisis when he resigned two weeks ago. Since the government headed by liberal-conservative Social Democrat Pedro Passos Coelho came into office in June 2011, Gaspar had been in charge of implementing the troika reforms. One of the reasons he decided to resign is that he had lost popular support. In addition, labor unions and, more recently, employer associations have been rebelling against the austerity measures.

Now President Aníbal Cavaco Silva has called upon the government and the main opposition party, the Socialists, to develop a sort of national emergency plan that includes the continuation of the reforms stipulated by the troika. He has also proposed new elections after the aid program expires next summer. The parties are in an uproar, and the new troika mission to review the austerity policy has been postponed until at least the end of August. Investors fear that the reform process could become derailed.

Imagining a New Portugal

Portugal does have some initial successes to show for itself. Exports are up, especially to countries outside the EU, and the trade deficit is shrinking.

But the country has deep-seated structural problems, and change will be slow in the making. The substantial debts and an 18 percent unemployment rate are paralyzing consumption and investment. At the same time, dozens of the small companies that employ fewer than 10 people and have made up 95 percent of Portuguese businesses until now are shutting down every day.

This raises the question of whether the country can get back on its feet without a debt haircut, and whether it can develop the kind of outlook that Santa Clara envisions.

"The government is cutting funds, including those in education, with a lawnmower," says the economics professor. "This isn't very smart, of course, because a scalpel would be preferable, but a scalpel is also more difficult to handle."

Santa Clara believes that the Portuguese should take matters into their own hands. He wants to position his business school as a bridgehead for ties to Africa and Brazil. It already has a branch in Angola. In Santa Clara's view, the country should take a similar approach. "It's a mistake to believe that Portugal can only export shoes," he says. "We should also focus on non-traditional exports."

Santa Clara believes that Portugal is an attractive location for modern services, which can increasingly be performed from anywhere in the world. Management consultants and accountants have been creating jobs for years, he says, and the country also has excellent architects, along with good universities and hospitals. Santa Clara believes that Portugal could become a place where overworked people from Northern Europe spend their winters and retirees could receive medical treatments.

But is that enough?

A 'Distorted' Economy

Down in Lisbon's old city, João Ferreira do Amaral is destroying the dream of a new Portugal. A professor at the School of Economics & Management Lisbon (ISEG), Amaral has just published a book titled "Porque devemos sair do Euro," or "Why We Should Withdraw from the Euro." The book is selling well.

"At the moment, the euro is more of a curse than a blessing for Portugal," explains Amaral, sitting in his small, Spartan office, where books are stacked from the floor to the ceiling.

The common currency is too strong for Portugal, Amaral explains, which makes the products it exports too expensive. As a result, he continues, there has been too much investment in recent years in consumer products and retail companies and too little in manufacturing industries, which has left the structure of the economy "distorted."

The problems began long before the financial crisis. The EU's expansion into Eastern Europe and China's accession to the World Trade Organization adversely affected Portugal's textile and shoe industries. "We have many years of de-industrialization behind us," says Amaral. The manufacturing sector shrank from 18 percent of economic output in the 1990s to 14 percent most recently. The economy has been stagnating for more than a decade.

Portugal reacted incorrectly to external challenges. It turned inward, focusing on largely isolated industries, such as energy and telecommunications, and the economy came to depend on consumption. Private households, companies and the public sector took on more debt. But when interest rates rose during the financial crisis, the model collapsed.

But how can citizens and the government reduce their debts?

"The troika is trying to solve several problems at once, problems which cannot be solved at once," Amaral says. Reducing both the current account deficit, which had been high for years, and private household debt necessitated a decline in domestic consumption. But this, Amaral continues, led to a sharp drop in tax revenues and the expansion of the budget deficit. "On balance, we made enormous sacrifices that have had little effect on the deficit and public debt," he concludes.

What's the Best Way Forward?

Amaral is convinced that only a withdrawal from the euro and the devaluation of the escudo, the country's readopted old currency, can reverse the trend, stimulate exports and get investments and consumption back on track. "A 30 percent devaluation of the currency would suffice," he says.

But that could isolate Portugal politically and throw it back to a time when the country was caught in a vortex of strong economic growth, inflation and downturns.

"An exit from the euro is out of the question," says Minister of Economy Álvaro Santos Pereira. He feels that the main problem lies not in the strong euro, but in the excessively high interest rates Portuguese companies are forced to pay. Pereira imagines that the establishment of a development bank, a European banking union and, last but not least, the ECB will help ease the credit crunch. Nevertheless, he adds, it is essential that Portugal continue its austerity programs.

Since President Cavaco Silva called into question plans to reshuffle the cabinet, it has been unclear who will actually be setting the direction on economic and fiscal policy in the future. The cabinet reshuffle was Prime Minister Passos Coelho's attempt to satisfy his coalition partner, the conservative Democratic and Social Centre - People's Party (CDS-PP). Its leader, Paulo Portas, had also threatened to step down after Gaspar's resignation.

Portas, 50, wanted to set himself up as the new heavyweight in the administration. He was slated to become deputy premier and coordinator of economic policy. He was also expected to lead future negotiations with the European Commission, the ECB and the IMF despite his recent criticism of Gaspar's austerity policy.

Now the president wants the major parties to commit to his government's reform programs. But the socialist opposition is demanding a renegotiation of the conditions of such a commitment.

Even Santa Clara, the optimistic economics professor, doesn't believe in a more-of-the-same approach. If Portugal has to secure its own financing in the markets next year, without the troika's support and at much higher interest rates, its debts will be "clearly unsustainable," says Santa Clara, adding that there is no way around some form of debt restructuring.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #7586 on: Jul 18, 2013, 07:03 AM »

07/18/2013 11:49 AM

New Public Sector Cuts: Austerity as Usual in Greek Parliament

By David Böcking in Athens

Greek Prime Minister Kostas Samaras may have but a razor-thin majority in parliament. But on Wednesday night, that was all he needed to push through thousands of public sector lay-offs. The opposition, though, is getting louder.

For a man thinking of launching an insurrection, Michalis Tamilos looks quite cheerful. Early on Wednesday evening, Tamilos, a deputy with the conservative New Democracy party, was sitting in a salon inside the Greek national parliament building. Oil portraits of Greek politicians from times gone by hung on the walls. In just a few hours, parliamentarians were to gather for a vote crucial on the country's future. Yet again.

This time, the focus was a law that would put thousands of civil servants out of a job -- part of the painful package of reforms that Greece committed to in exchange for emergency bailout aid. Some 4,000 people are to lose their jobs by the end of this year. By the end of 2014, that number is to climb to 15,000.

It is only the most recent of the myriad cuts undertaken by the Greek government in recent years. On paper, the country's leaders in Athens would seem to be well-practiced reformers. But it is a course that led to the collapse of the Socialist government under Georgios Papandreou -- and one that could ultimately destroy that of his successor, current Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. His coalition came close to collapse last month in the wake of his unilateral decision to shut down public broadcaster ERT. The station is back on the air, but Samaras lost a coalition partner, leaving him with a majority of just a handful of delegates in parliament.

Michalis Tamilos is one of those who, prior to the Wednesday evening vote, had not yet committed to support Samaras. He had reserved the right to rebel against both Samaras and his own party, primarily because the new law called for laying off municipal police officers. Furthermore, municipalities would ultimately be responsible for 70 percent of the new cuts even though they represent just 15 percent of public sector spending, said Tamilos, formerly the mayor of a small town in central Greece.


But Tamilos is in a good mood nonetheless. The minister in charge of the layoffs had promised Tamilos that he would exempt police officers from the list of job cuts.

Given such concessions, it is hardly surprising that Greece regularly misses the austerity targets it has set for itself. There have, of course, been recent signs that the situation is gradually improving, such as climbing exports and a shrinking budget deficit. But key reform projects, such as the privatization of state-owned companies, are way behind schedule. And when it comes to public sector layoffs, it isn't even clear yet who is to be affected by the first wave of cuts.

"We pass resolutions, but we don't ever implement them," Tamilos says, adding that he understands how that could frustrate other countries in the euro zone. But, he says, it is his job to represent the interests of his electorate. It is a conundrum that has dogged Greece's efforts to confront the vast debt and economic crisis which has enveloped the country. Few in Greece doubt that reforms are necessary, but when it comes to actually making needed cuts, powerful interest groups stand in the way.

Because prosperity also improves one's ability to lobby politicians and obstruct reforms, it is often less well-off Greeks who bear the brunt of austerity measures -- people like Konstantinos Doganis. The 78-year-old wears a well-trimmed beard and is neatly dressed. On Wednesday evening, he joined several thousand demonstrators in front of the parliament building in the heart of Athens. While others were chanting loudly, whistling or lighting off flares, Doganis stood silently, regularly pulling new protest signs out of a large plastic bag. One of them depicts German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who is visiting Athens on Thursday. Doganis has drawn a Hitler moustache on Schäuble's face and dressed him in a Nazi uniform, just as he has Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Burn It Down

Doganis is surrounded by photographers. Images of him with his signs are perfect for illustrating that Greece is a country full of people who hate Germany. But when asked, Doganis happily tells of the 17 years he spent in Germany, where he washed dishes in Greek restaurants and lived with a German family. Germans, he says, are very hospitable and he has nothing against them. But he is furious that the German government has refused to pay reparations to victims of Nazi crimes committed in Greece during World War II. And he is angry that Berlin supports policies that will see his pension fall to a mere €202 ($264) per month.

There was also no shortage of attacks on Germany and Schäuble during the debate in parliament on Wednesday evening. Panos Kammenos, head of the right-leaning, anti-austerity party Independent Greeks, held an emotional speech in which he called the German finance minister an "economic murderer," for example. Not long later, he was back in his seat, joking with another deputy about the leftist alliance Syriza. At the time, it was the only group in parliament whose deputies were almost all present. Elsewhere, particularly among parties belonging to the governing coalition, empty seats were plentiful.

The reason, of course, is that most parliamentarians had long since decided how they were going to vote. When the voting actually started at around 11 p.m., there were few surprises. There were only two renegades among coalition lawmakers. Even former Prime Minister Papandreou, who has been a rare sight recently, showed up to cast his vote for the austerity package. New Democracy deputy Tamilos likewise fell into line.

It was yet another vote that promises to increase the fury of those, like the pensioner Doganis, who must suffer. He doesn't deny that his country needs a change. But, when asked what should be done first, the pensioner points at the parliament building and says: "That should be burned down."

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« Reply #7587 on: Jul 18, 2013, 07:04 AM »

07/17/2013 02:28 PM

Lonely Struggle: Wolfgang Schäuble's Fight to Save Europe

By Michael Sauga

Germany's Wolfgang Schäuble wants Europe to be his legacy. But his efforts to reform the EU and save the euro face many obstacles. One of them is his boss, Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Bears, lynx and wolves roam wild in Estonia, a country about half the size of Ireland and with a population of less than 2 million. It isn't exactly the heart of the euro zone, and yet on a bright summer's day in 2013, it is playing the central role in a production by Wolfgang Schäuble. Germany's finance minister is trying to demonstrate that Europe is about more than just crisis, frustration and strife -- that joy and harmony are also part of the European equation.

To illustrate his point, he has invited two dozen musicians and singers from the Baltic country to perform at his ministry in Berlin. Their mission is to add spice to the drab everyday lives of politicians tasked with saving the euro, and they are achieving the desired outcome, at least when it comes to their host. Schäuble, swaying blissfully to the melancholy tunes performed by a girls' choir, talks about his love of Bach and Mendelssohn and cheerfully admits that he was "a feared violinist" in his youth. "Europe is about more than money and the economy," he tells his audience, "so stop complaining."

Schäuble Reborn

Germans are seeing a new side of Schäuble's personality these days. When he turned 70 a year ago, the papers described him as a "public servant," a "man of duty" and "Sisyphus," a political man of sorrows who never managed to become chancellor and who sacrificed his health for the public good.

Today, the minister is trying to dispel his established image as a tragic icon in a wheelchair through prolonged attacks of good cheer. He has been going to concerts, parties and receptions, talking to the weekly magazine Stern about relationships ("I don't kiss men"), and he has recently taken to starting his speeches with little jokes about his disability. "You'll have to stand," he tells his audience at a reception in Berlin's elegant Hotel Adlon. After a dramatic pause, he adds: "But I can remain seated."

Schäuble has been a member of the German parliament, the Bundestag, for more than 40 years. He negotiated the German unification treaty and pushed the euro through the parliament. He could, with a clear conscience, retire to his handicapped-accessible multigenerational house in the southwestern city of Offenburg and become the conservative version of Helmut Schmidt, the former Social Democratic chancellor turned elder statesman.

But Schäuble, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), wants to remain in his job. He wants to be finance minister again, assuming the outcome of the September national election goes his party's way. It isn't just because he would then have held top positions in the Bundestag and the government for longer than Hans-Dietrich Genscher, a Free Democratic Party (FDP) politician and former foreign minister, but also because he is deeply convinced that his contributions are critical to rescuing the Continent.

"Someone has to keep the store going," he says, and it's clear that by "the store," he doesn't just mean his budget or his party, but also the entire euro zone. And that someone, in his view, is Schäuble.

That's why Schäuble runs his ministry as if it were Germany's "European Ministry" with an attached budget division, and why he wants to help the quarrelling club of nations based in Brussels finally become a political union, a step that was skipped when the currency union was introduced.

But one question remains: Is Schäuble truly convinced that he and Chancellor Merkel are building the same Europe? And how can he be certain that he will be able to withstand the rigors of his job, especially after his experiences in the last legislative period?

The Right-Hand Man

Hans-Peter Repnik flashes his brightest smile as he opens the door of his little house on Lake Constance. The box trees in the front yard are neatly pruned, his wife has just made a fresh pot of coffee, and there are ham sandwiches on the dining room table.

Repnik was Schäuble's most important confidant for decades. He was the propaganda chief and the one to whip together majorities when his mentor headed the parliamentary group of the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU). Repnik advised him in the dark hours of the CDU's political donations scandal in the 1990s, when Schäuble's involvement in illegal party financing led to the loss of his political influence and Angela Merkel's rise to prominence within the CDU. And Repnik was there when Schäuble, after being injured in an assassination attempt in October 1990, appeared in a wheelchair for the first time, took a spin around the table and said: "Look, Hans-Peter, it works."

Two years ago, Repnik was sitting beside Schäuble's hospital bed once again. The minister had been in a Berlin hospital for weeks after a surgical wound failed to heal properly, and he was contemplating stepping down. But then, says Repnik, Chancellor Merkel called and said: "Mr. Schäuble, I can't do without you."

Repnik and Schäuble talked for hours, about Europe, politics and life. Schäuble looked terrible. He had lost 10 kilograms (22 lbs.), and yet he was already bubbling with ideas again. When Repnik left the hospital late in the evening, he knew that the chancellor had made a deep impression on his friend. "It's good for Schäuble to feel needed," Repnik says.


Merkel and Schäuble probably have the most distant and most complicated relationship of any two politicians in Berlin. They meet for long talks every few months, at the chancellery or at Merkel's favorite Greek restaurant in the western part of Berlin. And yet they still address each other with unusual formality.

Both treat politics like a game of chess, full of surprise openings, tactical moves and rapid castlings. But now even insiders are never quite sure whether they are playing with or against each other at a given moment. The two politicians have a long history of mutual attacks as well as a deep respect for each other. "The most serious mistake you can make," the minister likes to tell his department heads, "is to underestimate Ms. Merkel."

At its core, their relationship is based on a mundane, businesslike arrangement. It guarantees him the most important ministerial post in the administration, and it lends a statesmanlike luster to her team of minions, such as Chancellery chief of staff Ronald Pofalla, CDU General Secretary Hermann Gröhe and Peter Hintze, a parliamentary state secretary in the economics ministry. Merkel protects Schäuble whenever the parliamentary group complains about his endless, mumbled lectures on the euro, and he defends her efforts to modernize social policy.

When a rebellion was brewing among party conservatives during the CDU dispute over gay marriage, it was Schäuble who brought his long-time underlings into line. "In the past, people who wanted to live differently from others were discriminated against. We don't want that anymore," he said before penning a long essay on the pros and cons of the "principle of values-based policy" in the conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Cementing His Status in the Cabinet

Schäuble fills the intellectual vacuum that characterizes Merkel's CDU. But, in this way, he is also cementing his position as chief minister in the federal cabinet. He has always been convinced that he is vastly superior to his fellow cabinet ministers.

Unlike in the past, however, he no longer expresses his views with sharp arrogance, but with almost grandfatherly indulgence, especially toward female cabinet ministers. Schäuble sat next to Family Affairs Minister Kristina Schröder as she sugarcoated the results of a joint government study on family policy. And when Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen alienated the majority of the CDU-CSU parliamentary group in the dispute over female quotas, Schäuble warned her not to overstep the mark. He also urged her not to hit upon the idea of speaking in the Bundestag.

When needed, though, Schäuble can still be harsh and scathing. Only now, he is equally adept at playing the cabinet's amiable grandfather-like figure.

He and the labor minister recently took part in a panel discussion on the euro crisis, with a number of French students in the audience. Von der Leyen was practically glowing with ambition, determined to make a good impression, and gave one of her famous we-can-do-it-if-we-just-want-it-enough speeches. Schäuble, in contrast, dryly spelled out the key words of Germany's bailout policy, from "competitiveness" to "structural reforms." It was an appearance by a "seasoned crisis diplomat versus an agitated marketing chief," and yet the role-playing game conveyed a second, no less important message: Von der Leyen still has a shot at becoming chancellor one day, but it's too late for Schäuble.

It is part of the cold logic of power that politicians' importance doesn't just depend on what they are, but also on what they have the potential to become. Von der Leyen is not at the end of her career, whereas Schäuble, if only because of his age, is no longer a viable successor to Merkel. But this is also precisely what makes him so valuable to the chancellor.

At the same time, it also weakens his position in European policy, his pet subject. Schäuble believes that the currency crisis presents an opportunity for Europe's political union. He envisions this looking like the Atomium, the massive molecule-shaped structure in Brussels: A core group of countries consisting of Germany, France and other countries join together to form a new commonwealth with its own parliament and a democratically elected government, while the remaining nations form a group orbiting the core, each positioned at varying distances from it. This is what Schäuble had already envisioned in the 1990s, and he still wants it today.

As appealing as Schäuble's dream may be, the chances of it becoming reality seem slim.

Frustration and Hope
It's a Tuesday in May, a typical day in the life of the German finance minister during the crisis. It's still dark when his alarm clock goes off. At 6:30 a.m., he flies to Paris for talks with French President François Hollande and Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici. There is a working lunch, followed by interviews and conferences. In between meetings, Schäuble is whisked through Paris traffic by a police escort with sirens blaring.

It's late afternoon when Schäuble, in his wheelchair, is rolling back down the narrow aisle of his government jet. When asked whether his visit has advanced German-French relations, he replies with a protracted "pffft."

"Pffft" is a sound from Schäuble's extensive catalog of political sounds, which also includes an annoyed growl ("arrgn") and an indignant stammer. "Pffft" means that he doesn't have anything articulate to say about German-French relations at the moment, but that they have been better.

In truth, the situation is more desperate than that. France's ailing economy threatens to drag down the entire euro zone, the national budget is out of control, the government is shaken by party infighting, and hovering above it all is a president who campaigned against the necessary reforms and now has no idea how to control the chaos. More than anything, Hollande has a low opinion of Schäuble's Atomium model. In his view, Europe is a club of national leaders, and the best way to fulfill the will of the people is to ensure that the French get their way as much as possible.

In fact, it's a nightmare. But Schäuble wouldn't be Schäuble if he didn't put a positive spin on the whole thing. His Challenger jet is approaching the Rhine, a fateful river when it comes to Franco-German relations, when the finance minister adjusts his folding table and says: "The French know what they have to do. It's just that in France it's a little more difficult than elsewhere to win over voters."

For Schäuble, hope has always been part of the European principle. The only problem is that hardly anyone agrees with his position anymore. Most of his allies -- from Vitor Gaspar, until recently the Portuguese finance minister, and Schäuble's former French counterpart Christine Lagarde -- have left the Brussels stage. Likewise, even pro-European countries, such as the Netherlands, are distancing themselves from the EU. And Schäuble can't depend on support from the chancellor, either.

Disagreements with Merkel

Merkel favors more Europe as long as it benefits her. But as soon as she has any doubts, she tends to favor a little less Europe.

In the current legislative period, the chancellor and her finance minister have often found it difficult to find a common position, which is a far cry from the days of the Grand Coalition, when Merkel's conservatives were joined with the Social Democrats. "Merkel and (former SPD Finance Minister Peer) Steinbrück could agree in five minutes," says one insider. "Merkel and Schäuble can talk for an hour, and it still isn't clear what they've concluded."

Not surprisingly, they have a long list of conflicts. Schäuble wanted to establish a European monetary fund to manage bailout policy, but Merkel insisted on involving the International Monetary Fund (IMF). For a time, Schäuble wanted Greece to exit the euro zone, while Merkel preferred to have it stay put. Schäuble wanted to involve ordinary savers in the Cyprus bailout, but Merkel was opposed.

In fact, the two politicians' ideas have diverged so often that it has become a running joke at late-night meetings in Brussels for someone in the group to ask after the German delegate has spoken: "Now was that the position of the Chancellery or the Finance Ministry?"

Even the most knowledgeable observers of the Brussels scene are no longer quite sure who is advocating which position at any given time. Sometimes Merkel tries to thwart one of Schäuble's ideas in the European Council; but then the finance minister, in talks with his European counterparts, backpedals on commitments made by the chancellor. In the end, the two step in front of the cameras and explain, as if it were a matter of course, that they are in complete agreement.

So far, their conflicts have mainly affected mundane aspects of bailout policy, but now more fundamental issues are at stake. In a recent SPIEGEL interview, Merkel came out against almost everything that the finance minister considers important in his concept of a core Europe: the direct election of the European Commission president, new powers for the European Parliament and more authority for Brussels.

It was a bow to the euroskeptics in the CDU, an offer to Hollande and a renunciation of her finance minister. Merkel's message boiled down to telling Schäuble that he could forget about his idea of a core Europe. The chancellor intends to secure her party's blessing for her new course before next spring's European parliamentary election.

Loyalty Trumps Idealism

Merkel is no longer the champion of European unity she was a year ago. Instead, she is now primarily a therapist dealing with an insecure man in the Elysée Palace. A joint document Merkel recently drafted with Hollande focuses on establishing the position of Euro Group chairman as a full-time job, an idea Schäuble has consistently opposed.

For the finance minister, Merkel's about-turn is a bitter pill to swallow. He is one of the most popular politicians in Germany, his health is better than it's been in a long time, and yet his chancellor is in the process of wresting from him every issue that he had aimed to make part of his political legacy. Does he have to accept this, or should he hazard a rebellion? And most of all, if he does, how far can he go?

Schäuble's political creed is that he is fundamentally loyal, which, in his case means that loyalty to an individual is more important than loyalty to an issue. That was how it was under former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, under whom he served near the end of Kohl's term, and that's how it is under Merkel.

Schäuble will use every tool of the practiced politician to fight for his Europe. He will make alliances, lay false trails and play off the rails -- but he'll come around in the end. Europe is important to him, but even more important is staying in the political game, continuing to be involved and playing a public role. He is the eternal second fiddle of German politics.

The Survivor

Schäuble is sitting in his wheelchair in a lecture hall at the elite Paris university Sciences Po. He is about to speak at a conference on youth unemployment, and he is surrounded by turmoil. Photographers are crowding around the stage and bodyguards are holding back audience members as high-profile investor Nicolas Berggruen pushes his way through the crowd. Berggruen, the host of the event, is trying to convince the Europeans that the best way to resolve their crisis is by applying Chinese governing principles.

Suddenly a side door opens and a procession of older men shuffles into the room as if magically drawn to Schäuble's wheelchair. One of the men is former European Commission President Jacques Delors, who, like Schäuble, was involved in the negotiations over German reunification some 23 years ago. Ottmar Issing, the former director of the German central bank, the Bundesbank, bends over Schäuble, with whom he once quarreled over the introduction of the euro. Former Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, who was Schäuble's key ally after the resignation of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, shakes his hand.

It is a parade of former leaders, an honor guard of politicians who have stepped down or been voted out of office, drifting past like a who's who of his political life. Some are younger than Schäuble and were in office less than half as long. But now they are out of the political limelight, heading for the history books or obscurity, while Schäuble is still in the game, hunched over in his wheelchair, head resting on his hands.

Someone gives a signal and the crowd disperses. The audience sits down, and Schäuble is elevated onto the stage with a wheelchair platform lift. The audience members switch on their interpreting devices as Schäuble makes his way to the lectern.

He switches on the microphone, thereby establishing the power imbalance that is more important to Schäuble than almost anything else. It's his turn to speak, and everyone else has to listen. If it weren't that way, his life would be over.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #7588 on: Jul 18, 2013, 07:06 AM »

07/17/2013 06:45 PM

Rebel Priest: Church's 'No. 1 Enemy' A Symbol of Polish Change

By Jan Puhl

He's loved by his congregation but loathed by the archbishop. Rebellious priest Wojciech Lemanski is seen as the church's No. 1 enemy in Poland. His dismissal highlights the deep divide between church authorities and the faithful in this staunchly Catholic nation.

Pastor Wojciech Lemanski stepped up to his small pulpit on Wednesday morning to hold what may be his last sermon at his church in the town of Jasienica near Warsaw. The slender cleric, with his close-cropped gray hair, has become a household name in Poland in recent weeks. Newspapers have run stories about him and he's been a topic of discussion on television in what has been dubbed "Pastor Lemanski vs. the Curia." The case shows that support for the church is even crumbling in devoutly Catholic Poland.

Lemanski, who was ordained in 1987, was never a compliant priest. He repeatedly used his pulpit and his blog to voice his criticism of the church. He has accused the church leadership of not doing enough to oppose anti-Semitic tendencies among Poland's Catholics. He has also critcized the establishment's lenient treatment of clerics accused of sexual abuse, and its fierce rejection of artificial insemination and contraceptives. His vocal criticism drove Henryk Hoser, the archbishop of Warsaw-Praga, to suspend Lemanski last week. But Lemanski wrote the archbishop a letter informing him that he wouldn't budge.

When, on Sunday, three envoys dispatched by Hoser showed up at Lemanski's church, they were quickly surrounded by an angry crowd. "This is our parish," they called out. Lemanski said he still considered himself to be shepherd of his flock according to canonical law. The three clerics finally retreated after they were jeered at and booed. They barely managed to get into their car when the crowd began pushing the vehicle in the direction of Warsaw. After that, the Polish edition of Newsweek ran a cover story describing Lemanski as the "Church's No. 1 Enemy".

Wojchiech Wishes Successor Well

Despite the show of support from his congregation, Pastor Wojciech ultimately decided to resign. He said he still considered the bishops' decision to be unfair, but that he would yield. "Today you are pushing a car, but tomorrow you will flip it over or possibly even hurt somebody," he sternly told his followers. Lemanski then packed his things and left the parsonage. He said he will wait for a decision from the Vatican regarding his dispute with the church hierarchy, but that he wishes his successor well.

The controversy surrounding the fearless priest underscores just how distant the Catholic Church has become from its flock in Poland. Some 90 percent of Poles still identify themselves as faithful Catholics, but ever less are attending church services. For many, faith has become a totally private issue.

During the Nazi occupation and later under the communists, the Catholic Church was considered the true protector of Poland's national identity. The formula applied that anyone who was Polish was also Catholic. But 24 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain and nine years after Poland's accession to the European Union, the public image of the clergy is predominantly negative. Bishops and priests seem to be preoccupied with internal church intrigues and are failing to supply answers to the people on everyday issues -- at least that's the image many have of the church.

Poland Is Changing Rapidly

Poland was the only EU country that recorded growth during the global financial crisis in 2007 and 2008 and, statistically, Poles are among the hardest-working people in Europe. Stressed-out couples in Warsaw or Poznan simply have little understanding for the church prohibiting artificial insemination. A large part of the Polish population, particularly in the cities, has experienced an enormous upswing in recent years. Gay people living openly has become normal in many places and fewer and fewer women are willing to eschew careers to have children, as the church would like them to.

Pawel Wronski, a church expert at the respected daily Gazeta Wyborcza, says the dispute surrounding Lemanski is a fundamental one. It reveals a "major conflict over what shape the church should take. Should it be more open and engage with believers and non-believers -- or should it be a shamanic church?"

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« Reply #7589 on: Jul 18, 2013, 07:10 AM »

In Spain, only revenge is holding Mariano Rajoy to account

The Spanish prime minister is refusing to address the slush fund scandal rocking his party. The sad thing is, his silence is working

Miguel-Anxo Murado, Wednesday 17 July 2013 14.32 BST          

As usual, the man getting all the attention in Spain is a sportsman. But this time it is not Nadal, or Iniesta. His name is Luis Bárcenas. He is a man of high places, both as an mountaineer and as an accountant – an activity you may regard as a little less glamorous. Not in this case. Bárcenas may have climbed Everest, but it is actually his accounting practices as the former treasurer of the ruling People's party (PP) that makes for gripping reading. Now his most avid reader is a judge of the national court in Madrid, and if what Bárcenas has been telling him is true, it has the potential to bring down the government and destroy the PP.

Or maybe not.

What Bárcenas claims is that the People's party has been running a slush fund for nearly two decades. According to him, the party has been routinely receiving large illegal donations from businesspeople, then dividing them among party leaders as payments on the side. This would include the current prime minister, Mariano Rajoy. On Monday morning, Bárcenas provided the judge with what he says are the secret accounting ledgers of the party for the past two decades. There, in his neat handwriting, familiar names pop up frequently, with fat figures on the side. Everybody who is anybody is there. It's almost like the Wikipedia of Spanish conservatism. And the suspicion that donors might have expected political favours or contracts in exchange for their money is not entirely absurd – though still unproven.

Bárcenas is not hiding his main motive for doing this: revenge. He is in jail, pending an investigation on his own unexplained fortune held in Swiss accounts. He expected his case to be dismissed after his party's victory, but all he allegedly got was short text messages from the prime minister telling him to "remain strong".

Now Bárcenas has lost patience with Rajoy. He is certainly not the first in Spain, but he might well be the one whose anger matters most to the prime minister. Or does it?

Because the most extraordinary thing about this scandal is not its reach or its gravity, but the strange way in which it is being addressed by Rajoy. Or not addressed, actually. The prime minister simply refuses to talk about it. He has mastered the art of never mentioning the treasurer's name in public, exhausting every possible circumlocution. Time and again he repeats the same flat, mysterious denials; and this only when he bothers to answer at all. He shuns parliament, he rarely gives interviews, even to friendly media, and he runs away from reporters. For some time he decided to address the press by means of a plasma TV to avoid questions. It was definitively weird.

Nobody expects him to quit his job in a country in which resignations over ethical issues are almost unheard of, but even his voters are demanding an explanation. They're getting none from Rajoy. Bárcenas should consider himself lucky, at least he gets texts from him.

But here's the thing that few dare to admit: it works. Spin doctors would tell you that when you're under attack you need to explain yourself, that silence is an admission of guilt. Rajoy is proving all of them wrong. His statements are so short and empty of information that they don't leave any room for analysis, and his refusal to show himself in public is beginning to imbue him with an aura of invisibility. He is rewriting the book on damage control, replacing it with another one with blank pages.

How long this can go on is impossible to say. It's an experiment. What we are seeing is that Spain still lacks a strong civil society. Years of quid pro quo reforms have made politicians invulnerable to public scrutiny and, as long as he keeps his party united behind him, Rajoy's absolute majority in parliament shields him not just from resigning, but even from responding. Only an indictment would be a game changer, and that is what Bárcenas has set out to achieve in what promises to be the ultimate political combat between anger and silence.

That's the sorry state of Spanish politics: naked personal revenge seems to have become the only available substitute for accountability.

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