UN fears ‘deteriorating’ human rights in Afghanistan
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, September 17, 2013 8:10 EDT
The UN human rights chief on Tuesday expressed fears that progress made in Afghanistan since the fall of the hardline Taliban regime in 2001 was draining away as NATO-led troops withdraw.
Navi Pillay said on a visit to Kabul that she had heard growing evidence of a sharp reversal in human rights, especially for women, despite more than a decade of international intervention and billions of dollars of aid.
“I do have serious concerns that the human rights situation in the country is deteriorating,” the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights told reporters.
“I had lengthy discussions with civil society activists. They have made it clear to me that they feel that the gains of the (last) 12 years are vulnerable and at risk of being reversed.”
Pillay, on her first visit to Afghanistan, said she had sought assurances from President Hamid Karzai that advancements in human rights in the ultra-conservative country would be protected.
“My concern that the momentum of improvement in human rights may not only have peaked, but is in reality waning, has not been allayed,” she said.
“Afghanistan needs to brace itself to ensure that the tumultuous changes that will take place before the end of 2014 do not trigger a serious deterioration in human rights.”
Afghanistan faces a potentially destabilising presidential election in April and the remaining 87,000 NATO combat troops deployed in Afghanistan to fight the Taliban insurgents will withdraw by the end of next year.
The threat to women in Afghanistan was underlined on Monday when the senior policewoman in the Taliban heartlands of the south died after being shot by assassins, months after her predecessor was also gunned down.
September 16, 2013
Inflation Climbs in India on Food Costs
NEW DELHI — India’s main inflation rate hit a six-month high in August, driven by a surprise surge in food prices, hardening the case for the central bank’s governor, Raghuram Rajan, to keep interest rates high at his first policy meeting this week.
Food inflation accelerated to a three-year high of 18.18 percent in August, government data released on Monday showed, driving overall inflation to a higher-than-expected 6.1 percent.
Recent government moves to increase fuel prices also drove the jump in the wholesale price index, the price of a representative basket of wholesale goods.
Economists polled by Reuters had expected a headline reading of 5.8 percent, compared with 5.79 percent in July. The main, or headline, inflation rate includes food prices, which are often volatile.
Late planting and disruptions in the supplies of vegetables, including onions, because of heavy summer rains have fueled food inflation. Onion prices jumped 51 percent from July to August.
Monday’s release was the last major data point before Mr. Rajan, a former I.M.F. chief economist, holds his first policy meeting Friday.
“Developments in the currency market suggest that R.B.I. should be in a position to start reversing its tightening measures. However, they have to be careful, as market could interpret it as tolerating higher inflation,” said A. Prasanna, an economist with ICICI Securities Primary Dealership in Mumbai, referring to the central bank, the Reserve Bank of India.
The higher inflation number dampened market expectations that Mr. Rajan would begin to roll back some of the measures put in place by his predecessor in a bid to arrest a sharp decline in the rupee since May.
He has already warned he does not have a “magic wand” to deal with India’s economic crisis, but as he has been dubbed the Guv by a gushing Indian media, hopes are high he can find a formula to stabilize the rupee, calm inflationary pressure and at the same time set off a revival in economic growth.
Before he reveals his monetary stance, Mr. Rajan will first have to deal with the outcome of a pivotal meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday of the U.S. Federal Reserve. The Fed is likely to announce measures to rein in its huge economic stimulus. Fears of an expected policy tapering have already set off an emerging-market sell-off, contributing to the rupee’s fall to a record low.
The Fed is expected to reduce its $85 billion a month bond-buying program, but financial markets are uncertain about the extent of the reduction.
Bangladesh court sentences Islamist leader to death for war crimes
Life sentence for Abdul Quader Mollah – found guilty of murder, rape and torture during 1971 independence war – overturned
Reuters in Dhaka
theguardian.com, Tuesday 17 September 2013 14.35 BST
Bangladesh's supreme court has sentenced an Islamist leader to death for war crimes, overturning a life sentence imposed by a tribunal and triggering outrage from his lawyers and protests from his supporters.
A war crimes tribunal in February found Abdul Quader Mollah, the assistant secretary general of the outlawed Jamaat-e-Islami party, guilty of murder, rape and torture during the 1971 war of independence from Pakistan.
The life sentence imposed at the time also triggered protests by people hoping he would get the death penalty. In response, parliament amended a law to allow the state to appeal against any verdict or sentence passed by the tribunal.
Bangladesh has been hit in recent months by a wave of violent protests over war crimes convictions, presenting the government with a security and credibility challenge in the run-up to elections early next year.
More than 100 people have been killed in protests and counter-protests since January.
Mollah's lawyer Abdur Razzak dismissed Tuesday's sentence as politically motivated and said the defence would file a petition for a review, but the attorney general, Mahbube Alam, said a review was not an option under the constitution.
"This decision over which the accused now has no further right of appeal or review is in clear breach of international law," Mollah's international legal team said in a statement.
"It lends further weight to calls for the war crimes trials to be condemned and replaced by a credible, international criminal tribunal under the auspices of the United Nations."
Several Jamaat leaders and two from the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist party (BNP) are still on trial at the tribunal. The New York-based Human Rights Watch group has said the tribunal's procedures fall short of international standards.
Jamaat activists skirmished with police in several towns, including the port of Chittagong, after the death sentence was announced. Five police were wounded in Chittagong when activists set fire to a police car and exploded crude bombs.
The war trials have angered Islamists and the BNP, who call them a politically motivated bid to persecute the leadership of Jamaat. The government has denied the charges.
Paramilitary troops have been deployed in Bogra, where previous war crimes verdicts sparked violent protests by Islamists, police said. The city is a political stronghold of the BNP leader, Begum Khaleda Zia, an arch-rival of the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina.
Jamaat called for a 48-hour countrywide strike from Wednesday.
In July, a court declared Jamaat-e-Islami illegal, effectively banning it from the election. Six party leaders have been convicted of various crimes in connection with the war.
Mollah's party opposed Bangladeshi independence from Pakistan in the 1971 war but it denies accusations that its leaders committed murder, rape and torture.
China starts flights at world's highest airport – gateway to Tibet
Daocheng Yading airport, 4,400 metres above sea level, opens as China aims to boost tourism and clamp down on dissent
Associated Press in Beijing
theguardian.com, Tuesday 17 September 2013 11.10 BST
China has begun flight operations at the world's highest civilian airport in an effort to boost tourism and tighten political control over the country's restive west.
At an elevation of 4,411 metres (14,472ft) above sea level, Daocheng Yading airport replaces the previous highest, Bangda airport in the Tibet Autonomous Region, which sits at 4,334 metres.
The region is a gateway to Tibet, one that Beijing has sought to promote for tourism as way of damping down dissent among the native Tibetan population and stabilising the area through economic development.
Beijing has peppered the region with little-used airports and spent $3.68bn (£2.3bn) building the world's highest rail line over permafrost to Tibet's capital, Lhasa.
State media said flights from Daocheng Yading airport, which began on Monday, will slash travel time from Daocheng Yading to Sichuan's provincial capital of Chengdu from two days by bus to just 65 minutes. Other routes are due to begin by the end of the month.
Aircraft engines produce less thrust at such elevations because of the much thinner air, necessitating longer runways. The runway at Daocheng Yading is 4,200 metres long, just 242 metres shorter than the longest runway at John F Kennedy airport in New York. Passengers are also warned of light-headedness and other symptoms of altitude sickness on arrival.
Daocheng Yading was rechristened "Shangri-la" over a decade ago in the hope that tourists would be drawn by the reference to the mythical Himalayan land described in James Hilton's 1933 novel.
However, the surrounding Garzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture has also been a hotbed of political unrest, the scene of numerous self-immolations in protest at Chinese rule.
The shortened travel time will make it easier to send troops to the region in the event of unrest, as last occurred across traditionally Tibetan parts of Sichuan in 2008.
Chinese Communist party intensifies online crackdown
Authorities target 'wanton defamation' by social media critics by bringing in even stricter controls
Tania Branigan in Beijing
theguardian.com, Tuesday 17 September 2013 07.09 BST
An influential Communist party journal has compared online rumours to Cultural Revolution-style denunciations and warned of the need to curb "wanton defamation" of authority, as China intensifies its campaign to control social media.
It came as the Chinese state broadcaster aired video footage of the handcuffed businessman Xue Manzi, also known as Charles Xue, confessing that he had irresponsibly spread rumours because his 12 million microblog followers made him feel like an "emperor".
While China has repeatedly attempted to rein in the country's boisterous social media, a leading internet activist described the wide-ranging crackdown on dissent as unprecedented.
"In their eyes, the internet is out of control now and it has become a tool to reduce their political base, and subvert the ideology of the government," said Wen Yunchao. "This campaign includes the crackdown on 'big Vs' [verified microblog users with many followers] and inner rectification [of the Communist party]. It is a brutal and astute plan … At present, people do not talk."
Others have raised concerns about increased pressure on academia and the detention of activists, including legal scholar Xu Zhiyong.
The Communist party's top theoretical journal – Qiushi, or Seeking Truth – warned that some were using internet freedoms "to engage in wanton defamation, attacking the party and the government …The internet is full of all kinds of negative news and critical voices saying the government only does bad things and everything it says is wrong."
It compared online rumours to "big character posters", the handwritten denunciations of people and institutions mostly associated with the Cultural Revolution, which began in 1966. The appearance of the posters was often the prelude to more vicious persecution.
Websites and social media have become an essential forum for discussion and the spread of information, despite censorship, because the restrictions on other media are still stricter.
But authorities have signalled they are increasing controls and targeting popular users by issuing a judicial decision that internet users could face three years in jail if they share rumours that are viewed more than 5,000 times or forwarded more than 500 times.
Chen Ziming, an independent Beijing-based scholar, said that normally in China one spoke of "killing chickens to scare the monkeys" – sending a warning to people by punishing lowlier folk.
"This time they have killed a few monkeys, such as Xue Manzi, to try to terrify the chickens," he said.
Police arrested Xue last month for soliciting prostitutes for group sex, but supporters believed it was retaliation for his outspokenness.
On Saturday, the English-language edition of the state-run Global Times newspaper accused critics of seeking to portray any liberals who faced court as victims of "political persecution", adding: "Even the prostitution scandal of Chinese-American investor Charles Xue has been seen by them as an 'official crackdown on freedom of speech'."
Only one day later Xue appeared – of his own volition, news anchors announced – on a major news bulletin, to talk about online responsibility. He told viewers: "Freedom of speech cannot override the law."
The news programme cut between pictures of the venture capitalist in happier times, beaming from a magazine cover, and the image of him in handcuffs and a green detainee's uniform, with a scruffy beard and unkempt hair.
Last week, another prominent businessman known for his bold online comments – property tycoon Pan Shiyi – appeared on television news to stress that internet users should be socially responsible. Viewers were as struck by the normally fluent entrepreneur's marked stutter as his remarks, and he subsequently commented on his nervousness about the interview.
Zhang Lifan, a well-known historian, predicted that controls, while effective in the short term, risked backfiring as authorities lost touch with public opinion.
"If someone is speaking, a certain security remains; if everyone remains silent, then when the volcano erupts, no one can control it. This is what the rulers don't understand. They force the critics to be opponents," he said.
Wu Qiang, a political scientist at Tsinghua University, said the tightening of controls on civil society began before Xi Jinping became leader, under Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao.
But he added: "The government has a strong sense of insecurity because they see Xu Zhiyong and Wang Gongquan, mild dissidents, as the growth of political opposition. Also, the internal political struggles didn't stop after the handover [of power to new leaders], but are developing … The third plenum is coming, and they need to avoid letting anything affect the internal struggles."
The event carries symbolic weight because Deng Xiaoping used a third plenum in 1978 to establish his vision of economic reform and opening.
North Korea prison inmates have suffered 'unspeakable atrocities'
UN investigation based on testimony from exiles follows pressure to build a case for criminal prosecution
Reuters in Geneva
theguardian.com, Tuesday 17 September 2013 14.01 BST
Inmates in North Korea's prison camps have suffered starvation, torture and other "unspeakable atrocities", UN human rights investigators said on Tuesday in their first report on violations in the repressive state.
The paper, swiftly rejected by Pyongyang, uncovered a pattern of human rights abuses, the head of the independent inquiry told the UN human rights council.
There have long been concerns about reports of atrocities including executions and torture, but they have largely been overshadowed by international alarm about North Korea's nuclear weapons.
Tuesday's report came after pressure by Japan, South Korea and western powers to investigate and begin building a case for possible criminal prosecution. The inquiry's head, Michael Kirby, said the findings were based on testimony from North Korean exiles, including former political prison camps inmates, given at public hearings in Seoul and Tokyo during August.
"They are representative of large-scale patterns that may constitute systematic and gross human rights violations," Kirby added.
The former justice of the high court of Australia told the council: "I have been a judge for a very long time and I'm pretty hardened to testimony. But the testimony that I saw in Seoul and in Tokyo brought tears to my eyes on several occasions, including testimony of Mr And Mrs Yokota."
Their daughter, Megumi Yokota, 13, vanished on her way home from school in Japan in 1977. She was one of 13 Japanese citizens that Kim Jong-il, the late father of the current leader Kim Jong-un, admitted in 2002 to having kidnapped in the 1970s and 1980s to help train spies. Pyongyang has said eight of them are dead, including Megumi.
Some North Korean exiles testified that they had faced torture and imprisonment "for doing nothing more than watching foreign soap operas on DVDs", Kirby said. A North Korean woman testified to having "witnessed a female prisoner forced to drown her own baby in a bucket". Kirby cited testimony of torture, starvation, and punishing generations of families under the so-called practice of "guilt by association".
Kirby said the independent inquiry would seek to determine which North Korean institutions and officials were responsible.
The report did not say what kind of prosecution might be considered. North Korea is not a member of the international criminal court, but the UN security council can ask the Hague-based court to investigate alleged abuses by non-signatories.
North Korean diplomat Kim Yong-ho said the inquiry was a fake and defamatory political plot to force regime change in North Korea. It had been politicised by the European Union and Japan, "in alliance with the US hostile policy", Kim said.
"We will continue to oppose any attempt of regime change and pressure under pretext of 'human rights protection'," he said.
North Korea's main ally, China, joined by Belarus and Syria, were among countries defending it during the 90-minute debate.
"Politicised accusations and pressures are not helpful to improving human rights in any country," said Chinese diplomat Chen Chuandong. "On the contrary, they will only provoke confrontation and undermine the foundation and atmosphere for international human rights co-operation." The situation of the Korean peninsula had recently shown a "positive trend of relaxation", he added.
The commission of inquiry was launched by the Geneva forum in March to investigate reports of violations in the secretive state, including possible crimes against humanity. Shin Dong-hyuk, North Korea's best-known defector who escaped a political prison camp where he was born, was among those who testified in South Korea.
Kirby, referring to Shin, said: "We think of the testimony of a young man, imprisoned from birth and living on rodents, lizards and grass to survive and witnessing the public execution of his mother and his brother."
The investigators, who have not had access to the country despite repeated requests, said the testimony by defectors and other witnesses and "extensive evidence" stood unanswered.
Kirby challenged Pyongyang to produce "an ounce of evidence" in its defence.
September 16, 2013
Jointly Run Factory Park in North Korea Resumes Production
By CHOE SANG-HUN
SEOUL, South Korea — In the latest sign of a thaw on the divided Korean Peninsula, hundreds of cars and trucks streamed across the border on Monday to take South Korean managers and raw materials back to a jointly operated industrial park in North Korea, where factories resumed production after a 166-day hiatus.
Operations at the factory complex in the North Korean town of Kaesong came to a halt in early April, when the North withdrew all 53,000 of its workers, blaming tensions with the United States and South Korea.
The two Koreas reached an agreement in mid-August to reopen the complex, following weeks of negotiations. Technicians from the South have since made day trips across the border to work on the long-idled plants. Separately, South Korean officials have been negotiating with their North Korean counterparts over changes that they hope will make the joint project less vulnerable to political tensions in the future, such as attracting non-Korean investment.
More than 800 South Korean factory managers and truck drivers entered Kaesong on Monday, as about half of the 123 South Korean-owned factories there began test runs or resumed production, with North Korean employees back at work. Officials from a South Korean lobby group representing the interests of Kaesong factory owners handed out roses to managers at the border crossing to celebrate the occasion. Many of the South Koreans will stay at the site to manage the plants, as they had until South Korea withdrew all of its personnel between late April and early May.
Since beginning operations in late 2004 as a test case for Korean reunification, the Kaesong complex has slowly grown in size, pairing South Korean manufacturing know-how with inexpensive North Korean labor. Last year, it produced $470 million worth of textiles, shoes, electronics parts and other goods.
North Korea has agreed to exempt the South Korean-owned factories in Kaesong from taxation this year to help them make up for the millions of dollars lost because of the five-month halt in production. It also agreed to allow more frequent border crossings for South Koreans working at the plants. The North previously opened the border only four times a day for those traveling to and from Kaesong.
The resumption of production at Kaesong was the most visible sign of easing tensions between the rival Koreas since they traded threats of war last spring, following the North’s latest nuclear test in February.
Also on Monday, the two governments exchanged lists of names of people who will be allowed to meet with long-lost relatives from across the border, another inter-Korean program that is being resumed. The elderly Koreans, 96 from the South and 100 from the North, will participate in family reunions scheduled to begin on Sept. 25; they are among tens of thousands who have been on a waiting list to be reunited with relatives last seen during the Korean War of 1950-53.
September 16, 2013
Philippine Forces Free Scores Held by Muslim Rebels
The Philippine military on Tuesday rescued almost 80 of the 100 hostages being held by Muslim rebels, a major breakthrough in a battle that has paralyzed an important southern city for more than a week.
Three soldiers were killed in the operation, in which 64 hostages were initially set free, with 14 others then managing to walk to freedom.
“Our soldiers used selective fire to neutralize the kidnappers,” Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, a military spokesman, said in a statement.
The standoff began when the insurgents, from the Moro National Liberation Front, entered the port city of Zamboanga by sea on Sept. 8, tried to take control of City Hall and, the police said, declared an independent Islamic state. When the police tried to repel them, the insurgents took scores of hostages and retreated to other parts of the city.
Because of the insurgent threat, more than 70,000 residents of the city have been displaced, and at least 50 people have been killed in the clashes, with hundreds of homes destroyed. Government officials said they had now recaptured 70 percent of the coastal areas of Zamboanga.
Cracks appear between US and Russia over Syrian chemical weapons deal
Russian foreign minister says calls for threat of force in UN resolution shows 'lack of understanding' of Geneva agreement
Shaun Walker in Moscow, Kim Willsher in Paris, and Julian Borger
theguardian.com, Monday 16 September 2013 15.02 BST
The first divisions have appeared in the Geneva agreement on Syrian chemical disarmament as Russia dismissed calls for a swift UN resolution threatening punitive measures against Damascus.
The spat focused on the timing of a resolution under chapter 7 of the UN charter, which includes enforcement measures such as the possible use of military action to bolster a security council decision.
The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said calls for an immediate chapter 7 resolution showed a "lack of understanding" of Saturday's Geneva agreement with the US about the process of declaring, inspecting and dismantling Syria's chemical weapons.
Any resolution this week cannot include chapter 7, Lavrov insisted. "I am certain that despite the statements we are hearing from certain European capitals, the American side will firmly adhere to what was agreed," the Russian foreign minister said.
He was reacting to reports from a meeting in Paris between the US secretary of state, John Kerry, the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, and the UK foreign secretary, William Hague, who declared themselves united behind a tough UN resolution to put the Geneva agreement into practice.
"We want concrete, verifiable acts and all options must stay on the table if these are not done," Fabius said.
Hague added: "A resolution, in our view, should create a binding commitment for the regime to give up its chemical weapons within a specific time frame and to credibly, reliably and promptly place them under international control for destruction."
However, despite the robust rhetoric, neither Fabius nor Hague specifically called for a chapter 7 resolution.
The Geneva agreement leaves some room for debate on when such a resolution should be forthcoming. It calls for a security council resolution to be passed laying out a plan for Syrian disarmament which would include regular reviews of Syrian compliance.
It says in the event of non-compliance "the UN security council should impose measures under chapter 7 of the UN charter".
It does not say whether the original resolution laying out the plan should be under chapter 7, so that enforcement is automatic, or whether enforcement should be subject to a further vote.
"Russia did agree in Geneva that chapter 7 is mentioned specifically as the route for compliance if there is non-compliance or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in Syria," Kerry said in Paris. "In both of these circumstances, use of chemical weapons or non-compliance, you are already automatically into chapter 7 according to the agreement we came out of Geneva with."
Kerry added: "If the Assad regime believes this is not enforceable and we are not serious, they will play games. We're going to work hard to have a resolution that is as strong and forceful as possible.
"If Assad fails to comply with the terms of this framework, make no mistake, we are all agreed – and that includes Russia – that there will be consequences. Should diplomacy fail, the military option is still on the table.
"Nothing in what we've done is meant to offer any notion to Assad that there is some legitimacy to his process, that he has some extended period as a leader, so-called," Kerry said. "We make it clear that Assad has lost all legitimacy … to govern this country."
09/17/2013 01:24 PM
UN Report: Gas Attack in Syria 'Indisputable'
By Marc Pitzke in New York
It is a horrific report. On Monday, UN weapons inspectors presented their conclusions on the use of chemical weapons in Syria on Aug. 21. The evidence, says Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, is "overwhelming and indisputable."
The rocket, or at least part of it, was still there at its site of impact. It was 63 centimeters long and bore Cyrillic writing on its side. It was found on the backyard terrace of an apartment building in Moadamiyah, a suburb of Damascus. Similar debris was found on the roof of a house and in the floors below. United Nations inspectors also discovered pieces in an open field, including the remnants of a warhead that had an "approx. capacity of liquid" of "56 +/- 6 liters."
The liquid in question was sarin. The poison gas was found in soil samples taken from the impact sites, as well as in blood, hair and urine samples taken from residents who survived the attacks. The inspectors estimate that the total amount of sarin used in the attacks was up to 350 liters.
The report released by the UN weapons inspectors on Monday is full of minutely documented details on what they found during their investigation into the massacre that activists and the United States say killed more than 1,400 people on the outskirts of Damascus on Aug. 21. The 38-page report, presented "with a heavy heart" to the Security Council by UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon in New York on Monday, confirms "unequivocally and objectively" that significant quantities of chemical weapons were deployed against Syrian civilians.
It is an assessment that the world had long been waiting for. It solidifies the foundation of the agreement recently reached between the US and Russia to eliminate Syria's stockpiles of chemical weapons. And it will provide new impetus to the negotiations aimed at the formulation of a UN Security Council resolution to address the use of chemical weapons in the country.
"The results are overwhelming and indisputable," Ban told the Security Council. "The facts speak for themselves." He said it was the worst poison gas attack since Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein deployed chemical weapons against his country's Kurdish population in 1988. "This is a war crime and a grave violation of international law," Ban said, adding that those responsible must be brought to justice.
'Only the Regime'
The report, which was forwarded to all United Nations member states, does not attribute responsibility for the attacks. Determining guilt was not part of the inspectors' mission. But the details allow little doubt that the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad is responsible -- a suspicion that the Russian government had long rejected.
"The technical details of the UN report make clear that only the regime could have carried out this large-scale chemical weapons attack," said Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN. She noted the "professionally made" rockets that were used in the attack -- rockets of the kind used by the Syrian regime.
She was seconded by Mark Lyall Grant, the British ambassador to the UN, who said that the report left "no doubt that it was the regime that used chemical weapons." French UN Ambassador Alexis Lamek reached the same conclusion.
Russia, however, has shied away from drawing such conclusions. Over the weekend, Moscow government sources told SPIEGEL ONLINE that Russia had evidence suggesting that Assad himself did not issue orders for a poison gas attack -- and that the evidence implicates the rebels instead.
The report itself sidesteps the question of guilt. It notes that the rockets in the Moadamiyah attack came from the northwest. In reference to that impact site, as well as the one in Ein Tarma, the report notes that there is "sufficient evidence to determine, with a sufficient degree of accuracy, the likely trajectory of the projectiles." The coordinates mentioned in the report are consistent with research undertaken by Human Rights Watch, which indicates that the rockets were fired from areas controlled by government troops.
'Clear and Convincing'
The inspectors, under the leadership of Swedish arms expert Ake Sellström, spent a total of four days at the target sites. The mission was "complex and highly delicate," the inspectors noted, adding that they had a cease-fire window of only five hours each day.
Still, they were able to interview more than 50 survivors and witnesses, including patients and medical personnel. They documented where they found munitions, tested the water and soil, took blood, hair and urine samples from survivors and diagnosed symptoms.
The evidence that sarin was used is "clear and convincing," they write. "Survivors reported that following an attack with shelling, they quickly experienced a range of symptoms, including shortness of breath, disorientation, eye irritation, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting and general weakness." Many of the victims, the report notes, had no "external signs of injury."
The weather made the situation even worse. Due to falling temperatures, the air was moving downward at the time of the attack, helping the gas to find its way into basements and the lower floors of buildings where people were taking shelter.
First responders also became ill, with one of them describing "the onset of blurred vision, generalized weakness, shaking, a sensation of impending doom, followed by fainting," according to the report.
UN inspectors examined 36 survivors between the ages of seven and 68, finding traces of sarin in 85 percent of their blood samples and 91 percent of their urine samples. They also reported that "the presence of sarin, its degradation and/or production by-products were observed in the majority of the environmental samples," of which 30 were "taken from impact sites and surrounding areas."
Lyall Grant, the UK's permanent representative to the UN, says that the total amount could reach up to 350 liters (92 gallons), or 35 times the amount that terrorists released during an attack in the Tokyo subway system in 1995, which killed 13 people. Power, the US envoy, also reported in response to a Russian inquiry that UN team leader Sellström had stated the sarin was of a higher quality than that which Saddam Hussein used in 1988.
The report's publication did not go off without a hitch. The first slip-up came last Friday while Ban Ki-moon was making what he thought was a "private" speech to the Women's International Forum in New York. There, he revealed the tenor of the report, saying that it contained "overwhelming" proof that there had been an attack using poisonous gas. News of his comment quickly spread all the way to Geneva, where US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, had reached an impasse. According to the Washington Post, the Russians only backed off their tough stance after Kerry brought up Ban's comment.
Then, on the weekend, the UN released a photograph of the moment when Sellström officially presented the still-secret report to Ban. The image showed the first page of the report, which is legible with a little effort.
Disagreements on Several Key Points
The next thing the Security Council will do is discuss a possible resolution that anchors the agreement made in Geneva. But these talks could take some time. The annual UN General Assembly meeting will be held in New York next week, drawing dozens of leaders from around the world, including US President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President François Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron. Separate meetings to address the Syria issue are to be held on the sidelines of the larger meeting.
The talks will have to address disagreements on several key points. For example, should the UN resolution threaten Syria with the kind of military action that the US is demanding, but that Russia is opposed to? Should the Assad regime be brought before the International Court of Justice in The Hague? Likewise, it is still completely unclear exactly how Syria's chemical arsenal is supposed to be secured, monitored and disposed of.
09/17/2013 12:25 PM
Mountain Getaway: Lebanese Town Parties in Shadow of War
By Raniah Salloum
Beirut has a reputation as the nightlife capital of the Middle East, yet increasing violence and the civil war in neighboring Syria have dampened the mood. The mountain village of Faraya has meanwhile filled the role of party mecca.
Take the winding road up the mountains to the idyllic village of Faraya, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) northeast of Lebanon's capital Beirut, and you'll soon hear some sounds you may not have expected.
Giant Hollywood-style white lettering identifies the 1,625-meter-high (5,331-foot-high) village to visitors. And just underneath the sign lies a mountain lodge with a sweeping sun-bathed terrace, where hundreds of Lebanese young people dance boisterously to the summer's club hits.
Empty beer bottles and plastic cups litter the table tops. The partiers wear hot pants, trucker hats and aviators -- youths of all confessions united by their belief in good music and drinks. Some stand on the benches, others climb up on the tables. It's not quite 4 p.m.
Lebanon is considered the party capital of the Middle East. Yet in the shadows of the civil war in Syria, things have quieted down. Violence even within the country's borders has increased, along with fear.
Many bars in Beirut remain eerily empty on weekends. Every day the Lebanese army receives around a thousand phone calls from concerned citizens reporting something suspicious. Many fear repeats of recent car bombings in July and August, and are cautiously avoiding the cities. Instead they head for the mountains, where a feeling of isolated safety prevails.
Record Number of Visitors
The population of the mountains surrounding Faraya is predominantly Chrisitian, and violence in Lebanon tends to occur where differing faiths and sects are confronted with one another. The mountains are also off the radar of Israel. Even in 2006 -- as Israel waged a brief but deadly war against the militant group Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and Jerusalem bombed the Beirut airport -- the parties continued in the mountains of Faraya.
"When Beirut is burning, the people come here," says 49-year-old Ricky Hmouda, owner of the moutain chalet. He says he's seen a record number of visitors in the past few weeks -- some 900 every Sunday in September, twice the regular number.
Ricky has been a mainstay of the Lebanese nightlife for decades, first as a DJ and later as a nightclub owner. When he first started his Sunday mountain parties a few years ago, he saw that there was a gaping hole in the entertainment market. He credits his wife, a successful businesswoman, with pulling the strings of the operation behind the scenes. She likes to stop by on Sundays for a few hours.
Ricky makes his way through the partygoers, tirelessly shaking their hands and posing for photos with them. He's a born entertainer. Every Sunday he wears a t-shirt with a new catchphrase written on it -- a tradition that's turned into a sort of trademark. Today's reads: "Boobies make me smile."
'Life Goes On'
The visitors are mostly in their early 20s. They pay $66 (€49) to party with Ricky, and for access to the all-you-can-eat buffet and open bar full of top-shelf liquor. They come from all over the country, and some are dual nationals who spend only the summers in Lebanon. The most popular drinks at the moment? "Rosé and white wine. It's summer!" Ricky says, as the crowd sings along to Ke$ha's "Die Young."
Mona Harbali arrived with eight friends from Sidon in southern Lebanon to celebrate her 22nd birthday. Her friends briefly wondered whether the drive into the mountains was safe. "I am a little worried," Harbali says. "But we live in Lebanon. You get used to it, life goes on."
But would she be driving cross country at night? "We're with Ricky from 2 to 6 p.m.," she says. That's the latest most of the partiers head home. The bar closes at 5, and by sundown around 7, peace and quiet returns to Faraya.
Ricky has thought ahead when it comes to the the security situation in the region. He says he's prepared for the outbreak of war in Lebanon, or the consequences of a potential US attack on Syria. "We have enough to eat and drink," Ricky says confidently. There's enough alcohol bunkered away to fuel four weeks of parties without driving to the next town for supplies.
Mozambique's mobile music studio
Young musicians are getting a chance to record and distribute their work, thanks to a roving 4x4 with battery and solar power
Corinna Jentzsch for Africa is a Country, part of the Guardian Africa Network
theguardian.com, Tuesday 17 September 2013 10.56 BST
Young musicians in Mozambique don't have many opportunities to record and distribute their music. Wired for Sound, a mobile recording studio is touring northern Mozambique, seeks to change that. The team of the founding member of the South African band Freshlyground, Simon Attwell, radio producer Kim Winter, and Freshlyground guitarist Julio Sigauque, who was born in Maputo, are working to record young musical talent and explore how Mozambicans express themselves through their music.
All the musicians receive their own recordings on disc, and the initial recordings are broadcasted on community radio stations. When back in South Africa, the team of Wired for Sound plans to work on selected tracks with more established musicians and producers to make a five-track EP and then an album after the next phases of the project, which will include trips to other countries in other parts of Africa. Proceeds from these albums will be fed back to community radio stations, most likely in the form of permanent production facilities.
We interviewed the team on email while they were driving through Malawi to Mozambique's Niassa province. So far, the trip has been a success: "The north is not an easy place for visitors or for locals, but we have been received generously and with open hearts."
How did you get the idea for Wired for Sound?
Wired for Sound is a project that combines our love of music, radio and travel – and a desire to work with a young community of musicians across southern Africa. We are currently working on the pilot project in northern Mozambique.
At the core we are a mobile recording studio, designed around a 4x4 vehicle with a battery system and solar panel, which means we are equipped to record pretty much anywhere. So far we have set up next to ruins on Mount Serra Choa, in a mango forest in an old missionary station on the outskirts of Catandica, and in an abandoned military airfield in Furancungo.
Simon had been playing with the idea of creating a mobile recording studio for a while, brainstorming with the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa on how to access young musicians in remote areas, not only creating opportunities for young talent to record and collaborate with more established musicians, but also to try explore the realities of youth culture through expression in music – the stories behind the words through interviews, radio debates and radio documentaries.
How did you decide to work with local community radio stations?
It made sense to partner with community radio stations for the Mozambican pilot, and Wired for Sound is working with the Community Radios National Forum of Mozambique, itself an Open Sociery-funded organisation. As radio enthusiasts, we feel strongly about opening up ways in which quality content can be generated by Africans, finding a place on African stations as well as internationally. In each of the four provinces we visit on this trip (Manica, Tete, Cabo Delgado and Nampula) we are collaborating with at least one local community radio station. They are an entry point into the community, a link to local musicians as well as a vital insight into the workings of the area. Once we have met, worked with and recorded a select group of local musicians, the radio station hosts a live discussion, plays snippets of each recording and interviews all involved about the music, their lives and dreams.
We are putting together two radio documentaries on the road—one for local dissemination on Mozambican radio and one for international syndication on our experience of the project as a whole.
Why did you decide to travel through the northern provinces of Mozambique and not the centre or south?
We traveled to Mozambique a few times during the preparatory year, attending community radio conferences, meeting with local journalists, musicians and anthropologists – and from these conversations it emerged that north Mozambique is far less explored both musically and geographically. We wanted to be able to access remote places to see for ourselves how people (especially young people) express themselves and what kind of access they have to media and platforms for discussion and debate. An economic boom and big scale development in Mozambique have recently made headlines, and for both the Open Society initiative and Wired for Sound the intersection between this development and the effect it has on young people's lives is a fascinating issue to explore.
How do you think music can bring about a discussion about rights and other issues of concern to the youth?
One of the difficulties facing us on the road is language. Julio acts as a translator but is not always able to understand the local languages – sometimes we have three-way conversations from English to Portuguese to a local language and back again, which can get interesting! The magic happens when we sit down with musicians and jam – we have ended up working across genders and backgrounds with young musicians who are musically extremely talented and with some who may not be naturals but just love to sing or rap or who have local knowledge about more traditional music.
Each musician so far has generated original material, and during the jamming sessions and conversations afterwards, we get to unpack the songs or an instruments' history and in doing so, learn about people's lives, their personal stories and the issues close to their hearts. Lyrics have been about everything from love, family history, calls for peace or messages about corrupt authoritative structures – for us music has served as an inroad into people's lives, giving us a chance to share stories in ways we may not have been able to otherwise.
How do you find the musicians?
We try and spend at least a week in an area, interacting with local musicians who have established relationships with the community radio station, and following up leads on musicians from hearsay. Recording and production facilities in these areas are seriously limited or entirely absent. Good quality microphones, recording gear and editing suites are pretty much non-existent even for the community radio stations despite the enormous talent. So, given an opportunity to record a demo and have it played on air has been a big win for everyone involved, and subsequently finding musicians has not really been an issue!
However, we have been faced with some tough questions about how people's lives can be changed or made better through this project. Fair questions, leading to lengthy discussions about how we can make this kind of project continuously work for the communities involved. It has been hard not to have all the answers now, but we are creating an amazing network of young musicians and journalists as we go, who will be instrumental in designing the sustainability component – whether it be a permanent production set up at each station or equipment sponsorship etc. Marshall Music Cape Town and AKG came on board for this pilot project and we hope to elicit their support in making this a reality.
What issues have come up in the radio conversations and the music you recorded? What are young people concerned about?
A few stories so far… Nelito, 21 and Armando, 20, are two young guys we worked with in Catandica (Manica Province). They combined rap and more traditional song – which worked pretty well! The two are from the port town of Beira and currently live alone in Catandica where they attend Grade 12 (it is one of the few places in the province that offer Grade 11 & 12.) Nelito wants to pursue music in Maputo, following in his cousin's footsteps, while Armando has plans to study accounting. They co-wrote the lyrics to a rap that tells a true story about a young man who finds out the girl he is dating has a child with another man. Along with issues about love and trust, Nelito and Armando spoke about the challenges living alone in Catandica with no access to employment and with very little to do as a young person. There are no performance venues, dance clubs or cinemas in Catandica – a place with a population of about 126,000 people.
Access to quality education has come up again and again. A girls group, Redes, performed an old peace song for us in Catandica and we were able to sit and chat after the recording. Many of the local girls don't go to school and the students take it upon themselves to teach others. They spoke to us about teachers not taking their work seriously, often leaving school early to drink. Another major issue the girls brought up, echoed throughout Africa, is sugar daddies. In Catandica, older men buy young girls cellphones expecting sex in return, adding to the already high number of teenage pregnancies and school dropouts. Cellphones are a status symbol and often the only access to the Internet for students, journalists and locals alike. Facebook is used more than email.
Mapinhane, 32, is a teacher at a local school but for 500MC he records and makes home videos of local musicians in his spare time. He is passionate about music using only the microphone from his 90's model video camera to record. There is little access to equipment and even basic instruments – as his guitarist, Massimba, 37, knows all too well. Massimba plays an old, out of tune guitar beautifully and did some fine recordings using Julio's guitar. He also sang a song the words of which revealed how churches in the area take advantage of the people and their money.
Banda, 30 and Marcelino, 24 live in Furancungo, about 160km from the town of Tete, and a short distance from the Malawian border. Banda has a mixed style of Zuk / Marabente and Marcelino is a traditionalist with some gospel thrown into the mix. Rusting military tanks littering the dirt road to Furancungo and the abandoned military airfield we recorded in serve as a constant reminder of the past. The two singers were too young to remember the war but are aware of its presence every day. They are hugely talented singers and have been recorded by amateur producers who travel down from Malawi. However, they have not seen much remuneration for these recordings and are forced to work in the agricultural sector. For most of the young musicians we have worked with, a career in music is a pipe dream.
For more photos and sound clips go to Wired for Sound on Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/wiredforsoundsa
Former Colombian president Uribe attempts comeback in senate elections
Álvaro Uribe, rightwing critic of President Santos's efforts to make peace with leftist rebels, says he will run for congress
Associated Press in Bogotá
theguardian.com, Monday 16 September 2013 20.08 BST
Álvaro Uribe has become the first former Colombian president in modern times to attempt a return to politics through parliament.
The combative conservative, who led Colombia from 2002 to 2010, announced on Monday that he was running for the senate in March elections, two months before a presidential vote. Uribe is constitutionally barred from a third presidential term.
He will run as part of a movement he created called Centro Democrático, leading a closed list of candidates, meaning his chances hinge on how many votes his party wins. Uribe's approval rating stands at 63%, more than 40 points higher than that of President Juan Manuel Santos.
Uribe is a fierce critic of Santos's efforts to make peace with Colombia's main leftist rebel group. Santos has not yet said whether he will seek re-election.
How Nasa's Voyager is bringing the sound of space down to Earth
In space, no-one can hear you scream, but you can now hear what is going on out there, thanks to Nasa's Voyager
Tuesday 17 September 2013 13.05 BST theguardian.com
Voyager's journey past the heliosphere and into the interstellar medium is one of the most astonishing and moving feats of human exploration. Voyager's, er, voyage, puts us all in our place: remember that photo it sent back in 1990, with the Earth a minuscule, barely visible blue dot? Here was, made real, the terrifying Total Perspective Vortex from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy that showed its hapless victims how tiny our lives are in the grand scheme of the universe's quasi-infinity!
The reason Nasa knew that Voyager had entered a new interstellar realm is that they heard it: or rather, they saw the vibrations of interstellar plasma detected by Voyager's antennae, and amplified and played them through a speaker. "These frequencies are within the range heard by human ears", Nasa says - and you too can hear them, here. It was these eruptions of plasmic vibration, interstellar records of explosions on the sun that happened a year before, that told Don Gurnett and his team of plasma-wave watchers at the University of Iowa that Voyager had finally breached the heliosphere and gone still further out there where no man may quite possibly ever (alas) go. (Officially, Voyager has still got a long way - another 14-28,000 years, according to NASA - to truly get out of the reach of the solar system; that's how long it will take to escape the Oort cloud and the last vestiges of the gravitational pull of the sun, by which time Voyager's power will have long since been run out, probably by 2025.)
As any fule - but very few Hollywood directors - kno, in space no-one can hear you scream, or fire lasers, or attack aliens. As Josh Dzieza of The Daily Beast explains, the interstellar sounds are "not something you could hear if you were aboard Voyager. [They are] the result of electrons oscillating back and forth, creating an electrostatic wave, not air particles colliding, like the pressure waves we hear." But when the waves are transliterated into sound, what you hear are those pulses of coruscating, ever-rising whistling. Nasa and Voyager have already given us the sounds of the solar system (and Don Gurnett has collected some of his favourites here, including "Jovian upstream ion acoustic waves", and other greatest hits), but these audible messages from the furthest limits of how far humanity has travelled in the universe are perhaps the most extraordinary of all. Listen to the universe!http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LIAZWb9_si4&list=PLTiv_XWHnOZq5bv1w9Db2uNJVFiVCkWW5
In the USA..United Surveillance America
Thirteen people dead after gun rampage at Washington naval yard
• Former sailor Aaron Alexis, 34, named as gunman
• Worst attack on military base in the US since Fort Hood
• President Obama laments 'yet another mass shooting'
Dan Roberts, Paul Lewis and Spencer Ackerman in Washington DC
The Guardian, Tuesday 17 September 2013
Thirteen people died after a gunman opened fire at a naval complex in the heart of Washington DC on Monday, in what became the worst attack on a military base in the US since the Fort Hood killings in 2009.
As authorities struggled to piece together the details of what happened at the Washington navy yard, Barack Obama lamented "yet another mass shooting" and called it a "cowardly act".
The FBI named the attacker as Aaron Alexis, a 34-year-old subcontractor and former reservist stationed in Texas until he was discharged in 2011. Police records showed that he had been arrested at least twice in the past for gun-related incidents.
Alexis died after a sustained firefight with police and security staff. "There were multiple engagements with the suspect who was ultimately deceased," said Cathy Lanier, chief of police in Washington DC. She said more people would have died had Alexis not been killed. "There is no question he would have kept shooting," Lanier said.
Law enforcement officials said Alexis was carrying three weapons during the rampage. Two federal officials said he had an AR-15 assault rifle, a shotgun and a handgun that he took from a police officer at the scene. The two officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the investigation.
The computer firm Hewlett-Packard said Alexis worked for a subcontractor on a navy IT project. At a late-night press conference, the FBI said it was believed that Alexis used his contractor's badge to gain entry to the base. About 3,000 people work at the complex, which houses the US naval sea systems command headquarters, responsible for buying, building and maintaining the US navy's ships, submarines and combat systems.
There was no initial indication of a motive for the attack. John Kirby, the Navy's chief of information, said that after joining the navy in 2007, Alexis was assigned to a fleet logistics support squadron in Fort Worth. Official records show that he was arrested for a gun-related offence there in 2010.
Police in Seattle said Alexis, who was originally from New York, was arrested in 2004 in another gun-related incident. According to a statement by Seattle police, Alexis's father told detectives his son had "anger management problems" associated with post-traumatic stress disorder. He had been an "active participant in rescue attempts on September 11th, 2001," the Seattle police statement said.
Alexis was studying for an aeronautics degree via online classes at Embry-Riddle aeronautical university, the Associated Press reported. He had converted to Buddhism and wanted to become an ordained monk, friends said.
In the confusion after the attack, police initially feared two other men dressed in "military-style" uniform had been been involved, and launched a huge manhunt. They issued descriptions of two suspects, one said to have been a white man wearing a navy-style kahki uniform and carrying a pistol, the second described as black and wearing a drab olive military uniform and carring a rifle.
One of the suspects was quickly identified and ruled out of the investigation. The second was not eliminated from inquiries until later in the evening. At a 10pm press conference, police said the manhunt was over and lifted remaining restrictions on residents.
Doctors at the MedStar Washington hospital center said they were treating several victims. The chief medical officer, Janis Orlowski, said one police officer had multiple gunshot wounds to his legs and was undergoing complex surgery. His future ability to walk had yet to be determined, she said. Two other civilian patients were women: one shot in her shoulder, the other in her head and hand. The second woman's head wound was not serious: "She is a very, very, lucky young lady," Orlowski said.
On Monday night the Metropolitan police of Washington DC released an initial list of seven people killed. They were Michael Arnold, 59; Sylvia Frasier, 53; Kathy Gaarde, 62; John Roger Johnson, 73; Frank Kohler, 50; Kenneth Bernard Proctor, 46; and Vishnu Pandit, 61. Other victims' names were being withheld until family were notified, officials said.
Washington shootings map
Vincent Gray, the mayor of Washington DC, said he had no information to indicate that the attack was an act of terrorism. In a late-afternoon press conference, he confirmed that 13 people died, including the gunman. Police later said eight people had been injured.
The incident began at about 8.15am, in building 197 of the navy yard complex, when many people were having breakfast in the basement cafeteria. Some reports suggested that the gunman shot into the cafeteria from an overlooking walkway.
As multiple law enforcement agencies rushed to the scene, the naval yard and surrounding buildings were immediately placed on lockdown. With the suggestion that more gunmen were on the loose, security was tightened across Washington.
Speaking shortly after the attack, Obama said the victims had faced "unimaginable violence" and offered his condolences to their families. "We will honour their service to the nation they helped to make great," Obama said. The president, who has tried and failed to enact gun control measures in the wake of previous mass shootings, denounced the attack as cowardly.
Pentagon press secretary George Little added: "Everyone here at the Department of Defense is saddened by the incident at the Washington navy yard this morning. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims.
"While the Pentagon remains open, the Pentagon Force Protection Agency increased its security posture, not out of a specific threat, but as a proactive, precautionary measure."
Though the motive for the attack remained unclear, it brought comparisons with the 2009 Fort Hood shooting, when Major Nidal Hasan, a psychiatrist at the Fort Hood base in Texas, killed 13 fellow service personnel in an attack that the army believes was carried out in response to US military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A lockdown remained in effect for hours after the shooting. Sailors and civilians assigned to the Washington navy yard, as well as all personnel assigned to the nearby joint base Anacostia-Bolling, were advised to stay put while authorities continued to investigate the scene.
In its statement, Hewlett-Packard said Alexis was employed by a subcontractor. The statement said: "Aaron Alexis was an employee of a company called 'The Experts,' a subcontractor to an HP Enterprise Services contract to refresh equipment used on the navy marine corps intranet (NMCI) network. HP is cooperating fully with law enforcement as requested."
Hewlett-Packard said it was "deeply saddened" by the incident. "Our thoughts and sympathies are with all those who have been affected," the company said.
On its website, The Experts, whose headquarters are in Alexandria, Virginia, describes itself as providing "innovative and mission-critical IT, engineering and litigation professional services for federal, state and local governments and departments".
It said in a statement: "The Experts would like to express our deepest condolences and sympathies regarding the incident that occurred at the DC naval yards. We are actively cooperating with the FBI and other authorities in relation to the investigation on the suspect."
On Monday night, officers from the New York Police Department cordoned off a section of the tree-lined street in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighbourhood of Brooklyn, where family of Alexis lived in a brownstone apartment.
In what appeared to be an unconnected incident in a jittery Washington, a man was arrested outside the White House after throwing firecrackers over the north fence. Uniformed agents sealed off the area in front of the presidential mansion and ordered journalists inside. Police later identified the man as Alexander Sahagian and said he would likely face charges.
September 16, 2013
5 Years After Financial Collapse, Obama Says House G.O.P. Could Reverse Gains
By JACKIE CALMES and MICHAEL D. SHEAR
WASHINGTON — President Obama on Monday seized on the fifth anniversary of the 2008 financial collapse to warn that House Republicans would reverse the gains made and willfully cause “economic chaos” with the uncompromising stands they have staked out on looming budget deadlines.
“Budget battles and debates, those are as old as the republic,” Mr. Obama said before a friendly audience assembled in a White House annex. But, he added, “I cannot remember a time when one faction of one party promises economic chaos if it can’t get 100 percent of what it wants.”
A bloc of conservative House Republicans have said that unless Mr. Obama’s signature health insurance law is delayed or repealed, they will not support financing for government operations in the new fiscal year starting Oct. 1 or an essential increase in the nation’s borrowing limit in mid-October.
Failure to act on federal funding would provoke a government shutdown; even worse, failing to increase the debt limit would leave the government unable to pay bills and creditors and ultimately threaten the nation’s default.
“The last time the same crew threatened this course of action back in 2011, even the mere suggestion of default slowed our economic growth,” Mr. Obama said, recalling that summer’s market-rattling showdown.
Mr. Obama’s remarks followed his administration’s release of a report chronicling the actions taken since 2008 to encourage job creation, save the auto industry, revive and regulate banking, and expand education opportunities.
But he spoke at a time when the economy, as he acknowledged, is still struggling to create enough jobs and his agenda faces opposition mostly from Republicans but also from some Democrats increasingly emboldened against a second-term lame-duck president.
Still, on the budget fight, most Democrats in Congress support the president, and with his comments he sought to rally them and to set up Republicans for blame should the fiscal fights end badly.
Mr. Obama noted that in the past Republicans fought for more spending cuts to reduce deficits but that now, with annual deficits declining, they were making their fight over the health care law.
“The Affordable Care Act has been the law for three and a half years now,” Mr. Obama said. “It passed both houses of Congress. The Supreme Court ruled it constitutional. It was an issue in last year’s election, and the candidate who called for repeal lost. The Republicans in the House have tried to repeal or sabotage it about 40 times. They failed every time. Meanwhile the law has already helped millions of Americans.”
The president repeated his warning against “self-inflicted wounds” at the event, which was moved from the Rose Garden to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building because of rain. He proceeded with the event even as a shooting unfolded at a naval office building in Southeast Washington.
Mr. Obama was joined onstage by a group of people that White House officials said included “small-business owners, construction workers, homeowners, consumers and tax cut recipients.”
The president has struggled for years to balance the desire to claim credit for a slowly improving economy against the need to make sure he acknowledges the pain that many people still feel.
At the event on Monday, Mr. Obama recalled how close the country, and the world, came to another depression after the collapse of the investment bank Lehman Brothers in September 2008. The Lehman bankruptcy caused the credit markets to seize up, the unemployment rate to sour and economic activity to plummet.
Mr. Obama and his allies have for a long time said that the administration’s actions in early 2009, while extremely unpopular, were critical to holding off a worse collapse. Those include the decision to support President George W. Bush’s bailout of Wall Street, Mr. Obama’s own bailout for the auto industry and the passage of the economic stimulus program.
But while the unemployment rate has fallen to 7.3 percent — down from a high of 10.1 percent in late 2009 — millions of Americans are still struggling to find a job, and millions more are working at low-wage or part-time jobs and having trouble making ends meet.
That has been Mr. Obama’s message in the last several months as he has delivered speeches arguing for what he calls a “better bargain for the middle class.” In those speeches, he argues for investments in infrastructure, education, college aid and housing as a way to help middle-class Americans and those trying to get into the middle class.
The president is scheduled to deliver another one of his “better bargain” speeches in Kansas City, Mo., on Friday when he visits a Ford Motor Company assembly plant.
September 16, 2013
Amid Revolt Over Fiscal ‘Gimmicks,’ Options Dwindle for G.O.P.
By JONATHAN WEISMAN
WASHINGTON — First came the “supercommittee,” tasked in 2011 with finding a bipartisan deficit reduction plan but doomed to fail. Then came the “McConnell plan,” a way for Congress to raise the government’s debt limit without actually voting to do so. And in January there was “no budget, no pay,” a measure coupled with the last debt ceiling increase to deny paychecks to lawmakers if they did not pass a budget.
For three years, Congressional leaders have relied on tactical maneuvers, sleights of hand and sheer gimmickry to move the nation from one fiscal crisis to the next — with little strategy to deal with the actual problems at hand. Medicare and Social Security continue to swell with an aging population. Health care costs grow. A burdensome tax code remains unchanged, and economic revival is shadowed by the specter of Washington’s crisis-driven mismanagement.
Now, with a government shutdown looming at month’s end and a crippling default on the nation’s debt possible by mid-October, Congressional leaders may have run out the string on legislative trickery. Conservative Republicans in the House have declared they will not go along with any more gimmickry from their leadership. Democrats have vowed they will not help Republican leaders out of their jam without some easing of spending cuts. And a way forward — to keep the government operating and solvent, and to protect the international economy from a default-driven shock wave — is nowhere to be found as the House is set to vote this week on a stopgap spending plan.
“What is causing this is the inability, at least to this date, of our nation’s leaders — in the House and White House — to make good decisions, timely decisions, that put our country first,” said Representative Scott Rigell, Republican of Virginia. “It’s really no surprise that we’re in this bind.”
President Obama joined the fray Monday, castigating Republicans for the latest budget crisis but “hoping that a light bulb goes off.”
“What happens here in Washington makes a difference,” he said at a White House event commemorating the fifth anniversary of the financial crisis that helped propel him to the presidency. “What happens up on Capitol Hill is going to help determine not only the pace of our growth but also the quality of jobs, the quality of opportunity for this generation and future generations.”
Last week, with the body politic focused on Syria, Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the No. 2 House Republican, trotted out his answer to the latest fiscal morass. First, the House would pass stopgap funding legislation to keep the government open until mid-December — with a companion clause that would strip all funding to implement President Obama’s health care law. Sure, the Senate could simply ignore the health care provision, but Mr. Cantor assured House conservatives he would come back with an increase in the government’s borrowing limit that would delay the health care law for one year.
The conservatives’ answer? A boisterous and resounding no.
“Certainly we’ve often used insider Washington rules and tools — some would call them gimmicks — to protect people from hard votes,” said Representative Mick Mulvaney, Republican of South Carolina. “That’s been part of Washington a long time. But what we’re seeing here is an unwillingness to accept this as a first step. You can’t start with a complete surrender.”
Just five scheduled legislative days stand between the House and a government shutdown. House Republican leaders and their allies say there is still time to persuade their recalcitrant backbenchers to go along with the Cantor plan, or some variant of it. House Republicans will meet Wednesday to hash over their options. But the divisions that have bedeviled Speaker John A. Boehner since he took the gavel in 2011 are back in force.
“It’s fair to say it looks a little gimmicky, but at least it would prevent a government shutdown,” said Representative Charlie Dent, a moderate Republican from Pennsylvania who backs the plan. “It’s important that Republicans stop pretending that Mitch McConnell is the Senate majority leader and Mitt Romney is the president,” he said, referring to Mr. McConnell of Kentucky, who as leader of Senate Republicans heads the minority party. Conservatives say they are tired of losing, and they are being egged on by activist organizations that are demanding a hard line. From his new perch heading the right-leaning Heritage Foundation, former Senator Jim DeMint has demanded an end to “pretend votes” and “gimmicks.” The conservative activist L. Brent Bozell III is rallying supporters around legislation that would strip all funds from the Affordable Care Act immediately, saying he’ll accept no less.
The Club for Growth, a political action committee not bashful about mounting primary challenges to Republican lawmakers from the right, says it will put a black mark on the record of any lawmaker who votes even to bring the Cantor plan to the House floor. And an expanding base of Internet-wired Tea Party ground troops is keeping the pressure on.
“We’re pushing back on these gimmicks that used to be the coin of the trade in Washington,” said Michael A. Needham, chief executive of Heritage Action, the Heritage Foundation’s political arm. “I think it’s exciting.”
Republican leaders can be forgiven for their shell shock. For three years such activists have generally looked the other way as Republicans finessed a path from crisis to crisis. In 2011, the House took the nation to the brink of its first-ever debt default, despite warnings from economists that such a move could plunge the global economy into recession.
The way out, in part, was a special select committee tasked with producing a bipartisan plan to reduce the deficit by around $4 trillion over 10 years. The supercommittee failed, but the legislation that produced it did lift the debt ceiling.
To do it, however, Mr. McConnell had to dream up another sleight of hand, a two-step process that allowed President Obama to raise the debt ceiling himself, then gave Congress a vote to voice its disapproval. Even if that disapproval could pass Congress, it could be vetoed by the president. Thus the government’s borrowing limit would rise without any lawmaker having to vote explicitly to do it.
Earlier this year, House Republicans devised another plan to raise the debt ceiling while extracting only a token concession. That concession was the No Budget, No Pay Act, which would have impounded the pay of members of Congress if they failed to pass a budget. Senate Democrats complied, passed a budget, and have berated the House for the past five months for refusing to even try to resolve the vast differences between the House’s spending and tax plan and the Senate’s.
The House has also all but given up on passing detailed spending bills to comply with its budget.
“If this is our approach to governance, we are in deep trouble,” Mr. Rigell fumed.
With the clock ticking, frustration with what Representative Reid Ribble, Republican of Wisconsin, called “all these fiscal cliffs and this dance we go into all the time” may be reaching a crescendo.
“We just need to find a path forward, and we have to get off these conversations about this small stuff,” Mr. Ribble said. “It’s time we start to deal with the real issues.”
September 16, 2013
Antibiotic-Resistant Infections Lead to 23,000 Deaths a Year, C.D.C. Finds
By SABRINA TAVERNISE
Federal health officials reported Monday that at least two million Americans fall ill from antibiotic-resistant bacteria every year and that at least 23,000 die from those infections, putting a hard number on a growing public health threat. It was the first time that federal authorities quantified the effects of organisms that many antibiotics are powerless to fight.
The number of deaths is substantially lower than previous estimates, in part because researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stripped out cases in which a drug-resistant infection was present but not necessarily the cause of death. Infectious disease doctors have long warned that antibiotic resistance — in which bacteria develop defenses against antibiotics used to kill them — threatens to return society to a time when people died from ordinary infections.
“They have come up with hard numbers where it has been only guesswork,” said Dr. Stuart B. Levy, a professor of microbiology at Tufts University and the president of the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics. “This sets a baseline we can all believe in.”
In 2007, the C.D.C. estimated that about 100,000 people died every year of infections they developed while in hospitals. Most of those infections were believed to be resistant to some antibiotics, but not necessarily the most widely used ones. And it was unclear how many of the deaths were caused by the drug-resistant infections. Monday’s report quantifies that.
Dr. Steven L. Solomon, the director of the C.D.C.’s office of antimicrobial resistance, acknowledged that the report underestimated the numbers, but said that was by design. Researchers were instructed to be conservative and to base their calculations only on deaths that were a direct result of a drug-resistant bacterial infection.
“This is a floor,” Dr. Solomon said. “We wanted the cleanest number, the least subjective number.”
One point of contention has been the extent to which industrial-scale animal farming contributes to the problem of antibiotic-resistant infections in humans. The government has estimated that more than 70 percent of antibiotics in the United States are given to animals. Companies use them to prevent sickness when animals are packed together in ways that breed infection. They also use them to make animals grow faster, though federal authorities are trying to stop that.
The report said that “much of antibiotic use in animals is unnecessary and inappropriate and makes everyone less safe.” It also said that about half of antibiotic use in people is inappropriate.
The 114-page report counts infections from 17 drug-resistant bacteria and one fungus, pathogens that Dr. Solomon said caused an overwhelming majority of drug-resistant bacterial infections in the country. It drew on data from five disease-tracking systems, including a major count of bacterial infections reported in hospitals in 10 different areas across the country. The count of deaths was based on mathematical models — one for each resistant organism.
One particularly lethal type of drug-resistant bacteria, known as CRE, has become resistant to nearly all antibiotics on the market. It is still relatively rare, causing just 600 deaths a year, but researchers have identified it in health care facilities in 44 states.
“We are getting closer and closer to the cliff,” said Dr. Michael Bell, a C.D.C. official who presented the data.
Infections from one of the most pervasive types of drug-resistant bacteria tracked in the report, MRSA, have been declining. Invasive MRSA infections in hospitals went down by more than half from 2005 to 2011, according to a paper published Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. However, the number of invasive MRSA infections picked up outside health care settings has not changed much, and researchers pointed out that the number of those types of infections has for the first time outstripped the number acquired in hospitals.
“This is a really big switch,” said Eli Perencevich, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Iowa.
Hospitals have taken steps to prevent drug-resistant infections, but less is known about preventing infections outside hospitals, clinics and nursing homes. There has been little research, for example, on the extent to which antibiotic use on industrial farms contributes to resistant germs in people. The farm animal industry has been reluctant to allow data collection, and very few studies of the link have been done.
In a separate study in JAMA Internal Medicine on Monday, researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health sifted through health records of more than 440,000 people in the Geisinger Health System, which operates a network of clinics and hospitals in Pennsylvania, and found that patients who lived near farms and areas where manure was dumped were 38 percent more likely to develop a MRSA infection, particularly of soft tissue or skin, researchers found.
Some researchers not involved in the study said it offered evidence that living near farms increased one’s chances of developing a MRSA infection. But the study did not test farm animals or soil for MRSA, nor did it find evidence of the type of MRSA that is typically associated with farm animals, and others said the infections might have been caused by something other than antibiotics on farms.
Obama’s Truth Bomb, Anything ‘even remotely associated with me, they feel obliged to oppose.’
By: Jason Easley
Sep. 16th, 2013
President Obama dropped a truth bomb on the Republican Party. He said that we have a faction, “that view “compromise” as a dirty word, and anything that- is even remotely associated with me, they feel obliged to oppose.”
Transcript via This Week:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: 51% of the vote.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Yeah.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: First president since Eisenhower to do it twice. You put gun control at the top of the agenda, immigration reform, climate change. All of it stalled or reversing. How do you answer the argument that- beyond the deficit, this has been a lost year? And how do you save it?
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well- on immigration reform- for example- we got an- terrific bipartisan vote out of the Senate- that showed that there is a recognition from all quarters, from business, from labor, from- the clergy, from farm interests, that- a sensible immigration policy will grow our economy, make us stronger. So you had Democrats and Republicans in the Senate come together, come up with a bill that wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t my bill, but got the job done. It’s now sitting there in the House.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Not goin’ anywhere.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well- but what I will say is this: If Speaker Boehner put that bill on the floor of the House of Representatives right now, it would pass. It would pass. So the question then is not whether or not- the ideas that we’ve put forward can garner a majority of support certainly in the country. I mean gun control, we had 80-90% of the country that- that agreed with it.
The problem we have is we have a- faction of the Republican Party- in the House of Representatives in particular, that view “compromise” as a dirty word, and anything that- is even remotely associated with me, they feel obliged to oppose. And my argument to them is real simple. That’s not why the people sent you here.
The reason the people sent you here was to think about their lives, about their jobs, about their kids’ college educations, about their retirement security. And- you know, all I can do when it comes to that group of- members of Congress is to continue to talk to ‘em and say, “Let’s put aside our differences. Let’s stay focused on the American people.” If we do that, we can get things done.
The president wasn’t saying anything that most Americans don’t already know, but there is something sad about the straight forward way that Obama said it. This wasn’t some shocking revelation. It is an accepted fact that whatever this president supports, Republicans will be against. Many House Republicans feel that they were sent to Washington to do nothing but oppose Obama.
This mentality is the reason why it is impossible to pass legislation. House Republicans have adopted the position that it is their way or no way. Republicans keep losing elections, standoffs, and the crises that they manufacture because most Americans know who to blame. Obama’s comment was a way for the president to put Republicans on notice that everyone knows what they are doing.
Congressional Republicans are handing the president and every Democratic candidate a club to beat them over the heads with in 2014. People are tired of the do less than nothing Republicans in Congress, and Obama is setting the stage for their potential ouster next year.
Republicans Channel Hitler as They Claim to See Him Everywhere
By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Sep. 17th, 2013
815560.jpgThe Republicans love to draw false parallels between Barack Obama and Adolf Hitler, and to liken themselves to the so-called Greatest Generation, who crusaded against Nazism.
For ignorant Republicans – leaders and base included – liberals and progressives are somehow both Nazis and Communists, and oddly enough, at the same time, Caliphate-loving terrorists, as though any one of the three could be equated with the others.
Orson Scott Card, Mormon and sci fi author, as well as being a foe of LGBT rights, is also an Obama hater, and one of those who likes to play the Hitler card. Four months ago he said, “Like Hitler, he [Obama] needs a powerful domestic army to terrify any opposition that might arise.”
Like Hitler, he [Obama] needs a powerful domestic army to terrify any opposition that might arise…The National Police will be recruited from “young out-of-work urban men” and it will be hailed as a cure for the economic malaise of the inner cities. In other words, Obama will put a thin veneer of training and military structure on urban gangs, and send them out to channel their violence against Obama’s enemies.
Never mind that Obama neither needs nor has a powerful domestic army – or any domestic army – for people like Card, who operate by generating fear, even the suggestion is enough.
Far from being punished for saying such stupid and dishonest things, Card was rewarded last week by being appointed to the UNC -TV Board of Trustees by Republican state Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger. Said Chairman Robb Teer,
We are pleased to welcome Mr. Card to the UNC-TV Board of Trustees. We are grateful for his willingness to serve and look forward to working with him to continue providing the people of our state with enriching, life-changing television in these challenging times.
Apparently, some Republicans think public television should reflect their hate-filled and inflammatory rhetoric – which happens to be a very Hitler-like move, and one, no doubt, of which Der Führer would have approved.
The use of these terms demonstrates that conservatives who apply them haven’t the faintest idea what they are talking about. Communism is an extreme left wing ideology, while Nazism is an extreme right-wing ideology. The two hated each other as only extremists can.
The Nazi hymn, the Horst Wessel Lied, reveals the degree of antipathy existing between the two in its first verse:
Die Fahne hoch die Reihen fest geschlossen
S. A. marschiert mit ruhig festem Schritt
Kam’raden die Rotfront und Reaktion erschossen
Marschier’n im Geist in unsern Reihen mit
Flag high, ranks closed,
The S.A. marches with silent solid steps.
Comrades shot by the red front and reaction
march in spirit with us in our ranks.
People like Glenn Beck and our various religious zealots fling words like “Communist” and “Nazi” around because they generate negative emotion. None of it has to make any sense. In fact, they don’t want to make any sense. They just want to stoke levels of fear and hatred, which is, as it turns out, very Nazi and very Hitler-like of them.
This absurd mixing and matching of labels is supposed to magnify the fear and danger. So we run into people like Matt Barber who wants to equate Paganism with secularism, and Patrick Henry College professor Stephen Baskerville, who in demonizing both feminism and Islam, rationalizes how a group can be both one thing and another by invoking Hitler and Stalin:
Though they claim to advance rights, or equality, or justice – values that in their place may be seductively legitimate – the real aim is power – or as currently phrased, “empowerment.” In comparison with this shared common goal, differences in contentare secondary. This is why alliances are readily formed between seemingly incompatible agendas: Hitler and Stalin, or Islamists and feminists. “Power is the alpha and the omega of contemporary Communism,” wrote Milovan Djilas during the repression of the 1950s.”Ideas, philosophical principles, and moral considerations…- all can be changed and sacrificed. But not power.
Because we can all see radical Islamists allying themselves with feminists.
Christian fundamentalists pretend “gay activists” are Hitler’s storm troopers but in reality, the gays are as much the victims of Republican ideology as they once were of Nazi ideology, and it is the gay-bashing Republicans who are playing the part of Hitler’s brown battalions. The Tea Party mantra is less “Don’t Tread on Me” and more “I will Tread on You.”
Of course, if Republicans would spend more time reading history and less making it up, they would know these things and their leaders would not so easily be able to lie to them. It is all available and so easy to find that failing to do so borders on the criminal.
Just look at a few examples:
Ernst “Putzi” Hanfstaengl, one of Hitler’s early confidants, wrote in his memoirs, referring to the 1920s, that, “The Nazis were only one of the numerous Right Wing radical organizations flourishing in Bavaria at the time.3]
Ingrao also relates how another intellectual, Erich Ehlers, was “put to work hunting down Communists and Social Democrats” – the Social Democrats of Weimar Germany being socialists. In fact, in the Third Reich the SD, or security branch of the SS, had as its primary task during Hitler’s rise to power, surveillance of the Nazi Party’s political enemies on the left.
On the other side of the equation, the Communists in 1929 and 1930 went with the slogan, “Beat the Fascists wherever you find them!” and they literally meant “beat” as in a physical sense – bloody.
Like Republicans, Hitler spoke (in Mein Kampf) of “the international traitors and enemies of the country” and the “terrorist activities” of the Reds; he spoke disparagingly of the “fanatical extremists of the left wing” to whom the Nazi Party who “were organized in movements with a more or less radically Marxist tendency8]
One of Hitler’s early supporters, Otto Strasser, left the NSDAP “because it was insufficiently Socialist and revolutionary.1957], 75.
 Hanfstaengl (2011), 75.
 Christian Ingrao, Believe & Destroy: Intellectuals in the SS War Machine. Malden, MA: Polity, 2013, 78.
 Ingrao (2013), 81.
 Ingrao (2013), 91-92.
 Benjamin Carter Hett, Crossing Hitler: The Man Who Put the Nazis on the Witness Stand, New York: OXford, 2008, 89.
 Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf Kindle Edition. 2012 [1925-26], Location 4886.
 Hanfstaengl (2011), 71.
 Hett (2008), 90.
 Hanfstaengl (2011), 81.
Obama Slams Republicans For Promising Economic Chaos If They Don’t Get What They Want
By: Jason Easley
Sep. 16th, 2013
President Obama slammed House Republicans today for promising economic chaos unless he gives them 100% of what they want.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: These folks standing behind me, these are people who are small business owners, people who almost lost their home, young people trying to get a college education, and all of them went through some real tough times during the recession. And in part because of the steps we took, and primarily because of their courage and determination and hard work, they’re in a better place now.
But the last thing they’re looking for is for us to go back to the same kind of crisis situations that we’ve had in the past. And the single most important thing we can do to prevent that is for Congress to pass a budget, without drama, that puts us on a sound path for growth, jobs, better wages, better incomes.
Now, look, it’s never been easy to get 535 people here in Washington to agree on anything. And budget battles and debates, those are as old as the Republic. It’s even harder when you have divided government. And right now you’ve got Republicans controlling the House of Representatives, Democrats controlling the Senate, Democrat in the White House. So this is always going to be tough.
Having said that, I cannot remember a time when one faction of one party promises economic chaos if it can’t get 100 percent of what it wants. That’s never happened before. But that’s what’s happening right now.
You have some Republicans in the House of Representatives who are promising to shut down the government at the end of this month if they can’t shut down the Affordable Care Act. And if that scheme doesn’t work, some have suggested they won’t pay the very bills that Congress has already run up, which would cause America to default on its debt for the first time in our history and would create massive economic turmoil. Interest rates on ordinary people would shoot up. Those kinds of actions are the kinds of actions that we don’t need.
The last time the same crew threatened this course of action back in 2011 even the mere suggestion of default slowed our economic growth. Everybody here remembers that. It wasn’t that long ago.
Now, keep in mind, initially, the whole argument was we’re going to do this because we want to reduce our debt. That doesn’t seem to be the focus now. Now the focus is on Obamacare. So let’s put this in perspective. The Affordable Care Act has been the law for three and a half years now. It passed both houses of Congress. The Supreme Court ruled it constitutional. It was an issue in last year’s election and the candidate who called for repeal lost. (Applause.) Republicans in the House have tried to repeal or sabotage it about 40 times. They’ve failed every time.
Meanwhile, the law has already helped millions of Americans — young people who were able to stay on their parents’ plan up until the age of 26; seniors who are getting additional discounts on their prescription drugs; ordinary families and small businesses that are getting rebates from insurance companies because now insurance companies have to actually spend money on people’s care instead of on administrative costs and CEO bonuses.
President Obama accurately pointed out that there is no true main objective behind the Republican threats. House Republicans keep moving the goalposts based on whatever wild flight of fancy that they feel like going on. Sometimes they claim the debt ceiling is about the debt. When they feel like they want spending cuts, Republicans claim the debt ceiling is about the government spending too much money. Now, House Republicans are claiming that the debt ceiling is about Obamacare.
Depending on which House Republican is speaking, it is possible to hear all three of these excuses on the same day. Sometimes, they’ll even use them all at the same time.
House Republicans are throwing a temper tantrum and threatening to blow up the economy if President Obama doesn’t stop acting so much like a president. The message that the president has been sending to House Republicans over the last two days is no. Obama is not going to delay Obamacare, and deny 30 million Americans access to healthcare. The president is not going to let Republicans undo a law that is already helping millions of Americans.
Republicans aren’t going to win this staring contest with the president, because the 2014 election is coming. If House Republicans want to keep their seats, they’re going to have to blink.
PIG PUTIN'S RUSSIA ...Russia's Gay-Bashing Politics Look Like a Descent Into Fascism
Monday, September 16, 2013
Click to watch:
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We've all been shocked at the vicious nature of Russia's official embrace of anti-gay politics, but we should all be deeply concerned too -- because what we appear to be witnessing is the descent of post-Communist Russia into a fascist state.
First Russian officials passed an Orwellian law banning gay "propaganda," making potentially anyone even remotely sympathetic to LGBT people into criminals. That was followed by the appearance of neo-Nazi thugs on the scene, attacking any gay-rights demonstrators with open violence. The official response to these attacks was instructive: Police either stood by as the thugs attacked gays, or they themselves arrested gay demonstrators and carted them off.
Russian journalist Masha Gessen has been saying this openly:
"What they're doing with this law is they're enshrining second-class citizenship," she added. "So in that sense it's very much like the laws in Nazi Germany. It makes it a crime to say that a group is socially equal to another group. So I said this is creeping Fascism, and if you don't want us to become a Fascist country, then don't just stand by, put on a pink triangle."
Moreover, officials are openly encouraging the violence by making clear that it's justified and won't be prosecuted:
Vitaly Milonov, a deputy in the St. Petersburg legislative assembly from United Russia, is co-author of the notorious law forbidding “promotion of homosexuality.” He blamed the incident in the club on gay people themselves. He said in an interview with Snob.ru that the incident was the ”result of the obnoxious, crude and permissive behavior of the gay community. …What other reaction could there be when, in response to democratic actions, they run around like jackals at consulates, beg for another grant and write letters demanding that the authorities be punished? This is a warning to the gay community so that they don’t forget that they live in the Russian Federation, a country with a healthy historical and cultural legacy.”
In case anyone missed that, let us spell it out in plain English: an elected official from Russia’s second largest city, its so-called “window on Europe,” has condoned mob violence against a particular group of his fellow citizens, blaming them—the victims—for the attack. This is fascism.
Oh, and remember Pussy Riot’s desperate attempt to warn their own fellow citizens and the rest of the world about the dangers of a fusion of church and state in Russia? Well, here’s what you get when the merger is a done deal and the gloves come off:
Sergei Rybko, a Russian Orthodox priest, spoke out more forcefully. “The Holy Scriptures instruct us to cast stones at all those guys with nontraditional orientation. As long as that scum is not banished from Russian land, I completely agree with people who are trying to cleanse our homeland of them. If the government won’t do it, then the people will,” he said an interview with Pravoslaviye i Mir (Orthodoxy and the World). He added that he regretted that because he is a priest, “he couldn’t take part in actions of this sort.”
Nor is it an exaggeration to observe that this is classic far-right fascism, with gay people playing the role of the old fascists' Jews as chief scapegoat, whipping boy and otherwise expiative target for violence.
That's because, according to observers in Russia, the Putin regime and its official right-wing cohort have been actively courting and supporting the activities of various far-right entities in Russia, including a variety of skinhead and neo-Nazi factions.
This is from a Marxist source, but appears generally accurate, reflecting a number of similar reports from inside Russia:
The anti-gay law is not just another law that seeks to villify LGBTQ people and their very existence, but this move by regime is a capitulation to Russian neo-Nazi organisations to further terrorise LGBTQ people. Police complicity with fascists already has a history in Russia and Putin’s regime has sponsored nationalists in the Rodina party, and the neo-nazi Nashi youth organisation to attack and discredit challenges to the regime from the Communist Party and Russian youth. From watching videos of the recent attacks on LGBTQ people, police often stand back and let homophobic and transphobic assaults continue with little or no intervention. Protesters recall previous pride demonstrations (which have been increasingly bigger targets for anti-queer violence) where cops were seen allowing fascists into vans where arrested protesters were being held, suggesting the police work with or are members of neo-Nazi groups.
Neo-Nazi group Format18 and their infamous spokesperson Maxim Martsinkevich (nicknamed Tesak, or ‘hatchet’) have lead the attacks on LGBTQ youth that claim to target paedophiles on the internet. However this is a lie; they put up fake profiles on social networking sites and arrange to meet with LGBTQ youth for a date, only to kidnap, torture, rape and even kill them – all without prosecution by the state. Many of the young people that this group have targeted have subsequently had videos and photos of their kidnap and torture put on the internet, causing them to be outed, humiliated and often driven to suicide.
The victims of the far-right are not just LGBTQ people, the fascists also attack black people, immigrants and various religious groups, in order to scapegoat them – one high profile attack in 2006 by neo-Nazis in St. Petersburg ended in the death of a Sengalese student, Lamzar Samba.
Nor is it any accident that this is happening. It's been brewing for awhile now; these people are well-organized, and some reports the ranks of neo-Nazis have swelled to 100,000 and more in recent years.
And all this has its sources in far-right radicals from the United States and elsewhere.
Back when he was rehabilitating his career after spending time in prison for fraud related to his gambling addiction, David Duke spent a great deal of time organizing neo-Nazis in Russia:
White supremacist David Duke has set his sights on Russia. Saying that the nation holds the "key to white survival," Duke has recently embarked on a campaign to spread his racial theories of white superiority and anti-Semitism in the former Soviet Union. The notorious American hatemonger has recently launched an appeal to Russian nationalists. In Duke’s eyes, Russia presents an unmatched opportunity to help protect the longevity of the white race, since he predicts that "racially aware" parties could achieve political influence there. He believes that Russia’s "sense of racial understanding" will unleash a trend internationally.
Duke has taken at least three recent trips to Russia to speak with nationalists and to promote his new book, The Ultimate Supremacism: My Awakening on the Jewish Question (the Russian title translates as The Jewish Question Through the Eyes of an American). Duke has indicated he may move there to more actively "struggle against people of other colors and with Jews," according to the Interfax news agency.
During his visits to Russia, Duke has held a rally at a respected literary museum and met with nationalist leaders there, including former Communist lawmaker General Albert Makashov, a figure well known for anti-Semitic statements. Duke went to Russia this past summer at the invitation of Alexander Prokhanov, editor-in-chief of Zavtra (Tomorrow), an ultra-nationalist newspaper, and Konstnatin Kasimovsky, the head of an anti-Semitic organization called Russian Action. At the time, several Russian nationalist publications ran reports on Duke’s visit to Moscow. An Internet forum of Russian neo-Nazi skinheads praised the meeting with Duke, who was termed "a well-known American patriot."
This organizing appears to have melded with another branch of far-right activism in Russia, also with its roots in American radicals -- the virulent anti-gay radicals who blame the Holocaust on gays and sponsor anti-gay legislation in places such as Africa and in Eastern Europe.
The largest of these organizations calls themselves the Watchmen on the Walls, and they represent a coalition of Russian-American, American, and Russian right-wingers whose loathing of LGBT people and their rights knows no bounds.
One of the Watchmen's leading figures is a Holocaust revisionist named Scott Livelym who blames Teh Gay for the deaths of millions during World War II. And these are the kinds of things he's prone to pronouncing:
And in the United States where the sexual revolution began, it was the homosexual political movement that designed this strategy to attack Christianity. The homosexual movement teaches sexual freedom, and its first target is the heterosexual people. The homosexual activists stayed hidden but they taught this philosophy through their activists. And out of the philosophy came the principalities and powers that is destroying the West: The pornography industry, the abortion industry, and the destruction of marriage through divorce. These things are the product of a way of thinking. They deny the Truth of God. They deny the design of God for human beings. And their purpose is the change the cultures of the world.
Now, the homosexual movement has been winning this war in the United States, and it has been winning this war in Europe. And we’re looking at the future collapse of Western civilization. And Watchmen on the Walls is an organization to fight against this collapse. Watchmen On the Walls is an organization of men and women with courage, who will stand on the Truth of God and without compromise demand that the culture will follow the guidance of God. That marriage and family must be held at the highest level.”
Lively once gave a talk wherein he described, in a jocular fashion, the bashing death of a gay man by Russian nationals in Sacramento.
Moreover, Lively has taken a leading role in attempts to outlaw homosexuality in Uganda, and he's now taking credit -- with some cause -- for the anti-gay legislation in Russia:
"I can’t point to any country of the world today that is a model for the rest of the world, except perhaps for Russia, which has just taken the very important and frankly necessary step of criminalizing homosexual propaganda to protect the society from being 'homosexualzed.' This was one of my recommendation to Russian leaders in my 50-city tour of the former Soviet Union in 2006 and 2007.
"I strongly advise that you adopt an anti-propaganda law similar to what Russia has recently passed, to stop the 'gay' agenda from advancing any further that it may already have done. It will also be necessary to uproot and discard any existing sexual orientation regulations (the bad seeds) which criminalize discrimination against homosexuality in your laws and in the official policies of your government agencies, universities, corporations, and NGOs."
It's also worth noting that Lively was a significant source of misinformation for Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism, another attempt to whitewash away the common ground between genuine street fascists and the mainstream right. But now that common ground is making itself manifest in Russia.
The most disturbing component of all this is the open collusion between authorities and these far-right thugs. That is the classic manifestation of genuine fascism as we have known it historically; the examples of Germany and Italy in the 1920s are always there to remind us:
Fascist violence was neither random nor indiscriminate. It carried a well-calculated set of coded messages: that communist violence was rising, that the democratic state was responding to it ineptly, and that only the fascists were tough enough to save the nation from antinational terrorists. An essential step in the fascist march to acceptance and power was to persuade law-and-order conservatives and members of the middle class to tolerate fascist violence as a harsh necessity in the face of Left provocation. It helped, of course, that many ordinary citizens never feared fascist violence against themselves, because they were reassured that it was reserved for national enemies and "terrorists" who deserved it.
Now it's all the straight, non-gay Russians and other Eastern Europeans who are standing by and watching this trend develop, knowing that they will not be targeted for the fascists' violence ... this round. When they gain real power, well, that will be a different story.
If people in the West do not awaken to the nature of the beast that is taking root in Russia and Eastern Europe, all in the guise of gay bashing and "defending traditional marriage", they will live to regret it.
09/18/2013 11:46 AM
SWIFT Suspension?: EU Parliament Furious about NSA Bank Spying
By Gregor-Peter Schmitz in Brussels
Revelations the US is spying on international bank transfers has angered European parliamentarians. Some are calling for the suspension of the SWIFT deal between the EU and US. "Washington must make clear where it stands," says one.
The recent revelations regarding the degree to which the US intelligence agency NSA monitors bank data in the European Union has infuriated many in Europe. "Now that we know that which we had long been suspected, we have to protest loudly and clearly," Jan Philipp Albrecht, a legal expert for the Green Party in the European Parliament, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. He is demanding a suspension of the SWIFT agreement, which governs the transfer of some bank data from the EU to anti-terror authorities in the United States.
On Monday, SPIEGEL reported that the NSA monitors a significant share of international money transfers, including bank and credit card transactions. The information comes from documents in the possession of whistleblower Edward Snowden that SPIEGEL has been able to see. "Follow the Money" is the name of the NSA branch that handles the surveillance. Information obtained by "Follow the Money" then flows into a financial database known as Tracfin. In 2011, Tracfin had 180 million datasets -- 84 percent of which are comprised of credit card data.
But data from the SWIFT network, headquartered in Brussels, also ends up on Tracfin. SWIFT, which handles international transfers among thousands of banks, is identified by the NSA as a "target" according to the Snowden documents. They also show that the NSA monitors SWIFT on several different levels, with the NSA department for "tailored access operations" also being involved. Among other methods, the documents note that the NSA has the ability to read "SWIFT printer traffic from numerous banks."
'The Clear Standard'
European Parliament President Martin Schulz also demanded consequences. "European data protection regulations have to be the clear standard in dealings with the Americans," he told SPIEGEL ONLINE. He said that simply abandoning the SWIFT agreement would be ineffective without an alternative for handling important international banking transactions. But the US government, he added, must live up to its obligations regarding openness with Europe.
Manfred Weber, a German conservative in the European Parliament, echoed the demand. "Washington must make it clear where it stands." He said that the focus should be placed on consumer protection. "That would make companies and politicians in America listen up," Weber said in comments made in Washington.
The reactions have been intense in part because European Parliament flexed its muscles in 2010 when a first draft of the SWIFT agreement came up for a vote. The lawmaking body rejected the treaty before ultimately passing a new version with strengthened data protection language.
Fulfilling the regulations has proven difficult. After a long period of silence, European Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström has also since weighed in, demanding clarity from the US. But Social Democrats, Liberals, Greens and leftists in the European Parliament want more. They have demanded the suspension of the SWIFT deal between the US and the EU. "The Americans are apparently breaking into the system. We are being played for fools and spied on without limits," said liberal European parliamentarian Sophie in 't Veld.
A suspension of the data protection deal would be a first in trans-Atlantic affairs -- and it is also unlikely. Even in the event of a parliamentary majority, the European Council would likewise have to agree.
"But we parliamentarians have to show clearly where we stand," says Albrecht. "The NSA activities have been known now for 14 weeks, and one still can't see any real effort by EU governments or by the US to shed light on the situation."
James Clapper, director of US national intelligence, said in the Washington Post earlier this week that the NSA collects financial information to provide "the US and our allies early warning of international financial crises which could negatively impact the global economy."
But even in the US, a spirited debate is underway over the limits of the surveillance state. The most recent to weigh in was former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in his interview with SPIEGEL published earlier this week. "Should people be concerned about their privacy? You bet," he said. "Nobody wants to think that everything they do or say is under surveillance."
September 17, 2013
Snowden Among Nominees for a European Human Rights Prize
By DAN BILEFSKY
PARIS — The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, considered Europe’s top human rights award, has been bestowed on luminaries like Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela. This year, in a slap against Washington, the award could go to Edward J. Snowden, known as either the N.S.A. whistle-blower or a traitor, depending on one’s perspective.
The European Parliament, the European Union’s only directly elected body, nominated Mr. Snowden for the prize late Monday. The others in contention include Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani girl who was 14 when the Taliban shot her in October but survived to become a potent voice in the struggle for education rights for women; Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, a former oil tycoon and Kremlin critic who is imprisoned in Russia; and Erdem Gunduz, who helped inspire the mass protests against the Turkish government’s perceived authoritarianism this year in Istanbul’s Taksim Square.
The nomination of Mr. Snowden is the latest in a series of rebukes from European lawmakers upset with the Obama administration’s foreign policies, including its surveillance program. More recently, the British Parliament refused to authorize the country’s participation in a military strike against Syria for a gas attack that killed more than 1,400 civilians. Only France, which does not require legislative approval of military actions, backed President Obama’s call to punish Syria for using chemical weapons.
While hardly as momentous as the Syria vote, the nomination of Mr. Snowden carries great symbolic weight. It glaringly illustrates the chasm the leaks have opened between the United States and its allies, not only European countries but also Brazil, Mexico and other nations that have been spied on by the National Security Agency.
In late June, after reports in Der Spiegel magazine that Washington was spying on the European Union and that the N.S.A. had tapped its offices in Washington, Brussels and the United Nations and gained access to internal computer networks, there was an angry outcry from European politicians.
Mr. Snowden, 30, who has received temporary asylum in Russia, has been charged in the United States with espionage and theft, after his leaks of N.S.A. materials showing the extent of American spying at home and abroad. But the leftist and Green party members of the European Parliament who nominated him for the award praised him for his courage.
Mr. Snowden “deserves to be honored for shedding light on the systematic infringements of civil liberties by U.S. and European secret services,” Daniel Cohn-Bendit of France and Rebecca Harms of Germany, the leaders of the Parliament’s Green members, said in a statement. “Snowden has risked his freedom to help us protect ours.”
In an online New York Times opinion article on Sunday, Peter Ludlow, a professor of philosophy at Northwestern University, wrote that Mr. Snowden had exposed a gap between members of the younger “WikiLeaks generation,” who regard him as a role model, and older commentators in the traditional news media, who believe he needs to be brought to justice. Mr. Ludlow cited a recent poll showing that 70 percent of Americans ages 18 to 34 believed that Mr. Snowden “did a good thing.”
The winner of the prize will be announced in October, and the awards ceremony will be held in Strasbourg, France, in December. Last year, two convicted Iranians — Nasrin Sotoudeh, a lawyer who represents opposition activists and is now in prison, and Jafar Panahi, a filmmaker who has been released on bail but was banned from making films or leaving the country — were joint recipients of the prize.