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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1072735 times)
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« Reply #8445 on: Sep 01, 2013, 06:51 AM »

09/01/2013 09:32 AM

'Success Story': NSA Targeted French Foreign Ministry

Espionage by the US on France has already strained relations between the two countries, threatening a trans-Atlantic trade agreement. Now a document seen by SPIEGEL reveals that the NSA also spied on the French Foreign Ministry.

America's National Security Agency (NSA) targeted France's Foreign Ministry for surveillance, according to an internal document seen by SPIEGEL.

Dated June 2010, the "top secret" NSA document reveals that the intelligence agency was particularly interested in the diplomats' computer network. All of the country's embassies and consulates are connected with the Paris headquarters via a virtual private network (VPN), technology that is generally considered to be secure.

Accessing the Foreign Ministry's network was considered a "success story," and there were a number of incidents of "sensitive access," the document states.

An overview lists different web addresses tapped into by the NSA, among them "," which was run from the Foreign Ministry's server. A list from September 2010 says that French diplomatic offices in Washington and at the United Nations in New York were also targeted, and given the codenames "Wabash" and "Blackfoot," respectively. NSA technicians installed bugs in both locations and conducted a "collection of computer screens" at the one at the UN.

A priority list also names France as an official target for the intelligence agency. In particular, the NSA was interested in the country's foreign policy objectives, especially the weapons trade, and economic stability.

US-French relations are being strained by such espionage activities. In early July, French President François Hollande threatened to suspend negotiations for a trans-Atlantic free trade agreement, demanding a guarantee from the US that it would cease spying after it was revealed that the French embassy in Washington had been targeted by the NSA.

"There can be no negotiations or transactions in all areas until we have obtained these guarantees, for France but also for all of the European Union, for all partners of the United States," he said at the time.

The NSA declined to comment to SPIEGEL on the matter. As details about the scope


08/31/2013 06:19 PM

Snowden Document: NSA Spied On Al Jazeera Communications

Arab news broadcaster Al Jazeera was spied on by the National Security Agency, according to documents seen by SPIEGEL. The US intelligence agency hacked into protected communication, a feat that was considered a particular success.

It makes sense that America's National Security Agency (NSA) would be interested in the Arab news broadcaster Al Jazeera. The Qatar-based channel has been broadcasting audio and video messages from al-Qaida leaders for more than a decade.

The United States intelligence agency was so interested, in fact, that it hacked into Al Jazeera's internal communications system, according to documents from former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden that have been seen by SPIEGEL.

One such document, dated March 23, 2006, reveals that the NSA's Network Analysis Center managed to access and read communication by "interesting targets" that was specially protected by the news organization. The information also shows that the NSA officials were not satisfied with Al Jazeera's language analysis.

In addition to cracking the airline reservation services for Russian airline Aeroflot, accessing "Al Jazeera broadcasting internal communication" was listed as a "notable success," the document shows. The NSA said these selected targets had "high potential as sources of intelligence."

The encrypted information was forwarded to the responsible NSA departments for further analysis, according to the document, which did not reveal to what extent the intelligence agency spied on journalists or managers of the media company, or whether the surveillance is ongoing.

Previous documents seen by SPIEGEL have not specified that the media were spied on by the NSA. But as more information emerges, the massive scope of the organization's international surveillance of telephone and Internet communication continues to grow.


August 31, 2013

Budget Documents Detail Extent of U.S. Cyberoperations


WASHINGTON — Newly disclosed budget documents for America’s intelligence agencies show how aggressively the United States is now conducting offensive cyberoperations against other nations, even as the Obama administration protests attacks on American computer networks by China, Iran and Russia.

The documents, obtained by The Washington Post from Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, and described by the paper in its Saturday editions, indicate 231 such operations in 2011, a year after the first evidence emerged of an American- and Israeli-led cyberattack against Iran’s nuclear-enrichment center.

That number suggests that President Obama was not deterred by the disclosure of the Iranian operation, which became evident because of a technological error, and is pressing ahead on using cyberweapons against a variety of targets.

The Post did not publish the documents. Last week, it said it had withheld most of the 178 pages of documents at the request of government officials because of the sensitivities of the spying operations they describe.

Unlike drone attacks, which the administration has begun to acknowledge publicly and provide legal justifications for, cyberattacks are still regarded as part of a secret arsenal that officials will not discuss.

The attacks described in the budget documents appear to be on a far smaller scale than the series of attacks on Iran, which were part of a classified operation called Olympic Games.

The Post reported a parallel effort, code-named GENIE, which it described as an effort by American intelligence officials working for the N.S.A. and the military’s Cyber Command to insert surreptitious controls into foreign computer networks. That computer code, a form of malware, allows American officials to hijack the computers or route some of their data to servers that enable American espionage.

It is unclear how many, if any, of those 231 operations were merely for espionage or data manipulation, and how many may have been intended to destroy or disable infrastructure. Computerized espionage is not new, though the sophistication and scale of it has increased in recent years.

Offensive operations intended to alter data, turn off networks or destroy machines — which is what made the Iran operation so complex and unusual — are a far newer phenomenon. President Obama, in an executive order signed last year, has reserved the right to decide when the United States should conduct such operations. It is not clear how many of the 231 he approved.

Diplomatically, the disclosure of the latest Snowden documents poses a new challenge to Mr. Obama. He has pressed China to cease its own cyberoperations in the United States, many of which are aimed at the theft of intellectual property including corporate secrets and the plans for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the country’s most expensive new weapons system.

The Chinese have responded that America also conducts extensive cyberoperations, including against China, and will doubtless use the most recent disclosures to press that case. So far, Mr. Obama’s effort to get the Chinese engaged in a deeper dialogue on cyberissues has yielded discussions, but little fruit.

The Pentagon has insisted that the United States does not engage in economic espionage, the specialty of Chinese forces like Unit 61398, a People’s Liberation Army operation behind many of the intrusions into American systems.

But it does conduct what specialists call “network exploitation,” which it distinguishes from “attacks,” to obtain military or intelligence secrets and intercept cell and digital communications. Attacks, at least as defined by the military, would involve destruction of computer equipment or the facilities those networks run.

The Post said a budget document defined network exploitation as “surreptitious virtual or physical access to create and sustain a presence inside targeted systems or facilities.” That appears to be part of the offensive operations, and can often pave the way to “facilitate future access,” the document said.

The documents indicate that the N.S.A. spent $25 million on “covert purchases of software vulnerabilities.” These are often flaws in commercial software, often in the near-ubiquitous Windows operating system, that make it possible to secretly enter and manipulate data.

The bulk of the work inside the N.S.A. is conducted by the Tailored Access Operations group, one of the most secretive units in a secretive agency.

Recently, Gen. Keith B. Alexander, who directs the N.S.A. and commands the military’s Cyber Command, spoke publicly of creating 40 cyberteams, including 13 focused on offensive operations.

The defensive operations include protections for the American military and other government agencies, and efforts to detect broad cyberattacks launched on the United States.


UK Asked New York Times To Destroy Edward Snowden Documents; NY Times Ignored Request

By Techdirt
Saturday, August 31, 2013 10:17 EDT

There's been some back and forth concerning the David Miranda legal fight today and it's getting fairly ridiculous. The UK government is making some extraordinary claims about Miranda and the encrypted information he was carrying. They claim that some of the information was potentially incredibly damaging to UK national security interests (the same rhetoric we always hear, but is rarely shown to be true) and they also claim that they found a piece of paper on Miranda that allowed them to "decrypt one file on his seized hard drive." Furthermore, they claim that Miranda (and Greenwald and Poitras) "demonstrated very poor judgment in their security arrangements with respect to the material," in order to suggest that it might easily fall into dangerous hands.

Of course, there are many reasons to suggest that this is all hogwash. The choice of wording from the UK government is pretty precise. Note that they don't actually claim they've unencrypted any of the Snowden files. They make two separate claims in succession: one is that there were 58,000 documents that Miranda had and then, separately, that he had a password that allowed them to get into a file on his drives, and then they use that to insist that there was poor security. But they don't reveal what that one file was, nor do they admit to having figured out what was actually on the drives. Glenn Greenwald says that it's a flat out lie that Miranda had a password on him that would allow anyone to decrypt the documents (suggesting any password he might have had on him was totally unrelated). Greenwald also mocks the idea that Poitras's security was "sloppy," since it appears that the UK hasn't yet been able to figure out what was actually on the hard drives.

However, the strongest response to all of this comes from The Guardian itself, who reveals that after the Prime Minister's office ordered them to destroy hard drives, the Guardian told the UK government that the NY Times and Pro Publica also had copies of all of the documents related to the UK spying by GCHQ... and the UK government didn't seem particularly concerned:

    "The government wanted the judge to believe that they have at all times behaved with the utmost urgency because of a grave threat to national security represented by newspapers working responsibly on the Snowden documents and their implications for society," he said. "But for most of the time since early June little has happened. On July 22 the Guardian directed the government towards the New York Times and ProPublica, both of whom had secret material from GCHQ. It was more than three weeks before anyone contacted the NYT. No one has contacted Pro Publica, and there has been two weeks of further silence towards the NYT from the government. This five weeks in which nothing has happened tells a different story from the alarmist claims before the court. The government's behaviour does not match their rhetoric in trying to justify and exploit this dismaying blurring of terror and journalism."

This leads to an even more mystifying situation, in which (as noted above), weeks later, UK officials asked the NY Times to destroy the documents, and the NY Times basically ignored the request entirely:

    The British government has asked the New York Times to destroy copies of documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden related to the operations of the U.S. spy agency and its British partner, Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), people familiar with the matter said.

    The British request, made to Times executive editor Jill Abramson by a senior official at the British Embassy in Washington D.C., was greeted by Abramson with silence, according to the sources. British officials indicated they intended to follow up on their request later with the Times, but never did, one of the sources said.

Ah, freedom of the press. Either way, this suggests that the UK's arguments against Miranda are just misleading FUD designed to paper over the thuggish behavior of detaining Miranda in the first place.

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« Last Edit: Sep 01, 2013, 07:12 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #8446 on: Sep 01, 2013, 06:58 AM »

David Cameron must rebuild his broken party, say ministers

Commons defeat on Syria has led to fears that prime minister will emerge as weakened leader of diminished country

Nicholas Watt, chief political correspondent
The Guardian, Friday 30 August 2013 19.42 BST   

David Cameron is facing calls from senior ministers to overhaul his political operation after what was described as a "catastrophic failure of intelligence" which led to the first government defeat on the possible deployment of British troops in generations.

Amid concerns that the prime minister will emerge as a weakened leader of a diminished country, senior Tories called on him to follow the example of Margaret Thatcher and appoint a heavyweight party chairman in a Downing Street shakeup.

The calls came as No 10 was told that only 20 Tory MPs, out of a total of 304, fully supported military action against the Assad regime after the chemical weapons attack on 21 August. The other 200 or so Tory MPs who supported the prime minister did so grudgingly, Downing Street has been told.

Elsewhere, Tory MPs reflected on the impact of the prime minister's defeat after 30 Conservative MPs joined forces with Labour to defeat the government. George Osborne said that Britain will have to embark on a period of "national soul-searching" about its role in the world.

One senior Tory said of the aftermath of the surprise defeat: "It's a bit like being present after a massive explosion. There is broken glass and dust is wafting around everywhere. It will take time for the dust to settle. But we know for the moment that David Cameron and Nick Clegg's authority has been diminished. Ed Miliband has obviously come out of it quite well, for the moment."

Senior figures are saying that, as a first step, the prime minister should ensure that a senior parliamentary figure joins his top team as party chairman. There is no criticism of the current two co-chairmen, Grant Shapps and Lord Feldman. But they are not members of the prime minister's closest inner circle when the biggest decisions are made.

One minister said: "There needs to be a much better transmission mechanism to the parliamentary party. Under Margaret Thatcher, the party chairman, Cecil Parkinson, was a big hitter who sat in the Falklands war cabinet. Chris Patten performed a similar role under John Major. That role does not exist. If there are five people in the room making major decisions on foreign policy, you know that the current co-chairmen are not there."

Ministers expressed astonishment that Cameron's inner circle made basic mistakes after Barack Obama telephoned the prime minister at the beginning of the week to say that he was minded to launch limited strikes against the Assad regime. One minister said: "When Barack Obama telephoned the prime minister to say he wanted to take action on Syria, why did nobody ask: are we sure we can win a vote in the House of Commons? The basic mechanisms don't really seem to be working very well."

One loyalist used a cricketing analogy to underline the depth of exasperation at the mistakes when No 10 started out controlling events by deciding on the recall of parliament. The Tory said: "It is a bit like a dream cricket match where you win the toss, have secret intelligence on the weather, bat first, have a great day, bribe the groundsman, and then the weather turns foul on day two. You have everything and yet you still fuck up. How did that happen? But it is not a disaster. We can get back on to the front foot."

One minister suggested that the defeat would act as a wake-up call. "This is a reality check after the summer and shows that we are actually back to where we were six months ago. Over the summer, as Ed Miliband struggled, we thought we were doing well, Labour was doing badly and we had seen off Ukip. Now the veil has been ripped away and we know there are a sizeable number of Tory MPs who are willing to do serious damage to David Cameron and feel no twinge of disloyalty."

The failure of the Downing Street intelligence operation was shown up when the prime minister addressed a meeting of his parliamentary party at midday on Thursday, hours before he opened the parliamentary debate. Critics, notably John Baron and Daniel Robert Kawczynski, asked what were described as tough and probing questions, though not in a hostile manner. But the prime minister left the meeting confident that he would win the vote, prompting his officials to claim that he had won his party. Then, between 5pm and 6pm, the whips reported to No 10 that the vote was lost. "It was a complete bolt from the blue," one Tory said. "It was an entirely self-inflicted wound." Downing Street insisted that the prime minister was not downbeat as Cameron vowed to respect the will of parliament. Sources said that he felt confident he had done the right thing. One source said: "The prime minister saw children killed in horrific circumstances and took a solid principled position. But that had to be balanced against the reality of Iraq."

Some senior Tories are urging the prime minister to mount an aggressive campaign against Ed Miliband for diminishing Britain's standing in the world. The prime minister is understood to see the need for a debate but plans to limit himself to a few newspaper articles in the coming weeks.

Cameron was offered some comfort when Barack Obama reassured him in a telephone call that he still remained committed to the Anglo-American special relationship. But the harsh world of Washington politics soon intervened. Within an hour, the US secretary of state, John Kerry, delivered a statement on Syria in which he praised the US's oldest ally, France, with no mention of Britain.


From Suez to Iraq, the lessons of our past cast a long shadow over Syria

Public opinion, like old generals, is always preparing to fight the last war

Peter Beaumont   
The Observer, Saturday 31 August 2013 15.30 BST   

When it turns its attention to thinking about conflict, politics – and public opinion – is an oddly backwards process. Journalists and other analysts tend to look for guidance on future developments from past events. Egypt is compared to Algeria in the runup to the civil war; Syria to the Balkans.

History and experience act as a filter that can distort as much as elucidate. It is largely forgotten now, overlooked in the one-line description of Tony Blair and George W Bush as the men who lied about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, but there was a wider context to their conviction. Many spies, politicians and military men believed that the Iraqi dictator held such weapons, because their experience of Saddam's use of poison gas in Halabja and during the Iran-Iraq war, and his headlong pursuit of weapons of mass destruction technologies, made it inconceivable that he might disarm.

Because they thought that he must be hiding something, there was a built-in confirmation bias to the hunt for what they believed was hidden.

Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya have shown how badly military interventions can go wrong. After a decade of pointless, counterproductive wars, the public and politics in the western countries involved are sick of war, dubious of the promises made for humanitarian intervention.

And what we have forgotten is where the doctrine of the "responsibility to protect" came from – not from the often shabby little wars of the 2000s but from real humanitarian catastrophes where intervention was late or absent and genocidal acts took place – in Rwanda and in Bosnia.

The Syrian conflict confirms many of our prejudices. For those on the left opposed to intervention, who see any military strike as rash and illegal, it appears to provide the pretext for the latest in a long series of attacks on Muslim and Arab countries, led by an overreaching US, a willfully selective and hypocritical affair.

For those who believe in intervention on humanitarian grounds, the case is made equally strongly. A country disintegrates, 100,000 people die, poison gas appears to have been deployed and the burden of the worst atrocities seems to fall on the country's dictatorial regime.

If it's easy for those with set ideological ideas about how the world works to come to their conclusions, Syria is less easy to interpret for those of us who want to try to see it not as a reflection of something else, but for what it is – a horrible conflict that in many ways demands a forceful response, but where any such response is so fraught with risk as to make it difficult to contemplate.

The question then – as put by the always thoughtful veteran journalist Robin Lustig on Friday – is this: "Is doing nothing really an option?" Clearly, it is, but then another question immediately follows: is there any point, any further escalation in horror, at which doing nothing will no longer be an option? What if there's another chemical weapons attack, in which 5,000 people are killed? 10,000 killed? Is there anywhere you would draw a red line? Might MPs have cause to regret their vote in the weeks and months to come?"

In a way the difficulty is that when we make judgments such as this we cannot separate ourselves from the prevailing mood. For societies, the experience of war alters the assumptions that guide how we consider the risk involved. Like a kind of psychotropic drug, it alters political and cultural perceptions. Looking at Syria we can't help but see it through the filter of Iraq, through a mood of sharpened scepticism of the media, politics and intelligence agencies.

In some ways it has always been thus. The old military maxim about generals always preparing to fight the last war, has been echoed in the cycles of public opinion in the past century.

The terrible cost of the first world war saw a rise in interest in pacifism, which by the 1930s saw a significant faction in the Labour party around George Lansbury, who opposed rearmament, and who led the party until being replaced by Clement Atlee in 1935. It was a mood music that fed into Neville Chamberlain's desire for appeasement. To avoid war. To negotiate a settlement.

Britain's role in the second world war, and the heroic narrative that took shape around that victory, permitted the UK to ignore its declining international role and to behave with the swagger of an imperial power.

If there is a flip side to this kind of imperial hubris, it is over the long shadow cast by conflicts that either are wrong or come at too high a price in the modern era. Events such as Suez, the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu, the US experience in Vietnam and, later, Somalia, all cast the same long shadow.

To answer Lustig's question – at which point do we change our minds? – history, that unreliable guide to the future, suggests it is often when we are taken by surprise. US isolationism in the 1930s largely imploded with Pearl Harbour, echoing a similar trend in the UK.

All we can really say today is that the vote in parliament finally internalised all the lessons of Iraq for Britain's political classes. For Syria, poor bleeding Syria, the past and present are awful. Its future and how the international community might have to respond – despite the acres of predictions in the past few days – remains unwritten.


After the Syria vote, Britain must not sleepwalk into isolationism

Labour has placed in question not only its tradition of internationalism but the future of progressive politics in the UK

Paddy Ashdown   
The Observer, Saturday 31 August 2013 15.21 BST   

So what do we do now? The short-term answers are easy. The long-term ones pose real challenges for our country.

Parliament has spoken and – who can doubt it – reflected the current mood of the British people. Theirs is the sovereign voice and it must be respected – and it will be.

There are strange paradoxes here. It is possible to be both proud of a parliament that said no to the executive on a matter like military action. But sad; even – dare I say it – a little ashamed at the decision it took.

Of course there are reasons for this. The leftover poisons of the Iraq war; the toxic effect of public distrust in our politics. Mishandling by the government. President Obama's unwise attempt to rush to action. A Labour opposition that used its parliamentary duty to ask questions as an excuse to avoid making decisions. These are reasons why we are where we are. But they are not excuses.

They do not diminish the damage done to our country's standing – or the effect this will have on how we face the problem of conflict in a naughty world.

We have made it more difficult for Barack Obama to act. Maybe even now, he won't. Then Great Britain, which led in international law and engagement, will lead a retreat from these ideals towards a new mood of growing isolationism.

The bottom line is this. Parliament was asked to join an international coalition led by a US Democrat president, whose aim, a firm response to a flagrant breach of international law, was supported by most European nations and many Middle Eastern ones. And parliament said no.

The subtext is perhaps as disturbing as the headline. The parliamentary division figures show the darker figures lurking below Labour's clever strategising. The government lost because of 30 Tories (and I regret nine Liberal Democrats). Among the former, many if not most want Britain to leave Europe at any cost. So those who propose Britain's splendid isolation from our European neighbours have now crucially diminished our standing with our closest Atlantic friends. Alone at last – God help us!

There is a dangerous mood of isolationism running in our country. George Osborne is right. As a nation we must make a clear decision whether this is the path we want, or not. Maybe I am just a hoary old voice from the past. Maybe last Thursday is the start of a new Britain, as the Tory isolationist right, Labour's pacifist left and some further-flung voices claim. If it is to be so, then let it be so because we have chosen it. Not sleepwalked into it.

There are big questions here. Why then would we need the world's fourth most expensive defence forces? As parliament debated, a Ukip poster van cruised outside with the slogan "Keep out of Syria! Oppose Defence cuts!" Do they really not see the connection?

Inside, the ranks of superannuated generals and admirals followed each other in orderly procession to warn us that action couldn't mean taking risks. Churchill said if you bring a bunch of generals together, all you get is the sum of their fears. Quite so.

And what, in this brave new world, will Labour do? Having placed in question its proud tradition of internationalism in pursuit of a mix of genuine concern and political opportunism, will it now join the crowd rushing for the exit, or help lead the way back to saner ground? Labour's answer to this question is of profound importance, not just to them, but to the whole future of progressive politics in our country. Criticise the government as one may, we now know the convictions of David Cameron and Nick Clegg – the latter driven by a passionate internationalism. We cannot say the same for Ed Miliband.

Parliament proved last week it would be no one's poodle – good. But if it were now to lead a Gadarene rush towards isolationism, that would be very bad indeed.

Paddy Ashdown was leader of the Liberal Democrats, 1988-99

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« Reply #8447 on: Sep 01, 2013, 07:01 AM »

Femen founders leave Ukraine ‘fearing for their lives’

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, August 31, 2013 16:33 EDT

Three founders of Femen said Saturday they had left Ukraine in fear for their lives after police discovered weapons in their Kiev offices that the feminist group says were planted.

Alexandra Shevchenko, Anna Hutsol and Yana Zhdanova “have fled Ukraine fearing for their lives and for their liberty” and would “continue their activities in Europe”, said a statement on the group’s website.

The three women decided to leave after Ukrainian police called them in for questioning on Friday, the statement said.

The group, known for its topless political protests, is facing a criminal investigation after police said they confiscated a TT handgun and a grenade from its offices in central Kiev on Tuesday.

Hutsol insisted the group did not have any weapons and suggested they could have been planted in the office while the activists were away.

The Ukrainian authorities have had Femen in their sights for some time. On Wednesday the group said it was moving out of its Kiev offices “for security reasons”, alleging official wiretapping.

Femen, which was founded in Ukraine but now has its headquarters in Paris, has become well-known in Ukraine and abroad, where members bare their breasts to protest discrimination against women and other rights violations.

The group has said Hutsol and other activists were beaten by special services last month in an attempt by the government to pressure them to halt their protests, which target figures including Russian President Vladimir Putin.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #8448 on: Sep 01, 2013, 07:03 AM »

Western financial prescription has made Turkey ill

Before the financial crisis Turkey was 'ripe for investment'. Now domestic unrest has driven that cheap money out of the country, plunging it even further into crisis

Heather Stewart   
The Observer, Sunday 1 September 2013   

Back in the hazy, innocent days before the financial crisis, a small gathering of journalists was treated to an enthusiastic, chart-packed presentation about fund managers' next big money-making ideas.

Most prominent among them was Turkey. Left out of Goldman Sachs's then premier league of Bric nations – Brazil, Russia, India and China – Turkey was nevertheless poised to reap the benefits of its stable political situation, its ideal geographical position between Europe and Asia, and, in the analysts' view, its readiness for financial development.

We were shown charts of the low percentages of Turkish consumers with mortgages, credit cards and washing machines – with the promise that as the economy became more financially advanced, they would soon catch on to the credit habit; and savvy investors should be poised to reap the rewards.

As a cynical leftie hack, your correspondent's first thought was "woe betide Turkey". The memory came back last week, as the looming military strike on Syria, in Turkey's backyard, intensified a trend that was already well under way, with foreign investors who once saw the country as a dead cert running for the exits.

The Turkish lira has fallen by more than 14% since the start of the year; the stock market is down more than 25%.

Over much of the past decade, and particularly in the wake of the financial crisis, Turkey has ridden precisely the kind of boom the City investment gurus were betting on. Foreign capital flooded in. Turkish firms – including its banks – were flogged off to foreign buyers. Consumer credit exploded. It came to be seen as one of a batch of countries marching towards a bright financial future.

Yet as in so many developing countries that become firm favourites with financial markets, the economic model that helped create the consumer boom of the past decade was always an intrinsically vulnerable one.

As Ozlem Onaran of the University of Greenwich puts it: "To benefit from capital inflows, there has to be a long-term perspective as to what to do with those capital flows."

Even foreign direct investment, usually considered more serious and stable than flighty investment in shares, only boosts the economy if it provides positive spillovers in terms of job creation, skills and expertise.

Onaran argues that if Turkey was going to make the most of its status as a market darling, it should have implemented a careful industrial strategy, to encourage investment into particular sectors and used taxes and tariffs to prevent unfettered inflows from inflating bubbles and pulling the economy out of shape.

When hundreds of thousands of protestors packed Istanbul's Taksim Square to complain about the AKP government's autocratic rule earlier this year, the authorities began railing against the "interest lobby" – foreign speculators seeking to profit from Turkey's plight – and launched an inquiry. But they raised no such questions when the cash was flowing in.

As the work of Elif Karacimen at Soas, University of London shows, the country's strong growth over the past decade was fed by a borrowing bubble, as the banking sector, under new, largely foreign ownership, turned away from the staid old model of making steady returns by funding the government's deficit towards more profitable lending on credit cards and mortgages.

Ankara proudly managed to pay back the last of its debts to the International Monetary Fund earlier this year, with a $421m final instalment, after decades of bailout deals.

But struggling free of its clutches was only a symbolic victory. While official loans have been paid back, private sector debt, owed by Turkish firms to foreign lenders – and, most alarmingly, often in foreign currencies – has shot up to unprecedented levels.

That marks out Turkey as one of the countries particularly vulnerable to the Federal Reserve's plans to "taper" the flow of super-cheap money that has poured into emerging markets. In the short term, that will leave the authorities wrestling to manage a financial, and potentially even a political, crisis as the plunging currency makes foreign-denominated debts impossible to service. As the IMF put it recently: "Turkey remains vulnerable to capital flow reversal due to its large external financing needs; should this occur, it could lead to a hard landing."

But even if the worst outcome is averted, this latest spasm in emerging markets, with its echoes of the Asian crises of 1997-98, should force a rethink on a series of knotty issues. Developing-country governments should be encouraged to use capital controls, which remain anathema to neoliberal purists – though the IMF's position has softened somewhat – to protect themselves against the most damaging effects of sudden stop-start surges of short-term investment.

And surely it must also be time for policymakers to heed the growing calls, from bodies such as Unctad, for a more concerted effort by developing nations to use every tool at the state's disposal to shape and develop the economy's productive potential, instead of heeding the siren calls of rapacious foreign speculators.

That will mean developing an active industrial policy; but if growth is to be sustainable – and consumption-led, not fuelled by credit bubbles – it must also mean paying attention to the distribution of incomes.

In Turkey, the AKP government has been kind to many of the poorest Turks and relative poverty has fallen; but middle-earners have seen their living standards stagnate while what Turkish economist Yilmaz Akyüz calls a select "Islamic bourgeoisie" thrives.

He believes the country may be helped through the looming crisis by western allies keen to secure its assistance in the Syrian crisis, and holds out hope that once the worst is over, the plunging lira will help the country's competitiveness. But he acknowledges that the boom of recent years has only been achieved by selling off assets and running up debts, and that now, "for Turkey, the honeymoon is over".

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« Reply #8449 on: Sep 01, 2013, 07:06 AM »

Revolutionary feminist Olympe De Gouges in the race for a place in France's Panthéon

Campaign to bestow France's greatest honour on a woman sees 18th-century activist De Gouges top the list of possible candidates

Agnes Poirier in Paris   
The Observer, Sunday 1 September 2013   

She fought to give women the right to divorce. She campaigned for civil partnerships and against slavery. She was a passionate feminist who died for her ideals – and all this in the late 18th century. Now one of France's greatest honours could be bestowed on Olympe de Gouges, a woman considered by many to be one of the world's first feminist campaigners.

De Gouges is one of a handful of women being considered for membership of the Panthéon, France's secular necropolis. Kickstarting a national campaign, the feminist movement Osez le féminisme (Dare to be a feminist) has just launched an e-petition to put pressure on President François Hollande to admit more women to the Panthéon.

Being the first French president to achieve a perfect gender equality in his government only a few days after his election, in May 2012, Hollande now seems bound to bow to the feminists' most symbolic of pressures. He may indeed soon decide on the names of a couple of women to keep company with the only woman (among 71 men) resting at the Panthéon: Marie Curie.

In a kind of X-Factor exercise in national glory, France's National Monument Centre, in a joint effort with feminist groups, has invited the public to name possible candidates to the Panthéon before 22 September. It will then deliver its final recommendation to Hollande a week later. Osez le féminisme has already drawn up a list and made it public: among them are the anarchist and Paris Commune activist Louise Michel, the resistance fighter Germaine Tillion, the writer and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir ... and De Gouges, who would make a particularly good candidate as she shares a common revolutionary history with the building.

Designed in the late 1740s on Louis XV's request, Paris's Panthéon, originally designed as a church, was completed a few months after the revolution started. The consecration never took place. Instead, revolutionaries decided to dedicate the impressive building perched on top of the Latin Quarter's hill, just south of the Sorbonne, to the great men and women who have contributed to France's grandeur. The first to be admitted were Voltaire and Rousseau.

Born Marie Gouze in 1748, the feminist reinvented herself as Olympe de Gouges in her 20s when she arrived in pre-revolutionary Paris. Opposed to religious marriage, which she deemed "love and trust's grave", she preferred companionship.

She chose the theatre, which was at the forefront of avant-garde politics, to express her radical ideas. Performed by her own theatre company, her play The Slavery of the Blacks made her famous. In it she denounced the economics behind slavery and supported its abolition.

She also edited a newsletter, Lettre au Peuple (Letter to the People), in which she developed a series of social reforms. She wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Women, in which she stated: "A woman has the right to be guillotined; she should also have the right to debate." She campaigned for the right for women to divorce and obtained it. She campaigned in favour of a system of civil partnerships that would replace religious marriage.

However, her audacity proved too much for some – and Robespierre in particular, whom she had publicly accused of tyranny. She was arrested and sentenced to death in 1793. As she walked up to the guillotine, she declared: "Children of the fatherland, you will avenge my death."

Throughout the 19th century and France's many changes of political regimes, the Panthéon was renamed. It was once known as the Temple of Glory, later as the Temple of Humanity, but it was also, at times, reconsecrated as a Catholic church.

Napoleon was the most active "Pantheoniser". During his time in power, he allowed 43 men, often his most talented generals, to be buried in the Panthéon's crypt. During the short Bourbon restoration during the 1820s, King Louis XVIII was asked whether the notorious anticlerical Voltaire's remains should be moved out. He famously replied: "Why don't we leave him there. He's punished enough as it is: he has to listen to masses all day long!"

In an attempt to distinguish themselves from Napoleon, consecutive regimes refrained from passing decrees on who should follow in the steps of Voltaire and Rousseau. It was not until the Third Republic and Victor Hugo's entombment there in 1885correct, at the end of a 5km procession followed by two million people, that the Panthéon was re-established as the nation's secular necropolis.

Every French president likes overseeing the "Pantheonisation" of great French figures. It is a time of national communion, a solemn and moving moment. Many French people still remember vividly when the French resistance fighter Jean Moulin's ashes were transferred to the Panthéon on a bitterly cold December afternoon in 1964. General de Gaulle's culture minister, the writer and resistance leader André Malraux, wrote and read the ceremony speech, which still echoes in many French ears.

François Mitterrand approved the admission of Jean Monnet, "Europe's first citizen" in 1988, but also notably in 1995 of the first woman buried there: Marie Curie, alongside her husband, Pierre. In 2002 Jacques Chirac approved the transfer of writer Alexandre Dumas's remains. However, things do not always go to plan. In 2009 Nicolas Sarkozy wished to see Albert Camus buried in the Panthéon, but Camus's children chose to turn down the offer, which was seen as a humiliation for the president.

In a few weeks' time, Hollande will have the opportunity to admit a remarkable woman to the Panthéon. Whether he chooses Olympe, Simone, Louise or Germaine, he will make history and, as the Panthéon's motto says, the nation will certainly be grateful.

Germaine Tillion

Born in 1907, Tillion was a resistance fighter who abhorred the racist philosophies of 1930s Europe. In 1942 she was arrested by the Nazis and sent to a concentration camp. In her critique of the Nazi occupation and French use of torture in Algeria, she has been described as "the conscience of 20th-century France". She died in 2008.

Louise Michel

The French anarchist, schoolteacher and ambulance worker, born in 1830, was a member of revolutionary groups in Paris and one of the leaders of the insurrection during the Paris Commune of 1871. French anarchists saw her as a martyr and saint and called her "The Red Virgin". In 1871 she was exiled to New Caledonia in the Pacific until the general amnesty of 1880, when she returned to France. From 1890 until her death in 1905 she lived in England.

Simone de Beauvoir

Born in 1908, she is best known for The Second Sex, which is regarded as the founding text of the modern women's movement. She met her partner, Jean-Paul Sartre, in 1929. They rejected the idea of marriage and never lived together. She was an award-winning novelist, philosopher and celebrated memoirist who championed political causes such as Algerian independence. "Women, you owe her everything!" ran the headline announcing her death in 1986.

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« Reply #8450 on: Sep 01, 2013, 07:08 AM »

Italy calls for German assistance as Pompeii falls further into ruin

German archaeologists to use nanotechnology as Italians come under pressure from Unesco over vandalism

Lizzy Davies in Rome, Friday 30 August 2013 21.35 BST

With the greatest number of Unesco world heritage sites, and state coffers that do not have much to spare for the culture sector, Italy has long worried how to protect its heritage.from ruin Now it is resorting to overseas help to find a solution for Pompeii.

In recent years Italy has experimented with private sponsors for various projects, with shoe company Tod's funding a revamp of the Colosseum and Fendi sprucing up the Trevi fountain. The Pompeii Sustainable Preservation project (PSP) draws on the resources of international institutions as researchers from the Technische Universität in Munich (TUM), the Fraunhofer Institute and the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) embark on a 10-year, €10m (£8.6m) effort to prevent the world-famous site in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius "from falling further into ruin".

The nearly2,000-year-old ruins have long been the subject of international concern: in January, Unesco documented a series of shortcomings at Pompeii, warning of a lack of qualified staff, structural damage and vandalism, and in June it warned Italy it had until the end of the year to adopt urgent measures to curb the decline.

In response, the government said it was working to overcome the site's problems, having begun a €105m wide-ranging rescue project in February jointly which is being funded by the European Union. In August it also announced it was appointing a new director general for the so-called Great Pompeii project. This aims to carry out sweeping restoration works and boost visitor numbers by 300,000 to 2.6 million a year by 2017.

With a start date set for next summer, the German-led PSP plan is not expected to overlap with the overall rescue package. It will focus on one particular apartment building, or insula, at Pompeii and will look to develop long-term solutions and preventative restoration.

"To date, this has not been undertaken on an adequate scale," said professor Erwin Emmerling of TUM in remarks on the project's website. "We want to find out more about ongoing restoration."

The website further notes: "Pompeii is a treasure trove. Each new excavation yields new knowledge, and is greeted with huge interest by the public and research community. All too often however, a lot less interest has been shown in the sustainable preservation of this unique site.

Many of the finds, most notably Pompeii's frescos, have been moved to museums, to protect them from the wind and weathering. But because of inadequate conservation measures, the exposed walls of the city with their lavish decorations are now visibly disintegrating."

Emmerling and his fellow project leader Klaus Sedlbauer, director of the Fraunhofer, expect their work to combine traditional materials with hi-tech aids such as nanotechnology. "The first step will be drainage, followed by new types of protective structures," Emmerling said. But that is just the start," said Emmerling. Eventually, its website predicts the PSP "will be a training site for conservationists from around the world".

Salvatore Settis, a professor of classical archaeology, said the German-led project was good news. He rejected the idea that it sent the message that Italy needed outside help, emphasising that several domestic institutions were involved as research partners. "Science has no boundaries. Moreover, at Pompeii, there's room for everyone," he told La Repubblica.

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« Reply #8451 on: Sep 01, 2013, 07:19 AM »

Indian guru Asaram Bapu arrested over rape claims

Arrest of controversial spiritual leader is latest in series of high-profile rape cases fuelling protests in India

Associated Press in Jaipur, Sunday 1 September 2013 08.46 BST

A controversial spiritual guru has been arrested on a rape charge filed by a teenage girl in the north-western Indian state of Rajasthan.

Asaram Bapu was arrested at a spiritual retreat in central India and flown to the city of Jodhpur, where he is wanted for allegedly raping the girl, senior police officer Ajay Singh Lamba said.

The case is the latest in a series of high-profile rape cases in India that have fuelled public protests and raised questions about how the police's handling of cases and treatment of victims.

The girl filed a complaint two weeks ago accusing the Hindu preacher of raping her when she visited his retreat in Jodhpur with her mother. Members of the girl's family say they have been followers of Bapu for more than a decade.

Bapu, who has hundreds of thousands of followers in India and is well known for his discourses on Hindu religion, has denied the charge.

There was drama on Saturday when Rajasthan police arrived at Bapu's retreat to arrest him. Hundreds of his supporters crowded into the ashram and attacked television crews.

Bapu was questioned for nearly three hours before he was arrested, police said.

Bapu outraged many Indians earlier this year when he said the victim of a gang-rape on a New Delhi bus would have been unharmed if she had addressed her attackers as brothers and pleaded with them to spare her.


India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
August 30, 2013, 9:57 am

The Advantages of Being Asaram Bapu


Asumal Sirumalani, a popular Indian spiritual leader who is known to his followers as Asaram Bapu, has fought a long battle against sex.

At his crowded satsangs (spiritual assemblies), which are telecast live on India’s proliferating religious channels, Mr. Asaram, who goes by one name, takes great pains to condemn sexual desire in men and women. Among his most persistent campaigns against the growing sexualization of Indian society has been one for the abolition of Valentine’s Day, which the guru sees as just the excuse all these young people need to have sex.  “Chhora Chhori ko phool de, bole main tumse pyaaar karta hoom; chhori chhore ko phool de, bole main tumse pyaar karti hoon. Satyanaash ho jaata hai. Pyaar ke bahane gandi gandi harkatein kar ke khali ho jaate hain.” (“Boy offers flower to girl, says he loves her; girl offers flower to boy, says she loves him. It leads to destruction. They engage in dirty acts in the name of love, wasting themselves in the process.”)

This year, he proposed to all state governments that they declare Feb. 14 “Matri Pitri Pujan Diwas” (“Parents’ Worship Day”). He even got Chhattisgarh, ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P., to impose it as such; circulars were sent to schools all over the state, its chief minister, Raman Singh, piously announced at the guru’s Raipur ashram in January.

Earlier, at another of his satsangs with a social message, he advised married couples to abstain from sex during auspicious days in the Hindu calendar like Holi and Diwali. “Husband-wife behavior” on these days led to lifelong diseases, even mentally and physically crippled children, the preacher said. “Tabahi, tabahi, tabahi” (“destruction, destruction, destruction”), he warned his horrified audience. A recurring feature of Mr. Asaram’s spiritual assemblies are yogic tips for maintaining celibacy, which include stuffing one’s ears with wet cotton and rolling the eyes back into the head.

Given his puritanical background, it’s not surprising the guru’s name was splashed across local newspapers after a 15-year-old girl filed a police complaint on Aug. 20 in Delhi against 72-year-old Mr. Asaram, accusing him of sexually abusing her five days earlier at a farmhouse in Jodhpur, where he was staying at the time. The girl, who studied at a school run by his foundation in Madhya Pradesh, had been brought to Jodhpur by her parents, devotees of the godman, to be rescued from evil spirits.

Mr. Asaram was booked under Sections 376 (rape), 509 (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman) and 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty) of the Indian Penal Code and Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act.

In fact, Mr. Asaram has not exactly been immune to such controversy in the past; the Gujarat police are investigating the mysterious murder and mutilation of two young boys in his ashram in April 2008. The sage said sadly, however, it was that the “dirtiness” of this latest accusation that stung him.

You’d think an accusation of sexual assault would be career-ending for your hard-working professional saint, but Sant Shri Asaramji Bapu has nothing to fear. At a time when people want the harshest punishment for the five slum dwellers, four of them reportedly Muslim, accused of raping a young working woman in Mumbai, the charges of sexual abuse against the guru have led to an outpouring of sympathy and support. While it’s neither the first time a religious leader is suspected of sexual exploitation, nor the only occasion when concessions are made for him or her, the difference in the political and public response to the two parallel cases reveals uncomfortable truths about our system.

The country’s Hindu-nationalist establishment – peaceable organizations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Bajrang Dal, the Hindu Kranti Dal, the Hindu Jagriti Manch, and the Hindu Dharma Raksha Samiti – has put its firm weight behind its soldier, terming the incident a motivated attack against India’s saints and religious leaders. Press conferences have been called across central and north India — Delhi, Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh — to put forth explanations. It is the work of Christian missionaries, someone suggested; it’s a foreign conspiracy to finish Hindu culture, said another.

Leaders of the B.J.P. see this as a political conspiracy, hatched by the rival Congress. Raman Singh, an old follower of Mr. Asaram, said the guru had long been on the radar of “a particular party.” Tweeted another B.J.P. politician, the saffron-clad Uma Bharati: “Saint Asaram Bapu is innocent. He is being punished for opposing Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. False cases have been lodged against him in Congress (ruled) States. Saints are with Bapu.”

Then there’s Subramanian Swamy, a recent entrant to the B.J.P. best remembered for calling for Muslims to be disenfranchised: “Need to probe why there is a spate of allegations against Asaram Bapu. Is it because he asked TDK [a reference to Sonia Gandhi] to flee from the country?” Mr. Asaram does indeed share these luminaries’ concerns about Western influence, beyond just Valentine’s Day, and had indeed once appealed to Mrs. Gandhi, the Congress Party president, to leave India.

His spokeswoman, Neelam Dubey, has, meanwhile, speculated about the role of foreign corporations (“videshi takatein”) associated with coffee shops or soda brands, since “Pujya Bapuji” often spoke of the harmful effects of these Western imports. In one of his spiritual addresses, all of which are available on his Web site, the godman solemnly warned that dancing to “rock and pop” music at nightclubs, especially while sipping cold drinks, could lead to permanent pain and weakness below the knees.

People sometimes malign even the gods, Mr. Asaram has himself said of the girl’s charges. Not that his followers care. In a series of rallies in various cities and towns, his devotees have expressed their pain at his persecution, some threatening nationwide revolt if the charges were not withdrawn. “He is god to us and we will shed our blood for him,” said a young woman in Punjab on A2Z channel.

Aware of their unwavering devotion, the guru has moved from Jodhpur to Ahmedabad to Indore and now Surat on a spiritual tour even after receiving the summons for police interrogation. During a rare television interview to the ABP channel at his live satsang in Indore, he asked the reporter to turn the camera toward the cross-legged multitude before him, who let out wails of outrage for the camera.

It is an old trick for him. In January, after he was criticized for first saying that the young woman gang raped in a moving bus in Delhi could have saved herself by acting helpless and addressing the men as “Bhaiyya” (brother), and then suggesting that stricter rape laws could be misused by “bazaaru auratein” (“loose women”), he amassed a large gathering of his female followers for an address titled “Does Asaram Bapu Really Hate Women of India” and asked them, on live TV, if they thought he was against them. “No!” came the resounding response, unsurprisingly. “Every time there is an accusation against me, the number of my followers goes up,” he said in an interview to a local newspaper in Indore this week.

The most zealous of his followers are, however, neither in his satsangs nor the street demonstrations, but online. And as Internet champions of Hinduism are known to be, they are very angry. “Why only saints like Bapuji n baba ramdev is targeted? the answer is clear… because they inspire people … these anti-social elements know that defaming these prominent personalities will give a serious dent to Hindu religion” responds one of them to a news telecast on Satsang TV. “This is Conspiracy by Christian Missionaries and Her SISTER IN RULING PARTY OF INDIA to Defame INDIA HINDU GODMAN” writes another in a comment on the Web site FirstPost.

Mr. Asaram could turn out to be innocent, and this whole controversy may well be a conspiracy of the Congress or of Coca-Cola, but one thing is clear: rape is not yet a real issue in India.

Snigdha Poonam is Arts Editor at The Caravan. She is on Twitter at@snigdhapoonam

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« Reply #8452 on: Sep 01, 2013, 07:22 AM »

India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
August 30, 2013, 8:00 am

India’s Lower House Passes Land Acquisition Bill


NEW DELHI— In the footsteps of the passage of the food security bill earlier this week, India’s lower house of Parliament, the Lok Sabha, passed the populist land acquisition bill on Thursday with an overwhelming majority.

The bill, officially known as “The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2012,” aims to provide farmers with fair and reasonable compensation and to prevent the forcible acquisition of agricultural land without the consent of the landowner.

Considered the brainchild of the Congress Party’s vice president, Rahul Gandhi, the bill would supersede the colonial-era Land Acquisition Act of 1894 if it passes the upper house of the Parliament, or Rajya Sabha, as expected next week.

With the passage of the bill in the Lok Sabha on a 216-to-19 vote, the ruling Congress Party will now look to garner a large number of rural votes ahead of national elections in 2014.

“The land acquisition bill will give farmers justice and provide them with the remuneration they deserve,” Kamal Nath, parliamentary affairs minister, told reporters.

The bill entails a compensation package that proposes to offer the farmers four times the market value of the land in rural areas and twice the market value of the same in urban areas. It also specifies that consent of 80 percent of the landowners is mandatory for private projects, while for public-private-partnership projects, 70 percent consent is required.

Even though allies like the Samajwadi Party criticized the government in the debate that preceded the voting on the bill, they went on to vote for the bill with amendments.

“Land acquisition is a highly sensitive issue,” said Rajnath Singh, president of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P., in Parliament. “I request the minister to ensure that all the amendments moved by the opposition be enshrined in the bill.”

While some of the amendments moved by the B.J.P. were passed, the others were defeated and withdrawn on the floor of the Parliament. An amendment moved by the leader of the opposition Sushma Swaraj, which was later passed, suggested that land could be leased to the developers so that the original ownership of the land would still remain with the farmers.

The debate and subsequent passage of the bill in the lower house of Parliament comes in the wake of widespread violent confrontations between farmers and developers in the country. A protest by farmers in Bhatta Parsaul village on the outskirts of Delhi in 2011 led to a prolonged exchange of gunfire between police and villagers, claiming the lives of two civilians and two police officers.

Protests over land acquisitions have also in the past been indirectly responsible for the fall of governments. A 34-year-old Communist government was voted out of power in the eastern state of West Bengal in May, 2011 after farmers in Singur, a town in the state’s Hooghly district, staged a huge rally against the government’s acquisition of land on behalf of Tata Motors. The demonstrations were led by Mamata Banerjee, the current chief minister of West Bengal.

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« Reply #8453 on: Sep 01, 2013, 07:25 AM »

Fukushima radiation levels 18 times higher than previously thought

Operator of Japanese nuclear power plant claims there has been no leak but has yet to discover cause of radiation spike

Justin McCurry in Tokyo, Sunday 1 September 2013 10.22 BST   

Radiation levels 18 times higher than previously reported have been found near a water storage tank at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, prompting fresh concern over safety at the wrecked facility.

The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), said radiation near the bottom of the tank measured 1,800 millisieverts an hour – high enough to kill an exposed person in four hours.

Tepco said water levels inside the tank had not changed, indicating there had not been a leak. But the firm said it had yet to discover the cause of the radiation spike.

Last month Tepco said another storage tank of the same design as the container causing concern this weekend had leaked 300 tonnes of radioactive water, possibly into the sea.

Japan's nuclear watchdog confirmed last week it had raised the severity of that leak from level 1, an "anomaly", to level 3, a "serious incident", on an eight-point scale used by the International Atomic Energy Agency for radiological releases.

Earlier, the utility belatedly confirmed reports that a toxic mixture of groundwater and water being used to cool melted fuel lying deep inside the damaged reactors was seeping into the sea at a rate of about 300 tonnes a day.

Experts said those leaks, which are separate from the most recent incidents, may have started soon after the plant was struck by a powerful tsunami on 11 March 2011.

The tsunami smashed into the plant after Japan's north-east coast was rocked by a magnitude-9.0 earthquake. The waves killed almost 19,000 people, while the resulting triple meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi forced 160,000 people to abandon their homes.

The high radiation levels announced on Sunday highlighted the dangers facing thousands of workers as they attempt to contain, treat and store water safely, while preventing fuel assemblies damaged in the accident from going back into meltdown.

Japan's nuclear workers are allowed an annual accumulative radiation exposure of 50 millisieverts. Tepco said radiation of 230 millisieverts an hour had been measured at another tank, up from 70 millisieverts last month. A third storage tank was emitting 70 millisieverts an hour, Tepco said. Radiation near a pipe connecting two other tanks had been measured at 230 millisieverts.

Tepco admitted recently that only two workers had initially been assigned to check more than 1,000 storage tanks on the site. Neither of the workers carried dosimeters to measure their exposure to radiation, and some inspections had not been properly recorded.

The firm responded to growing criticism of its handling of the water problem by increasing the number of workers patrolling the tanks from the current total of eight to 50.

The firm's inability to safely store contaminated water and prevent more damage to the environment has prompted doubts about its ability to lead the Fukushima Daiichi cleanup. Decommissioning the plant is expected to cost tens of billions of dollars and last around 40 years.

Tepco recently set up a committee to focus on the water leaks and said it would seek advice from foreign decommissioning experts. The prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has said the government will play a bigger role in preventing water contamination.

The chairman of the country's Nuclear Regulation Authority, Shunichi Tanaka, said: "We cannot fully stop contaminated water leaks right away. That's the reality. The water is still leaking in to the sea, and we should better assess its environmental impact."

Tepco's handling of the leaks has drawn an angry response from local fishermen, who had to abandon plans to conduct a trial catch at the end of August. Fishermen south of Fukushima Daiichi have not been able to fish commercially since the disaster, while those north of the plant can catch only octopus and whelks.

"We think that contaminated water management by your company has completely fallen apart," Hiroshi Kishi, chairman of the Japan Fisheries Co-operative, told Tepco's president, Naomi Hirose, during a meeting in Tokyo last week.

"This has dealt an immeasurable blow to the future of Japan's fishing industry, and we are extremely concerned."

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« Reply #8454 on: Sep 01, 2013, 07:39 AM »

Kevin Rudd rallies Labor for election fight at official campaign launch

PM announces tax breaks for small business and Tafe funding challenge to states, as he tries to play on doubts about Abbott

Lenore Taylor, political editor, Sunday 1 September 2013 05.56 BST   

Kevin Rudd, his wife, Therese Rein, his daughter, Jessica, son-in-law Albert Tse, and granddaughter, Josephine at the Labor launch. Kevin Rudd, his wife, Therese Rein, his daughter, Jessica, son-in-law Albert Tse, and granddaughter, Josephine at the Labor launch. Photograph: LUKAS COCH/AAPIMAGE

Kevin Rudd has tried to revive his faltering election campaign with tax breaks for small business, an effective takeover of funding for technical colleges and an appeal to Australians not to vote for Tony Abbott if they still have doubts about making the Coalition leader prime minister.

In a campaign launch aimed at steeling Labor to fight out the final campaign week despite all opinion polls pointing to a resounding defeat on 7 September, Rudd insisted to the party faithful at the Brisbane convention centre that all was not lost.

“To those who say that Mr Abbott has already won this election, I say this: never ever, ever underestimate the fighting spirit of the Australian Labor party. Never, ever, ever underestimate my fighting spirit as your prime minister,” Rudd said at the event attended by former prime ministers Hawke and Keating but not the woman he ousted as prime minister in June, Julia Gillard.

Rudd continued to insist the Coalition was hiding $70bn in spending cuts, despite the Coalition’s repeated denials. He presented the prospect of a Coalition government as a threat to jobs and school and hospital funding.

But in both Rudd’s launch speech and a rousing warm up by his deputy, Anthony Albanese, Labor broadened its attack from the allegation of hidden costings to Abbott’s character and the possibility that voters still harbour misapprehensions about the Coalition leader.

“If you are still feeling uneasy about voting for Mr Abbott, there is a good reason for that, because he’s asking for you to buy something sight unseen. You, the Australian people, have had a long time to get to know Mr Abbott after his 20 years in parliament – but if you still have doubts, don’t vote for him,” Rudd said.

Albanese was more blunt.

“If you want a bloke who can jump tyres vote for Tony Abbott, but if you want a bloke who can guide you through the next global financial crisis, vote for Kevin Rudd,” Albanese said, referring to Abbott’s campaign trail training routine with troops in Darwin.

“No issue is too big for Tony Abbott to show exactly how small he is. He’s got something to offer if you want someone to join you on your morning run. But running the country? He’s just not up to it.”

Rudd is under pressure to appeal to Labor’s blue-collar working-class base, which has drifted to Abbott. A Lonergan Guardian poll showed younger men were overrepresented in the almost 1m voters saying they had voted Labor in 2010 but would vote for the Coalition in 2013, but that those switching were not doing so with enthusiasm or conviction.

Policies announced in Rudd’s launch speech targeted this base and small business owners and included:

• A boost to the instant asset write-off for small business from the already increased $6,500 to $10,000 for two years from next Sunday. The measure would cost $200m, and accentuates the difference with the Coalition, which has promised to cut the existing $6,500 write-off back to $1,000 to save $2.9bn. Labor has made an appeal to the traditional Coalition-supporting small business constituency a feature of its campaign, and Labor candidates said they thought the measure – which allows businesses to write off the cost of equipment against their tax liability – was a vote winner.

• Legislation to require all projects worth $300m or more to develop plans to buy goods and equipment from Australian companies, which Rudd claimed would result in “up to” $624m in extra work for Australian industry each year.

• An extra $34.1m to increase payments for apprentices who complete their training to buy tools – with payments for each apprentice rising from $1,500 to $2,000.

• A new body to join the employment services system and training system, called Jobs and Training Australia.

He also promised a re-elected federal Labor government would “take on” state governments – including Victoria, Western Australia and Queensland – that have been cutting funding to Tafe colleges while commonwealth funds have been increasing.

Rudd said Labor would require state governments to provide steady funding – indexed for inflation – as part of a federal/state agreement on Tafe colleges.

If they did not, of if they cut state contributions, the commonwealth would bypass them and provide money directly to colleges, and from 2015 would move to take over Tafe funding altogether.

“I will simply not stand idly by and continue to hand over commonwealth funds to state governments to run Tafe colleges while those state governments cut their own Tafe funding,” Rudd said.

The Coalition education spokesman, Christopher Pyne, said the move was a threat of “command and control” from federal Labor.

Rudd was introduced by his wife, Therese Rein, who reminded voters of his personal story: that he had grown up on a dairy farm and “carries his country boy smile everywhere with him”, that he would never forget sleeping in a car when his mother struggled to find a job after the death of his father and that he was a devoted husband, father and grandfather. (Rudd was joined on stage at the conclusion of his speech by Rein, his three children, his son-in-law and his granddaughter, Josephine.)

The Coalition attacked the launch announcements by pointing out promises made at previous launches that had not been delivered.

Pyne pointed out Labor had promised 2,650 trades training schools in 2007, but had delivered only 252.

Rudd mentioned Gillard’s achievement in getting agreement on DisabilityCare, in a list of great social reforms achieved by previous Labor leaders, to cheers from the crowd. Former treasurer Wayne Swan attended the launch. While Rudd lauded Labor’s economic management during the financial crisis, Swan, who was his treasurer at the time, was not mentioned.

Rudd sought to paint modern Labor as part of a great tradition of social reform, but he also referred, without detail, to Labor’s “mistakes” and the fact that it had not always “got it right”.


Emerging from the black hole, a monumental Abbott sucker punch

What if the opposition leader, having attacked the Labor deficits with such zeal, is about to emulate them?   

Sunday 1 September 2013 07.20 BST   

Tony Abbott's surprise might not be the one Labor was expecting. Tony Abbott's surprise might not be the one Labor was expecting. Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Labor is clinging to the hope that Tony Abbott has a $70bn costings black hole that will scare the bejeezus out of voters even if the Coalition leader succeeds in keeping its bleak contents hidden from the electorate until the bitter end.

But here’s a sobering thought for the ALP: what if a black hole is not what the Coalition leader is hiding? What if Abbott’s reluctance to lay out his full costings, and a year-by-year breakdown of spending and saving, is because it will show he won’t return the budget to surplus, or start to pay down debt any faster than Labor intends to. What if it’s because the Coalition budget might fall even further into deficit in the early years before the new company tax levy and some of the already announced spending cuts start to kick in, precisely because Abbott isn’t intending big cuts to frontline services.

It would expose the utter cynicism of the Coalition’s “budget emergency”, “we’re drowning in debt” attack of the past three years. But it would also leave Labor’s election attack looking pretty hollow.

Labor refuses to let go of its belief that the black hole is out there. It has built its campaign so determinedly on the allegation that the Coalition is hiding secret cuts to health and education that it has spent far less time talking about the actual cuts Abbott has already laid out in the open for all to see – including to the schoolkids bonus and low-income superannuation and tax breaks for small business.

Rudd still wasn’t letting go of the $70bn scare in his launch on Sunday, referring again to the “$70bn of massive cuts that risk throwing the entire economy into recession because we are living through fragile global economic times”, and advising voters that “if you don’t understand how Mr Abbott’s $70bn of cuts will affect your job, your school, your hospital, then don’t vote for him”.

But just Sunday morning on ABC’s Insiders, Abbott had said again that what he had under wraps was “relatively modest savings” (confirming in the process that it would be late in the final week that voters would finally see his costings).

“I don't think anyone is going to think at the end of this week, ‘My God there is this massive fiscal squeeze coming.’ If anything, what they will think is there has been a massive scare campaign, a massive campaign of exaggerations and even lies from the Labor party,” Abbott said.

It wasn’t so much Abbott’s costings black hole, but Labor’s political black hole that was on display in Brisbane on Sunday.

As Anthony Albanese and Rudd tried to rev up the dispirited troops by listing Labor’s record of achievement in government, it was difficult not to think how little political credit they’d got for any of it, and how much Labor’s own leadership turmoil was to blame.

As Hawke and Keating, the older and greyer Labor prime ministers of the past once again came in to a Labor campaign launch to a heroes’ welcome, the absence of the more recent red-headed leader was all the more noticeable.

As Rudd made one last big pitch to the blue-collar vote – the apprentices, the Tafe students, the battlers who switch when Australia changes government – it was interesting to remember that Abbott hadn’t really made them big promises on anything, other than ending the chaos and infighting of the other side.

And as Rudd ploughed through detailed promises on instant tax write-offs and Tafe funding deals it was hard not to wonder whether an electorate exhausted with politics would be able to absorb any of it in the campaign’s final days.

If Abbott is telling the truth (and so close to actually revealing the information why wouldn’t he be?) it amounts to a monumental political sucker punch.

Having eroded Labor’s ability to claim credit for its economic management with constant claims that the budget deficit represents a crisis and the stimulus spending during the financial crisis was not needed, it would be the ultimate irony if the Coalition’s own fiscal policy turned out to be not that scary, but really pretty much more of the same.


Kevin Rudd threatens states with Tafe funding bypass

PM says Tafes are 'withering' due to states' cuts and warns federal government could set up own training network

Gabrielle Chan, political correspondent, Sunday 1 September 2013 06.45 BST   

A re-elected Labor government would force the states to maintain and increase their Tafe funding by threatening them with being bypassed by a federal government providing direct funding to institutions or setting up its own national vocational training network.

At the Labor campaign launch on Sunday, Kevin Rudd said Labor had achieved significant reforms in other areas of education but Tafes were “withering on the vine” due to state government cuts.

He told states that if they did not meet the the commonwealth’s funding requirements by July 2014, a Labor government would move to fund Tafes directly.

“If state governments frustrate this ambition, then from 2015 the Australian government will begin directing its own Tafe funding into a new Tafe Australia Network directly funded by the commonwealth,” Rudd said.

It was one of a series of education and training commitments made at the campaign launch, including an increase in tool payments to apprentices, the establishment of jobs and training boards to provide employment services and grants for young people to start a trade.

Commonwealth annual funding for vocational education and training (VET) had increased by 25% in real terms since Labor came to office in 2007, amounting to more than $19bn, according to Rudd.

“Which is why it is worrying to see state governments making Tafe cuts and jacking up fees,” Rudd said.

“I will simply not stand idly by and continue to hand over commonwealth funds to state governments to run Tafe colleges while those state governments cut their own Tafe funding.”

Rudd referred to Tafe cuts made by the states, which included $182m cut from the Victorian 2013-14 budget for higher education and skills and a 6.5% drop in Western Australia’s overall training budget.

Education, which was a signature portfolio for the former prime minister Julia Gillard, featured highly in the Labor launch. Gillard did not attend.

Rudd said the Labor government had achieved reforms in the areas including early childhood education, schools and universities.

“There are now more than 190,000 more students at university than there were when we were first elected,” he said.

“The one remaining element of the education system that has not been dealt with in our reform program is Tafe.

“Given that the commonwealth’s annual funding for skills and training to the states and territories amounts to $7bn over the budget cycle, properly directed commonwealth funding would in time build a new Tafe Australia network that would rival the great polytechnics of France and Germany,” Rudd said.

Labor has made a feature of vocational training in the campaign. Rudd said Labor had increased the number of apprentices in training by 50,000 during its term in office.

He said the education and skills commitments were important in the Australian economy’s transition out of the China-driven mining boom.

The education policy also committed to a job services guarantee to ensure workers received employment services within two business days of losing their job.

Labor also promised to increase the tools for your trade payment to around 70,000 apprentices to $6,000 to help buy their first set of tools.


Kevin Rudd feels the chafe of his Labor family ties

It was Father's Day and the PM's forebears were out in force, but it was a spurned political sibling who loomed largest

Gabrielle Chan, political correspondent, Sunday 1 September 2013 08.37 BST   

“Without families, we are nothing,” said Kevin Rudd of his wife, Therese Rein.

Equally, the sentence also summed up the very reason why Labor finds itself staring down the barrel of electoral loss.

As Rudd took the stage at the official campaign launch, there in front of him stood the Labor family: former prime ministers Bob Hawke and Paul Keating and party elders such as John Faulkner. Gough Whitlam could not be there. Julia Gillard did not want to be a distraction.

Certainly Whitlam, Hawke and Keating are the towering living figures around which Labor has spun its fables, based on the tenet that the party of progressive Australia melded reform with a heart and soul.

Central was the belief that the Labor cause is bigger than any one individual. The family came first. Without families, we are nothing.

Enter Kevin Rudd, the man who by his actions suggested that he remained convinced that he was bigger than any cause, Labor or otherwise.

So it was always going to be a hard task – the campaign launch – in a hard week, the last of the campaign.

Rudd had little reason to rise above his party’s woes and yet he did. With grace and dignity, he delivered one of the strongest performances of Labor’s election campaign.

First on was Anthony “Albo” Albanese, Australia’s deputy prime minister, a man who has given his all to the Labor party and his own ambition, since his early days as leader of the left in Sussex Street.

The task was not lost on Albo, who had supported Rudd, then supported Gillard, then supported Rudd. A Camperdown boy, brought up by a single mother, he is a survivor.

Albo was the man who had to rally the troops, and he brought along his own family, including his wife, former New South Wales Labor minister Carmel Tebbutt and their son Nathan, who he proudly shouted out to on this Father’s Day.

“It’s one to remember,” said Albo, and for Labor, it certainly was.

The deputy was emotional. Without family, we are nothing.

And so Albo began spinning those fables, casting out the Labor aura like a great fishing net to draw in voters and drag back the true believers who have given up and shed their Labor skins.

“Our opponents seek government because they believe it is what they are entitled to,” said Albanese.

“For Labor, government is never the end in itself. We govern so that we can build for the future. It’s the Labor way.”

Albo listed Labor’s achievements: steering the economy through the global financial crisis, a carbon pricing scheme to address climate change, boosts for renewable energy, the national broadband network.

“Whatever you say about John Howard, he was a man of intellect, who had a vision for his country. Not my vision, but a vision nonetheless,” Albanese said. “Mr Abbott is a man mired in pessimism and stuck in the past.

“If you want a bloke who can jump through tyres, you can vote for Tony Abbott. If you want a bloke who can guide you through the next financial crisis, vote for Kevin Rudd.”

Rein came next, reminding Australia that her husband lost his father at a young age, which forced the family to move from the dairy which had been their home. In a role mirrored by Abbott’s daughters at the Liberal campaign launch a week before, Rein was there to put private flesh on the public bones of the prime minister.

And when that man came on to the stage, he was looking upbeat and the most relaxed he has been in this campaign. Rudd announced a range of new policies. He was defiant in the face of the polls and a well-oiled Liberal party machine. Like Albanese, he returned to Labor values.

“The values which gave us fair pay, fair conditions and an independent umpire. Values that built the age pension. Values that built a free public hospital system. Values that built a university system accessible for all under Gough Whitlam. Values that built superannuation for all under Paul Keating. Values that built DisabilityCare for all under Julia Gillard. These are values worth fighting for,” he said.

Julia Gillard. It was a name he could not mention. It was also a name he could not fail to mention. In the Labor family, Gillard’s presence hangs like the sibling excised from the will. Like the aunt not invited to Christmas dinner. And it was palpable at the launch.

Without family, we are nothing.


Election 2013: policy interactive

What ground are the major parties standing on as Australia heads to the polls? We look at the Labor, Coalition and Greens policies on the key areas in the run-up to the 2013 federal election.

Introduction to immigration

Australia is the only country in the world to compulsorily detain all “unlawful non-citizens”. Former Labor prime minister Paul Keating introduced mandatory detention in 1992, and the debate about immigration and boat arrivals has divided the nation for decades.

Labor began in 2007 by implementing a more humane policy, dismantling many of the former Howard government’s punitive deterrence measures – but the government changed course significantly as boat arrivals surged. Now Labor says boat arrivals will never be settled in Australia.

The opposition leader, Tony Abbott, has kept his political message simple: he says he will stop the boats. There is also political contention about skilled migration. The Greens and Katter’s Australian party are significant players in the immigration debate.

Click on the leaders of the parties to explore policy on immigration. Or click the tabs above to select a different policy area.

Click here to access a page in which you can click on the face of the various leaders to read their various ideas and proposals:

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« Reply #8455 on: Sep 01, 2013, 07:45 AM »

'Mexico's war on drugs is one big lie'

Anabel Hernández, journalist and author, accuses the Mexican state of complicity with the cartels, and says the 'war on drugs' is a sham. She's had headless animals left at her door and her family have been threatened by gunmen. Now her courageous bestseller, extracted below, is to be published in the UK

Ed Vulliamy   
The Observer, Sunday 1 September 2013   

During January 2011, Anabel Hernández's extended family held a party at a favourite cafe in the north of Mexico City. The gathering was to celebrate the birthday of Anabel's niece. As one of the country's leading journalists who rarely allows herself time off, she was especially happy because "the entire family was there. There are so many of us that it's extremely difficult to get everybody together in one place. It hardly ever happens." 

Anabel Hernández had to leave early, as so often, "to finish an article", and it was after she left that gunmen burst in. "Pointing rifles at my family, walking round the room – and taking wallets from people. But this was no robbery; no one tried to use any of the credit cards – it was pure intimidation, aimed at my family, and at me." It was more than a year before the authorities began looking for the assailants. And during that time the threats had continued: one afternoon last June, Hernández opened her front door to find decapitated animals in a box on the doorstep.

Hernández's offence was to write a book about the drug cartels that have wrought carnage across Mexico, taking some 80,000 lives, leaving a further 20,000 unaccounted for – and forging a new form of 21st-century warfare. But there have been other books about this bloodletting; what made Los Señores del Narco different was its relentless narrative linking the syndicate that has driven much of the violence – the Sinaloa cartel, the biggest criminal organisation in the world – to the leadership of the Mexican state.

Her further sin against the establishment and cartels was that the book became, and remains, a bestseller: more than 100,000 copies sold in Mexico. The success is impossible to overstate, a staggering figure for a non-fiction book in a country with indices of income and literacy incomparable to the American-European book-buying market. The wildfire interest delivers a clear message, says Hernández: "So many Mexicans do not believe the official version of this war. They do not believe the government are good guys, fighting the cartels. They know the government is lying, they don't carry their heads in the clouds."

Hernández's book will be published in English this month with the title Narcoland: The Mexican Drug Lords and their Godfathers, so that we in the English-speaking world that consumes so much of what the cartels deal, and which banks their proceeds, might learn the lie of "cops and robbers", of "upright society versus the mafia" – the received wisdom that still contaminates coverage of drug wars and the "war on drugs".

Two writers in particular have been pioneering the struggle to counter this untruth: one is Hernández, and the other is Roberto Saviano – author of Gomorrah, about the Camorra of Naples – who writes in a foreword to Hernández's English edition: "Narcoland shows how contemporary capitalism is in no position to renounce the mafia. Because it is not the mafia that has transformed itself into a modern capitalist enterprise, it is capitalism that has transformed itself into a mafia. The rules of drug trafficking that Anabel Hernández describes are also the rules of capitalism."

By the year 2000, Anabel Hernández had made a name for herself in Mexican journalism, on the daily paper Reforma. But in December of that year, she found herself personally caught up in the murky crossover between state and criminals when her father was kidnapped: a crime the family believes to have been unconnected to his daughter's work.

The police in Mexico City said they would investigate only if they were paid; the family refused, figuring – as sometimes happens – that the police would take the money without taking any action. When Mr Hernández was murdered, Anabel Hernández's resolve to nurture her craft – fearless of, and without illusions about, the establishment – was deepened by the outrage.

Within a year, Hernández had broken a scandal about the extravagance with which the winning presidential candidate, Vicente Fox, had decorated his personal accommodation using public funds – while campaigning on a ticket of economic austerity. Two years later, she was honoured by Unicef for her work on slave labour and the exploitation of Mexican girls entrapped in agricultural work camps in southern California. Before long, Mexico's drug war erupted, and Hernández turned her attention to this most perilous of subjects, and the most powerful man involved: Joaquín "El Chapo'" Guzmán, leader of the Sinaloa cartel. In the depth of its depiction of the world's richest and most influential criminal, Hernández's book leaves every other account far behind.

When Zulema Hernández (no relation) entered Puente Grande prison, convicted of robbery, she cannot have thought herself in for a happy time. But she could never have imagined the consequences of attracting the attention of the jail's most famous inmate, Guzmán, and becoming one of his lovers. The attentions of El Chapo ("Shorty") led Zulema to have two abortions, to being prostituted around the warders like "a piece of meat" and – once released – to her corpse being found in the boot of a car with the letter Z, epigram of Guzmán's main rivals, Los Zetas, carved into her buttocks, breasts and back.

If this appalling tale, past midway through Hernández's narrative, captures the squalidness of Mexico's drug war, another passage illustrates the way Guzmán ran the jail in which he was supposedly incarcerated, inviting his extended family in for a five-day Christmas party. Hernández also recounts the mysterious murders of the one senior public official who tried to expose the corruption at the jail at government level and the only warder who testified to it. And, most important, the fact that Guzmán did not "escape" from Puente Grande, as the lore has it, in a laundry truck – he walked free in police uniform, with a police escort, long after the chief of the prison service and deputy minister for public security arrived in response to the "news" of his escape.

For this is a book about, to use one of Anabel Hernández's best words, the "mafiocracy", rather than the mafia – about the mafia state. It is about how the old Guadalajara cartel of the 1980s was protected by the Mexican government just as its heir, Guzmán's Sinaloa syndicate, is now. It is about the rise of Genaro García Luna, whom Hernández accuses of being El Chapo's protector at the apex of government. "At first, I thought it would be difficult," she says. "I didn't think people would be ready to believe that the government is lying. That this is all one big lie."

A character appears throughout the book, called simply "The Informant" – one among many Hernández found during her five-year odyssey through the criminal world, and those supposedly fighting it. "And he told me when I started this in 2005: 'Don't do this. You're a woman and it's too dangerous.' But I had to – because of what had happened in my life, and because only when people understand what is going on can they change it."

The threats began when Hernández's book was published in Mexico in 2010 – and their story is interwoven into the book she has since written, Mexico in Flames. By this time she had become a mother of two children. "I received initial warnings that someone in the government wanted to sanction me," she says. "Even that someone wanted to have me killed. I didn't want to believe it, but I was told this on good authority – 'they want to kill you'. I'd come to know official cars well over the years, and one day when I was fetching my little child from school, there it was, one of them, an official one."

Whatever the motive of this menace, "I reported it immediately to the government's human rights commission. They opened a file, and I was allocated 24-hour protection." But then, earlier this summer, a sinister move: the authorities announced their intention to remove the escort, forcing her to cancel a number of trips to afflicted areas of the country to promote the new book.

"I fought the decision," says Hernández, "and they gave me back the escort – but beheaded animals continued to appear on my doorstep even after this, as recently as last June."

When Hernández visits Britain this month, she will be drawing attention not only to the agony of her country, but to the intimidation she has suffered and the murder of scores of her colleagues. This pogrom against the press is no "sideshow" or media obsession with itself – it is strategically integral to Mexico's drug war, and the taking of territory by the cartels.

One of Hernández's friends is the veteran reporter Mike O'Connor, who spent much of his childhood in Mexico, has covered conflict since America's "dirty wars" in Central America during the 1980s and now works full-time on behalf of Mexico's menaced reporters, based in Mexico City for the Committee to Protect Journalists.

"The silencing of the press and killing of journalists is integral to the reality, the big story, of what is happening here," explains O'Connor. "The cartels are taking territory. The government and authorities are ceding territory to the cartels and, for the cartels to take territory, three things have to happen. One is to control the institutions with guns – basically, the police. The second is to control political power. And, for the first two to be effective, you have to control the press."

Furthermore, he says, underlining the theme of his friend's book, "The inability of the government to really solve any of the crimes against journalists during the four years I've been here is a metaphor for its inability to solve crimes against common citizens. They simply cannot do it. And you wonder: if they can't solve these crimes, why not? Is it because they don't want to?"

What does Hernández feel about her less prominent colleagues on local papers, often compromised and threatened by cartels? It is a problem, she says, that "our reporters are not united in the face of these threats and murders", and she intends to "form a federation of solidarity, to build a group, a community, to make us stronger against the cartels and authorities".

"Many of these murders of my colleagues have been hidden away, surrounded by silence – they received a threat, and told no one; no one knew what was happening," she says. "We have to make these threats public. We have to challenge the authorities to protect our press by making every threat public – so they have no excuse."

The timing of this English edition of the book is fortuitous, feeding into the current news like a hand into a glove. The release last month of the cartel boss Caro Quintero by a Mexican federal court made headlines across the world; Quintero had been convicted of a part in the torture to death of a US Drug Enforcement Administration agent, Enrique "Kiki" Camarena in 1985. It's a murder which, in Hernández's account, throws light on both Mexican government and CIA complicity in drug trafficking, a narrative that exposes a deep root of the present drug war.

The court released Quintero on a legal technicality, but Hernández says now: "Mexico's government did nothing to prevent his release. On the contrary, they contributed cover for the release. The one thing nobody wants is Quintero talking about the roles of the Institutional Revolutionary Party [returned to power, and in government during Camarena's murder] and the CIA in the origins of Chapo Guzmán's cartel."

Another major item of news was the capture in July of the Zetas leader Miguel Angel Treviño Morales, and the killing last year of the man he replaced, Heriberto Lazcano. These successes for the Mexican military speak to Hernández's theme: it has long been speculated that any Mexican government's best chance for peace is to return to the so-called "pax mafiosa", a conviviality with – a blind eye towards – the biggest cartel, Guzmán's, whereby the drugs keep flowing in exchange for a cessation of violence, while the official "war on drugs" is fought against his opponents. Of these, the Zetas are by far the most formidable.

"Sadly, I think this is what is happening," says Hernández. "Mexico is exhausted. People will pay anything to live in peace. And this is the strategy; a sponsorship of the Sinaloa cartel, which makes the so-called 'war on drugs' one big lie."

Señores del Narco is not flattered by its English translation, which is sometimes colloquial to the point of inelegance (agent Camarena is described as "a goner", and the mysterious killing of a compromised government official, Edgar Millán, is "a shocker"). That is a shame given the importance of the book and the availability of excellent translators from Spanish. The English edition is, furthermore, regrettably tardy (though hats off to Verso for publishing it), illustrating the Anglophone world's baffling detachment from the death toll of the drug-taking to which it feels  entitled.

Hernández is "very pleased my book is being published in English, so it can be read in London and New York where drugs are being sold and taken on every corner, and people can know where every gram of cocaine comes from – corruption and death. I want it published in Britain and America, where the profits are laundered. In your country, where HSBC took Chapo Guzmán's money to 'look after it', and then said they didn't know where it came from. I have studied the laundering networks in depth, and I cannot believe them."

Hernández insists – and this is what places her among the political heretics with regard to the "war on drugs"– that "the violence and the cartels are not the disease. They're a symptom of the disease, which is corruption. The cartels cannot operate without the support of officials, bureaucrats, politicians and police officers – and bankers to launder their money. These people let the narcos do what they do and they are the issue, this is the cancer. I met these people, the narcos. They have no scruples, they're cruel – but in the end, they're just businessmen, all they can see is money. Life, they cannot see."

Anabel Hernández will be speaking at the Frontline Club, London, on 11 September and at Bristol festival of ideas on 13 September


The passages below, extracted from Anabel Hernández's book, describe prison life for Mexican drug barons

El Chapo's women

During his detention in Puente Grande, Joaquín Guzmán killed time with sex, alcohol, drugs, volleyball, and push-ups. Like Hector "El Güero" Palma and Arturo "El Texas" Martínez [two other prisoners], he was well supplied with Viagra and other prowess-enhancing products. Given their age, it seems unlikely they would have been prescribed Viagra, unless of course they suffered from some dysfunction. Witnesses among the prison commanders and warders say the obsession with sex was so great that the three held competitions to see which of them could keep going the longest.

Prostitutes came and went from Puente Grande unimpeded; prison managers referred to them pejoratively as "las sin rostro," the faceless females. They would be brought in official cars, wearing blonde wigs. Prisoners received them in the psychological care section, in the conjugal visit rooms, or in their own cells. If ever there was a shortage, they would get their hands on female staff or inmates, with the connivance of warden Beltrán. These women didn't have much choice. Any who dared to resist the sexual demands of the drug barons had a rough time.

Of all the women El Chapo had at Puente Grande, three stood out: Zulema Yulia, Yves Eréndira and Diana Patricia. Each learned what a hell it is to be the current favourite of a gangster. Their desperate stories blow apart the myth of the "love-struck drug baron".

On 3 February, 2000, Zulema Yulia Hernández, a young woman just 23 years old, was incarcerated in Puente Grande for robbing a security van. Even if she deserved to go to jail, the maximum security facility seemed an excessive punishment. There was no separate wing for women. They were kept in the observation and classification centre, where they had neither the appropriate medical services nor adequate physical protection in the midst of an overwhelmingly male population.

Guzmán's family visits coincided with those of Zulema. She quickly caught El Chapo's eye. The drug trafficker's obsessive nature and the young woman's vulnerable situation were to shape their dark tale. Through one of the members of the Sinaloas, known as El Pollo, Guzmán sent "love" letters to Hernández. The almost illiterate drug trafficker dictated these letters to an unidentified scribe, who embellished them with a dose of drama. Of course, writing to a female inmate was one of the thousands of forbidden things that he was allowed to do quite freely. Very soon, Guzmán began to have intimate relations with the young delinquent barely more than half his age. Their meetings took place in the communications area, aided and abetted by female guards and by the prison management.

The last Christmas in Puente Grande

It was after 10pm on Christmas Eve. The silence hanging over the broad freeway between Guadalajara and Zapotlanejo was broken by the roar of a convoy of SUVs, speeding towards the prison. At the junction outside the gates, there was a temporary checkpoint where perimeter guard José Luis de la Cruz stood watch with a colleague. He'd had specific orders from the deputy director for perimeter security not to let anybody in; he'd even been told to park a pick-up truck across the road to block access to the jail.

When De la Cruz saw the vehicles approaching without switching off their lights, he nervously swivelled his weapon and chambered a round, thinking it could be an attack. The driver of the lead vehicle suddenly slammed on the brakes, opened the door and jumped out. The guard's fears vanished when he recognised the smiling face of prison commander Juan Raúl Sarmiento. "It's us," he shouted jovially, like someone arriving at a party. De la Cruz moved his truck to let the line of vehicles pass. Joaquín Guzmán's relatives were travelling in some of them; Héctor Palma's in others. There was also a big group of mariachis and 500 litres of alcohol for the Christmas party. The sumptuous feast arrived a few minutes later. It had been prepared at the last moment, but the menu was first-class: lobster bisque, filet mignon, roast potatoes, prawns, green salad, and trays of nibbles, with canned sauces to spice up the dishes after reheating.

El Chapo and El Güero had been planning the celebration for weeks. They sent for a brighter yellow paint than that usually used in the prison; the prison guards themselves worked overtime painting the walls. The corridors and cells of units three and four were hung with Christmas lights and decorations. Guzmán's outside gofer, El Chito, had been entrusted with organising the banquet and buying the family gifts, as well as getting special food and drink for the ordinary prison inmates.

Corruption had been rife in Puente Grande for the past two years, but this cynical display of power was unprecedented. The party went on for three days. El Chapo and El Güero's relatives stayed until 26 December, taking advantage of the authorities' extreme laxity. Although it had looked as if the change of government might mean the drug barons would lose their privileges, they were acting with extraordinary confidence. In fact, one of the guests at the party was the prison warden himself; Leonardo Beltrán never let go of the briefcase full of wads the traffickers had given him for Christmas.

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« Reply #8456 on: Sep 01, 2013, 07:50 AM »

In Venezuela don’t watch your back, watch your hair

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, August 31, 2013 9:26 EDT
They already endure staggering levels of street crime. Now, Venezuelans have something new to fear — muggers who chop off their hair.

Members of the scissor-wielding street gangs are called piranas, after the flesh-eating fish.

The gangs sell the stolen hair to salons which fashion it into braids in this oil-rich and beauty-obsessed country.

Some disconsolate women have given up and had their long hair cut off preemptively to donate it to children who lose theirs to cancer.

Vanessa Castillo cried as her pretty, long jet black hair was snipped for charity. “It is better to give it to kids with cancer than have the piranas steal it,” she said, sniffling.

She spoke at a donate-your-hair-to-kids day at a beauty salon.

“Is this what we have come to? For there to be people who steal your hair is a form of chaos,” said Castillo, a 26-year-old dental student.

The alarms went off last month in Maracaibo, Venezuela’s second largest city, with the first complaints of hair-stealing commandos made up of men and women.

Braids sold to salons for use as hair extensions can go for as much as $1,000, depending on how long, thick and healthy the hair is.

“It is one thing to give it away because you want to and another that people beat you to take it away,” said hairdresser Milagros Genao, as she cut off Castillo’s locks.

Along with Castillo, hundreds of women and some men showed up for the charity event held at a Caracas hair salon. The cutters were led by Ivo Contreras, a famed stylist who has coiffed Miss Venezuela’s hair and makes wigs for cancer-stricken children.

Venezuelans are so upset that the government has got involved, but only after media reports of harrowing stories of women in Maracaibo being beaten and robbed of their flowing manes.

President Nicolas Maduro declared war on the pirana gangs and ordered an investigation into “mafias that cut off young women’s hair.”

“What kind of way is that to mistreat young women? Young women are sacred,” he said.

The conspiracy-minded leader blamed the hair thefts on a “psychological war in the whole country” orchestrated by Colombian and Venezuelan opposition figures based in Miami.

Oddly, no one has gone to the police yet to file a formal complaint.

But police are on the lookout, watching plazas and streets in Maracaibo. Press reports say there have been hair theft cases in other cities like Caracas and Valencia.

“A lot of women have come to donate their hair out of fear of being roughed up in the street, as they are in danger. It is a new way of abusing women. We ask the authorities to punish this,” said hairdresser Contreras.

He said recently a woman showed up at his salon with an injury on her back. “They tried to cut it off, and she preferred to come and have it cut off herself,” he said.

Some women in Maracaibo and Caracas are taking precautions.

“I have tried to avoid putting myself in danger,” said Ivon Galindo, a 27-year-old computer technician with long brown hair.

Women like her and Castillo — when she was still unshorn — wear their hair in a bun or covered under hats.

“Having your hair stolen is as if they were mutilating your body,” said Galindo.

Nearby, Castillo stood up and looked at her new short hairdo in a mirror that the hairdresser handed to her.

“Something is missing, but in my heart I feel good. I feel pretty with my new look,” she said.

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« Reply #8457 on: Sep 01, 2013, 07:52 AM »

Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa leader rebukes Wikileaks’ Julian Assange for mocking Australian politicians

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, August 30, 2013 15:26 EDT

Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa on Friday chastized WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for making fun of Australian politicians in a video shot at his place of refuge in Ecuador’s London embassy.

“We have sent him a letter: he can campaign politically, but without making fun of Australian politicians. We are not going to allow that,” Correa said here on the sidelines of a South American summit.

Correa was referring to a video featuring Assange in a comedy wig singing and sending up Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, his predecessor Julia Gillard and opposition leader Tony Abbott in the run-up to Australia’s September 7 elections.

The video has been watched 465,942 times since it was downloaded on Monday.

Despite being holed up in the Ecuadoran embassy, Assange is running for a senate seat in his native Australia.

“The rules of asylum in principle forbid meddling in the politics of the country that grants asylum,” Correa said.

“But as a matter of courtesy we are not going to bar Julian Assange from exercising his right to be a candidate. Just so long as he doesn’t make fun of Australian politicians or people.”

The WikiLeaks founder took refuge in the Ecuadoran embassy in London in June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning about sexual assault allegations.

Assange fears Sweden would extradite him to the United States to face charges related to WikiLeak’s disclosure of a huge trove of classified US military and diplomatic documents.

Bradley Manning, the US Army private who leaked the documents to Assange’s organization, was sentenced to 35 years in prison by a US military court on August 21.

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« Reply #8458 on: Sep 01, 2013, 08:01 AM »

In the USA...

Minnesota Democrat running to become state’s first trans woman in Congress

By Arturo Garcia
Saturday, August 31, 2013 0:08 EDT

A 59-year-old Democratic congressional candidate is pushing to become the first trans woman from Minnesota to serve as a federal lawmaker.

According to Roll Call, Paula Overby has filed the required paperwork to enter the Democratic primary field in hopes of unseating Rep. John Kline (R-MN). Kline was elected to his sixth term in 2012 by 8 percentage points in a district evenly split between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

Overby will challenge former state Rep. Mike Obermueller (D), who narrowly lost to Kline, and upstart candidate Thomas Craft. She told the St. Paul Pioneer-Press in an interview published August 11 that, while her gender identity might be controversial for some voters, it might get others out to the polls.

“There is a significant level of prejudice that exists against transgendered people,” Overby said to the Pioneer-Press. “Some people will see this as a mark of enormous courage. There are other people who won’t vote for me because of it.”

While Kline did not address Overby’s campaign directly, his campaign did note it in an email to the Pioneer-Press as a way to position himself against Obermueller, pointing out that Overby worked for his campaign on a volunteer basis.

“Paula Overby becomes the second former Obermueller campaign volunteer this summer to line up and challenge him for DFL endorsement, which begs the question: Why are Obermueller’s own supporters and close friends bailing on his candidacy and campaigning against him?” a campaign spokesperson wrote to the Pioneer-Press.


Bones dug up near Dozier boys' home

Remains found in search for answers over disappearance of juveniles from Florida reform school more than 50 years ago

Reuters in Marianna, Sunday 1 September 2013 04.34 BST

Searchers have recovered human bones in Florida from a "boot hill" graveyard where juveniles who disappeared from a notorious reform school more than half a century ago are believed to have been secretly buried.

"We have found evidence of burial hardware – hinges on coffins," said Dr Christian Wells, an anthropologist from the University of South Florida, in a briefing about a mile from the closed excavation site near the former Arthur G Dozier School for Boys.

"There appear to be a few pieces associated with burial shrouds and there are pins consistent with the 1920s and 1930s – based on the style of the pins – and they appear to be brass," he said.

Some former residents of , now in their 60s and 70s, have told of brutal beatings and boys – mostly black juveniles – disappearing without explanation more than 50 years ago.

Fragments of large human bones were found on the first day of digging, Wells said, but it was impossible to know if they came from any of the teenage boys housed at Dozier during its infamous 111-year existence. The school was closed in mid-2011.

The bones will be examined in laboratories at the University of South Florida and the University of North Texas as part of a programme funded by the US department of justice and state of Florida. Blood relatives of some of the boys have given DNA samples, to be matched against evidence taken from the skeletal remains.

The dig came after forensic investigators using ground-piercing radar and old public records detected 31 spots showing possible human remains. Researchers planted white crosses on a nearby hillside to commemorate the unaccounted-for boys.

Tananarive Due, who came to the dig with some family members, said her great-uncle, Robert Stephens, died at the school in 1937. "The story was ... he tried to run away at one point," she said. "The official cause of death was a stabbing by another inmate, that's what it was listed as. But with so many of these boys, who knows how they died? Their families never had a chance to say goodbye to their loved ones."

Johnny Lee Gaddy, 67, said he was locked up from 1957 to 1961 for truancy. He said he was severely beaten but in his teens became a good farm worker, hoping to be released.

"I know some [boys] they said had gome home, but they hadn't been here long enough to go home," Gaddy said. "They said some others ran away or were transferred to other places. We never saw any bodies or funerals."

John Due, father of Tananarive, said descendants and civil-rights activists who pressed the state for disclosure of what happened to the young men ran into rigid resistance from authorities for decades.
"People didn't want to talk about it, and we found that particularly among black families," he said.

Officials have said remains that can be identified will be re-interred at family plots and any unidentified remains will be numbered and buried – with records kept for later return to families, if any come forward.


August 31, 2013 04:00 PM

Boehner's Constituents: Hands Off Obamacare!

By Diane Sweet
Crossposted from Occupy America

Outside a town-hall event in Columbus, Ohio, on Tuesday about 100 people waving signs including “Hands Off My Obamacare” protested the rally. Supporters say that efforts by the Heritage Foundation and others are designed to mislead and confuse people about the law.

While there were reportedly over 600 attendees inside the town-hall style event, this was not something for the general public. Funded by the Heritage Foundation, it was more a pep rally for the group's drive to gain support for lawmakers to defund Obamacare.

On hand were Jim DeMint, the former South Carolina senator who now heads the conservative Heritage Foundation and J. Kenneth Blackwell (Voter suppression, Diebold voting machines, anyone?), former Ohio secretary of state, and a senior fellow at the conservative Family Research Council.

    "[The]Opponents’ goal is “to deny the security and affordability of quality health care to millions of Americans and obviously millions of Ohioans,” said Brad Woodhouse, president of the liberal Americans United for Change, at a news conference earlier yesterday in Columbus.

    “These folks, they didn’t get their way, they lost legislatively, they lost electorally, they lost at the Supreme Court, and by God if they can’t defund Obamacare or repeal it, they are just going to shut the government down. They are going to ensure that Social Security checks aren’t delivered, that farmers don’t get help, that our borders aren’t patrolled, because they didn’t get their way on Obamacare.”

    Locally, supporters also are stepping up efforts to educate people and get the uninsured covered.

    Earlier this week, 21-year-old Ohio State University student Nina Dias was among a handful of advocates for the poor handing out literature Downtown during the busy lunch hour, talking about young adults being able to stay on their parents’ policies longer, free annual checkups and preventive care and no lifetime-coverage limits.

    “Most people don’t take the time to read about it and stay informed. We’re hoping to spread the word,” Dias said. “We’re talking about the impact on younger people, like letting people know they can stay on their parents’ policy until 26.” Supporters say they are placing ads on the Facebook page of every user ages 18 to 35."

Even Republicans have tired of the Heritage Foundation's heavy-handed tactics. Just this week, the Republican Study Committee—a group of 172 conservative House members — barred Heritage Foundation employees from attending its weekly meeting in the Capitol. The conservative think tank has been a presence at RSC meetings for decades and enjoys a close working relationship with the committee and its members. But that relationship is now stretched thin, sources say, due to a series of policy disputes that culminated with a blowup over last month's vote on the the farm bill.

So while those people outside calling for lawmakers like John Boehner to stop trying to repeal their Obamacare may have been outnumbered by the select invites of the Heritage Foundation, those people more closely represent everyday Americans.

TPM reported on Thursday, that the Heritage Foundation was gobsmacked to discover that the majority of Americans don't support their efforts:

    "The Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank that has been a leader in the Defund Obamacare movement, appeared to go through a small crisis in the last 24 hours over just what percentage of Americans support their cause.

    Wednesday morning, Heritage debuted a poster asking if “you” were a part of the 57 percent of Americans who support defunding Obamacare. That same morning, the Kaiser Family Foundation, one of the most respected health policy think tanks, released a monthly tracking poll that found the exact opposite: 57 percent of Americans opposed defunding the health care reform law."

Obamacare advocates want DeMint and company to explain why they want to take away from women preventative care coverage, take away from kids the elimination of pre-existing conditions or from seniors eliminating the prescription drug donut hole, why is Heritage against their own ideas for an exchange? Why are they rooting against Americans by playing politics with their health care?

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« Reply #8459 on: Sep 02, 2013, 06:45 AM »

Syria air strikes: reaction to Barack Obama's decision to go to Congress

From dismay in Israel to caution in France, reaction to the US president's decision to seek approval from Congress was mixed

Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem, Angelique Chrisafis in Paris, Constanze Letsch in Istanbul, Lizzy Davies in Rome, Alec Luhn in Moscow, Josie Le Blond in Berlin and agencies
The Guardian, Sunday 1 September 2013 19.07 BST   


François Hollande is facing growing calls from opposition politicians to allow the French parliament to vote on intervention in Syria after Barack Obama's decision to seek approval in the US Congress.

France is looking increasingly isolated as the only major western power not obliged to seek the view of its elected representatives before any military action. Under the constitution, the president – who is also head of the army – holds all the necessary powers to order military intervention abroad and is obliged only to inform parliament up to three days after launching an operation. MPs would only be required to vote if an intervention needed to be prolonged beyond four months. A parliamentary debate on Syria scheduled for Wednesday is currently not set to include a vote and is more of a courtesy gesture.

But Obama's decision to call on Congresshas left Hollande in an increasingly awkward political position at home, where opponents are already questioning France's role as the US's main ally in Syria after Britain ruled out involvement in military action. The interior minister, Manual Valls, reiterated France's determination to act to sanction the Syrian regime's alleged use of chemical weapons yesterdayon Sunday. He also said France would wait for Washington. "France cannot act alone. There must be a coalition," he said.

Obama, who held 45 minutes of talks with Hollande on Friday evening, called the French president on again Saturday to inform him of his decision to approval in Congress vote before announcing it publicly in a speech from the White House.

The more time passes, the more French opposition voices are clamouring for their own vote in parliament. François Fillon, the former prime minister and member of the rightwing UMP opposition, said: "I think that in certain circumstances France can't go to war without the clear support of parliament." He had earlier warned that France should not act "lightly" or passively "tag along" behind the Americans but consider the dangers of military action in a volatile region. The UMP leader Jean-François Copé said France must keep "its total freedom of initiative" and wait for the UN inspectors' conclusions on chemical weapons use. "The Iraq syndrome is present in everyone's minds," he said.

Centrists Jean-Louis Borloo and François Bayrou also called for a parliamentary vote, as did the hard-left Front de Gauche.

The prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault will meet the national assembly and senate heads, and the leaders of opposition party parliament groups to brief them on Monday . The government also indicated it would release its intelligence dossier on the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons, after London and Washington released similar reports. The political sparring grew heated on Sunday when the head of the Socialist party, Harlem Désir, accused rightwing opponents of displaying a "Munich spirit", a reference to the 1938 Munich agreement seen as an appeasement of Hitler. This sparked outrage on the right, which demanded an apology.

A BVA poll this weekend found 64% of people were against French participation in a military intervention in Syria.

When France, the former colonial power, intervened in Mali in January, parliament did not debate the issue until days after the first operations. Nicolas Sarkozy's government did not consult parliament before intervening in Libya in 2011.


The government did not comment officially on Obama's decision to seek the support of Congress for an attack on President Bashar al-Assad's regime, but some Israelis expressed dismay or even outrage, concluding that the US could no longer be trusted to defend red lines in relation to Iran's nuclear programme.

"The American hesitance, and the rest of the world's hypocrisy confirms the concern that when it comes to maintaining its security, Israel should not trust others and their promises, but must be prepared to protect its own security interests," said Avi Wortzman, the deputy education minister.

Writing on his Facebook page before Obama's statement, the economics and trade minister Naftali Bennett said: "The international stuttering and hesitancy on Syria just proves once more that Israel cannot count on anyone but itself. From Munich 1938 to Damascus 2013 nothing has changed. This is the lesson we ought to learn from the events in Syria."

For the military analyst Alex Fishman, writing in Yedioth Ahronoth, the lesson was similar: "If we find ourselves in a crisis with Iran, no one in the world is going to be prepared to move a single plane on our behalf. At best, we'll receive verbal support."

Ron Ben-Yishai, the paper's veteran war correspondent, said: "President Obama blinked, and this is bad. It is bad for the US's interests, it's bad for its allies' interests and it sends an encouraging message to cruel, unrestrained regimes that possess or don't possess weapons of mass destruction."


Hundreds of protesters joined hands in Istanbul on Sunday in a silent protest against war and possible military intervention in Syria.

"I came here to support peace in Turkey and in the world, and because I am against countering violence with more violence," Seda Kalem, 36, said. Criticising the ruling AK Party's policy on Syria, she added: "Of course I think that what Assad is doing is very bad, but our government is wrong in inciting even more violence. I hope the United States will carefully review their decision. I think it's time for peace."

Drivers expressed support by honking, waving and making peace signs from their car windows. While the one-hour protest was peaceful almost everywhere in Istanbul, riot police forcibly broke up the human chain in central Taksim Square. Prior to the protests, police had also cordoned off the adjacent Gezi park and the Ataturk statue on the square.

Similar protests took place in other Turkish cities. In the Turkish border town of Reyhanli, protesters formed a human chain between the two sites of the car bombs that killed 53 people in May.

Ever since the crisis began early in 2011, Turkey has been a highly vocal critic of Damascus, its former ally. Despite widespread criticism by opposition parties and many Turks, the government has been rallying for intervention in Syria. In a public speech at the weekend, the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said: "The UN is paralysed. That is why we decided to act together in a Syria where 100,000 were killed. That could be done through a coalition of the willing, but it is time to act."


Alexei Pushkov, the chairman of the Duma's international affairs committee, said on Sunday that Obama was trying to firm up his political position before the imminent attack on Syria and give himself time to win European countries and his own population over to his side.

On Saturday the president, Pig Putin, declared that it was "absolute nonsense" to say that the regime was responsible for the chemical weapons attack. Russian newspapers commented on Obama's announcement, with Izvestiya saying the US president was only delaying his own demise, as either decision will hurt his reputation at home and abroad. A report in Moskovsky Komsomolets noted that his decision has alleviated diplomatic tensions ahead this week's G20 summit in St Petersburg.


Pope Francis has called on the international community to address the situation in Syria through dialogue and negotiation. "It is never the use of violence that leads to peace," he said.

Giving the Sunday blessing or angelus to crowds in St Peter's square, the pontiff declared that there would be a a vigil, a "day of fasting and prayer for peace", in the square next Saturday.

The pope said he had been "deeply wounded" by the recent violence in Syria, condemning "with particular firmness" the use of chemical weapons.

"I say to you that I still have the terrible images of recent days stuck in my mind and in my heart … On our actions there is the judgment of God and also of the judgment of history which cannot be escaped," he said.

"I urge the international community to make every effort to promote, without further delay, clear initiatives for peace in this country based on dialogue and negotiation for the good of all Syrian people."

Obama's position won support from Germany's left-leaning Süddeutsche Zeitung on Sunday: With the last ten years littered with examples of the public being "ignored by a presumptious political elite," it wrote, "a little humility would be advisable."

Der Spiegel called it Obama's "most risky and cynical chess move" to date. "Having manoeuvered himself into a dead end in the Syria crisis, Obama has found a way out – and without losing any face."

The move has not only won him time, but also gives him the chance to "paint himself as the determined general" with the option of blaming Congress if it blocks action in Syria, the paper said. "But it's a risky game. Obama risks emerging a powerless president frozen out by parliament - like Cameron."

If only Obama were a bit more like George W Bush, he wouldn't have failed to enforce his diplomatic red line, the right-leaning daily Die Welt wrote. "Scared of going it alone," the US president "started dithering again when the British pulled out."


Syria crisis: Obama 'has the right' to strike regardless of vote, says Kerry

Secretary of state says the US has evidence that sarin gas was used in chemical attacks, as the Obama administration seeks to persuade congressional sceptics of military action

Spencer Ackerman in Washington, and Nicholas Watt   
The Guardian, Monday 2 September 2013   

The US has evidence that sarin nerve gas was used in chemical attacks outside Damascus last month and could go ahead with military strikes against Bashar al-Assad's regime even without the backing of Congress, the US secretary of state, John Kerry, has said.

A day after Barack Obama vowed to put any intervention in Syria to a vote of both the Senate and House of Representatives, Kerry said the administration was confident of winning a motion of the kind that David Cameron unexpectedly lost last week. "We don't contemplate that the Congress is going to vote no," Kerry said, but he stressed the president had the right to take action "no matter what Congress does".

In a round of appearances on the Sunday political shows in the US, Kerry said the evidence of sarin came from samples from first responders who had helped victims of the attacks. "[We have] blood and hair samples that have come to us through a secure chain of custody from east Damascus – it has tested positive for signatures of sarin. So each day that goes by this case is even stronger," he said.

Kerry said America's evidence for the use of sarin nerve gas had not come from the UN. He gave no further details of the source of the samples, or where or when they had been tested.

He said the Obama administration's clear preference was to win a vote in Congress, which could come as early as next week, after politicians return from their summer recess on 9 September. He could "hear the complaints" about presidential abuse had Obama not gone to Congress, and its backing would give any military action greater credibility: "We are stronger as a nation when we act together." But he added: "America intends to act."

On Sunday, Britain definitively ruled out any involvement in military strikes against Syria even if further chemical attacks take place.

William Hague, the foreign secretary, said Britain would offer only diplomatic support to its allies. "Parliament has spoken. I don't think it is realistic to think that we can go back to parliament every week with the same question having received no for an answer."

His remarks were echoed by the chancellor, George Osborne, who said he did not think more evidence or more UN reports would have convinced the MPs who voted against intervention. He also ruled out a rerun of the vote.

Syrian opposition figures have reacted angrily to what they perceive as America's delay in striking against Assad. While the Obama administration insists that military intervention would be a punishment for the chemical weapons attack and a deterrent against future incidents rather than an attempt at regime change, many in the fractured opposition hope it will tip the military balance in their favour after a two and a half year civil war that has killed about 100,000 people.

Samir Nishar, of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, called Obama a "weak president", according to CNN.

The mood among government forces in Syria was triumphant after Obama's speech, with claims in the state-run media that the west had backed down because it was afraid of a confrontation.

Syria's permanent representative to the UN, Bashar al-Jaafari, said Obama and Cameron had decided to seek approval before military action because they were looking for a way out after banging the drums of war, the official news agency Sana reported. Jaafari said the two leaders had "climbed to the top of the tree and don't know how to get down".

The UN said it had asked the chemical weapons team to expedite its report into the use of the weapons. "The secretary general took note of the announcement by President Obama yesterday on the referral to Congress. He regards it as one aspect of an effort to achieve a broad-based international consensus on measures in response to any use of chemical weapons," UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

"Use of chemical weapons will not be accepted under any circumstances," he added, asking that the investigation mission "should be given an opportunity to succeed".

Kerry also suggested that Obama will not limit US involvement in Syria's civil war to cruise missile strikes provoked by the use of chemical weapons. The administration "may even be able to provide greater support to the opposition", he said. Obama began providing weapons to Syrian rebels after determining earlier this year that Assad had carried out a smaller-scale chemical attack.

But there is a deep reluctance within the US military to bless even a one-off military strike. General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and a multi-tour veteran of Iraq, has voiced such fears for more than two years.

Some leading figures on Capitol Hill predicted that Obama would win. "At the end of the day, Congress will rise to the occasion," Representative Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House intelligence committee, told CNN.

But others were less sure. Senator Rand Paul, a libertarian Republican, put the chances of an authorisation vote in the House of Representatives at 50-50. "I think the Senate will rubber stamp what he wants but the House will be a much closer vote," he told NBC.

Former Republican presidential candidate John McCain said the administration needed a more decisive plan to topple the Assad regime. But he warned against the possibility of Congress defying the president. "The consequences of a Congress of the United States overriding a decision of the president of the United States on this magnitude are really very serious," he told Face the Nation on CBS.

Meanwhile Labour MP Thomas Docherty, a member of the House of Commons' committee on arms export controls, criticised the government after it emerged that British firms were granted licenses in January 2012 to sell chemicals to Syria that could be used to make nerve gas including sarin.

The chemicals never left the UK as the European Union imposed tough new sanctions on Assad's regime and the licenses were revoked.

But Docherty has written to the business secretary Vince Cable demanding to know more details about the deals.

In his letter he asked: "How many licenses for the export of chemicals have been issued not only in the period in question but in the wider period since the start of the Syrian civil war?"


John Kerry: Hair and blood samples tested positive for sarin in Syria

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, September 1, 2013 10:07 EDT

The United States has proof sarin gas was used in a Damascus attack, Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday, as he urged Congress to vote for military action against the Syrian regime.

Hair and blood samples given to the United States from emergency workers on the scene of last month’s attack in the Syrian capital have showed signs of the powerful sarin nerve gas, Kerry told NBC and CNN television.

In what he called “a very important recent development… in the last 24 hours, we have learned through samples that were provided to the United States and that have now been tested from first responders in East Damascus, (that) hair samples and blood samples have tested positive for signatures of sarin,” Kerry told NBC’s Meet the Press.

“Each day that goes by, this case is even stronger. We know that the regime ordered this attack. We know they prepared for it. We know where the rockets came from. We know where they landed,” he added on CNN.

“We know the damage that was done afterwards. We’ve seen the horrific scene all over the social media, and we have evidence of it in other ways, and we know that the regime tried to cover up afterwards.”

Kerry blitzed the Sunday morning television talk shows to relaunch his bid to build the case for US military strikes in Syria after President Barack Obama called for Congress to vote to authorize action.

He urged his former colleagues in Congress to give Obama a green-light for strikes against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

In a huge political gamble, Obama has committed the fate of US action to lawmakers, lifting the threat of immediate strikes.

Obama said he had decided an August 21 chemical weapons attack on a Damascus suburb that Washington says killed more than 1,400 people was so heinous that he would respond with a limited US military strike.

But, in a move which could reshape the balance of power between Capitol Hill and the presidency, he said he believed it was important to secure support from Congress to wage war.

Obama will be relatively confident of winning a vote in the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats and includes a number of Republicans, like Senator John McCain, who have argued for military action against Syria.

But it would be hazardous to predict how the vote will go in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, which will debate Syria as soon as it comes back into session on September 9.

Kerry told NBC he believed the call for action would be approved by Congress.

“I do not believe the Congress of the United States will turn its back on this moment… I believe Congress will pass it,” he said.

“I don’t believe that my former colleagues in the United States Senate and the House will turn their backs on all of our interests, on the credibility of our country, on the norm with respect to the enforcement of the prohibition against the use of chemical weapons, which has been in place since 1925,” Kerry said.

“The Congress adopted the Chemical Weapons Convention. The Congress has passed the Syria Accountability Act. Congress has a responsibility here too.


French lawmakers ‘to see proof Syria regime behind attack’

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, September 2, 2013 7:38 EDT

France will hand over evidence to lawmakers on Monday proving President Bashar al-Assad’s regime was behind last month’s chemical weapons attack in Syria, a government source told AFP.

“It will be a set of evidence of different kinds that will allow the regime to be clearly identified as responsible for the August 21 chemical attack,” the source said.

The evidence will be handed over to top lawmakers during a meeting with Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault at 1500 GMT, ahead of what is expected to be a loud parliamentary debate on Syria on Wednesday.

Another government source said the evidence would include “declassified secret documents” and that “some of them could be made public”.

Government sources said Sunday that French intelligence had compiled information showing the Syrian regime had stockpiled more than 1,000 tonnes of chemical agents, including Sarin gas, mustard gas and more powerful neurotoxic agents.

French President Francois Hollande is under pressure for parliament to vote on potential military action in Syria, as the West considers strikes over alleged chemical weapons attacks on the Damascus suburbs last month.

US President Barack Obama has said the attacks claimed more than 1,400 lives. Damascus denies involvement and blames the attacks on rebel fighters.

France has become Washington’s main ally in the Syria crisis after the British parliament in a shock move rejected plans for military action mooted by Washington.


White House sends resolution to Congress asking for approval on Syria strikes

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, August 31, 2013 21:24 EDT

The White House formally asked Congress Saturday for authorization to conduct military strikes in Syria in a draft resolution framing a narrow set of operations, in a bid to ease fears of another open-ended war.

The document says support from Congress, requested by President Barack Obama in a stunning development on Saturday, would “send a clear signal of American resolve.”

“The objective of the United States use of military force in connection with this authorization should be to deter, disrupt, prevent and degrade the potential for future uses of chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction,” the draft resolution reads.



Russia sends spy ship as US prepares for possible Syria strike

Priazovye sails from Black Sea naval base as Vladmir Putin says deployment necessary to protect Russian security interest

Reuters in Moscow, Monday 2 September 2013 09.49 BST   

Russia is sending a reconnaissance ship to the eastern Mediterranean as the US prepares for a possible military strike in Syria, it was reported on Monday.

The Priazovye left Russia's naval base in the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Sevastopol late on Sunday on a mission "to gather current information in the area of the escalating conflict", said an unidentified military source quoted by the Interfax news agency. The defence ministry declined to comment.

Barack Obama said on Saturday he would seek congressional authorisation for punitive military action against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad after what the US says was a sarin gas attack that killed more than 1,400 people.

Russia says the US has not proved its case and that it believes the attack was staged by rebels to provoke intervention in the civil war.

Russia is one of Assad's biggest arms suppliers and has a naval maintenance facility in the Syrian port of Tartous. Moscow opposes any military intervention in Syria and has shielded Damascus from pressure at the UN security council.

Interfax said the Priazovye would be operating separately from a navy unit permanently stationed in the Mediterranean in a deployment that the Russian president, PIg Putin, said is needed to protect national security interests.

The defence ministry said last week that new warships would be sent to the Mediterranean to replace others in a long-planned rotation of ships based there.


Syrians mock Obama the ‘coward’

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, September 1, 2013 20:30 EDT

“He who talks a lot doesn’t act,” said Souad, a Damascus resident, mocking US President Barack Obama as a “coward” for delaying a decision to attack the Syrian regime.

“Obama is a coward. He didn’t strike because he knows that our President Bashar (al-Assad) is all-powerful,” said the employee of nationality electricity firm Ferdaws, in the northeast of the capital.

In the wealthy neighbourhood people went about their business without seeming too worried about the thuds from intermittent shelling of rebel positions outside the city centre.

A similarly calm atmosphere prevailed at one of the area’s traditional, men-only cafes, where some customers appeared more interested in winning at backgammon than by Obama’s speech.

On Saturday the US president said he will ask US lawmakers to approve a strike on Syria when Congress returns from summer recess on September 9, effectively lifting the threat of an imminent attack.

“He was like an actor taking part in a play being shown to the American people,” staunch government supporter Hassan Azzam, 73, said of Obama.

“I saw him, he was trembling like a leaf as he spoke, he seemed really troubled,” said Azzam, leafing through a copy of the state newspaper Ath-Thawra.

Obama’s unexpected speech was broadcast by Syrian state television and on Sunday many in Damascus shared Azzam’s view that the president of the world’s most powerful army decided not to act because he feared the reaction of Assad’s allies, notably Iran.

“(The Iranians) really intended to strike Israel… and Obama backed down because he knew that in response (to US strikes on Syria) Israel would be wiped off the map,” said Azzam.

Asked by AFP for their reactions to Obama’s speech, many Syrians poked fun at the US president.

“Obama? Who is he anyway,” joked Ali, 18.

“If he wanted to strike, he would have done it one hour,” added his friend Mohammed. The US Congress, “like the British parliament, will not approve a decision to strike.”

In a first official reaction to Obama’s decision to seek congressional approval for a military strike, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad urged US lawmakers to show “wisdom” when they vote.

In the upscale Damascus district of Mazzeh there was a semblance of normality at the swimming pool of one of the luxury hotels, contrasting sharply with the sound of explosions several kilometres (miles) away.

Anxiety had grown over the past week along with the threat of punitive Western air strikes on strategic targets of the Syrian regime after an alleged chemical weapons attack on its citizens.

These finally gave way on Sunday to at least a superficial sense of relief.

“I didn’t listen to Obama,” said Line, wearing a mini-skirt, big sun glasses, and pink nail varnish.

“That doesn’t interest me. Today I’m just hanging out at the pool,” she said carelessly.

Numerous well-off Syrians shrugged off the threat of US missile strikes on Sunday by relaxing at some of the luxury hotels in Damascus, which are among the city’s best protected sites.

“Look at my friend, she came from Lebanon to witness the air strikes and they haven’t happened,” laughed Mirna, wearing a bikini and sipping coffee at the side of the pool.

“As David Cameron hid behind parliament, so Obama wants to hide behind the US Congress,” the young Russian woman added, referring to the British prime minister’s own vote on authorising military action, which he lost in a stunning defeat.

“(Obama) is saying, ‘I really want to strike, but I would love it if someone pushed me not to act’,” she joked.

“The United States is no longer the policeman of the world, it’s finished,” said Mirna, convinced there would be no US military strikes.

“If (Obama) had wanted to hit Syria, it could have been done in a phone call,” she added.

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