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« Reply #8715 on: Sep 14, 2013, 06:27 AM »

09/13/2013 02:48 PM

Dog Attacks: Romania to Put Down Thousands of Strays

By Keno Verseck

A deadly dog attack on a four-year-old boy in Bucharest has brought new attention to an old problem: Romania's hundreds of thousands of stray dogs. Government plans for mass euthanasia have animal welfare activists up in arms.

Little Ionut and his older brother Andrei just wanted to play. Their grandmother had taken the boys, four and six years old, respectively, to a park in Bucharest's Tei neighborhood. After a while, Ionut and Andrei walked out of the park -- they wanted to play on an abandoned lot nearby.

Their grandmother sat on a park bench as they played, and didn't see that her grandchildren had vanished. When she finally did notice, it was too late. Andrei ran to her. The dogs had only bitten him in the leg. "Grandma, the dogs have Ionut," he said.

Police later found the four-year-old boy in the bushes, half-eaten. Medical forensics experts later determined he had been bitten hundreds of times, and had bled to death from external injuries.

'Dogs Have Conquered Romania's Cities'

The deadly attack by feral dogs played out a week ago, and has drawn new public attention to a problem in Romania that has existed for years. Thousands of stray dogs have roamed the country's cities, and they are becoming increasingly dangerous.

In recent days, parents have protested angrily in Bucharest under the motto, "We're not dog food!" Ionut's death is the main story being covered by the Romanian media these days, and it is the subject of a lively debate on Internet forums. A recent poll shows that three-quarters of Bucharest residents support killing the feral dogs.

The outrage is hardly surprising. The authorities estimate there are several hundred thousand street dogs roaming through Romanian cities and communities, including around 65,000 in Bucharest. The Anti-Rabies Center at the Institute for Infectious Diseases has reported 10,000 people in the capital have been given immunizations after dog bites this year alone. Two-thousand of those patients were children. Last year, 16,000 residents of Bucharest reported being bitten by wild dogs -- 3,000 more than the year before. This recently prompted Romanian journalist Iulian Leca to write, "The street dogs have long since conquered Romania's cities. At night, especially, it is they and not the police who control the streets."

Parliament Passes Law to Allow Dog Cull

Authorities took action very swiftly after Ionut's death. After Romanian President Traian Basescu called on the government to quickly pass a bill that would permit the dogs to be euthanized, lawmakers approved the legislation Tuesday with a large majority. Under the new rules, stray dogs can be killed if authorities are unable to place them in animal shelters and if they are unable to find an owner within 14 days after a dog is captured.

The new law has unleashed protests by animal rights activists. A spokesperson for Four Paws, a Romanian group, described the new legislation as a "Stone Age law" and said the group planned to file a complaint with the European Commission in Brussels in order to prevent any kind of "mass decimation." Animal rights activists also want to file a complaint at Romania's highest court. It wouldn't be the first time, either. The Romanian parliament passed a similar law two years ago. After it was challenged, the Constitutional Court overturned it in January 2012 because of "procedural errors."

Animal rights activists abroad are also following developments in Romania closely, with social networks buzzing with protest over the apparent massacre of innocent strays. But those kinds of culling operations haven't even been undertaken. On Wednesday, Razvan Bancescu, the head of Bucharest's animal protection agency ASPA, denied such allegations. According to Bancescu, not a single dog has been euthanized since the boy's death.

Government Neglected Issue for Years

With or without the law, it is unlikely Romania will be able to solve its dog problem very quickly. In addition to a lack of money and years of official ambivalence toward the issue, cities and municipalities lack larger animal shelters and the staff to keep the dog population under control. Until Ionut's death, Bucharest employed only 12 dog catchers. This week, it quickly moved to increase that number to 44.

And Ionut's death wasn't the first case suggesting the city needed to take urgent action. In 2012, a retired woman died in the northern Romanian city of Sathmar after a dog attack. Two months later, stray dogs killed a six-year-old boy in an eastern Romanian village. In January 2011, street dogs in Bucharest attacked a female employee of a recycling firm, and she died three days later of complications related to her injuries. In January 2006, a Japanese businessman bled to death in Bucharest after a dog bit him in the popliteal area of his knee and ruptured an artery.

The stray dogs are just one of many difficult legacies of the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaucescu. In the course of the country's forced industrialization under his rule, thousands of rural Romanians flooded into the cities. Beginning in the 1970s, old apartment buildings were torn down to make room for new high rises. Many of the people who relocated didn't take their pets with them -- they just left the dogs behind on the streets, where their population quickly grew.

Although many Romanians support the radical new killing program to solve the issue, animal rights groups like Four Paws are instead calling for a mass sterilization program. This, they argue, would stop the animals from breeding and enable them to live out their lives on the street.

One of the dogs involved in the attack on Ionut has already been identified. Authorities said this was possible because of a chip implanted in the dog's ear. But they also said the dog had been sterilzed and that it belonged to a Bucharest animal rights group. The group, Caleidoscop, had adopted the dog in 2008 and was obligated not to let it loose again. State prosecutors are currently investigating members of the group and may file manslaughter charges.

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« Reply #8716 on: Sep 14, 2013, 06:30 AM »

09/13/2013 04:25 PM

Roller Coaster Ride: The Story of Berlin's Rotting Amusement Park

By Gesa Mayr

With its rusting rides and a Ferris wheel turning idly in the wind, a defunct East German amusement park in Berlin fascinates locals and tourists alike. Repeated attempts to reopen "Spreepark" have been thwarted by administrative chaos and incompetence.

The monster is still there, though it's been a long while since it swallowed people whole. Trees and bushes have grown over the old roller coaster with the open-mouthed tunnel, and the plants are doing what others have failed to do so far -- slowly getting rid of the old rides at Berlin's defunct Spreepark. It's an amusement park locked in a deep slumber. But according to Sabrina Witte as she knocks on the steel tracks: "The electrical system just needs to be redone."

In jeans, flip-flops and hot pink lipstick, Witte is guiding tourists from New York and German families who are nostalgic for socialist East Germany. On Saturdays, Witte leads tours around former East Berlin's only amusement park, telling people about her childhood there. She and her siblings used to pull the electric cars off their tracks and race them through the park after closing time, she says. They also turned up the speed on the white-water ride at night.

"They just need an investor," one visitor says. But that hasn't been possible. The property has lain fallow since 2001. It's a complicated story for which no one wants to take responsibility, and one which involves dreams that were lost somewhere in a tangle of city regulations, bad luck, mismanagement and misunderstandings.

It began with the Wittes, a family of carnival workers from West Germany that was tasked with turning a former East German fairground into an amusement park up to western standards after reunification in 1989. The head of the company is Sabrina's father, Norbert Witte. The leasing contract for the 30-hectare (74-acre) piece of property was under his wife Pia's name, however. The agreement with the city-state of Berlin states that the land may only be used as an amusement park until 2061.

A Checkered Past

Some in the Berlin press are skeptical of this arrangement, however, and allege that the city government didn't monitor the management selection closely enough. By the mid-1990s, things were going poorly at the Spreepark, and visitor numbers were down. In 2001, the company declared insolvency and the Wittes moved to Peru, taking a few rides with them. There, Norbert Witte suffered a number of heart attacks and got involved with drug smugglers. In 2003, he and his son were arrested for attempting to smuggle 167 kilos of cocaine to Germany inside a ride called "The Flying Carpet."

Witte was caught in Germany, his son in Peru. The father was sentenced to eight years in prison and released after serving four. His son remains in Peru, where he is serving a 20-year sentence for the same crime. Today, Norbert Witte lives in a caravan in the Spreepark.

On a Sunday in August, he is sitting in Café Mythos, a snack counter run by his daughter on the grounds. Holding a black coffee in one hand and a cigarillo in the other, he ignores comments by two girls and their parents about a papier mâché gorilla behind him and talks about what the Spreepark used to be like. 1993 was a good year, he says. According to him, the Spreepark had the biggest roller coaster in Europe, and there was a Wild West town with stunt shows and tons of new investment. He's a man who likes to talk in superlatives.

Bad Blood

But then things started going downhill quickly for the business. Witte feels that he has been hoodwinked by politicians. He claims that the city-state of Berlin retroactively declared the forested land around the amusement park part of a nature-conservation area, but city officials refuse to discuss the contractual relationships. "If we had known that, we wouldn't have ever invested here," Witte says. There was nothing about that in the contract, he continues, but the new decree didn't allow for the needed parking places, making it difficult to get to the Spreepark. "They deprived us of the foundation of the business," he says.

Witte is livid -- at the company that administers property owned by the city-state of Berlin for always opposing him, at the press for what he feels are false reports, at administrators for giving top city officials incorrect information and at the insolvency administrator for undervaluing a major part of the park rides. But what angers him more than anything is when he reads that the natural surroundings have "recovered a bit," saying: "I broke up the sea of concrete that was here myself, planted the greenery and captured frogs for the lakes."

That's Witte's version of the story. But, in the wake of the insolvency, the other side has also produced a long list of accusations. One says that Witte never realized his original concept but was always quick to pin the blame on others. It has also been said that he has been late with his rent payments, that he hasn't rehabilitated the "Eierhäuschen" ("Little Egg House"), a historically listed tourist locale on the grounds, and that hazardous waste has been found. But Witte rejects responsibility for almost all such accusations. On the contrary, he says that he has tried to revitalize the park -- but that, for some reason, his plans have always failed. Still, there is one thing he will admit to: "My wife and I didn't always see eye to eye on things," he says, referring to Pia, now his ex-wife.

Since 2001, the park has been abandoned to its fate. Over the years, dozens of people have popped up and expressed an interest in taking it over. But, at a certain point, the insolvency administrator turned it back over to the Wittes. For some years now, Sabrina Witte has been running the snack shop there in addition to offering guided tours. In early July, the city-state of Berlin allowed plans for a compulsory auction to fall through -- even though a Berlin-based concert organizer had offered almost €2.5 million ($3.3 million) for the lease. It would seem that city officials want to keep their hands on the property, most likely so that apartments can be built on the grounds.

Desirable Location

Berlin has a reputation for having difficult contractual conditions. "There is no way I will be participating in this auction," says Roland Mack, head of the country's successful Europapark amusement park. Despite the fact that the Spreepark is being sold at a bargain price, Mack says that "the conditions related to nature protection, visitors and parking spaces are a big problem."

But the Berlin Senate, the city-state's government, doesn't seem to be doing anything about it. It declined to comment not only on the Spreepark's future, but also on the series of investors that have lost interest in acquiring it and the current contractual situation. An inquiry about the Pirate Party's demands to reveal the details of the contract also went unanswered.

No one wants to take responsibility for the downfall of Spreepark -- the acres of fallow land at the heart of the Plänterwald Forest. The park ruins are situated in one of Berlin's most desirable locations.

Perhaps the new millenium marked a turning point of sorts. For some, the Spreepark is a cult attraction -- for others, it is nothing more than a tacky remnant of East Germany. Perhaps the chaotic bureaucracy that existed in 1990s Berlin after reunification is to blame. Or maybe the idea of an amusement park in the increasingly trendy German capital is now considered out-of-date. It remains to be seen whether the park will be sold at a mandatory auction.

The Spreepark remains a photogenic adventure playground that attracts urbanites willing to jump the fence. Some are just curious, while others come with the intention of bringing back a hip souvenir. Several years ago, Sabrina Witte was forced to retrieve one of the park's swan boats from the nearby state of Brandenburg after thieves made off with the boat for a nighttime ride on the Spree River.

Like her father, Sabrina Witte wants to save the park. "If I won the lottery, I would buy the whole thing immediately," she says.

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« Reply #8717 on: Sep 14, 2013, 06:36 AM »

Angela Merkel looks to Bavaria for clue to German electorate's mood

Victory expected for sister party in Bavarian state poll, but S&M scandal at FDP could disrupt chancellor's plans

Kate Connolly in Berlin, Friday 13 September 2013 17.50 BST   

Happy cows, lederhosen and sex dungeons. German politics is boring? Well, not in Bavaria at least, where attention turns this weekend with a poll which will determine whether or not Angela Merkel gets a boost ahead of the national election.

Horst Seehofer, the son of a lorry driver, is poised to regain an absolute majority for the Christian Social Union (CSU) in a state vote which would, according to opinion polls, give fresh impetus to Merkel's chances of reelection on 22 September.

The CSU, sister party of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), has governed Bavaria uninterrupted for more than half a century. It is expected to secure almost 50% of the vote in Germany's richest and second most populous state, which is seen as a bellwether for the way the rest of the country will decide.

Seehofer has sought to stress Bavaria's economic success – often referred to as the "laptop and lederhosen" formula – a cosy combination of both progress and tradition, as well as pushing the image of the southern state as a healthy, robust region where the sense of general wellbeing extends even to the happy cows chewing the organic cud on its alpine pastures, and whose general prowess is reflected nowhere more soundly than in the footballing success of Bayern Munich.

Known also as the Free State of Bavaria, the region boasts not only such industrial giants as BMW and Siemens, but also the country's lowest unemployment rate – 3.8%– as well as being home to some of the country's most spectacular landscapes and half the country's breweries.

Seehofer's advisers didn't have to go far to look for suitable campaign venues: as always the state's bevy of beer halls provided the best stamping ground for the state leader, who addressed voters typically dressed in the traditional tight-fitting lederhosen, hunters' hats and flouncy dirndls (milk-maid style frocks) as they downed litre-sized glasses of beer and slapped their thighs to the heavy beat of oompah bands.

While unsurprisingly avoiding any reference to an extramarital affair which produced a child but for which he was forgiven despite Bavaria's entrenched Catholic identity, Seehofer has diligently presented himself as the politician with the working-class roots – the son of a lorry driver, his mother Grete would send him and his siblings to pick up his father's wage packet every Friday to ensure he didn't squander it in the tavern.

He has also been keen to show Bavarians that he is one of the few German politicians who can stand up to "Mutti" ("Mummy"), the nickname for Merkel, taking her to task over a benefit for stay-at-home mothers and a motorway toll for foreigners.

But Merkel will probably be looking less towards Seehofer's performance and more towards the ailing junior coalition partner, the liberal Free Democrats, with whom she governs in Berlin. The FDP is currently polling miserably, below the 5% needed for it to obtain seats in the Bavarian parliament.

The party's chances have certainly not been boosted by revelations that would have given even the New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner a run for his money, after a 55-year-old FDP candidate running under the motto "Bavaria's driving force" was outed as an S&M fetishist.

Hans Müller – a deceptively quotidian name under the circumstances – was revealed as "Master HM", promoting his profile on the public online sex portal Sklavenzentrale (Slave Central) where he posed against a cross-shaped torture device commonly found in S&M dungeons, describing himself as "dominant" and "sadistic" and listing no fewer than 85 of his fetishes.

Despite such transgressions, Merkel, whose CDU is unlikely to gain an absolute majority at the national level, would prefer to continue her coalition with the FDP rather than have to embrace the next most likely scenario, a grand coalition with the Social Democrats.

But a weak performance by the party in Bavaria might prompt voters either to shy away from the risk of wasting their votes on a loser party on 22 September, or to make the tactical decision to support the FDP to the detriment of the CDU, thus jeopardising the chancellor's chances of returning to power with the party of her choice. In short, much is at stake on Sunday, when no less than 9.5 million Germans will be eligible to vote.

"The Bavarian election will give us problems regardless of how it turns out," a Merkel deputy told the Süddeutsche Zeitung, recalling the nightmare scenario for the party in the Lower Saxony poll in January, when the CDU leached so many votes to the FDP that its half-Scottish candidate lost the election.


09/13/2013 06:14 PM

Washington Wisdom: SPD Adopts Obama's Door-to-Door Campaign

By Emily Schultheis in Nuremberg

Germany's political parties paid close attention to US President Barack Obama's landslide re-election in 2012. Now the center-left Social Democratic Party is hoping that canvassing inspired by the American politician can help it win back voters.

"Good evening. I don't want to bother you, but I'm the candidate for the Social Democrats -- can I give you a flyer?"

Gabriela Heinrich, a Nuremberg-based candidate for a seat in Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, knocks on doors in her district three or four nights a week from 5 to 7 p.m. Sometimes the people behind those doors smile and nod, excited to meet the woman whose picture is on the center-left Social Democratic Party's (SPD) posters around the city; other times they politely decline; sometimes they even slam their doors. Each time, Heinrich smiles and tells them to have a nice evening.

On this particular night, a half-dozen volunteers split up the list of blocks in the low-income area of Nordostbahnhof near the eastern train station and set off with their red SPD bags full of flyers and clipboards. Their goal is to knock on around 15,000 doors in Heinrich's district before election day on Sunday, Sept. 22. Although door-to-door campaigning of this scale is a new phenomenon in Germany, the volunteers say the responses have mostly been friendly.

Almost a year after US President Barack Obama's re-election campaign was lauded for its sophistication in ground organization, data and microtargeting, German parties are trying to find ways to translate his winning strategy into a German electoral setting. Most of his strategies, it seems, wouldn't work here for sundry reasons.

But the SPD's goal of knocking on 5 million doors across Germany -- an unprecedented, nationally coordinated canvassing campaign -- is one key example of the way German parties can, and are, using ideas from the Obama campaign and applying them in a way that fits for Germany. With over one-third of Germans still undecided on which party they will vote for, the campaigners are hoping the door-to-door strategy can draw voters back to the party.

The SPD is currently polling at 26 percent, trailing 15 points behind Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats -- and most political observers long ago wrote off any possibility of the SPD and its chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück pulling off any kind of upset win. But if it can borrow a few tools from Obama's campaign to yield a better result, the SPD isn't afraid to do so.

"The SPD's canvassing strategy is pretty much inspired by Obama," said Jan Philipp Burgard, a journalist and political scientist who covered both of Obama's campaigns for German public television station ARD and wrote a book on what German politicians could learn from the American leader. Still, he said, even the ideas incorporated by the SPD "are not as modern or high-tech as it was in the United States."

Emulating the Obama Campaign

Burgard noted that there is a long tradition of German politicians picking up campaign tactics from their American counterparts, starting with former Chancellor Willy Brandt emulating the campaign of John F. Kennedy. He says the Obama campaign has sparked unprecedented interest among German party officials.

And so it was that German observers were among the many international political groups to make the voyage to swing states like Ohio and Florida last fall, bringing back their own impressions and ideas of what could be co-opted for the German political sphere.

There are a number of explanations for why an Obama-style campaign isn't easily replicated in Germany, starting first and foremost with finances. Chancellor Angela Merkel may be the most powerful woman in the world, but that measure surely isn't based on her party's election-year coffers. German parties have just a small fraction of the financial resources available to US campaigns. For its national campaign, the SPD is expected to spend €23 million ($30 million), with incumbent candidate Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union spending a slightly more modest €20 million. These figures pale in comparison to the more than $1 billion spent to secure a second term in office for Obama.

Without the kind of billion-dollar operation that has become commonplace in the US, the extensive ground organization and legions of paid campaign staffers simply aren't possible.

On some fronts, there are cultural or legal complications as well. The Obama campaign's use of a centralized voter file to target specific voters -- one of its key accomplishments in 2012 -- would not be possible in Germany, where privacy laws are stricter and voters are more wary of personal data being collected.

A New National Strategy

While canvassing has happened on the local level in Germany for a long time, organized on a district-by-district basis, the SPD effort this year is the first time either major party has outlined a national plan for all districts to participate. According to SPD figures, at least 260 of the 299 districts have implemented some sort of canvassing program this fall, and the party just hit the 3 million mark on the numbers of homes visited. The party even built a website this year to recruit and coordinate volunteers.

"For the SPD, this is the first time in Germany that they've spent so much time on actually training the people coordinating (canvassing)," say Andreas Jungherr, a researcher at the University of Bamberg who focuses on campaign strategy. "The newness is the scale of the thing."

Thomas Bosch, chief of staff to the SPD's deputy national chairman, says the Obama campaign helped the party rethink the way it perceives its relationship with voters: that the party needs to actively reach out, rather than expecting voters to come to them.

"The focus of our campaign is to invite people to become a part of the campaign," said Bosch, who spent time in the US last year observing the election. "There is a change in the way we campaign: We go to people, people don't have to come to us to get information about the election."

That sentiment is a big shift in philosophy for German campaigns, where in the past most voters' contact with candidates and party members has been when they take the initiative to go to a rally or stop by a booth in a public area. And many people are still uneasy about answering their door for a political party. So instead of engaging in political discussion or asking a long list of questions, the SPD volunteers offer flyers and a red SPD pen and then go on their way.

"People are astonished that we are coming," says candidate Heinrich, before ringing the doorbell at another set of apartments.

A Big Step for German Politics

Canvassing, it seems, is an area where German parties can truly apply some of the lessons from the Obama campaign. Given the strong local and national party structures in Germany, which stay in place even after election season, the parties already have an infrastructure on which to build their ground organization.

Julius van de Laar, a German national and former staffer for Obama's 2008 and 2012 campaigns who now runs his own political consulting shop in Berlin, said the SPD's canvassing strategy is a great step for German politics.

"From what I've experienced thus far," he says, "door-to-door canvassing has been an effective way to mobilize the base and reach out to undecided voters."

Still, in contrast to the US, where microtargeting helped the Obama campaign focus not only on geographic areas but also on specific people, the SPD is knocking on doors without knowing anything about the people behind them.

The party's decisions about which neighborhoods to visit are based on an analysis of precinct-level results from past elections. Specifically, they focus on neighborhoods that had been SPD strongholds in the past but saw lower voter turnout for the party in 2009 -- in other words, the places where they have the most potential to get back those votes if their SPD voters come to the polls later this month. In Nuremberg's Nordostbahnhof, that means knocking on doors in a low-income area that has traditionally voted with the SPD.

A Game Changer for Europe?

At 7 p.m., the Nuremberg canvassers meet back up and swap stories. Heinrich talks about the woman who slammed the door in her face, just saying, "No!" Another volunteer, Nasser Ahmed, the head of the SPD's youth organization in the city, shows off a photo of the pet parakeet that landed on his fellow canvasser when one woman opened her door.

It's difficult to tell what ultimate effect the SPD's canvassing effort will have on Sept. 22. But this is one Obama-inspired idea on organizing a campaign and utilizing voters that many experts in Germany predict will have a big impact in the future.

"Door-to-door canvassing could be a true game changer in the way campaigns are conducted in Germany and throughout Europe," van de Laar says.


The Economist Falls Under Merkel's Spell


There's a reason Germans affectionately refer to Merkel as Mutti, or "mommy." She's like a matriarch who can be strict at home, and might even make you clean your room. But you're not going to get spanked and you will always get dessert. And she will bend over backwards to protect you from the evils of the outside world. You will never, ever want to move out.

It is hardly surprising, then, that the chancellor is likely to get re-elected. More unexpected, however, is that there seem to be some abroad who would like to be adopted. Like the Economist, for example. The current edition of the British newsmagazine includes an impassioned appeal to German voters to hand the chancellor a third term. The argument? It is essentially a truism adhered to by children the world over: Mommy knows best.

"We believe Mrs. Merkel is the right person to lead her country and thus Europe," the magazine writes. "That is partly because of what she is: the world's most politically gifted democrat and a far safer bet than her leftist opponents. It is also partly because of what we believe she could still become -- the great leader Germany and Europe so desperately needs."

Could. But will she? Merkel has now been in the Chancellery for eight years. Indications that she seeks to become the kind of visionary leader that the Economist so yearns for have been, to put it mildly, rare. Instead, Mutti prefers to sit at the hearth and let others make dangerous forays. When they come back in need of warmth and comfort, she will provide it. But there is always a price: submission.

Shuns Ideology

The strategy has served her well. Not only has she been able to clear away potential rivals from within her own party, but she has also managed to win over a majority of Germans. In 2007, Merkel uttered one of her most famous quotes: "Pounding your head against the wall won't work. In the end, the wall always wins." The no-risk approach means that the German electorate almost always gets what it wants.

Indeed, Germany has never had a leader who shuns ideology to the degree that Merkel does. Ever since 2005, when she campaigned on a pledge to raise the VAT by two percentage points and nearly lost as a result, she has preferred consensus over creed -- and shunned vision. Her government's celebrated abandonment of nuclear power in favor of renewables is just the best-known example of the chancellor opening her arms wide to embrace as many Germans as possible. There are many others.

Outside of Germany's borders, however, it is a different story. Merkel has never shown any indication that she sees Europeans as being a part of her constituency. She has, to be sure, been instrumental in preventing the collapse of the euro. But she has been careful to ensure that sacrifices are made elsewhere. Indeed, its not even clear that she shares a commitment to Europe, insisting as she has recently that not too much power be handed over to Brussels.

Remembering Mutti

Rather than being a powerful leader of Europe, Merkel has more often merely been at the helm by default -- as the leader of the most powerful country in Europe.

The Economist has long noted the difference between the two. Merkel has been a frequent fixture on the magazine's cover in recent years -- most famously as the captain of a "World Economy" ship already halfway to the bottom of the ocean -- and the accompanying articles have rarely been flattering. This week's endorsement uses the first paragraph to acknowledge that fact.

And yet, the magazine still falls victim to the pleasant, Mutti-induced lethargy that has gripped Germany during this entire campaign season. Understandable. Who doesn't like the political equivalent of chocolate chip cookies and a glass of milk -- particularly in a country like the UK where politicians offer neither?

But there is little to indicate that Merkel will force Germans to move out of the house anytime soon. The Economist piece ends by saying: "Our bet is that she will want to be remembered as a decider not a ditherer." There is a third possibility that goes unmentioned: It may just be that Merkel wants to be remembered as Mutti.

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« Reply #8718 on: Sep 14, 2013, 06:49 AM »

September 13, 2013

Many Doubt Death Sentences Will Stem India Sexual Attacks


NEW DELHI — There was no mistaking the whoop of joy that rose outside Saket District Court on Friday, when word got out that four men convicted in last December’s horrific gang rape and murder had been sentenced to death by hanging. People burst into applause. They hugged whoever was beside them. They pumped the air with their fists.

“We are the winners now,” said a woman holding a placard. Sweat had dried into white rivulets on her face, but she had the look of a woman who had, finally, gotten what she wanted. And it was true: A wave of protests after the December rape have set remarkable changes in motion in India, a country where for decades vicious sexual harassment has been dismissed indulgently, called “eve-teasing.”

But some of India’s most ardent women’s rights advocates hung back from Friday’s celebration, skeptical that four hangings would do anything to stem violence against women, a problem whose proportions are gradually coming into focus.

“I think a lot of people were hugging each other because they thought this evil is localized, and it will be wiped out, and that is not the case,” said Karuna Nundy, a litigator who has argued before India’s Supreme Court. “The sad truth is that it is not a deterrent.”

From the moment it broke, the story of the 23-year-old woman who became known as “Nirbhaya,” or “fearless,” awoke real rage in the population.

Hoping for a ride home from a movie theater, she and a male companion boarded a private bus, not realizing that the six men aboard had been cruising Delhi in search of a victim. After knocking her friend unconscious, they took her to the back of the bus and raped her, then penetrated her with a metal rod, inflicting grave internal injuries. An hour later, they dumped the pair out on the road, bleeding and naked. She died two weeks later of her injuries.

Young men and women, mobilized through social media, joined protests that spread across India, demanding tougher laws and more effective policing.

“As a woman, and mother, I understand how protesters feel,” Sonia Gandhi, India’s most powerful female politician and the president of the governing Congress Party, said at the time. “Today we pledge that the victim will get justice.”

After intensive public discussion of the case, some changes followed with extraordinary speed. Reports of rape have skyrocketed; in the first eight months of this year, Delhi’s police force registered 1,121 cases, more than double the number from the same period in 2011 and the highest number since 2000. The number of reported molestations has increased sixfold in the same period.

The government created a fast-track court for rape cases and introduced new laws, criminalizing acts like voyeurism and stalking and making especially brutal rapes into a capital crime. Scholars have delved into the social changes that may be contributing to the problem, as new arrivals in India’s huge cities find themselves unemployed and hopeless, stuck in “the space below the working class,” as the writer Rajrishi Singhal recently put it in an editorial in The Hindu.

But many were thinking of something more basic — punishing the six (one, a juvenile, got a three-year sentence in August, and the driver was found dead in his cell in March) who attacked the woman in the bus. It was those people who found their way to the Saket courthouse on Friday. Many came like pilgrims, hoping to find closure in a case that had haunted them.

Kiran Khullar arrived in a wheelchair, accompanied by her daughter, 17. “I have come here as a mother,” she said. “I came here only to see these men get the death penalty.”

A 62-year-old grandmother, Arun Puri, had scribbled the words “Hang them! Hang them!” on her dupatta, a traditional scarf. Asked whether she felt sorry for the defendants’ parents, she did not flinch. “If these men were my children,” she said, “I would have strangled them to death myself.”

Rosy John, 62, a homemaker watching the furor outside the courtroom, said her only objection to the death sentence was that it was too humane a punishment.

“After death, they will get freedom,” she said. “They should be tortured and given shocks their whole life.”

In fact, it is unlikely the four men will be executed swiftly. The order must be confirmed by India’s High Court, and all four defendants may appeal to the High Court, the Supreme Court and the president for clemency. Some 477 people are on death row, inching through a process that often drags on for five or six years. Three people have been executed since 2004, and there were no executions for eight years before that.

Sadashiv Gupta, who defended one of the men, a fruit seller named Pawan Gupta, said he had assured his client that the sentence was likely to be commuted to life in prison, as most are.

“I told him: ‘You are going to get the death penalty. Take it in stride, and don’t panic,’ ” said Mr. Gupta, sweating in his stiff white collar outside the courthouse. “I think he shall not be hanged.”

Polls show that Indians remain ambivalent about using the death penalty, with 40 percent saying it should be abolished, according to a survey by CNN, IBN and The Hindu, a respected daily newspaper.

For many months already, advocates for women have questioned whether death sentences in the December case would distract people from the more difficult question of why Indian girls and women are so vulnerable to sexual violence.

“A base but very human part of me would like them to suffer as much as they made that woman suffer,” wrote Nilanjana S. Roy in The Hindu, noting that most rapists are not strangers. She went on to envision the result if convicted rapists were hanged consistently for a year: 10,000 neighbors, shopkeepers, tutors, grandfathers, fathers and brothers.

“I wish I could believe that this sort of mass public execution — if we agreed that this was the way forward — would do more than slake our collective need for vengeance,” Ms. Roy wrote. “But I don’t believe in fairy tales.”

Ms. Nundy, the Supreme Court litigator, said the real challenge lies in shaking up the criminal justice system, which is desperately short of judges and mired in outdated thinking about violence against women. Upon receiving a report of rape, she said, police investigators still routinely use a “two-finger test” to determine whether the victim has a prior sexual history; if the answer is yes, she said, the likelihood of a conviction plummets.

“Rape is not just something that is localized — you find these people, you wipe them out, you’re done,” she said.

Still, there were some people whose satisfaction on Friday could not be punctured. Among them was Gaurav Singh, 20, a brother of the victim in the December gang rape.

She was the firstborn and the star of the family, which had left a village of thatched-roof huts for the dizzying sprawl of Delhi, 600 miles away. To pay for her tuition, her father had sold most of his land in the village, borrowed money from family members and worked 16-hour shifts handling luggage at the airport. She had promised to return the favor by paying for her younger brothers’ schooling once she became a physiotherapist.

Mr. Singh, who plans to become a pilot, pondered the question of mercy on Friday night.

“They never gave my sister a chance,” he said in a telephone interview.

He noted that she had managed to make her own wishes known, telling a court official, who visited her in a hospital before she died, that her assailants should be “burned alive.” He said the family would wait for the day they are hanged, and, in the meantime, “keep the fight going that my sister has ignited.”

“We know she can’t come back,” he said. “But there is a satisfaction that these men will be eliminated. We get some peace from that.”

Malavika Vyawahare contributed reporting.


India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
September 13, 2013, 8:24 am

India’s Electoral Politics Reignites Religious Hatreds


Sectarian violence between Hindus and Muslims has killed more than 38 and displaced over 10,000 people in the past week in Muzaffarnagar district of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. The state government led by Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav of Samajwadi Party failed to respond swiftly to the violence and restore order. Indian army had to be deployed to control the violence and impose a curfew.

According to the press and official reports, riots in Muzaffarnagar started after two Hindus killed a Muslim man for stalking their female relative. The Muslims retaliated by killing two Hindu men. Rival state legislators made hate speeches at charged public gatherings of the two communities, where members of the audience brandished weapons.

A legislator of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (B.J.P.) is on the run from the police after circulating a fake video of a Muslim mob lynching two men. Uttar Pradesh police officials said that the video had not been shot in India, and have filed charges against leaders of several political parties for inciting Hindu and Muslim mobs.

According to Sushil Kumar Shinde, India’s minister of Home Affairs, there have already been 451 cases of sectarian violence in 2013, surpassing 410 such incidents reported in 2012.

Mr. Shinde told the Indian press that religious violence is likely to intensify ahead of the 2014 national elections. Uttar Pradesh, which elects 80 lawmakers to the lower house of the Indian Parliament, will be a key state in the formation of the new government. “The situation is certainly worrying because there are political players in Uttar Pradesh, who have an incentive in polarizing votes using religion,” said Ramachandra Guha, historian and author of “India After Gandhi”, a history of modern India.

Mr. Guha pointed out that about half of India’s current population is too young to remember the gruesome, nation-wide violence of the 1990s and how opportunistic politicians cracked open religious fissures in the past. India’s median age is 26.

After the 2002 riots in the western Indian state of Gujarat, India has seen comparatively lesser sectarian strife in the past decade. It was also the country’s most prosperous period, which saw increased economic growth.

There are very superficial similarities between the political and economic conditions of India in the early nineties and the country today. The economy is braving a downturn; millions of literate young Indians are struggling to enter the workforce; the current federal government, led by the Congress party, is seen as corrupt and ineffective. The middle class resents the government for its economic redistribution measures aimed at the poor. And religious accommodation is showing clear signs of strain.

The situation in the early 1990s was far more serious. In December 1992, a weak Congress party government did nothing as extremist Hindu mobs led by several B.J.P. leaders, demolished the 16th century Babri mosque in Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh. After the mosque was destroyed, riots and arson followed in Mumbai and more than 900 people were killed, most of them Muslims. In March 1993, Muslim extremists set off a series of bombs in Mumbai, then Bombay, which killed more than 250.

In a 1993 essay titled “Modern Hate”, Chicago University Political Science professors Susanne and Lloyd Rudolph, wrote about the mobs that demolished the Babri mosque. “They are the educated unemployed, not the poor and illiterate,” they wrote. “Frustrated by the lack of good jobs and opportunities, they are victims of modernization, seeking to victimize others – like ‘pampered’ Muslims.”

According to the Rudolphs, the riots in the 1990s had less to do with ancient religious revisionism, and more with contemporary economic faultlines: the resentment of entrenched upper caste Hindus against the ruling parties that “pampered” Muslims and lower caste Hindus, with affirmative action like reservations in government jobs. “The Hindu backlash to minority protectionism asks, whose country is this anyway?”

The B.J.P. converted that resentment into a consolidated Hindu vote bank. On the other side, the Samajwadi Party sought to grab the votes of the state’s Muslims by positioning themselves as the community’s savior.

About two decades later, there is a slight sense of dejavu. Mr. Yadav, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, relies heavily on Muslim votes. After his failure to stop the violence, Mr. Yadav tried to stem the potential loss of Muslim votes by showing up at an event with Haj pilgrims in Lucknow in a skullcap.

Narendra Modi, the controversial chief minister of Gujarat, who is the B.J.P.’s defacto prime ministerial candidate, has turned his gaze on Uttar Pradesh. Mr. Modi can become India’s Prime Minister in 2014, if the B.J.P. performs exceedingly well in the state.

Mr. Modi has appointed his confidante, Amit Shah, as his party’s election manager in Uttar Pradesh. Mr. Shah, a former minister in Mr. Modi’s Gujarat government, is currently out on bail for allegedly masterminding the extra-judicial killings of suspected Islamic militants. Critics say that Mr. Shah’s appointment to Uttar Pradesh exposes the B.J.P’s strategy of dividing the electorate along religious lines. “Modi is a ruthless and cynical man,” said Mr. Guha. “He is projecting himself as a development oriented politician in other states, but is using Amit Shah to polarize Uttar Pradesh.”

Will this calculus of passion improve the electoral prospects of the B.J.P.? 

“People are not drawn toward religion today like they were in the 1990s,” said Dipankar Gupta, a sociologist and author of “Mistaken Modernity”. “There will only be limited gains, if any, for the B.J.P. or regional parties [like the Samajwadi Party],” he said.

Mr. Gupta also pointed out that the economy today is very different from the 1990s, when it took years of internationally aided restructuring before an economic turnaround. Unlike the early nineties, several sectors of the Indian economy are showing signs of recovery.

The past week was a good one for investors after a long time: a new central bank governor brought some optimism, the bulls rallied the Mumbai stock exchange, and the currency strengthened against the dollar.

If the outlook improves over the coming months, business and middle-class anger against the Congress government may subside and the B.J.P’s Uttar Pradesh gambit may be seen as a cynical ploy to divide the country.

But the B.J.P’s planners are extrapolating from past successes: “Muslims’ rabid opposition to the B.J.P. has indeed proved to be beneficial to it electorally,” wrote wrote G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, party strategist, in the ideological mouthpiece, The Organiser.

Religion remains one of the surest ways of mass political mobilization in India, according to the political psychologist, Ashis Nandy. “Caste factors attract much smaller numbers of people,” he said. “India’s neo middle-class is still too naïve to be mobilized purely around economic issues.”

British India’s independence and partition into India and Pakistan was accompanied by genocidal violence, which killed millions of Hindus and Muslims. The 1950s were a quiet decade in independent India, but the 1960s and 1970s witnessed riot after riot throughout the country. The eighties were scarred by the massacre of several thousand Sikhs in Delhi by mobs led by politicians and workers of the Congress party. The Hindu nationalist movement to build a Ram temple on the site of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya dominated the late 1980s and the early 90s.

“The early nineties was only the climax of tensions that were simmering for decades,” said Mr. Nandy. “The riots we see today are not merely a throwback to the nineties. This is how Indian politics has been for much of its history.”

Sambuddha is a Fulbright scholar, media entrepreneur and freelance journalist. Follow him on Twitter @some_buddha

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« Reply #8719 on: Sep 14, 2013, 06:52 AM »

River Island under pressure to sign Bangladesh factory safety deal

Clothing retailer left isolated after rival Arcadia finally signs agreement five months after Rana Plaza building collapse

Sarah Butler   
The Guardian, Friday 13 September 2013 19.28 BST   

The clothing retailer River Island is under increasing pressure to sign a factory safety deal in Bangladesh set up in the wake of the Rana Plaza disaster after its rival Arcadia thinned the ranks of refuseniks by backing the accord.

The Global Poverty Project is calling on its 30,000 British members to write to River Island after Arcadia, the owner of Topshop, finally signed up to the international deal on Friday, nearly five months after 1,129 people died when the Rana Plaza factory building near Dhaka collapsed.

As the fashion world descends on London for this season's catwalk shows, Arcadia joins more than 50 brands which have signed up to the legally binding building safety agreement, pledging to contribute up to $500,000 (£325,000) a year towards rigorous independent factory inspections and the installation of fire safety measures.

Meanwhile, an all-party group of British MPs led by Anne Main have arrived in Bangladesh as part of a report they are producing into how Britain can help improve factory conditions. They are aiming to meet the Bangladeshi prime minister, garment producers and unions on their four-day trip.

River Island said it agreed with the "principle and intent" of the accord but still had queries to clear up. The company said in a statement: "River Island is committed to ensuring safe conditions for those working in the factories which supply our products. We have good and long-term relationships with all of our suppliers in Bangladesh and the team has recently visited every one of the factories that we use in the region."

Those yet to sign, which include Peacocks owner Edinburgh Woollen Mill and Matalan, are coming under increasing pressure from campaign groups including the Trades Union Congress which gave a platform to the Bangladeshi union leader Amirul Haque Amin at its annual conference on Monday.

Amin is in the UK this week pushing for better wages for the millions of workers in Bangladesh's clothing factories and full compensation for those affected in the Rana Plaza disaster and an earlier fire at the Tazreen clothing factory, where 110 people died. This week nine brands which were linked to the Rana Plaza building, including Britain's Matalan, Primark and Bonmarché, met in Geneva for talks with unions and workers' rights campaigners about long-term compensation for the victims and their families.

The international union IndustriALL has called for brands to contribute $33.5m to those injured and the families of those who died in the accident with a further $41m to come from the Bangladeshi government and factory owners. While all the brands which met in Geneva said they were prepared to put up at least some cash, no agreement was reached on the structure or scale of compensation, partly because 20 brands which were invited did not attend including Walmart, Mango and the Zara owner, Inditex.

Samantha Maher of campaign group Labour Behind the Label, who attended the talks, said: "It is almost six months since Rana Plaza collapsed. After all the hand-wringing, workers are still facing a life of desperation when half of those brands whose products they were making have turned their back on them."

Inditex said it did not attend the meeting because it had not sourced clothing from Rana Plaza, while Walmart said its clothes were not being produced there "at the time of the tragedy," although campaigners have provided evidence that clothes were being made for the US retailer at Rana Plaza about a year before it collapsed.

Primark, which has led action to organise compensation for victims,has promised a second round of short-term financial assistance to more than 3,000 workers and their families who were involved in the disaster as talks continue about longer-term payouts.

It has pledged this short-term help to all those linked to Rana Plaza while it registers and assesses the level of injuries suffered by those working for its supplier New Wave.

Katharine Kirk, its ethical trading director, said Primark was continuing to work towards its own long-term compensation scheme and would make those payouts when it was ready even if a wider agreement did not emerge. Kirk said: "At the moment this is the best option on the table and we are not going to sit around and wait for something else that may never come."

Maher said that Primark's proactive approach should put pressure on other brands to step forward. If they did not step up, she said some workers would be left without long-term financial help because "they happened to be working for a brand that doesn't care."

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« Reply #8720 on: Sep 14, 2013, 06:54 AM »

Cambodia PM and opposition leader fail to resolve election standoff

Meeting arranged by king between Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy fails to produce agreement over disputed poll

Associated Press in Phnom Penh, Saturday 14 September 2013 05.16 BST   

Cambodia's long-ruling prime minister, Hun Sen, briefly met the head of main opposition party for the first time in years on Saturday, but the two rivals reached no agreement on how to end the political stalemate that has simmered since the country's disputed election.

The opposition says it would have won had the vote been fair and has vowed to stage a new wave of protests Sunday and boycott parliament's first session on 23 September unless an independent committee investigates its claims of widespread voting irregularities. The government has rejected the demands.

Saturday's meeting between Hun Sen and the opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, was called by King Norodom Sihamoni, and was held at the royal palace in the capital, Phnom Penh. The talks lasted about 20 minutes, and Hun Sen left without commenting. Asked by reporters what had come out of the meeting, Sam Rainsy replied simply: "No, no, there is nothing."

Sam Rainsy's party made major gains in the July vote, although the ruling party retained a majority of legislative seats. Official results ratified last weekend gave Hun Sen's party 68 seats in the national assembly and Sam Rainsy's 55.

As the post-election standoff has dragged on, hopes had risen that King Sihamoni could serve as a mediator, a role often played by his father. The late Norodom Sihanouk helped broker an end to civil war in 1991 and arrange power-sharing agreements after the 1993 and 2003 elections.

Sihamoni, who took over the throne in 2004, has so far taken a less active role. Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy both greeted Sihamoni at the capital's airport Wednesday upon his return from China but did not acknowledge each other.

"The king is the only person right now who can get these two parties to meet and discuss all their differences," opposition politician Son Chhay said this week.

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said that the discussions could have focused on allotting the opposition several parliamentary leadership positions, reforming the electoral commission and allowing Sam Rainsy to take a seat in parliament.

Just before the disputed vote, Sihamoni pardoned the then self-exiled Sam Rainsy at the request of Hun Sen. This is likely to have been due to international pressure to legitimise the poll. Sam Rainsy returned to Cambodia before the election, but too late to register as a candidate himself.

Their meeting comes a day before the opposition has planned another mass protest in Phnom Penh. Opposition leaders have said they expect 20,000 people to turn out again to demand an investigation into the election results. They say the protest will continue for three days.

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« Reply #8721 on: Sep 14, 2013, 06:57 AM »

September 13, 2013

China Detains a Billionaire for Activism


BEIJING — A Chinese billionaire venture capitalist who has strongly advocated more liberal political and social policies was detained Friday by Beijing police officers, friends of the businessman said.

The businessman, Wang Gongquan, 51, is a close friend of Xu Zhiyong, a lawyer who was formally arrested last month on a charge of “assembling a crowd to disrupt order in a public place.” Mr. Wang was detained on the same charge, according to a photograph of the warrant that circulated online on Friday. One human rights group said Mr. Wang was in Beijing No. 3 Detention Center, where more than a dozen others with ties to the New Citizens’ Movement, led by Mr. Xu, are being held.

Mr. Wang was taken from his home by more than 20 police officers around 11:30 a.m., said Chen Min, another well-known rights advocate, who goes by the pen name Xiao Shu. The police searched the home for more than two hours and took away a computer, two framed pictures and small “citizen pins” that Mr. Wang presumably had made at some point, Mr. Chen said.

The pins might have been collected by the police as potential evidence in a case against Mr. Wang. They appear to be similar to “citizen stamps” that Mr. Wang ordered made years ago. Caixin, an investigative business magazine, reported in 2011 that Mr. Wang had commissioned 100 of the stamps, which were the same size as a one renminbi coin and bore the engraved images of the Chinese flag, an open book with the title “Constitution,” and the phrase “Chinese Citizen.”

Few businessmen who have amassed as much wealth as Mr. Wang are as outspoken about their liberal political views. Mr. Wang began building his fortune as a real estate investor in the Vantone enterprise on Hainan Island in the 1990s, which became a springboard for other businessmen who grew affluent from the property business. Mr. Wang joined a venture capital firm and later founded his own investment company.

In 2005, Mr. Wang began attending meetings held by Mr. Xu and working with Mr. Xu’s advocacy group, the Open Constitution Initiative. The Caixin profile said Mr. Wang became involved in a wide range of social issues, like condemning “black jails” where security officers secretly detained aggrieved petitioners, and supporting rights for the children of migrant workers, who are usually barred from studying in public schools in the cities where their parents work.

Since a Communist Party leadership transition last November, advocates of more liberal policies have urged the new leaders to follow and enforce the Chinese Constitution, which is routinely ignored by the party. Senior officials have pushed back against those calls, and editorials in official party publications in recent months have criticized supporters of constitutionalism.

That attack on liberal ideas has coincided with a security crackdown on dissent. Many liberal Chinese have been detained by the police. The crackdown has extended to prominent Internet personalities who often discuss social issues on Twitter-like microblog accounts, which can have millions of followers. Chinese Human Rights Defenders, an international advocacy group, has estimated that nearly 60 Chinese involved in political activism have been detained.

Mr. Xu was arrested this summer against that backdrop. At the time, Mr. Wang spoke with journalists about his plight. Reporters also contacted Mr. Wang when Mr. Chen was detained temporarily last month. Mr. Wang said in an interview: “A lot of people have asked me, after Xu Zhiyong and Xiao Shu, are you worried? I don’t know. Up to now, state security hasn’t contacted me. But on the day I decided to work with Xu Zhiyong, I had already prepared for the worst.”

Mr. Chen and Mr. Wang have helped circulate an online petition calling for Mr. Xu’s release.

In 2011, Mr. Wang was thrust into prominence for an entirely different reason. He posted a message on his microblog saying he was leaving his wife because he had fallen in love with another woman, Wang Qin. “I am giving up everything and eloping with Wang Qin,” he wrote. “I feel ashamed and so am leaving without saying goodbye. I kneel down and beg forgiveness!”

Patrick Zuo and Shi Da contributed research.


September 13, 2013

In China, the Dangers of Due Diligence


SHANGHAI — When Peter Humphrey and his wife, Yu Yingzheng, appeared on Chinese national television recently, handcuffed and wearing orange prison vests, it was the first time in more than a month that family and friends had seen the British-American couple, well-known figures in the foreign business world here.

But any sense of relief was tempered by what they saw next: Mr. Humphrey, his face electronically blurred, his head bowed, confessed to a crime and apologized to the Chinese government.

The broadcast not only stirred immediate alarm among foreigners in China, but also cast a light on a murky corner of business life in the world’s most dynamic economy. Until they disappeared in July, Mr. Humphrey and Ms. Yu ran ChinaWhys, one of many firms in the hush-hush industry of consultants and investigators in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong that promise to guide foreign corporations through China’s opaque and often treacherous business environment.

The companies sell services that are considered essential to doing business in China, including background checks, financial audits, fraud investigations and trademark protection. In most of the world, such work is fairly mundane. But in China, where public records are limited and corruption is rampant, it can be tricky and dangerous.

The arrests of Mr. Humphrey and Ms. Yu on charges of illegally acquiring private personal information, and the recent jailing of several other business researchers on similar charges, suggest the risks are rising. Taken together with the bribery investigation against GlaxoSmithKline, the increasing pressure on American car companies to lower their prices here, and the not-so-veiled threats against American technology companies to subcontract to Chinese companies, China appears to be throwing new obstacles in the way of foreign companies doing business in China.

A spokesman for Bayer HealthCare, a pharmaceutical company based in Germany, said on Friday that Chinese officials had begun investigating the company’s China operations for “a potential case of unfair competition.”

Representatives from a local office of China’s State Administration for Industry and Commerce visited one of Bayer’s offices at the end of August, said the spokesman, Oliver Renner. He added that Bayer would investigate any accusations of violation of corporate policies and “take full responsibility for appropriate measures.”

It is unclear whether the investigation into Bayer is related to the ones that Chinese officials have opened into GlaxoSmithKline and other foreign pharmaceutical companies. Earlier this year, Chinese officials also investigated makers of infant milk powder for price fixing; most of the companies under scrutiny were foreign ones. Officials fined several of the companies the equivalent of millions of dollars, and the companies said they would pay the fines.

Foreign investors — hedge funds, private equity firms and multinational companies — typically hire consulting firms like ChinaWhys to investigate potential partners and employees or keep tabs on current ones.

The goal is to uncover wrongdoing that could hurt investments, things like a hidden relationship with a supplier or a fraud that could sink a publicly listed company.

“Unfortunately, even as due diligence into the integrity of domestic enterprises in China has become more important in the light of perceived widespread fraud and misrepresentation, access to records has become even more difficult,” said John Kuzmik, a consultant and former partner-in-charge of the law firm Baker Botts in Hong Kong. “Investigators are working in a very gray and somewhat dangerous environment.”

China has yet to develop a comprehensive system for collecting and assessing individual credit histories, or even accessing criminal or land records, Mr. Kuzmik said. And last year, the government began clamping down on access to corporate and household registration documents.

Indeed, much of the business going to these firms comes from Western lawyers, who must perform due diligence on Chinese deals for their clients but are wary about getting their hands dirty in the process.

“We work with private investigators but we don’t want to know where they get the information,” said a lawyer in a major American law firm in China.

Because the rules about access to corporate and other records are uncertain — the police and the courts themselves are susceptible to outside influence — the greatest risk may be an investigation of an individual with the means to retaliate.

That appears to be what happened to Huang Kun, a Canadian investigator who is in a Chinese jail and is expected to face criminal charges after helping prepare a negative report about Silvercorp, a mining operation that suffered a 20 percent fall in its share price on the Toronto stock exchange after Mr. Huang’s work was released.

Some are convinced that something similar happened to Mr. Humphrey and Ms. Yu.

An arrest like Mr. Humphrey’s is “never about the legal issues. It’s always about who has an interest in suppressing information,” a Western consultant in Beijing said.

Dan David, co-founder of GeoInvesting, a Pennsylvania company that investigates Chinese companies listed on American stock exchanges, said the decision by the Chinese to single out Mr. Humphrey was particularly unfair given that he and other investigators were trying to protect United States investors.

“Keep in mind that we are not talking about filming or hidden camera interviews, but basic background checks, and the government of China puts you in jail,” Mr. David said.

Mr. Humphrey, 57, who is British, and Ms. Yu, 60, who is a Chinese-born, naturalized American, fit easily into the orbit of private investigators who must be part gumshoe, part financial analyst. Mr. Humphrey, who first came to China in 1979, had a long career as a foreign correspondent with Reuters, including in Central Europe. Ms. Yu is an accountant.

Mr. Humphrey was the founder of the Shanghai chapter of a Texas-based group, the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, and gave a lengthy presentation last year at a conference in Hong Kong about how his company operated. Among his pieces of advice: “Think like the fraudsters.”

ChinaWhys, which kept modest offices in Shanghai, had about 10 employees, according to Xinhua, China’s state-run news agency.

Its clients included manufacturing, hotel and real estate companies and, most notably, GlaxoSmithKline, the pharmaceutical giant, which the Chinese government has accused of widespread bribery of Chinese doctors.

A Glaxo spokesman said Mr. Humphrey was never an employee of the company, but declined to say for how long or under what circumstances ChinaWhys did work for the company.

Acquaintances of Mr. Humphrey said they believed that Glaxo had asked Mr. Humphrey to find out if the company was in compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

In the CCTV report last month, a uniformed Shanghai police officer, Lu Wei, said the couple had collected the personal household registrations of Chinese citizens, known as hukous, automobile and homeownership records and details of cross-border travel.

The couple paid $130 to $163 per item of illegally obtained information, which they packaged into reports they sold for over $16,000 each, making about $980,400 annual profit, the report said.

It seemed likely that Mr. Humphrey and Ms. Yu were caught because they failed to adapt after the rules of the road changed last year.

That was when the Chinese government tightened access to corporate records at state industry and commerce bureaus, which give information about company structure, and made hukous virtually off-limits, several Western consultants said. The powerful Ministry of Public Security controls hukous, which are important to investors because they are often the only way to verify that someone is who he or she claims to be.

Many investigators stopped seeking hukous after a subsidiary of Dun & Bradstreet was charged in September 2012 by the Shanghai public prosecutor with “illegally obtaining private information from Chinese citizens.” Four employees were sentenced to up to two years in jail.

Mr. Humphrey appeared to be aware of the new limitations and wrote about them earlier this year on the Web site of the fraud examiners group.

“In February 2013, the government issued strict new rules to restrict access to what it called ‘personal information,’ ” he wrote. “I find this a step backwards that will make due diligence and catching fraudsters harder. We will have to be even more creative from now on.”

He described the consequences of failing to conduct proper due diligence, and cited the disastrous acquisition of a Chinese company, Siwei Mechanical Electrical Engineering, by Caterpillar last year.

“If Caterpillar had done the kind of due diligence” combining accounting with background investigation, retrieval of corporate records and discreet supporting inquiries, “it might have spotted the fraud before doing the deal,” Mr. Humphrey wrote.

There was no word from the Chinese authorities about when or whether Mr. Humphrey and Ms. Yu would be put on trial. The British Embassy in Beijing said it was concerned that Mr. Humphrey was “publicly interviewed about the details of his case, which is currently under investigation and has yet to come to trial.”

People with knowledge of the case said Mr. Humphrey was being held in the Shanghai Detention Center in Pudong.

The American Embassy in Beijing said consular officers had visited Ms. Yu on a regular basis since her arrest and would continue to do so.

Bree Feng contributed research.

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« Reply #8722 on: Sep 14, 2013, 07:01 AM »

Julia Gillard writes on power, purpose and Labor’s future

Exclusive: Australia's former prime minister breaks her silence, writing exclusively for Guardian Australia on her legacy, her hopes for a new Labor leader… and the pain of losing power

Julia Gillard, Saturday 14 September 2013 03.04 BST          

During the election campaign, an elderly lady in Melbourne’s west grips my arm with surprising force. Next day I have light bruises to remind me of the moment. She looks at me with anxiety in her eyes and says that while she reads and watches all the news she just can’t understand what the election campaign is about. She wants to know, is this her fault or the fault of the campaign?

After a resounding Labor loss, that word “fault” is now everywhere. Exhaustion and emotion have been on sad display in the last few days. But though it is so painful and so hard, now is a time for cool analysis.

It is a time to carefully plan Labor’s future and its next contribution to the nation.

The purpose of power

Are election victories the only measure of political success? Inevitably this seems a silly, self-serving question to ask after a defeat.

But surely our national story is written in more than the statistics of election night. Our national story is shaped by what endures from a government as well as what is rejected.

It is impossible to imagine modern Australia without Medicare, our universal healthcare scheme, which was introduced by the Whitlam government, repealed by the Coalition and then introduced by Labor again. This reform has become so significant a part of our national story that the political contest which surrounded its birth is now over. No serious candidate for public office runs on a platform opposing Medicare. Today's Australia is not home to the kind of conservatives who would be ideological enough or dumb enough to contemplate such a political campaign. If anything, the national mood around Medicare is one of smug complacency. How much smarter are we than the Americans, still struggling with health reform, we think to ourselves.

Despite the shattering defeat of the Whitlam government, despite Bob Hawke being toppled as prime minister by his Labor colleagues, despite the savage loss of the Keating Government, Medicare is there. Labor shaped the national consensus and bettered our nation.

Even in the midst of today’s despair, Labor must not surrender its sense of self as defined by its dominance over so much of what is our national consensus. Indeed, a truly striking feature of Tony Abbott’s election campaign is how little he was prepared to challenge Labor’s hold over our national consensus.

Think first of that historic conservative touchstone, workplace relations.

Labor, working with the trade union movement, has won the battle on workplace relations so profoundly that it is impossible in modern Australia to find an advocate for the Howard government's Work Choices laws.

Certainly not prime minister Abbott, who has spent two election campaigns with his hand on his heart denying any belief in or attachment to those laws. Indeed, so desperate was his desire to distance himself from Work Choices that he had it leaked that he was a voice of opposition to it even in the Howard cabinet.

At the same time, every business leader and advocate now feels the need to start any conversation about workplace relations with the words, “I don’t support a return to Work Choices”.

That in an open, developed economy Labor should have been able to win this battle so profoundly is truly remarkable. In neither of the nations that we look to first for our political and cultural comparisons – the United States or the United Kingdom – has the same pro-worker national consensus been forged.

Labor’s dominance of the national consensus is not limited to workplace relations. Prime minister Abbott, having lost the argument, spectacularly abandoned his opposition to my school funding reforms.

Every day in office the Howard government played the divisive politics of non-government schools versus government schools. Then, for sport, it played education culture wars. History wars, reading wars, wars for adults to fight as quality and equity in education languished.

Tony Abbott resorted to playing these games too, like the foray into the history wars in the last week of the campaign.

But he came to realise that the old approach would not work for school funding policy. My carefully crafted education reforms – transparency, quality, national curriculum, national standards, funding reform – had destroyed the utility of the Coalition’s political approach. Its business model was broken. No stakeholder stood with them. Those who really cared about education no longer wanted to be pitted against each other. I also doubt they want to be caught up in a continuing dumb conservative curriculum “war” to generate headlines.

So the humiliating backdown came. Now the need for and the structure of Labor's education funding reform is essentially bipartisan politics. Indeed, the Coalition has no profound agenda for change in any aspect of education: early childhood, vocational, university or research. It has not only lost the fight, it has effectively abandoned the field.

As Labor leader, nothing was more important to me than winning this education fight and creating opportunity for all our children. It is a source of pride to me, and it should be a source of pride to all in Labor, that we have prevailed so decisively and written this next chapter of our national story.

The same is true of disability care, a revolution in the way our nation treats those with disability. The Coalition has never proposed a social institution of this scale and in government it would never have committed to a national disability insurance scheme. It would have stymied the national conversation and prevented the nation getting to the moment of change.

Its inability to contribute to social reform was also laid bare by its lack of initiatives of any imagination in health or aged care. The final debate between the leaders had Tony Abbott quick with a “me too” on health, “me too” on Medicare Locals.

All of these are Labor reforms through and through. Life-changing and nation-changing. Part of our national consensus – now part of us.

Tony Abbott did not seek to contest the vision Labor defined for our nation’s future as outlined in the Australia in the Asian Century white paper. While inevitably what success demands of us in this century will continue to be debated, the white paper published by the government I led will continue its role as the foundation stone of that discussion.

So, given all this, as a political party of purpose, one capable of writing our nation’s story, why was Labor

repudiated by the people?

The power of purpose

Above all else, in politics, in government and in opposition, purpose matters.

Voters do not reject political parties because they believe they do not know how to read polls or hold focus groups or come up with slogans.

Purpose matters. Being able to answer the question what are you going to do for me, for my family, for our nation, matters.

Believing in a purpose larger than yourself and your immediate political interests matters.

Labor comes to opposition having sent the Australian community a very cynical and shallow message about its sense of purpose.

The decision by Labor caucus to change leaders in June this year was not done on the basis of embracing a new policy agenda; it was not done because caucus now believed Kevin Rudd had the greater talent for governing. Caucus's verdict of 2010 on that was not being revoked.

It was only done - indeed expressly done - on the basis that Labor might do better at the election.

Labor unambiguously sent a very clear message that it cared about nothing other than the prospects of survival of its members of parliament at the polls.

No alternate purpose was articulated during the election campaign that made sense to the Australian people. Kevin clearly felt constrained in running on those policies where Labor had won the national conversation, because those policies were associated with me. Yet there was not one truly original new idea to substitute as the lifeblood of the campaign.

So Labor in opposition faces this as its first task: re-embracing purpose. To do that, Labor must ask and answer three questions. First, what of Labor’s record in government does it seek to own and how much does Labor reject? Second, what is kept and what is junked of the promises and attitudes exhibited in the election campaign? Third, how in opposition is purpose refreshed?

Today’s federal parliamentary Labor party, in consultation with the broader movement, must answer these questions. It is absolutely right for Labor to want to move beyond what is described in snapshot as the Rudd-Gillard era. It would be wrong of me to seek to be a continuing voice in these debates and I will not be one.

But I am too passionate about the future of Labor and the achievements of the government I led to not state my views once, for the record, on how the first two questions should be answered.

On the third question, how purpose is refreshed, no one should try to answer it definitively in the coming days, weeks or even months. Opposition gives political parties time to think and reflect. It gives time for the next generation to mature. And of the time available in opposition, much of it can and should be used for holding the government to account. That means doing the time-consuming work of forensic scrutiny and sowing doubts through hard-hitting critique.

As Tony Abbott has proved, being relentlessly negative can pay huge political dividends. But at some point in the political cycle, the public will want to know the genuinely new way in which you describe your purpose, not just your critique of the other side. For social democratic parties, the historic deliverers of the big reforms, this moment comes earlier and with more force than for conservatives. Indeed, for Tony Abbott and his team this moment never came at all.

But the first two of these questions require quicker, more contemporaneous answers. Rebuilding cannot start until they are resolved. Decisions about Labor’s posture in opposition towards government proposals cannot be made until they are answered.

Last time Labor moved from government to opposition and was called on to decide what of the past to own and what to discard, Labor made a hash of it. Labor in opposition, after the devastating defeat of 1996, threw overboard all of the work of the Keating government in a desperate attempt to distance itself from high interest rates, high unemployment, budget “black holes” and perceptions of arrogance. The net result was that Labor was remembered for all these negatives but lost the high ground of being associated with the positives of modernising the economy, turning our nation towards Asia and appropriately and fairly responding to the native title decisions of Mabo and Wik.

Labor must not make this error again. First and foremost it must claim and explain those legacy policies that have so profoundly shaped modern Australia, and that Tony Abbott, despite healthy and continuing poll leads, was too afraid to contest: fair work, education reform, disability care, health and aged care reform, the demands of the Asian century. These policies speak of our values and of our role as a social democratic party in the modern world. They show how we believe in sharing opportunity and sharing risk, how we are prepared to actively shape our future. They show we are a political party of purpose.

But secondly, and in a political task that will require bravery, Labor must continue to stand behind the significant policies which are right but are currently outside the national political consensus. Clearly, carbon pricing is the political giant of this class.

Without doubt, Tony Abbott won this public opinion war and dominated this political conversation. The times suited him. For most Australians the last long drought was perceived to be the result of climate change, and when the drought broke their concerns about climate change receded. The circus in Copenhagen and “climategate” fed scepticism. Then, at the worst time, the structure of the Australian electricity market delivered huge rises to the electricity bills of families. While cost of living pressures were easing in other parts of the family budget, the pain of these big lumpy bills was acute and remembered.

Labor’s failure to embrace Malcolm Turnbull’s bipartisanship when it was on offer, to campaign vigorously and go to an election early on carbon pricing in late 2009 or early 2010, and the twists and turns of Labor policy since have all fuelled this fire of opposition.

I erred by not contesting the label “tax” for the fixed price period of the emissions trading scheme I introduced. I feared the media would end up playing constant silly word games with me, trying to get me to say the word “tax”. I wanted to be on the substance of the policy, not playing “gotcha”. But I made the wrong choice and, politically, it hurt me terribly.

Hindsight can give you insights about what went wrong. But only faith, reason and bravery can propel you forward.

Labor should not in opposition abandon our carbon pricing scheme. Climate change is real. Carbon should be priced. Community concern about carbon pricing did abate after its introduction. Tony Abbott does not have a viable alternative.

While it will be uncomfortable in the short term to be seen to be denying the mandate of the people, the higher cost would be appearing as, indeed becoming, a party unable to defend its own policy and legislation: a party without belief, fortitude or purpose.

Labor is on the right side of history on carbon pricing and must hold its course. Kevin Rudd was both right and brave to say this in the dying days of the campaign.

The same is true about Labor’s economic record. Governing during the global financial crisis and through the harsh structural adjustment being driven by the high Australian dollar was not easy. The continued writedowns to revenue were a source of despair as we worked to manage government finances.

In such challenging times no government would have got everything right, but Labor did get the big economic calls right. Yes, a surplus was not achieved in 2013. But yes, the economy and jobs grew, the AAA rating was conferred and maintained, inflation was tamed, interest rates hit 60 year lows, debt is completely manageable, and Australia remained, throughout the past six years, the envy of the advanced Western economies. Labor should not succumb to the 2013 equivalent of the 1996 “Kim Beazley black hole”. In opposition, Labor should fight for its economic reputation.

Inevitably, in the coming twelve months, this will seem like a hopeless battle. The incoming government will be the holder of the megaphone and will be broadcasting for its own callow political purposes a continuous diatribe about Labor economic and budgeting incompetence. But every effort must be made to put the counter argument.

Specifically, the Government should be continuously reminded about its effective embrace of Labor's budget strategy. After all the venom spruiked about debt, deficit and the so-called “budget emergency”, Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb produced a four-year budget which was only $6bn different from Labor’s. Their fevered pursuit of Labor on fiscal policy came down to a derisory 0.4% difference in approach.

In addition, Labor must defend its economic credentials by continuing to argue that a profits-based tax on minerals is the right policy at this point of our nation’s economic development, and that the national broadband network is vital for the future.

But there are things that must be quickly thrown overboard. The bizarre flirtation in the campaign with “economic nationalism” and the cheap populism of appearing anti-foreign investment must be chucked out now. Poor policies like the different corporate tax rate for the Northern Territory and the hugely expensive move of naval assets from Garden Island should be ditched.

Then, while it will be hugely complex and painful, Labor has to work through immigration and asylum policies and settle its outlook.

When I was shadow immigration minister and was writing Labor’s refugee and asylum seeker policy, I used to say I was in search of a policy that we would feel comfortable defending on the day a boat sank and public sympathy was with the surviving asylum seekers, as well as on the day a riot broke out in a detention centre and public sentiment was white hot against asylum seekers. I wanted Labor no longer to be a hostage to fortune but to have a policy that could last.

I thought in opposition that I had written that policy, one viewed as “tough” within our political party. Clearly, I was wrong. Matters were made worse by the fact that by the time we came to government the policy had been softened. Events like the Oceanic Viking incident were poorly handled, the adverse High Court decision on the government's agreement with Malaysia was a blow and policy had to be shaped and reshaped in the face of rising arrival numbers. Even when we tried to draw on the wisdom of three deeply experienced men who proffered policies that would put the issue beyond ugly politics, that too failed.

In reviewing all this, Labor needs to be clear-eyed about what failed and what worked. The new approach of resettling refugees in a country other than Australia is working. It had been canvassed internally for some time and Kevin did well to so rapidly reach agreement with Papua New Guinea. Having instituted this arrangement, Labor should be publicly clear about its effectiveness otherwise the Coalition will claim credit for the fact fewer boats are now arriving.

But, despite this success, there is still much thinking to be done within Labor. Indeed, given the slipshod nature of their policies, the new government has thinking to do as well.

Being a party of purpose is not just about being a party of values and policy choices that demonstrate those values in action. It is also about being a party that has a culture which internally rewards actions and conduct that speak of purpose, not self-interest.

It is to Labor’s culture, its spirit, that the most damage has been done. To refresh Labor’s purpose, to answer the third question, requires the most and hardest work. It will take time and it starts with renewing the things of the spirit, Labor’s cultural norms.

Inevitably, in opposition there will be a debate about party reform and that is a debate to be welcomed. But structural solutions only get you so far.

While debating political structures – membership, policy development, campaign, pre-selections – we need to think deeply on the cultural factors within Labor that have enabled leaking and destabilising to be so richly rewarded.

I make no attempt to provide settled answers. This is for the current Labor generation to do, taking enough time to get it right.

But it is clear that some new cultural norms need to be thought about and deliberately set.

Ultimately organisations tell you what they are all about and what they value, by what they reward. A great sales company rewards sales with performance bonuses. A great manufacturing business rewards those who generate fault-free products for it. A company with an overriding concern for safety constantly renews it protocols and issues rewards when no one gets hurt at work. This is all commonplace and common sense.

But how does it work for a progressive political party? Unfortunately, internally we have not rewarded Labor purpose. In order to renew purpose in opposition new cultural norms are needed, norms that reward the contributions that are truly the most valuable.

How does Labor refresh purpose and demonstrate that is exactly what it is doing? How does Labor set a cultural norm that ensures those who put in most for the collective effort are recognised for the work done?

Or put another way, how does Labor make visible and valued what is currently hidden and undervalued?

In a world where the views of your colleagues about your merits matter so much to your chance of promotion, it is not at all surprising a great deal of effort goes into media work no one but political insiders ever see.

At the same time, countless hours of work can go on behind closed doors on policy development. These efforts are generally never seen by the public and can even be close to invisible to colleagues.

Real efforts need to be made to change this method of functioning, to show purpose to the public and to ensure the best contributors to the collective work of the opposition are clearly identified to their colleagues.

Perhaps policy contests could be held in the open rather than behind closed doors. Rather than having the shadow ministry debate difficult policy questions, parliamentary party policy seminars should discuss them, open to the media and live on 24-hour television. Policy contests could then be taken out of the back rooms into the light. To the extent policy contests have leaked out from back rooms, they are inevitably reported through the prism of division. By being open from the start, the debate can be put in the prism of purpose. A norm would be set that ideas matter and those with the best ideas are the most valued.

Currently, working hard in your office on a new policy, being a key contributor to shadow ministry discussions, coming up with an innovative way of attracting new people to join the ALP – none of these valuable contributions is as visible to your Labor colleagues as performances on Sky television.

Perhaps there should be a deliberate broadening of view through a council of elders, people trusted by all like Jenny Macklin, who could report regularly and publicly on their assessment of the contributions of shadow ministers and caucus colleagues to the collective work of the opposition. A process to make visible and valued, what is currently invisible and under-appreciated.

And so, importantly, how does Labor ensure leadership with purpose? A real debate needs to be had about what sort of leaders the Labor party wants to have and what short of selection methods would maximise the ability to get that kind of leader.

The answer to the question, “Why do I support this Labor leader?” should not be because he or she polls well or because the rules say I am stuck with them. The answer has to be found in actual and informed consent that this person represents what I believe in and has the leadership capacity to pursue it.

How does Labor get to that position, to a culture of leadership for a purpose?

First, the rules adopted about the Labor leadership immediately prior to the election on removing the Leader should be changed. These rules literally mean that a person could hang on as Labor leader and as prime minister even if every member of cabinet, the body that should be the most powerful and collegiate in the country, has decided that person was no longer capable of functioning as prime minister. A person could hang on even if well over half of their parliamentary colleagues thought the same.

Ironically, I argue against these rules, even though under them I would have unseated Kevin Rudd in 2010, given colleagues would have signed up in sufficient numbers to have him gone, but he could never have defeated me in 2013.

I argue against them because they are a clumsy attempt to hold power; they are not rules about leadership for purpose.

Indeed, the new rules represent exactly the wrong approach to address the so-called “revolving door” of the Labor leadership. These rules protect an unsupported, poorly performing, incumbent rather than ensuring that the best person gets chosen and supported for the best reasons: specifically the attachment of the Labor party to the leader’s defined sense of purpose and vice versa.

Labor now faces a leadership contest and a debate about the right rules for selecting the leader.

Inevitably rules drafted in extreme haste will require revision. But ultimately the mix of who votes for the Labor leader is less important than why they vote. Whatever mix of caucus members and party membership happens in the future, real thought has to be given to how to make any leadership contest one in which candidates have to articulate why they want to lead Labor and the nation.

Imagine candidates’ policy papers, not leaks. Candidates’ debates, not poisonous backgrounding. The identification of the top new ideas – not just who is top of the opinion polls.

As for the contest now between Bill Shorten and Anthony Albanese, it is not only one between two worthy candidates. It is an opportunity to start this demonstration of purpose.

Caucus and party members should use this contest to show that Labor has moved on from its leadership being determined on the basis of opinion polls, or the number of positive media profiles, or the amount of time spent schmoozing media owners and editors, or the frippery of selfies and content-less social media. Rather, choosing a leader will now be done on the basis of the clearly articulated manifestos of the candidates, the quality of their engagement with caucus and party processes and their contributions to the collective efforts of the parliamentary party.

I hope whoever is the victor in the current leadership contest serves as Labor leader for a long time, and the next time Labor needs to choose a new leader is after the next period of Labor government.

Achieving that requires much more than a ballot. It requires a true acceptance by all of the result of the ballot. Solidarity, not destabilisation. This is where Labor has failed.

Clearly more options are open for the timing of leadership contests and the way such ballots are conducted in opposition than in Government. But if there is a thorough process to define purpose in opposition then it will assist with stability in government.

In addition, thought has to be given to the costs and consequences of poor conduct. What can and should be done when caucus colleagues dedicate themselves to destabilising others and bringing the party in to disrepute? This was a question incapable of being answered during a minority government when every member had the ability to blow the government up, but it is a question that should be answered now.

There are many difficult, indeed uncomfortable questions about Labor’s culture and regenerating it for the future.

But Labor cannot avoid answering them even though it will be painful.

Because, imagine the alternative. Business as usual. Australians snorting with derision every time they hear a Labor colleague swear allegiance to the leader. Leaks, backgrounding. A new group of “cardinals”. Too many eyes on the opinion polls and too few on the nation’s future.

Labor must be better than this and it can be. I have every confidence today's generation of Labor members will find a way to ensure it is.

Relief, Regret, Rebuilding

I sat alone on election night as the results came in. I wanted it that way. I wanted to just let myself be swept up in it.

Losing power is felt physically, emotionally, in waves of sensation, in moments of acute distress.

I know now that there are the odd moments of relief as the stress ekes away and the hard weight that felt like it was sitting uncomfortably between your shoulder blades slips off. It actually takes you some time to work out what your neck and shoulders are supposed to feel like.

I know too that you can feel you are fine but then suddenly someone’s words of comfort, or finding a memento at the back of the cupboard as you pack up, or even cracking jokes about old times, can bring forth a pain that hits you like a fist, pain so strong you feel it in your guts, your nerve endings.

I know that late at night or at quiet moments in the day feelings of regret, memories that make you shine with pride, a sense of being unfulfilled can overwhelm you. Hours slip by.

I know that my colleagues are feeling all this now. Those who lost, those who remain.

We have some grieving to do together.

But ultimately it has to be grieving for the biggest thing lost, the power to change our nation for the better. To protect those who need us to shield them. To empower through opportunity. To decide what future we want for all our nation’s children and then build it.

And when the grieving is done, that’s our purpose.

Labor - a party of purpose. Now. Always.


Julia Gillard: losing power 'hits you like a fist' - exclusive

Former prime minister reveals grief, pain and regret over losing power, and issues fierce defence of her time in office in article for Guardian Australia

Lenore Taylor, Saturday 14 September 2013 02.38 BST   
Julia Gillard has talked for the first time about the deep pain and grief she felt about losing power, and how she chose to spend the night of the federal election alone.

In an exclusive 5000-word article written for Guardian Australia, the former Labor prime minister of Australia says that “losing power is felt physically, emotionally, in waves of sensation” and that the pain “hits you like a fist, pain so strong you feel it in your guts, your nerve endings.”

Gillard also says that Labor lost the election because Kevin Rudd returned without “one truly original new idea” and because he was unable to explain her enduring policy achievements. She believes that the party could muster no reason for his comeback other than that its polling might improve.

The wide-ranging article is the first time Gillard has made any comment about her removal as prime minister of Australia in June.

In an unusually frank description of the emotional impact of losing power, Gillard writes: "I sat alone on election night as the results came in. I wanted it that way. I wanted to just let myself be swept up in it."

She continues: "Losing power is felt physically, emotionally, in waves of sensation, in moments of acute distress. I know now that there are the odd moments of relief as the stress ekes away and the hard weight that felt like it was sitting uncomfortably between your shoulder blades slips off. It actually takes you some time to work out what your neck and shoulders are supposed to feel like.

“I know too that you can feel you are fine but then suddenly someone’s words of comfort, or finding a memento at the back of the cupboard as you pack up, or even cracking jokes about old times, can bring forth a pain that hits you like a fist, pain so strong you feel it in your guts, your nerve endings.

“I know that late at night or at quiet moments in the day feelings of regret, memories that make you shine with pride, a sense of being unfulfilled can overwhelm you. Hours slip by."

The article also includes:

    a fierce defence of Labor's policy contributions;
    an appeal to the Labor party to choose future leaders on the basis of substance and purpose rather than opinion polls;
    an admission of mistakes Gillard says she made over the carbon tax, including not contesting the label that it was a “tax” for fear that the media would play “silly word games” and try for a “gotcha” moment; and also a plea to Labor to stand firm on its policy on carbon pricing: “climate change is real”;
    praise for Rudd as “right and brave” for sticking with Labor’s policy on carbon pricing in the election, as well as an attack on some of his “bizarre” policy ideas.

On Rudd’s ousting of her in June 2013, Gillard is withering.

"Labor comes to opposition having sent the Australian community a very cynical and shallow message about its sense of purpose," she writes.

Labor’s decision to change leader was “only done - indeed expressly done - on the basis that Labor might do better at the election. Labor unambiguously sent a very clear message that it cared about nothing other than the prospects of survival of its members of parliament at the polls.”

She continues: “No alternate purpose was articulated during the election campaign that made sense to the Australian people. Kevin clearly felt constrained in running on those policies where Labor had won the national conversation, because those policies were associated with me. Yet there was not one truly original new idea to substitute as the lifeblood of the campaign.”

Gillard urges her Labor colleagues to own major policies which she argues have so dominated the debate that the Coalition has been forced to accept them — including on disability reform, school funding and education more broadly.

And, contrary to suggestions by some in Labor that the party should agree to the repeal of the carbon tax, Gillard is adamant that Labor must also stand firm and stick with its policy on carbon pricing, even though "without doubt, Tony Abbott won this public opinion war and dominated this political conversation.”

"Labor should not in opposition abandon our carbon pricing scheme,” she insists. “Climate change is real. Carbon should be priced. Community concern about carbon pricing did abate after its introduction. Tony Abbott does not have a viable alternative.

“While it will be uncomfortable in the short term to be seen to be denying the mandate of the people, the higher cost would be appearing as, indeed becoming, a party unable to defend its own policy and legislation: a party without belief, fortitude or purpose."

She acknowledges she "erred by not contesting the label ‘tax’ for the fixed price period of the emissions trading scheme", a decision that paved the way for Tony Abbott's contention that she had broken her pre-election promise not to introduce a carbon tax.

"I feared the media would end up playing constant silly word games with me, trying to get me to say the word 'tax'. I wanted to be on the substance of the policy, not playing 'gotcha'. But I made the wrong choice and, politically, it hurt me terribly."

She also attributes blame for Labor's earlier political failures on climate policy to Rudd, for failing to "embrace Malcolm Turnbull’s bipartisanship when it was on offer", and then failing to "go to an election early on carbon pricing in late 2009 or early 2010." But she praises him for sticking with the policy in 2013.

"Labor is on the right side of history on carbon pricing and must hold its course. Kevin Rudd was both right and brave to say this in the dying days of the campaign," she says.

However she ridicules several of Rudd's 2013 policy ideas, which she calls on the party to ditch immediately. "The bizarre flirtation in the campaign with ‘economic nationalism’ and the cheap populism of appearing anti-foreign investment must be chucked out now. Poor policies like the different corporate tax rate for the Northern Territory and the hugely expensive move of naval assets from Garden Island should be ditched."

The former prime minister connects her own grief at her defeat to that which her colleagues are feeling now because they were voted out of government, or lost their seats.

"I know that my colleagues are feeling all this now. Those who lost, those who remain. We have some grieving to do together."

But she exhorts the Labor party, to which she devoted most of her adult life, to remain focused and positive.

"Ultimately it has to be grieving for the biggest thing lost, the power to change our nation for the better. To protect those who need us to shield them. To empower through opportunity. To decide what future we want for all our nation’s children and then build it. And when the grieving is done, that’s our purpose."

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« Reply #8723 on: Sep 14, 2013, 07:03 AM »

Philippines fighting dents hopes of rebel truce

Rebels holding more than 100 hostages clash with government troops, after vice-president said truce had been agreed

Associated Press in Zamboanga, Saturday 14 September 2013 08.19 BST   

Muslim rebels holding more than 100 people hostage in the southern Philippines exchanged gunfire with government troops Saturday despite efforts by the country's vice-president to arrange a ceasefire and end the six-day standoff.

The standoff began on Monday when about 200 fighters from a Moro National Liberation Front rebel faction stormed several coastal communities in Zamboanga city and seized residents. The military says 22 people, including 15 rebels, have since been killed in sporadic clashes between the guerrillas and troops who have surrounded them.

The vice-president, Jejomar Binay, said rebel leader Nur Misuari agreed to a truce late on Friday by telephone, and he relayed the news to the defence secretary, Voltaire Gazmin, who has been helping deal with the crisis in Zamboanga city, a major port. Binay said he planned to fly to Zamboanga on Saturday to help the negotiations.

But Gazmin said the rebels had continued to fire in violation of the agreement.

"Everybody wants peace, to stop this without more bloodshed," Gazmin told DZBB radio network. "But as we speak, there's firing so there's no ceasefire. We agreed that government forces will not fire only if the MNLF will not open fire."

President Benigno Aquino III flew to Zamboanga earlier Friday to visit government troops and some of the 24,000 residents displaced by the violence. He warned in a speech that his government would not hesitate to use force to end the most serious security crisis his administration has faced since he came to power in 2010.

There was also fighting on Friday, and ABS-CBN TV reported that voices presumably of hostages were heard shouting "cease fire, cease fire." One government soldier was reportedly wounded.

The Moro National Liberation Front rebels have been overshadowed by a rival group in talks with the government for a new minority Muslim autonomy deal.

Misuari signed a peace deal in 1996, but the guerrillas did not lay down their arms and later accused the government of reneging on a promise to develop long-neglected Muslim regions in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation. The government says Misuari kept on stalling and making new demands.
Misuari has not been seen in public since the standoff began.

"There are lines they should not cross," Aquino said of the rebels. He said the government would be obligated to use "the force of the state" if those lines are crossed.

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« Reply #8724 on: Sep 14, 2013, 07:15 AM »

Neil deGrasse Tyson explains the vacuum of space

By David Ferguson
Thursday, September 12, 2013 13:02 EDT

On Wednesday, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson endeavored to explain why space is a vacuum and what exactly we mean when we say that.

Tyson was answering a listener question, “If we take an open jar into space and close it, thereby filling it with the vacuum of space, what would happen if we bring it to Earth atmosphere level and even to the International Space Station?”

“It would be the best vacuum we would ever have encountered on Earth, ever,” Tyson said. “Space is a far better vacuum than anything we’ve been able to create back on Earth.”

He then laughed and said that in fact, what’s happening if you open a jar in space isn’t so much that vacuum is filling it as the air is streaming out of it.

“By the way,” he said, “once you put the vacuum in it, and then you bring it back to Earth, what will happen is the inner surface of the glass and presumably a metal lid, will outgas into that volume. There are gases dissolved in the surfaces of all solid objects and it just stays there. It’s molecules that are just stuck in the jagged-y surface of every solid object.”

“If you would now evacuate the center of that jar,” he continued, “it dislodges those gas molecules. And so, then, it’ll put some kind of gas pressure back in.”

He explained that in trying to create a perfect vacuum, scientists must empty a container and then heat the sides, releasing the gases trapped in the solid surfaces. “Then you vacuum it out again.”

To bring a container of vacuum back to Earth, he said, you’d need a container with such smooth interior sides that they trap no gases. Much, much smoother than glass, he said.

He went on to explain that if nature abhors a vacuum, “which it doesn’t,” he said, “because most of the universe is made of vacuum,” the thing that keeps Earth’s atmosphere from rushing out into space is gravity, which holds the necessary gases to form an atmosphere close to the planet.

Watch the video, embedded below via Star Talk radio:

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« Reply #8725 on: Sep 14, 2013, 07:27 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

September 13, 2013

Judge Urges U.S. to Consider Releasing N.S.A. Data on Calls


A judge on the nation’s intelligence court directed the government on Friday to review for possible public release the court’s classified opinions on the National Security Agency’s practice of collecting logs of Americans’ phone calls.

Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV issued the opinion in a response to a motion filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, saying such a move would add to “an informed debate” about privacy and might even improve the reputation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on which he sits.

The ruling was the latest development to show the seismic impact of the disclosures by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor, on the secrecy that has surrounded both the agency and the court. It came a day after the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., said in a speech that Mr. Snowden’s leak of secret documents had set off a “needed” debate.

Judge Saylor of Boston, one of the 11 federal judges who take turns sitting on the court operated under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, said in his ruling that the publication in June of a court order leaked by Mr. Snowden regarding the phone logs had prompted the government to release a series of related documents and “engendered considerable public interest and debate.”

Among the documents voluntarily made public by the Obama administration since then are two FISA court rulings from 2009 and 2011 that were highly critical of the N.S.A., which the judges said had not only violated the agency’s own rules and the law, but had repeatedly misled them.

Those disclosures ran counter to a longstanding assertion by the court’s critics that it acts as a rubber stamp for the N.S.A. and the F.B.I., since statistics show that it has rarely turned down a request for a government eavesdropping warrant.

Judge Saylor seemed to applaud the fuller picture of the court’s actions from the disclosures to date, saying of the possibility of the release of more declassified rulings that “publication would also assure citizens of the integrity of this court’s proceedings.”

The court was responding to the A.C.L.U.’s request for public release of rulings related to the N.S.A.’s collection of the so-called metadata of virtually all phone calls in the United States — phone numbers, time and duration of calls, but not their content. The collection takes place under a provision of the Patriot Act that allows the government to gather “business records” if they are relevant to a terrorism or foreign intelligence investigation.

Though the intelligence court has continued to approve orders to the telephone companies to turn over the call logs, members of Congress — including Representative Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, a Republican and an author of the Patriot Act, and Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee — have said the N.S.A.’s collection goes too far.

Alex Abdo, a staff lawyer with the A.C.L.U.’s national security project, said the ruling showed that the court “has recognized the importance of transparency to the ongoing public debate about the N.S.A.’s spying.” Mr. Abdo added, “For too long, the N.S.A.’s sweeping surveillance of Americans has been shrouded in unjustified secrecy.”

Before Mr. Snowden began his release of documents in June, intelligence officials insisted that any public discussion of N.S.A. programs or the secret court rulings governing them would pose a danger to national security. But the strong public and Congressional response to many of the disclosures has forced the spy agency to shift its stance, and President Obama has directed it to make public as much as possible about its operations and rules.

In response, Mr. Clapper’s office has created a new Web page to make public documents, statements by officials and other explanatory material.

On Thursday, in a talk to intelligence contractors, Mr. Clapper said he thought Mr. Snowden’s leaks had started a valuable discussion. “It’s clear that some of the conversations this has generated, some of the debate, actually needed to happen,” he said, according to The Los Angeles Times. “If there’s a good side to this, maybe that’s it.”

But he denounced Mr. Snowden’s leaks, saying they had damaged national security. “Unfortunately, there is more to come,” he said, referring to the fact that news reports have covered only a small fraction of the tens of thousands of documents Mr. Snowden took.


September 13, 2013

Pentagon in Back Seat as Kerry Leads Charge


WASHINGTON — In the weeks of sometimes bewildering debate in Washington about what to do in Syria, one truth has emerged: President Obama has transformed his relationship with the Pentagon and the military.

The civilian policy makers and generals who led Mr. Obama toward a troop escalation in Afghanistan during his first year in office, a decision that left him deeply distrustful of senior military leaders, have been replaced by a handpicked leadership that includes Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Through battlefield experience — Mr. Hagel as an infantryman in 1967 and 1968 in Vietnam, and General Dempsey as a commander during some of the most violent years in Iraq — both men share Mr. Obama’s reluctance to use American military might overseas. A dozen years after the Pentagon under Donald H. Rumsfeld began aggressively driving national security policy, the two have wholeheartedly endorsed a more restricted Pentagon role.

“Hagel was not hired to be a ‘secretary of war,’ ” said one senior Defense Department official. “That is not a mantle the president wants him to wear.”

The crisis in Syria is the most recent and most powerful example of how Mr. Obama, elected twice on a promise to disengage the United States from overseas conflicts, has moved the Pentagon to a back seat. In this case, it is Secretary of State John Kerry who is leading the charge, not the far less vocal Mr. Hagel and General Dempsey.

“Whether you call it a reset of the Pentagon or a reflection of what our overall policy is,” the Pentagon official said, “the military instrument is not going to be the dominant instrument of our policy, particularly in an instance like Syria, where we are not looking at military force to solve the underlying civil war.”

Senior aides to Mr. Hagel and General Dempsey say that the two have offered blunt advice on Syria, and that both support, as would be expected, the president’s goal of having ready a limited military strike aimed at stopping the Syrian government from using chemical weapons.

But neither is the chief advocate for military action. The drum major for intervention is instead Mr. Kerry, who also served in Vietnam, and who has eclipsed Mr. Hagel and General Dempsey in public passion and in minutes at the microphone during Congressional hearings. (If negotiations to neuter Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile founder and the president orders military action, Mr. Hagel and General Dempsey will assume the role of administration spokesmen on the mission.)

But their public postures ahead of any military action have been so restrained that they have drawn criticism from lawmakers who want a more activist defense secretary and Joint Chiefs chairman.

Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican, has been the most critical. Just before the current push for an attack, prompted by what American intelligence agencies say was the deaths of 1,400 people by poison gas, Mr. McCain said General Dempsey was campaigning to avoid action by describing the risks and costs of the most extreme options for intervention. The general’s assessments “are beyond anything that any rational military thinker that I know would ever contemplate,” Mr. McCain said.

Even some senior administration officials, in private conversations and in e-mails, have sniped at Mr. Hagel and General Dempsey, saying that their reserved demeanor undercut the administration’s arguments for action in Syria.

In one exchange before Congress, General Dempsey said that an American strike on Syria would be “an act of war,” prompting a rebuttal from Mr. Kerry, who said the options were nothing like the huge mobilizations and lengthy deployments of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Both statements were accurate, but the points of view reflected different assessments of the risks and benefits of intervention by the Pentagon and the State Department.

Mr. Hagel, who was wounded twice in Vietnam and opposed escalating the Iraq war in 2007, would be expected to be more cautious about using force than his three Pentagon predecessors, Leon E. Panetta, Robert M. Gates and Mr. Rumsfeld, said Anthony H. Cordesman, a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Mr. Gates, a holdover from the George W. Bush administration who pushed for more troops in Afghanistan, was never afraid to stand up to the Obama White House; Mr. Panetta, as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, oversaw the 2011 military raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

But Mr. Hagel, though wary, is not a pacifist about military force. “Cautious does not mean he wouldn’t use it,” Mr. Cordesman said. “And Dempsey has developed a Colin Powell-like distrust of getting orders to engage that are sufficiently fuzzy so no one can really know what they mean.” Mr. Cordesman was referring to the former secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who enunciated a military doctrine of using overwhelming force, but for clear political ends.

Pentagon officials say that in a nation where civilians control the military, General Dempsey is also adamant that he not influence the public debate about whether to strike Syria.

“The chairman’s role is to provide military options based on desired outcomes and to articulate the risk to the mission and to the force,” said one military officer. “His job is not the ‘whether’ to use force, but how to use force once the civilian leadership decides.”

Mr. Hagel, as the civilian leader of the Pentagon and a political appointee to the president’s cabinet, is certainly empowered to argue whether to use force. But senior officials say he sees his mission as managing a Pentagon that is nested within diplomacy, rather than being a center of gravity unto itself.

“He takes decisions about when to use force extremely seriously — something colored by his service in Vietnam, of course, and also by the Iraq debate in the Senate,” said another senior Defense Department official, recalling Mr. Hagel’s denunciations when he was a senator of the Bush administration’s execution of the war. “This is a Ping-Pong game with American lives,” Mr. Hagel told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January 2007. “And we better be damn sure we know what we’re doing, all of us, before we put 22,000 more Americans into that grinder.”

In assessing the actions of Mr. Hagel and General Dempsey, military analysts describe them as saluting and following orders.

“They are doing what their commander in chief wants,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a military expert at the Brookings Institution. He said that Syria policy-making might be too cacophonous if everyone in the president’s national security team sounded off at equal volume.

“With the president and Kerry both quite outspoken on this, it wouldn’t be healthy to have Hagel and Dempsey trying to match the vocals,” Mr. O’Hanlon said.

Pentagon budget cuts, including billions ordered by the White House, have already constricted a Defense Department that grew in size and power after Sept. 11, 2001. To many Pentagon officials, the cuts are another assertion of centralized control over decision-making by the White House.

After all, when Mr. Obama first pressed the pause button on military action against Syria — and sent the question to Congress for a vote to authorize the use of force — Mr. Hagel and Mr. Kerry learned of it only after the president had reached the decision with his White House inner circle. Neither cabinet secretary was involved.


Republicans Substitute Conservative Ideology For Science and History In Public Schools

By: Rmuse
Sep. 13th, 2013

Educators use myriad modalities to transfer knowledge from one generation to the next based on research, historical facts, and empirical data, unless of course their knowledge base if founded in superstition and invalid facts. The separation of church and state in the Constitution ensures that taxpayer dollars will not be used to teach religion in public schools, and besides giving rise to an alarming number of private Christian madrassas, Republicans are using public school funds to teach Christian conservative ideology in place of science and American history. Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal devised a scam to transfer public school students to private religious schools using taxpayer dollars to inculcate biblical beliefs, but in Texas, Republicans are taking a more direct approach and inserting Christian and conservative ideology into public school curriculum.

Real educators understand that curricula based on superstition and political ideology academically retards students and leaves them ill-prepared to function and compete in a rapidly evolving 21st century world. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said “We do a disservice to children when we shield them from the truth, just because some people think it is painful or doesn’t fit with their particular views. Parents should be very wary of politicians designing curriculum.” Christian Republicans, however, will not be deterred from their crusade to create a generation of ignorant conservatives whose worldview will be founded on ancient biblical mythos and revisionist history with no basis in facts.

In Louisiana, Bobby Jindal signed a new law that privatizes public schools to indoctrinate students with bible-based curriculum and mindboggling pseudoscience. The curriculum’s textbooks hype “bible-based facts” from Christian Bob Jones University Press and Christian educators A Beka Book touting “academic excellence and Christian character training.” The academic excellence includes teaching children that dragons were real, humans and dinosaurs lived side by side in perfect harmony, and that globalization is the precursor to rapture. The students will also learn that slavery was not horrendous, the Ku Klux Klan was a respectable organization working for the betterment of local communities, and that liberals lie and use propaganda to portray the Great Depression as something other than Utopia and America’s finest era.  In Louisiana, only students sucked into Jindal’s privatization scam will be academic retards, but in Texas, all 4.8 million students are bound for an education founded in Christian conservatism and right-wing extremists’ revised American history.

The Texas Board of Education went to great lengths to revise curriculum to adhere to their distorted conservative religious vision of America, and their primary goals are emphasizing that America was founded on Christian beliefs, and that the bible disproves science. The Republican Christian conservatives amending Texas textbooks decried state curriculum they claim was dominated by liberal ideas based on historical facts and empirical scientific data, and their stated goal was to reverse the trend. One of the Republican Christians, conservative board member Don McLeroy said that “we’ve corrected the imbalance we’ve had in the past,” and that he is now “very pleased with what we’ve accomplished.” Another board member said that “I believe no one can read the history of our country without realizing that the Good Book and the spirit of the savior have from the beginning been our guiding geniuses. The objective is a Christian land governed by Christian principles.”

To ensure 4.8 million Texas students are indoctrinated into the “Christian nation” fallacy, the conservative board concentrated on diluting the rationale for the separation of church and state by noting the words were not in the Constitution. The Founding Father responsible for the “wall of separation” in the First Amendment, Thomas Jefferson, is hated by conservatives so they removed him from a list of figures whose writings inspired revolutions in the late 18th century and 19th century.  The Enlightenment, or Age of Reason, was a cultural movement in the 17th and 18th centuries dedicated to reforming society using reason, challenge ideas grounded in tradition and faith, and advancing knowledge through the scientific method. It promoted scientific thought, skepticism and intellectual interchange, and rejected superstition and intolerance. The Enlightenment influenced Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, among many others, and played a major role in the American Revolution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. None of which are included in the Christian bible the Texas conservatives claim are the Constitution’s source of inspiration.

To make sure Texas students learn that the “good book” and the “spirit of the savior” directed the Founding Fathers, the conservatives replaced Jefferson with Italian priest St. Thomas Aquinas and French theologian John Calvin who were alive during the early 1200s and 1500s respectively, and were as far removed from the Age of Enlightenment as the Texas Christian Republicans are from rational thought. The religious conservatives also will indoctrinate Texas students to learn “the consequences” of the Great Society legislation, affirmative action, and Title IX legislation. They will also focus on the blessings of the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s with special emphasis on contributions by Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract With America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority, and every religious conservative’s favorite organization the National Rifle Association. The Republicans on the board claimed they were just “adding balance” to the curriculum because according to  conservatives on the board, “History has already been skewed. Academia is skewed too far to the left;” likely with historical facts and empirical scientific data.

The Texas curriculum board wields power over the entire nation’s education system because they are one of the largest textbook consumers, and publishers offer Texas textbooks to other states. In fact, even textbook publishers are coming under fire from Texas for including science that does not comport with the bible. The religious conservatives enlisted a bank of Christian lay-people as science curriculum reviewers who rejected all references to evolution and just recently insisted that all biology curricula is based on creationism. California educators have had to deal with textbooks tailored for Texas idiots in the past, and to remedy the problem a bill was introduced in the California state Senate to protect California schools by requiring California’s board of education to screen state curricula for any of the new standards adopted in Texas. The bill explains that Texas curriculum changes are “a sharp departure from widely accepted historical teachings and a threat to the apolitical nature of public school governance and academic content standards in California.”

America’s students, even unfortunate Texas and Louisiana students deserve a fact-based, historically accurate, and scientifically correct education that is facing its biggest threat in decades. Whether it is voucher scams to transfer public school funds to private religious schools, or a panel of religious conservative freaks in Texas degrading education, America’s children merit the tools they will need to succeed in the 21st century global economy. They will be academic retards if they learn the bible is science, the Founding Fathers’ were committed to government by bible, or that Republican political philosophies are America’s salvation. However, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said “We do a disservice to children when we shield them from the truth,” and if Americans have learned nothing else from Republicans, it is that their agenda is entirely dependent on “shielding Americans from the truth.” If the American people did know the truth, the conservative movement, like our education system, would soon cease to exist.


Missouri Republicans Are Working on a New Secession Plan

By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Sep. 13th, 2013

Confederate GladsenMissouri Republicans have not given up on their dream for a Civil War do-over, when their ancestors made the apparent mistake to join the Union in suppressing the Southern rebellion. Though defeated this week in their attempts to nullify federal gun laws, they are hard at work on another try.

The Joplin Globe reported Thursday that, “State Sen. Ron Richard, one of two Republicans to vote against the veto override, “said he has started drafting a new gun rights bill to replace a controversial measure that failed Wednesday…”

Good news for all the potential Machine Gun Kelly’s out there, and for Confederate re-enactors who want to make their dress-up more than a re-enactment. Bad news for ordinary citizens.

Richard said his new bill would protect both the First AND Second Amendments and would not “hinder law enforcement in doing their jobs”:

    The patrol, sheriff’s offices, police and prosecutors were really worried they wouldn’t be able to work with the feds in putting the bad guys in jail. They’re all going to help on language in a new bill.

Not to mention, does not get instantly challenged in court. He did not explain how he would get what gun loving government haters want without the last bill’s egregious violation of the U.S. Constitution. I suggest that because the government is obviously such an evil entity in Missouri Republican eyes, he add something about forever giving up any requests for federal disaster relief.

As a Los Angeles Times editorial today said, “It’s shocking that Missouri came so close to enacting a blatantly unconstitutional law.” “Like judges,” the editorial pointed out, “legislators take an oath to uphold the Constitution. They violate that oath when they attempt to nullify duly enacted federal laws.”

But as we have seen time and again, however much they pretend to defend it, Republicans don’t care much for the Constitution outside of an obsession with the Second and Tenth Amendments. They crap on it each and every time they get an opportunity.

This is the same sort of behavior we see as a result of the Republican obsession with the Affordable Care Act. It doesn’t matter that it’s the law of the land; they denigrate it by calling it a bill. Again and again they try to repeal or defund it, taking valuable time from genuine problems and spending money they claim we don’t have in the process.

And this is knowing all the while that they will fail. Forty attempts and going on forty-one pretty much says it all.

In the case of nullification, they have a reasonable expectation of at least passing even a blatantly unconstitutional measure like HB 436. But again, they know it will not prevail against a court challenge, yet they do it anyway. And they will fail and then they will try again. And when they fail again they will try again, ad infinitum.

Again, all the while, ignoring actual problems they could be dealing with to the betterment of their communities and their constituents.

And they get cheered for it by the base. And not only in Missouri but in Ohio, Minnesota, and, of course, Texas.

It is almost inconceivable that people could be so pig-headedly and catastrophically stupid as the modern-day Republican Party, but we are seeing it with our own eyes. It is real; it is happening, however surreal.

Richard says he will have the new bill drafted in 60 days and posted on the Internet. Stay tuned.


Fed Up with Republicans, Senate Dems Say No Healthcare If You Used a Hooker

By: Sarah Jones
Sep. 13th, 2013

As part of Republican “gotcha” moments in the healthcare debate, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) proposed an amendment to force Congress and their staff to buy health insurance through ObamaCare. To his surprise, Democrats welcomed it and it became the Grassley Amendment.

Recently, Republican Senator David Vitter (R-LA) of the hookers and diapers scandal (this is relevant) has been pushing an amendment in an unrelated bill that would keep the federal government from making payments for health insurance that members of Congress buy.

Democrats are responding by “playing the hooker card”, as Politico put it. According to draft legislation obtained by Politico, Senate Democrats are ready to hit Vitter where it hurts. “If Vitter continues to insist on a vote on his proposal, Democrats could counter with one of their own: Lawmakers will be denied those government contributions if there is “probable cause” they solicited prostitutes.”

The legislation was reportedly drafted at the request of several Senate Democrats according to Politico, but will not necessarily be deployed against Vitter. They may be using it to get him to back off his relentless time wasting and pandering to conservatives with ObamaCare obstruction.

Vitter was busted during the 2007 DC Madam sex scandal as a frequent client of prostitutes, one who allegedly enjoyed wearing diapers. Luckily for him, there were no twitpics of him in said diapers and he continues carrying the standard for the Family Values party to this day, even though what he did was illegal.

Republicans have defended Vitter from the outset. From Think Progress:

“My attitude is he’s doing everything he can to rectify the mistake he made and should be allowed to do so,” (Senator Orrin (R-UT)) Hatch said. “I’m a great believer in redemption.”

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), offered only praise: “David Vitter is one of the most capable guys here. He was fabulous in the immigration debate. I think his constituents will respect that.”

So the Republican argument for not condemning Vitter let alone forcing Vitter to resign is that he is good at his job (so was Eliot Spitzer) and he has been redeemed (subjective opinion, unverifiable).

Democrats are signaling that they are done tolerating Republican ObamaCare obstruction. If Republicans want to continue refusing to do the people’s work and refusing to admit that ObamaCare is not only the law of the land but was upheld by a very conservative Supreme Court, then Democrats are going to fight back and it won’t be pretty.

See, today everyone will be talking about David Vitter and his diaper penchant and whether or not, especially in light of Weiner and Spitzer’s fate, he should even be in the Senate. And the Democrats haven’t even proposed this amendment yet. All they did was draft it.

Speak softly and carry a big stick indeed. Republicans, you might want to meet the new Democrats.

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« Reply #8726 on: Sep 15, 2013, 06:45 AM »

September 14, 2013

U.S. and Russia Reach Deal to Destroy Syria’s Chemical Arms


GENEVA — The United States and Russia reached a sweeping agreement on Saturday that called for Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons to be removed or destroyed by the middle of 2014 and indefinitely stalled the prospect of American airstrikes.

The joint announcement, on the third day of intensive talks in Geneva, also set the stage for one of the most challenging undertakings in the history of arms control.

“This situation has no precedent,” said Amy E. Smithson, an expert on chemical weapons at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. “They are cramming what would probably be five or six years’ worth of work into a period of several months, and they are undertaking this in an extremely difficult security environment due to the ongoing civil war.”

Although the agreement explicitly includes the United Nations Security Council for the first time in determining possible international action in Syria, Russia has maintained its opposition to any military action.

But George Little, the Pentagon press secretary, emphasized that the possibility of unilateral American military force was still on the table. “We haven’t made any changes to our force posture to this point,” Mr. Little said. “The credible threat of military force has been key to driving diplomatic progress, and it’s important that the Assad regime lives up to its obligations under the framework agreement.”

In Syria, the state news agency, SANA, voiced cautious approval of the Russian and American deal, calling it “a starting point,” though the government issued no immediate statement about its willingness to implement the agreement.

In any case, the deal was at least a temporary reprieve for President Bashar al-Assad and his Syrian government, and it formally placed international decision-making about Syria into the purview of Russia, one of Mr. Assad’s staunchest supporters and military suppliers.

That reality was bitterly seized on by the fractured Syrian rebel forces, most of which have pleaded for American airstrikes. Gen. Salim Idris, the head of the Western-backed rebels’ nominal military command, the Supreme Military Council, denounced the initiative.

“All of this initiative does not interest us. Russia is a partner with the regime in killing the Syrian people,” he told reporters in Istanbul. “A crime against humanity has been committed, and there is not any mention of accountability.”

An immediate test of the viability of the accord will come within a week, when the Syrian government is to provide a “comprehensive listing” of its chemical arsenal. That list is to include the types and quantities of Syria’s poison gas, the chemical munitions it possesses, and the location of its storage, production and research sites.

“The real final responsibility here is Syrian,” a senior Obama administration official said of the deal.

Speaking at a joint news conference with his Russian counterpart, Secretary of State John Kerry said that “if fully implemented, this framework can provide greater protection and security to the world.”

If Mr. Assad fails to comply with the agreement, the issue would be referred to the United Nations Security Council, where the violations would be taken up under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, which authorizes punitive action, Mr. Kerry said.

Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov of Russia made clear that his country, which wields a veto in the Security Council, had not withdrawn its objections to the use of force.

If the Russians objected to punishing Syrian noncompliance with military action, however, the United States would still have the option of acting without the Security Council’s approval. “If diplomacy fails, the United States remains prepared to act,” President Obama said in a statement.

The issue of removing Syria’s chemical arms broke into the open on Monday when Mr. Kerry, at a news conference in London, posed the question of whether Mr. Assad could rapidly be disarmed, only to state that he did not see how it could be done.

Less than a week later, what once seemed impossible has become a plan — one that will depend on Mr. Assad’s cooperation and that will need to be put in place in the middle of a fierce conflict.

To reach the agreement, arms control officials on both sides worked into the night, a process that recalled treaty negotiations during the cold war.

Mr. Kerry and Mr. Lavrov held a marathon series of meetings on Friday, including a session that ended at midnight. On Saturday morning, the two sides reconvened with their arms control experts on the hotel pool deck as they pored over the text of the agreement.

Obama administration officials say Russia’s role is critical since it has been a major backer of the Assad government, and the American assumption is that much, if not all, of the accord has Mr. Assad’s assent.

At the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, the secretary general, pledged to support the agreement, and he announced that Syria had also formally acceded to the international Chemical Weapons Convention, effective Oct. 14.

In his statement, Mr. Obama called the use of chemical weapons “an affront to human dignity and a threat to the security of people everywhere.”

“We have a duty to preserve a world free from the fear of chemical weapons for our children,” he said. “Today marks an important step towards achieving this goal.”

Foreign Secretary William Hague of Britain issued a statement after a call with Mr. Kerry in which he welcomed the agreement on Syrian chemical weapons as a “a significant step forward.”

It was a British parliamentary vote against military action that dampened momentum by the United States, France and Britain to conduct airstrikes in the wake of an August chemical strike in Syria.

“The priority must now be full and prompt implementation of the agreement, to ensure the transfer of Syria’s chemical weapons to international control,” Mr. Hague said.

Under the agreement, titled “Framework for Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons,” an inspection of the chemical weapons sites identified by the Syrian government must be completed by November. Equipment for producing chemical weapons and filling munitions with poison gas must be destroyed by November.

The document also says there is to be “complete elimination of all chemical weapons material and equipment in the first half of 2014.”

A priority under the agreement reached Saturday is to take steps to preclude or diminish the Assad government’s ability to employ chemical weapons before they are destroyed.

An American official said such steps could include burning the least volatile component of binary weapons, a type of chemical agent that becomes potent only when separate elements are mixed. Another way to disable at least part of Syria’s stockpile, the official said, would be to destroy the equipment for mixing the binary component or destroying the munitions or bombs that would be filled with chemical agents.

An American official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity under State Department protocol, said the United States and Russia had agreed that Syria has 1,000 tons of chemical weapons, including sarin and mustard gas.

The United States believes at least 45 sites in Syria are associated with its chemical weapons program. Nearly half of these have “exploitable quantities” of chemical weapons, though the American official said the Assad government may have moved some of the agents.

The American official said there was no indication that any of Syria’s chemical stocks had been moved to Iraq or Lebanon, as the Syrian opposition had charged. “We believe they are under regime control,” the official said.

Russia has not accepted the American data on the number of chemical weapons sites. The difference may reflect the larger disagreement as to who was responsible for an Aug. 21 attack that the United States says killed at least 1,400 civilians, many of them women and children.

If the Russians were to agree both on the number of chemical weapons sites and that the sites are all in government-controlled areas, that would suggest that the Assad government was culpable for the attack, and not the rebel forces as the Russians have asserted.

The four-page framework agreement, including its technical annexes, is to be incorporated in a Security Council resolution that is to be adopted in New York.

One concern in carrying out the deal, however, involves how to protect international inspectors who go to Syria. There will be no cease-fire so the inspectors can carry out their work.

Asked whether rebels would aid the inspectors, General Idris, the Western-backed rebel military commander, called the issue “complicated,” saying, “If investigators come, we will facilitate the mission.”

He said there were no chemical weapons in rebel-controlled areas, adding: “I don’t know if this will just mean that investigators will pass through the regions that are under rebel control. We are ready.”

The sense of betrayal among nominally pro-Western factions in the opposition has grown intensely in recent days.

In the northern Syrian province of Idlib, a rebel stronghold, one commander said that the agreement on Saturday proved that the United States no longer cared about helping Syrians and was leaving them at the mercy of a government backed by powerful allies in Russia and Iran.

Maysara, a commander of a battalion in Saraqeb, said in an interview that he had paid little attention to the diplomacy on Saturday.

“I don’t care about deals anymore,” he said in an interview. “The Americans found a way out of the strike.”

He added: “The Russians did what they want. The Americans lied, and believed their own lie — the U.S. doesn’t want democracy in Syria. Now I have doubts about the U.S. capacities, their military and intelligence capacities. The Iranian capacity is much stronger, I guess.”

Peter Baker contributed reporting from Washington, and Anne Barnard from Beirut, Lebanon.


Obama welcomes Syria chemical weapons deal but retains strikes option

US and Russia reach Geneva agreement to destroy Syria stockpile by mid-2014 but differ on steps to be taken if plan fails

Paul Lewis in Washington, Saturday 14 September 2013 20.00 BST   

President Barack Obama has welcomed an agreement to disarm Syria of its chemical arsenal as an "important, concrete" step that could prevent the weapons from being used elsewhere in the world. However, he also signalled that he was still prepared to launch military strikes if the disarmament plan failed.

The deal, the result of three days of talks between the US and Russia in Geneva, requires Syria to provide a comprehensive list of its chemical weapons within a week and to allow inspectors into the country by November. Chemical weapons stockpiles are to be removed or destroyed by the middle of next year.

"This framework provides the opportunity for the elimination of Syrian chemical weapons in a transparent, expeditious, and verifiable manner, which could end the threat these weapons pose not only to the Syrian people but to the region and the world," the US president said. "The international community expects the Assad regime to live up to its public commitments."

The agreement effectively confirms that US military strikes against Syria, which just six days ago Washington was indicating were imminent, will not happen in the short term. The White House announced earlier in the week that it had put on hold an attempt to request authorisation for military force from Congress.

However Obama, who has repeatedly shifted his position on Syria over the past fortnight, maintained on Saturday that punitive force might still be used against Syria in the future, saying there should be "consequences" for Bashar al-Assad's government if it did not comply with the deal.

The agreement was revealed earlier in the day in Geneva by the US secretary of state, John Kerry, following three days of negotiations with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov. Delegations of technical experts from both countries attended, in order to draw-up a blueprint that could reliably ensure that Syria relinquished its chemical weapons.

US intelligence officials said President Assad's troops were responsible for a chemical weapons attack in Damascus last month that killed more than 1,400 people. The regime has denied it was behind the attack, blaming rebels.

Kerry said international inspectors from the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons must be given "immediate" access to Syrian chemical weapons, most of which are likely to be removed from the country before being destroyed. He said the removal of chemical weapons would be "credible and verifiable" if it was fully implemented.

"The world will now wait for the Assad regime to honour its commitments," Kerry said. "There is no room for anything other than full compliance."

Russia and the US have set a high bar for Assad. The Syrian president committed his country to the Chemical Weapons Convention earlier this week, saying he believed that under the treathy his country was afforded 30 days to identify the locations of its chemical arsenal.

That timeframe was rejected by Russia and the US. A framework agreement released by the two powers said they expected Syria "to submit, within a week, a comprehensive listing, including names, types, and quantities of its chemical weapons agents, types of munitions, and location and form of storage, production, and research and development facilities". Inspectors will need to be granted "unfettered" access to weapons-storage facilities, to begin the process of neutralising the arsenals and precursor agents by November. The document sets what it describes as "ambitious goals", of removing or destroying all of Syria's chemical weapons and related equipment by the first half of 2014.

The agreement will be endorsed by a resolution by the United Nations security council – however, Russia has said it will not allow use of force to be considered, even in the event that Syria fails to properly comply with the conditions. Kerry said any violations would result in "measures" from the UN security council; Lavrov said violations would have to be sent to the security council from the board of the Chemical Weapons Convention before sanctions, short of the use of force, would be considered.

Lavrov called the agreements a "decision based on consensus and compromise and professionalism".

"Any violations of procedures … would be looked at by the security council and if they are approved, the security council would take the required measures, concrete measures," he said. "Nothing is said about the use of force or about any automatic sanctions. All violations should be approved by the security council."
Bashar al-Assad Bashar al-Assad has promised to hand over Syria's chemical weapons. Photo: Sana/EPA

However, Kerry argued that military action could still be be taken without the backing of the UN or US Congress. He said such action could be taken "with a decision by the president of the United States and likeminded allies if they thought that was what it came to".

Obama, who was briefed on the talks by his national security adviser, Susan Rice, reiterated that stance in his statement, saying that the diplomatic breakthrough was the result of "credible threat of US military force" and adding: "If diplomacy fails, the United States remains prepared to act."

The agreement caps one of the more remarkable weeks in the history of diplomacy. It began in London on Monday when Kerry, asked what Assad might do to to avert US attacks, said in an apparently off-the-cuff remark that the Syrian president could hand over all of his chemical weapons to the international community. Kerry then added: "But he isn't about to do it, and it can't be done, obviously."

The unplanned remark was seized upon by Russia, which endorsed the idea and secured the backing of Syria. It also provided the White House with an unexpected alternative to military strikes, which did not have the backing of the US public or, it seemed, the US Congress, which analysts were predicting would vote against military action.

Kerry was asked in Geneva how what five days ago he had said would be "impossible" had now "suddenly become possible".

He replied: "I purposefully made the statements that I made in London, and I did indeed say it was impossible and he won't do it, even as I hoped it would be possible and wanted him to do it. And the language of diplomacy sometimes requires that you put things to the test, and we did."

He insisted – as the US administration has done all week – that the idea of destroying chemical weapons had been discussed for some months, adding: "I'm pleased that President Putin took initiative, and Sergei took initiative, and President Obama responded, and we're here."


Israel gives cautious welcome to Syria chemical weapons deal

Binyamin Netanyahu says deal brokered by US and Russia must be judged on whether it eliminates Syria's arsenal in its entirety

Haroon Siddique and agencies, Sunday 15 September 2013 12.05 BST   

The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has given a guarded response to the agreement brokered by the US and Russia to disarm Syria of its chemical weapons, stating that it must be judged on whether it eliminated Bashar al-Assad's arsenal in its entirety.

Netanyahu was speaking before a planned meeting with the US secretary of state, John Kerry, who has flown into Israel to brief him on the deal he reached with the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, in Geneva on Saturday.

"We hope the understandings reached between the United States and Russia regarding the Syrian chemical weapons will yield results," said Netanyahu in a speech at a military memorial ceremony.

"These understandings will be judged on their results – the complete destruction of all of the chemical weapons stockpiles that the Syrian regime has used against its own people."

Israel, which is still technically at war with Syria, has been accused by both the Assad regime and Iran of using the conflict to further its own ends in the region. Israel's president, Shimon Peres, said the possibility of US military action if the plan fails should "teach a lesson" to Iran.

The deal also prompted a cautious welcome in France, which led the tough talking on the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime from the start, insisting that it must be punished. The French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, said the accord was a significant step forward, but only "a first stage".

"On one hand, we are going to move forward with the destruction of chemical weapons – bravo! – but on the other hand, hundreds of deaths every day are mounting in Syria and that's also what we must tackle, that is to say find a political solution to the Syrian crisis," he said.

The French president, François Hollande, is due to make a statement about Syria on French television on Sunday evening. He committed France to military action in Syria, the only country other than the US to publicly do so, after the chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs, but Barack Obama's decision to seek approval from Congress for strikes in Syria, after David Cameron lost a vote in the UK, left Hollande, who declined to put the decision to the French parliament, powerless to act, unless France did so alone, which it made clear it was not prepared to do.

Fabius's comments came after a meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, in Beijing. Wang, by contrast, welcomed the deal as a way of defusing the possibility of military intervention in Syria.

"We believe the framework agreement will ease the current tense situation that may be triggered at any moment in Syria and creates new prospects for resolving the chemical weapon issue in Syria through peaceful means."

China has previously joined Russia in blocking UN security council resolutions against Syria and has expressed its opposition to military intervention.


September 14, 2013

If History Is Any Measure, the Clock Is Ticking


When Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi had to convince the world 10 years ago that he was serious about giving up his chemical weapons, he dragged warheads and bombs into the desert and flattened them with bulldozers.

When Saddam Hussein, defeated in the Persian Gulf war of 1991, had to demonstrate that he was giving up his chemical arsenal, Iraqis protected by little more than tattered cloths over their faces poured some of the agents into ditches and set them on fire — to the shock of inspectors watching in heavy “moon suits.”

Weapons experts and diplomats say that if President Bashar al-Assad is serious about complying with the landmark agreement announced in Geneva on Saturday, he will have to take similarly dramatic action in the coming weeks. Anything short of an immediate demonstration of willingness, they say, will be a sign that Mr. Assad is seeking to drag out the process, betting that time is on his side as memories fade of the attack that is said to have killed more than 1,400 people and prompted a military standoff with the United States.

The benchmarks laid out in the Geneva agreement seek to capitalize on the momentum by imposing quick deadlines, including a requirement that Syria submit a complete list of its chemical weapons, and storage and production facilities within a week. The agreement also requires “immediate and unfettered” access to chemical weapons sites by international inspectors.

The agreement calls for the destruction of chemical agent mixing equipment by November and, perhaps most ambitious, for Syria to completely rid itself of chemical weapons and production facilities in less than a year, a timetable that would set a speed record and one that many experts doubt could be completed even with Syria’s full cooperation.

Experts say speed is of the essence.

“You have a very limited time to do as much as you can with maximum political support,” said David A. Kay, who led major efforts in the 1990s to find and destroy Iraq’s unconventional arms. “The political support will start to erode. The people you’re inspecting will get tired. So you want to do as much as you can, as quickly as you can.”

But the destruction of chemical agents is a painstaking process that, to be done safely and securely, can easily take decades. And even the preliminary steps are laden with potential political hurdles and environmental risks, and possibilities for obfuscation and deception.

“We don’t want to create another chemical weapons disaster; Syria has already had several,” said one senior administration official who has knowledge of the meetings over how to separate Mr. Assad from the arsenal that he and his father have built up over the past three decades. He insisted on anonymity because he was discussing internal deliberations. But if Mr. Assad does not put on “a big, demonstrable show” to prove to the Syrian military that he is “giving up the crown jewels,” the official said, “this isn’t going to work.”

Robert Joseph, a former top national security official under President George W. Bush who helped create the requirements for Libya when it gave up its nuclear program and chemical stockpiles, said Libya complied because “the Libyan leadership believed that it would be attacked” if it did not abandon its program.

“I doubt Assad has that worry now,” he said, though White House officials insist that President Obama’s declaration that he is keeping military forces in the Mediterranean on alert sends that message.

Mr. Joseph said that a public declaration from Mr. Assad that he would destroy his stockpiles “without any preconditions” was critical to “demonstrate to the Syrian military and bureaucracy that they must comply,” and that the immediate destruction of empty warheads and bombs “serves to reinforce that point.”

Mr. Assad, however, also knows that Mr. Hussein and Colonel Qaddafi were both deposed and ultimately executed years after giving up their weapons.

“The history does not exactly create an incentive,” the senior administration official said.

On Saturday, Mr. Assad had yet to make a public statement endorsing the agreement, which was negotiated by the United States and Russia, Syria’s main international patron. While he is expected to sign on to the plan, so far, he has equivocated.

He made preliminary moves to join the Chemical Weapons Convention, which would require him to give up his chemical arms. But he then declared that he would act only if the United States removed any threat of military action and stopped sending arms to the rebel groups seeking to oust him. White House officials have made clear that they have no intention of removing coercion from their diplomatic playbook, and there was no concession on that point in the Geneva agreement.

Weapons experts also say that the international inspectors should also have the right to conduct extensive interviews with Mr. Assad’s weapons officials to verify his list and to investigate the possibilities of any hidden supplies and facilities. Such interviews were not specifically mentioned in the agreement, and there has been no indication that Mr. Assad would allow his chemical weapons experts, including the members of the elite Unit 450 that controls the arsenal, to be interviewed by anyone.

American officials say they expect Mr. Assad to balk at the destruction of missile warheads or bombs, which can be used for conventional and unconventional arms. One American military official estimated that Mr. Assad had already shot off about half his arsenal of missiles, but that more were arriving, including from Iran.

Finally, Mr. Assad continues to move his stockpile, American intelligence officials say, often consolidating it to keep it in places that seem at little risk of being overrun by the rebels. Such consolidation could work to the American government’s advantage if it meant the weapons were stored in fewer locations, but the activity also creates the possibility that some of the stockpile could be diverted or hidden.

It is also likely to contribute to delays in the disarmament process because the inspections will require highly intrusive searches of all known chemical weapons sites, current and previous, to determine whether any were hidden or left behind. The frequent movement of Mr. Assad’s stockpiles has created more sites that experts say must be inspected.

Even in the cases of Iraq and Libya, which cooperated in the destruction of their stockpiles, small stashes of chemical weapons have been found years later, apparently not out of any intentional deception but because they were simply forgotten.

Until there is a United Nations resolution or until Syria formally enters the Chemical Weapons Convention, there are no international rules to govern how and where Mr. Assad stores the material, or that would require him to destroy it. For all those reasons, White House officials say they are deeply skeptical. On Friday, they said they would allow about two weeks to see if a United Nations Security Council resolution could be drafted, and they have already given up hope of passing one that gives the Council’s blessing to military action if Mr. Assad reneges.

At the core of the debate over how to test Mr. Assad are two conflicting strategies to getting rid of chemical arms: the slow, safe and costly, versus the quick and dirty. When the United States had to get rid of Nazi Germany’s chemical weapons, it dumped them into the Baltic Sea; Japan’s ended up in the Pacific.

But the United States’ effort to get rid of its own stockpile has now taken 28 years and $35 billion — and it is not yet over. Over the years, the United States has led the world in developing special furnaces that scrub out dangerous waste products, and it has created methods to react the material with water and other chemicals to permanently undo the toxic structures. It has built seven destruction plants across the world, including at Johnston Atoll in the Pacific and the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, and it is in the process of building two more, at Richmond, Ky., and Pueblo, Colo.

Mr. Obama has made it clear to his staff that no one has time for a painstakingly slow process in Syria, and the Geneva agreement reflects that urgency.

Iraq after the gulf war is a prime example of the quick-and-dirty approach. The chemical arsenal was destroyed, and at fire-sale prices compared with the costly American approach, said Charles A. Duelfer, a top United Nations official in the elimination of Iraq’s chemical arsenal.

“We gathered stuff from all over and destroyed it for under $10 million,” he recalled in an interview. Some leaky munitions were too dangerous to move, Mr. Duelfer said. “So we’d dig a pit, put in diesel fuel, and blow the stuff up.”

Raymond A. Zilinskas, a senior scientist at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and a former United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq, said chemical experts would get up early to beat the desert heat, donning full-body protective suits that protected them from hazardous fumes at sites where lethal toxins were being incinerated in open pits.

“They’d supervise the Iraqis,” he said of the United Nations inspectors. But the local workers themselves, he added, wore sandals and “put rags over their faces.”

But the rapid work gave way to gradual obstruction. Mr. Hussein grew increasingly hostile to United Nations arms inspectors, and by late 1998, seven years after the gulf war ended, the United States fired hundreds of cruise missiles at Iraq in an unsuccessful bid to force Baghdad to get serious. That effort largely failed, and the absence of inspectors led the C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies to make projections about how quickly Mr. Hussein was rebuilding his arsenals. Those estimates, which fueled the march to war in 2003, proved entirely wrong.

Libya was a different case. Months after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Colonel Qaddafi contacted Britain and said he wanted to give up all of his unconventional weapons — from the nuclear centrifuges he had bought from the founder of the Pakistani nuclear program to his chemical arms.

He struck the deal with American and British officials, with the understanding that they would lift economic sanctions. In short, he had a motive for giving up his weapons that Mr. Assad, amid a civil war and a fight for the survival of his government, cannot even contemplate.

Even so, Libya is left with thousands of pounds of mustard blister agents that it is still working to destroy, two years after Colonel Qaddafi’s death. The United States is paying much of the bill for destroying what remains.

William J. Broad reported from New York, and David E. Sanger from Washington.


Syrians return to streets of Damascus as threat of US strikes recedes

Relief in Syrian capital as immediate danger passes, but many are worried that their chemical weapons have been surrendered

Jonathan Steele in Damascus, Thursday 12 September 2013 19.00 BST

Sitting on thin mattresses laid out on a concrete floor, three men from the Ghouta, the eastern district of Damascus that was attacked with chemical weapons, argued over their country's fate. Along with 22 other members of their families, they fled their homes a year ago and now share three rooms in a windowless, half-completed block of flats in a poor but safer part of Syria's capital. The district houses hundreds of displaced people.

"You don't know what benefits you had until you lose them," said Abu Humeid. "Education for your kids, peace, healthcare, security." Abu Humeid supported the uprising against President Assad's government when it started. Now, he said "most Syrians want a political solution to be found, because a war is easy to start but hard to end. We've had two and a half years of fighting and we've made no progress".

Saeed, his brother-in-law, poured tea on to a thick layer of sugar in small glasses that were passed round the room. He had been doubtful about the uprising from the beginning, he said. In spite of this fundamental disagreement, they were both relieved that President Obama has suspended his plan to launch missiles against Syria. "About half of our neighbours think the same. A similar number are still worried that he might attack later. No attack will bring any good. A few people want Obama to do it, but it's a sign of how frustrated and desperate they are with the lack of jobs and the misery of the way we have to live now. They just want to have everything finished off, even if they end up being killed themselves," said Saeed.

An older relative, who also initially supported the uprising, made the point starkly: "Negotiations are useless. I hope Obama strikes us all, us and the government, then we'll all be dead."

In the better-off districts of central Damascus, relief clearly outweighs such grim despair. Two weeks ago, when a US attack seemed imminent, people rushed to the shops to stock up on essentials. They stayed at home in the evenings. But now the cafes are full again and mothers push babies in buggies in the cool after dusk along tree-lined streets. Young people window-gaze in a pedestrian area full of fashion boutiques near the parliament building.

Even as the poorer districts fill up with escapees from the bombing of Ghouta and other outlying areas to the south and west, the city centre is emptier than it was in February. The wealthy have gone to Beirut or the Gulf.

The government has lifted travel bans on a number of people who supported the peaceful protests and demonstrations of 2011 in an apparent bid to get the politically active to leave. "I was taken in for interrogation by a security force general last month," said one female activist. "He was very polite, and at the end told me I had permission to go abroad. You don't need to return, he added."

Disappointed that Obama has postponed the air strikes, which she felt should have been launched as part of a no-fly zone long before the chemical weapons furore, she was astonished that Bashar al-Assad, Syria's president, had agreed to abandon the country's chemical arsenal. "In one move, Assad has thrown away years of effort in building [the chemical weapons] up, as well as his claim to be part of the resistance to Israel. They always said they needed them because Israel has nuclear weapons. Now he's giving them up to save his skin. It shows his cynicism."

In the Christian part of the walled Old City, Mirna Medaa, a hotel receptionist, was unhappy that Syria had abandoned its chemical weapons. "We don't believe our president or the Syrian army used them, but it's not good to give them up. Israel has the biggest arsenal of chemical weapons in the world, as well as nuclear ones. The US has their defences. Why should we give ours up? I hope we have peace. If there is a peace agreement, then we won't need to use them."

Syria's pro-government media do not disguise their satisfaction that the US attacks have been put on hold. But they mainly avoid gloating or describing it as victory. Nasser Mundher, a columnist in al Thawra, the official Ba'ath party paper, wrote yesterday: "The people who wanted to destroy Syria and were applauding the plan to attack are shocked now. They're holding their breath and hope it will still happen, but Russia's plan has stopped the attacks and given Obama a safe let-out from the problem he created for himself by drawing red lines and making threats."

Some Damascenes say they never thought Obama was serious about attacking Syria. Louai Hussein, who heads Building the Syrian State, a civil society group that campaigns for democratic reforms and has long criticised the way the opposition took up arms, believes the US is manoeuvring before the long-delayed Geneva II conference on Syria. Hussein is convinced John Kerry's suggestion at a press conference in London that Syria could avoid the air strikes if it gave up chemical weapons was choreographed by President Putin with Mr Obama at the G20 summit.

"In May the US began to feel the Syrian conflict was getting out of control and this was not in Israel's interest," Hussein said. "Kerry is trying to collect more cards before Geneva. That's why he used the chemical weapons issue to produce a new card in the threat of air strikes."

Hussein hoped this week's talks between the Russian and US ministers will not only produce agreement on chemical weapons but moves to accelerate the convening of Geneva II – something that could end the entire war, not just the use of chemical weapons.


September 14, 2013

Syrian Opposition Group Elects New Prime Minister


ISTANBUL — The main Syrian opposition coalition on Saturday elected Ahmad Tomeh, a dentist and longtime dissident, to be the opposition’s provisional prime minister, in the group’s latest effort to improve its standing inside the country and attract greater support from foreign nations.

Mr. Tomeh, 48, who ran unopposed, was said to be a consensus candidate accepted by a secular-leaning coalition within the group and the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. He replaces Ghassan Hitto, a Syrian-American businessman who failed to name a cabinet and resigned in July, reportedly after one of the coalition’s principal supporters, Saudi Arabia, signaled its displeasure with him.

With its shifting constellation of leaders, the opposition coalition, known as the Syrian National Council, has cemented a reputation for infighting, and many Syrians disparage it as an exile movement beholden to the agendas of its foreign supporters. While the group has gained international recognition, its leaders complain that it receives insufficient support.

Mr. Tomeh, who comes from the eastern province of Deir al-Zour, spent time in jail as a political prisoner and was one of the signers of the Damascus Declaration in 2005, a statement that demanded changes from the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

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Alabama jihadi 'killed in cold blood', says Somali Islamic centre

Al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab claims to have killed one of the FBI's 'most wanted' in an ambush

Associated Press, Saturday 14 September 2013 14.55 BST      

The American jihadi Omar Hammami was murdered "in cold blood", according to a Somalia-based Islamic center, backing up reports that the rapping militant from Alabama was killed on Thursday by his rivals within al-Shabab, the Somali Islamic extremist group.

The Islamic World Issues Study Center published a tribute online in which it described the killings of Hammami, 29, and two other militants as a "tragedy", saying al-Shabab should be "directing their arrows at the enemies of the group", according a report issued Saturday by the SITE Intel Group, an American private company that analyzes terror threats.

"Here they are today being killed in cold blood at the hands of those who belong to jihad ... and the world is watching," the tribute said, according SITE Intel. "One wonders who will be next," the eulogy said. "And more importantly, who will be responsible for the blood of those brothers?"

Hammami, whose nom de guerre was Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki, or "the American", was reported killed in southern Somalia after a dispute with al-Shabab's top leader, and following months on the run. The extremist from Alabama has been reported dead before only for him to resurface alive later. Al-Shabab rebels said on Thursday that Hammami was killed in an ambush, but they presented no proof of his death.

Hammami was highly critical of al-Shabab's leadership in the past year and freely shared his views in Internet videos and on Twitter, making him a marked man. The first serious attempt on his life came in April, when al-Shabab's leader, Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, also known as Godane, ordered the killings of several of Hammami's associates.

Hammami, an Arabic speaker, moved from Alabama to Somalia and joined the al-Qaida-linked rebel group in about 2006. He fought alongside al-Shabab until they had a falling out amid increasing tension between Somali and foreign fighters. He first expressed fear for his life in a March 2012 web video that publicized his rift with al-Shabab.

Along with Adam Gadahn in Pakistan, a former Osama bin Laden spokesman, Hammami was one of the two most notorious Americans in jihadi groups. The FBI put Hammami on its Most Wanted Terrorist list in 2012 and in March offered a $5m reward for information leading to his capture. US prosecutors had charged Hammami with providing material support to terrorists.

Hammami grew up in Daphne, Alabama, a community of 20,000 near Mobile, the son of a Christian mother and a Syrian-born Muslim father. His YouTube videos featured him rapping and his presence on Twitter made him one of the most recognizable and studied American foreign fighters.

Somalia has long been an attractive destination for foreign fighters, and al-Shabab counts several hundred foreigners among its ranks, including about two dozen Somali-Americans from Minneapolis recruited over the past several years. Terrorism experts said Hammami's killing may discourage other would-be jihadis from the US and elsewhere from traveling to Somalia.

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September 14, 2013

A Campaign in Germany, an Influence Far Beyond It


RECKLINGHAUSEN, Germany — Angela Merkel shows up right on time outside the sun-splashed old town hall here. The 59-year-old chancellor works the crowd of 5,000, gives three or four waves from the stage, then settles in for local small talk and — despite hecklers — a 30-minute stump speech. She mixes folksy expressions with statistics and worldly observations, and assures listeners that their affairs, at home and farther afield, are safe in her hands.

“Successful together,” proclaim posters of her center-right Christian Democratic Union. “Germany is strong, and should remain so,” says another. “Stay cool and vote for the chancellor!” urge T-shirts, emblazoned, like the outsize campaign poster at Berlin’s main railway station, with her trademark diamond-shape hand gesture.

Europe and the world may scour Germany’s election campaign in vain for clues about what the troubled Continent’s greatest power intends for its future. But the euro crisis, and Germany’s role in leading Europe out of it, are hardly mentioned. Ms. Merkel, who is widely expected to win a third four-year term, has given no hint of major changes for the euro or the European Union, or any change in course from policies seen as harsh by Southern Europeans and overly cautious by the financial markets.

Instead, all politics being local, the rest of Europe gets about five minutes in her stump speech, which stays closer to home. There are sly digs at the Greens for trying to institute a “Veggie Day” once a week in public cafeterias; barely a mention by name of her Social Democratic rival, Peer Steinbrück; and an awkward dance around a populist demand from Bavaria’s leading conservative to levy fees on foreigners using German autobahns.

As election day next Sunday nears, Ms. Merkel is warning her supporters against complacency, invoking a “rude awakening” if the votes do not suffice, despite her personal popularity, to build a desirable coalition in Germany’s complex parliamentary system.

Mr. Steinbrück, a skilled finance minister in Ms. Merkel’s first government, from 2005 to 2009, has slipped up repeatedly after declaring his candidacy last fall. But he has done better since their only televised debate, on Sept. 1, and became the talk of the country on Friday after the cover of a newspaper’s magazine showed him gesturing with his middle finger.

Opinion was split on whether the 66-year-old Social Democrat was teasing and being bold, or simply not behaving like someone seeking to become the leader of more than 80 million Germans and Europe’s strongest economy.

Ms. Merkel — ever cautious, ever concerned with keeping her options open, ever imperious to her critics — would not be caught in such a pose. She is more like a patient aunt, alternately stern or smiling, able to wait until quarrelsome charges, be they rival politicians at home or European leaders haggling in Brussels, calm down and agree on how to proceed.

When she does talk of Europe, her overwhelming concern is that it stay competitive, and Germany strong. Sparpolitik, or austerity, has virtually vanished from her public speeches. Referring to helping weaker European partners, she speaks of “solidarity” and “taking responsibility for oneself” as “two sides of the same coin.”

Even when her finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, briefly caused a campaign stir in August by saying that Greece would need a third rescue package sometime in the next two years, she refused to be more specific or to say whether Mr. Schäuble had cleared his comments with her first.

At her rallies, the euro is praised as the foundation of Germany’s prosperity, while it is emphasized that a united Europe has had almost 70 years of peace — and, she says, “the older ones here know what that means.” When she glimpses anti-Merkel protesters, she tells her fans, “I know they won’t be locked up” for speaking out against austerity that Greeks, Portuguese or Spaniards see as imposed by Berlin.

“Freedom of opinion, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, all that is Europe,” Ms. Merkel said in Düsseldorf last weekend as she fired up 7,000 supporters for the final days of campaigning. “When you look around the world, you know what we have.”

Ms. Merkel’s emphasis on freedom may reflect human rights priorities ingrained by a life under communism. She saw that system collapse — an experience she does not want to risk repeating by doling out German money to shore up ill-structured European unity or missing opportunities outside Europe where, an adviser notes, 90 percent of global growth is occurring. “That is the main task,” he said, speaking anonymously because he was not authorized to discuss policy publicly.

John C. Kornblum, a former United States ambassador to Germany and a close observer of German affairs for more than four decades, sees in Ms. Merkel a chancellor who “knows more or less how far she can go with the German public” in terms of propping up European unity. She “obviously has more sophisticated thoughts than she expresses” and yet “no internal commitment” to the European Union, Mr. Kornblum said. “Her basic goals are national,” he added.

It is Germany’s paradox that its European neighbors and American friends are wary of both its dominance and its reluctance to lead. As the fourth-largest economy in the world, known for its strong midsize companies that out-engineer competitors, Germany must look out for fresh trade opportunities. Yet that swiftly generates fear that Germans, seeing European markets shrink, will stake out richer ground in the United States, Latin America and Asia.

For her part, Ms. Merkel is clearly fascinated by foreign travel. As an East German, she could explore only the Soviet bloc and would have been permitted to go west for good only as a 60-year-old pensioner. She nurtures export opportunities; phalanxes of business figures have accompanied her on six trips to China, where she always lingers long enough to explore a different province outside Beijing. (By contrast, French news reports last spring noted that President François Hollande’s first visit to China included a perfunctory 36 hours in the capital.)

Ms. Merkel is also a keen observer — her eyes scan every room and interlocutor — and she soaks up knowledge that peppers her speeches: South Korea spends 4 percent of its gross domestic product on research and development, while European Union countries lag behind their goal of 3 percent; Indonesia skillfully paid down its debt; China might soon view Germany only as the birthplace of Beethoven.

“The world is not sleeping,” Ms. Merkel warns, while noting Germany’s shrinking place in it: if you divide 100 people based on world population, she notes, “only a bit more than one would be a German.”

In delivering these points, she frequently stumbles over her lines. But Germans, generally unsusceptible to rhetorical flash given their 20th-century history, find this sympathetic, noted Christoph Schwennicke, editor of Cicero, the magazine that last year compared Ms. Merkel to a mother hen who would be sitting in her nest for some time. (Presenting a different image, the newsmagazine Der Spiegel’s current cover depicts her as an echo of another self-willed German, Catherine the Great of Russia.)

Mr. Schwennicke cited six reasons for Ms. Merkel’s longevity: she does not overestimate herself, reads people and situations well, cares for power but not its trappings, inspires loyalty in good people, tries not to give away her intentions, and is quick.

She is also presiding over a country that, since the World Cup here in 2006, has felt more assertive. Young Germans in particular are unafraid to fly or wave their national flag. Ms. Merkel is the only chancellor they have known since they were 18 and could first vote, and her party has clearly counted on this appeal.

“She has really done a lot,” said Dennis Duermann, 25, at the Düsseldorf rally. Mr. Duermann, who is half-Canadian and has lived in New York, sees Germany, with its welfare system and greater social equality, as the best country to live in — and credits Ms. Merkel. “She doesn’t try to make big speeches,” he said. “She just gets on with it.”

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« Reply #8729 on: Sep 15, 2013, 06:54 AM »

09/15/2013 10:16 AM

'Follow the Money': NSA Spies on International Payments

The United States' NSA intelligence agency is interested in international payments processed by companies including Visa, SPIEGEL has learned. It has even set up its own financial database to track money flows through a "tailored access operations" division.

The National Security Agency (NSA) widely monitors international payments, banking and credit card transactions, according to documents seen by SPIEGEL.

The information from the American foreign intelligence agency, acquired by former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden, show that the spying is conducted by a branch called "Follow the Money" (FTM). The collected information then flows into the NSA's own financial databank, called "Tracfin," which in 2011 contained 180 million records. Some 84 percent of the data is from credit card transactions.

Further NSA documents from 2010 show that the NSA also targets the transactions of customers of large credit card companies like VISA for surveillance. NSA analysts at an internal conference that year described in detail how they had apparently successfully searched through the US company's complex transaction network for tapping possibilities.

Their aim was to gain access to transactions by VISA customers in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, according to one presentation. The goal was to "collect, parse and ingest transactional data for priority credit card associations, focusing on priority geographic regions." In response to a SPIEGEL inquiry, however, a VISA spokeswoman ruled out the possibility that data could be taken from company-run networks.

The NSA's Tracfin data bank also contained data from the Brussels-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), a network used by thousands of banks to send transaction information securely. SWIFT was named as a "target," according to the documents, which also show that the NSA spied on the organization on several levels, involving, among others, the agency's "tailored access operations" division. One of the ways the agency accessed the data included reading "SWIFT printer traffic from numerous banks," the documents show.

But even intelligence agency employees are somewhat concerned about spying on the world finance system, according to one document from the UK's intelligence agency GCHQ concerning the legal perspectives on "financial data" and the agency's own cooperations with the NSA in this area. The collection, storage and sharing of politically sensitive data is a deep invasion of privacy, and involved "bulk data" full of "rich personal information," much of which "is not about our targets," the document says.


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