In the USA...
August 12, 2013N.S.A. Leaks Make Plan for Cyberdefense Unlikely
By DAVID E. SANGER
WASHINGTON — Even while rapidly expanding its electronic surveillance around the world, the National Security Agency has lobbied inside the government to deploy the equivalent of a “Star Wars” defense for America’s computer networks, designed to intercept cyberattacks before they could cripple power plants, banks or financial markets.
But administration officials say the plan, championed by Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the director of the National Security Agency and head of the Pentagon’s Cyber Command, has virtually no chance of moving forward given the backlash against the N.S.A. over the recent disclosures about its surveillance programs.
Senior agency officials concede that much of the technology needed to filter malicious software, known as malware, by searching incoming messages for signs of programs designed to steal data, or attack banks or energy firms, is strikingly similar to the technology the N.S.A. already uses for surveillance.
”The plan was always a little vague, at least as Keith described it, but today it may be Snowden’s biggest single victim,” one senior intelligence official said recently, referring to Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor who released documents revealing details of many of the agency’s surveillance programs.
“Whatever trust was there is now gone,” the official added. “I mean, who would believe the N.S.A. when it insists it is blocking Chinese attacks but not using the same technology to read your e-mail?”
On Friday, the N.S.A. reported for the first time that it “touches about 1.6 percent” of all the traffic carried on the Internet each day. In a statement, it said it closely examines only a tiny fraction of that information. But General Alexander’s plan would put the agency, or Internet-service providers acting on its behalf, in the position of examining a far larger percentage of the world’s information flows.
Under this proposal, the government would latch into the giant “data pipes” that feed the largest Internet service providers in the United States, companies like A.T.&T. and Verizon. The huge volume of traffic that runs through those pipes, particularly e-mails, would be scanned for signs of anything from computer servers known for attacks on the United States or for stealing information from American companies. Other “metadata” would be inspected for evidence of malicious software.
“It’s defense at network speed,” General Alexander told a Washington security-research group recently, according to participants. “Because you have only milliseconds.”
This summer, the N.S.A. has begun assembling scores of new cyber “offense” and “defense” teams, the agency’s most concrete step toward preparing the Pentagon and intelligence agencies for a new era of computer conflict. Erecting a national cyberdefense is a key element of that plan. At an interagency meeting that discussed the flood of cyberattacks directed daily at American networks, from Chinese efforts to steal corporate secrets to Iranian efforts to cripple financial institutions, General Alexander said, “I can’t defend the country until I’m into all the networks,” according to other officials who were present.
The appeal of such a program is its seeming simplicity: The worst malware could be blocked before it reaches companies, universities or individual users, many of whom may be using outdated virus protections, or none at all. Normal commercial virus programs are always running days, or weeks, behind the latest attacks — and the protection depends on users’ loading the latest versions on their computers.
The government has been testing a model for a national defense against cyberattack with major defense contractors including Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon. Early results were disappointing, but participants in the program — the specific details of which are heavily classified — say they are getting significantly improved results. Each company in the defense industrial base program now shares data on the kinds of attacks it is seeing, anonymously, with other participating companies.
But for the N.S.A., which is building a target list of servers used by the most aggressive cyberattackers, monitoring all Internet traffic would also be an intelligence bonanza. It would give it a real-time way to watch computer servers around the world, and focus more quickly on those it suspects are the breeding ground for governments or private hackers preparing attacks.
Even before the Snowden revelations, General Alexander had encountered opposition. Top officials of the Department of Homeland Security, which is responsible for domestic defense of the Internet, complained that N.S.A. monitoring would overly militarize America’s approach to defending the Internet, rather than making sure users took the primary responsibility for protecting their systems.
The deputy secretary of defense, Ashton B. Carter, described in speeches over the past year an alternative vision in which the government would step in to defend America’s networks only as a last line of defense. He compares the Pentagon’s proper role in defending cyberattacks to its “Noble Eagle” operation, in which it intercepts aircraft that appear threatening only after efforts by the airlines to identify the passengers and by the Transportation Safety Administration to search passengers and luggage have failed.
It appears unlikely that, with the administration divided, and faced with a backlash against the N.S.A. in Congress, any proposal for a formal plan for national cyberdefense will be submitted soon. Members of the Intelligence Committees in the House and Senate said that they were only vaguely aware of General Alexander’s plan, but that it would almost certainly require Congressional approval.
That is a fight the White House is not interested in having while it struggles to get a much more modest cybersecurity bill through Congress after years of arguments over privacy concerns and corporate America’s fears that Washington will dictate how companies protect data and how much they must spend on new defenses. The bill failed last year, and passage this year appears in doubt.
Before the Snowden revelations, General Alexander’s idea appeared to be gaining some ground because of concerns over the cyber-enabled Chinese theft of critical corporate secrets, including some designs for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Internal intelligence reports, based on N.S.A. analysis, attributed an attack on American banks to Iran’s cybercorps, a unit of the Revolutionary Guards.
“After the Iranian attacks, we were looking at these ideas pretty hard,” said a recently departed senior official in the Obama national security team, who like other officials declined to be identified because of the sensitivities of the government’s discussions about building Internet defenses.
But this summer, the mood in Congress has changed. The White House only narrowly avoided a House vote to cut off the collection of metadata about telephone calls in the country. Suddenly a national debate emerged; along the way the N.S.A. admitted that until 2011 it had collected about 1 percent of all e-mails in the United States, until the program was canceled after being judged ineffective.
“Cyberissues usually change so rapidly because of the advance of technology,” said Peter D. Feaver, a Duke University professor who worked in the National Security Council in the George W. Bush administration.
“But the biggest change in the last year has been political: Public skepticism about U.S. cyberoperations is dramatically higher today, and it could result in political constraints that were off the table even a year ago.”
Charlie Savage contributed reporting.
***********Intelligence director introduces group to review NSA privacy issues
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, August 12, 2013 19:29 EDT
US intelligence director James Clapper introduced a review group Monday that will assess whether the right balance is being struck between national security and personal privacy.
President Barack Obama on Friday pledged to overhaul US spy programs amid a debate sparked by the leaks of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, which revealed vast telephone and Internet surveillance programs.
The group will assess whether the US “optimally protects our national security and advances our foreign policy while appropriately accounting for other policy considerations,” the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) said in a statement.
This would include “the risk of unauthorized disclosure and our need to maintain the public trust,” the statement said.
The body is required to brief the president on its findings within 60 days and provide a final report with recommendations no later than December 15, according to ODNI.
Obama on Friday promised a new era in intelligence with more supervision, transparency and safeguards in the NSA’s collection of electronic information.
His administration has however maintained a hard line against the leaking of such information, and is seeking to prosecute Snowden on espionage charges.
After the disclosures Snowden fled to Hong Kong and then to Russia, where he has been granted one year’s temporary asylum despite Washington’s demands that he be returned.
On July 30 Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning was convicted of espionage over his massive leak of US military intelligence reports and diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks.
August 12, 2013A Limit on Consumer Costs Is Delayed in Health Care Law
By ROBERT PEAR
WASHINGTON — In another setback for President Obama’s health care initiative, the administration has delayed until 2015 a significant consumer protection in the law that limits how much people may have to spend on their own health care.
The limit on out-of-pocket costs, including deductibles and co-payments, was not supposed to exceed $6,350 for an individual and $12,700 for a family. But under a little-noticed ruling, federal officials have granted a one-year grace period to some insurers, allowing them to set higher limits, or no limit at all on some costs, in 2014.
The grace period has been outlined on the Labor Department’s Web site since February, but was obscured in a maze of legal and bureaucratic language that went largely unnoticed. When asked in recent days about the language — which appeared as an answer to one of 137 “frequently asked questions about Affordable Care Act implementation” — department officials confirmed the policy.
The discovery is likely to fuel continuing Republican efforts this fall to discredit the president’s health care law.
Under the policy, many group health plans will be able to maintain separate out-of-pocket limits for benefits in 2014. As a result, a consumer may be required to pay $6,350 for doctors’ services and hospital care, and an additional $6,350 for prescription drugs under a plan administered by a pharmacy benefit manager.
Some consumers may have to pay even more, as some group health plans will not be required to impose any limit on a patient’s out-of-pocket costs for drugs next year. If a drug plan does not currently have a limit on out-of-pocket costs, it will not have to impose one for 2014, federal officials said Monday.
The health law, signed more than three years ago by Mr. Obama, clearly established a single overall limit on out-of-pocket costs for each individual or family. But federal officials said that many insurers and employers needed more time to comply because they used separate companies to help administer major medical coverage and drug benefits, with separate limits on out-of-pocket costs.
In many cases, the companies have separate computer systems that cannot communicate with one another.
A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said: “We knew this was an important issue. We had to balance the interests of consumers with the concerns of health plan sponsors and carriers, which told us that their computer systems were not set up to aggregate all of a person’s out-of-pocket costs. They asked for more time to comply.”
Health plans are free to set out-of-pocket limits lower than the levels allowed by the administration. But many employers and health plans sought the grace period, saying they needed time to upgrade their computer systems. “Benefit managers using different computer systems often cannot keep track of all the out-of-pocket costs incurred by a particular individual,” said Kathryn Wilber, a lawyer at the American Benefits Council, which represents many Fortune 500 companies that provide coverage to employees.
Last month the White House announced a one-year delay in enforcement of another major provision of the law, which requires larger employers to offer health coverage to full-time employees. Valerie Jarrett, Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, said that the delay of the employer mandate showed “we are listening” to businesses, which had complained about the complexity of federal reporting requirements.
Although the two delays are unrelated, together they underscore the difficulties the Obama administration is facing as it rolls out the health care law.
Advocates for people with chronic illnesses said they were dismayed by the policy decision on out-of-pocket costs.
“The government’s unexpected interpretation of the law will disproportionately harm people with complex chronic conditions and disabilities,” said Myrl Weinberg, the chief executive of the National Health Council, which speaks for more than 50 groups representing patients.
For people with serious illnesses like cancer and multiple sclerosis, Ms. Weinberg said, out-of-pocket costs can total tens of thousands of dollars a year.
Despite the delay, consumers in 2014 will still have many new protections. They cannot be denied health insurance or charged higher premiums because of pre-existing conditions, and many will qualify for subsidies intended to lower their costs.
In promoting his health care plan in 2009, Mr. Obama cited the limit on out-of-pocket costs as one of its chief virtues. “We will place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses, because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they get sick,” Mr. Obama told a joint session of Congress in September 2009.
Advocates for patients said the promise of the law was being deferred. “We have wonderful new drugs, the biologics, to treat rheumatoid arthritis, but they are extremely expensive,” said Dr. Patience H. White, a vice president of the Arthritis Foundation. “In the past, patients had to live in constant pain, often became disabled and had to leave their jobs. The new drugs can make a huge difference, and we were hoping that the cap on out-of-pocket costs would make them affordable. But now many patients will have to wait another year.”
The American Cancer Society shares the concern and noted that some new cancer drugs cost $100,000 a year or more.
“If a prescription drug plan does not currently have a limit, then it will not have to have one in 2014,” said Molly Daniels, deputy president of the lobbying arm of the American Cancer Society. “Patients who require expensive drugs could continue to have enormous financial exposure, despite the clear intent of the law to limit a patient’s total out-of-pocket exposure.”
Federal officials said they were offering transition relief to certain health plans in 2014. But, they said, by 2015, health plans must comply with the law and must have an overall limit on out-of-pocket costs for medical, drug and other benefits combined.
Theodore M. Thompson, a vice president of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, said: “The promise of out-of-pocket limits was one of the main reasons we supported health care reform. So we are disappointed that some plans will be allowed to have multiple out-of-pocket limits in 2014.”
The law also requires coverage of dental care for children, but these benefits can be offered in a separate health plan with its own limit on out-of-pocket costs.
Federal rules say that a free-standing dental plan must have “a reasonable annual limitation on cost-sharing.” In states where the new health insurance marketplace will be run by the federal government, the limit on out-of-pocket costs for pediatric dental benefits can be no more than $700 for coverage of one child and $1,400 for a plan covering two or more children in the same family.
August 12, 2013Clinton Calls for Action to Protect Voter Rights
By AMY CHOZICK
SAN FRANCISCO — Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton waded into the battle over voting rights on Monday in the first of a series of speeches in which she says she plans to address some of the most pressing issues in Washington.
Mrs. Clinton, in remarks delivered at the American Bar Association conference here, condemned the recent Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act, which has paved the way for states to pass laws that would require voters to present government-issued photo identification at the polls.
Mrs. Clinton, like many Democrats and voting rights groups, argued that the court’s ruling would limit voters’ participation, particularly among minorities, the poor and younger voters who disproportionately cast their ballots for Democrats. Texas, Mississippi and Alabama all announced that they would move ahead with strict voter identification requirements, and on Monday, Gov. Pat McCrory of North Carolina signed a similar measure.
“Anyone who says racial discrimination is no longer a problem in American elections must not be paying attention,” Mrs. Clinton told the lawyers gathered at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. She urged them to fight voter identification laws in their communities, but she also pleaded with the members of a “gridlocked Congress” to quickly enact legislation that would make it easier to vote.
“Our government cannot fully represent the people unless it has been fairly elected by them,” Mrs. Clinton said.
Although she has largely avoided politics since leaving the State Department in February — devoting her time to delivering paid speeches to trade groups and finishing a memoir about her time as the country’s top diplomat — she said Monday that voting rights would be the first of several major issues, including transparency in government and the global impact of the United States’ foreign policy, that she plans to address in the coming weeks.
Mrs. Clinton was here to accept the A.B.A. Medal, which recognizes “distinguished service by a lawyer to the cause of American jurisprudence.” Previous recipients include two former Supreme Court justices, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. and Sandra Day O’Conner, and a current justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The award is one of several accolades that Mrs. Clinton has racked up since leaving the Obama administration. As Mrs. Clinton mulls a race for the presidency in 2016, the awards and her acceptance speeches have allowed her to remind audiences of her accomplishments without actually stepping on the campaign trail.
Next month, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida — a Republican who is the son of one president and the brother of another — will present Mrs. Clinton with the 2013 Liberty Medal at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, and the Children’s Defense Fund will honor her at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington.
*************North Carolina becomes first state to enact voter ID following Supreme Court ruling
Monday, August 12, 2013 18:28 EDT
By Marti Maguire
RALEIGH, North Carolina (Reuters) – North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed into law on Monday a requirement that voters present photo identification at the polls, making it the first state to enact new voting restrictions since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of a Civil Rights-era law designed to protect minority voters.
“Common practices like boarding an airplane and purchasing Sudafed require photo ID,” McCrory, a Republican, said in a statement. “And we should expect nothing less for the protection of our right to vote.”
His action was followed immediately by a challenge to the new law, filed in a U.S. district court in North Carolina by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation, and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.
The lawsuit challenges parts of the law that end same-day registration and shorten early voting, but does not address the photo ID requirement.
Supporters say the law eliminates voter fraud and standardizes elections across the state, but opponents argue it disenfranchises minorities, the young, and poor people.
The law passed the Republican-majority North Carolina General Assembly in late July among a number of other conservative measures such as restrictions on abortion.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has threatened federal government action against states that seek to curb voting access in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
That law was passed during the Civil Rights era to force states in the U.S. South with a history of racial discrimination, such as North Carolina, to meet certain tests of fairness in access to voting.
In addition to the ID, the new North Carolina measure reduces by a week the amount of time voters can cast early ballots before election day.
It also bans election-day voter registration, as well as the practice of straight-ticket voting, in which a voter casts one ballot for every candidate in a particular party, instead of voting on individual candidates.
The law also includes two measures Democrats say are aimed at discouraging young people, who lean Democratic, from casting ballots. College and university photo IDs will not be acceptable at polls, and the law eliminates a program allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote.
“This is a naked attempt to predetermine election outcomes by making it harder for certain people to vote: poor people, people of color, elderly people and young people,” Allison Riggs, a lawyer with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, told lawmakers.
Republicans took control of the North Carolina state legislature in 2010 for the first time in more than a century, passing a host of conservative laws that have sparked “Moral Monday” protests at the state Capitol building for months.
Ten states have already enacted laws that require photo identification to vote, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and North Carolina is among a dozen states that have considered or adopted new laws this year.
The law will not go into effect until 2016, which means it will not affect the key race involving Democratic U.S. Senator Kay Hagan seeking reelection, the outcome of which could help determining whether Republicans or Democrats hold a majority in the U.S. Senate for the last two years of President Barack Obama’s term.
North Carolina will launch an education campaign in 2014 on the new law and implement it for the presidential elections in 2016.
(Reporting by Marti Maguire in Raleigh; Writing by Karen Brooks; Editing by Greg McCune, David Adams and Richard Chang)
************California to enact first of its kind transgender student rights law
By Eric W. Dolan
Monday, August 12, 2013 20:28 EDT
California Governor Jerry Brown (D) on Monday signed legislation to ensure transgender students have equal access to school activities, sports teams, programs, and facilities.
Brown’s signature makes California the first state in the country to write protections for transgender students’ access to activities and facilities into law.
In a news release, the Gay-Straight Alliance Network said transgender students have been discriminated against and unfairly excluded from physical education, athletic teams, and other school activities, and facilities in public schools.
Brown signed a bill into law in 2011 that prohibited discrimination based on gender identity and expression. But some schools still prohibited transgender students from accessing sex-segregated activities and facilities consistent with their gender identity.
“I’m so excited that California is making sure transgender students have a fair chance to graduate and succeed,” said Calen Valencia, an 18-year-old transgender student from Tulare and Gay-Straight Alliance Network board member. “I should have graduated this year, but my school refused to give me the same opportunity to succeed as other boys. Now other transgender youth won’t have to choose between being themselves and graduating high school.”
The legislation was introduced by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D–San Francisco).
“This is terrific. The Governor’s signature represents an important victory, not just for my bill, but for a whole movement for the rights of transgender people,” Ammiano said. “We had children testify in the Assembly and Senate that this law will mean they no longer must hide who they are, nor be treated as someone other than who they are.”
*********Harry Reid Has His Finger on the Nuclear Button To Stop Republican Filibuster Abuse
By: Jason Easley
Aug. 12th, 2013
Sen. Harry Reid has let it be known that if tea party Republicans don’t stop abusing the filibuster, he thinks the Senate Democrats will go to nuclear on the filibuster.
Audio of Harry Reid in a different part of the interview talking about the Republican abuse of the filibuster:
Elsewhere in the same interview, the Majority Leader warned tea party Republicans to stop abusing the filibuster, “We’ve made some changes in nominations significantly. We have to be very careful how we handle the legislation. I think it helps the Senate to get things done if we have a little bit more than a majority. We don’t want the House and the Senate to be exactly the same, but unless the — these characters who are filibustering literally everything, unless they change, I think that that’s where we’re headed.”
Reid’s warning shot was also designed to persuade a small group of Republicans to work with him, “I don’t need all 45 Republicans running to me and saying … ‘here work with us,’ all I need is a few, seven , eight. Remember, we have 54 — 55 we’ll have in October when Cory Booker’s elected out in New Jersey. Come October, I only need five Republicans. I don’t need a lot. That doesn’t mean Democrats are going to in lockstep do everything that I think is a good idea, but most of them will.”
The thing about Harry Reid is that he always telegraphs his big showdowns before he takes action. He does this because it is a way of putting pressure on the the group of Republican senators, which there are at least ten of, who do not agree with what the rest of the caucus is doing. It is a smart strategy, and after the success he had with the last filibuster standoff, there is no reason for him not to go back at them again.
Sen. Reid seems to view filibuster reform as a series of steps that are implemented in response to continued Republican bad behavior. His method has the benefit of keeping the Democratic Party looking reasonable by not unilaterally imposing the 51 vote rule in one swoop.
This is a major strategic shift from Reid’s willingness to cut a deal with Mitch McConnell two years ago. Sen. Reid appears to be bypassing McConnell completely and going straight to John McCain and the group of ten votes that he controls. Reid won’t be making any more deals with McConnell.
For Reid to admit that he thinks the Senate is heading for requiring 51 votes to pass legislation is huge. It was also an admission that he doesn’t think tea party Republican senators will stop abusing the filibuster, and an expression of the belief that there is no one on the Republican side who will stop them.
Harry Reid has been barnstorming through Nevada media telling it like it is. Republicans have learned that Reid isn’t bluffing on the filibuster, and they are pushing the Majority Leader into going nuclear on their filibustering asses.
************Darrell Issa, John Boehner, Clarence Thomas Lead the Republican Culture of Corruption
Aug. 12th, 2013
Government officials, or officeholders, who use power and influence related to their official duties for illegitimate private gain or to influence policies favorable to their campaign donors are guilty of political corruption. As a nation bound to the rule of law, it is crucial for the government to ferret out corrupt officials and officeholders to investigate, prosecute, and remove them from their position of power regardless they are sitting Congressional representatives, Supreme Court Justices, or appointed officials. It is likely there has always been a culture of corruption in Washington, but it became the modus operandi of the conservative movement since the election of Barack Obama as President and finally there are legitimate calls for investigations to expose what a normal person would regard as criminal activity. If lying were a prosecutable offense, most Republicans would be sitting in prison where they belong, but there are enough other offenses that if diligently pursued and prosecuted would take down powerful conservatives using their positions to undermine the government, enrich their donors, and for personal gain.
Accusing government officials of corruption is a serious matter, but when there is undeniable proof they are guilty of malfeasance it falls on agencies to investigate improprieties. Unfortunately, many of the people tasked with investigating corruption are unlikely to delve into their own malfeasance and it is certainly the case with House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa. It is too bad the House lacks a mechanism similar to the State Department’s Office of Inspector General that is not afraid to investigate its own Department, and last week it was revealed that is precisely what the IG is doing to uncover corruption and malfeasance regarding the KeystoneXL pipeline. In fact, if Issa performed his due diligence as Oversight Committee chairman, he would investigate John Boehner’s ethics violation in connection to the Keystone pipeline, but if Issa will not investigate his own corruption, it is unlikely he will go after Boehner; more on that later.
The Inspector General’s office confirmed last week it was examining evidence the State Department violated ethics guidelines by contracting with an oil industry consultant, Environmental Resources Management (ERM), to draft the Keystone XL environmental impact statement that minimized the pipeline’s devastating impact on U.S. carbon pollution. At issue is why ERM was hired to conduct the study when it had close ties to TransCanada, the American Petroleum Institute, Koch Energy, and other oil industry players involved in heavily lobbying to promote the pipeline’s construction. The State Department’s malfeasance was failing to verify ERM’s contention it had no interest in the pipeline’s construction, and it indicts ERM for deliberately concealing its conflict of interest to benefit financially from the pipeline’s construction. Now, if the Inspector General is investigating conflict of interest of those pushing the pipeline’s construction, Darrell Issa should investigate Speaker John Boehner’s conflict of interest in the pipeline’s approval because he is invested in seven tar sand companies.
Issa is not going to investigate Boehner’s conflict of interest because he is the largest recipient of oil and gas industry cash on the Oversight committee. During his tenure in Congress, Issa’s campaign committee has received $140,350 in campaign contributions from the employees and political action committees of the oil and gas industry, so he will not jeopardize a steady influx of cash. It brings Issa’s ethics into question for failing to investigate Boehner’s conflict of interest, but it is doubtful Issa has any ethical standards and now there are calls for him to face an ethics investigation for profiting from the so-called IRS scandal he directly initiated.
It was reported that the primary reason the IRS targeted conservative groups is because Darrel Issa requested the IRS specifically target “patriot” and “tea party” organizations seeking “social welfare” tax exempt status to conceal their dark money donors. Besides wasting time and taxpayer dollars chasing a phony scandal he put in motion, Issa’s effort resulted in the largest fundraising quarter since he began serving in Congress. In the second quarter of this year, Issa received $450,000 more in campaign contributions than the previous fundraising quarter and it resulted in a petition calling for a House Ethics Committee investigation into his motivation for directing the IRS to give extra scrutiny to “tea party” and “patriot” organizations, and then investigating the IRS for following his instructions and performing their due diligence.
Issa’s corruption and investigations are responsible for the Republican drive to underfund the IRS to prevent them from investigating tax fraud that cost the government roughly $1 trillion dollars in lost revenue last year. It is a concerted effort to hamper the IRS from conducting investigations such as those being called for to investigate the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) money laundering scheme and tax evasion. ALEC provided a conduit for corporations to funnel gifts and money to Republican legislators and then write off the illegal “gifts” as charitable contributions on their tax returns because ALEC is designated as a 501(c)(3) tax exempt social welfare organization.
Of all government officials expected to be above corruption and unethical conduct, one would think Supreme Court Justices would be the image of impeccable ethics, but two Justices rival Darrel Issa as corrupt and unethical for using their positions of power to advance their supporters’ agendas. Last week a group of Democrats proposed legislation demanding High Court justices follow a code of conduct every federal judge is held to. It is relatively common knowledge that Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas spent time at a Koch brothers millionaire strategy session in 2010 to take direction on how to rule on Citizens United that gave corporations legal cover to buy Republican candidates, but that is not the only instance of corruption.
In particular, Clarence Thomas failed to report his wife’s earnings from conservative belief tank Heritage Foundation for her teabagger work opposing the Affordable Care Act her husband ruled against last year. Ginni Thomas gave up her position with the teabag group opposing the ACA, but she is back again heading up the “Groundswell” organization dedicated to undermine the ACA’s implementation and promote the Koch brothers’ agenda. If Thomas was a federal judge, he would face ethics charges and be removed from the bench, but the Supreme Court is a law unto itself and is not accountable to any agency or department for ethics violations.
The level of political corruption in Republican and conservative ranks has gotten so blatant that they are finally being targeted for investigations and it may be a case of too little too late. With Republicans in charge of the House, and the nation’s purse strings, they have the ability to thwart any investigation by withholding funding that they are threatening to do to the IRS. In fact, the reason the State Department had to contract with an outside company to investigate the environmental impact of building the Keystone pipeline is because Republicans deliberately withheld funding for internally-driven studies. However, when corrupt politicians are in charge of investigating their own corruption, it is left to the people to demand they face justice the same as any American guilty of criminal malfeasance and the people are finally demanding justice.
ALEC is facing the prospect of an IRS and states’ investigation into tax evasion and ethics violations regarding their money-laundering scheme because Common Cause and Center for Media and Democracy filed complaints with the IRS and several state governments. Last year, the SEC was deluged with calls to investigate John Boehner leading them to seriously consider investigating him for share manipulation due to his false assertions that the KeystoneXL pipeline’s construction would create “hundreds-of-thousands” of jobs. Darrel Issa is facing the prospect of a House Ethics Committee investigation because of a petition demanding an investigation into his contrived IRS scandal that increased his campaign contributions by nearly half-a-million dollars.
America is a nation of laws, and politicians are not immune to investigations and prosecution for violating their public trust. There is a reason why Darrel Issa has a long history of run-ins with the law and continues unabated in a position of power, and why John Boehner continues his unethical behavior in the House; it is all down to never facing the consequences of their corruption. ALEC has been laundering corporate money to send to Republicans since 2006 with impunity because they have not been investigated by the IRS, and Supreme Court Justices Scalia and Thomas continue doing the bidding of the Koch brothers because there is no code of conduct to hold them accountable for judicial malfeasance. The United States government is the people’s government, and if corrupt Republicans refuse to investigate themselves, then it falls to the people to demand that unethical political corruption and influence peddling that is destroying this nation and its people is investigated and prosecuted with extreme prejudice because the fate of the nation, and the people, depend on it.
***********Republicans Are In a Full Blown Panic as the Affordable Care Act Grows More Successful
Aug. 11th, 2013
Sabotage is a deliberate action aimed at weakening another entity through subversion, obstruction, disruption, or destruction and as a rule saboteurs attempt to conceal their identities to avoid the consequences of their actions; unless they are Republicans. Since January 2009, Republicans have gone to great lengths to sabotage President Obama’s attempts to save the economy and they made no attempt to conceal their identities. In fact, Republicans reveled in the publicity they received for killing jobs and obstructing economic recovery, and their racist supporters cheered them on every step of the way regardless the damage they wrought to the economy and other Americans. Still, President Obama prevailed and saved the economy, created millions of jobs, cut spending to their lowest levels in over 60 years, and set reform in motion to give 30-million Americans access to basic affordable healthcare that Republicans are still attempting to sabotage.
There are several reasons why Republicans are escalating their attempts to sabotage the Affordable Care Act, and none are more important to their survival as their inhumane supporters’ opposition to other Americans’ well-being. It is not to say that Republicans would love nothing more than to deny 30 million Americans basic health insurance for the sole purpose of seeing them infirm and suffering, because that is, in and of itself, a primary Republican goal in sabotaging the ACA. In fact, they were brutally frank that, by their libertarian standards, healthcare was a divine privilege reserved for Americans who could afford astronomical premiums just to stay healthy, but there is more driving their machinations to derail the ACA than simple conservative inhumanity.
Regardless the ACA will give the insurance industry about 30-million new policy holders, there are provisions in the law that Republicans despise because their industry donors lost free-rein to gouge policy holders and rake in obscene profits. In fact, there is a direct correlation between the renewed frenzy to sabotage the health law and industry profits that drives Republican opposition. The secret trigger in the ACA that pushed early Republican opposition was the so-called 80/20 rule that required insurance carriers to spend 80% of premiums on real healthcare or write rebate checks to policy holders for amounts they did not spend. Republicans rushed to defend the industry that railed at the idea of only reaping 20% profits. The second trigger is that competition inherent in healthcare exchanges in states that embraced the health law has reduced premiums substantially. For example, in New York, premiums are set to fall by roughly 50%, and in California, this author’s premiums fell by about 40% after 17 years of perpetual increases and that does not include rebate checks that began rolling in last year according to the 80/20 rule. It is the health law’s success stories like these that have Republicans in a panic and it is the third reason they are going all in to sabotage the ACA; it is successful.
Republicans hoped beyond hope that the law would fail giving them the opportunity to portray President Obama as a failure, but between ending pre-existing conditions, keeping children on their parents’ policies until age 26, the 80/20 rule, and free-market competition resulting in lower rates, the law is a success. That it reduces the nation’s deficit and creates jobs is just too much for Republicans to bear and has elicited a multi-faceted, last ditch effort to sabotage the law that a long-time conservative stalwart considers “unprecedented and contemptible.” Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative belief tank, recently assailed Republican leadership for going to extreme measures to “damage the possibility of a smooth rollout of the health reform plan.” Ornstein railed at Republicans’ “guerrilla efforts to cut off funding, dozens of votes to repeal, abusive comments by leaders, attempts to discourage states from participating in Medicaid expansion or crafting exchanges, threatening letters to associations that might publicize the availability of insurance on exchanges, and now a new set of threats—to have a government shutdown, or to refuse to raise the debt ceiling, unless the president agrees to stop all funding for implementation of the plan, to do everything possible to undercut and destroy its implementation to benefit politically from all the resulting turmoil is simply unacceptable, even contemptible. That the effort is spearheaded by the Republican leaders of the House and Senate takes one’s breath away.” It is noteworthy that Ornstein joined Thomas Mann last year to assail Republicans for creating Washington’s dysfunction and inability to govern, but to directly criticize the GOP leadership is remarkable and too long in coming.
Much of the blame has been leveled at teabaggers in the House and Senate for threatening that, regardless the cost to the nation and its credit rating, if the Affordable Care Act is not defunded they intend to shut down the government and refuse to raise the debt limit (that pays the bills Republicans already put on the nation’s credit card), but Republican leadership is culpable as well. Speaker John Boehner sends out Tweets decrying the increase in premiums “due to Obamacare,” but it is in states refusing to implement exchanges and fails to take into account the world of subsidies inherent in the health law that makes “access to affordable healthcare” possible for 30-million Americans. It is the possibility of 30 million uninsured Americans gaining access to healthcare that drives Republicans and their cruel and inhumane supporters to demand the law’s defunding or shutdown the government and cause a credit default.
It has been reported that Republicans holding town halls in their home districts are being beset with angry constituents demanding they vote to defund the ACA or shutdown the government and refuse to raise the debt limit. There are also angry constituents railing on them for even considering defunding the law, but it is likely they will bow to the demands of their teabagger supporters to stay in office. Although the GOP has several reasons to kill the healthcare reform law, it appears their primary impetus is denying 30 million Americans access to healthcare coverage and little else, and threats to shut down the government and cause a credit default is proof they are serious because the extremist wing of the party is clearly in charge in both the House and Senate.
There have been calls to shut down government to get control of spending that coincides with teabagger threats to refuse a debt limit increase regardless the debt and deficit is falling faster than is healthy for economic recovery. The same cruel mindset that cheers cuts to food stamps, Medicare, Meals on Wheels, and WIC is lusting to see 30 million Americans lose access to healthcare and millions of current policy-holders’ premiums increase to enrich the insurance industry. That teabagger extremists in Congress are cheered on by their supporters informs that there is a level of inhumanity inherent in some Americans that belies their claims they are “followers of Christ” or decent human beings.
President Obama warned Republicans he is not going to negotiate with terrorists over the debt limit increase, and he certainly will not defund the ACA, so Republicans have painted themselves into a corner. They have to either admit the health law is a success and slap down the extremist teabaggers, or follow the path their inhumane cohort demand and shutdown the government and cause a credit default and take the blame for creating their second worldwide economic crisis within a five-year timespan. President Obama has only one clear choice; give Republicans nothing in budget talks or a debt limit increase deal and let them suck air because if they shut down the government, or cause a credit default they are finished as a viable political party in America. One hopes Republicans will not take the nation to the financial brink because they know their severe austerity cuts are harming the economy and that the deficit is falling rapidly. However, their intrinsic cruelty and inhumane desire to deny essential healthcare to 30 million of their fellow Americans and jeopardize the financial security of tens-of-millions more informs shutting down the government and creating a credit default may be worth political annihilation.
*********House Republicans Are Aching To Impeach President Obama For His ‘Crimes’
By: Jason Easley
Aug. 12th, 2013
Rep. Blake Farenthold admitted to constituents that House Republicans would impeach President Obama tomorrow if they could get him convicted in the Senate.
Transcript via Think Progress:
Rep. Farenthold: Here’s the issue. You tie into a question I get a lot. If everybody’s so unhappy with what the president’s done, why don’t you impeach him? I’ll give you a real frank answer about that. If we were to impeach the president tomorrow, you could probably get the votes in the House of Representatives to do it. But it would go to the Senate and he wouldn’t be convicted. [...] We saw what happened when President Clinton was impeached. I say this half in jest and half seriously because it’s easy to laugh at President Clinton, but as a result of impeaching President Clinton, we’ve redefined what sex is to a lot of our young people and we’ve said it’s okay to lie to Congress. I think that’s been woven into the thread of our society. That failed impeachment attempt actually damaged the country. What message do we send to America if we impeach Obama and he gets away with what he’s impeached for, is found innocent? What do we say then is okay?
The fact that President Obama hasn’t committed anything remotely resembling an impeachable offense is of no concern to Republicans. Actually, Farenthold’s comments explain a lot. House Republicans aren’t just fishing for an Obama scandal that they can use to their political advantage. They are looking for the magic scandal that they can use to remove President Obama from office.
Outside of the fake scandals that Republicans have tried to cook up, Benghazi, Fast and Furious, and the IRS to name three, the Obama administration has been remarkably scandal free. This fact has caused congressional Republicans to turn every little imagined slight into a high crime that the president should be impeached for. After decades of presidents that have been plagued by second term scandals, Obama is maintaining his scandal free record. The fact must drive Republicans crazy.
Nothing gets done in Washington because half of the legislative branch spends most of their time looking for scandals that they can use to impeach the president. How is Obama supposed to compromise and work with Republicans when they are obsessed with removing him from office?
Republicans have tried to delegitimize Barack Obama’s presidency from the moment that he took office. Their efforts resulted resulted in the president winning a second term. Since they couldn’t beat him at the ballot box, Republicans are focused on finding a reason to remove him from office.
House Republicans have transcended being political opposition. They are hellbent on destroying this president, and they won’t stop until he is removed from office. House Republicans aren’t patriots.
They are plotters of a coup to remove the twice elected President of the United States.
************Sarah Palin and the Banality of Republican Evil
By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Aug. 12th, 2013
The Republican message gets more and more muddled as time goes by. Of course, since 2008 the GOP has revolved entirely around Barack Obama, as a reaction to the president – and a knee-jerk reaction at that.
And because they limit themselves to attacking everything Obama likes, and because Barack Obama happens to be smarter than them, their message of hate lacks coherency. They regularly fall over themselves trying to get as much vitriol out as they can.
We can’t know, really, and we can’t know, how many of them are driven by the fires of fanaticism and how many of them are simply opportunists riding the populist wave. What matters is that the base (and a lot of other people) believe their drivel.
A lack of coherency bothers liberals but the conservative base just wants a steady diet of having their preconceived prejudices confirmed and reinforced, and if there is one thing Republicans are good at it is packaging sound bites and created scandals. It’s not the content they care about, but the production values.
And [insert deep breath] speaking of production values and sound bites and drivel and a lack of coherency (and oh by the way the need to get the base stirred up for 2014), Sarah Palin – who has previously hinted that she might run for a senate seat in 2014, and who has hinted also that she might leave the GOP behind and create her own “Freedom Party” – has now pronounced herself a Rand Paul girl.
She told Fox News Saturday while ranting about Obamacare, “I’m on team Rand. Rand Paul understands. He gets the whole notion of ‘don’t tread on me government.’ Whereas Chris Christie is for big government and trying to go-along-to-get-along in so many respects.”
Keep in mind, there are no actual facts to be found in this claim, but it is neatly packaged, and, for Sarah Palin, remarkably coherent. Conservative listeners, who abhor nuance like nature abhors a vacuum, are awarded with what they like best: a neat black/white, either/or, good/evil equation.
Let’s take a look at that again, in case you missed it:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jrW1Aj8PZ0
She loves herself some Rand Paul. Why? Because Paul has a “healthy libertarian streak that we need more of, in our politicians.”
I’m not sure at this point that you can use “healthy” and “libertarian” in the same sentence, given what we’ve seen of libertarian aims in this new century. And don’t tread on me government…I’m a little confused.
Would that be the “don’t tread on me government” inserting itself into our bedrooms with regards to what sex acts married couples can engage in?; or the one intruding itself on reproductive matters that should be the sole domain of the woman or the woman and doctor and/or significant other?; or the one that tells me what God to worship and how to worship him?
THAT “don’t tread on me government”?
It would sure be swell if Palin would “you betcha” clear that up for us, but she won’t, because that would be inconvenient and disrupt her faux anti-government spiel. The Republican agenda is not about making sense, remember, and for that – for pure misdirected nihilism offered with a smile and a wink (and the obligatory bosom) – they have found the perfect spokeswoman in Sarah Palin.
Nobody does it better than the girl who can see Russia from her back door but can’t see the moose she is aiming at or see that she is using the wrong kind of rifle to aim at said moose.
It is easy to see why Palin likes Paul. They’re on the same short-circuited wavelength, after all, playing with a half-understanding of what government is and what government must be if they’re going to get all the goodies they want for their states even while cutting it down to size. In other words, they’re both “half-thought-out” politicians who have let their populist agendas get in the way of actually thinking things through to their logical conclusion.
You know, with facts and everything.
And Chris Christie isn’t “rogue” enough for the so-called Mama Grizzly, meaning he isn’t over-the-top cray-cray like Republicans – especially Tea Party Republicans – have to be these days.
And in true face-palm style, she claims Christie is a slick phony anyway (rich coming from Ms. Soundbite, the promo-queen herself).
She says Christie has a “YouTube videographer” who sets up moments to capture the governor apparently – but not really – going rogue.
Some people look at him as, ‘Ah man, he’s a governor who goes rogue.’ No, he’s got a shtick going there where he’s got a YouTube videographer following him around, kind of these set up situations sometimes so he can be seen as perhaps going rogue. But Chris Christie’s for more government and his record proves that.
As opposed to the (Sarah Palin) type of more government that is going to intrude yourself into the bedrooms of married couples, and women’s private reproductive healthcare issues, and oh by the way, make sure you’re the right kind of Christian and not some atheist or pagan “libtard” who can’t be allowed to vote or hold office.
Because of course, you can’t go rogue if it’s a planned rogue-ishness. To go rogue you have to quit your job as the highest elected official in your state in the middle of your term, don’t you, Sarah? Or have a cameraman follow you around to show what a rogue huntress you are.
And of course, as Jason Easley related Saturday, it wouldn’t be Sarah Palin if she didn’t go entirely cray-cray and start ranting about “death panels” again:
Of course, they’re death panels. They couldn’t go forever and not acknowledge that or else they would look like complete buffoons — and they would be deemed incompetent having not read the law to understand that death panels are a part of this atrocity. It was just a matter of time.
As more and more of our congressmen and women actually read the law and as more of us bring to light more things in the 20,000 pages of rules and regulations accompanying Obamacare, more of them will jump off the train wreck that’s coming.
This is more of what I talked about yesterday. Palin is not paying attention to the facts on the ground, because the facts on the ground do not agree with her preconceived notions and therefore must be ignored.
In fact, as RMuse reported here yesterday, Republicans are in full-blown panic mode over the success of Obamacare, thus their insistence that it’s a “train wreck.” They need to shoot it down before its proven just how well it works.
And at the beginning of August, opposed against, I suppose, the 40 times Republicans have tried to repeal Obamacare, barackobama.com listed 40 ways Obamacare is working. Looking at such a list, it is difficult to imagine what Republicans find so objectionable about people actually having access to medical care.
Personally, I’m a big fan of insurance companies not being able to tell me that because I have a pre-existing condition that I’ll just have to go off and die.
But facts or no, Palin is delivering exactly the sort of nonsensical diatribe Fox News was looking for – irrelevant and misdirected, wrath-laden filler to keep the base frothed up in between elections, feeding them a healthy dose of fear and fodder for their imagined self-victimization.
Yes, shallow as she is, Palin is precisely the sort of thing Republicans like: a pretty but vacuous face; someone who can convince perfectly average people on behalf of the people who are trampling their rights that somebody else is responsible for trampling their rights – someone who can pronounce evil with a smile.
The USA and it's utterly corrupt corporate media ...
August 13, 2013 06:00 AM
When Journalists Opinions Match The Elite Power Structure
By John Amato
Since Edward Snowden leaked the NSA program to Glenn Greenwald and The Washington Post I hear a lot of guffawing about what makes someone a journalist. In other words, if we like you and your story, then you're a very cool journalist, but if you go against our predetermined views then you're just an egomaniac who thinks he/she is smarter than everyone else. I've often read and heard pundits and journalists complain that Greenwald isn't a real journalist because he has very strong opinions on civil liberties, including the FISA courts and the surveillance state. So in their minds, any journalist who has such strong views shouldn't be called one if they voice their opinion.
Glenn Greenwald has a great piece up about the role that the unscrupulous General Hayden has taken in the eyes of the media. The article also catches CBS's Bob Schieffer doing exactly what Greenwald has been criticized for.
Schieffer: I like people who are willing to stand up to the government. As a reporter, it's my job to do that from time to time. Some of the people I admire most took on the government -- men and women who led the civil rights movement: Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. They are true heroes. I'm not ready to put Edward Snowden in that category.
For one thing, I don't remember Martin Luther King Jr. or Rosa Parks running off and hiding in China. The people who led the civil rights movement were willing to break the law AND suffer the consequences.
That's a little different than putting the nation's security at risk and running away. I know 11 people who died or lost a member of their family on 9/11. My younger daughter lived in Manhattan then; it was six hours before we knew she was safe. I'm not interested in going through that again.I don't know yet if the government has overreached since 9/11 to reinforce our defenses, and we need to find out.
What I DO know, though, is that these procedures were put in place and are being overseen by officials WE elected, and we should hold THEM accountable.I think what we have in Edward Snowden is just a narcissistic young man who has decided he is smarter than the rest of us.
I don't know what he is beyond that, but he is no hero. If he has a valid point -- and I'm not even sure he does -- he would greatly help his cause by voluntarily coming home to face the consequences.
The idea that since Snowden left the USA suddenly makes what he did less patriotic is ridiculous. Go read Mother Jones report called Obama's War on Whistleblowers and see if you would have stuck around and faced the consequences when they have already been well established.
The Obama administration has been cruelly and unusually punishing in its use of the 1917 Espionage Act to stomp on governmental leakers, truth-tellers, and whistleblowers whose disclosures do not support the president's political ambitions. As Thomas Drake, himself avictim of Obama's crusade against whistleblowers, told me, "This makes a mockery of the entire classification system, where political gain is now incentive for leaking and whistleblowing is incentive for prosecution." The Obama administration has charged more people (six) under the Espionage Act for the alleged mishandling of classified information than all past presidencies combined.
What MLK faced was much harsher than anything our laws could have thrown at him at that time because racism was a brutal and deadly game and he eventually paid the ultimate price by getting assassinated for his stance on racism. Is Edward Snowden supposed to come back and be murdered just like MLK? Then Schieffer shamelessly used the victims of 9/11 to fearmonger his case against Snowden. This is an old tactic that has been abused to the hilt ever since George Bush decided to attack Iraq.
Glenn answers his own question about objective journalism:
How come you're allowed to have that opinion and be an "objective journalist"? How come none of the people so very upset that those who are reporting on the NSA stories have opinions are objecting to any of that, or calling the TV host an "activist"?
The answer is clear: "objectivity" in Washington journalism does not mean being free of opinions; it means the opposite: dutifully echoing the official opinions and subjective mindset of those in political power. In the eyes of official Washington and its media mavens, spouting opinions is not a sin. The sin is spouting opinions that deviate from the ones expressed by and which serve the interests of those in power.
Digby follows up on Glenn's piece:
Indeed, they don't even voice them in their own words --- "narcissistic", "no hero", "come home and face the consequences" has been the mantra of the power elite in Washington ever since the Snowden revelations. The machinery of the political establishment and the government is being put to the task of making Americans "comfortable" with living under secret surveillance and marginalizing those who object. (That was certainly the upshot of the president's comments last Friday.) And the political press is largely not questioning this notion --- they are abetting it.
Much of the political press corps and nearly all of the professional commentariat has proven itself to be highly opinionated and "activist" --- on behalf of the government.
And there you have it. Lately, if it's not a sex thing, then the press corp. lines up in total support of the government's position on our civil liberties and they are doing a much better job of selling it than the administration.
Oh, and by the way, Gen. Hayden has been making millions of dollars off the surveillance state and our fears in the private sector like so many others before him (Michael Chertoff), but is never questioned about his conflict of interest on this whole deal. Now that's the type of affair I would rather look into.
But worse than the omission of Hayden's NSA history is his current - and almost always unmentioned - financial stake in the very policies he is being invited to defend. Hayden is a partner in the Chertoff Group, a private entity that makes more and more money by increasing the fear levels of the US public and engineering massive government security contracts for their clients. Founded by former Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff, it's filled with former national security state officials who exploit their connections in and knowledge of Washington to secure hugely profitable government contracts for their clients.
Michael Hayden, Bob Schieffer and the media's reverence of national security officials
The former NSA director is held up by the Face the Nation host as an objective authority when he is everything but that
theguardian.com, Monday 12 August 2013 14.52 BST
In 2006, the New York Times won the Pulitzer Prize for having revealed that the NSA was eavesdropping on Americans without warrants. The reason that was a scandal was because it was illegal under a 30-year-old law that made it a felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison for each offense, to eavesdrop on Americans without those warrants. Although both the Bush and Obama DOJs ultimately prevented final adjudication by raising claims of secrecy and standing, and the "Look Forward, Not Backward (for powerful elites)" Obama DOJ refused to prosecute the responsible officials, all three federal judges to rule on the substance found that domestic spying to be unconstitutional and in violation of the statute.
The person who secretly implemented that illegal domestic spying program was retired Gen. Michael Hayden, then Bush's NSA director. That's the very same Michael Hayden who is now frequently presented by US television outlets as the authority and expert on the current NSA controversy - all without ever mentioning the central role he played in overseeing that illegal warrantless eavesdropping program.
As Marcy Wheeler noted: "the 2009 Draft NSA IG Report that Snowden leaked [and the Guardian published] provided new details about how Hayden made the final decision to continue the illegal wiretapping program even after DOJ's top lawyers judged it illegal in 2004. Edward Snowden leaked new details of Michael Hayden's crime." The Twitter commentator sysprog3 put it this way:
Inviting Hayden to comment on regulation of surveillance is like having Bernie Madoff comment on regulation of Wall Street."
But inviting Hayden to do exactly that is what establishment media outlets do continually. Just yesterday, Face the Nation featured Hayden as the premiere guest to speak authoritatively about how trustworthy the NSA is, how safe it keeps us, and how wise President Obama is for insisting that all of its programs continue. As usual, no mention was made of the role he played in secretly implementing an illegal warrantless spying program aimed directly at the American people. As most establishment media figures do when quivering in the presence of national security state officials, the supremely sycophantic TV host Bob Schieffer treated Hayden like a visiting dignitary in his living room and avoided a single hard question.
But worse than the omission of Hayden's NSA history is his current - and almost always unmentioned - financial stake in the very policies he is being invited to defend. Hayden is a partner in the Chertoff Group, a private entity that makes more and more money by increasing the fear levels of the US public and engineering massive government security contracts for their clients. Founded by former Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff, it's filled with former national security state officials who exploit their connections in and knowledge of Washington to secure hugely profitable government contracts for their clients. As the Huffington Post's Marcus Baram reported:
"After last month's plot to send bombs from Yemen to the United States aboard a cargo plane, former U.S. Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff's whiskerless visage was ubiquitous on cable news. Solemnly warning that the nation needed stronger security procedures . . . .
"Almost unmentioned in these appearances: Chertoff has a lot to gain financially if some of these measures are adopted. Between his private consulting firm, The Chertoff Group, and seats on the boards of giant defense and security firms, he sits at the heart of the giant security nexus created in the wake of 9/11, in effect creating a shadow homeland security agency. Chertoff launched his firm just days after President Barack Obama took office, eventually recruiting at least 11 top officials from the Department of Homeland Security, as well as former CIA director General Michael Hayden and other top military brass and security officials. . . .
"'They're trying to scare the pants off the American people that we need these things," [passenger rights advocate Kate] Hanni told The Huffington Post. 'When Chertoff goes on TV, he is basically promoting his clients and exploiting that fear to make money. Fear is a commodity and they're selling it. The more they can sell it, the more we buy into it. When American people are afraid, they will accept anything.'"
The article further detailed how much of a huge financial stake the Chertoff Group has in scaring the nation about cyber threats and obtaining large NSA contracts relating to cyber-warfare. Hayden's bio at the Chertoff Group says that his focus includes "technological intelligence and counterintelligence (communications and data networks)" and "brief[ing] clients on intelligence matters worldwide – including developments in cybersecurity – that may affect their businesses."
In other words, Hayden has a clear financial stake in the very NSA debates he's put on television to adjudicate. And while he's sometimes identified as a principal of the Chertoff Group, what that means - the conflicts of interest it creates in the very debates in which he's participating - is almost never mentioned. That's because one inviolable rule for establishment TV hosts like Bob Schieffer is that US military officials must be treated with the greatest reverence and must never be meaningfully challenged (contrast that with what actual journalist David Halberstam described as the "proudest moment" of his career: when he stood up in press conferences in 1963 in Vietnam to make clear he knew US generals were lying, to the point that the Pentagon demanded that his New York Times editors remove him from covering the war).
That political figures have undisclosed financial stakes in the policy positions they pretend to favor is so common in Washington that it has become normalized, something its mavens barely recognize as noteworthy. The same is true of former national security officials who exploit their credentials, their connections, and - especially - the Fear of Terrorism to generate massive profits for themselves. But that this manipulation is incredibly common in sleazy Washington does not justify having TV-journalists conceal those conflicts when presenting these officials as authorities and experts. When it comes to people like Michael Hayden, the profoundly unhealthy reverence harbored by TV journalists means that they would never dare utter any such facts. We are thus subjected to "journalism" in which those least qualified to opine, and those with the greatest personal interests in the outcome of debates, are presented as objective experts, while viewers remain entirely uninformed about all of this.
Bob Schieffer and "Objectivity"
Since we first began reporting on NSA stories, there has been much debate over who is and is not a "journalist" and whether being a journalist requires "objectivity" (i.e., a pretense to not having opinions). Under this metric, does Bob Schieffer qualify?
Two weeks ago, Schieffer spewed a vicious, one-sided attack on Edward Snowden, accusing him of "putting the nation's security at risk and running away." Echoing Dick Cheney and Rudy Giuliani, Schieffer added:
I know eleven people who died or lost a member of their family on 9/11. My younger daughter lived in Manhattan then. It was six hours before we knew she was safe. I'm not interested in going through that again. I don't know yet if the government has over-reached since 9/11 to reinforce our defenses, and we need to find out. What I do know, though, is that these procedures were put in place and are being overseen by officials we elected and we should hold them accountable.
"I think what we have in Edward Snowden is just a narcissistic young man who has decided he is smarter than the rest of us. I don't know what he is beyond that, but he is no hero. If he has a valid point — and I'm not even sure he does — he would greatly help his cause by voluntarily coming home to face the consequences."
How come you're allowed to have that opinion and be an "objective journalist"? How come none of the people so very upset that those who are reporting on the NSA stories have opinions are objecting to any of that or calling the TV host an "activist"? The answer is clear: "objectivity" in Washington journalism does not mean being free of opinions; it means the opposite: dutifully echoing the official opinions and subjective mindset of those in political power. In the eyes of official Washington and its media mavens, spouting opinions is not a sin. The sin is spouting opinions that deviate from the ones expressed by and which serve the interests of those in power.
Two weeks ago, Schieffer interviewed NSA critic Sen. Mark Udall and told him that his concerns were invalid. "We have laws and all that sort of thing. So the fact that they would have this ability, there's nothing to suggest that they are doing this. And there seem to be a lot of safeguards to prevent them from doing that," Schieffer said. The TV host added: "Fifty-six terror plots here and abroad have been thwarted by the NASA [sic] program. So what's wrong with it, then, if it's managed to stop 56 terrorist attacks? That sounds like a pretty good record." (Schieffer's claims were all false: see, for instance, here, here, and here).
Yesterday, Schieffer led another NSA discussion and invited on three of the most pro-NSA individuals in the country: Hayden, GOP Rep. Peter King, and Democratic Rep. Charles "Dutch" Ruppersberger, whose district includes the NSA and who is the second-largest recipient in Congress of cash from the defense and intelligence industries. No criticisms of the NSA were heard. Instead, Schieffer repeatedly pushed even Hayden to go further in his defense of the NSA and in his attacks on Snowden than Hayden wanted to, asking such tough "questions" like this one, about Obama's proposal to have a "devils' advocate in the FISA court:
"BOB SCHIEFFER: Well-- well let me just cite an example and let's say that the NSA runs across something that they think an attack on the country is imminent--
"GENERAL MICHAEL HAYDEN: Right.
"BOB SCHIEFFER: --and they want to go into the court and say, 'We got to do this right now.'
GENERAL MICHAEL HAYDEN: Right.
"BOB SCHIEFFER: Is it feasible? Is it practical? Is it even possible to say, 'Well, wait, let's-- let's argue this a bit?' I mean it would seem to me that time was of the essence."
They then had this exchange:
"BOB SCHIEFFER: Do you-- do you think, General, that the public understands what it is the NSA is doing?
"GENERAL MICHAEL HAYDEN: No.
"BOB SCHIEFFER: They have this large collection of phone numbers, but if I understand it, they're not listening in on people's conversations.
"GENERAL MICHAEL HAYDEN: No, no.
"BOB SCHIEFFER: They don't do that until they do get a court order.
"GENERAL MICHAEL HAYDEN: That's correct, to an American, to target an American."
Actually, Schieffer's NSA defense is factually false - see here and here - but none of that was mentioned. About Snowden, the tough, adversarial TV reporter asked Hayden: "Do you think he is a traitor, would you go that far?" He then ended his prayer session devoted to Hayden with this exchange about the recent proposal in the House to ban the NSA's bulk collection of phone records:
"BOB SCHIEFFER: But would the National security be damaged if that happened?
"GENERAL MICHAEL HAYDEN: Oh, absolutely, absolutely.
"BOB SCHIEFFER: All right. Well, General, it's always good to have you."
Bob Schieffer is a more slavish, shameless spokesman for the NSA than anyone actually employed by that agency. But what one really finds here is a reverence for military officials like Michael Hayden so extreme that it's actually uncomfortable to watch.
A new Pew poll this weekend found that while the US public holds the media in very low esteem, the one function they actually value is having the media serve as a watchdog over political leaders. The percentage of Americans who value this press function has risen considerably this year.
This has happened despite the likes of NSA advocate and government spokesman Bob Schieffer continuing to dominate and shape establishment TV outlets. The fact that his "objectivity" as a journalist would never be questioned by those who raise such issues demonstrates that this concept of journalistic objectivity has only one real purpose: to delegitimize all views other than those that prop up and glorify those who wield the greatest power in US political and financial circles.
August 13, 2013 08:00 AM
This Review Brought to You By Booz Allen's Director of National Intelligence™
When Obama announced Friday the formation of a technical advisory group to review our SIGINT programs, I naively believed “outside” and “independent” meant “outside” and “independent.”
Fourth, we’re forming a high-level group of outside experts to review our entire intelligence and communications technologies. We need new thinking for a new era. We now have to unravel terrorist plots by finding a needle in the haystack of global telecommunications. And meanwhile, technology has given governments — including our own — unprecedented capability to monitor communications.
So I am tasking this independent group to step back and review our capabilities — particularly our surveillance technologies. And they’ll consider how we can maintain the trust of the people, how we can make sure that there absolutely is no abuse in terms of how these surveillance technologies are used, ask how surveillance impacts our foreign policy — particularly in an age when more and more information is becoming public. And they will provide an interim report in 60 days and a final report by the end of this year, so that we can move forward with a better understanding of how these programs impact our security, our privacy, and our foreign policy. [my emphasis]
I also naively believed this was an effort to take up Ron Wyden and Mark Udall’s call to get an independent review of the program, which the rest of the Senate Intelligence Committee thwarted a year ago.
We also proposed directing the committee’s Technical Advisory Group to study FISA Amendments Act collection and provide recommendations for improvements. We were disappointed that our motion to request that the Technical Advisory Group study this issue was ruled by our colleagues to be out of order.
Nope!In the memo Obama just released ordering James Clapper to form such a committee, those words “outside” and “independent” disappear entirely.
I believe it is important to take stock of how these technological advances alter the environment in which we conduct our intelligence mission. To this end, by the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, I am directing you to establish a Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies (Review Group).
The Review Group will assess whether, in light of advancements in communications technologies, the United States employs its technical collection capabilities in a manner that optimally protects our national security and advances our foreign policy while appropriately accounting for other policy considerations, such as the risk of unauthorized disclosure and our need to maintain the public trust. Within 60 days of its establishment, the Review Group will brief their interim findings to me through the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), and the Review Group will provide a final report and recommendations to me through the DNI no later than December 15, 2013. [my emphasis]
And neither Obama nor the Intelligence Committees get to hear from this Group themselves. It all goes through James Clapper.
What on Friday was an outside and independent group is now branded by the Director of National Intelligence as the Director of National Intelligence Group.
At the direction of the President, I am establishing the Director of National Intelligence Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies to examine our global signals-intelligence collection and surveillance capability.
The Review Group will assess whether, in light of advancements in communications technologies, the United States employs its technical collection capabilities in a manner that optimally protects our national security and advances our foreign policy while appropriately accounting for other policy considerations, such as the risk of unauthorized disclosure and our need to maintain the public trust.
Huh. It took exactly 72 hours for that good idea to fizzle into a navel gaze directed by the guy who lies to Congress.
Brazil tells John Kerry: NSA spying creates mistrust
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, August 13, 2013 16:59 EDT
Brazil warned US Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday that failure to resolve the row over Washington’s electronic spying could sow mistrust between the countries.
Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota told a press conference after talks with Kerry that revelations about the vast US global surveillance network posed a “new challenge in our bilateral relationship.”
“If the implications of this challenge are not satisfactorily resolved, they ran the risk of casting a shadow of mistrust over our work,” he added in Brasilia.
“Practices which harm the sovereignty and relations of trust between states and violate the individual freedoms which our countries so cherish must be stopped,” Patriota said.
Kerry, who on his first trip to South America since he became US chief diplomat in February, said: “Brazil is owed answers with respect to those questions and they will get them.”
“We will have this dialogue with the view to make it certain that your government is in complete understanding and complete agreement with what it is that we must to do provide security, not just for Americans, but for Brazilians and the people of the world,” he added.
Washington has argued that it needs the vast surveillance program conducted by the National Security Agency to combat terrorism.
The US chief diplomat arrived here late Monday from Colombia where he also defended Washington’s electronic espionage in the region, brought to light by fugitive intelligence leaker Edward Snowden.
Based on documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the daily O Globo reported last month that Washington eavesdropped on Brazilians’ telephone conversations and emails.
A US spy base in Brasilia, part of a worldwide network of 16 such stations operated by the NSA, also intercepted foreign satellite transmissions, it claimed.
The two foreign ministers also discussed Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s scheduled state visit to the United States in October.
Last week, Patriota insisted that despite the furor over US snooping on phone calls and internet communications in Brazil, the trip was still on.
Kerry was scheduled to call on Rousseff later in the day.
August 13, 2013
How Laura Poitras Helped Snowden Spill His Secrets
By PETER MAASS
This past January, Laura Poitras received a curious e-mail from an anonymous stranger requesting her public encryption key. For almost two years, Poitras had been working on a documentary about surveillance, and she occasionally received queries from strangers. She replied to this one and sent her public key — allowing him or her to send an encrypted e-mail that only Poitras could open, with her private key — but she didn’t think much would come of it.
The stranger responded with instructions for creating an even more secure system to protect their exchanges. Promising sensitive information, the stranger told Poitras to select long pass phrases that could withstand a brute-force attack by networked computers. “Assume that your adversary is capable of a trillion guesses per second,” the stranger wrote.
Before long, Poitras received an encrypted message that outlined a number of secret surveillance programs run by the government. She had heard of one of them but not the others. After describing each program, the stranger wrote some version of the phrase, “This I can prove.”
Seconds after she decrypted and read the e-mail, Poitras disconnected from the Internet and removed the message from her computer. “I thought, O.K., if this is true, my life just changed,” she told me last month. “It was staggering, what he claimed to know and be able to provide. I just knew that I had to change everything.”
Poitras remained wary of whoever it was she was communicating with. She worried especially that a government agent might be trying to trick her into disclosing information about the people she interviewed for her documentary, including Julian Assange, the editor of WikiLeaks. “I called him out,” Poitras recalled. “I said either you have this information and you are taking huge risks or you are trying to entrap me and the people I know, or you’re crazy.”
The answers were reassuring but not definitive. Poitras did not know the stranger’s name, sex, age or employer (C.I.A.? N.S.A.? Pentagon?). In early June, she finally got the answers. Along with her reporting partner, Glenn Greenwald, a former lawyer and a columnist for The Guardian, Poitras flew to Hong Kong and met the N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden, who gave them thousands of classified documents, setting off a major controversy over the extent and legality of government surveillance. Poitras was right that, among other things, her life would never be the same.
Greenwald lives and works in a house surrounded by tropical foliage in a remote area of Rio de Janeiro. He shares the home with his Brazilian partner and their 10 dogs and one cat, and the place has the feel of a low-key fraternity that has been dropped down in the jungle. The kitchen clock is off by hours, but no one notices; dishes tend to pile up in the sink; the living room contains a table and a couch and a large TV, an Xbox console and a box of poker chips and not much else. The refrigerator is not always filled with fresh vegetables. A family of monkeys occasionally raids the banana trees in the backyard and engages in shrieking battles with the dogs.
Greenwald does most of his work on a shaded porch, usually dressed in a T-shirt, surfer shorts and flip-flops. Over the four days I spent there, he was in perpetual motion, speaking on the phone in Portuguese and English, rushing out the door to be interviewed in the city below, answering calls and e-mails from people seeking information about Snowden, tweeting to his 225,000 followers (and conducting intense arguments with a number of them), then sitting down to write more N.S.A. articles for The Guardian, all while pleading with his dogs to stay quiet. During one especially fever-pitched moment, he hollered, “Shut up, everyone,” but they didn’t seem to care.
Amid the chaos, Poitras, an intense-looking woman of 49, sat in a spare bedroom or at the table in the living room, working in concentrated silence in front of her multiple computers. Once in a while she would walk over to the porch to talk with Greenwald about the article he was working on, or he would sometimes stop what he was doing to look at the latest version of a new video she was editing about Snowden. They would talk intensely — Greenwald far louder and more rapid-fire than Poitras — and occasionally break out laughing at some shared joke or absurd memory. The Snowden story, they both said, was a battle they were waging together, a fight against powers of surveillance that they both believe are a threat to fundamental American liberties.
Two reporters for The Guardian were in town to assist Greenwald, so some of our time was spent in the hotel where they were staying along Copacabana Beach, the toned Brazilians playing volleyball in the sand below lending the whole thing an added layer of surreality. Poitras has shared the byline on some of Greenwald’s articles, but for the most part she has preferred to stay in the background, letting him do the writing and talking. As a result, Greenwald is the one hailed as either a fearless defender of individual rights or a nefarious traitor, depending on your perspective. “I keep calling her the Keyser Soze of the story, because she’s at once completely invisible and yet ubiquitous,” Greenwald said, referring to the character in “The Usual Suspects” played by Kevin Spacey, a mastermind masquerading as a nobody. “She’s been at the center of all of this, and yet no one knows anything about her.”
As dusk fell one evening, I followed Poitras and Greenwald to the newsroom of O Globo, one of the largest newspapers in Brazil. Greenwald had just published an article there detailing how the N.S.A. was spying on Brazilian phone calls and e-mails. The article caused a huge scandal in Brazil, as similar articles have done in other countries around the world, and Greenwald was a celebrity in the newsroom. The editor in chief pumped his hand and asked him to write a regular column; reporters took souvenir pictures with their cellphones. Poitras filmed some of this, then put her camera down and looked on. I noted that nobody was paying attention to her, that all eyes were on Greenwald, and she smiled. “That’s right,” she said. “That’s perfect.”
Poitras seems to work at blending in, a function more of strategy than of shyness. She can actually be remarkably forceful when it comes to managing information. During a conversation in which I began to ask her a few questions about her personal life, she remarked, “This is like visiting the dentist.” The thumbnail portrait is this: She was raised in a well-off family outside Boston, and after high school, she moved to San Francisco to work as a chef in upscale restaurants. She also took classes at the San Francisco Art Institute, where she studied under the experimental filmmaker Ernie Gehr. In 1992, she moved to New York and began to make her way in the film world, while also enrolling in graduate classes in social and political theory at the New School. Since then she has made five films, most recently “The Oath,” about the Guantánamo prisoner Salim Hamdan and his brother-in-law back in Yemen, and has been the recipient of a Peabody Award and a MacArthur award.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Poitras was on the Upper West Side of Manhattan when the towers were attacked. Like most New Yorkers, in the weeks that followed she was swept up in both mourning and a feeling of unity. It was a moment, she said, when “people could have done anything, in a positive sense.” When that moment led to the pre-emptive invasion of Iraq, she felt that her country had lost its way. “We always wonder how countries can veer off course,” she said. “How do people let it happen, how do people sit by during this slipping of boundaries?” Poitras had no experience in conflict zones, but in June 2004, she went to Iraq and began documenting the occupation.
Shortly after arriving in Baghdad, she received permission to go to Abu Ghraib prison to film a visit by members of Baghdad’s City Council. This was just a few months after photos were published of American soldiers abusing prisoners there. A prominent Sunni doctor was part of the visiting delegation, and Poitras shot a remarkable scene of his interaction with prisoners there, shouting that they were locked up for no good reason.
The doctor, Riyadh al-Adhadh, invited Poitras to his clinic and later allowed her to report on his life in Baghdad. Her documentary, “My Country, My Country,” is centered on his family’s travails — the shootings and blackouts in their neighborhood, the kidnapping of a nephew. The film premiered in early 2006 and received widespread acclaim, including an Oscar nomination for best documentary.
Attempting to tell the story of the war’s effect on Iraqi citizens made Poitras the target of serious — and apparently false — accusations. On Nov. 19, 2004, Iraqi troops, supported by American forces, raided a mosque in the doctor’s neighborhood of Adhamiya, killing several people inside. The next day, the neighborhood erupted in violence. Poitras was with the doctor’s family, and occasionally they would go to the roof of the home to get a sense of what was going on. On one of those rooftop visits, she was seen by soldiers from an Oregon National Guard battalion. Shortly after, a group of insurgents launched an attack that killed one of the Americans. Some soldiers speculated that Poitras was on the roof because she had advance notice of the attack and wanted to film it. Their battalion commander, Lt. Col. Daniel Hendrickson, retired, told me last month that he filed a report about her to brigade headquarters.
There is no evidence to support this claim. Fighting occurred throughout the neighborhood that day, so it would have been difficult for any journalist to not be near the site of an attack. The soldiers who made the allegation told me that they have no evidence to prove it. Hendrickson told me his brigade headquarters never got back to him.
For several months after the attack in Adhamiya, Poitras continued to live in the Green Zone and work as an embedded journalist with the U.S. military. She has screened her film to a number of military audiences, including at the U.S. Army War College. An officer who interacted with Poitras in Baghdad, Maj. Tom Mowle, retired, said Poitras was always filming and it “completely makes sense” she would film on a violent day. “I think it’s a pretty ridiculous allegation,” he said.
Although the allegations were without evidence, they may be related to Poitras’s many detentions and searches. Hendrickson and another soldier told me that in 2007 — months after she was first detained — investigators from the Department of Justice’s Joint Terrorism Task Force interviewed them, inquiring about Poitras’s activities in Baghdad that day. Poitras was never contacted by those or any other investigators, however. “Iraq forces and the U.S. military raided a mosque during Friday prayers and killed several people,” Poitras said. “Violence broke out the next day. I am a documentary filmmaker and was filming in the neighborhood. Any suggestion I knew about an attack is false. The U.S. government should investigate who ordered the raid, not journalists covering the war.”
In June 2006, her tickets on domestic flights were marked “SSSS” — Secondary Security Screening Selection — which means the bearer faces extra scrutiny beyond the usual measures. She was detained for the first time at Newark International Airport before boarding a flight to Israel, where she was showing her film. On her return flight, she was held for two hours before being allowed to re-enter the country. The next month, she traveled to Bosnia to show the film at a festival there. When she flew out of Sarajevo and landed in Vienna, she was paged on the airport loudspeaker and told to go to a security desk; from there she was led to a van and driven to another part of the airport, then taken into a room where luggage was examined.
“They took my bags and checked them,” Poitras said. “They asked me what I was doing, and I said I was showing a movie in Sarajevo about the Iraq war. And then I sort of befriended the security guy. I asked what was going on. He said: ‘You’re flagged. You have a threat score that is off the Richter scale. You are at 400 out of 400.’ I said, ‘Is this a scoring system that works throughout all of Europe, or is this an American scoring system?’ He said. ‘No, this is your government that has this and has told us to stop you.’ ”
After 9/11, the U.S. government began compiling a terrorist watch list that was at one point estimated to contain nearly a million names. There are at least two subsidiary lists that relate to air travel. The no-fly list contains the names of tens of thousands of people who are not allowed to fly into or out of the country. The selectee list, which is larger than the no-fly list, subjects people to extra airport inspections and questioning. These lists have been criticized by civil rights groups for being too broad and arbitrary and for violating the rights of Americans who are on them.
In Vienna, Poitras was eventually cleared to board her connecting flight to New York, but when she landed at J.F.K., she was met at the gate by two armed law-enforcement agents and taken to a room for questioning. It is a routine that has happened so many times since then — on more than 40 occasions — that she has lost precise count. Initially, she said, the authorities were interested in the paper she carried, copying her receipts and, once, her notebook. After she stopped carrying her notes, they focused on her electronics instead, telling her that if she didn’t answer their questions, they would confiscate her gear and get their answers that way. On one occasion, Poitras says, they did seize her computers and cellphones and kept them for weeks. She was also told that her refusal to answer questions was itself a suspicious act. Because the interrogations took place at international boarding crossings, where the government contends that ordinary constitutional rights do not apply, she was not permitted to have a lawyer present.
“It’s a total violation,” Poitras said. “That’s how it feels. They are interested in information that pertains to the work I am doing that’s clearly private and privileged. It’s an intimidating situation when people with guns meet you when you get off an airplane.”
Though she has written to members of Congress and has submitted Freedom of Information Act requests, Poitras has never received any explanation for why she was put on a watch list. “It’s infuriating that I have to speculate why,” she said. “When did that universe begin, that people are put on a list and are never told and are stopped for six years? I have no idea why they did it. It’s the complete suspension of due process.” She added: “I’ve been told nothing, I’ve been asked nothing, and I’ve done nothing. It’s like Kafka. Nobody ever tells you what the accusation is.”
After being detained repeatedly, Poitras began taking steps to protect her data, asking a traveling companion to carry her laptop, leaving her notebooks overseas with friends or in safe deposit boxes. She would wipe her computers and cellphones clean so that there would be nothing for the authorities to see. Or she encrypted her data, so that law enforcement could not read any files they might get hold of. These security preparations could take a day or more before her travels.
It wasn’t just border searches that she had to worry about. Poitras said she felt that if the government was suspicious enough to interrogate her at airports, it was also most likely surveilling her e-mail, phone calls and Web browsing. “I assume that there are National Security Letters on my e-mails,” she told me, referring to one of the secretive surveillance tools used by the Department of Justice. A National Security Letter requires its recipients — in most cases, Internet service providers and phone companies — to provide customer data without notifying the customers or any other parties. Poitras suspected (but could not confirm, because her phone company and I.S.P. would be prohibited from telling her) that the F.B.I. had issued National Security Letters for her electronic communications.
Once she began working on her surveillance film in 2011, she raised her digital security to an even higher level. She cut down her use of a cellphone, which betrays not only who you are calling and when, but your location at any given point in time. She was careful about e-mailing sensitive documents or having sensitive conversations on the phone. She began using software that masked the Web sites she visited. After she was contacted by Snowden in 2013, she tightened her security yet another notch. In addition to encrypting any sensitive e-mails, she began using different computers for editing film, for communicating and for reading sensitive documents (the one for sensitive documents is air-gapped, meaning it has never been connected to the Internet).
These precautions might seem paranoid — Poitras describes them as “pretty extreme” — but the people she has interviewed for her film were targets of the sort of surveillance and seizure that she fears. William Binney, a former top N.S.A. official who publicly accused the agency of illegal surveillance, was at home one morning in 2007 when F.B.I. agents burst in and aimed their weapons at his wife, his son and himself. Binney was, at the moment the agent entered his bathroom and pointed a gun at his head, naked in the shower. His computers, disks and personal records were confiscated and have not yet been returned. Binney has not been charged with any crime.
Jacob Appelbaum, a privacy activist who was a volunteer with WikiLeaks, has also been filmed by Poitras. The government issued a secret order to Twitter for access to Appelbaum’s account data, which became public when Twitter fought the order. Though the company was forced to hand over the data, it was allowed to tell Appelbaum. Google and a small I.S.P. that Appelbaum used were also served with secret orders and fought to alert him. Like Binney, Appelbaum has not been charged with any crime.
Poitras endured the airport searches for years with little public complaint, lest her protests generate more suspicion and hostility from the government, but last year she reached a breaking point. While being interrogated at Newark after a flight from Britain, she was told she could not take notes. On the advice of lawyers, Poitras always recorded the names of border agents and the questions they asked and the material they copied or seized. But at Newark, an agent threatened to handcuff her if she continued writing. She was told that she was being barred from writing anything down because she might use her pen as a weapon.
“Then I asked for crayons,” Poitras recalled, “and he said no to crayons.”
She was taken into another room and interrogated by three agents — one was behind her, another asked the questions, the third was a supervisor. “It went on for maybe an hour and a half,” she said. “I was taking notes of their questions, or trying to, and they yelled at me. I said, ‘Show me the law where it says I can’t take notes.’ We were in a sense debating what they were trying to forbid me from doing. They said, ‘We are the ones asking the questions.’ It was a pretty aggressive, antagonistic encounter.”
Poitras met Greenwald in 2010, when she became interested in his work on WikiLeaks. In 2011, she went to Rio to film him for her documentary. He was aware of the searches and asked several times for permission to write about them. After Newark, she gave him a green light.
“She said, ‘I’ve had it,’ ” Greenwald told me. “Her ability to take notes and document what was happening was her one sense of agency, to maintain some degree of control. Documenting is what she does. I think she was feeling that the one vestige of security and control in this situation had been taken away from her, without any explanation, just as an arbitrary exercise of power.”
At the time, Greenwald was a writer for Salon. His article, “U.S. Filmmaker Repeatedly Detained at Border,” was published in April 2012. Shortly after it was posted, the detentions ceased. Six years of surveillance and harassment, Poitras hoped, might be coming to an end.
Poitras was not Snowden’s first choice as the person to whom he wanted to leak thousands of N.S.A. documents. In fact, a month before contacting her, he reached out to Greenwald, who had written extensively and critically about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the erosion of civil liberties in the wake of 9/11. Snowden anonymously sent him an e-mail saying he had documents he wanted to share, and followed that up with a step-by-step guide on how to encrypt communications, which Greenwald ignored. Snowden then sent a link to an encryption video, also to no avail.
“It’s really annoying and complicated, the encryption software,” Greenwald said as we sat on his porch during a tropical drizzle. “He kept harassing me, but at some point he just got frustrated, so he went to Laura.”
Snowden had read Greenwald’s article about Poitras’s troubles at U.S. airports and knew she was making a film about the government’s surveillance programs; he had also seen a short documentary about the N.S.A. that she made for The New York Times Op-Docs. He figured that she would understand the programs he wanted to leak about and would know how to communicate in a secure way.
By late winter, Poitras decided that the stranger with whom she was communicating was credible. There were none of the provocations that she would expect from a government agent — no requests for information about the people she was in touch with, no questions about what she was working on. Snowden told her early on that she would need to work with someone else, and that she should reach out to Greenwald. She was unaware that Snowden had already tried to contact Greenwald, and Greenwald would not realize until he met Snowden in Hong Kong that this was the person who had contacted him more than six months earlier.
There were surprises for everyone in these exchanges — including Snowden, who answered questions that I submitted to him through Poitras. In response to a question about when he realized he could trust Poitras, he wrote: “We came to a point in the verification and vetting process where I discovered Laura was more suspicious of me than I was of her, and I’m famously paranoid.” When I asked him about Greenwald’s initial silence in response to his requests and instructions for encrypted communications, Snowden replied: “I know journalists are busy and had assumed being taken seriously would be a challenge, especially given the paucity of detail I could initially offer. At the same time, this is 2013, and [he is] a journalist who regularly reported on the concentration and excess of state power. I was surprised to realize that there were people in news organizations who didn’t recognize any unencrypted message sent over the Internet is being delivered to every intelligence service in the world.”
In April, Poitras e-mailed Greenwald to say they needed to speak face to face. Greenwald happened to be in the United States, speaking at a conference in a suburb of New York City, and the two met in the lobby of his hotel. “She was very cautious,” Greenwald recalled. “She insisted that I not take my cellphone, because of this ability the government has to remotely listen to cellphones even when they are turned off. She had printed off the e-mails, and I remember reading the e-mails and felt intuitively that this was real. The passion and thought behind what Snowden — who we didn’t know was Snowden at the time — was saying was palpable.”
Greenwald installed encryption software and began communicating with the stranger. Their work was organized like an intelligence operation, with Poitras as the mastermind. “Operational security — she dictated all of that,” Greenwald said. “Which computers I used, how I communicated, how I safeguarded the information, where copies were kept, with whom they were kept, in which places. She has this complete expert level of understanding of how to do a story like this with total technical and operational safety. None of this would have happened with anything near the efficacy and impact it did, had she not been working with me in every sense and really taking the lead in coordinating most of it.”
Snowden began to provide documents to the two of them. Poitras wouldn’t tell me when he began sending her documents; she does not want to provide the government with information that could be used in a trial against Snowden or herself. He also said he would soon be ready to meet them. When Poitras asked if she should plan on driving to their meeting or taking a train, Snowden told her to be ready to get on a plane.
In May, he sent encrypted messages telling the two of them to go to Hong Kong. Greenwald flew to New York from Rio, and Poitras joined him for meetings with the editor of The Guardian’s American edition. With the paper’s reputation on the line, the editor asked them to bring along a veteran Guardian reporter, Ewen MacAskill, and on June 1, the trio boarded a 16-hour flight from J.F.K. to Hong Kong.
Snowden had sent a small number of documents to Greenwald, about 20 in all, but Poitras had received a larger trove, which she hadn’t yet had the opportunity to read closely. On the plane, Greenwald began going through its contents, eventually coming across a secret court order requiring Verizon to give its customer phone records to the N.S.A. The four-page order was from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a panel whose decisions are highly classified. Although it was rumored that the N.S.A. was collecting large numbers of American phone records, the government always denied it.
Poitras, sitting 20 rows behind Greenwald, occasionally went forward to talk about what he was reading. As the man sitting next to him slept, Greenwald pointed to the FISA order on his screen and asked Poitras: “Have you seen this? Is this saying what I’m thinking it’s saying?”
At times, they talked so animatedly that they disturbed passengers who were trying to sleep; they quieted down. “We couldn’t believe just how momentous this occasion was,” Greenwald said. “When you read these documents, you get a sense of the breadth of them. It was a rush of adrenaline and ecstasy and elation. You feel you are empowered for the first time because there’s this mammoth system that you try and undermine and subvert and shine a light on — but you usually can’t make any headway, because you don’t have any instruments to do it — [and now] the instruments were suddenly in our lap.”
Snowden had instructed them that once they were in Hong Kong, they were to go at an appointed time to the Kowloon district and stand outside a restaurant that was in a mall connected to the Mira Hotel. There, they were to wait until they saw a man carrying a Rubik’s Cube, then ask him when the restaurant would open. The man would answer their question, but then warn that the food was bad. When the man with the Rubik’s Cube arrived, it was Edward Snowden, who was 29 at the time but looked even younger.
“Both of us almost fell over when we saw how young he was,” Poitras said, still sounding surprised. “I had no idea. I assumed I was dealing with somebody who was really high-level and therefore older. But I also knew from our back and forth that he was incredibly knowledgeable about computer systems, which put him younger in my mind. So I was thinking like 40s, somebody who really grew up on computers but who had to be at a higher level.”
In our encrypted chat, Snowden also remarked on this moment: “I think they were annoyed that I was younger than they expected, and I was annoyed that they had arrived too early, which complicated the initial verification. As soon as we were behind closed doors, however, I think everyone was reassured by the obsessive attention to precaution and bona fides.”
They followed Snowden to his room, where Poitras immediately shifted into documentarian mode, taking her camera out. “It was a little bit tense, a little uncomfortable,” Greenwald said of those initial minutes. “We sat down, and we just started chatting, and Laura was immediately unpacking her camera. The instant that she turned on the camera, I very vividly recall that both he and I completely stiffened up.”
Greenwald began the questioning. “I wanted to test the consistency of his claims, and I just wanted all the information I could get, given how much I knew this was going to be affecting my credibility and everything else. We weren’t really able to establish a human bond until after that five or six hours was over.”
For Poitras, the camera certainly alters the human dynamic, but not in a bad way. When someone consents to being filmed — even if the consent is indirectly gained when she turns on the camera — this is an act of trust that raises the emotional stakes of the moment. What Greenwald saw as stilted, Poitras saw as a kind of bonding, the sharing of an immense risk. “There is something really palpable and emotional in being trusted like that,” she said.
Snowden, though taken by surprise, got used to it. “As one might imagine, normally spies allergically avoid contact with reporters or media, so I was a virgin source — everything was a surprise. . . . But we all knew what was at stake. The weight of the situation actually made it easier to focus on what was in the public interest rather than our own. I think we all knew there was no going back once she turned the camera on.”
For the next week, their preparations followed a similar pattern — when they entered Snowden’s room, they would remove their cellphone batteries and place them in the refrigerator of Snowden’s minibar. They lined pillows against the door, to discourage eavesdropping from outside, then Poitras set up her camera and filmed. It was important to Snowden to explain to them how the government’s intelligence machinery worked because he feared that he could be arrested at any time.
Greenwald’s first articles — including the initial one detailing the Verizon order he read about on the flight to Hong Kong — appeared while they were still in the process of interviewing Snowden. It made for a strange experience, creating the news together, then watching it spread. “We could see it being covered,” Poitras said. “We were all surprised at how much attention it was getting. Our work was very focused, and we were paying attention to that, but we could see on TV that it was taking off. We were in this closed circle, and around us we knew that reverberations were happening, and they could be seen and they could be felt.”
Snowden told them before they arrived in Hong Kong that he wanted to go public. He wanted to take responsibility for what he was doing, Poitras said, and he didn’t want others to be unfairly targeted, and he assumed he would be identified at some point. She made a 12½-minute video of him that was posted online June 9, a few days after Greenwald’s first articles. It triggered a media circus in Hong Kong, as reporters scrambled to learn their whereabouts.
There were a number of subjects that Poitras declined to discuss with me on the record and others she wouldn’t discuss at all — some for security and legal reasons, others because she wants to be the first to tell crucial parts of her story in her own documentary. Of her parting with Snowden once the video was posted, she would only say, “We knew that once it went public, it was the end of that period of working.”
Snowden checked out of his hotel and went into hiding. Reporters found out where Poitras was staying — she and Greenwald were at different hotels — and phone calls started coming to her room. At one point, someone knocked on her door and asked for her by name. She knew by then that reporters had discovered Greenwald, so she called hotel security and arranged to be escorted out a back exit.
She tried to stay in Hong Kong, thinking Snowden might want to see her again, and because she wanted to film the Chinese reaction to his disclosures. But she had now become a figure of interest herself, not just a reporter behind the camera. On June 15, as she was filming a pro-Snowden rally outside the U.S. consulate, a CNN reporter spotted her and began asking questions. Poitras declined to answer and slipped away. That evening, she left Hong Kong.
Poitras flew directly to Berlin, where the previous fall she rented an apartment where she could edit her documentary without worrying that the F.B.I. would show up with a search warrant for her hard drives. “There is a filter constantly between the places where I feel I have privacy and don’t,” she said, “and that line is becoming increasingly narrow.” She added: “I’m not stopping what I’m doing, but I have left the country. I literally didn’t feel like I could protect my material in the United States, and this was before I was contacted by Snowden. If you promise someone you’re going to protect them as a source and you know the government is monitoring you or seizing your laptop, you can’t actually physically do it.”
After two weeks in Berlin, Poitras traveled to Rio, where I then met her and Greenwald a few days later. My first stop was the Copacabana hotel, where they were working that day with MacAskill and another visiting reporter from The Guardian, James Ball. Poitras was putting together a new video about Snowden that would be posted in a few days on The Guardian’s Web site. Greenwald, with several Guardian reporters, was working on yet another blockbuster article, this one about Microsoft’s close collaboration with the N.S.A. The room was crowded — there weren’t enough chairs for everyone, so someone was always sitting on the bed or floor. A number of thumb drives were passed back and forth, though I was not told what was on them.
Poitras and Greenwald were worried about Snowden. They hadn’t heard from him since Hong Kong. At the moment, he was stuck in diplomatic limbo in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, the most-wanted man on the planet, sought by the U.S. government for espionage. (He would later be granted temporary asylum in Russia.) The video that Poitras was working on, using footage she shot in Hong Kong, would be the first the world had seen of Snowden in a month.
“Now that he’s incommunicado, we don’t know if we’ll even hear from him again,” she said.
“Is he O.K.?” MacAskill asked.
“His lawyer said he’s O.K.,” Greenwald responded.
“But he’s not in direct contact with Snowden,” Poitras said
When Greenwald got home that evening, Snowden contacted him online. Two days later, while she was working at Greenwald’s house, Poitras also heard from him.
It was dusk, and there was loud cawing and hooting coming from the jungle all around. This was mixed with the yapping of five or six dogs as I let myself in the front gate. Through a window, I saw Poitras in the living room, intently working at one of her computers. I let myself in through a screen door, and she glanced up for just a second, then went back to work, completely unperturbed by the cacophony around her. After 10 minutes, she closed the lid of her computer and mumbled an apology about needing to take care of some things.
She showed no emotion and did not mention that she had been in the middle of an encrypted chat with Snowden. At the time, I didn’t press her, but a few days later, after I returned to New York and she returned to Berlin, I asked if that’s what she was doing that evening. She confirmed it, but said she didn’t want to talk about it at the time, because the more she talks about her interactions with Snowden, the more removed she feels from them.
“It’s an incredible emotional experience,” she said, “to be contacted by a complete stranger saying that he was going to risk his life to expose things the public should know. He was putting his life on the line and trusting me with that burden. My experience and relationship to that is something that I want to retain an emotional relation to.” Her connection to him and the material, she said, is what will guide her work. “I am sympathetic to what he sees as the horror of the world [and] what he imagines could come. I want to communicate that with as much resonance as possible. If I were to sit and do endless cable interviews — all those things alienate me from what I need to stay connected to. It’s not just a scoop. It’s someone’s life.”
Poitras and Greenwald are an especially dramatic example of what outsider reporting looks like in 2013. They do not work in a newsroom, and they personally want to be in control of what gets published and when. When The Guardian didn’t move as quickly as they wanted with the first article on Verizon, Greenwald discussed taking it elsewhere, sending an encrypted draft to a colleague at another publication. He also considered creating a Web site on which they would publish everything, which he planned to call NSADisclosures. In the end, The Guardian moved ahead with their articles. But Poitras and Greenwald have created their own publishing network as well, placing articles with other outlets in Germany and Brazil and planning more for the future. They have not shared the full set of documents with anyone.
“We are in partnership with news organizations, but we feel our primary responsibility is to the risk the source took and to the public interest of the information he has provided,” Poitras said. “Further down on the list would be any particular news organization.”
Unlike many reporters at major news outlets, they do not attempt to maintain a facade of political indifference. Greenwald has been outspoken for years; on Twitter, he recently replied to one critic by writing: “You are a complete idiot. You know that, right?” His left political views, combined with his cutting style, have made him unloved among many in the political establishment. His work with Poitras has been castigated as advocacy that harms national security. “I read intelligence carefully,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, shortly after the first Snowden articles appeared. “I know that people are trying to get us. . . . This is the reason the F.B.I. now has 10,000 people doing intelligence on counterterrorism. . . . It’s to ferret this out before it happens. It’s called protecting America.”
Poitras, while not nearly as confrontational as Greenwald, disagrees with the suggestion that their work amounts to advocacy by partisan reporters. “Yes, I have opinions,” she told me. “Do I think the surveillance state is out of control? Yes, I do. This is scary, and people should be scared. A shadow and secret government has grown and grown, all in the name of national security and without the oversight or national debate that one would think a democracy would have. It’s not advocacy. We have documents that substantiate it.”
Poitras possesses a new skill set that is particularly vital — and far from the journalistic norm — in an era of pervasive government spying: she knows, as well as any computer-security expert, how to protect against surveillance. As Snowden mentioned, “In the wake of this year’s disclosure, it should be clear that unencrypted journalist-source communication is unforgivably reckless.” A new generation of sources, like Snowden or Pfc. Bradley Manning, has access to not just a few secrets but thousands of them, because of their ability to scrape classified networks. They do not necessarily live in and operate through the established Washington networks — Snowden was in Hawaii, and Manning sent hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks from a base in Iraq. And they share their secrets not with the largest media outlets or reporters but with the ones who share their political outlook and have the know-how to receive the leaks undetected.
In our encrypted chat, Snowden explained why he went to Poitras with his secrets: “Laura and Glenn are among the few who reported fearlessly on controversial topics throughout this period, even in the face of withering personal criticism, [which] resulted in Laura specifically becoming targeted by the very programs involved in the recent disclosures. She had demonstrated the courage, personal experience and skill needed to handle what is probably the most dangerous assignment any journalist can be given — reporting on the secret misdeeds of the most powerful government in the world — making her an obvious choice.”
Snowden’s revelations are now the center of Poitras’s surveillance documentary, but Poitras also finds herself in a strange, looking-glass dynamic, because she cannot avoid being a character in her own film. She did not appear in or narrate her previous films, and she says that probably won’t change with this one, but she realizes that she has to be represented in some way, and is struggling with how to do that.
She is also assessing her legal vulnerability. Poitras and Greenwald are not facing any charges, at least not yet. They do not plan to stay away from America forever, but they have no immediate plans to return. One member of Congress has already likened what they’ve done to a form of treason, and they are well aware of the Obama administration’s unprecedented pursuit of not just leakers but of journalists who receive the leaks. While I was with them, they talked about the possibility of returning. Greenwald said that the government would be unwise to arrest them, because of the bad publicity it would create. It also wouldn’t stop the flow of information.
He mentioned this while we were in a taxi heading back to his house. It was dark outside, the end of a long day. Greenwald asked Poitras, “Since it all began, have you had a non-N.S.A. day?”
“What’s that?” she replied.
“I think we need one,” Greenwald said. “Not that we’re going to take one.”
Poitras talked about getting back to yoga again. Greenwald said he was going to resume playing tennis regularly. “I’m willing to get old for this thing,” he said, “but I’m not willing to get fat.”
Their discussion turned to the question of coming back to the United States. Greenwald said, half-jokingly, that if he was arrested, WikiLeaks would become the new traffic cop for publishing N.S.A. documents. “I would just say: ‘O.K., let me introduce you to my friend Julian Assange, who’s going to take my place. Have fun dealing with him.’ ”
Poitras prodded him: “So you’re going back to the States?”
He laughed and pointed out that unfortunately, the government does not always take the smartest course of action. “If they were smart,” he said, “I would do it.”
Poitras smiled, even though it’s a difficult subject for her. She is not as expansive or carefree as Greenwald, which adds to their odd-couple chemistry. She is concerned about their physical safety. She is also, of course, worried about surveillance. “Geolocation is the thing,” she said. “I want to keep as much off the grid as I can. I’m not going to make it easy for them. If they want to follow me, they are going to have to do that. I am not going to ping into any G.P.S. My location matters to me. It matters to me in a new way that I didn’t feel before.”
There are lots of people angry with them and lots of governments, as well as private entities, that would not mind taking possession of the thousands of N.S.A. documents they still control. They have published only a handful — a top-secret, headline-grabbing, Congressional-hearing-inciting handful — and seem unlikely to publish everything, in the style of WikiLeaks. They are holding onto more secrets than they are exposing, at least for now.
“We have this window into this world, and we’re still trying to understand it,” Poitras said in one of our last conversations. “We’re not trying to keep it a secret, but piece the puzzle together. That’s a project that is going to take time. Our intention is to release what’s in the public interest but also to try to get a handle on what this world is, and then try to communicate that.”
The deepest paradox, of course, is that their effort to understand and expose government surveillance may have condemned them to a lifetime of it.
“Our lives will never be the same,” Poitras said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to live someplace and feel like I have my privacy. That might be just completely gone.”
Peter Maass is an investigative reporter working on a book about surveillance and privacy.
Editor: Joel Lovell
August 13, 2013
In Mexico, a Healer Who Asks for Nothing in Return
By ELISABETH MALKIN
SAN CRISTÓBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico — Every morning, Sergio Castro crisscrosses this city to treat the intimate struggles behind its closed doors.
Past a black metal gate, Diego Raúl López Sánchez lay on a bed in a concrete room. A motorcycle crash left him paralyzed from the neck down a few months ago, and bedsores have branded his emaciated body.
Mr. Castro cleaned and dressed the broken skin as he murmured softly to his patient. He offered advice to Mr. López’s wife, who seemed numb with despair at her husband’s new reality. He would return the next day.
Neither doctor nor priest, Mr. Castro, 72, fills one of the countless holes in Mexico’s ragged safety net, which gapes wider here in the southern state of Chiapas than just about anywhere else in the country.
Over the past decade, Mexico has expanded access to medical services as successive governments have raised spending toward reaching the far-off goal of universal health coverage. But the sort of labor-intensive care that Mr. Castro provides is beyond the scope of rudimentary health centers in the countryside or the Hospital de las Culturas, a community hospital that opened here three years ago.
Don Sergio, as people here call him, spends much of his time patiently cleaning and bandaging wounds caused by burns or diabetes. He accepts no money from his patients, because “then they can be calm and they are more motivated to heal quickly,” he said.
“The ability, the gift that God gave me to do this — that is what gives me results,” he said.
When he can gather together enough from the donations that support him and his work — including from American expatriates living in Mexico — he helps villages build schools and treat their water.
Now his concern is the López family. Although Mr. López, 29, is covered by government insurance, there is no ambulance to take him for rehabilitation an hour away, and his disability claim is ensnared in the bureaucracy. Mr. Castro has been using donations to pay for physical therapy, but money is running out. He has been thinking ahead: planning for a tiny convenience store that Mr. López could run from home.
“This is a special case that I am committed to,” Mr. Castro said of his patient. “It’s indispensable for him to change psychologically, not to feel useless, to have some resources.”
Dressed like a retired rodeo hand in boots, faded black Levis and a Western hat, a packet of Salems tucked into his shirt pocket, Mr. Castro sees patients each afternoon at a small house that serves as both a clinic and a museum for his collection of indigenous clothing, masks and sculptures.
Many of his patients are Mayans from the surrounding highlands, who are among Mexico’s most marginalized citizens after suffering centuries of discrimination and neglect.
“He has worked himself into these different communities,” said Patricia Ferrer, a physician assistant in Tucson who visits Mr. Castro twice a year and sends him supplies. “He has developed a sense of trust, and that is why people seek him out.”
Víctor Jiménez Vicente, 29, arrived on crutches at the clinic recently, his foot engorged below an open wound on his leg from a decade-old burn that had never been treated properly. Speaking in Tzotzil, a Mayan language, Mr. Castro told him and his father that he suspected that the leg would have to be amputated and recommended that they go straight to the hospital.
But the thought of it stayed with him after they left. “I can’t just send them away and forget,” he said. “Instead of sleeping, my subconscious captures these problems.”
Poverty, mismanagement and negligence magnify the complexities of treating illness in Chiapas. Many people receive no preventive care at all.
When they do, “the capacity of services is very limited, and their quality is very deficient,” said Dr. Héctor Ochoa, the director of the health research group at the College of the Southern Border here.
Government programs to screen for cervical and uterine cancer, or to detect and treat tuberculosis and diabetes, fall short, he said. Test results go astray, patients get no follow-up care, medicine runs out.
“Unfortunately, in our political system health issues are pushed to second place,” Dr. Ochoa said.
At the Hospital de las Culturas, even the fire hose is labeled in Tzotzil and Tzeltal, the two main languages here — but there is not a single official translator to talk to patients’ relatives.
The hospital’s director, Dr. Marco Antonio Flores Pérez, 41, has more immediate priorities: how to attend the increasing number of patients who turn up in the emergency room, how to get the X-ray equipment fixed and how to ensure there are enough medical supplies — and make sure they are not stolen.
Many of the villages that the 60-bed hospital serves are very poor, and “part of the morbidity and mortality we see is because people use traditional medicine first,” Dr. Flores said. “At the end, they come to us with an infinity of complications.”
Dr. Hugo Cameras is in charge of a hospital annex intended to offer traditional medicine, but he has no budget for trained doctors or medicine. “We live in a racist, classist society,” he said.
The needs are so great that there is room for anybody who is committed to healing, Dr. Cameras said, including Mr. Castro, whom he has known for years.
“It’s in his treatment of people, that is how he cures,” Dr. Cameras said of Mr. Castro. “He helps a lot psychologically.”
Originally from northern Mexico, Mr. Castro arrived almost half a century ago to work as an agronomist and veterinarian in the highlands here. He quickly began treating the machete cuts and burns he saw as he traveled through villages.
Little has changed over the decades. Only a 20-minute drive up the mountain from San Cristóbal’s cobblestone streets, Carolina Hernández López, 34, a widow, cares for six children who all live with her in a one-room concrete block house with a dirt floor.
This year her 3-year-old daughter, Guadalupe, was scalded by boiling water that fell from a pot over the fire Ms. Hernández keeps in the middle of the room. Ms. Hernández took Guadalupe directly to Mr. Castro, who drove up the mountain every day after that for a month to treat the girl.
There are many other burned children. Amalia, 3, was brought to him after a month in the hospital did not heal her. Wilbur, 10, was scalded when he knocked over a pot of boiling water in his family’s cramped quarters.
Mr. Castro’s task has become much more complicated over the past few years in one important way. He now sees an increasing number of patients with uncontrolled diabetes, which has become one of the leading causes of death in Mexico.
“We don’t perform miracles, but we do heal,” he said. “We don’t lose heart.”
At the crowded home of Cesar Morales, 59, who went blind six years ago from diabetes, Mr. Castro was greeted like an old friend. Crouching down, he dressed a diabetic ulcer festering on Mr. Morales’s leg.
“It makes me very sad to see someone in pain,” he said.
Janet Jarman contributed reporting.
August 13, 2013
Oil Reforms by Mexico May Upend Markets
By CLIFFORD KRAUSS
HOUSTON — A sweeping reform suggested for Mexico’s energy laws has the potential not only to return the country to its early-1980s heyday of energetic oil drilling, when it was one of the world’s most promising producers, but also to reduce further the United States’ dependence on OPEC producers, according to oil experts.
The reform proposed by President Enrique Peña Nieto on Monday would partly reverse more than 50 years of state-owned oil production — Mexico was the first country to take over its oil industry — and allow foreign private oil companies to partner with the national oil company in sharing profits from exploration.
American oil companies responded with enthusiasm, predicting that Mexico would open for exploration deep-water oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico and large onshore oil and gas shale deposits, with terms that would be attractive to companies that have deep pockets and experience with the newest drilling technologies.
“This is a good start,” said Kurt Glaubitz, a Chevron spokesman. “We’re optimistic about the reforms that are taking place and the opportunities that Mexico is presenting to international oil companies.”
Mexico ranks ninth among the world’s leading oil producers and the third among sources of foreign oil to the United States, but its production has plunged in recent years. Its exports to the United States have plummeted from 1.7 million barrels a day in 2006 to a little more than 900,000 barrels a day in recent months, while it has been forced to import increasing amounts of gasoline from the United States refineries.
Mexico’s proven oil reserves have fallen since the 1980s from nearly 60 billion barrels of oil to a little more than 10 billion as shallow-water oil fields have been tapped out. The national oil company, Petróleos Mexicanos, does not have the capital or expertise to extensively explore deep-water prospects in the Gulf of Mexico or technically challenging shale fields requiring modern techniques like horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, which have substantially increased production north of the border.
In a report this week, Citi Research estimated that Mexico might have 29 billion barrels of oil and gas reserves in the Gulf of Mexico that could be recoverable with foreign capital and expertise. Mexico could also have an additional 13 billion barrels of recoverable oil shale reserves. All told, energy experts say the country could increase its production by as much as 25 percent by 2024, to nearly four million barrels a day — potentially vaulting Mexico to the fifth or sixth position among the most prolific oil producing countries.
An additional million barrels of oil a day on world markets would represent less than 2 percent of current global demand, but that could still provide an additional cushion — along with booming production in the United States and Canada — to ease oil price spikes during periods of instability in the Middle East and North Africa.
Currently, world oil markets are well supplied and several OPEC nations have expressed concerns that they are losing the North American market because of the expansion in American oil shale drilling in recent years. Increased production from Mexico, which is not a member of OPEC, would further decrease the cartel’s leverage.
The United States would be the most likely beneficiary of a new Mexican oil boom since its fields are close to Gulf of Mexico refineries, which are already designed to process various grades of Mexican crude.
“The impact on the global market could be very significant,” said David L. Goldwyn, a State Department coordinator for international energy affairs in the first Obama administration. “You could have increased production of light sweet crudes from the deep water Gulf, which would provide significant pressure on OPEC production. It means pressure on the Saudis, Kuwaitis, the Venezuelans and Russia.”
Mr. Goldwyn said an increase in Mexican oil production could drain foreign oil company investment from countries like Angola, Venezuela and Nigeria as well as the new Arctic oil and gas regions, where costs for exploration and development are high.
The Mexican president’s proposal is expected to be enacted by the Mexican Congress next year. But oil experts caution that it could take as long as 10 years — for Mexico to conduct seismic testing and an auction for deep-water prospects, and for the foreign companies to do their own appraisal drilling — for production to begin in earnest. Experts say, however, that shale drilling and enhanced oil recovery from older wells could begin sooner.
Jorge R. Piñon, former president of Amoco Oil Latin America, said foreign oil companies would want to be sure that the profit-sharing contracts would be lucrative before they invested in Mexico since the country would not formally give the companies a share of the oil reserves. “I’m extremely cautious about it,” he said. “The question is will they offer a real competitive option or only offer half of a solution.”
Under the Mexican proposal, foreign companies would receive a share of revenues from oil and gas fields rather than the hydrocarbon volumes themselves to sell. Oil companies prefer to be able to report to investors that they have acquired actual reserves for future production, but they have accepted similar agreements in other countries.
The Citi Research report noted that depending on how the agreements are negotiated, oil companies might be able to report reserve holdings under Securities and Exchange Commission accounting rules, though Mexico will still insist that reserves are held by the state. Under the rules, reserves that are equal to the value of the cost recovery and revenue earned could be allowed to be listed on company books.
Should that be the case, the report concluded, “the results will be revolutionary for the country.”
Egypt security forces launch decisive assault to clear Cairo protest camps
Muslim Brotherhood claims up to 60 people killed at Rabaa site, where Morsi supporters remain barricaded
Patrick Kingsley in Cairo and Martin Chulov
theguardian.com, Wednesday 14 August 2013 12.32 BST
Egyptian security forces have launched a deadly assault on protest sites backing the ousted president Mohamed Morsi, clearing one and besieging another.
The crackdown on Wednesday has left scores of people dead and many more wounded, and has sparked clashes in other parts of the country.
The dawn raids in Cairo at the sites on either side of the Nile came after two weeks of ever more bellicose warnings from the military-led government that replaced Morsi after he was toppled almost six weeks ago.
Troops, firing teargas and live rounds, quickly cleared the first of the strongholds near Cairo University in the city's west. However, emptying the main hub at Rabaa al-Adawiya in the east was proving more difficult and bloody. By mid-morning, the Muslim Brotherhood movement, whose members form the bulk of Morsi's remaining support base, remained barricaded near the mosque that had been the focal point of their protest.
The Brotherhood claimed that up to 60 people had been killed in Rabaa. Witnesses at the scene counted dozens of bodies amid scenes of carnage and panic. Photographs from the field hospital appeared to show more than 40 bodies laid out on a blood-slicked floor.
"There are now too many bodies to count," said Dr Amr Gamal, speaking by phone from inside the hospital after patients being treated there were evacuated under gunfire. "This is a crisis, it is an emergency situation. They started shooting at around 6am, so we have had nearly six hours of continuous gunfire. Any doctor who can should come here."
An official at Cairo's Zeinhom morgue said bodies from Rabaa were being turned away because they had arrived without the right paperwork. Up to 300 bodies from two previous assaults on Rabaa had been processed without trouble at the same morgue.
Other witnesses at Rabaa reported that snipers were firing from nearby residential buildings on crowds of people, who had huddled in the grounds of the mosque and nearby buildings as troops advanced.
Photographs from a stage at the centre of the Rabaa camp posted online appeared to show two television cameramen with gunshot wounds.
Egypt's military and interior ministry had made no secret of the fact that an assault on the sites was imminent and Brotherhood members had spent the past fortnight fortifying approaches and erecting makeshift defences.
As the assault started, security forces offered safe passage to those who wanted to leave and said anyone who remained would be detained. However, a Muslim Brotherhood spokesperson told the Guardian that there was no safe exit for those still trapped inside.
The interior ministry, whose forces led the assault, later denied that live rounds had been used. Some officials claimed Brotherhood members had been responsible for the casualties.
An attack had been expected at any point since the end of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan. However, the pre-dawn movement of troops and armoured personnel carriers made clear that that moment had arrived on Wednesday. Many Rabaa-based Brotherhood leaders slipped away before the assault began, while thousands more supporters remained, hiding behind bricked-up streets that provided no shelter from combat helicopters overhead, which showered the area with teargas canisters and, according to witnesses, bursts of live fire.
The crackdown was aimed at ending pro-Morsi dissent – but the first signs were that the attacks had achieved the opposite. Forced out of west Cairo's Nahda camp, hundreds of protesters reassembled at Mostafa Mahmoud Square in the north-east of the city, and further violence soon ensued. Protesters set light to a riot police lorry and ripped up pavements to build walls to protect the new site. Security forces quickly arrived, firing teargas – with sustained gunfire also heard.
Elsewhere in the city, pro-Morsi crowds assembled to march on Rabaa, while an upsurge in violence was reported in several locations across Egypt, including the northern port of Alexandria.
The state moved to restrict travel across both Cairo and Egypt as a whole, with the country's train network shut down – and the roads to and from the camps closed off. Journalists attempting to access the camps were often stopped or detained or came under fire. Reuters journalists had their photographs deleted from their cameras by soldiers.
Egypt's military-led interim government has cast itself as rescuers of a country that had been polarised by the democratically elected Morsi's chaotic rule, which came to a premature end after little more than one year in office when the military chief, General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, arrested him and his aides on 3 July.
Ever since, a divide between pro- and anti-Morsi constituencies had become increasingly entrenched, with Morsi's backers demanding his reinstatement and security officials consistently claiming to be combating terrorism. Egypt's presidency announced last Wednesday that attempts to negotiate an end to the crisis had ended. Brotherhood officials denied that any substantive talks had taken place.
Morsi, who is being held in a military base around two hours outside Cairo, had reportedly threatened to start a hunger strike if Rabaa was attacked. Brotherhood supporters elsewhere in the country, particularly in the second city, Alexandria, and in parts of the restive Sinai region, had also warned that they would escalate their protests if a compromise wasn't reached.
International attempts to mediate an end to the crisis had involved two delegations from the US, as well as visits to Cairo by the European Union's Catherine Ashton and the African Union. All had warned of the risks to Egypt associated with the demonisation and disenfranchisement of a large segment of society, who until recently had an active stake in national affairs.
Palestinians celebrate prisoner release
Jubilant reception in West Bank and Gaza for 26 men set free by Israel hours before beginning of peace talks
Harriet Sherwood in Azmout
theguardian.com, Wednesday 14 August 2013 06.09 BST
They were greeted with fireworks, flags, cheers, tears and victory signs. Thousands of Palestinians turned out in the West Bank and Gaza in the early hours of Wednesday morning to welcome home 26 long-term prisoners released from Israeli jails hours before the first substantive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks for five years were due to begin.
President Mahmoud Abbas met each of the 11 men who returned to the West Bank with a handshake and a kiss on each cheek outside the presidential compound in Ramallah.
"We congratulate ourselves and our families for our brothers who left the darkness of the prisons for the light of the sun of freedom. We say to them and to you that the remainder are on their way, these are just the first," Abbas told the crowd.
After the welcome ceremony the prisoners left for homes that most had not seen for more than 20 years.
All the freed men – the first group of a total of 104 long-term prisoners to be released over the next nine months – were convicted of murder or accessory to murder. Many of their victims' relatives had opposed the release in anguished protests and vigils in Israel, saying the price of re-entering peace negotiations was too high.
A last-minute petition by family members to halt the release was rejected by Israel's high court on Tuesday. "Our hearts are with the bereaved families, whose pain is immense," chief justice Asher Grunis wrote in the court's decision. "But we are certain that the authorised officials made their decision with a heavy heart, taking the families' position into account."
For Abbas the release was a tangible success after years of pressing for freedom for prisoners jailed before the Oslo accords were signed in 1993. It was also aimed at warming sceptical Palestinian public opinion towards the resumption of talks.
In Gaza thousands of Palestinians went to the Erez crossing to welcome 15 freed prisoners with dancing and chanting. Hours after the men's return to the tiny coastal territory the Israeli air force struck targets in Gaza in response to a rocket fired earlier.
Hamas welcomed the release of prisoners but insisted Palestinian liberation would come through resistance rather than negotiations. "The path to freedom is the path of victories and sacrifices, not concessions of the Palestinian people's principles, rights and honour," Mahmoud Zahar told a press conference in Gaza on Sunday.
Among the prisoners released to the West Bank were cousins Mohammed and Hosni Sawalha, who were teenagers when they boarded an Israeli bus in 1990 and attacked its passengers with knives, killing one and injuring several more. After 23 years in jail they returned home as men on the cusp of middle age, greeted by flags, bunting, fireworks and more than 40 nephews and nieces they had never met.
In the small village of Azmout, in the northern West Bank, calves and lambs had been slaughtered for a celebration expected to last at least two weeks. Mohammed Sawalha's parents, now in their 70s, had dressed in their finest clothes to meet their son; Hosni Sawalha's parents died while he was in prison. Around 100 villagers went to Ramallah to greet the released men.
"Even though I am an old woman, I will jump for joy when I see him," said Aziya Sawalha, as a stream of visitors arrived at the family home in the hours before the release to offer congratulations and accept sweets and soft drinks. Gesturing to her traditional white robe, she added: "This is more important than a wedding."
Although Aziya had regularly made the 18-hour round trip from Azmout to Ramon prison in the south of Israel for fortnightly 45-minute visits conducted through a thick glass window, she was longing to hug and kiss her son. She also welcomed the wider context of Mohammed's release: "I do believe that this time there will be peace," she said, referring to the talks due to open on Wednesday.
Yusef Sawalha, one of Mohammed's five brothers, echoed his mother's optimism. "We are happy to be going back to negotiations. We hope this will lead to the release of all prisoners and establish a just and everlasting peace for everyone," he said.
His brother's crime was committed in a period before peace seemed possible, he added. "Then these boys were defending our land and our dignity. Palestinians were also being killed left and right. Now there is no need for violence. We just hope for a normal life, and that the Israelis will leave our land, and people can live peacefully and happily."
Mohammed's uncle, Himi Sawalha, said his nephews had been "children of the first intifada [the Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation, which began in 1987]. You have to look at what pushed them to commit an act like this. Our lands were being taken by settlers, we were subject to harassment and oppression. This creates a mentality."
On the other side of the gulf that separates Israelis and Palestinians, Gila Molcho had a different perspective. Her brother, Ian Feinberg, was killed in Gaza in 1993 in a gruesome attack by a guard of the building in which he worked as a lawyer on an EU-funded aid project. A Palestinian convicted of being an accessory to the murder was released in this week's deal.
"I think of my brother every morning when I wake up," said Molcho, a doctor whose family come from Haifa. "He was slaughtered days after his 30th birthday and left behind three beautiful children. He believed in helping people, maybe very naively." His killer had known him and spoken to him every day, she added.
The Palestinians' insistence on the prisoners' release before returning to talks was wrong. "Their first demand is to let out murderers who are idolised by children – how is that going to help peace? I want peace but I do not want to pay this price as a gesture."
Meanwhile a senior Palestinian official warned that peace talks could collapse because of continuing settlement expansion, after Israel announced on Tuesday that more than 900 new homes would be built in Gilo, a settlement across the pre-1967 Green Line in Jerusalem.
"Settlement expansion goes against the US administration's pledges and threatens to cause the negotiations' collapse," said Yasser Abed Rabbo. "It threatens to make talks fail even before they've started."
But the US secretary of state, John Kerry, said the settlement plans were "to some degree expected", amid suggestions that the construction was a quid pro quo for the prisoners' release. "We have known that there was going to be a continuation of some building in certain places and I think the Palestinians understand that," he said on a trip to Bogota.
The Gilo homes were in addition to 1,200 housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem approved on Sunday. All settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are illegal under international law.
Additional reporting by Hazem Balousha in Gaza
08/14/2013 12:15 PM
Echoes of Egypt: Secular-Islamist Tensions Rise in Tunisia
By Mathieu von Rohr
Tunisia was the birthplace of the Arab Spring over two years ago. But growing frustration and violence have caused the chasm between secularists and Islamists to widen, leading many to fear political chaos like that gripping Egypt.
Mount Chaambi has been burning for four days now. At the foot of the mountain, in his house among the olive trees, Khaled Dalhoumi watches black smoke rise into the sky, as if Chaambi were a volcano.
On Friday, August 2, Dalhoumi woke to the distant sound of explosions. He went out his front door and saw bombs raining onto the mountains. Since then, he has heard shots and shelling at all hours, and at night the mountain is lit by the glow of massive forest fires. The mountain where Dalhoumi's father once mined for lead, and which has since been made a national park, has become a war zone. "It breaks my heart," he says.
Dalhoumi, 53, is an elementary school teacher and a unionist, a mild-mannered man with a mustache who is versed in Karl Marx's writings and supported the revolution. Now he struggles to understand what is happening with his mountain, his city, his country.
Mount Chaambi, 1,544 meters (5,066 feet) high, rises at the edge of Kasserine, a city in western Tunisia. It is close to the border with Algeria and a four hours' drive from the capital of Tunis. Kasserine is one of the places where the revolution began in December 2010, the revolution that would topple dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and set the Arab Spring in motion.
Now this has become a place where the Tunisian army is fighting Islamist terrorists. Although their backgrounds and identities remain unknown, these fighters have reportedly retreated to the mountains here. After they killed eight soldiers, the army has been striking back with all its might.
For Dalhoumi, the columns of smoke rising over Kasserine are a sign that something has gone fundamentally wrong with Tunisia's Arab Spring. "The revolution has gotten on the wrong track," he says.
The ones he holds responsible for this are the Islamists of the Ennahda party, which has governed the country in a coalition with two secular parties since elections were held two years ago. Dalhoumi believes that Ennahda and its leader, Rachid Ghannouchi, have no interest in taking action against extremists. "Before, it was: Ben Ali does whatever he wants, and no one can say anything about it," he says. "Now it's: The Islamists do whatever they want, and the others can say whatever they want about it."
For Dalhoumi, it's all interconnected -- the anger and hopelessness felt by people in Kasserine and throughout the country, the terrorists on the mountain, the unsolved murders of two opposition politicians and, of course, the military coup in Egypt. The result of all this has been that, within a short period of time, Tunisia's complicated but hopeful transition to democracy has come to a standstill, and the country has plunged into a serious crisis. Last week, work on the country's new constitution was suspended, even though this is the gridlocked parliament's main task.
The Religious-Secular Divide
The burning mountain serves as a symbol for this political crisis. On the mountain, as in the country's politics, the circumstances are murky and all involved in the conflict fashion their own interpretations of reality, with suspicions taking the place of facts.
One thing can be said for certain: On July 25, left-wing politician Mohamed Brahmi was fatally shot in front of his house in a Tunis suburb, in front of his wife and daughter. Witnesses later said they had seen two men on a motorcycle. The attack recalled the murder of another leading opposition politician half a year earlier: Chokri Belaïd was also shot in front of his apartment -- and apparently with the same weapon, as the country's Interior Ministry has now disclosed. Both murder victims were outspoken critics of political Islam. Official statements say there are 14 suspects, who are believed to have ties to Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Brahmi's murder triggered a chain reaction. Thousands gathered the same day on Avenue Habib Bourguiba in Tunis to protest the government, at precisely the same place where the protests against Ben Ali's regime took place in early 2011. Police used tear gas, and the demonstrators moved on to gather in front of the parliamentary building in the Le Bardo district.
There, in the following days, both supporters and opponents of Ennahda gathered for demonstrations -- two Tunisias side by side, separated by barbed wire. On the opponents' side were well-to-do youth from the suburbs, in tight jeans and expensive T-shirts, while bearded men and women in headscarves filled the Islamists' side. But then, too, it was sometimes the other way around. There were the two pretty, un-veiled sisters on Ennahda's side, screaming that the opposition is trying to bring about a coup, and the veiled old woman among the secularists, saying this is not the Islam she wants.
The opposition's demonstrations in the Le Bardo district have been larger, as this side could mobilize more supporters in the capital. In response, on Saturday, August 3, Ennahda transported tens of thousands of supporters from all around the country into the city. Then, on Wednesday, the opposition countered with a large-scale demonstration of its own. Each side cited "Google Earth calculations" afterwards and unrealistically high numbers in an attempt to prove that its demonstration was the biggest.
The Islamist government's largely secular opponents are calling for the immediately dissolution of the country's elected Constituent Assembly. Most would rather see a government made up of independent technocrats. Ennahda may not have actually hired the individuals who killed the two opposition politicians, the party's opponents say, but they still hold the government at least politically responsible for the murders because, they say, it was too hesitant in dealing with the extremists. Opponents also accuse the Constituent Assembly of far exceeding its one-year mandate.
The opposition parties have also taken up at least parts of the demonstrators' demands, with around a third of their representatives boycotting the assembly. The situation resembles the one in Egypt: The country is divided, with Islamists on one side, their opponents on the other and a deep chasm between them. And here, too, a democratically elected government led by Islamists now faces mass demonstrations calling for them to resign.
Unlike in Egypt, however, Tunisia's army has no political ambitions. But here there is the powerful UGTT trade union, which played a decisive role during the revolution and is exerting pressure on the Islamists in the current conflict, as well.
Moadh Ghannouchi is sitting in his father's large office at Ennahda's headquarters. The party leader's son grew up in exile in the UK and now serves as his father's chief of staff. He speaks British English and is quick to deny Ennahda's responsibility for the murders. Rather, he blames the opposition for the current situation, which he says wants an Egyptian-style coup. But unlike the Muslim Brotherhood, Ghannouchi points out, Ennahda has always been willing to compromise, creating a coalition with secularists and agreeing to refrain from making Sharia law part of any new constitution.
For Ghannouchi, an Islamist, the opposition represents the country's old, Western-influenced elite, which he feels refuses to accept that it no longer has the sole say. Since these secularists can't secure power by democratic means, he says, now they're trying to do so by other ones. It has become apparent, he adds, that the opposition doesn't want to allow Islam absolutely any role in politics, no matter how democratically the Islamists were elected. Ghannouchi appears disenchanted to find that it hasn't paid off for Ennahda to play by the rules. Many Islamists in Tunisia are making the same arguments.
Most secularists, meanwhile, are united by a fear that the Islamists have a secret agenda. "The Ennahda people aren't democrats; they only want to cling to power," says Béji Caïd Essebsi, founder of the most significant opposition party, Nida Tunis ("Call of Tunisia"). This newly formed party brings together leftists, liberals and some members of the former ruling RCD party. It also stands to gain the most from the current protests. If the chronically unreliable polls can be trusted, were elections held today, Nida Tunis would replace Ennahda as the strongest party.
There is hammering and construction still going on throughout the party's new headquarters in the affluent neighborhood of Berges du Lac, where Essebsi sits tiredly in an armchair. He once worked for Habib Bourguiba, Tunisia's first post-independence president. Essebsi also served temporarily as prime minister after the 2011 revolution. Now, for many of Ennahda's opponents, he is their last hope.
Essebsi gives little credence to the Islamists' claim to democratic legitimacy. He believes their mandate has expired. The parties did agree before the election to limit work on the constitution to one year, but that timeline was unrealistic from the start.
Essebsi wants to put "independent types" in charge of governing the country until elections are held in December. "If Ennahda doesn't agree, we risk an Egyptian scenario," he says, adding that Ennahda is almost like the Muslim Brotherhood and must agree to negotiate. It sounds like a threat.
Silence, Conspiracies and Fear
Essebsi, 86, and Ennahda head Rachid Ghannouchi, 72, are currently the country's most important political opponents. In a country where the youth created the revolution, it is old men who are now overseeing the transition to democracy. In Tunis especially, young people are frustrated that things are taking so long and even developing a sort of nostalgia for the days of the revolution. Hardly anyone knows what is happening in the country, but everyone wants to have a say, and this creates a mixture on the streets of truth and suspicion, hysteria and fear, rumors and anger.
In the liberals' eyes, the Islamists are to blame for mounting violence in the country. Ennahda has close ties to Salafists and to the radical Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia, the party's opponents say. It's true that some extremists have been set free under the current government, and that the government initially didn't seem like it wanted to take action against radicals.
In the weeks since the second murder, though, there have been more and more reports about finding weapons, arresting terrorists and foiling alleged plans for attack. Videos showing police operations are circulated. But since the authorities offer no information, many Tunisians are unsure what to believe. The army also doesn't comment on what is happening in the Chaambi mountains and keeps journalists away from the area, which only serves to fuel the conspiracy theories. Depending on whom you ask, the force behind all these threats is al-Qaida, or Ennahda, the old regime, the leftists, France, Qatar, Israel, Algeria or some combination of the above.
Many among the opposition deny Ennahda's legitimacy, saying the party's electoral victory was bought from the start, although there is no proof to back up this claim. Others believe the draft constitution's mention of Islam as the "state religion" will lead directly to Sharia law, even though similar phrasing existed in the previous constitution. More than anything, the opposition fears the Islamists may soon control the administration and the Interior Ministry, which once formed the core of the country's oppression and surveillance apparatus. But doesn't every government try to fill positions with its own people, especially after decades of dictatorship?
Losing Faith in Democracy
In Kasserine, the city in the shadow of the smoking mountain 200 kilometers (125 miles) from Tunis, few people take an interest in the power struggle in the capital. Here, in the country's neglected interior, is where the Arab Spring began. And people here are still just as frustrated as the young people who first set the revolution in motion in nearby Sidi Bouzid in December 2010.
Twenty-seven young men from the region around Kasserine died in the revolution, and many here are proud of their part in toppling the dictator. But in the poor neighborhood of Ennour, from which many of those who were killed came, young people today say it is still easier for them to steal than to find a job. Most don't have the necessary education, and even those who do aren't much better off.
Rabeh, 20, just earned his pre-university degree and is out in Kasserine's city center with two friends. The three say they all either voted for Ennahda in the election or at least sympathized with the Islamists -- but that is now all part of the past.
"They've done nothing for two years," says Rabeh. He had hoped to find work, but says things have only gotten worse. Construction jobs in Kasserine pay seven dinar for a day of work, equal to a little over €3 ($4). And even these jobs are growing harder to find. Rabeh says he'll vote for Nida Tunis next time -- but he also says that, in general, he no longer believes in democracy. "These are people who are made for a dictator," he says.
Rabeh's brother, he says, is now in Rome, after making the crossing to Europe in a boat, and many of his friends and relatives have done the same. Rabeh's friend Houssem, who studies in the Tunisian coastal resort city of Monastir, adds that he's turned down several offers from older European women who wanted to send him money or bring him to Germany. But two of his cousins took up such offers and are now married to older women and waiting in Rome for their Italian citizenship to come through.
Houssem doesn't think much of the demonstrations going on in Tunis or of the calls to dissolve the Constituent Assembly. He doesn't feel any particular connection to the demonstrators from the suburbs surrounding Tunis. Even so, he is still opposed to mixing politics and Islam.
Increasing Restraints on Women
One of Houssem's childhood friends has become a Salafist and is constantly lecturing him about not touching or even talking to women. At his university in Monastir, Salafists are also growing more influential. For example, they have succeeded in making the university cafeteria split into sections exclusively for men and women. Throughout the country, a segment of the population noticeably identifies more strongly with religion than before the revolution. Outside of Tunis, there are very few women left who don't wear a headscarf.
Mariam Rabhi, 20, is one of those few in Kasserine. She is sitting with her mother, Mounira, in a restaurant in the city center around midnight. This is highly unusual, not because of the time -- this is during Ramadan -- but because women are a rare sight on the streets here, and even rarer in cafés.
"I'm gradually becoming the minority in my age group," says Rabhi, a student of French literature. "Most women start wearing a headscarf when they finish school so their parents will let them attend university." Indeed, it is women, she says, who excel at school and get into university, while the young men are nearly all unemployed.
A Full Spectrum of Disappointment
Just around the corner, at Café Total, there are no women. Here, four men sit under a eucalyptus tree, where they gather almost every evening to talk. All four voted for the Islamists, and three of them are deeply disappointed, although not all for the same reasons.
Badredine Fridhi, 41, had had enough of the secularists who were in power for decades, but now he is frustrated with Ennahda. Purchasing power is dropping, he says, and people don't have money anymore. Fridhi, who sells construction materials, says business is bad.
Across from him sits Mongi Bouazi, 58, who works at a vocational training center and disagrees with Fridhi. "All change takes time," he says. "The French Revolution took decades. We can't judge a government after less than two years." Bouazi says he would vote for Ennahda again, although he feels the government needs to take tougher action against the constant strikes in Tunisia, regardless of whether there is freedom of speech or not. As to the demonstrators in Tunis, he says: "They want a coup!"
The third man is also named Mongi, last name Yahyaoui. For the last four years, the 39-year-old has been smuggling gasoline from Algeria into Tunisia, which he says is by far the most lucrative job around. And although the smuggling is illegal and takes place more or less in plain sight, the police don't do anything about it. On the one hand, that's good for him. But, on the other, Yahyaoui would like to pursue a legal line of work again. But there are hardly any such jobs in Kasserine, he complains, adding: "And the people from Ennahda only think of their own interests."
The fourth man in the group, Ridha Abdelli, 45, is a French teacher and says he could not vote for any other party. "We vote for those who are for Islam. Our religion obliges us to do so," he says. But he admits to being very disappointed that Ennahda hasn't tried to anchor Sharia law in the constitution.
Not far from the café, Khaled Dalhoumi stands at the foot of the smoking mountain and says he too has lost his faith in democracy. Democracy doesn't work in countries with such poverty, he says. "Votes are bought. And the Islamists will only hold elections once." Dalhoumi believes it was a mistake to let them obtain power through elections in the first place.
Opposition leaders in Tunis would never express that sentiment as explicitly as the man at the foot of Chaambi Mountain. But many of them must be secretly having very similar thoughts.
Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein
August 13, 2013
Coal Mine Fight Embodies an Economic Struggle in Rural Australia
By MATT SIEGEL
BULGA, Australia — Bulga, a hamlet nestled in the verdant hills of the wine country north of Sydney, is at the center of a legal dispute that could reshape the regulatory environment of a national economy heavily dependent on natural resource extraction.
On Wednesday, a court in the state of New South Wales is set to hear an appeal of a ruling this year that blocked the expansion of a nearby open-pit coal mine. The ruling was on a lawsuit brought by Bulga residents against the British-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto. The state is joining Rio in the appeal, which is being heard in the highest court in New South Wales.
At stake is not just the fate of the village of 300 people. The mining industry and other state governments will be watching the outcome closely as slowing growth in China, the chief consumer of Australian commodities, heightens anxieties over the country’s economy.
If the appeal succeeds, the mine expansion will proceed as approved by the state last year. If it fails, it could set a precedent that favors the environmental interests of local communities over the economic interests of state governments. That would upend a system that has traditionally given primacy to the interests of large mining companies.
“This is a wake-up call,” Leslie Krey, 66, said in an interview at her house near the Bulga town center.
“There’s got to be something other than mines,” said Ms. Krey, whose husband, John, is one of the leading opponents of expanding the mine.
In February 2012, the New South Wales planning authorities approved plans intended to extend the life of the Mount Thorley Warkworth Mine by more than a decade, to 2033. Those plans involved expanding the operation, owned by a subsidiary of Rio Tinto, onto land that Rio Tinto had pledged in 2003 as a permanent conservation zone to shield Bulga from the mine.
Bulga residents feared that the noise and dust from an expanded mine would irrevocably damage the environment and reduce home values that were already low. In addition, Saddle Ridge, a spiny natural buffer between the town and the mine, would be demolished. Also, a large section of the critically endangered Warkworth Sands Woodland would face eradication, the residents argued.
Many environmental studies were conducted, but no one, not even Rio, is disputing that the expansion would destroy the ridge and the woodland. Rio is asserting that the economic benefit outweighs the environmental impact and is offering to set aside land elsewhere. Graham Witherspoon, a spokesman for Rio, declined to comment on any environmental or financial impact the mine may have on the community.
A citizens’ group, the Bulga-Milbrodale Progress Association, filed a suit to stop the expansion, and in April, the state’s Land and Environment Court issued a ruling in the group’s favor, citing “negative social impacts on local community” and threats to its “sense of place.”
Now, Rio Tinto has taken the unusual step of asking the New South Wales court to entirely void the ruling, which was handed down by Judge Brian J. Preston. His ruling in April represented the first time the lower Land and Environment Court had ruled against an approved mining grant of this scope and scale, and it had the potential to significantly expand the court’s authority.
In a 2009 affidavit to the state’s Department of Planning, Rio Tinto argued that an expansion would give it access to an additional 163 million tons of coal over the lifetime of the mine. The decision to expand the mine, it said, was based on a sharp increase in the long-term average price of coal to $53 per ton in 2009, from $33 per ton when the 2003 grant was approved. The represents more than $8 billion in additional revenue for the company over the life of the mine.
Mining, whether for the high-quality thermal coal around Bulga — the kind used to fuel power plants — or the iron and gold in the country’s vast open west, is woven deeply into the fabric of rural Australia, where it provides many of the best-paying and most stable jobs. It has also been the engine powering a decade of robust economic growth that has largely spared the country from the effects of the global downturn.
Rio Tinto says that if the ruling is upheld, production at the mine will begin to slow next year, with the eventual loss of more than 1,300 jobs across the region, the Hunter Valley.
That prospect has unsettled many mineworkers, including several interviewed during a recent tour of the Mount Thorley complex, which looks like a network of vast dusty shelves scored crudely into the hills, descending in places into deep pits.
Although the mine’s environmental manager said the complex was home to a population of curious kangaroos, there was no sign of life beyond the huge Caterpillar trucks that crawled slowly along the tracks.
Jemma Callaghan, 37, drives one of those trucks. She moved to the Hunter Valley six years ago for a permanent position after the grind of rotating shifts as a driver in other states left her exhausted. Whatever sense of security she gained in the move, she said, has now evaporated.
“You’re thinking about this 24/7 — what am I going to be doing in six months’ time?” she said.
Wayne Dark, 54, said he had worked at the mine for more than 26 years and, like many others who are dependent on it, finds its potential shutdown almost impossible to fathom. “For a range of people to have committees and talk for years and years about this, and then it’s granted, and for one man to come along and go, ‘No, I’ve changed my mind,’ I just find that very hard to swallow,” he said.
But for longtime Bulga residents like Stewart Mitchell, those arguments miss the point. When Mr. Mitchell was young and Bulga was an even smaller town than it is today, the sound of just a single engine echoing around the valley near his family’s farm was enough to stir up excitement, he said.
“We used to run out onto the veranda when we heard a car coming,” Mr. Mitchell, 71, said over the evening din at Bulga’s only pub, the Cockfighter Creek Tavern. “Not anymore, of course.”
Today, a fleet of building-size vehicles rumbles noisily day and night, carting away the pulverized hills one load at a time in the search for coal and, residents say, blanketing the surrounding area with dust. From the vantage of a sloping hill where Melanie Caban’s family has lived for about 80 years, the trucks are clearly visible and audible. Like the others in town, Mrs. Caban has stories of sleepless nights connected to the mine, but she is hardly a partisan. Her husband works there.
The planned extension stretches in places to within about a mile of the town center — so close that Rio Tinto says it was obliged to buy at least two dozen houses that would have been too close to be inhabited safely. Her choice is perhaps as clear as anyone’s in Bulga.
“If they come any closer,” she said, “we’ll have to go.”
Muslims receive death sentence as ethnic conflict grows in Xinjiang
Court case took place against background of rising tension between Uighurs and majority Han Chinese
Tania Branigan in Beijing
theguardian.com, Tuesday 13 August 2013 15.02 BST
A Chinese court has sentenced two Muslim men to death and jailed three more for their roles in clashes that left 21 dead in the north-western region of Xinjiang in April, state media has reported.
The case took place days after claims of fatal violence in another city in the restive region. Officials in Aksu played down that incident as "small scale" or denied there had been any problems at all.
Xinjiang has been the scene of repeated outbreaks of violence in recent years and there are long-running tensions between the state and Uighurs, the largely Muslim, Turkic-speaking ethnic group that makes up almost half the population. In other recent unrest, 35 people were killed in Turpan in June last year while, in July 2009, ethnic violence in Urumqi left almost 200 people dead and 1,700 injured.
Fifteen officials and security officers, and six inhabitants died in April's clash in Kashgar.
Musa Hesen, accused by the state of playing a leading role in the violence, was sentenced to death on Monday for murder, forming and leading a terrorist organisation, and illegally manufacturing explosives. Rehman Hupur was also sentenced to death for murder and membership of a terrorist organisation, the state news agency, Xinhua, said. An unnamed defendant was jailed for life and two more given nine-year sentences.
Nineteen suspects were arrested in all and further trials are expected.
The authorities said the group had watched video clips advocating religious extremism and terrorism, made explosives and prepared knives and banners for terrorist attacks. When community workers discovered these "knives and suspicious individuals" at a house in Bachu county, just outside the city of Kashgar, they were taken hostage by the gang, Xinhua said. Hesen then led others in stabbing or burning to death police and officials, while six members of his group were shot dead at the scene.
Exiles and human rights groups have complained that the government has been too quick to brand violent incidents in Xinjiang as terrorism. Officials did not identify a particular group responsible for the Kashgar incident.
News of the trial followed a report from Radio Free Asia (RFA) that at least three Uighurs were killed and more than 20 officers and civilians injured when security forces opened fire on a crowd trying to stop police from arresting four suspects in Aykol district, Aksu, on the eve of Eid last Wednesday.
Abdugheni Osman, deputy head of the Aykol police station, told RFA that an angry mob outside the Peyshenbe bazaar mosque hurled bricks and stones at the police, who were looking for four Uighur suspects they believed to be involved in "illegal religious activity".
He added that three people were killed after police opened fire. Several officers and civilians were injured and more than 90 arrested.
An employee at the Aykol police station told the Guardian on Tuesday that "no such thing" had happened. The city's police department, however, acknowledged: "It was a small scale event … I don't know more details."
"What's worrying is this multiplication of very violent incidents in which people are losing their lives, both security forces and inhabitants," said Nicholas Bequelin, senior Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch.
"Tensions between Uighurs and the Chinese state are ever-increasing."
Many Uighurs chafe at restrictions on their religion and culture, as well as Han Chinese migration and economic inequality. Some seek an independent state.
While the government has invested heavily in the resource-rich region, raising living standards, many complain that Uighurs have not enjoyed the benefits and that aggressive development is eroding their way of life.
"The state has embarked on a project to completely hollow out Uighur religious practice of anything it doesn't control or that doesn't conform to its views of how religious activities should look," said Bequelin.
"The net is tightening all the time with more and more activities prohibited and more scrutiny of what's being written or sung."
Such tensions have been exacerbated by high unemployment, mass relocations and conflicts over water and land resources, he said.
PIG PUTIN'S RUSSIA...
Russian law sends LGBT families running and hiding
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, August 14, 2013 6:48 EDT
Maria and Alexandra vaguely considered leaving Russia for several years, but it was not until this year’s anti-gay legislation that they started to gather paperwork.
The quiet, academic lesbian couple, who live with a seven-year-old daughter in the outskirts of Moscow, have now lost hope that Russia is moving in the direction of Europe, where same-sex marriages are increasingly legalised despite opposition from conservatives.
“Before, there was hope that everything would improve, but instead the trend has reversed. I hope that we will leave,” said Maria, 31 who has a daughter Lilya from a short-lived marriage that she is now raising with her partner of six years, Alexandra, 30.
Earlier this year President Pig Putin signed a law banning the dissemination of “gay propaganda” to minors, which has already prompted an international outcry and even calls for Russia to be stripped of its right to host the Winter Olympics.
In practice, the law means that anyone in Russia can be fined for telling children that homosexual and heterosexual relationships are equal. This “really speeded us up” in wanting to leave the country, Maria said.
Everyone interviewed by AFP for this article requested that only first names are used, and some asked that even the first names are changed, in order to keep their identity secret.
The women have started an application process for residency in Canada, where Alexandra, a research scientist, qualifies as a young professional and can bring the whole family of three over under the country’s conditions for same-sex couples.
The gay propaganda law is just the beginning, they said, pointing out recent remarks by lawmaker Yelena Mizulina that the state should have the right to take children out of homosexual families.
Mizulina has said the family committee she is chairing in the Duma lower house is writing a new family policy based on “traditional” values like registered heterosexual marriage and refusal of abortions.
“We are looking into the possibility of creating a legal basis for taking children out of families that are de-facto gay marriages,” said Mizulina, who has also sponsored a bill banning adoptions by foreign same-sex couples.
Last month, Russia’s influential Orthodox Patriarch Kirill called the increasing legalisation of same-sex marriage in other countries a “syndrome of apocalypse” which Russia must fight.
Militantly conservative rhetoric has come amid increasing intolerance. Since 2005, the number of people who believe gays should have equal rights as the rest of society fell from 51 to 39 percent this year.
The number of people who believe that homosexuality is an illness or is caused by “licentiousness” also grew from 67 to 78 percent in that period, according to Levada centre pollster.
Violent crimes committed against gays are rarely investigated, according to Moscow-based lawyer Ilnur Sharapov who had represented people injured at gay protests by neo-Nazi or ultraconservative Orthodox activists.
“Hooliganism and injury cases very quickly reach trial unless the victim is gay,” he told AFP.
In the increasingly homophobic environment, gay parents now worry what will happen if their child is asked about their home situation in school.
“It’s a question of our mutual trust on the one hand, and of her safety in society on the other hand,” said Olga, 34, a lesbian who has a small daughter, explaining that she does not want to lie to her child when she is old enough to understand.
“When you write up a bill like this, without any clear definitions, it means that you are not planning to practice justice with it, it means that you are planning to destroy,” she said, fearing that the propaganda law can be used against any gay parent.
“Once the government singled out gays as the enemy number one, it became clear that it’s time to go,” she said. She is taking language classes and saving money to move to Poland, where she can legally repatriate because of her heritage.
Single mothers, or two women living together with a child are a familiar picture in Russia.
But in a country where men almost never get custody in a divorce, gay men have to be more circumspect, said Artyom, 30, who recently became a biological father to twins and is helping a lesbian couple raise them.
“I wanted children, it was a conscious decision, I looked for candidates online,” said Artyom, 30, who works as a doctor in Saint Petersburg.
He and the babies’ mother married when she was pregnant, and their parents happily help out in full ignorance that his wife is in a long-term relationship with a woman. He spends time daily with the children, feeding, changing, and taking them for walks.
“We’ll keep our anonymity, the semblance of a regular traditional family,” said Artyom, who posted pictures from his wedding on his social networking page. “It’s a working legend,” he said. “Many people do the same.”
“If everything was quiet, like in our family where we quietly got married, then maybe there wouldn’t be so many problems,” including the latest anti-gay laws, he said.
Artyom’s view that gays should keep quiet about who they are is very widespread. The gay propaganda law was protested only by a handful of people.
“It’s like a chain of silence,” said Alexandra. “When someone is oppressed, they become silent themselves. But that’s a loser’s position, so we plan to flee.”
08/13/2013 05:40 PM
Russia Today's Editor-In-Chief: 'The West Never Got Over the Cold War Stereotype'
Margarita Simonyan, 33, is the editor-in-chief of the state-funded satellite news network Russia Today. In a SPIEGEL interview, she contends that Western journalists prefer to paint Russia as an evil aggressor and that her station is not an outlet for government propaganda.
Russian President Pig Putin has created an anti-CNN for Western audiences with the international satellite news network Russia Today. He commissioned the network in order to "break the monopoly of the Anglo-Saxon mass media." The government seems to be succeeding in its task, with the network gaining more viewers in major cities in the United States that any other foreign broadcaster.
In Washington, 13 times as many viewers tune in to Russia Today than they do its German equivalent Deutsche Welle. A total of 2 million Brits watch the program. On Youtube, the Moscow-based broadcaster recently broke the one-billion-hit barrier, becoming the first broadcaster in the world to do so. Editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan, 33, views the broadcaster as a sort of ministry of media defense for Russia.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Your network sees itself as a counterweight to the major US broadcasters. How did you manage to poach CNN legend Larry King, 79, of all people?
Simonyan: You'd have to ask him that question, but I do know that he is happy to get back into the game.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What can Russia Today offer King that others can't?
Simonyan: I can quote him from an interview he gave recently: "I thought I could retire, but I love my job. I thought I wouldn't miss it, but I do."
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Your network is funded by the Russian government. What is its mission statement?
Simonyan: If you tune in to CNN or the BBC on a regular day, 80 or 90 percent of the stories are identical. We want to show that there are more stories out there than the 10-a-day that you usually encouter. I'm not saying that you should watch only our program; I'm saying that you should also watch it.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: The Russian media have a slightly more dramatic take on your objectives. Many are comparing the network to the Ministry of Defense. You said it yourself, when Russia goes to war …
Simonyan: … then we will join them in battle, yes. That goes for the country's real, armed conflicts. Do you remember the August war of 2008? Back then, most Western media outlets acted as if they were Georgia's ministry of defense.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: In 2008, Russian troops invaded Georgian territory after President Mikheil Saakashvili gave the order to attack South Ossetia, a separatist republic with close ties to Russia.
Simonyan: All of the Western broadcasters gave only the Georgian side of the story. Saakashvili was featured on all the networks; his statements were broadcast on all the programs. According to the reports, Russia started the war when the country's troops bombed a busy market in the provincial town of Gori. We immediately sent our correspondents out there, who found no trace of either shootings or bombings.
Western broadcasters focused their entire coverage on the suffering of Georgian civilians. There was no mention of South Ossetians, meanwhile, who were suffering nightly artillery attacks at the hands of Saakashvili. It was pro-Georgian propaganda, pure and simple.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: It wasn't that one-sided. SPIEGEL, for one, reported at an early stage that it was Saakashvili who had fired the first shot. A European Union committee came to the same conclusion.
Simonyan: Sure, afterwards! But how many people actually ended up reading the EU report? The majority of people to this day believe that Russia started the war totally unprovoked. The evil Russia pounces on poor little Georgia.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: It is not uncommon to see Russia in the role of the aggressor.
Simonyan: Objection! Russia hadn't started a war with another country in 20 years. How many armed conflicts has America engaged in in the same period of time? How many wars has Europe taken part in?
SPIEGEL ONLINE: How do you explain Russia's negative image?
Simonyan: The West never got over the Cold War stereotype. One thing that only few journalists understand is that Russia started dissolving the Soviet Union of its own accord. We were the ones to realize that Communism was a failure. We understood that it was wrong to impose our will on other nations. We released the Eastern bloc into freedom. We are a different country today, one with a different mentality -- which is something that Western journalists sometimes find difficult to comprehend. You, for example, stated earlier that Russia was acting aggressively without backing it up with facts.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is Russia Today's goal to provide objective reporting? Or is it first and foremost just about offering a perspective different from that of Western media?
Simonyan: Have you already seen many examples of objective reporting in general?
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Efforts are made to be objective. But your network only covers one side, offering Syrian dictator Bashar Assad a platform for his political message.
Simonyan: There are people who refer to Assad's political opponents as the "democratic opposition." Even the rebels, however, have raped women and murdered children. Take Saakashvili, for example. He is held up as a hero by the BBC. For others, he represents an oppressor of freedom. There is no objectivity -- only approximations of the truth by as many different voices as possible.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: The Russian opposition is rarely featured on your network, except as a target of smear campaigns. You even accused Russian blogger and dissident Rustem Adagamov of pedophilia without so much as a scrap of evidence.
Simonyan: Why did we report about Adagamov? Because he was publicly positioning himself as a campaigner for justice.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: The accusations leveled against him are based solely on statements coming from his ex-wife, who says that he sexually abused an underage girl in Norway many years ago. The authorities declined to bring charges against him due to a lack of evidence.
Simonyan: We didn't prosecute him; we merely broadcast a report. Would the German media refrain from giving coverage to a political activist accused of sexually abusing a 12-year-old girl? I spoke to the wife myself, and I certainly didn't get the impression that she was crazy.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: How did it come about that your network was the first to broadcast images of the arrest of a CIA spy in Moscow in May? How closely do you work with the authorities?
Simonyan: We received those images from an agency in the same way that every other Russian television network does. It wasn't exclusive material. We were simpler quicker to publish it than others.
The interview was conducted by Benjamin Bidder in Moscow .
08/13/2013 03:30 PM
Troubling Questions: No-Spy Pact Backfires on Berlin
A commentary by Severin Weiland
Chancellery chief Ronald Pofalla's appearance before a parliamentary committee on Monday was supposed to pacify public misgivings in the wake of the NSA spying scandal. But his announcement of a German-American no-spying agreement raised far more questions than it answered.
When German Chancellery Chief of Staff Ronald Pofalla sat before a parliamentary committee on Monday, his prepared text was almost entirely marked up in yellow. Everything that he intended to present to the Parliamentary Control Panel, the body in Germany's parliament charged with keeping tabs on the country's intelligence agencies, was apparently important. He ran down the 15 items on his list, speaking without pause -- just as he did at his last appearance before the committee more than two weeks ago.
Pofalla appeared before the committee to clear the air. Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives hope to finally put a lid on the NSA scandal, which was set off by reports leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden. The core of Pofalla's message was simple: The American intelligence agency and its British counterpart adhere to German law and have agreed in writing to do so. Pofalla went on to say that the rights of millions of Germans have not been violated, ostensibly in response to recent criticism by the opposition Social Democrats. The data that the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany's foreign intelligence agency, has handed over to America's National Security Agency pertained to reconnaissance abroad and not to German citizens, he assured the panel.
It was a peculiar sort of political spectacle. Merkel's chief of staff and the government's official intelligence coordinator praised the "hard work" of the agency and quoted written assurances made recently by the American and British intelligence agencies to the German government. Pofalla painted a picture of a harmonious world of German-American intelligence cooperation. And it's this collaboration, he said, that has prevented terrorist attacks on German and US soldiers in Afghanistan.
If you subscribe to Pofalla's version of events, all the recent fuss is actually superfluous.
Only, there's a hitch in this rosy scenario. The BND and the NSA have agreed on pursuing a brand-new "no-spy pact." The agreement, says Pofalla, represents a unique opportunity to set standards for the future work of Western intelligence agencies.
The No-Spy Pact
Just last Friday, BND chief Gerhard Schindler sent NSA Director Keith B. Alexander a written request to launch discussions over a mutual no-spying pact. It is to be the placebo administered to the public at election time to pacify brewing concern and to say, "Look, everything is going to be just fine."
Yet the establishment of such a no-spying agreement implies that espionage has been allowed up to now, an unwitting confirmation of the information in the documents leaked by Snowden -- including the internal paper that SPIEGEL reported on this week: As a target of espionage, Germany ranks somewhere in the middle of the priority list, about on par with France and Japan. In the leaked document, the US notes a particular interest in Germany's foreign policy and economic situation, citing threats to the financial system and "economic stability" as high-priority subjects of interest when it comes to spying in the European Union.
The no-spying agreement isn't likely to make the NSA scandal disappear. On the contrary, Berlin will be faced with new questions: What should comprise such a pact? Will it only pertain to the work of foreign intelligence agencies? Or will it address the interests of citizens whose Internet data flow through American servers and can potentially be captured and cached? None of this has been definitively answered, all written assurances to the contrary.
Pofalla obviously anticipated what new questions might be raised by the envisaged agreement. It was he who carefully said that the US agency would not have made the offer, "if their assurance that they would abide by the law were not true." This is twisted logic -- logic that only Pofalla himself could explain.
But an explanation never came. Just like at his last appearance before the committee, the Chancellery chief declined to take any questions. After Item 15, Pofalla exited without a word.
August 13, 2013Merkel Enters Last Leg of Re-election Bid With a Push to Draw In Youths
By ALISON SMALE
BERLIN — After a summer dominated by questioning of her policy toward Europe and tangles over Germany’s role in large-scale intelligence gathering by the United States, Chancellor Angela Merkel kicked off the final phase of her campaign for re-election on Tuesday with an unusual visit to a high school in the former East Berlin.
There the reflexively private chancellor gave select seniors a history lesson of a rarely personal kind, since Tuesday was the 52nd anniversary of the building of the Berlin Wall, which Ms. Merkel experienced as a 7-year-old girl living in East Germany.
Just under 10 million of the almost 62 million Germans entitled to vote are aged 18 to 30, and Ms. Merkel, 59, who is seeking a third four-year term in national elections on Sept. 22, seems keen to win them for her center-right Christian Democrats.
On Monday, as she returned from a two-week vacation — she hiked in the Alps with her husband, Joachim Sauer — the youth magazine Neon published a lengthy interview with the chancellor, who let drop that her worst foible was once drinking too much cherry wine and underscored that love can be forever, despite divorcing her first husband, Ulrich Merkel, whom she married as a student.
Reflecting her central role in German politics — even her Social Democratic opponents feature Ms. Merkel on their campaign posters — a new Web page (www.angela-merkel.de
) features pictures from her childhood and youth that seemed designed — like Tuesday’s school visit — to dispel any whiff of closeness to the Communists who led East Germany.
She is still close, she says, to her brother, Marcus, a scientist, and her sister, Irene, bound by “the Christian values and openness to the world” of their childhood in Templin, about 60 miles northeast of Berlin, where her father was a pastor. Over a picture where she looks fondly at her husband, a quantum chemist, she writes of their common love of the open air, and of opera.
Left out are such matters as the woes of the euro, the uncertain future of the European Union, the rows over intelligence and the enmity of some leading intellectuals. The newsmagazine Der Spiegel, kicking off an election series last week, devoted several pages to this disdain for the chancellor, blaming her for a mood characterized by Peter Sloterdijk, Germany’s leading philosopher, as “lethargocracy.”
This past weekend, an opinion piece in the center-left newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung depicted Ms. Merkel as spreading “poison” by having essentially removed Europe from the election campaign. “Europeans are looking to Germany, because it is clear to them that the future of the European Union essentially depends on this country,” Daniel Brössler wrote. “But what they get to see is a nation which is behaving at the moment as if this all has nothing to do with it.”
Paul Nolte, a history professor in Berlin who leans toward the Christian Democrats but is also critical of them, retorted that it was hard to blame Ms. Merkel for the national mood, which he characterized more as “wait-and-see,” even as Germany enjoys low unemployment rates and relatively high wages envied by many of its European neighbors.
“It is sometimes striking what kind of Merkel-hate you confront” in the news media, Dr. Nolte said by telephone from Munich. “It is hatred with a perfidy that I find astonishing,” particularly, he said, when one contrasts the broad consensus on topics like gay marriage, or an expansion of kindergartens to allow German mothers to work, with the recent, sometimes violent, protests against gay marriage in neighboring France.
Regardless of whether, after the elections, Greece demands new bailout money or, more gravely, the euro is in fresh peril, Ms. Merkel knows that, for now, her future depends more on the campaign, and the almost 60 stops she already plans to make all over Europe’s dominant country.
Judging by the teenagers she met in school on Tuesday, Ms. Merkel has hard work ahead. The schoolyard harbored some fans: Gordon Zückert, an 18-year-old senior, said he would vote for her in September. “She has done her homework,” he said. “Her politics are good, and there is a reason why she has been elected more than once.”
But other seniors, like Louise Debatin, 18, who whipped out her cellphone as the chancellor arrived and snapped herself with Ms. Merkel, said they were more likely to vote Green. Like many young Germans, several pupils wore flower badges indicating their environmental engagement and opposition to nuclear energy — something the physicist chancellor decided after the 2011 earthquake and nuclear accident in Japan that she, too, wants to phase out.
Political differences notwithstanding, Ms. Debatin was convinced that Ms. Merkel did the right thing in coming to give a personal view of the Communist East. Visiting Berlin museums on this city’s turbulent history, Ms. Debatin said, is “really frightening.”
Listening to her mother — she “was right there live when the wall fell,” in 1989 — and her grandmother — “she saw the wall go up, and come down” — really made her appreciate today’s freedom of movement, Ms. Debatin said.
Exactly what Ms. Merkel imparted during almost an hour lesson with the seniors remained largely a secret. The youth magazine said to have invited her reported bland quotes from three participants about Ms. Merkel’s warmth, humor and openness. The leader herself, emerging from the school, did not even repeat what she had told biographers in the past: her memory of Sunday, Aug. 13, 1961, when her father had to preach in church and “everybody was crying.”
Tears and solemnity, of course, were featured at memorials around Berlin on Tuesday, commemorating the almost 140 people who lost their lives trying to cross the barbed wire, minefields and multiple barriers that made up the Berlin Wall.
Unlike beautiful, more manicured Paris, Berlin offers up its history raw, and ever-present. The chancellor, Ms. Debatin said, was right to recall “what a journey this city has behind it.”
The cold war clash of capitalism and Communism “included all of Germany, of course, but Berlin is special — two lives in one city,” Ms. Debatin said. “That is Berlin, and that’s what makes Berlin special.”
August 13, 2013
Germany Fights Population Drop
By SUZANNE DALEY and NICHOLAS KULISH
SONNEBERG, Germany — At first glance, this town in central Germany, with rows of large houses built when it was a thriving center of toy manufacturing, looks tidy and prosperous. But Heiko Voigt, the deputy mayor here, can point out dozens of vacant homes that he doubts will ever be sold.
The reality is that the German population is shrinking and towns like this one are working hard to hide the emptiness. Mr. Voigt has already supervised the demolition of 60 houses and 12 apartment blocs, strategically injecting grassy patches into once-dense complexes.
“We are trying to keep the town looking good,” he said.
There is perhaps nowhere better than the German countryside to see the dawning impact of Europe’s plunge in fertility rates over the decades, a problem that has frightening implications for the economy and the psyche of the Continent. In some areas, there are now abundant overgrown yards, boarded-up windows and concerns about sewage systems too empty to work properly. The work force is rapidly graying, and assembly lines are being redesigned to minimize bending and lifting.
In its most recent census, Germany discovered it had lost 1.5 million inhabitants. By 2060, experts say, the country could shrink by an additional 19 percent, to about 66 million.
Demographers say a similar future awaits other European countries, and the issue grows more pressing every day as Europe’s seemingly endless economic troubles accelerate the decline. But bogged down with failed banks and dwindling budgets, few are in any position to do anything about it.
Germany, however, an island of prosperity, is spending heavily to find ways out of the doom-and-gloom predictions, and it would seem ideally placed to show the Continent the way. So far, though, even while spending $265 billion a year on family subsidies, Germany has proved only how hard it can be. That is in part because the solution lies in remaking values, customs and attitudes in a country that has a troubled history with accepting immigrants and where working women with children are still tagged with the label “raven mothers,” implying neglectfulness.
If Germany is to avoid a major labor shortage, experts say, it will have to find ways to keep older workers in their jobs, after decades of pushing them toward early retirement, and it will have to attract immigrants and make them feel welcome enough to make a life here. It will also need to get more women into the work force while at the same time encouraging them to have more children, a difficult change for a country that has long glorified stay-at-home mothers.
There is little doubt about the urgency of the crisis for Europe. Several recent studies show that historically high unemployment rates — in excess of 50 percent among youths — in countries like Greece, Italy and Spain are further discouraging young people from having children. According to the European Union, the total number of live births in 31 European countries fell by 3.5 percent, to 5.4 million from 5.6 million, between 2008 and 2011. In 1960 about 7.5 million children were born in 27 European countries.
Even before those trends were detected, many countries in Europe were expected to shrink by 2060; some, like Latvia and Bulgaria, even more than Germany. And the proportion of elderly will become burdensome. There are about four workers for every pensioner in the European Union. By 2060, the average will drop to two, according to the European Union’s 2012 report on aging.
Some experts worry that Germany has already waited too long to tackle the issue. But others say that is too pessimistic. In any case, in Germany the issue is front and center now.
Large families began to go out of fashion in what was then West Germany in the 1970s, when the country prospered and the fertility rate began dropping to about 1.4 children per woman and then pretty much stayed there, far below the rate of 2.1 children that keeps a population stable. Other countries followed, but not all. There is a band of fertility in Europe, stretching from France to Britain and the Scandinavian countries, helped along by immigrants and social services that support working women.
Raising fertility levels in Germany has not proved easy. Critics say the country has accomplished very little in throwing money at families in a system of benefits and tax breaks that includes allowances for children and stay-at-home mothers, and a tax break for married couples.
Demographers say that a far better investment would be to support women juggling motherhood and careers by expanding day care and after-school programs. They say recent data show that growth in fertility is more likely to come from them.
“If you look closely at the numbers, what you see is the higher the gender equality, the higher the birthrate,” said Reiner Klingholz of the Berlin Institute for Population and Development.
But undoing years of subsidies for traditional households is difficult. “Touching those is political suicide,” said Michaela Kreyenfeld of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany.
In the meantime, mothers trying to work here face obstacles that discourage large families. Though Germany recently enacted a law guaranteeing day care for all children over 12 months, compared with 3 years and older before, experts say there is still a shortage of affordable facilities. Further, many schools let out at noon, and there are few after-school programs.
Melanie Vogel, 39, of Bonn, found that trying to blend work and motherhood was so lonely, dispiriting and expensive that she decided to have one child. None of her friends worked full time, her mother-in-law made clear she disapproved, and so did clients in the job fair company she runs with her husband.
“Before my son was born, I was Melanie, a working businesswoman,” Mrs. Vogel said. “But after my son was born, to a lot of people, I was just a mother.”
Many working mothers find themselves quickly pushed into poorly paid “mini” jobs — perhaps 17 hours a week for about $600 a month. More than four million working women in Germany, about a quarter of the female work force, hold such jobs.
Another way to adjust to the population decline is to get older workers to postpone retirement. The German government is raising the retirement age incrementally to 67 from 65, and companies have moved fast to adapt. The share of people ages 55 to 64 in the work force had risen to 61.5 percent in 2012, from 38.9 percent in 2002.
Volkswagen has redesigned its assembly line to ease the bending and overhead work that put excessive strain on workers’ bodies. About three years ago, they began using reclining swivel seats that provide back support even for hard-to-reach spots in the automobiles they are building, and the installation of heavy parts like wheels and front ends is now often fully automated.
Other companies are offering flexible hours to appeal to older workers. Hans Driescher, a physicist trained in the former East, is 74 and still on the job at the German Aerospace Center almost a decade after he reached the mandatory retirement age. He started out working 55 hours a month, but has now cut down to 24. He spends the summer in his garden and works the rest of the year.
With high unemployment rates across most of Southern and Eastern Europe, Germany is in a good position to increase its labor pool by plucking the best and the brightest from its neighbors, and it has begun to do so.
Yet, with hundreds of thousands of skilled jobs unfilled, some executives believe Germany should change its immigration laws and accept foreign credentials to compete for workers with other aging countries.
Germany’s experience with integrating foreign workers in the past, particularly the country’s large Turkish minority, has proved difficult, and many government officials and business leaders are examining Germany’s culture, eager to do what it takes to be hospitable.
But whether they will succeed is unclear. A recent study found that more than half the Greeks and Spaniards who came to Germany left within a year. Many arrivals are young and highly qualified and see a global market for their skills. And many, given the opportunity, will probably go home, experts say. Immigration in general has become more temporary, and moving across borders in Europe is especially easy.
“I think the answer is that we need to look outside Europe,” Dr. Klingholz said.
Chris Cottrell contributed reporting from Berlin.
08/13/2013 05:00 PM
Extra, Extra! Newspaper Crisis Hits Germany
By Cordt Schnibben
It came to Germany almost a decade later than America, but the newspaper crisis is sweeping the country, with plummeting circulations and revenues. The German news media must reinvent itself in order to retain readers.
Three decades ago, the editors of the Munich daily Abendzeitung produced a newspaper each day for 300,000 buyers. Fast forward 30 years and its circulation has declined to 107,634. One of of three desks in the large newsroom next to his office is now unoccupied, so when Editor in Chief Arno Makowsky uses a ballpoint pen to add a sharp upward curve into the next year on the chart in front of him, all he can do is laugh.
Makowsky knows that he can't get the curve to move upward anymore, and so do the top editors of other German newspapers, like the Berliner Morgenpost, Tagesspiegel, Berliner Zeitung, Hamburger Abendblatt and Hamburger Morgenpost. They only thing they can still do is slow the decline. In Berlin, Hamburg and Munich, local newspapers have lost about 30 percent of their readers in the last decade, with readership declining at an ever faster clip.
The fact that Axel Springer this month announced the sale of the Hamburger Abendblatt -- the very first paper the publishing house established -- and is largely pulling out of the regional daily newspaper market, came as a shock to both its editors and others. In fact, all print journalists feel as if someone -- in this case, the country's most powerful publishing house -- had slammed a door shut with a loud bang. The death knell is beginning to sound, quietly, behind that very door.
Makowsky, 52, knows that the kind of reader loyalty German newspapers were able to depend on for decades is waning. The Internet, money and death are all factors that work against newspapers. Many papers are seeing circulation drop because their readers are literally dying off. Many readers feel that newspapers are too expensive and have instead turned to the Internet as their most important source of information. Advertisers are also spending less on print ads, which were long a staple of advertising campaigns.
In the last decade, the daily newspaper has largely lost its role in shaping public opinion. Which piece of news penetrates into the public consciousness, and which news is considered scandalous or worth debating, is now the consequence of a rapid back-and-forth between magazines, websites and TV, as well as social media like Facebook and aggregators like Google.
The small regional newspaper still has a monopoly on information. The national daily newspaper can make its mark with big scoops. Local newspapers in cities like Berlin, Munich and Hamburg, on the other hand, suffer the most from the digital competition.
All editorial departments, whether at local, big-city or national newspapers, face six major problems:
What do we need daily newspapers for?
How low can circulation figures go?
What can editorial departments do about it?
Does a paper's own digital presence cannabilize the printed version?
Can online readers be counted?
What does the newspaper of the future look like?
The head of one of the largest media agencies bluntly described a seventh problem at a meeting of industry leaders in the western city Wiesbaden in June. "Get used to the fact," he told the assembled publishing executives, "that newspapers will have to make do without advertising revenues in the future!" Media agencies distribute the advertising money of companies to TV stations, Internet providers, radio stations, newspapers and magazines. The advertising money allocated to daily newspapers has declined by more than half since 2000, because businesses either prefer to address consumers directly or would rather use TV and the Internet.
It's a vicious circle: The more daily newspapers lose circulation, the faster they lose advertising revenues. And the publishers' hope that funds flooding into the Internet will lead to rising advertising revenues for newspaper online sites has only been partially fulfilled. Millions are going into Internet advertising, but not to the print media's online sites. In the United States, for example, Google sucks up four times as much advertising money as the websites of all print media organizations combined.
Daily newspapers are threatened economically by the Internet, but journalistically even more so. In recent years, the news media organizations that have been successful online are those that satisfy their readers' need for information and classification more quickly, in a more differentiated way and, above all, at a lower cost.
The websites of the print media, aggregators like Google and Flipboard, social media like Facebook and Twitter, dozens of new news apps such as tagesschau.de (the prime-time news program of Germany's main public television station), the Huffington Post and BBC News, supply the interested reader with current news. Users can get a more in-depth and differentiated look at the news through blogging services like tumblr, web media like the German political blog Carta and Perlentaucher, a site that provides digests of German cultural reporting and a platform for intellectual debates, as well as local sites like Ruhrbarone, a blog created by journalists providing coverage of the country's Ruhr region. Football fans can get more substantial information on specialized sports sites than in the sports pages of many daily newspapers, and the same applies to doctors, lawyers, architects and journalists -- at least once they have tracked down their niche online. And those who seek the truth about the state of newspapers, following the debate over Springer's sell-off of its publications, can get more intelligent information in expert blogs and forums than in newspapers.
The Internet is creating a kind of counter-public to the classic media by plundering them and depriving them of control and their aura. It forces the print media to refrain from showering its newspapers and magazines onto readers like care packages. The Internet turns readers into participants in the conversation, editors, inspirers and nuisances, schemers and agitators.
A Changing Debate at the Süddeutsche
Since the online editors of Süddeutsche Zeitung, one of Germany's leading national newspapers, began informing their colleagues in daily editorial meetings about how many clicks the articles on their website receive and how often they are recommended, debates among the editorial staff have changed, says Stefan Plöchinger, the head of the Süddeutsche.de website. Many print journalists have stopped learning to be interested in the topics that interest readers, Plöchinger notes. For some editors, it is an "experience that is gratifying and at times horrifying" to see "how directly measurable" the response "is to what they write," says Wolfgang Krach, deputy editor-in-chief of the print edition.
At Süddeutsche, print and online editors work closely together, but with different missions. The online editors create a live medium, Plöchinger stresses, whereas the print editors create a paper that closes at 5 p.m. and still has to be capable of inspiring users the next day. The online version, he notes, is real-time journalism, whereas the print version is daily magazine journalism. Two news desks, within shouting distance of each other, coordinate the collaboration on the 22nd floor. The everyone-does-everything notion that every print editor does online, and every online editor does print, says Plöchinger, is a way of thinking "that we abandoned long ago," because "the two forms of media require different talent and different qualities."
Those who treat online journalism as just another distribution channel for print journalism "misunderstand both mediums," says Krach. Every evening, 10 to 15 articles from the next day's print edition appear on the online site, with the exception of texts "that embody the unique character of the newspaper."
It was a mistake, says Krach, "that all newspaper publishers believed that they had to offer valuable content online for nothing." This was the result of two fallacies. First, the hope was that the online sites would generate new buyers for the print product, and second, the websites' advertising revenues could offset editorial costs -- a goal that very few publications have achieved.
For the last 10 years, publishers and editors have been astonishingly patient in trying to fix this design flaw of online journalism -- to the delight of readers, who now no longer understand the differences in content between websites and print products.
Practices vary considerably from paper to paper. The Munich Abendzeitung posts all articles from the newspaper on its website, as does Berlin's Tagesspiegel, whereas Berliner Zeitung posts about 80 percent of print articles online and Donaukurier, a local newspaper in the Bavarian town of Ingolstadt, keeps its online and print versions completely separate. Neither Plöchinger nor Krach believes in allowing a paper's website to cannibalize the print edition. "Only about 15 percent of those who read Süddeutsche Zeitung are also users of Süddeutsche.de," says Krach.
Of course, all online news media collectively cannibalize daily newspapers, which is why 46 of 332 German newspapers are now charging money for certain articles on their websites (Bild, Hamburger Abendblatt, Lübecker Nachrichten), or for all articles (Die Welt, Badische Zeitung, Saarbrücker Zeitung) when readers read more than 20 articles a month.
In the United States, 450 of 1,380 newspapers now plan to offset the revenue losses of daily newspapers with paid content, but only two to 4 percent of readers are currently paying for online journalism. Although the New York Times, which is arguably the world's best newspaper and boasts a global readership, now has more than 650,000 digital subscribers, it has managed to convince less than 3 percent of its online readers to pay for content.
Frank Schirrmacher, the publisher of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), says he is "absolutely frustrated" over the success -- or, in fact, the lack thereof -- of the New York Times. "We are confronted with the issue of what intellectual work is worth." This is the key question, he says, when it comes to deciding how much to charge for online journalism. "Giants like Google are trying to exploit intellectual work to boost their bottom line." Schirrmacher believes that it is now time to ask society: "Are you willing to pay for the work of journalists when it's something worth paying for? If society says it doesn't want to do that, it'll be our own fault."
Tablets Create Hope for Industry
Germans buy a total of 380,000 e-papers of German newspapers a day. Although this is almost twice as many as last year, it remains far too little. Tablets are seen as a new opportunity for newspapers. About 5 million are in use in Germany, and in the United States one in four citizens already owns a tablet computer. They are portable TVs, websites and print media rolled into one, bringing together the glossiness of illustrated magazines with the in-depth reporting of newsmagazines and the moving images of television.
But most of all, tablets, like smartphones, enables users to be constantly online. This changes the user, the Internet, journalism and society. The reader is no longer just reading, but is now constantly feeding text and photos into the web, transforming the Internet into an archive of the present. Journalists avail themselves of this archive and develop new forms and new media, while users of the new media impose demands on the print media that they cannot satisfy. An editorial society of online citizens is slowly taking shape, a society that no longer needs newspapers to be able to have a say and help shape things. The hunt for the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombing shows how powerful, smart and forbidding this form of journalism without journalists has become.
Like the police, Twitter reporters interviewed witnesses of the bombing and posted photos from the vicinity of the bombing site on the website reddit. The photos depicted people with conspicuous backpacks, especially people who, in other photos, were suddenly no longer carrying backpacks. In this fashion, a young man wearing a baseball cap was identified as a possible suspect, and his name quickly ended up on the cover of the New York Post. As it turned out, both the new and the old media contributed to an innocent man being identified as a possible suspect.
Is BuzzFeed the Future?
Only hours after the names of the real bombers were revealed, the website BuzzFeed had already posted the life stories of the two brothers, as well as their sports interests, their views on the United States, their school experiences -- and just about every detail of the last few years of their lives. BuzzFeed had used much of the information available online to compile an illustrated history of the brothers.
Reddit and BuzzFeed are popular websites in the United States that aggregate and sort news articles, and now have more users than the New York Times. Their secret is interactivity. Readers are both producers and consumers, feeding news, photos and questions into reddit. The most popular category is called "Ask me anything," in which Bill Gates, along with other experts and celebrities, answers all kinds of questions. When US President Barack Obama used reddit in his last election campaign, the site crashed when 13,000 users posted comments within half an hour.
Executives with the Axel Springer publishing group like to cite BuzzFeed as a model for potential new digital media, a model in which millions of Americans have become addicted to categories like best-of lists of Egyptian protestors, legends about the "Titanic," and morning gossip stories.
They apparently like this mixture of necessary and unnecessary news, which ultimately explains the success of almost all new sites on the Internet. They are reader-controlled, because click rates reveal what readers want. Newspapers are controlled by editors and tend to focus on what they think readers should be reading.
Finding a balance between what readers should read and what they want to read is the difficult job all websites of the German print media face. But editors can't prevent readers from assembling their own online newspaper from what the websites offer, and it -- often to the disappointment of their highly political editors -- usually ends up closely resembling a tabloid newspaper.
Based on the traffic patterns of users of Die Welt's website, the "Panorama" section is the most popular, with articles about bras and a book about sex in Arab countries among the articles that receive the largest number of clicks. According to the industry site someedia, the website's Sudoku game is very popular, which points to a commonality with the readers of Zeit Online, the web presence of the weekly Die Zeit, who after the home page spend most of their time playing Sudoku. Other top draws include a report titled "The World's Most Tender Pornography" and a story about actress Angelina Jolie's breast surgery.
The online user is more dangerous for any journalist than the reader of the printed newspaper. The journalist can hold the print reader captive as soon as he has paid for a newspaper or magazine, often in the form of a lifetime subscription. The online reader is picky, moody and volatile, since the next website, the next video or the next song is always only a click away. And the online reader has two dangerous accomplices: aggregators and social media.
Aggregators like Google or Flipboard comb through the web for articles, photos and videos that interest users. They lead potential readers and viewers to the websites that offer what they are looking for. "And with each click on Google, I provide the search engine with information about me, which they can monetize," says FAZ publisher Schirrmacher.
Social media, like Facebook and Twitter, are becoming more and more important for online media. They have become significant collecting points for news stories, now that millions of users recommend and email articles about them.
Some 20 percent of all Americans, twice as many as two years ago, get most of their news through social networks. The number jumps to 35 percent among 18- to 24-year-olds. For the global digital elite, Facebook and Twitter have become the media outlets of record.
"The social media provide newspapers with even more feedback from readers," says Süddeutsche Zeitung editor Krach, "and we get information to which we never had access in the past." Facebook and Twitter are like a "permanent market test," says his online counterpart Plöchinger. "For us, the recommendation numbers are key, not the click numbers."
The structural change within the public is, however, reversible. It is driven by the giants that derive income from it, the publishers that see it as the saving grace of their business models, the new media, which only exist because of it, and users, who don't want to do without the toys of the digital public.
Smartphones and tablets facilitate uninterrupted participation, but it functions differently from the mass-media public of the 20th century. The digital citizen communicates in niches, in interconnected groups and in blogs, among followers and friends.
The netizen is a media diva, spoiled by the possibilities of the new digital media, bored buy analog bundles of text, and by newspapers, which are too expensive for many people's tastes and stuffed with content that is of no interest to them. The netizen wants a customized product rather than something off the rack, and the digital citizen also wants it to be cheap -- or preferably free. The netizen likes Flipboard, Zite, the Huffington Post, tumblr, TED and taptu.
The digital products of newspapers aren't sufficiently innovative for the media diva, because they are hardly distinguishable from the print versions and take too little advantage of new possibilities. This explains the modest success of e-paper editions, especially as the culture of reading, which also derives satisfaction from the feeling of paper, continues to have an impact today.
Many people feel that tablets enable them to read longer articles, in particular, more effectively than on paper, especially because they can be supplemented with videos, graphics and additional information. Nevertheless, the evolution of the human being is still slower than the evolution of its inventions.
The number of tablets in Germany has doubled in 2012, and by 2016 some 24 million Germans are expected to be using the devices. The millions of downloaded apps from German newspapers and magazines testify to the interest in journalism among their owners, and yet daily and weekly purchases remain underwhelming.
The publishers' expectation that they could gain new readers for their printed newspapers through digital distribution channels is proving to be a fallacy. "We have to start telling new stories and taking advantage of the possibilities that tablets offer," says Süddeutsche deputy editor-in-chief Krach. "Three-hundred-sixty-degree images, videos, interactive graphics, all the things we can't do in the printed paper."
Print journalism that hopes to market itself in the digital world has to learn from online journalism, from the dialogue with readers, from the forms and from the language. Words must make way for photos, videos and graphics in places where words are inferior. Simply managing mountains of words is not the way to showcase the quality of journalism.
Data journalism, audio slideshows, animated graphics -- all the things that online journalism has produced -- has to merge on tablets with print content to form a new digital journalism. "With these new forms, we can achieve a depth of detail that isn't possible on paper," says Süddeutsche.de editor-in-chief Plöchinger.
Many daily newspapers have depended on being something akin to a family member for users. Once adopted, they were always there, on time, reliable and a known entity. Their readers wanted the familiar, and that's the way newspapers were structured. "There was a meeting of the town council yesterday, something has to be written about it, and today it's in the paper," says Süddeutsche.de chief Plöchinger. "This schematic tallying influences the style of many newspapers, in all departments." But the second condition for keeping readers is that "this is no longer enough for them today; now they want the unfamiliar, not the familiar."
The third condition for survival is that every editorial office must figure out what makes it indispensible. It has to sharpen its self-image and its newspaper. In the future, readers will replace everything that is replaceable with something similar that's floating around on the Internet. "Gone are the days," says Jan-Eric Peters, editor-in-chief of Die Welt, "when you could publish newspapers that reached almost everyone. Today we have to offer custom-made products."
Peters is convinced that economic pressure on editorial offices will continue to grow, because the competition on the Internet reduces the value of news nowadays. "In the last few years, the emphasis on journalism has decreased, and we are writing more headlines." For that reason, every editorial office -- and this is the fourth condition -- has to focus on what its paper does better than other papers.
The fifth condition is that what makes newspapers outstanding are its authors -- that is, the journalists, who function like brands. "They'll be very important in the future," says Krach.
Beyond the editorial offices, journalists distinguish themselves on the Internet, where bloggers with tens of thousands of readers become brands and embody independence. The sixth condition is that not seeing these people as adversaries but as debating partners will be just as important for editorial offices as having a relaxed relationship with all of the local blogs and Internet media, which supplement and challenge newspaper journalism.
"We haven't demonstrated what we can really do online yet," says FAZ publisher Schirrmacher. "We've kept important things out of the newspaper, because we had the feeling that we were harming ourselves."
"The biggest fear among print editors is that the Internet will create quota journalism," says Süddeutsche online chief Plöchinger. If all it does is focus on how a story is doing, that is, how many clicks it gets, then every website and every newspaper will sacrifice quality.
Making more money, developing new distribution channels, producing at a lower cost, improving quality and reinventing themselves -- the survival program for German daily newspapers sounds about as cold and bold as the restructuring plan for the German steel industry decades ago. The only comfort is that German newspapers can't be written in China at rock-bottom prices.
At the Donaukurier in Ingolstadt, every editor is familiar with the concerns, and yet they seem far away. Editor-in-chief Gerd Schneider doesn't want to heap too much praise on himself and his paper, and yet circulation has been stable for the last decade. In fact, the 0.8-percent decline in circulation that the publication is now experiencing is enough to trigger a self-critical discussion.
The Donaukurier is a good, old German daily newspaper. The average age of its readership is 54. There is very little unemployment in the so-called golden rectangle, made up of Munich, Nuremberg, Augsburg and Regensburg. Reliable, cautious and not about to make any radical changes -- that's the way Schneider describes his newspaper. There are no free print articles on the website, and the paper sells about 1,000 e-paper editions a day.
Many of the publishers who are convinced that the future isn't nearly as grim as some predict like to cite the success of regional papers like the Donaukurier. Some 18 million newspapers are still being sold in Germany. Some 332 individual newspapers still remain. Around 13,000 people are employed as journalists with them. And newspapers still generate €8 billion ($10.7 billion) in total revenues. "Still" is the word that the appeasers use to comfort themselves, while "already" is the word the admonishers use as warning bell. More than 50 newspapers have gone out of business in the last 20 years, newspaper circulation has already declined by 5 million in the last 10 years and advertising revenue has already declined by €1.3 billion since 2006.
Bill Gates once said that printed newspapers would no longer exist by the year 2000. It's the kind of statement that gives hope to the editors-in-chief of Berlin's Tagesspiegel, Lorenz Maroldt and Stephan-Andreas Casdorff. They have been with the paper for a long time and "still" talk about their work with the passion of pioneers, citing such achievements as the expansion of the weekend section, their reinvention of the obituaries page, even more pages with local Berlin reporting and, most of all, "not publishing a cold newspaper that merely produces a flow of news." When they rattle off rankings in which their newspaper is at the very top, it sounds a little like the agricultural success stories the old East German newspaper Neues Deutschland used to print. And yet the more you listen to these two passionate newspapermen, the more you understand that publishing a daily newspaper today is a permanent revolution. In fact, that's the word Casdorff uses to describe what his paper is trying to do: constantly thinking in new days, constantly trying things out, and yet recognizing that circulation is shrinking, albeit not as rapidly as with other Berlin newspapers.
Nevertheless, everyone is untiringly betting on the notion that readers will come around and realize that good journalism, even on the Internet, has to cost money. But what if, as is currently the case, only 3 percent of readers are willing to pay for this quality?
High-quality newspapers will no longer be financially viable unless they manage to achieve significant earnings online, says Süddeutsche deputy editor Krach. Then the current cutthroat competition, says FAZ publisher Schirrmacher, will turn into a desperate battle for market share, into a "Darwinism of stories."
The Munich Abendzeitung was on the verge of bankruptcy in 2010, and 22 reporters and editors had to be let go. The paper still isn't in the black today, and yet it isn't losing as much money as it used to. "I can't make any guarantees, but I can say that we're doing everything we can to keep things going."
She feels bad about every journalist she has to let go, says Berliner Zeitung editor-in-chief Brigitte Fehrle, "but from a journalistic standpoint, Berliner Zeitung can still handle the most recent layoffs." If they fail to generate new revenues online in the future, newspapers will go out of business, she adds, "and eventually we'll have a desert of wild information floating around the world, information that is no longer sorted, organized or checked by anyone."
In the end, says Tagesspiegel editor-in-chief Casdorff, it's a question of "fighting for a cultural asset, a constituent element of democracy, the diversity of the press and the diversity of opinions." This, he says, justifies every effort, and is more important than yield expectations, business models and publishing strategies.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan