August 20, 2013
At Bo Xilai Trial, a Goal to Blast Acts, Not Ideas
By EDWARD WONG and CHRIS BUCKLEY
BEIJING — The paraphernalia of the global left litters the bookstore called Utopia on the sixth floor of an office tower here: tomes titled “Mao Zedong’s Road to Success” and “The Marxian Legacy,” and canvas satchels with Che Guevara’s visage.
But the store’s most important product, a Web site that gives voice to the Chinese left, is missing. “It’s still shut down,” said a woman working at the store. Chinese officials forced the site to close in April 2012 because of its fervent backing of Bo Xilai, the former Communist official who invoked Maoist talk to rally popular support during his four-year governance of Chongqing in southwest China. A new site set up by the store is used mainly to sell books and publish nonpolemical commentaries.
With Mr. Bo set to go on trial on Thursday on charges of corruption, taking bribes and abusing power, China’s leaders are engaged in a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, they aim to parade Mr. Bo as a criminal and silence his most vocal supporters. On the other, they want to avoid tarring the leftist policies he championed or alienating important revolutionary families.
The tension lays bare the continuing need to preserve the vaunted place of the party’s original ideology in China’s political life, nearly 35 years after the party turned from Maoism to economic reform and opening. As Mr. Bo showed, the ideology remains the most fundamental wellspring that Chinese politicians can tap for popular support and legitimacy. Some political analysts say China’s leader, Xi Jinping, is taking a page from the Bo playbook when he stresses the importance of learning from Mao and Marx and pushes an old-school “mass line” rectification campaign among party officials.
Those analysts, and leftist allies of Mr. Bo, point out that the charges against him deal mainly with financial transgressions earlier in his career — taking bribes from Xu Ming, a tycoon and old friend, is said to be the biggest criminal act— rather than anything substantially related to the controversial policies he championed during his governance of Chongqing. There, from 2008 to his dismissal in March 2012, when a murder scandal involving his wife and a dead British businessman emerged, he pushed policies in the name of socialist revival. They ranged from building low-cost housing to promoting mass Communist “red song” singalongs to battling corruption in a “strike black” campaign that liberals criticized for its human rights abuses.
“People believed in Bo Xilai because he held up the banner of Mao Zedong,” said Yang Fan, a professor at the China University of Political Science and Law, and a founder of the Utopia Web site. “If you don’t use the banner of Mao, you’re nobody. Who would believe in you?”
“Even more than Bo Xilai,” Mr. Yang added, Mr. Xi “uses a lot of Mao’s words.”
Yet as the trial approaches, the party is intensifying its clampdown on Mr. Bo’s leftist supporters. Some have been detained, others ordered to avoid making public comments. In late June, a former college teacher, Wang Zheng, who had gone to Chongqing to help local Bo supporters find exculpatory evidence, was forced to fly back to Beijing, where she was detained in the suburbs, according to a first-person account posted online.
Fears of Bo-inspired dissent are not unfounded. Ardent leftists have insisted that the prosecution of Mr. Bo is rooted in personal vendettas. The “Red Hometown” Web site signified the party’s announcement of his trial date on Sunday with a headline beginning, “Tragedy!” Leftist commentators have continued to depict the case as a plot. Last year, leftists circulated an extraordinary petition online calling for the impeachment of Wen Jiabao, a political enemy of Mr. Bo who was then the prime minister; it got more than 1,600 signatures.
Recently, a group of Maoists revived the campaign, and a version of the updated petition supposedly had 3,000 signatures.
China’s far left is small, but is a vocal part of the political agitation allowed under party controls. For the party, loyalists who embrace Marx and Mao as patron saints are useful watchdogs to be unleashed against liberal voices.
But as the party pursued policies that created huge gaps in wealth and a vastly moneyed elite, many leftists found in Mr. Bo — with his expensive suits, foreign business friends and a son educated at elite schools in Britain and the United States — an unlikely beacon. The son of one of the revered “Eight Immortals” who helped lead the party in the Mao and Deng Xiaoping eras, he pursued a place on the elite Politburo Standing Committee by turning Chongqing into a showcase for policies aimed at securing both market prosperity and socialist equality.
Many on China’s far left embraced him as a potential ally; he in turn burnished his new image by luring leftist journalists, writers and intellectuals to his fief to extol the “Chongqing model” and sing red with him. (They ignored that staunch defenders of the capitalist way were also among the pilgrims — Henry Kissinger gave a speech in praise of Mr. Bo at one gala.)
“Bo Xilai’s Chongqing model showed that the current system can be used to restore relations between the party and the people,” said Zhang Hongliang, a teacher in Beijing who is an intellectual leader of the hard-line left. “The people in Chongqing used to say, ‘The Communist Party has come back.’ ”
Mr. Zhang said that after Mr. Bo’s fall, some leftists turned against party leaders. “In particular, many people who originally supported Xi Jinping began to complain about him,” he said.
“Because of the Bo Xilai incident, the whole left wing is a mess,” he added, referring to “a massive split” between those condemning the party and others who, like himself, still seek to influence it from within.
One of those who hardened against party leaders is Han Deqiang, another founder of Utopia and an associate professor at the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
“This is an unjust case with charges trumped up out of nothing or exaggerated accusations grafted on from elsewhere,” he said.
Like others, he said he had noticed Mr. Xi and fellow party leaders donning Mr. Bo’s neo-Maoist mantle after taking power in November. “China is walking on the path of Bo Xilai without Bo Xilai himself,” Mr. Han said. “What it proclaims in public banners is still the same as what Bo Xilai did in Chongqing. But the problem is, a Bo Xilai road without Bo Xilai lacks substance. It’s flimsy and fake.”
This week, Mr. Xi gave a speech in which he stressed the continued importance of Marxism. But he also appeared to try to reinforce conformity.
“It’s up to propaganda and ideological work to consolidate the guiding status of Marxism in the ideological sphere,” Mr. Xi told a conference of propaganda officials in Beijing, the Xinhua news agency reported Tuesday. “We must uphold, consolidate and strengthen mainstream thinking and opinion.”
Li Weidong, a political analyst and magazine editor, noted that the party leadership would have a hard time convincing leftist critics like Mr. Han that the trial was anything other than the climax of a political struggle. “They need Bo to directly admit guilt and apologize in his own voice on television,” Mr. Li said. “Otherwise, it’s even easier for the left to say it’s all just a fraud.”
Edward Wong reported from Beijing, and Chris Buckley from Hong Kong. Jonathan Ansfield contributed reporting from Beijing, and Patrick Zuo contributed research from Beijing.
New Zealand passes law allowing domestic surveillance
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, August 21, 2013 7:14 EDT
New Zealand passed legislation Wednesday allowing its main intelligence agency to spy on residents and citizens, despite opposition from rights groups, international technology giants and the legal fraternity.
The bill to expand the power of the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) passed by 61 votes to 59 after impassioned debate, with Prime Minister John Key acknowledging the move had left some people “agitated and alarmed”.
“This is not, and never will be, about wholesale spying on New Zealanders,” Key told parliament.
“There are threats our government needs to protect New Zealanders from, those threats are real and ever-present and we underestimate them at our peril.”
The push to change the law came after it emerged last year that the GCSB illegally spied on Internet tycoon Kim Dotcom before armed police raided his Auckland mansion as part of a US-led probe into online piracy.
At the time Key publicly apologised to Dotcom, who is a New Zealand resident and should have been off-limits to the GCSB under legislation preventing it from snooping on locals.
However, an official report found that Dotcom’s case was only one of dozens in which the GCSB had overstepped its bounds.
Key then moved to change the law to let the GCSB spy on New Zealanders, arguing it needed to cooperate more closely with agencies such as the police and military in an increasingly complex cyber-security environment.
Dotcom has been one of the strongest opponents of the bill, saying it gives government spies legal access to New Zealanders’ electronic communications, including mobile phone calls.
“This will be the birth of a surveillance state in New Zealand,” he told a protest meeting in Auckland last weekend.
Tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft have also voiced concern about expanding the GCSB’s surveillance powers.
“Blanket rules requiring data retention and accessibility are blunt tools, which have the potential to infringe on civil liberties and constrain economic growth,” Facebook said in a submission to a parliamentary committee reviewing the bill.
New Zealand’s Law Society, Human Rights Commission and Privacy Commission all made submissions raising concerns about the bill and calling for significant changes.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
Brazilian town takes a stand against Amazon deforestation
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, August 21, 2013 6:30 EDT
When farmer Luiz Martins Neto first moved to Sao Felix do Xingu a quarter of a century ago, the area had virgin forest, gold and a reservation for the local indigenous people.
“They used to say it was the best place to live,” he said.
But like many others, he created his first fazenda — coffee plantation — with slash and burn techniques, helping to destroy his pristine surroundings.
“In those days, the more you cleared the forest, the better your life was and the more land you acquired,” the 54-year-old said.
This was long the prevailing view in Brazil’s vast Amazon region, particularly during the 1964-85 military dictatorship.
But, decades later, the town in the northern state of Para is turning its back on the destructive ways of the past and trying to save what it has left.
Today, Neto’s farm is part of a model agribusiness project that makes use of deforested land and does not encroach on the remaining forest.
“One learns how to do things right,” he said, flashing a proud smile under his straw hat.
A new forestry law took effect last October, limiting the use of land for farming and mandating that up to 80 percent of privately-owned acreage in the Amazon rainforest remains intact.
More than 60 percent of Brazil’s 8.5 million square kilometers (3.3 million square miles) is covered in forest, but two-thirds of it is either privately owned or its ownership is undefined.
On Neto’s small farm, pastures and the giant trunk of a dead cashew nut tree are visible signs of past deforestation.
The practice is a big part of the history of this town of 90,000 half occupied by indigenous lands and parks.
Mining and cattle ranching are other major activities that have left their mark, attracting several multinational companies.
“The arrival of the white man was like a river wave: It keeps advancing, advancing but does not recede,” said Amauri Bepnhoti Atydjare, a member of the Kayapo ethnic group.
Kayapo territory is a big mantle of forest dotted by small hamlets built around a square.
A decade ago, trucks loaded with timber rumbled through the town and the skies were blackened by smoke from forest-clearing fires.
“Sao Felix do Xingu was a champion of deforestation,” said Mayor Joao Cleber.
“In 2008, the government drew up a list of towns which deforested the most and we were number one,” he added.
“But now we are the ones who have reduced deforestation the most, from 2,500 square kilometers (965 square miles) in 2000, to 169 square kilometers (65 square miles) last year.”
The drive to reverse deforestation followed strong pressure from the federal government.
Five years ago, Brasilia made an international commitment to stem rainforest destruction and cut off access to credit for towns deemed the worst offenders.
Companies that bought production from deforested areas were also penalized.
“The pressure on towns and the industry was key as this led to a pact between the meat industry, city hall and rural producers,” said Ian Thompson, head of the Amazonia program at The Nature Conservancy (TNC). These agreements are monitored by public prosecutors.
“The cattle industry occupies a good part of the territory and is to blame for a major part of the deforestation, but with very low productivity: one cow per hectare,” Thompson said.
“With better methods, we are trying to double production without deforesting more.”
Reversing course is already paying off.
Sao Felix is currently experiencing a cocoa boom as the native Amazonian species helps regenerate deforested areas.
One model project, backed by US agribusiness giant Cargill, involves cocoa cultivation on 100 small production farms.
“Cargill is interested in large-scale and sustainable production and we are guaranteed an income while we regenerate degraded areas” to be in conformity with the new forestry law, said Ilson Martins, president of the local cocoa cooperative Cappru.
“We want to give the region another image. The consumer does not want products that create deforestation,” said Wilton Batista, president of the Rural Producers’ Union.
But keeping deforestation in check is an uphill battle in Sao Felix and the rest of the Amazon due to the size of the area and its difficult access.
In this town of more than 84,000 square kilometers (32,432 square miles), with a little more than 80 percent of rainforest still intact, indigenous lands divide the territory.
At city hall, experts are analyzing satellite data to determine exactly where deforestation is taking place — and who is responsible.
Despite the goodwill and progress, economic challenges remain.
“You have to find a way to provide an income to 25 million people who live in the Amazon or otherwise we will face chaos,” said the local agricultural secretary, Denimar Rodrigues.
Sustainable production requires technical assistance and investment, he said.
Amazonian deforestation reached an alarming peak of 27,772 square kilometers (10,722 square miles) lost per year in 2004 and led Brasilia to pledge to reduce it by 80 percent by 2020.
Last year, deforestation fell to 4,751 square kilometers (1834 square miles), it lowest level in decades.
Argentina's president and Grupo Clarìn go head-to-head over media law
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner awaits ruling of supreme court on law to limit power of large media companies
Jonathan Watts, Latin America correspondent
theguardian.com, Tuesday 20 August 2013 17.13 BST
Argentina's supreme court is to rule on a controversial media law at the centre of battle between President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and the country's biggest news conglomerate, Clarín. The judgment, expected in weeks, will be closely watched in Latin America, where several countries have seen clashes between leftist governments and powerful private news groups.
None can match the influence of Grupo Clarín, which has dominated Argentina's media landscape for half a century. For much of that time, its flagship daily was the most popular newspaper in the Spanish speaking world.
Today the group also controls 60% of the cable market, 25% of the internet market, Argentina's second most popular TV channel, three provincial channels, and 10 radio stations, as well as six other papers, a news agency and a printing works.
Clarín initially supported the Kirchner administration, but a spectacular falling-out at the beginning of 2008 has resulted in a long-running political battle.
The feud is focused on Law 26.522, also known as the "Audiovisual Media Law", introduced by the government in 2009 with aims to rein in Clarín's power by limiting media ownership. Kirchner's supporters say the move is designed to break up a dangerous monopoly, but critics challenge it as being a dictatorial attack on freedom of expression.
Lower and intermediate courts have issued conflicting judgments on the law, and the supreme court is now under intense pressure to give the final word.
The legislation caps corporate ownership of the broadcast market at 35% – the same proportion as in the United States. But, unlike in many other countries, these controls also apply to cable – which is crucial in Argentina, where 80% of homes are connected: one of the highest rates in the world.
The law will also hit Clarín in the pocket. Its Cablevision business generated 89% of the group's revenues last year. But the new legislation would cut Clarín's broadcasting licences from 158 to 24, forcing a sell-off of a major chunk of this profitable operation.
To pre-empt that, Clarín has fought back in the media, on the streets and in the courts. Its newspapers have supported two huge anti-government demonstrations in the past year.
Last November, hundreds of thousands of mostly middle-class people rallied against corruption, inflation and media controls, shortly ahead of the implementation of the law. Earlier this year, an even bigger crowd turned out to oppose an overhaul of the courts enacted in part because intermediate-level judges ruled again the restrictions on Clarín.
The origin of the feud is disputed: some trace the row back to a disagreement over farm taxes, others to a dispute over telecoms licences.
Ricardo Kirschbaum, executive editor of Clarín newspaper, says the Kirchner administration (previously run by Cristina's husband, Nestor) has always seen the media as something to co-opt or conquer.
"Nestor offered the oil business from Venezuela to the Clarín group in 2007. His goal was to draw Clarín towards his policies. But when he realised that we were not interested, the war began," Kirschbaum told the Guardian.
The government denies these accusations. "The truth is Clarín want to maintain their privileged position to force political decisions that benefit their businesses," responded Martín Sabbatella, the head of Argentina's Federal Audiovisual Communications Services Authority, which regulates the radio, TV and cable market .
The confrontation has escalated and spread. Clarín claims the government has put pressure on major retail advertisers – including Walmart and Carrefour and several other foreign firms – to withdraw accounts from its newspaper.
"We're under a heavy, heavy commercial boycott. It's surprising for us that foreign companies like Walmart and Carrefour behave like this against freedom of the press," said Kirschbaum. "This is the latest chapter in the persecution of free journalism in Argentina."
Among the left, however, there is little sympathy for a news group that they remember supported the murderous military dictatorship in the 1970s and 80s.
Guillermo Mastrini, an academic who helped to draw up the media law, said efforts to limit the influence of Clarín were overdue. "Clarín controls the news agenda. It's more powerful than News International in the UK. No government has ever confronted them before.
"Before this we had a saying, 'You can't resist the headlines of Clarín for four days'. But now people realise that it is not as influential as before."
This is a trend in several South American countries. Four big media groups – all with past ties to right-wing dictatorships – have a combined market share of as much as 80% in South America. By clamping down on their influence with new laws and legal challenges, and by boosting the competitiveness of public media through heavy investment in radio and television channels, governments in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador say they are trying redistribute access to information in much the same way as they have promised to share wealth more equitably.
"Latin America has made a breakthrough with the neoliberal model, which proposed the exclusion of the masses and concentrated economic and political power and resources in a few hands," said Sabbatella. "The media in Latin America were for years in the hands of a few powerful people. It's time to give a voice to invisible people."
But with scarce middle ground in politics and little history of public broadcasting, the danger is that idealistic goals to limit the power of private media moguls can easily distort into the creation of pro-government public monopolies and crackdowns on critics.
Mastrini notes that the more liberal left administrations of Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff and Uruguay's president José Alberto Mujica have been less enthusiastic about confronting the media.
Despite drawing up Argentina's new law, he too is uneasy about the way it has been used to target Clarín.
"Essentially, the new law is more democratic and limits the concentration of media control. But the implementation of the law is less democratic. I'm concerned about the way it has been implemented," he said.
Many hope the supreme court will settle the matter, but with the government now treating Clarín as the main opposition force in politics, the judges are unlikely to have the last word.
Additional reporting by Sebastián Lacunza in Buenos Aires
Latin America's media landscape
In May, Globovision – the last major television station critical of the government – was sold to a new owner, Juan Domingo Cordero. This marks the latest stage in a major redrawing of the nation's media landscape. In 2007, the government revoked the license of the country's most popular channel, RCTV. In 2005, Venezuela linked up with several other South American nations to create a new regional broadcaster, Telesur.
President Rafael Correa has previously closed radio stations and given the broadcasting space to public channels. He has also launched legal challenges against critical newspapers, including Vanguardia and frequently attacked the private media in his public addresses. "We won't tolerate abuses and crimes made every day in the name of freedom of speech. That is freedom of extortion and blackmail," he told the Guardian. Ownership, however, has not changed significantly
Rede Globo is among the world's top three TV broadcasters in terms of revenue and is part of Globo.com, a group that also controls newspaper, radio stations and magazines. The government, however has taken a hands-off approach. "The generation now in power have fought against dictatorship. They defend freedom of speech. It's a principle for them. Even though they think some aspects of media are unfairly critical, it's better to have open freedom of speech," said Pepe Vargas, minister for Agrarian Development.
With two state-subsidised companies dominant, Chile has one of the most concentrated press landscapes in Latin America. Copesa and El Mercurio have been receiving government cash since the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. More than half of the country's radio stations are owned by a Spanish company, Prisa.
Syrian activists claim hundreds killed in poisonous gas attack
Hague concerned at 'shocking escalation' in reported use of chemical weapons after alleged attacks in Damascus suburbs
Ian Black and agencies in Beirut
theguardian.com, Wednesday 21 August 2013 08.24 BST
Syrian opposition groups have claimed that 213 people were killed in chemical weapons attacks by President Bashar al-Assad's forces on the outskirts Damascus on Wednesday morning.
If confirmed, the attack could force Barack Obama to stand by his insistence that the use of such weapons crossed a "red line". Syrian state TV said there was "no truth whatsoever" in the allegations.
Britain's foreign secretary, William Hague, expressed concern following the reports, adding that, if confirmed, they would mark a "shocking escalation" in the use of such weapons.
Syrian opposition sources said rockets with toxic agents hit the Ghouta area, east of the capital, where there is a rebel presence. The opposition Sham news network reported that the nerve agent sarin had been used.
The local rebel co-ordinating committees told al-Arabiya TV that 635 people had been killed.
In a statement hours after the alleged incident, Hague said: "I am deeply concerned by reports that hundreds of people, including children, have been killed in air strikes and a chemical weapons attack on rebel-held areas near Damascus.
"These reports are uncorroborated and we are urgently seeking more information. But it is clear that if they are verified, it would mark a shocking escalation in the use of chemical weapons in Syria."
He added: "Those who order the use of chemical weapons, and those who use them, should be in no doubt that we will work in every way we can to hold them to account.
"I call on the Syrian government to allow immediate access to the area for the UN team currently investigating previous allegations of chemical weapons use. The UK will be raising this incident at the UN security council."
A team of UN weapons inspectors is already in Damascus to investigate claims of the use of chemical weapons in March so it should, in theory, be possible to look at the Ghouta case.
Bayan Baker, a nurse at Douma Emergency Collection facility in a suburb of Damascus, said the death toll, collated from medical centres in the region, was 213, Reuters reported.
"Many of the casualties are women and children," she said. "They arrived with their pupil dilated, cold limbs and foam in their mouths. The doctors say these are typical symptoms of nerve gas victims."
One photograph purportedly taken by activists in Douma showed the bodies of at least 16 children and three adults, one wearing combat fatigues, laid on the floor of a room in a medical facility, where the bodies had been collected.
International attention on Syria, which was already fading, has been further diverted in recent weeks by the crisis in Egypt.
Dozens of graphic videos added to social media websites show ad-hoc first aid rooms appearing to deal with multiple casualties of a chemical or toxic attack. The patients, many of them children sprawled on tiled floors and piled on hospital beds, have been stripped down seemingly in an effort to free them of the toxic substances on their clothes.
None of the injured or dead appears to have any visible injures. Many seem lifeless; others are struggling to breathe.
Some footage shows people wearing oxygen masks and others show scenes of people's hearts and chests being massaged or being hosed and washed. In a few cases, people including children are filmed foaming at the mouth while those attending give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
Ghouta has been the focus of intense clashes between government and Hezbollah soldiers and rebel forces. Both sides are anxious to secure the outskirts of Damascus near the border with Lebanon to the country's north, where Jabhat al-Nusra and other extremist groups are concentrated.
According to the Syrian Arab News Agency, the area is an important link in the chain of the weapons supply route from Jordan. Around 1.5 million people in eastern Ghouta have been trapped in an intermittent siege and cut off from basic supplies since their liberation by the Free Syrian Army in early 2012.
08/20/2013 06:05 PM
Battling the Islamists: Egypt Risks Further Radicalization
By Matthias Gebauer in Cairo
The arrest of Muslim Brotherhood leader Badie is just the latest step in the Egyptian military's ongoing attempt to stamp out Islamism. In justifying their iron-fist approach, many point to Germany's own history with the Nazis, but further radicalization could be the result.
Mohammed Badie looks tired. In the wobbly images aired on Monday night by the pro-army broadcaster OnTV, he is sitting in wrinkled, white robes in the backseat of a car. Next to him is a young man wearing a bullet-proof vest. The narrator is at pains to communicate the importance of the news he is presenting.
The arrest of Badie, the powerful spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, by an Egyptian special forces unit in the early hours of Tuesday morning, the narrator intones, is "a further strike against the terror" that has held the country in its grip for months. A trial against Badie and other Muslim Brotherhood leaders for inciting violence and murder is to take place as soon as possible, he adds.
Badie's capture is doubtless a further success in the military regime's ongoing battle against the Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood. Police had been searching for the 70-year-old for weeks, before ultimately tracking him down in a house in the Nasr City quarter of Cairo, not far from where authorities killed hundreds of people last week while clearing a Muslim Brotherhood sit-in.
The violence of the raids last Wednesday was breathtaking, a clear message that General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi's military regime was in no mood to show leniency to the followers of deposed President Mohammed Morsi, whose Islamist government was toppled by the military in early July. The myriad arrests made since then have demonstrated further resolve and massively weakened the Muslim Brotherhood. For the last several days, the police and military have been taking anyone who even looks likes an Islamist into custody. Because of the state of emergency imposed by Sissi, they can be held indefinitely without cause and without being charged.
The wave of arrests has placed the Muslim Brotherhood, already cowed by last Wednesday's massacre, even further on the defensive. On that day, at least 500 members of the group died, according to Cairo officials, with the Muslim Brotherhood claiming that twice that many were killed. More than 2,000 additional Islamists have been locked away in the country's notorious prisons. Sissi's government has said it is looking into outlawing the group.
It is a deep plunge. Under autocrat Hosni Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood was illegal and persecuted, but managed to win the first democratic election following his ouster in 2011, taking advantage both of its own excellent connections across the country as well as the lack of unity among Egypt's other political parties. The resulting presidency of Mohammed Morsi lasted only one year before massive demonstrations, triggered by economic miasma and a lack of reforms, resulted in the military coup.
Since then, the new regime, together with some of Mubarak's old confidants, has pursued a merciless offensive against the Islamists. And they have often justified it by comparing the Muslim Brotherhood to the rise of the Nazis in 1930s Germany. Just has Adolf Hitler rose to power in democratic elections, they say, Morsi too was voted into power, only displaying his true dictatorial tendencies once in office. The putsch, in other words, was necessary to eliminate the evil. Germany, so goes the argument, was only freed from Hitler by the military force of the Allies. Many find Berlin's current wariness of the Sissi regime to be confusing.
Radicalization and Terror
The military has left little doubt that it is serious about stamping out the Islamists. Since removing Morsi, they have re-established many of the measures in place during the Mubarak years, the media appears to be under central control and any opposition to their rule is labelled terrorism. The parallels even extend to the current state of emergency declared by the Sissi regime. Like Mubarak, he too promised that it would only be in place for a month. But Mubarak kept it in place for 30 years.
The Muslim Brotherhood's only choice appears to be that of returning underground. The official ban is likely to come soon, which means they will not be allowed to take part in elections, should they ultimately be held.
Observers are concerned that the move to marginalize the Muslim Brotherhood could further radicalize some of their most ardent followers, opening the door to excessive violence and terror attacks. It would mark yet another step in the escalation of the Egyptian conflict.
August 20, 2013
Cairo Military Firmly Hooked to U.S. Lifeline
By ERIC SCHMITT
WASHINGTON — The money seems like a pittance for Egypt, which has a $256 billion economy. But the $1.3 billion in military aid that the United States gives the country every year is its main access to the kind of big-ticket, sophisticated weaponry that the Egyptian military loves.
In fact, Egypt is so enamored of Apache attack helicopters, M1A1 battle tanks and F-16 fighter jets that exasperated American military officials have been telling generals there for years that they need to expand beyond the hardware of bygone wars and spend more American money on border security, as well as counterterrorism and surveillance equipment and training that a truly modern military needs.
Either way, a close look at the details of American military aid to Egypt shows why the relatively modest $1.3 billion may give the United States more leverage over the Egyptian military than it may seem, although still not as much as it wants.
Even if Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf monarchies make up for any aid the United States may suspend, Washington would block Egypt from buying American weaponry with that money — a serious long-term problem for a military that is already viewed as sclerotic and has neglected pilot training so badly that the Egyptian air force has one of the worst crash rates of any F-16 fleet in the world.
What Egypt’s generals fear most is the cutoff of hundreds of millions of dollars in mundane but essential maintenance contracts that keep the tanks, fighter jets and helicopters running, American officials and lawmakers said. In the past, maintenance costs have represented roughly 15 percent of total American military aid to Egypt, according to the Government Accountability Office.
“The spare parts and maintenance of this military equipment that we’ve given the Egyptians is important to their capabilities,” Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, told CNN on Sunday.
Or as Robert Springborg, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., and an expert on the Egyptian military, put it this week, “Without that sustainment money, planes won’t fly and tanks won’t drive.”
Of course, if American aid for spares and maintenance was suspended, Egypt could cannibalize parts from its existing fleets of tanks, planes and helicopters — probably for some months or even a few years, procurement experts said. With no external threat on Egypt’s borders, the Cairo government would not jeopardize protection to the country.
Similarly, canceling helicopters and tank kits would be a symbolic blow — American military aid covers as much as 80 percent of Egypt’s weapons purchases, according to a recent Congressional Research Service report — but would not immediately decrease the capability of Egypt’s armed forces.
At the same time, cutting off American military aid presents its own complications for the United States and could ensnarl the Obama administration in a knotty contractual battle with American military contractors, said military procurement specialists and Congressional aides.
Under current procedures, Egypt can submit large orders in advance for weaponry and equipment that takes years to produce and deliver, under the assumption that Congress will continue to allocate the same $1.3 billion in military aid year after year. Some Egyptian orders now extend to 2018 under this arrangement, called cash-flow financing. In effect, officials said, the United States has handed Egypt a credit card with a maximum limit of billions of dollars — a perquisite extended only to Egypt and Israel.
The administration has told Congress in recent days that canceling weapons and maintenance contracts could force the government to incur as much as $2 billion in penalties. Under the terms of the tank program, for example, most components are produced in the United States — Ohio, Michigan, Alabama, Florida and Pennsylvania — and shipped to a facility outside of Cairo for assembly.
Obama administration officials insisted on Tuesday that all aspects of the relationship with Egypt were under review, including the military aid, even as a White House spokesman dodged questions on whether aid had been held up pending the review.
“Providing foreign assistance is not like a spigot,” Josh Earnest, the spokesman, told reporters. “You don’t turn it off and on or turn it up and down like a faucet. Assistance is provided episodically.”
Military aid has served as a foundation of the American relationship with Egypt for more than three decades. In basic terms, the aid acts as an annual incentive payment to Cairo for abiding by the 1979 peace treaty with Israel. The arrangement initially also sought to wean Egypt off its longtime arms supplier, the Soviet Union.
“The aid’s primary purpose has been to obtain access for U.S. officials to their Egyptian counterparts, and that’s worked,” Mr. Springborg said. “But we buy access; we don’t buy influence. Often our advice is something they need but don’t necessarily take.”
The declining effectiveness of Egypt’s military comes as no surprise to American diplomats and officers, who have been warning superiors in Washington for years.
A secret embassy cable obtained by WikiLeaks in 2010 warned Gen. David H. Petraeus, then the head of the United States Central Command, in December 2008 that under the leadership of Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, the country’s defense minister at the time, “The tactical and operational readiness of the Egyptian Armed Forces has decayed.”
More recently, the northern Sinai Peninsula, long a relatively lawless zone, has become a dark reminder of the failure of Egypt’s military and security services to address a new generation of threats, different from any posed by Israeli forces before the 1979 peace accords.
In the seven weeks since Egypt’s military ousted the Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, the endemic Sinai violence has grown into something like an insurgency, with mysterious gunmen attacking military and police facilities every night.
Some United States lawmakers have sought to restructure the way Egypt uses its military aid. Although the Pentagon has tried unsuccessfully for years to persuade the Egyptian military to shift its purchasing toward counterterrorism and counterinsurgency equipment and training, the breakdown in security in Egypt has brought new attention to the issue.
“The United States should re-evaluate and recalibrate the nature of our assistance relationship with Egypt, taking into account the genuine security threats faced by the country, including terrorism in the region, unrest in the Sinai and protection of the Suez Canal,” said Senator Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee who visited Egypt and Israel in April and who supports suspending aid to Egypt.
Exasperated American military officials have also watched in dismay as Egypt has failed to invest in its own mechanics and logistics networks, as was originally envisioned, as well as in F-16 pilot training.
Egyptian F-16 pilots receive only a quarter of the flight training hours of American pilots, Mr. Springborg said. Maintenance programs have been left to American contractors.
“It was originally intended that Egypt would develop its own sustainment capability,” Mr. Springborg said. “One of the sad parts of the program is that this didn’t happen.”
August 20, 2013
At Cairo Morgue, Families Face Menace From Nameless Men
By ROD NORDLAND
CAIRO — The unmistakable smell of death wafted several blocks away from the Zeinhom morgue on Tuesday, and feral dogs scrounging in the rubbish-strewn lanes lifted their noses into the hot, still air and trotted toward it, until deterred with swift kicks.
Nameless young men, shirts untucked to hide whatever they might have had in their waistbands, did their best to make sure no one approached the building, unless they were bereaved family members there to identify and collect a body, and even many of those had a very hard time of it.
The young men — none would give a name, and even asking risked attracting an attack — were described by the mourners as hired government thugs, a tool used during the Hosni Mubarak era that is making a reappearance as self-appointed security committees filling in amid a shortage of police officers. The men themselves said they were neighborhood watchmen, protecting their community from troublemakers and Egypt from the prying eyes of the news media, especially the international variety.
The military rulers have sought to play down the death toll, and even blame its victims — the great majority of whom were protesters supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. The government’s supporters have made a concerted attempt to hijack the narrative and steer it that way; for instance, they have been attacking the foreign press, especially for continuing to report that more than 1,100 have died in just the past week.
Most of Cairo’s dead have ended up at the Zeinhom morgue, Cairo’s central mortuary and only major forensics facility, a fact that is indisputable simply because of the hundreds of family members filling the choked lanes around it with their wailing and keening. Without a death certificate issued by the authorities, the families cannot get burial permits for one of the city’s overcrowded cemeteries.
Now the nameless men prowl those lanes, even threatening to attack journalists interviewing the bereaved. One came along with a 10-year-old accomplice at his side, who darted around the crowds of mourners making sure they were not talking to outsiders. The young man spoke in reasonable tones, telling an Egyptian journalist working with foreigners, “We are not thugs, but you should not be here; we don’t need you to help them air our dirty laundry.”
The 10-year-old chimed in: “Good thing you left yesterday. We beat that photographer up right after you did.”
Others were slightly less welcoming: “Get out of here or I’ll break you and your car.”
The self-appointed guardians of the morgue precinct were so aggressive on Tuesday that the only way to talk to family members was to meet them later, outside the immediate neighborhood, hiding from view behind a wall.
Hayam Faiz had been waiting for the body of her husband, Mohammad Hamid, 51, for three days. He was killed last Friday in Ramses Square during protests there against the coup that put the Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, out of power. Her husband was not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, she said, and, like the rest of his family, had even signed a mass petition against Mr. Morsi’s government.
So far she had been able only to see a picture of her husband’s body on a video monitor, awaiting a formal autopsy; until that was complete, she could not get either the body or the death certificate.
Her relatives now are all Brotherhood supporters, she said. “This really was a military coup, a bloody military coup,” she said.
The front door of the Zeinhom morgue had been blocked off, and visitors were obliged to use a filthy back alley called Othman Agha to reach the rear entrance. At a crossroads 100 yards from the morgue’s rear door, a pile of strong bukhoor incense — wood chips soaked in oil — was kept alight on a pillar in the road.
Enterprising Cairenes had set up small businesses on Othman Agha, selling tea, face masks and burial shrouds; one even had a long table for enshrouding the bodies after they came out, identified and with certificates. The entrepreneurs, who seemed to be enjoying some sort of street monopoly, were particularly hostile to photography.
Not a single police officer was to be seen near the morgue.
Three refrigerated container trucks, each 40 feet long, were parked nearby. They were so big that cars and ambulances could barely pass. Journalists who glimpsed inside two of them reported about 40 bodies in each on Monday, but no one got a look on Tuesday. They could each easily have held many times that number; it was unlikely they were empty, as their engines were idling to keep the refrigeration going.
That was for the overflow. There are only 100 refrigerated morgue trays, and inside the morgue itself on Monday, bodies lay in the courtyard, in the hallways and on the floors, according to journalists who got inside for a few minutes. No one had any idea how many dead were there in all, except that it was in the hundreds. Every day hundreds more were being turned over to families.
People who found their loved ones’ bodies piled black plastic bags of ice on them to fend off decomposition in the heat, in the high 90s. Others went around spraying air freshener in a vain attempt to mask the stench.
One of the forensic pathologists working there, Ahmed al-Segeiny, told the Web site of Al Ahram, the state-controlled newspaper, that Zeinhom had become “more of a butcher’s shop than a morgue.” A colleague, Magdy al-Meleigy, also a pathologist, also not adhering to the new narrative, described 90 percent of the victims as dead from gunshot wounds.
Many of the most recent arrivals were the Muslim Brotherhood prisoners, 36 in all, who were killed in what the government called an escape attempt on Sunday, supposedly suffocated by tear gas when the escape was put down.
Mohammad, the brother of one such prisoner, said that his brother’s death certificate read “suffocation” and that he was obliged to sign for it if he wanted the body. “I could see he was not suffocated, his body had been burned completely,” he said. “But it’s in God’s hands now, and we want to lay him to rest.”
Others recounted being forced to acknowledge their relatives as suicides if they wanted their bodies. Three days is a long time for Muslims to wait for burial; they prefer to do it within a day of death.
Leqaa Soweidan, an actress, blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for her brother’s death because he was shot on his balcony watching the group’s demonstration. But when she sought to claim his body from a hospital morgue, she was told to declare him a suicide if she wanted it quickly.
“We were treated well compared to the Muslim Brotherhood families,” said Ahmed al-Kholi, whose brother-in-law was killed. “He didn’t have a beard, and I don’t either, so we didn’t have a problem. They were telling the Brotherhood people to say they committed suicide if they wanted the body.”
One reporter who visited the morgue on Monday said he was told by one of the nameless men that taking pictures of the dead was “haram,” or forbidden by Islam.
“So is not burying the dead,” the reporter said he retorted. Then he challenged his questioner: “Why are you here?”
“I’m looking for my son,” the man replied.
To demonstrate that dubious assertion, he picked up a sheet covering a body and said, “See, there he is; now I’ve found him,” and flippantly put the sheet back down.
Moustafa Kashef and Bryan Denton contributed reporting.
August 20, 2013
Islamists Step Up Attacks on Christians for Supporting Morsi’s Ouster
By KAREEM FAHIM
NAZLA, Egypt — The call for revenge raced through this village southwest of the capital and echoed from the loudspeakers of mosques last week as the military invaded two protest camps in Cairo, killing hundreds of supporters of the deposed president, Mohamed Morsi.
“El-Sisi is killing our children,” a man screamed, referring to Egypt’s defense minister, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi. “Muslims, come out of your homes!”
Hundreds of Islamists poured into the street, torching, looting and smashing the village’s two churches and a nearby monastery, lashing out so ferociously that marble altars were left in broken heaps on the floor.
Over the next few days, a wave of similar attacks on the Coptic Christian minority washed over the country as Islamists set upon homes and churches, shops and schools, youth clubs and at least one orphanage, killing at least three people, according to an Egyptian human rights group. As Christians were scapegoated for supporting the military ouster of Mr. Morsi, the authorities stood by and watched: in Nazla, as in other places, the army and the police made no attempt to intervene. Few Christians in Nazla expected an investigation into the attacks.
A police station in the area had been attacked before the churches. Ebraam Sami, who lives near one of the gutted churches, said fire trucks appeared on the edge of the town, but never entered. “They said it was difficult,” he said.
Leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist party that propelled Mr. Morsi to power, encouraged or tolerated incitement against Christians at their sit-ins, but they have started belatedly to condemn the attacks. And the military-backed government, which has done little to protect Christians, is trying to capitalize on the church burnings to paint the Brotherhood as terrorists.
Nazla and other Egyptian villages and cities have been left to cope with the war between the Islamists and the military, as politics rekindles sectarian violence that has long troubled the country. And Egypt’s Coptic Christians — discriminated against and marginalized under President Hosni Mubarak, and alarmed as Islamists have won elections over the last two years — have suddenly found themselves more threatened than before.
At its churches on Monday, Christians here said they had spent days in their homes, after recognizing some of their neighbors in the attacking mobs.
The Rev. Maged Wadie Riyad, the pastor of an evangelical church in the nearby village of Zerby, which was also looted last week, said Mr. Morsi’s government had intensified decades of tensions between Egypt’s Muslim majority and Christians, who make up roughly 10 percent of the population.
“We don’t have the culture of tolerance, or accepting one another, especially in the rural areas,” Mr. Riyad said. Mr. Morsi, who never visited a church during his year as president — even after episodes of combustible intercommunal violence — “widened the gap,” the pastor said.
Somehow, no one was killed in the attacks on the churches in Zerby or in Nazla, where early-morning services at one church had ended about an hour before the mob arrived.
Elsewhere, the violence took a toll. Farther south in Minya, where at least three people were killed, days of violence only quieted on Sunday, according to Ishaq Ibrahim, who tracks attacks on Christians for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, in Cairo.
The days after the authorities stormed the Morsi supporters’ encampments in Cairo “were very tough,” Mr. Ibrahim said. “There were a series of attacks on churches, schools, civic organizations, orphanages and monasteries. Almost everything that had to do with the church,” he said.
Among the dead were two security guards who worked on a tour boat owned by Christians and were burned to death, he said.
A Coptic Christian group, the Maspero Youth Union, recorded at least six deaths and the destruction of at least 38 churches, as well as attacks on at least 23 more. An activist with the group, Beshoy Tamry, primarily blamed Islamist leaders for “charging their followers with hate” and trying to destabilize the country by attacking its weakest citizens.
The government, though, was hardly blameless, he said.
“I think the state wasn’t serious about protecting churches,” Mr. Tamry said. “They know who is going to do what, especially in Minya. The attacks have happened before.”
Religious leaders have made little attempt to calm tensions. On Monday, a Brotherhood spokesman, Ahmed Aref, played down any culpability by the Islamist movement, blaming “foolish boys” for carrying out the attacks on the churches and the security services for failing to prevent them, suggesting a conspiracy. “It is burning with cunningness,” he said in a statement.
And in recent days, the leadership of the Coptic Church has embraced the military’s narrative of the conflict, praising the security forces in their fight against “terrorism” and blaming foreign news media for misreporting events.
The signs of trouble started to appear in Nazla about two weeks before the attack, when Mr. Sami and many of the almost 300 Christian families in the village started to see graffiti on their homes. On his house, the writing said: “We’ll protect legitimacy with our blood,” a mantra of Mr. Morsi’s supporters, who have insisted that he be restored to power.
The first attack was on the Church of the Virgin Mary, which opened in April after local Christians spent 13 years collecting money and building a church, a school, a youth center and a wedding hall. Atef Hosni, who works at the church, said the rampage seemed unplanned. He stood in the sooty remains of a computer lab, picking through the debris. “This room didn’t have anything to do with belief,” he said.
The mob moved on, torching the village’s old church, built in the 1930s, and a nearby monastery, where heat from the fire bent steel girders that once held up a roof.
At the same time, a crowd was attacking Christian homes and shops in Zerby, before arriving at Mr. Riyad’s church, St. Demiana’s. “They broke through the gates and stole whatever they could,” he said. “What they couldn’t steal, they burned.”
In the chaos, there was a moment of hope. Mr. Riyad said a Muslim resident stepped in and challenged the mob, “saying if they burned it, they should burn him as well.”
His actions saved the church from total destruction, the pastor said.
Mayy El Sheikh contributed reporting.
In the USA...
August 21, 2013
Facial Scanning Is Making Gains in Surveillance
By CHARLIE SAVAGE
WASHINGTON — The federal government is making progress on developing a surveillance system that would pair computers with video cameras to scan crowds and automatically identify people by their faces, according to newly disclosed documents and interviews with researchers working on the project.
The Department of Homeland Security tested a crowd-scanning project called the Biometric Optical Surveillance System — or BOSS — last fall after two years of government-financed development. Although the system is not ready for use, researchers say they are making significant advances. That alarms privacy advocates, who say that now is the time for the government to establish oversight rules and limits on how it will someday be used.
There have been stabs for over a decade at building a system that would help match faces in a crowd with names on a watch list — whether in searching for terrorism suspects at high-profile events like a presidential inaugural parade, looking for criminal fugitives in places like Times Square or identifying card cheats in crowded casinos.
The automated matching of close-up photographs has improved greatly in recent years, and companies like Facebook have experimented with it using still pictures.
But even with advances in computer power, the technical hurdles involving crowd scans from a distance have proved to be far more challenging. Despite occasional much-hyped tests, including one as far back as the 2001 Super Bowl, technical specialists say crowd scanning is still too slow and unreliable.
The release of the documents about the government’s efforts to overcome those challenges comes amid a surge of interest in surveillance matters inspired by the leaks by Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor. Interest in video surveillance was also fueled by the attack on the Boston Marathon, where suspects were identified by officials looking through camera footage.
In a sign of how the use of such technologies can be developed for one use but then expanded to another, the BOSS research began as an effort to help the military detect potential suicide bombers and other terrorists overseas at “outdoor polling places in Afghanistan and Iraq,” among other sites, the documents show. But in 2010, the effort was transferred to the Department of Homeland Security to be developed for use instead by the police in the United States.
After a recent test of the system, the department recommended against deploying it until more improvements could be made. A department official said the contractor was “continuing to develop BOSS,” although there is no sign of when it may be done. But researchers on the project say they made progress, and independent specialists say it is virtually inevitable that someone will make the broader concept work as camera and computer power continue to improve.
“I would say we’re at least five years off, but it all depends on what kind of goals they have in mind” for such a system, said Anil Jain, a specialist in computer vision and biometrics engineering at Michigan State University who was not involved in the BOSS project.
The effort to build the BOSS system involved a two-year, $5.2 million federal contract given to Electronic Warfare Associates, a Washington-area military contractor with a branch office in Kentucky. The company has been working with the laboratory of Aly Farag, a University of Louisville computer vision specialist, and the contract was steered to the firm by an earmark request in a 2010 appropriations bill by Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader.
Significant progress is already being made in automated face recognition using photographs taken under ideal conditions, like passport pictures and mug shots. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is spending $1 billion to roll out a Next Generation Identification system that will provide a national mug shot database to help local police departments verify identities.
But surveillance of crowds from a distance — in which lighting and shadows vary, and faces tend to be partly obscured or pointed in random directions — is still not reliable or fast enough. The BOSS research is intended to overcome those challenges by generating far more information for computers to analyze.
The system consists of two towers bearing “robotic camera structures” with infrared and distance sensors. They take pictures of the same subject from slightly different angles. A computer then processes the images into a “3-D signature” built from data like the ratios between various points on someone’s face to be compared against data about faces stored in a watch-list database, the documents show.
The Homeland Security Department hired the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to test the BOSS system at an arena in Kennewick, Wash. The plan, according to a “privacy impact assessment,” was to use 30 volunteers whose facial data would be mingled in a database among 1,000 mug shots to see whether the system could reliably recognize when any of the volunteers were present.
The agency set up six tests to determine the technology’s overall accuracy, determining afterward that “it was not ready for a D.H.S. customer” — meaning that police departments should not buy it.
In interviews, Ed Tivol of Electronic Warfare Associates and Dr. Farag both suggested that as computer processing becomes ever faster the remaining obstacles will fall away.
Mr. Tivol said the goal was to provide a match with an 80 percent to 90 percent certainty from a range of up to 100 meters, something “that has never been done.” While the system continued to have problems with light and shading in some tests, he said, in others the goal had been achieved at closer distances. Farther away, he said, the accuracy has fallen to 60 percent to 70 percent.
“The results were increasingly positive,” he said. There was a “significant improvement” in speed, too, he said. At first, it took the system six to eight minutes to process images, but it now takes under 30 seconds.
Still, he and Dr. Farag said, the officials overseeing the testing wanted a quicker turnaround. That might be easier with the more powerful computers available to the military, they said, but the government wanted them to use processors available off the shelf for civilian applications.
Several independent biometric specialists, given a description of the project’s test results, agreed that the system was not yet ready. They said 30 seconds was far too long to process an image for security purposes, and that its accuracy numbers would result in the police going out to question too many innocent people.
Several of the specialists also suggested that similar technology may be progressing more quickly in other laboratories that have not received taxpayer financing. A spokesman for Mr. McConnell stressed that while he requested that the contract go to Electronic Warfare Associates, it was “competitively bid.” Federal records show the firm was the only one to submit a bid.
Ginger McCall, a privacy advocate who obtained the documents under the Freedom of Information Act and provided them to The New York Times, said the time was now — while such technology is still maturing and not yet deployed — to build in rules for how it may be used.
“This technology is always billed as antiterrorism, but then it drifts into other applications,” Ms. McCall said. “We need a real conversation about whether and how we want this technology to be used, and now is the time for that debate.”
In particular, she said, there should be limits on whose faces are loaded into them when they are ready for deployment. Ms. McCall said it would be acceptable to use it for terrorism watch lists, but she feared any effort to systematically track everyone’s public movements by using a comprehensive database of driver’s license photographs.
Still, Dr. Farag said, that kind of system is still very far off because it would take far too much computer processing power to load millions of images into a system and try to identify everyone at once, as opposed to sorting images in search of only a comparatively small number of faces on a watch list.
“Disappointments come when you are overambitious,” he said.
Kitty Bennett contributed research.
August 20, 2013
Obama to Offer Plans to Ease Burden of Paying for College
By MICHAEL D. SHEAR
WASHINGTON — President Obama will offer a series of proposals this week aimed at making college more affordable by reshaping the way Americans pay for higher education, he said in an e-mail to supporters on Tuesday.
In the message, Mr. Obama promised to take action to confront the financial challenges facing an increasing number of students and their families. The average tuition at four-year colleges has tripled over the past three decades, and students who take out loans are left, on average, with $26,000 in debt, he said.
“To create a better bargain for the middle class, we have to fundamentally rethink about how higher education is paid for in this country,” Mr. Obama said. “We’ve got to shake up the current system.”
The president did not reveal his proposals in the e-mail, and aides at the White House declined to provide details before Mr. Obama embarks this week on a two-day bus tour through upstate New York and Pennsylvania. They said Mr. Obama would talk about his plans in a series of speeches and town hall-style meetings at universities.
“The proposals that the president is going to lay out are not going to be popular with everybody, but they are going to be in the best interests of middle-class families,” said Josh Earnest, a spokesman for Mr. Obama. “The president has some ideas about how we can better align federal assistance with a commitment on behalf of colleges to keep costs low for students.”
Aides pointed to proposals that Mr. Obama made about college affordability in his 2012 State of the Union address. In that speech and in others since then, Mr. Obama has called for legislation to shift aid away from colleges that fail to keep costs down and to provide an online “scorecard” with information for college students and their parents about the real costs of education.
But Mr. Earnest said that “proposals beyond what the president rolled out” in the State of the Union address would be unveiled during his road trip this week.
“The president believes that what we need to do is we need to fundamentally rethink and reshape the higher education system and we need to find a way to build on innovation,” he said.
Those comments puzzled some experts on higher education. Several said they were hard-pressed to think of fundamental ways that the president could reshape the college financial aid system without the cooperation of Congress, which has been fleeting during his tenure. Student loan rates have been a particular source of political friction.
“It seems very unlikely that he’s going to be able to do anything to change the underlying fundamentals that are driving the costs of college,” said Judy Scott-Clayton, a professor of economics and education at Teachers College at Columbia University. “I’m very curious to see what they will do.”
Sandy Baum, an economist at the George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development, said Mr. Obama’s influence was limited unless he won cooperation from lawmakers.
“When you think about what the federal government can do, much of that would involve Congress,” she said. “That’s problematic at this point.”
Both economists said the statistics in Mr. Obama’s e-mail were somewhat misleading. For most students, the overall price of going to college has increased much more slowly when financial aid is taken into account, they said. And increases in tuition are often driven more by financial problems affecting states than by a lack of cost controls at universities, they added.
“The average student, including those who get nothing, are getting $5,000 to $6,000 in aid,” Dr. Scott-Clayton said. “That’s getting close to covering tuition.”
Mr. Earnest’s mention of incentives may hint that Mr. Obama will expand on his idea to provide more aid for students to attend colleges that hold down tuition. But the economists said it was not clear how that would work.
A small amount of government money that the administration could identify without Congressional approval would be unlikely to change college policies, they said. And if large amounts of federal student aid were held back from high-cost colleges, students at those colleges could feel penalized.
“If it’s a small amount, how likely is it to affect anything?” Dr. Scott-Clayton said. “If it’s a big amount, then we worry that students will be punished for something that the schools control.”
August 20, 2013
Amid Talk of White House Run, Texas Senator Targets Obama’s Health Plan
By ASHLEY PARKER and JONATHAN MARTIN
DALLAS — Senator Ted Cruz, after two days of bedevilment over his birthplace and eligibility for the presidency, returned to form on Tuesday night with a rally here before the conservative faithful aimed at ginning up support to defund President Obama’s health care overhaul.
“You’re here because now is the single best time we have to defund Obamacare,” Mr. Cruz said to raucous applause at a cavernous ballroom at the Hilton Anatole hotel. “This is a fight we can win.”
The event was part of Heritage Action for America’s “Defund Obamacare” tour, which began Monday in Fayetteville, Ark., and will make stops in nine cities. But Mr. Cruz is only appearing at the Dallas rally, and he drew a standing ovation from a crowd of roughly a thousand people.
The tour is timed to the expiration at the end of September of the continuing resolution that finances the government, and Mr. Cruz said Tuesday night that he would call on House members to approve “every penny of the federal government, everything in its entirety, except Obamacare.”
“What has to happen after that is we’ve got to do something that conservatives haven’t done in a long time,” he said. “We’ve got to stand up and win the argument.”
Speaking to reporters before the rally, Mr. Cruz, a Republican and the junior senator from Texas, said he did “not want to shut down the government — I want to defund Obamacare.”
Jim DeMint, a former senator from South Carolina who is now the president of the Heritage Foundation, speaking to reporters before the event, echoed Mr. Cruz’s basic message. “This could be one of the most destructive laws that has ever been imposed on the American people, and now is probably the last best chance we have to actually stop it,” he said.
He praised Mr. Cruz for taking the lead in the fight, even when victory was hardly assured.
“All you have to do is mention Ted Cruz’s name in any forum — we did last night in Fayetteville — and the crowd is on their feet cheering, because they don’t necessarily expect him to win, but they do appreciate someone willing to stand up to the status quo in Washington to do what he promised,” Mr. DeMint said.
Mr. Cruz was interrupted several times by angry protesters, but he was unfazed, saying that he would be happy to “visit” with them later.
He closed his remarks by reappropriating Mr. Obama’s signature campaign refrain of “Yes We Can.”
“Can we stop the I.R.S.?” he asked. “Can we mobilize grass-roots America? And can we defund Obamacare?”
“Yes, we can!” came the eager reply, before Mr. Cruz concluded, “That, my friends, is change we can believe in.”
But even in Dallas, Mr. Cruz could not escape questions stemming from a report in The Dallas Morning News on Monday that because he was born in Calgary, Alberta, he held both Canadian and American citizenship. He was forced before the rally to reiterate to reporters eager to discuss the matter that he had “been an American since birth.”
On Monday, Mr. Cruz — the child of an American mother and a Cuban-born father who moved to Texas from Canada when he was 4 — renounced his Canadian citizenship. “Nothing against Canada,” he said. But as a United States senator, he added, “I believe I should be only an American.”
It may not be quite the same as printing up signs or fashioning a presidential campaign Web site, but the announcement was widely seen by analysts as another step leading to his entry in the 2016 Republican primary race.
It is a novel episode in the annals of presidential politics. Looming over his prospects are questions about his eligibility to run, given his place of birth.
Mr. Cruz, 42, maintains that because his mother was born in Delaware, he is a natural-born citizen and has the constitutional right to serve as president, and few legal scholars believe his eligibility could be seriously challenged in court. But the issue has been raised before.
Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, was born in the Panama Canal Zone to American parents and faced a few questions about his birthplace when he was his party’s presidential nominee in 2008.
But it is because of Mr. Obama that Mr. Cruz is confronting not just a constitutional issue but also a political one.
Suspicions about Mr. Obama’s background have long flourished on the fringes of American politics, so much so that the so-called birthers who doubt he was born in Hawaii led the president to release his birth certificate in 2011.
Mr. Cruz, wanting to pre-empt any such questions about his own origins, released his own birth certificate — dated Dec. 22, 1970.
Mr. Cruz may have had another motivation in releasing his birth certificate and renouncing his foreign ties: Canada is not particularly beloved by American conservatives.
National Review, the conservative magazine, memorably ran a cover in 2007 depicting a group of Mounties with the headline “Wimps!” The article inside complained about the country’s “whiny and weak anti-Americanism.”
Ashley Parker reported from Dallas, and Jonathan Martin from Washington.
Irrefutable Proof that Darrell Issa Completely and Totally Lied About the IRS Scandal
By: Sarah Jones
Aug. 20th, 2013
The unredacted IRS treasury report was released today and it turns out we’ve all been lied to in a huge way. Progressive groups were singled out for scrutiny just like conservative groups. But worse than that, the IRS Inspector General misled Congress about this fact during testimony and in letters, and the progressive terms were “redacted” in the original report.
Remember this from late June of this year?
J. Russell George, Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration, told Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) in a letter dated Wednesday that the IRS did not use inappropriate criteria to scrutinize groups with “progressives” in their name seeking tax-exempt status.
Well, that was all bull. Someone lied to you and lied good. One of those people is the Inspector General, along with Darrell Issa and probably the entire Republican cabal.
It turns out that the Inspector General’s May 2013 report “left out critical information that skewed the audit’s findings and set the stage for Republicans to make completely baseless accusations in an effort to tarnish the White House,” according to the recipient of the bogus aforementioned letter, Michigan Democrat Sandy Levin.
His full statement is worth a read: “Once again it is clear that the Inspector General’s report left out critical information that skewed the audit’s findings and set the stage for Republicans to make completely baseless accusations in an effort to tarnish the White House. These new documents make it clear the IRS scrutiny of the political activity of 501(c)(4) organizations covered a broad spectrum of political ideology and was not politically motivated.”
“Left out” is nice speak for redacted on purpose, which is nice speak for lied, in this case.
Today we found out via an IRS training presentation that the IRS targeted “ACORN successors” in addition to Democratic-leaning “Emerge” groups — the only groups to actually be denied non-profit status, by the way. They were on the “Be On the Look Out” BOLO lists that we have heard so much carping about.
We also found out that the progressive term “Emerge” was redacted in the presentation when it was originally released by the IRS in early July.
The Inspector General wasn’t honest while testifying in Congress on July 18, as he failed to disclose that the term “progressives” was included on the IRS BOLO lists. According to the unredacted documents, the term was on the BOLO lists.
Rep. Cartwright: Chairman Issa said: So clearly it’s fair to say, though, there was a BOLO for ‘tea party’ but not a BOLO for ‘MoveOn’ or ‘progressive.’
So to be clear, Mr. George, first you said the only BOLOs used to refer cases for political review were the ones described within the report. Then you immediately say there were other BOLOs used to refer cases for political review that were outside your report. Then after chairman Issa pressed you—and I want to thank Chairman Issa for pressing you so hard on this issue—by asking if there was even one group that was flagged with a BOLO for political reasons but wasn’t included in the report, and you said there were no others. Have I read that correctly?”
George: “You’ve read it correctly, but, I mean—”
Cartwright: “But I just want to give you the benefit of the doubt here and allow you to explain yourself, Mr. George. Was it true when you said that the only BOLOs used to refer cases for political review were the ones described within the report?”
George: “That is correct, sir.”
That wasn’t Inspector General J. Russell George’s only episode of lying, but it is the episode that violated laws prohibiting false statements and obstruction of a congressional inquiry (granted, in this case by misleading the inquiry, he was not obstructing the Republican agenda, but he was obstructing the truth, which was supposed to be the objective). We all paid for that inquiry.
On June 26, 2013, the Inspector General wrote to Levin, ‘We did not find any evidence that the criteria you identified labeled ‘Progressives’ were used by the IRS to select potential political cases during the 2010 to 2012 timeframe we audited.’ Later, George had to amend his inaccurate statements.
On July 17, 2013, Levin urged George to stop blocking the release of the common word used by a group of Democratic-leaning organizations that were treated like the Tea Party organizations.
Today, that word blockage was finally stopped, and that is when the full truth finally came out.
Elijah Cummings (D-MD), who has been pressuring Issa to release the full documents for months now, said, “This new information should put a nail in the coffin of the Republican claims that the IRS’s actions were politically motivated or were targeted at only one side of the political spectrum.”
Oh, okay. So long as Republicans stop attacking over false IRS scandal lies and get back to false Benghazi lies, we’re all good? Not so fast.
Russell George needs to be investigated for obstructing a Congressional inquiry, and that investigation needs to dig into a possible conspiracy with House Republicans and other IRS employees to perpetrate a wholly inaccurate narrative about the IRS targeting conservatives for political reasons.
If you want a government that is remotely accountable, demand an inquiry. The Department of Justice should investigate the Inspector General’s testimony.
Don’t be satisfied with Republicans ceasing their lying about the IRS. That is not good enough. They have a lot of explaining to do.
Worth $355 million, Rep. Darrell Issa is the richest member of Congress
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, August 20, 2013 21:29 EDT
Republican Darrell Issa of California was 2012′s richest member of Congress, worth at least $355 million, according to a ranking published Tuesday.
The congressman, who made his fortune in car security systems, topped the annual list of the 50 wealthiest lawmakers published by The Hill newspaper, a trade publication about Washington politics.
A large portion of Issa’s assets come from investment funds and properties valued in the millions.
The rankings were based on financial disclosure forms filed by members of Congress, which categorize the lawmakers by wealth range rather than an exact number.
Of the 50 richest members of Congress, 29 were Republicans. The US lower chamber fared better than the Senate, with 37 of Congress’s most financially well-off coming from the House.
Lawmakers who are tipped as possible contenders for the White House in 2016 were scattered across the prosperity board.
Republican Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who was Mitt Romney’s running mate in the 2012 presidential elections, was worth at least $2.3 million. Republican Congressman Marco Rubio of Florida was worth around negative $190,000.
Issa has been a sharp critic of US President Barack Obama, chairing the House Oversight Committee, which among other duties, is tasked with monitoring the executive branch.
Outside of Congress, President Obama and his wife Michelle Obama were worth between $1.8 and $6.8 million in 2012 according to figures published in May.
The Reality Challenged Libertarian Loving Far Left Looks to Sabotage Democrats in 2014
Aug. 19th, 2013
In William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, a line in Act II, Scene II says, “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows” that is a common idiom relating to politics. The idea that people with opposing ideologies who normally dislike and avoid each other will work together if they think it is politically useful defines the phrase “politics makes strange bedfellows.” This idea is different than bipartisanship where two sides work together for a common good, and as usually is the case, one side unknowingly works against and betrays their own ideology because they are blinded to the machinations of the opposing true believer willing to use any means to achieve their goals.
Over the past few months an odd pairing developed between alleged progressives and a libertarian racist that Julian Assange claimed is one of the most “principled” members of the U.S. Congress. In fact, Assange said Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and libertarians represent the only hope for America. Assange joins an expatriate journalist living in Brazil in aligning closely with Paul, but there are reasonable explanations why the trio are in bed together. However, where it gets strange is the naiveté’ and willingness of the professional left to jump in bed with the libertarian Rand Paul through their adherence and near-idol worship of Glenn Greenwald and Julian Assange because they support fugitive from justice Edward Snowden.
First, there are Americans who are justifiably concerned over recent revelations their electronic communications may be under surveillance, but the practice did not begin with the NSA and it is curious that so many progressives and liberals forget they lost their privacy in 2001 with George W. Bush’s Patriot Act. In particular, President Obama, an Illinois state senator in 2001, has taken the lion’s share of the blame for the Patriot Act and resulting surveillance tactics, and it is in no small part due to the careful planning and infiltration into progressive ranks by the libertarian journalist in Brazil. In 2001, Greenwald said he trusted George W. Bush when it came to national security and supported his signing the Patriot Act, but since 2009 he has been obsessed with demeaning the President and likely it informs his relationship with Rand Paul. Unfortunately, so-called EmoProgs and the professional left have set aside their abhorrence of Rand Paul because Assange and Greenwald have convinced them Paul is a civil libertarian. Make no mistake, Rand Paul and Glenn Greenwald are libertarians and there is nothing civil about their conspiracy to undermine the progressive movement, Democrats, and President Obama.
It is curious why anyone on the left, Emoprog or not, can identify with Rand Paul except that he is closely related to the so-called civil libertarian in Brazil. Doubtless, most progressives understand libertarianism that Rand Paul espouses, and why they are able to put aside his position on issues that adversely affect every American citizen is a true mystery. For the record emoprogs aligned with Rand Paul tacitly support; racism, voter suppression, opposition to gun safety laws, belief that churches should “boldly politicize the pulpit,” opposing the Violence Against Women Act, and believe the contraception mandate in the health law is a Presidential assault on corporate religious liberty.
The real problem is not Greenwald, Rand Paul, or even Julian Assange for that matter because they, at least Greenwald and Paul, have always been pro-guns, anti-Semitic, and most of all anti-Obama. It is the anti-Obama agenda that unites emoprogs with their newfound bedfellows and apparently they cannot see the inherent danger in aligning with Rand Paul because he is united with their hero in Brazil. It is important to remember that the “Hamwalds” and “firebaggers” latched on to Bradley Manning’s offenses to convince emoprogs that Barack Obama personally tortured the convicted felon and drove many to sit out the 2010 midterm elections. Their handiwork helped usher in the most fanatical and extreme batch of maniacs in Washington and the states that have put the country in greater peril than any time in its history. It is also worth noting that the so-called “civil libertarians” are partially responsible for women, minorities, the poor, elderly, and students losing their civil liberties when teabaggers swept into office (including Rand Paul) and immediately began imposing extreme libertarianism the people are suffering from today.
As unfortunate as it is, and it is unfortunate, the same events that lead to the 2010 electoral catastrophe are repeating themselves again and it is the same cast of characters inciting opposition to the President. Opposition, by the way, from a segment on the left who are laser focused on something Barack Obama is unable to correct with a wave of his magic wand. What is eerie is that the same Emoprog focus on the President applies to their hero in Brazil and it makes one wonder if they willingly overlook the racism, pro-gun advocacy, anti-semiticism, and support for the Citizens United he shares with Rand Paul as they rush into bed to defend men guilty of stealing from the United States government and jeopardizing national security. Just because a politician, or a journalist, takes up one cause that appears to be worthwhile, it does not erase myriad other positions that even dyed-in-the-wool Emoprogs should abhor, or justify opposing their staunchest ally on issues liberals support.
President Obama was not remotely involved in enacting the Patriot Act the Emoprog hero supported in 2001, and he does not have the power as President to eliminate it unilaterally. The President also did not push Bradley Manning or Edward Snowden to violate their security clearances and steal data from the United States government any more than he enacted laws making their acts illegal. What the President is guilty of is being African American that surely incited the witch-hunt and persistent opposition from the Emoprog provocateurs, and it begs the question; is racial animus driving Emoprog opposition to this President, or is it that he lacks Constitutional authority to grant every Emos whim? One thing is certain, neither Rand Paul nor his cohort in Brazil support real liberal issues and just because they claim to be civil libertarians does not mean they believe in civil liberties. They are libertarians first and foremost and it is a mystery why so many on the professional left are jumping in bed with them.
The Business Community Finally Realizes Republicans Are Screwing Them Over
By: Sarah Jones
Aug. 20th, 2013
Guess who’s sorry they fell for the Koch brothers baloney? Oh, none other than the “U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business, and other business interests”. See, it turns out that what is good for the Koch brothers isn’t necessarily good for the rest of the business community, the country or Wall Street.
I know, you already knew that. But the business community has been following along behind Republicans for so long that they never noticed when the party went pro-chaos, post-policy, anti-law right wing anarchists. And those things are not good for business.
Back in 2010, the business community blindly championed the infamous know-nothings running under the Tea Party banner (and it was clear then that the majority of these folks are beloved precisely for their ignorance, not in spite of it) – the same people who are now ruining our economy with their hubris, greed and stupidity.
Jill Lawrence at the National Journal reported yesterday (h/t Greg Sargent at WaPo) that business is not too happy with the Tea Party. They are “bemused and in some cases frustrated by the way some presumed congressional allies are handling their jobs.”
“You don’t really know what they’re going to do or why,” says NSBA President Todd McCracken, a 20-year Washington veteran. “It used to be there were not many rewards for obstruction. Now there are no consequences.”
Tough to excuse not seeing that one coming. The party whose base showed up to townhalls armed with machine guns and consistently threatened to kill lawmakers over ObamaCare aren’t reasonable? Gosh, what a shock.
“They don’t like brinkmanship on budget and debt issues, or the more routine dysfunction that has stalled transportation and agriculture legislation important to both parties and much of the private sector.”
The business sector hates ObamCare but they are not interested in Republican showboating and don’t support blocking any bill that relates to funding ObamaCare. They can see that it’s law and they’d rather focus on tweaking the law to work better for their constituency.
What are the odds that the Republican party will be able to function pragmatically enough to actually participate in the process of legislating to that degree? Slim indeed.
Business leaders express pity for John Boehner over the unruly Tea Party caucus of wild children, but they do nothing to demonstrate that it’s possible to lead these parasites to water. They helped to create this mess but now their hands are tied, according to them.
They lament the lack of infrastructure rebuilding, something Obama and the Democrats have been pushing because it’s widely accepted that in the middle of a recession, spending on investments like infrastructure is a smart move that provides jobs and stimulates the economy. Business relies on competitive infrastructure. Try telling that the to modern day Republican Party who see infrastructure as socialism.
If the business community were really the grownups they are rumored to be, they would acknowledge their mistake and realize that it came from not properly analyzing the current political landscape.
If all they really care about is the excessive, irresponsible deregulation that the Republican Party pushes, this is what they get – because careless is as careless does. There won’t be smart, good tempered, reasonable, pragmatic, morally decent people who will push zero regulations and oversight and then turn around and demand that the taxpayers subsidize big oil during record profits. To get someone willing to do that, you get all that comes with a Tea Partier – unwillingness to legislate, anarchy, petulance, stupidity, arrogance, and most of all personal greed.
On the other hand, the business community could choose to try running responsible, morally accountable businesses that both earn a profit and give back to the community with decent wages and attempts to mitigate poisoning the air and water for their own profit. That is all the Democratic Party is asking for, and in return they are offering things that help business like consistency, growth, infrastructure – oh, and a quickly dwindling deficit.
The problem is that the business community is just as greedy as the parasitic fringe they got elected. They are not separate from the Randian narcissism that’s overtaken the GOP. And greedy people are never the smartest people in the room because they only see the short term. To wit, the reason they cite for not getting behind infrastructure bills when they desperately need infrastructure is that it is seen in “federal budgetary terms as incurring an expense rather than as creating an asset.” It’s as if these folks never took a business class.
This is the problem with modern Republicans – they’re choking on their own rhetoric. This country can’t stay competitive without reinvestments and the companies that operate here rely on those investments (aka, infrastructure) which is just another reason why they should pay their fair share of taxes like grown ups do.
Sure, they want less regulation, and workers want better pay. Who’s to say business is automatically entitled to what they want, or that it’s even good for them to get it? They haven’t shown themselves to be very good at self-regulating and the market isn’t taking care of it either, or we wouldn’t be subsidizing big business with tax breaks and socialized losses.
“CEOs and business lobbyists have sat down with lawmakers to explain what it means to them—and the economy writ large—for Congress to be so polarized and paralyzed.”
Yes, but did they get their blanky before bedtime story? Wait until the business community figures out that the Tea Party (which is nothing but a rebranding of the far right and has taken over the Republican Party) doesn’t CARE that this is problematic. They don’t care that anarchy isn’t good for business. Anarchy is what got them to DC, and got them a great salary and excellent healthcare on the taxpayer dime. They’re hardly going to grow up if it means losing entitlements.
Maybe the real issue is that the business community is not served well by the party of Big Business. Small businesses have different needs than the Koch Brothers, and perhaps that is the real problem here. The Republican Party is not really the party for small business. It’s the party of billionaire business.
So I’ll say to the business community what Republicans have been saying to poor people forever: We’ll help you when you help yourself. Get off the Tea Party crack, go to rehab, deal with reality, and take responsibility for your choices.
You got these clowns elected, now fix it. And don’t come crying to Democrats when you finally realize that the Republican Party won’t give you immigration reform or infrastructure because they can’t. Get it? They can’t because your denial helped elect amoral, irresponsible extremists who do not care about this country, and they win when we all – and that includes business – lose.
Republicans Claim that America Can No Longer Afford Compromise and Bipartisanship
Aug. 20th, 2013
Governance means to direct the making and administration of public policy for the good of a nation and its citizens. In a government with a two-party system it is crucial for each side to compromise and find agreement through communication and mutual acceptance of terms that often involves slight variations from each party’s original goal. The Founding Fathers intended for the new American government to function on compromise to represent and serve the people, and the process worked fairly well for nearly 233 years until Americans elected an African American President. Republicans met in private on Inauguration night 2009 and plotted to stop governance even if the new President proposed legislation they advocated, and for two years they opposed any and every attempt by the new President to govern and save the economy regardless the dire consequences to the people. The Republicans all but guaranteed their drive to bring government to a grinding halt would succeed in 2010 when Democratic voters handed an extremist conservative sect control of the House and several state governments and, for all intents and purposes, America’s government ceased to function as the Founding Fathers intended.
Perhaps it is unfair to claim Republicans and their extremist facilitators want government to cease functioning because they have been open in their demand that either they control the government unilaterally or there will be no governance. This “our way or no way” mindset came to the fore last Friday when a cabal of 20 teabagger groups sent a letter to Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander demanding he retire. The teabaggers are livid that, as a fairly moderate Republican, Alexander comprehends the Founders intent to compromise with the opposition was crucial to successfully governing the nation to meet the needs of the people. By now, there are few Americans who believe Republicans and their teabagger cabal have any intention of meeting the needs of the people as evidenced by the frequency of their drastic cuts and legislation aimed at taking what little assets and protections the people have earned.
The teabagger cabal wrote that, “Unfortunately, our great nation can no longer afford compromise and bipartisanship, two traits for which you have become famous. America needs policymakers who will not work with those who are actively undermining conservative values.” Simple translation; either extremists control the government or government ceases to function. The idea that compromise and bipartisanship are unacceptable regardless the cost to the nation and the people is the definition of dictatorial tyranny and is the sole reason Washington has ceased to function as the Founding Fathers envisioned. In fact, the Founders devised America’s form of government to guarantee that future generations would never live under a tyrannical monarchy, and although teabaggers and Republicans are not royalty, their idea of governance is an extremist version of fascism.
There are myriad pundits who claim the lack of compromise and bipartisanship, particularly in the House, is down to Speaker John Boehner’s non-existent leadership coupled with fear of the extremist teabaggers. However, the policies the extremist wing of the party advocates are favorite Republican issues. For example, Republicans have long-condemned assistance to Americans unable to put food on the table due to their job-killing agenda and opposition to livable wages, and coupled with a recent Fox News propaganda film portraying recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program as moochers justifies their Draconian cuts to food stamps. Last month when Democrats in the House refused to make drastic cuts to SNAP, extremists simply refused to fund the program they regarded as extraneous or simply put, unnecessary. What is astonishing is the people most likely to need food stamps in heavily Republican Southern states are Fox News viewers and support their Republican and teabagger representatives actively working to keep them hungry and undernourished. It is noteworthy that in the Senate, although Democrats opposed cutting any funding from SNAP in the farm bill, they compromised with Republicans and passed the bill with cuts to SNAP only to see the House extremists eliminate food stamp funding.
There are myriad examples of the neo-conservatives’ opposition to compromise and bipartisanship in the House, and to a lesser degree in the Senate, and it is why governance is impossible. The Republican unwillingness to govern has not gone unobserved by some reasonable conservatives and a reliable Republican voting bloc; senior citizens. Political scholar Norm Ornstein of the conservative American Enterprise Institute has been an outspoken critic of the current iteration of the Republican Party, and wrote in a Washington Post Op-Ed titled “Let’s Just Say It: The Republicans Are the Problem” that the GOP’s rejection of compromise and bipartisanship prevents the government from functioning for the people.
The outright rejection of compromise cost Americans a million jobs and the government $19 billion during the debt limit crisis in 2011 that also set the harsh 10-year sequester in motion, and the same extremists are ramping up to sabotage the government again. There are new threats to shut down government and jeopardize the full faith and credit of the United States unless Democrats and President Obama acquiesce to Republican rule and abolish the health law. Republicans who once understood that good governance is dependent on compromise and bipartisanship were complicit in ruling by threat and hostage taking in 2011, and as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said; if the President and Democrats do not let Republicans dictate policy without compromise “he could imagine doing this again,” and “promised they will do so.”
Any American paying attention to Republican politics understands they have no intention governing according to the Founding Fathers vision, and Charles Chamberlain, the executive director of Democracy for America, noted the teabagger’s rejection of compromise is the “major difference between the two sides of the spectrum and it’s a great example of why the Tea Party can’t govern.” However, Chamberlain misses the point that teabaggers and Republicans do not want to govern; they want to rule. He is right that “the reality of governing is that to create good policy that represents the values of all Americans compromise and bipartisanship are what makes that happen” and “that this is government, this is how it works,” but it is 2013 and extremist conservatives will either govern by edict or government will not work.
Republicans are able to continue bringing governance to a halt because their staunchest supporters are easily manipulated by fear-mongering and misinformation campaigns. When Republican voters do pay attention and learn they support conservative policies adversely affecting them a common response is “if you Dems weren’t supportive of taking away law abiding citizens right to weapons, you have MY vote,” and it brings to mind a comment then-Senator Barack Obama said in 2008. Obama said that some Americans are bitter and “cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations,” and Republicans play on those frustrations to garner electoral support for their no-compromise style of rule. Regardless of poll after poll revealing that Americans expect and demand their representatives in Washington to govern by compromise, Republicans reject conciliation with impunity because they hammer their constituents with threats that Obama is coming for their guns and abolishing their religious liberties.
America’s government worked well for over two-hundred years based on compromise, but like democracy, government as a means of setting public policy is failing due to Republican’s intent to rule unilaterally. To strengthen their grip on power, seize absolute control, and govern by edict, Republican-controlled states are eliminating the people’s right to vote that was their only means of sending representatives to Washington who will compromise. The government has been ineffective for the past two-and-a-half years because right-wing extremists refuse to compromise, and now that teabaggers put down in writing their belief that “our great nation can no longer afford compromise and bipartisanship,” it is time to admit that for all intents and purposes democracy is nearly dead and America is in the grip of right-wing tyrants.
Iowa County Co-Chair Quits Party Because the GOP Has, ‘Declared War on Common Sense’
By: Jason Easley
Aug. 20th, 2013
On the same day that seven Republican Party officials quit in Maine, an Iowa county co-chair quit because Republicans have, “declared war on science and common sense.”
Polk County (Iowa) GOP co-chair Chad Brown wrote about his disappointment with the party in his resignation letter, “Having spoken with a pastor and having prayed about this for hours, I came to the conclusion that this is my only recourse. I’m disappointed with the Republican Party at the National level. I’m disappointed with the Republican Party at the Statewide level. I’m disappointed with the Republican Party at the Countywide level. I find it increasingly difficult to defend issues and statements made by Party leaders and officials from all three levels.”
Brown expanded on his reasons for quitting the Republican Party in an interview with The Des Moines Register:
Brown said in a phone interview that he became disgusted by a party he believes is being run by the Christian right and the National Rifle Association. He cited Congressman Steve King’s recent, controversial comments on illegal immigrants as an example of his philosophical conflict with the party.
“No one’s really stood out to really fight him on those. I think they’re hateful statements,” he said. King made national news with his comment that illegal immigrants were more likely to be drug traffickers “with calves the size of cantaloupes” than valedictorians.
Brown said he also believes the party “has declared war on science and common sense,” by denying global climate change. He said he also was offended by statements from some party leaders that he felt glorified gun violence.
The seven party officials who quit in Maine left the GOP because it wasn’t conservative enough for them. Brown had the complete opposite problem. He thinks that the Republican Party has moved too far to the right. The fact that officials can quit the same party on the same day for completely opposite reasons is indicative of an organization with no identity.
However, Brown’s criticism of his former party is more based in the reality of the times. The fact is that the Republican Party has declared war on common sense, and any Republican who is unable to suspend the ability to use their common sense will find the GOP intolerable.
What Mr. Brown confirmed on his way out the door is that in order to be a Republican today, one has to leave their brain at the door. Anyone who uses common sense to come to the conclusion that maybe hating minorities isn’t the best way to win future elections has no place in this Republican Party.
Immigration, climate change, healthcare, the economy, and women’s rights all areas where Republicans are fighting against science and/or common sense.
If Republicans win their war on common sense, the only thing that will be certain is the future loss of many elections.
Republican Heads Explode as GOP Strategist Endorses Democrat Terry McAuliffe
By: Sarah Jones
Aug. 20th, 2013
Imagine a Republican who has advised Virginia Republicans for over 30 years saying, “Terry is the clear choice for mainstream conservatives.” Those words came from Boyd Marcus in a statement released Tuesday. Cue the Republican heads exploding.
Boyd Marcus, who is a prominent Republican strategist currently serving as an adviser to Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) of Virginia, endorsed Democrat Terry McAuliffe for the Virginia gubernatorial election over scandal-adjacent extremist and national joke state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R).
Mr. Marcus will be advising McAuliffe for the remainder of the election. In a statement released by the McAuliffe campaign, Boyd Marcus said:
“I’ve never before supported any Democrat, but this election Terry is the clear choice for mainstream conservatives. I am excited to work with him to grow the already-long list of prominent Republican leaders who are supporting his campaign. Virginia is facing tremendous economic headwinds and we need a governor who is going to work with both parties.”
The Richmond Times Dispatch noted that Boyd is not alone. Other Republicans backing the Democrat, Terry McAuliffe, “include former Northern Virginia legislators John Chichester, Vincent F. Callahan, Jim Dillard and Russ Potts.”
Boyd has a long record of serving Republicans, including serving as Eric Cantor’s Chief-of-Staff.
When Southern Republicans have to go the Democrat for a “mainstream” fiscal conservative, you know there’s trouble in the GOP. Cuccinelli was warned by Republican donors to put a sock in the extremism, but he was too busy accusing Planned Parenthood of being racists to listen. He also insisted on sharing his fear of oral sex with the world. The business community called him out on his failure to be mainstream, as Republican women fled his ticket. Now this.
7 Maine Republican Officials Resign From The GOP Because John Boehner is a Coward
By: Jason Easley
Aug. 20th, 2013
Seven Maine officials have resigned from the Republican Party after writing a scathing letter where they condemned John Boehner for cowardly leadership.
According to the Portland Press Herald:
One of Maine’s three voting members of the Republican National Committee and six other members of the Maine State Republican Committee have resigned and left the party, lambasting Gov. Paul LePage, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner and other Republicans for abandoning what they said are key principles for libertarians and conservatives.
They criticized Republican state lawmakers for supporting a budget containing tax increases, charged Boehner with “cowardly leadership” and said recent decisions by the LePage administration show that “the Republican Party has lost its way.”
“(We) can no longer allow ourselves to be called nor enrolled as Republicans; we can no longer associate ourselves with a political party that goes out of its way to continually restrict our freedoms and liberties as well as reaching deeper and deeper into our wallets,” reads the letter, signed by Maine Republican National Committeeman Mark Willis and 11 others. “We instead choose the path that focuses on ways to help our fellow Mainers outside of party politics.”
Their main gripe is that the Republican Party, John Boehner, and the state party are all too liberal. At this point it is important to point out that these seven Republicans are dissatisfied with a party that has in the last few months alone tried to abolish overtime pay, gut the food stamp program, and disqualify people from food stamps if they own a car. This is also a political party that is actively encouraging the uninsured not to sign up for health insurance.
Apparently, trying to starve the poor and voting to deny 30 million Americans healthcare 40 times is too liberal for these seven former Republicans who are so fed up that they had to walk away. It is ironic that Boehner would be accused of cowardly leadership, when it has been his constant caving to the tea party that has made the House completely irrelevant. The issue isn’t Boehner’s cowardly leadership, but that he is letting the tea party run the House of Representatives.
The seven extremists who quit the Maine Republican Party today are an example of why nothing can get done. The Republican fringe doesn’t realize that they have marginalized themselves right out of political relevancy. The Senate and the White House have been working around these fringe far righties for years now, but where they can exert any influence in state and federal government, the Republican mission is to block progress.
Anti-government libertarians aren’t saving the Republican Party. They’re destroying it, and setting the stage for years of Democratic victories to come.
Don’t tread me indeed!!!
08/22/2013 01:45 PMLittle Doubt: Experts Attest to Use of Nerve Gas in Syria
By Markus Becker and Christoph Reuter
Experts are convinced that the hundreds of people who died in attacks in Syria on Wednesday were the victims of chemical weapons. It is yet to be confirmed, however, exactly what was deployed and whether the Assad regime is indeed responsible.
Gruesome scenes played out Wednesday morning in footage of the overcrowded hospitals of Arbeen, a suburb east of Damascus. People writhe on the floor screaming, as more and more dead fill the hallways. Doctors and nurses try to revive the victims with onion juice and garlic. They rub onion halves on their skin, pour cold water over them as they twitch uncontrollably.
"What else can we do? We don't have anything else," says Abu Ahmad, a pharmacist who lives in Arbeen. The area has been under the control of the rebels since the beginning of the year and, for the past few months, almost entirely cut off from the outside world by the military forces under Syrian autocrat Bashar Assad. Some 10,000 people still live there.
As of Wednesday, the death toll in Arbeen was 63. But if what the opposition is reporting turns out to be true, that is only a small sliver of the carnage: Up to 1,300 people were allegedly killed in a toxic gas attack by the Syrian army that day.
Shocking videos have been uploaded to YouTube. In them, children are seen to make up a large percentage of the dead. The videos have already had political consequences, as governments around the world reacted with horror. On Wednesday evening, the UN Security Council announced the need for "clarity" about the reported use of chemical weapons, but they didn't reach agreement about launching an investigation.
Little Doubt of Chemical Attack
The Syrian government has rejected the allegations. But experts agree that the sheer number of photos, videos and eyewitness accounts leave little reasonable doubt that a chemical weapons attack took place. The images out of Syria are "terrible" and "extremely distressing," said Alastair Hay of the University of Leeds. Though it's not possible from available footage to confirm exactly what chemical weapons were used, Hays said that the visible symptoms, such as nasal secretions, pronounced difficulty breathing and profuse sweating were consistent with organophosphoric exposure -- "and nerve agents are potent organophosphates."
Stefan Mogl, a chemical weapons expert with Spiez Laboratory of the Swiss Federal Office for Civil Protection, says that after viewing the videos he is left with little doubt: "The combination of symptoms indicates a nerve agent," he told SPIEGEL ONLINE. Pupil constriction was recognizable on one child, for instance, which is among the first symptoms of nerve gas poisoning, Mogl explains. Then, a certain sequence of symptoms is observable, he continues, "the way their muscles cramp up, first in various parts of the body, then eventually the entire body starts twitching -- that's a so-called tremor." Such a thing would be very difficult to simulate, Mogl says. What's more, many of the victims were children, making it even less likely the scenario could be faked. And the number of people affected by the attack also seems hard to explain by anything other than by the use of chemical weapons.
Regime Likely Behind the Attacks
"I was in the hospital for hours," says pharmacist Abu Ahmad. "But we had practically nothing to treat the people with -- no more Atropin, which helped in previous situations. Those who don't die immediately are overcome by cramping, and most foam at the mouth. Their eyes roll back in their heads. The skin of the dead turns gray."
There were attempts to use the few remaining smuggling routes to bring Atropin to Arbeen from the outside world, but they were unsuccessful until early afternoon. Atropin is often used as an antidote to nerve agents like Sarin or VX, internationally condemned chemical weapons that the Syrian army is believed to have stored in one of the world's largest arsenals of such substances.
If eyewitnesses in Arbeen are to be believed, there is much to suggest that regime troops carried out the attack. Pharmacist Abu Ahmad, who is also an Arbeen councilman and volunteer at the emergency hospital, recalls that the first thing he heard on Wednesday morning was a "boom at the door." Outside, someone screamed: "Get yourselves to safety!" People panicked because they didn't know where to hide, he says.
Around 5 a.m. the mosques warned that there had been a gas attack, telling people to keep their windows and doors closed. "At the same time I was called to the hospital," Ahmad says. "The streets were full of smoke because people had lit fires everywhere in hopes of neutralizing the gas -- tires, wood, anything." When he arrived at the hospital, some 20 bodies had already been moved aside to make room for other patients. "Ten others were being treated, mainly children," he says.
Making a Mockery of the West
Witnesses told SPIEGEL ONLINE that the missiles began hitting a number of places northeast of Damascus around 3:45 a.m., with Harasta, Zamalka, Arbeen and smaller villages among them. The missiles were reportedly fired by twos, and one witness in Zamalka counted more than 20 hitting the city.
The cities of Muadhamija and Darayya, from which the army has been largely driven out, were reportedly among the hardest hit areas in the southwest. The attacks there are believed to have been launched around 5 a.m. from the army's 4th division posts.
It seems odd that, of all times, the attacks were launched just two days after United Nations chemical weapons experts had arrived to determine whether such weapons had been used in the country. But for Riad Kahwaji, head of the Institute for Near East & Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Beirut, it comes as no surprise. "With this timing the Syrian government is sending the opposition a clear signal: 'You're alone and we can do with you what we want.'"
The use of chemical weapons in the presence of the UN team also makes a mockery of the international community. Even so, Kahwaji doubts there will be a decisive response from the West. "The Syrian regime will remain immune to this as long as it is protected by the Russians on the UN Security Council," he says.
Furthermore, the UN inspectors have a weak mandate. "They are only allowed to visit locations chosen by the regime," Kahwaji told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "And they are merely determining whether chemical weapons have been used -- but not who deployed them."
Syria: footage shows horrific aftermath of alleged gas attack - videoWarning: video contains scenes of a graphic naturehttp://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2013/aug/21/syria-footage-shows-aftermath-alleged-gas-attack-video
***********France warns Syria of forceful response over chemical weapon claims
Global community will have to act if accusations are proved, says French foreign minister, but rules out ground troops
Reuters in Paris, Martin Chulov and Mona Mahmood
theguardian.com, Thursday 22 August 2013 08.54 BST
France has said that the international community will need to respond with force if allegations that Syrian government forces had carried out a mass chemical attack on civilians prove to be true.
But the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, said there was no question of sending troops on the ground, in an interview with the television network BFM.
He added that if the UN security council could not make a decision, one would have to be taken "in other ways". He did not elaborate.
Hundreds of people are believed to have been killed in an apparent gas attack on rebel-held parts of eastern Damascus that is thought to be the most significant use of chemical weapons since thousands of Kurds were gassed by Saddam Hussein in Halabja 25 years ago.
Medics, as well as opposition fighters and political leaders, said the death toll had reached 1,400 and was likely to rise further with hundreds more critically wounded in districts besieged by the Syrian military. Other estimates put the current death toll at between 200 and 500. None of the figures could be independently verified.
On Thursday morning, rebels said new bombardments of rockets and mortars struck neighbourhoods hit by the gas attack.
The Syrian government acknowledged it had launched a major offensive in rebel-held districts in the east of the capital – described by pro-regime media as the biggest since the start of the civil war – but strongly denied using chemical weapons.
"These are lies that serve the propaganda of the terrorists," a Syrian official said, referring to the armed opposition. "We would not use such weapons."
However, George Sabra, the head of the main Syrian opposition group, laid the blame squarely on the Assad regime, saying the scenes "constitute a turning point in the regime's operations". "This time it was for annihilation, rather than terror," he said.
International reaction intensified throughout Wednesday. The UN security council called an emergency session and the White House formally requested the UN to investigate the attack. William Hague, the foreign secretary, said the UK was "deeply concerned".
The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, called for "a thorough, impartial and prompt investigation" of allegations of chemical weapons use.
After a two-hour, closed-door meeting, the council president said there was strong concern about the allegations "and a general sense that there must be clarity on what happened".
A UN inspection team arrived in Damascus this week to look into earlier claims of chemical weapon use, but was granted permission to enter Syria with a limited mission to investigate only three specific sites. An expanded mandate to investigate Wednesday's attack in eastern Ghouta – only 10 miles from the team's hotel – must be sought by the UN secretary general and then approved by Syria.
*****************Chemical weapons experts say strike near Damascus fits with lethal toxin use
Analysts say videos of attacked rebel-held areas show asphyxiations and emergency staff overwhelmed with victims
Peter Beaumont and Ian Sample
theguardian.com, Wednesday 21 August 2013 21.11 BST
Experts who have examined the first video footage of the immediate aftermath of the attack on people on the outskirts of Damascus Wednesday morning believe it shows the most compelling evidence yet consistent with the use of a lethal toxic agent.
Among those interviewed by the Guardian were analysts who had previously raised questions over the authenticity of previous claims or who had highlighted contradictions.
If confirmed, the attack, quickly blamed on the regime of Bashar al-Assad by Syrian opposition sources, would be the worst involving chemical weapons in decades. Estimates of the fatalities ranged between 100 and 1,300 people.
As the White House appealed to the UN for an immediate investigation,it was reported that three separate strikes involving suspected chemical weapons had occurred within a three-mile radius, in the eastern suburbs of Damascus, in the rebel-held areas of Jobar, Zamalka and Ein Tarma.
"The video footage and pictures this time are of a far better quality," said Jean Pascal Zanders, a former analyst with the chemical and biological warfare project at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, who has worked in the field of chemical, biological and nuclear proliferation since the mid-1980s and has questioned some previous claims.
Zanders said: "You can clearly see the typical signs of asphyxiation, including a pinkish blueish tinge to the skin colour. There is one image of an adult woman where you can see the tell-tale blackish mark around her mouth, all of which suggests death from asphyxiation.
"What is also different in this footage is that we are seeing the chaos of the first response to what occurred. We are seeing the emergency services being overwhelmed by the innocent victims. It feels very authentic."
Significantly the attack on Wednesday in the Ghouta neighbourhood took place with a UN chemical weapons inspectors' team only about six miles away.
The 20-strong team, led by the Swedish chemical weapons expert Åke Sellström, arrived in Damascus three days ago, though only after months of negotiations between the UN and the Syrian regime over which sites the inspectors could visit.
It seemed unlikely, however, that the inspectors would be able to gain quick access to the site to investigate what had happened.
The footage that emerged from locations apparently hit by a barrage of rockets in the early hours of Wednesday, showed dozens of fatalities, including women and children, as well as a large number of survivors in obvious distress.
An opposition activist and a pharmacist in the town of Arbeen, who identified himself by the pseudonym Abu Ahmad, said he attended to dozens of injured people in a field hospital after the shelling on Zamalka and Ein Tarma.
"Their mouths were foaming, their pupils were constricted, and those who were brought in while still alive could not draw their breaths and died subsequently," he told the Associated Press via Skype. "The skin around their eyes and noses was greyish."
Visible symptoms reported included rolling eyes, foaming at the mouth, and tremors. There was at least one image of a child suffering miosis, the pin-point pupil effect associated with the nerve agent sarin, a powerful neurotoxin reportedly used before in Syria.
Echoing Zanders, Ralph Trapp, a former scientist at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said the footage showed what a chemical weapons attack on a civilian area would look like.
"This is one of the first videos I've seen from Syria where the numbers start to make sense. If you have a gas attack you would expect large numbers of people, children and adults, to be affected, particularly if it's in a built-up area."
While some pro-rebel sources were quick to claim it was sarin that had been used, others were cautious, among them Zanders.
"I remain sceptical that it was a nerve agent like sarin. I would have expected to see more convulsions," he said. "The other thing that seems inconsistent with sarin is that, given the footage of first responders treating victims without proper protective equipment, you would expect to see considerable secondary casualties from contamination – which does not appear to be evident."
Trapp too was cautious. "It is possible a gas was involved, but the images I've seen were not clear enough to see other symptoms beyond difficulty in breathing and suffocation. It certainly looks like some sort of poisoning."
Gwyn Winfield, editor of CBRNe World, a journal serving those tasked with responding to chemical, biological and nuclear events, was also dubious about the use of weapons-grade sarin given the apparent lack of contamination of first responders.
"You would expect to see first responders going down. But if the numbers we are hearing are correct, and a very large number of people have died, it is likely this was not a riot control agent [as has been suspected in some previous events] but something more toxic, perhaps some kind of cocktail containing an organophosphate agent. It doesn't look like phosgene or like hydrogen cyanide."
The Obama administration has stated that the usage or movement of a "whole bunch" of chemical weapons in Syria would cross a "red line" that would trigger fresh US intervention.
One chemical weapons inspector who is not in Syria told the Guardian he was doubtful the UN inspection team would gain quick access.
"I very much doubt the team will be given access to the site. The whole inspection has been delayed for weeks and months already over the formalities of visiting each site."
Many of symptoms seen on Wednesday could be caused by other substances, and chemical weapons inspectors will need to rule these out. Organophosphate pesticides can have similar effects to sarin, and several, including tetraethyl pyrophosphate (TEPP) and parathion, have caused deaths.
Missiles can strike chemical stores, releasing poisonous gases such as chlorine, which is used to sterilise water. Shells that carry sarin can also carry fuel-air explosives, which can cause suffocation; the munition produces a huge cloud of fuel that is ignited to produce a blast and suck huge amounts of oxygen out of the air.
Even if allowed access UN inspectors would have a short while to gather concrete evidence from Ghouta.
For its part, Syria's closest ally, Russia, claimed the attack on Wednesday was a deliberately staged provocation by rebel forces designed to trigger international intervention.
Alexander Lukashevich, a foreign ministry spokesman, said sources in Syria claimed a homemade rocket carrying unidentified chemical substances was launched from an area controlled by the opposition.
What could have been used in Ghouta?
A colourless, odourless liquid that kills mostly through inhalation. Like other nerve agents, sarin works by blocking the "off switches" of the nervous system, causing nerves to fire constantly. It causes drooling, sweating and pinpoint pupils and usually kills through suffocation. Contaminated clothes can release sarin for half an hour after exposure, contaminating first-aiders.
The first nerve agent to be developed, and the easiest to make, as the chemicals needed can be found on the open market. Tabun has a slightly fruity odour, but the smell may be too weak for people to notice. It will stay on surfaces for longer than sarin.
The fastest-killing nerve agent, soman works in the same way as other organophosphate nerve agents. It has a slight fruity or camphor odour.
A more potent nerve agent than sarin, VX is believed to be in the Syrian stockpile of chemical weapons. It is an oily amber liquid and, like sarin, has no smell or taste. It works in a similar way to sarin and causes the same symptoms.
An industrial chemical used to make plastics and pesticides. Phosgene was responsible for more deaths than any other chemical in the first world war. High exposures can cause fluid on the lungs, shortness of breath and heart failure.
Nerve agents are the most potent forms of organophosphates, but milder forms are used as insecticides. These can still kill in large quantities. Insecticides developed for farm use such as tetraethyl pyrophosphate (TEPP) and parathion have caused numerous deaths in the past.
***********Syria chemical attack puts focus on international community's paralysis
Assad regime's likely use of nerve gas reveals west to be ever more reluctant to become entangled in crisis
theguardian.com, Wednesday 21 August 2013 18.35 BST
Syrian opposition claims over a five hundred killed in chemical attack
People visit a morgue in Damascus to identify victims of the suspected chemical attack in Ghouta. Photograph: Erbin News/Demotix/Corbis
There are many aspects about the latest reported chemical weapons attack in Syria, on the outskirts of Damascus, that are not in doubt. While the numbers have yet to be nailed down precisely, it is clear that something horrific and large-scale took place.
The attack was consistent with some previous reports of use of chemical agents by the Assad regime – allegations of a mixed attack using a combination of conventional and chemical munitions.
The symptoms, too, appeared largely consistent with the use of a toxic gas. While there have been caveats about exactly what was used, it seems clear that something terrible did occur in Ghouta and that the most likely candidate must be the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
More puzzling is the question of why the Assad government might want to escalate the conflict now using chemical weapons only days after the arrival of a UN chemical weapons inspection team. Analysts had, in recent months, noted a relative drop-off in the numbers of reported chemical weapons attacks alleged to taken place in Syria.
One theory that has been put forward to explain this is that forces loyal to Assad have been enjoying relative successes on the battlefield recently and have had no need to pursue such a tactic. It goes on to suggest that the emerging Syrian doctrine for use of chemical agents – as has been described by at least one defector – is that is that they are designed to be confusing, ambiguous (for instance a chemical weapon mixed among conventional rounds) and, above all, to disrupt "the psychic equilibrium" of rebel-held areas rather than cause death on a Halabja-like scale.
But if it is confirmed that multiple locations were hit in the early hours of Wednesday, with large numbers of casualties, the attacks in Ghouta would suggest something very different indeed.
Given that the balance of probability suggests that the regime did use the weapons, one possible explanation suggests a profound shift in both the regime's analysis of the likelihood of a meaningful international response and a further worrying development in the Syrian military doctrine for the use of chemical weapons.
One thing that is certain is that the civil war in Syria no longer exists in a vacuum as something discreet and confined within the country's borders.
As it has become more complicated, drawing in both jihadists and threatening to destabilise the wider region, exacerbating already existing tensions between regional players, the west has appeared ever more loth to become entangled, reneging on previous promises – not least by President Barack Obama – that widespread chemical weapons use would be a red line.
International paralysis over the coup in Egypt and growing instability in Libya, and growing tension in Tunisia, is likely to have confirmed the view in Damascus that there is little appetite for intervention. On the ground Ghouta, too, has been a persistent problem, threatening the capital, and apparently resilient to regime efforts to retake it, perhaps encouraging more extreme tactics.
Another explanation put forward on Wednesday is that as much as Ghouta itself, the intended recipient for the message of the attack was the wider community in Syria still backing the rebels. That it was designed to dramatise just how weak and divided the international community is over Syria and emphasise the frightening notion that the regime can act with ever more impunity.
As ever, though, it will be the hard-to-know but crucially important details that need to be established to understand what this latest atrocity means. Little is known about the cohesion of the Syrian military and its political command and control; for instance how much leeway individual commanders have over what weapons they use and in what way.
One thing is certain: whoever and ordered this attack, and for whatever reason, it will feed into a dangerously escalating sense of conflict enveloping the wider region, and that is very frightening indeed.
************Top general: Syrian rebels do not support U.S. interests
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, August 21, 2013 17:24 EDT
US armed intervention in Syria would not resolve the civil war and rebel forces cannot be relied on to back American interests, the top military chief said in a letter to Congress.
Pushing back against calls for air strikes and other action, General Martin Dempsey said in a letter to one lawmaker that US military leaders were not “reticent, weary or risk averse” but rather mindful of the costs of war and “pragmatic about the limits of military force.”
He said knocking out Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s air force was an option but it could drag the United States into an open-ended war.
“The loss of Assad’s air force would negate his ability to attack opposition forces from the air, but it would also escalate and potentially further commit the United States to the conflict,” Dempsey wrote in a letter dated August 19 to Representative Eliot Engel, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“Syria today is not about choosing between two sides but rather about choosing one among many sides,” Dempsey wrote.
“It is my belief that the side we choose must be ready to promote their interests and ours when the balance shifts in their favor.
“Today, they are not.”
Dempsey, who is the president’s top military adviser as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has previously voiced caution over any military action in the Syrian conflict.
The four-star general, who commanded troops in the Iraq war, has said that American experience in Iraq showed the difficulty of restoring stability after toppling a regime.
In his letter, Dempsey said the United States could do more to cultivate a moderate opposition in Syria “if asked to do so.”
Dempsey was replying to a letter from Engel, who had questioned the general’s assessment of the potential military options that had left out discussion of cruise missile strikes.
Robert Mugabe sworn in again as Zimbabwe president
Africa's oldest leader takes oath of office for fifth term as MDC boycotts ceremony and critics insist election was not credible
Reuters in Harare
theguardian.com, Thursday 22 August 2013 12.27 BST
Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, Africa's oldest leader at 89, has been sworn in for a new five-year term in the face of criticism from opponents and the west that his re-election in July was not credible.
Mugabe, who has ruled since independence from Britain in 1980, has told critics to "go hang" and has vowed to press ahead with nationalist policies forcing foreign firms to turn over majority stakes to black Zimbabweans.
He took his new oath of office before the bewigged chief justice, Godfrey Chidyausiku, at a ceremony in a 60,000-seat football stadium in Harare witnessed by thousands of cheering supporters, diplomats and delegations from the region.
His longtime rival and opponent in the last three elections, Morgan Tsvangirai, boycotted the ceremony. He has denounced the 31 July election as a "huge fraud" and a "coup by ballot", alleging massive rigging by Mugabe's Zanu-PF party. Mugabe and his ruling party have rejected these allegations.
This will be Mugabe's fifth term as president of the southern African state since 1987. He also served as prime minister after independence in 1980 ended white minority rule in the country previously known as Rhodesia.
Mugabe and senior officials from his ruling Zanu-PF party are the target of sanctions imposed by western governments, which have accused them of staying in power through massive human rights violations and vote rigging.
Britain said on Thursday that Mugabe's re-election could not be deemed credible without an independent investigation into allegations of voting irregularities.
US officials this week said the election was flawed and Washington had no plans to loosen sanctions until there were signs of change in the country.
The European Union is to review relations with Zimbabwe given its "serious concerns" about the election, the EU foreign policy chief, Lady Ashton, said on Thursday.
The EU's verdict on the fairness of the elections will be crucial to a decision on whether it continues to ease sanctions.
Soon after the 31 July vote, which went ahead peacefully in contrast to the violence after the 2008 election, domestic monitors from the Zimbabwe Election Support Network said registration flaws may have disenfranchised up to a million people out of 6.4 million registered voters.
But observer missions from the regional 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union broadly endorsed the vote as free and peaceful and called on all parties to accept its results.
August 21, 2013
In Lebanon, Neighbor’s War Feels Like Its Own
By BEN HUBBARD
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Workmen are laying fresh bricks on balconies shattered by last week’s car bomb in a Hezbollah stronghold here, and there are frequent rallies at the site to keep residents’ spirits up. A bride and groom in their wedding finery dropped by the other night to reinforce the message that life must go on.
But some local residents do not fully share the public optimism of Hezbollah, the militant group and political party whose support for Damascus in Syria’s civil war is believed to have motivated the bombers. Many expect more attacks.
“When I leave the house, I say goodbye to my whole family, and when I leave work, I say goodbye to my colleagues,” said Farida Yacoub, 27, an engineer who lives nearby. “I might come back and I might not.”
The bombing, the deadliest in Lebanon in decades, killed 27 people, ravaged a neighborhood south of Beirut and served as a new and powerful reminder of how vulnerable the country is to spillover from the civil war in neighboring Syria. The fighting is so close, and the social and political ties between the two countries so strong, that echoes of the war resonate through many aspects of Lebanese life.
More than a half million Syrian refugees have flooded Lebanese towns and villages, and fear of violence has scared away tourists. Bitter divisions among competing political factions over the war — many Sunnis support the mostly Sunni rebels, while Hezbollah has sent fighters to back President Bashar al-Assad — have contributed to their failure to form a government to address the country’s most pressing problems.
Always looming in the background for older Lebanese are memories of the country’s own civil war, which raged on and off between 1975 and 1990, destroying communities and deeply scarring the society. “There is a general neurosis in the country because this reminds us of a period of the Lebanese civil war when every car was a potential bomb,” said Bassel Salloukh, associate professor of political science at the Lebanese American University. “This has a lot of psychological costs and impacts.”
Recent news has not helped raise spirits. Militants still hold two Turkish pilots kidnapped near Beirut’s international airport this month. And within days of last week’s attack, security forces found another vehicle they described as a car bomb in the making.
“We don’t know who brought that car or who it was meant to target,” said Zahir Mezhir, a member of the City Council in Naimeh, where the car was found. “We don’t understand anything, so everyone is scared.”
The discovery of such a threat shocked residents of Naimeh, a quiet city on a hillside along the Mediterranean coast 12 miles south of Beirut.
The authorities found the car, a silver Audi sedan with counterfeit license plates, parked in a garage under an apartment building next to the local council headquarters. Its trunk held more than 500 pounds of explosives, along with detonators and small metal pellets and nails, security officials said.
Although the police have arrested a number of men they say were part of a group that was plotting to detonate more car bombs, fear still reigns. Some residents have left to live with family elsewhere, while others remain vigilant, flooding the local police station with calls about suspicious activity.
“Now, every citizen considers himself a policeman,” Mr. Mezhir said. “If he sees something strange, he makes a call. If he sees a strange car, he makes a call.”
Others said that long familiarity with conflict has given the Lebanese their storied ability to get along with life, and particularly night life, in difficult times.
“There are explosions and everyone cries, but then soon after the wife starts asking her husband: ‘Where are you going to take me out? What about that dress you were going to buy for me?’ ” said Hassan Ghizawi, 60, who runs a dry cleaning shop in Naimeh.
Fueling Lebanon’s instability are the strong links between parts of Lebanese society and the warring parties in Syria. Most suspect that Sunni extremists angry with Hezbollah’s role in Syria carried out the recent bombing and a similar one five weeks earlier, though no one knows if these will prove to be isolated attacks or the start of a series.
That remains to be seen, but the attack has undeniably altered life in the southern suburbs of Beirut, where many of Lebanon’s Shiites live in a virtual state-within-a-state run by Hezbollah.
Since the bombing, the group has set up checkpoints along all entrances to the area, where men with armbands and walkie-talkies check identification, question drivers and search cars, causing huge traffic jams.
The group has fully claimed the bombing site, where the bearded face of its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, peers down from huge photographs hung on tall apartment buildings alongside banners declaring Hezbollah’s commitment to “resistance” — the catchall term for its fight with Iran and Syria against their enemies, which include Israel and Syria’s rebels.
A few hundred Hezbollah supporters held a candlelight vigil between the burned-out shells of the two most damaged buildings, then marched back and forth, carrying photos of the “martyrs” killed in the blast and chanting, “We are here for you, Nasrallah!”
Nearby, a dozen men in yellow hard hats, from a Hezbollah rebuilding group known as “construction jihad,” worked on plans to repair the damage. A banner on one storefront declared: “With God’s help, Matouq’s first-rate falafel shop will return more beautiful than it was before.”
In his men’s clothing store, Ahmed Faour, 43, said he had been thrown to the floor and showered with flying glass by the blast. A few days later, he had returned to clean up and assess the damage, which he estimated at about $4,000.
He guessed that extremists had targeted the area because of Hezbollah’s decision to stand with Mr. Assad, but said the group would not change its position, even if that raised the threat of future attacks.
“The war is still going, so of course we expect more explosions,” he said with a shrug. “We’ll be careful, but no matter how much security there is, someone can always get through.”
Hwaida Saad contributed reporting.
Israel forced to apologise to Japan over offensive Hiroshima comments
Head of online public diplomacy disparaged commemorations for victims of atomic bombs on Facebook
Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
theguardian.com, Thursday 22 August 2013 12.25 BST
Israel has been forced to issue a formal apology to Japan over offensive comments posted on Facebook by its head of online public diplomacy.
The apology followed a complaint by the Japanese ambassador to Israel, Hideo Sato, after senior government official Daniel Seaman disparaged commemorations for the victims of the 1945 atomic bombs, causing a wave of protests in Japan.
"I am sick of the Japanese, 'Human Rights' and 'Peace' groups the world over holding their annual self-righteous commemorations for the Hiroshima and Nagasaki victims," Seaman wrote on his Facebook page. "Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the consequence of Japanese aggression. You reap what you sow ..."
According to Haaretz, Israel's ambassador in Tokyo, Nissim Ben-Shitrit, was forced to embark on a damage control exercise. "The incident is very slowly subsiding, but it's too early to assess the damage to Israel's image that it caused," the Israeli embassy in Tokyo wrote in a cable to the foreign ministry in Jerusalem.
The apology was issued by Ya'akov Amidror, national security advisor to prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A government official said the incident was "one of the least comfortable moments for Israel in Japan".
Seaman, a former director of the government press office who has a reputation for being abrasive, recently took up a new post to promote positive images of Israel on social media networks. He has since been suspended and is under orders not to speak to the media.
The comments about Japan were part of a string of strongly-worded postings by Seaman over recent months.
They included a response to a demand by the Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, for an end to new settlement expansion that read: "Is there a diplomatic way of saying 'Go F*** yourself'?"
At the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast between sunrise and sunset, Seaman posted: "Does the commencement of the fast of the Ramadan means [sic] that Muslims will stop eating each other during the daytime?"
In response to a Church of Scotland report that argued that Jews do not have a divine right to the land, he wrote: "Why do they think we give a flying F*** what you have to say?"
In a statement last week, the National Information Directorate said: "Danny Seaman's statements on Facebook are unacceptable and do not express the view of the Israeli government. The directorate instructed Seaman to immediately refrain from making such statements."
Hosni Mubarak to be released from prison 'within hours'
Former Egyptian president to be taken to secure hospital or military base and placed under house arrest
Ian Black in Cairo
theguardian.com, Thursday 22 August 2013 11.27 BST
Hosni Mubarak, the former Egyptian president, is to be freed within hours after a Cairo court ordered his release. Mubarak is expected to be flown out of Tora prison by helicopter, probably to a military hospital or other state installation, where he will be placed under house arrest.
The terms of the former president's release were announced under Egypt's emergency law, enacted under the security crackdown on Islamists. Arrangements for his departure, confirmed by official sources on Thursday, are clearly designed to avoid him being exposed to public view.
The final say on where Mubarak will be going rests with Hazem Beblawi, prime minister in the military-backed interim government.
Egyptians angered at the army's removal of the democratically elected but deeply unpopular president, Mohamed Morsi, after mass protests last month, will be infuriated by the coincidence of his unelected and autocratic predecessor walking free.
But on the streets of Cairo, the overall mood appears to be indifference, with many ordinary people saying that the former president is irrelevant to Egypt's current situation.
Hamid, a clerical worker, said: "Mubarak belongs to the past. But it is important to respect the law … [the armed forces chief General Abdel-Fatah] al-Sisi is smart to put him under house arrest. It shows that he is a wise leader."
The release comes at a volatile moment for Egypt after some 900 Islamist protesters were killed last week and the military-backed government continues its crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. Around 100 police and army personnel have also died.
Jubilant supporters have already launched a Facebook page to promote Mubarak's candidacy for the presidency next year.
Overthrown in January 2011 at one of the early high points of the Arab spring, Mubarak has spent the past two years in detention and could be detained again. But his release is loaded with symbolism about the parlous state of Egypt and fading hopes for peaceful political change across the wider region – graphically underlined by the latest carnage in Syria.
Mubarak remains on trial for murder over the deaths of more than 800 protesters during the uprising against him. But after a separate corruption charge was settled this week, the time limit for him to remain in custody had expired.
Egyptian officials had acknowledged privately that freeing Mubarak in this highly charged atmosphere was likely to fuel tensions. "The government knows that if Mubarak is freed there will be public outrage," said Mohamed Abolghar, head of the Egyptian Social Democratic party. "But a court decision is a court decision."
By keeping Mubarak under house arrest, Egyptian leaders may be trying to show they will not be too lenient with him to avoid angering the many Egyptians who held mass protests that led to the end of his rule in 2011. The hearing that produced Wednesday's ruling was held in Tora prison, where Mubarak, 85 and in poor health, has spent most of his detention.
He was given a life sentence last year for failing to stop the killing of protesters but that was overturned on appeal and he is being retried. He also faces other corruption charges but no other trial dates have been set.
Most Egyptians have stopped following the legal twists and turns of the case but the significance and timing of this decision is still stunning. Saudi Arabia, dismayed that the US had abandoned Mubarak, is said to have been lobbying hard behind the scenes to have him freed. The Saudis helped put together a $12bn (£7.5bn) aid package for Egypt after Morsi was deposed last month.
Sherief Gaber, of the Mosireen collective, a pro-revolutionary group, said: "The symbolism is clear coming from a completely revanchist judiciary, that even the symbolic victory of imprisoning Mubarak will be revoked, that the counter-revolution and the old regime are feeling empowered and petty.
"The judiciary and the police are the two institutions that are most entrenched and most a part of the old regime; they were on their heels for a while, but using the bogeymen of the Muslim Brotherhood and people's fear and exhaustion, they're just doing whatever they feel like to be personally spiteful and cruel even.
"Mubarak after all was just a symbol, and we knew that the regime was much bigger and had not yet fallen but needed to (and still needs to)."
The news prompted bitter reflections about the state of the Arab world two-and-a-half years after the uprisings in Egypt, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen. "Give it five months and Mubarak, Assad, Ben Ali and Ali Saleh will hold a summit for the sake of good ol' days," tweeted Hassan Hassan, a Syrian commentator.
August 21, 2013
For Mali’s New President, Corruption Issue Lingers
By ADAM NOSSITER
DAKAR, Senegal — Mali’s greatest enemy now that it has elected a new president may not be the one that drew the alarmed attention of the West — Muslim extremists and their allies in the north — but an older one that officials, experts and activists say laid the groundwork for the country’s recent implosion.
Corruption and impunity at every level of the state, but especially at the top, destroyed the army, undermined government institutions and persisted unchecked under the former president, whose ouster in a military coup last year created a disarray that the Islamists capitalized on to take over the north.
The new president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, elected in a 78-percent landslide last week, vowed “zero tolerance” for corruption in an interview at his home in the capital, Bamako, before the election. But Mr. Keita, as prime minister in the 1990s, has been touched by allegations of lavish, questionable spending in an old Finance Ministry report, recently exhumed by a local paper in the capital.
And immediately after Mr. Keita was elected, the leader of a coup that precipitated much of the country’s collapse last year, Capt. Amadou Sanogo, was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general, despite being linked to what Human Rights Watch calls “serious” human rights abuses. The rights organization called the promotion “outrageous.”
The Islamists who captured the north are gone for now, chased out of the cities they had controlled and into the desert by French troops this year. Northern Mali — destitute, home to barely 10 percent of the population of about 16 million, and with few resources — may well revert to the role it played for decades after Mali’s independence: a thorn in the government’s side, but not much more.
The Islamist takeover of the north was the product of an unusual confluence of events — the fall of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya, the sudden influx of militants and weapons from his arsenals into Mali, the coup and an alphabet soup of Islamist groups and alliances — that seems unlikely to be duplicated soon.
But a more redoubtable enemy lingers. “Unfortunately, corruption and sloppy management have nearly destroyed every advance we have made since independence,” said Mali’s former top anticorruption official, Sidi Soso Diarra. “As long as we haven’t settled this problem of corruption, we can’t have a realistic plan to lead the country out of this mess.”
Soumana Sako, another former prime minister who ran in the recent election, agreed. “Corruption was the determining factor in the crisis,” he said, adding that “the corruption of the elites caused the people to lose confidence.”
The question is all the more urgent because Malian officials have tentatively been promised about $4 billion in aid and loans by outside donors — money that could easily go the way of past aid efforts when the country was a “donor favorite,” as the United States Agency for International Development put it in a 2010 report. Despite that aid, Mali is still five from the bottom on the United Nations’ human development index.
“Unless Mali and her partners take very concrete measures — a zero-tolerance policy on graft, acting on audits and strengthening the judiciary — the present window of opportunity to stabilize Mali and the region will be squandered,” said Corinne Dufka, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch.
Four to 5 percent of the national budget, or $75 million in one of the world’s poorest countries, was lost annually to mismanagement and fraud in the form of “unrecovered taxes, money embezzled, kickbacks and the like,” according to the aid agency’s report, citing Mr. Diarra’s work as Mali’s auditor general.
In his last report, several years before the country’s collapse, Mr. Diarra unearthed numerous examples of missing and misspent money across a broad swath of vital government agencies, from those dealing with food and fuel to Mali’s diplomatic corps. Some of those officials were paid thousands of dollars in cash over the legal limits, and thousands more went to their spouses, even after they had returned to Mali from abroad.
The agency that buys, imports and stocks foodstuffs — grains and cereals — faced “catastrophic” mismanagement, Mr. Diarra recalled, with potentially disastrous consequences in a country where famine is always a possibility. An agency charged with gathering taxes and duties on fuel imports collected little, Mr. Diarra said, because “there was a deal between the businessmen and the tax collectors.”
“Here you have a handful of people who have obtained a level of wealth that is unthinkable in a country like this,” Mr. Diarra said. “As long as impunity is the rule, we’ll never get out of it.”
Corruption contributed to the nation’s defeats at the hands of the Islamists in the north by turning the army into a “cinema stage set,” he said, with money for matériel stolen and the upper ranks filled with nepotistic hires. Graft also meant that the north was stuck as Mali’s most undeveloped region. In the north, “a development agency existed for 15 years — where has all that money gone?” Mr. Diarra said. “It was distributed to the northern elite.”
But the corruption in the north most likely went beyond the stealing of aid money. A 2012 Carnegie Foundation report spoke of “Malian officials’ complicity with A.Q.I.M. and drug traffickers,” referring to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the terrorist organization’s arm in North Africa. The report said there was “widespread evidence of collusion” between the government and “A.Q.I.M. and organized crime,” and suggested that a portion of hostage ransoms for kidnapping victims was “possibly, a source of financial gain for senior officials.”
These connections explain the impunity the Qaeda affiliate enjoyed for years in the desert, courtesy of Malian officials, and had the effect of undermining “all credibility” of the government in the north, the Carnegie report said.
The president during these nebulous arrangements, Amadou Toumani Touré, is long gone, ousted in former Captain Sanogo’s military coup. The new president, Mr. Keita, known by his initials, I.B.K., asserted in the interview this month that “the axes have been brought out” to fight corruption in his country.
But a detailed Finance Ministry report prepared after Mr. Keita left office as prime minister in 2000 raised questions about apparently lavish spending on trips during his seven-year tenure. The report said Mr. Keita would need to justify a $22,000 advance and about $24,000 in “sovereign expenditures” for a 1999 trip to Germany. On a visit to Washington that year, the report said, “there is no documentary evidence” for an advance of $25,000 made to the prime minister’s office.
A spokesman for Mr. Keita did not respond to requests for comment, and in the interview Mr. Keita dismissed a local newspaper that included some of the report’s findings. “If that report was true,” he said, “it would have taken me to a place where there isn’t much liberty,” meaning prison.
Yet former officials like Mr. Diarra and Mr. Sako suggested that impunity for misspending was near-total in Mali.
“I hear I.B.K. saying he’s going to give Mali back its dignity,” Mr. Sako said. “But this can’t happen without the elimination of corruption. When we see the political forces that are aligned, there are reasons to be uneasy.”
Football match allows Afghanistan to forget its woes for 90 minutes
Afghan fans go wild at victory over Pakistan, the first international football match played in capital in a decade
Emma Graham-Harrison in Kabul
theguardian.com, Tuesday 20 August 2013 19.23 BST
The delirious crowd cheered almost everything, even a throw-in. It was the first international football game played in the Afghan capital for a decade and the few thousand people lucky enough to get tickets were bent on shouting their team to victory.
Occasionally a US Black Hawk drifted overhead, a small reminder of the war being fought outside the stadium walls, but the trumpets, shouts and clapping drowned out the familiar thump-thump of the helicopters' passage.
The visitors were Pakistan, whose national team last played in Kabul in 1976, when they lost 1-0. Three decades on the Afghans were favourites again, even without the partisan home crowd, higher than their neighbours in Fifa world rankings and fielding a stronger team.
The official line was that the game was a match for peace, and it didn't matter who won or lost. In reality the Afghan crowd were shamelessly hungry for victory on the Astroturf pitch, and their team delivered, scoring once in the first half and twice more before the final whistle. Pakistan barely had a shot on goal.
"I feel like Afghanistan has won the World Cup. Actually, it is better than the World Cup," said student Rohullah Ismailzada, a Barcelona fan who had blown 800 afghanis (£10) meant for school fees on a black-market ticket.
"I thought this might not happen again, or I might not be alive. God will provide money for my studies."
The thrill of an international match was multiplied by the anticipation of facing a weaker team from Pakistan, a neighbour that serves as a haven for the Taliban and whose government many Afghans blame for much of the last three decades of war. The last international game in Kabul was against Turkmenistan in 2003.
The match against Pakistan sold out days before, with disappointed fans stuck outside the rings of security complaining that the police had ripped up their tickets, and some officers using electric prods and even rifle butts on the unruly crowds surging towards the gates.
In the grounds, the stadium walls were low enough for some kids, who couldn't shove through the packed gates, to scramble up and tumble into the crowded stands to join a riotous carnival of national pride.
One man carrying a Pakistani flag was reportedly stranded outside the stadium, but inside e veryone was wearing, waving or painted in the red, black and green of Afghanistan.
"When they got a goal I was so excited my whole body started shaking," said 29-year-old Abdul Hassib Wahidi, a flag salesman who brought £1,275 worth of flags to decorate the stadium, but when security chased him away, he handed them out to fans for free instead.
Even the reporters were shamelessly partisan. Cameramen jumped away from their cameras to cheer when the ball went into the net, and Fatima Mohammadi from sports station Channel 3 reported from the sidelines with an Afghan flag meticulously painted on her cheek. "I'm really excited," she said with a grin. "Its the first time I've covered an international match."
There was a small but also packed women's section at the game. "People who say sport is for men have an old-fashioned attitude. We are living in modern times," said Mohammadi, who has always been sports-mad and lobbied her station for a job soon as it opened.
Sports offer one of the few moments of relief from Afghanistan's daily grind of poverty and violence, and the country's football team has done surprisingly well. Afghanistan is now top of South Asia rankings, and draws players from abroad, including one from Norway's premier league. There were a few reminders that the match was in Afghanistan. Snipers perched on the half-built club house, machine guns guarded the doors and dozens of men sporting T-shirts and AK-47s spilled on to the astroturf after the match.
But it also provided a more hopeful vision for the future. The organisers had eschewed the stadium once used by the Taliban for executions, choosing a new ground nearby, surrounded by a new skatepark and the looming cranes and steel pillars of busy construction sites.
Treetops near the stadium were packed with fans unable to secure tickets. And on roads outside a school teacher and part-time taxi driver, Waheed Qadari, circled in his cab, ignoring potential fares and following the match on the radio, to get as close to the action as he could without a ticket.
The football was mostly scrappy, cautious and surprisingly polite, given the countries are bitter rivals. There were no red or yellow cards and just a handful of fouls. The Afghans had more possession of the ball but ambitious passing meant they also lost it often to the visitors.
Still, 20 minutes in Afghanistan scored the first goal and the crowd went wild. The chanting and clapping rose and fell, but didn't stop until half time.
As the game drew towards its end fierce evening winds blew in curtains of the capital's ubiquitous dust, but spectators just pulled scarves over their eyes and carried on chanting.
"It's great to hear people shouting in fun, after so much shouting over war and disaster," said Abdul Hadi, a procurement officer who had slipped away from work to watch the match.
Even Pakistan's coach, Serbian Zavisa Milosavljevic, was swept up by the excitement, apparently almost happy at the other team's victory.
"This is passion for football, a true story about football," he said, when asked about the partisan crowd. "I'm really satisfied I was part of this lovely event, this lovely crowd ... today's match was about more than football, it was a demonstration of how two countries can build good relations."
India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
August 21, 2013, 8:56 am
Rising Onion Prices Tempt Highway Robbers in India
By MALAVIKA VYAWAHARE and VISHNU VARMA
NEW DELHI— On Saturday night, Mintu Chottelal, 30, a mini truck driver and his helper, Rinku Gujjar, 19, were driving along the Delhi-Jaipur Highway on their way from the town of Nagore in Rajasthan to the town of Meerut in Uttar Pradesh. Suddenly a minivan came to a halt in front of them, three men jumped off the vehicle, overpowered Mr. Chottelal and Mr. Gujjar, and drove away with their loot.
They did not get far. About an hour later, Rajasthan police chased them down and recovered the truck, which carried 9000 kilograms of onions.
“I have never heard of anything like this before,” Bhawani Singh, a police officer at the Shahpura police station about 50 miles from Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, said in a phone interview, “but onion prices are so high, it makes sense,” he said.
The three onion robbers managed to escape and are still absconding, according to Ram Kishore, a Sub-Inspector at the Shahpura Police station, where the driver of the truck had lodged a complaint.
At the prevailing onion prices, the stash would be worth anywhere between five to seven hundred thousand rupees (between $7779 and $10880).
According to official figures released in July this year, the price of the onions has risen more than 100 percent from June last year. Last week as the capital got busy with Independence Day celebrations, the price of onion hit 80 rupees per kilogram ($1.25), in some parts of the country, spawning speculations that it would cross the 100 rupee-mark.
Anaro Devi, a 70-year-old vegetable seller in central Delhi, who is already selling green chilies at 100 rupees a kilogram, says she has never seen such a steep rise in vegetable prices. This week, Ms. Devi said, she sold 4 to 5 kilograms of onions daily at 60 rupees per kilogram.
Onion prices fell to 60 rupees per kilogram this week in the capital, following a slew of measures announced by the central and Delhi state governments to rein in soaring prices of onion.
The chief minister of Delhi on Monday said in a press conference that there was no shortage in the supply of onions.
Mrs. Devi laid the blame for the skyrocketing prices on the wholesalers. “The wholesalers are deliberately hoarding the onions so that prices go up,” she said. “The rich don’t know anything, it is the poor who are left to suffer.”
Last week, the government announced that it would be procuring onions directly from the major wholesale markets in Rajasthan and Maharashtra, two major onion-producing states in the country.
Despite the fact that India is the second largest producer of onions after China, the government in an Aug. 14 press release said that the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India will import onion from “other countries.”
In the capital, the soaring price of onions has ignited a political contest between the ruling Congress Party and the opposition, Bharatiya Janata Party (B.J.P.), who have been aggressively campaigning for the upcoming state assembly elections in November.
“Ours is a sensitive government. Hence, it acted swiftly on taking note of soaring onion prices,” Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit said in a press conference on Monday.
“Outlets arranged by the city government have been selling onions around 45 rupees per kilogram,” she added.
The Bharatiya Janata Party this week opened special stalls to sell onions at rates significantly lower than the market price, in a bid to embarrass the government.
The party also found unusual ways of protesting the spiraling onion prices. Earlier last week, a member of the state legislature from B.J.P. deposited onions at a local bank, according to media reports. This week, on the occasion of Raksha Bandhan, a Hindu festival celebrating the bond between brothers and sisters, the party gifted onions to women who tied Rakhi, the sacred thread symbolizing the bond, to a Delhi B.J.P. leader, Sunil Yadav.
The Delhi chief minister on her part accused the opposition of “politicizing the issue” with their “gimmicks.”
But as the chief minister very well knows protesting expensive onions is no cheap political gimmick. It was one of the factors that cost the incumbent B.J.P. state government in Delhi dearly in 1998, when they were voted out of power.
“The Congress party, then the opposition, used the issue well to defeat us in the assembly elections,” Anil Jain, a B.J.P. national secretary said of the defeat.
For some people the onion price hike seems to be more than a political issue, but an issue of public safety.
Last Wednesday, a trader in the capital was allegedly attacked for selling onions at a price lower than the market rate, as part of the Delhi government’s plan.
Kajal Gurung, a 44-year-old homemaker residing in Mayur Vihar area of East Delhi, is least surprised by the incident in Jaipur.
“With the prices soaring so high, an incident like this was just waiting to happen,” she said in a telephone interview.
“A bag of onions in my hand has a greater chance of being stolen than a ring or a bracelet,” Mrs. Gurung said.