In the USA...United Surveillance America
September 24, 2013Senate Democratic Leader Sets Stage for Budget Showdown
By JONATHAN WEISMAN
WASHINGTON — The Senate’s Democratic majority leader, Harry Reid, delivered a broadside this week to advocates of the House plan to tie future government financing to the gutting of President Obama’s health care law, starting the clock on a showdown that could be decided on the eve of the potential government shutdown next Tuesday.
Facing opposition from the Senate’s most conservative hard-liners, Mr. Reid has set up a series of procedural tallies, starting on Wednesday, that should culminate on Sunday in votes to remove language from the House spending bill that would strip funding from the Affordable Care Act and then to pass a spending measure to keep the government operating through mid-December. It would be up to House Republican leaders to accept that Senate bill or precipitate a shutdown.
“We will not bow to Tea Party anarchists,” Mr. Reid said Monday, denouncing what he called “extremist Republicans” and “fanatics.”
“The simple fact remains: Obamacare is the law of the land, and it will remain the law of the land as long as Barack Obama is president of the United States and as long as I am the Senate majority leader,” he said on the Senate floor.
Signaling a serious split among Republicans, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, announced that he would not support efforts by the most conservative Senate Republicans to block consideration of the House bill in an effort to slow down the legislative process.
“Senator McConnell supports the House Republicans’ bill and will not vote to block it, since it defunds Obamacare and funds the government without increasing spending by a penny,” said Don Stewart, a spokesman for Mr. McConnell. “He will also vote against any amendment that attempts to add Obamacare funding back into the House Republicans’ bill.”
The House passed legislation on Friday that would keep the government open through Dec. 15, but only if the health care law were defunded. That sent the fight to the Senate, where the most ardent conservatives, led by Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, began waging a procedural war to stretch out the debate.
Even Senate Republicans say Democrats have the votes to eliminate policy measures they find objectionable and to pass a pure spending bill. The procedural fight may actually be playing into the Democrats’ hands. By delaying a final Senate vote until Sunday, Mr. Cruz would leave the House almost no time to add conditions to a stopgap spending bill. The House speaker, John A. Boehner of Ohio, would face a stark choice: Accept the Senate measure or ensure a shutdown.
A lunch meeting for Republican senators on Tuesday could decide whether Mr. Cruz keeps up his efforts or bows to a push for a quicker final vote.
“I think that most Republicans realize that this is a flight of foolishness,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York. “They’re trying to figure out how to wriggle themselves out now.”
Mr. Cruz was unapologetic on Monday, asking for an agreement to make any vote to strip the defunding legislation subject to a 60-vote threshold, not the simple 51-vote majority usually needed. When that was denied by Mr. Reid, Mr. Cruz told senators that a vote even to take up the House bill, which he ardently supports, would be a vote to allow a majority vote to keep funding the health care law.
In a speech from the Senate floor, he called this “a critical week for the United States Senate.”
“Obamacare isn’t working,” he said. “We’re going to step forward and recognize the reality that it’s the biggest job killer in the country, and we will not affirmatively fund it.”
If Mr. Cruz holds firm, the Senate on Wednesday morning will vote to cut off debate on a formal motion to take up the House bill. That is expected to get the 60 votes needed on such a procedural vote, especially now that it has Mr. McConnell’s endorsement. Mr. Reid will file an amendment that effectively strips out the health care language and other House policy measures on Thursday.
After 30 hours of debate, that amendment and the spending bill would face its biggest test on Saturday: Will 60 senators vote to end debate and move to a final vote? If they do, only 51 votes will be needed on Sunday to send the House a clean bill that would keep the government open.
September 23, 2013McConnell’s Deal-Making Yields to Politicking
By JONATHAN WEISMAN and JEREMY W. PETERS
WASHINGTON — At the climax of each of the fiscal crises that have paralyzed the nation’s capital since the Republican landslide of 2010, Senator Mitch McConnell, the wily Kentuckian who leads the Senate Republicans, has stepped in to untangle the seemingly hopeless knots threatening the economy.
But as Congress trudges toward its next budget showdown, the Mr. Fix-It of Washington is looking more like its Invisible Man as he balances his leadership imperatives with his re-election.
“The House and the White House in the end will have to reach some kind of understanding on both these issues,” Mr. McConnell said last week as he sat in his spacious Capitol office and looked toward Sept. 30, when much of the federal government runs out of money, and mid-October, when it exhausts its borrowing authority. “I don’t intend to participate in any discussion, publicly or privately, that raises taxes or spends more than current law.”
That may prove to be more threat than destiny. The taciturn lawmaker is known for playing his cards extremely close to his vest, and when he has swooped in to resolve impasses, he has usually come in late — more a closer than a middle reliever. But his decision to stay out of the budget fray is one of the central reasons a resolution seems distant at the moment.
Democrats and, increasingly, Republicans are complaining that the minority leader’s absence from many of this year’s most intense and consequential negotiations — from the immigration overhaul to the budget to a fight over internal rule changes that almost paralyzed the Senate — has created a power vacuum and left Democrats without a bargaining partner.
They worry that Mr. McConnell is too hamstrung by political concerns in the Capitol and back home in Kentucky. In Washington, a rebellious crop of new Republican senators, led by Ted Cruz of Texas, has rejected his compromising brand of politics. Mr. Cruz has led the charge to tie any further government financing to gutting President Obama’s health care law, a movement that has angered many veteran Republicans and brought the federal government to the brink of a shutdown.
On Monday, Mr. McConnell gave the first indication of how he will figure into the budget standoff, saying that he would support a House bill that denies financing for the health care law, putting him at odds with Mr. Cruz, who has encouraged his colleagues to filibuster the bill so Democrats cannot amend it.
And in Kentucky, the junior senator, Rand Paul, has largely set the agenda for a Tea Party-infused Republican Party there.
Mr. McConnell is dealing with an unwanted primary challenge from a well-financed Tea Party candidate who keeps telling Kentucky voters the senator is an establishment pawn.
Mr. McConnell is leading his challenger by a large margin in internal polls. But after Tea Party candidates rose from nowhere in the past two elections to beat veteran senators, Mr. McConnell is leaving nothing to chance.
“He’s got an election,” said Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader. “And that’s his No. 1 concern. I hope we can work together on things, but we’ll just have to wait and see.”
What worries members of both parties is that efforts to work around Mr. McConnell and bridge the partisan disagreements over the budget, health care and taxes have failed.
Early this year, just off his re-election triumph, Mr. Obama tried to reach out to Senate Republicans beyond the leadership. This group, called the “sounding board,” met repeatedly with the White House chief of staff, Denis McDonough, and other senior White House officials and came away with nothing.
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and a member of that group, said what was lacking was the level of trust that would persuade the two sides to accept a deal that would be politically difficult for both sides’ most dedicated activists to swallow. He said that Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Mr. McConnell trusted each other. No other partners have emerged in Mr. McConnell’s absence to fill “probably the biggest missing ingredient,” Mr. Graham said.
Not one to enjoy small talk, Mr. McConnell rarely speaks at length during meetings. But his presence has become so spectral that some Democrats have taken to referring to him as “the man who isn’t there.”
For example, during a meeting this month with all four leaders of the two chambers — Speaker John A. Boehner, Mr. Reid, Mr. McConnell and Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader — he seemed so disengaged from the conversation, one Democrat briefed on the meeting said, that Mr. Reid later remarked how few words his sometimes-adversary had said.
And in late July, when the two Senate leaders tried to resume regular meetings in hopes of repairing their relationship after a bruising fight over changing Senate rules to make it harder for Republicans to block the president’s nominees, Mr. Reid made a similar observation to colleagues. He said he was taken aback by how absent Mr. McConnell seemed.
They have not met privately since Congress returned from its summer recess, despite the serious issues crowding the Senate’s agenda, from Syria to the budget, though they have spoken on the phone.
The current crisis had its origins at a meeting of Republican senators in July, where Mr. Cruz and Senator Mike Lee of Utah presented their plan to urge their colleagues to vote against any budget that provides money for the president’s health care law — in effect threatening a government shutdown.
They said they had written a letter outlining their position and were recruiting signatories. For those who refused to sign, they offered an alternative: Come up with your own plan.
Mr. McConnell’s response was noncommittal. He said, according to a Republican aide, that he was waiting to see what budget the House would pass. He has not signed the letter despite pressure from the right to do so. “It creates a situation where senators like Mike Lee and Ted Cruz become the leaders,” said the Republican aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss meetings that senators are discouraged from talking about publicly.
With his campaign building steam, his voting record has veered from the mainstream of Republican politics. His newfound affinity for issues like legalizing hemp farming and protecting the United States from government drones seems to grow more from a partnership with Mr. Paul than his own history.
In an interview on Thursday, Mr. McConnell said he remains proud of his deal-brokering accomplishments — which included hatching a plan to work around the Tea Party in 2011 that allowed the debt ceiling to be raised without an affirmative vote, and sealing a compromise with Mr. Biden last December that averted the “fiscal cliff” — even if he now sees little purpose in rolling up his sleeves.
“Those were deals that in my view were worth negotiating because they produced permanent tax relief, and permanent spending reductions,” he said. “I don’t see any circumstances or any hints, any indications whatsoever, that this Senate or this president is willing to do anything other than to try to unravel what we already achieved.”
Such caution may recede as the Kentucky Senate race settles in. McConnell aides say confidently that their internal polls show them with a wide lead over the Tea Party challenger, Matt Bevin. His supporters circulated a video last week of Mr. Bevin, a businessman and self-described “constitutionalist,” confusing Article Five of the Constitution with the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution.
Some say they still believe that Mr. McConnell will ride to the rescue in budget negotiations, even if he ultimately cannot vote for the deal he helps midwife.
“In the final analysis, Senator McConnell’s going to be right in there,” said Senator John Hoeven, Republican of North Dakota.
Aides noted that Mr. McConnell ultimately helped broker the bailout of Wall Street in 2008, just weeks before his last re-election campaign came to an end. But in 2008, of course, there was far greater tolerance from the right for the compromise politics that Mr. McConnell has perfected.
“I think what’s changed isn’t Mitch McConnell,” said Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, who was elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010. “What’s changed in general is the nature of American politics.”
“The grass roots have more influence over the political process than they ever have, and I think that’s a positive development,” he added. “You know, there was a time around here not so long ago where people could sneak all kinds of things into a bill, where members could vote any way they wanted and no one would ever find out.”
“Now you can’t do that.”
***************Family Research Council Says Starving Children is Christian Thing to Do
By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Sep. 24th, 2013
More than a few people have pointed out that if Republicans were the Christians they claimed to be, they would not be cutting food stamps.
You will remember that this sorry event saw 210 Republicans who make $175,000 per year say poor people ought to starve to death, stripping food stamps from 3.8 million Americans, including 170,000 veterans. It included Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) reaching an all-time Republican low (right up there next to putting children back to work in factories) when he said, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”
Doesn’t sound very Christian, does it? Many Christians didn’t think so. Christian leaders opposed the cuts. The Associated Baptist Press reported last week that “Roy Medley, general secretary of American Baptist Churches USA, wrote House members Sept. 5. ‘Instead, this type of bill will punish those struggling to get by.’”
And on September 9, Sojourners’ Jim Wallis wrote, “These immoral cuts are incongruent with the shared values of our nation They demonstrate the triumph of political ideology and self-interest over sound public policy and concern for the general welfare.”
These leaders were far from alone. Back in May, The Huffington Post reported that,
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Jewish Federations of North America, and dozens of religious and secular organizations signed a letter to Congress last week urging members to oppose food stamp cuts. “If SNAP is weakened, our nation will see more hunger and food insecurity, worse health and educational outcomes, and higher health costs,” it said.
Surely NOBODY would suggest the cuts WERE a Christian thing to do.
Oh wait…Former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell of the Family Research Council (FRC) says there is “nothing more Christian” than cutting food stamps.
Think about this for a minute.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). Are Republicans trying to get the kids to Jesus more quickly? It seems like it.
Is that what Blackwell was trying to say?
Not exactly. Blackwell, like most so-called Christians, wasn’t thinking about Jesus or the New Testament, and probably not even the Old. He was thinking about his anti-government views and probably that if Barack Obama wants these kids to eat, then they should certainly not be allowed to eat.
Speaking to The Christian Post, Blackwell said,
I think through empowering others and creating self-sufficiency…there within lies the path to sense of worthiness. When I was growing up, there was fundamental belief, that there were times in people’s life when they needed a hand up…there were temporariness to those programs, where they were structured so that they didn’t breed so that they didn’t breed dependency.
According to The Christian Post,
Blackwell also suggested that there was “nothing more Christian” than “not locking people into a permanent dependency on government handouts, but making sure they are participants in their own upliftment and empowerment so that they in fact through the dignity of work and can break from the plantation of big government.”
This is more of the “freedom of the grave” Republicans so badly want to sell us. The facts of the shared reality Republicans find so distasteful are that if you don’t eat, you die, and that people who make only a couple of thousand dollars a year can’t afford food.
The calculus of Republican “freedom” is grim and it is undeniable. In the guise of freeing people from “liberal slavery” they will tell them instead that their children have a right to starve to death.
Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), a Southern Baptist, said this spring that, “I read this chapter of Matthew 25 to speak to me as an individual. I don’t read it to speak to the United States government. And so I would take a little bit of umbrage with you on that. Clearly, you and I are charged that we do those kinds of things but [our government is not] charged with that.”
Funny. I see Jesus loving children and preaching their place in the Kingdom of God. I don’t see him preaching against dependency on the federal government.
So is Conaway going to make up this shortfall created by his fellow Republicans in the House? Certainly not. He can’t. Nobody has a spare $4 billion lying about. And that’s the point. Only the federal government does. Just as only the federal government has the means to provide disaster relief for victims of hurricanes and floods. Can we assume that were Texas to be hit by hurricanes that Conaway would decry disaster relief as promoting dependency?
I would not count on that. Colorado’s House Republicans opposed providing relief to victims of Hurricane Sandy, but faced with their own floods and fires, they sure think disaster relief is a good idea now.
Nobody is more morally relative than a conservative Christian.
And speaking of Christians, what about Jesus says, “starve the little children to death”?
You’re wondering about Mike Conaway’s Matthew 25? I think this is worth quoting in full,
“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.
“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’
“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
The Republicans have proven they can and will starve little children to punish our first black president and minorities like him for daring to be brown-skinned in a Christian white nationalist state. But they have also proven they have no right and no relation to the man known to history as Jesus of Nazareth, and to their own religion as Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
****************Bernie Sanders Slams Gutless Republican Bullies For Beating Up On Helpless People
By: Jason Easle
Sep. 23rd, 2013
On MSNBC, Sen. Bernie Sanders unloaded on the House Republicans who voted to take food away from millions of Americans. Sanders said that Republicans are arrogant gutless bullies who are beating up on helpless people.
On Martin Bashir’s MSNBC program, Sen. Sanders called out Republicans for beating up on the needy.
Sen. Sanders said,
Here’s where they come from. They are funded in a significant way by billionaires like the Koch brothers, who want more tax breaks for the rich and for corporate America. Now, these guys don’t have the guts to stand up to big money, so what they try to do is take out people’s anger against low and moderate income people. We’ve been hearing that line since Ronald Reagan, so called welfare queens. But the bottom line is right now, poverty today at forty six and a half million is higher than it has ever been. Middle class is disappearing. People are working longer hours for lower wages.
Many people in America who walk into food shelters have jobs. Maybe, they have two jobs. But they’re getting paid eight or nine bucks an hour, can’t feed their families. At the end of the day what you are talking about is incredible cruelty and arrogance for a party representing the wealthy and the powerful to punish poor and working people. That is immoral, and by the way if we get this sequestration budget passed for another year, it will mean the loss of 900,000 jobs in America. These are bullies who are beating up on helpless people in many cases, and representing the rich and powerful. They don’t impress me.
Sen. Sanders went there, and yes, he was questioning the manhood of the Republican Party. It doesn’t take much of a man or woman to vote to take food away from people who really need it the most. The really sick part of this is that House Republicans are proud of themselves for taking away food aid to 170,000 veterans, school lunches from 210,000 needy children, and making it more difficult for millions of Americans to eat.
It takes real courage to stand up to a billionaire and tell them no. It takes absolutely no courage to starve children, while championing another tax cut for the wealthy. Republicans are gutless. Much like John Boehner, when the extremists start to rumble, they all cave and fall in line. The arrogance behind the idea that they are fit to judge who is worthy of food and who isn’t is astounding.
The Republicans who voted for this bill aren’t leaders. They are the most dangerous kind of followers. House Republicans are filled with arrogance, entitlement, hate, and contempt. They lack the courage to do what is right, so they perpetually return to what is easy. (42 votes and counting to defund Obamacare).
It is time that the Republican bullies were called out. It’s also time for the rest of America to reject the barbaric Republican bullying of the needy in our name.
*************GOP Congressman Says Illegal Immigrants Have Killed More People than Multiple 9/11s
By: Keith Brekhus
Sep. 23rd, 2013
Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King is at it again. In July, the racist, xenophobic Congressman proclaimed that for every dreamer who was a High School Valedictorian ”there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.” Although the statement was widely criticized, King never backed down from his unsubstantiated and inflammatory remarks. Fast forward from July to Friday, September 20th and King is once again spewing forth misleading and inflammatory statements regarding undocumented immigrants. At a Friday rally in Omaha, Nebraska King remarked that a former immigration official once told him the number of Americans killed by illegal immigrants is “in multiples of the victims of Sept. 11.” He continued by saying “now that hits home, doesn’t it? … Three thousand times something.”
Of course, as is typical of Steve King’s bombastic rhetoric, there is no data to back his claim merely an anecdote from an unverified source. Given that the United States averages 15,000 homicides a year and that September 11, 2001 was twelve years ago, it is possible that undocumented immigrants who make up around four percent of the US population could have committed 6000 or more homicides, since four percent of 180,000 (the approximate number of homicides in the US since September 11th, 2001) is 7200 or in King’s terms 3000 times something. However, this only underscores the misleading nature of King’s statement since he could have just as easily said American born citizens have killed fellow Americans in multiples of the September 11th attacks and do so every single year. This of course would be needlessly inflammatory but it is also a statement that, unlike his anti-immigrant remarks, is easy to verify and undeniably true.
The problem with King’s remarks is that they intentionally try to gin up irrational fear towards undocumented aliens and by extension legal immigrants and citizens of Hispanic origin. King’s goal is to frighten White Americans, especially those in his rural Iowa district, into believing that Latino immigrants are uniquely dangerous and that unless we seal our borders we will be murdered in our sleep by these evil menacing people who sneak across our border to rape, murder and plunder. However, the reality is that undocumented immigrants are not more likely to commit violent crimes. In fact, evidence suggests that they are less prone to criminal behavior than their “born in America” counterparts.
A study conducted by University of California-Irvine sociologist Ruben Rumbaut and Immigration Policy Center Research Associate Walter Ewing, found that foreign born men age 18-39 were considerably less likely to be incarcerated for crimes that men of the same age born in the United States. Foreign-born Mexican men, the primary target of Steve King’s racist rage, were two and a half times less likely to be jailed for a crime than white American-born men of the same age. So while King likes to drum up fear of imaginary hordes of marauding Mexican illegals coming to America to kill, they are 2.5 times less likely to commit criminal acts than men who were born in the United States that look like Steve King, that is, other native born white guys.
In fact, as the number of undocumented immigrants has increased, the violent crime rate in the United States has decreased. Violent crime has dropped to its lowest rate in this country since 1963. The homicide rate in the US peaked in the early 1990s. Since then the number of undocumented immigrants has tripled and the foreign born population has risen from under 8 percent to 13 percent of the total US population, yet the crime rate has dropped precipitously. Furthermore, some of the cities posting the most dramatic decreases in homicide are those with large influxes of foreign born immigrants, including New York City, Los Angeles, Dallas and Houston. Despite public perceptions that American border towns are war zones, the border towns of El Paso and San Diego are two of the safest large cities in the nation, with homicide and violent crime rates that are well below the national average. While it is hard to obtain precise numbers on how many homicides are committed annually by undocumented immigrants, the statistical evidence strongly suggests that they are far less dangerous than Steve King would have you believe. Come to think of it, they are far less dangerous than Steve King himself, whose vicious racism and xenophobia is a far greater threat to our nation’s safety and security than are the immigrants he is so fond of attacking.
*************Ted Cruz is Close to Destroying the GOP as only 19% Support His Defund Obamacare Scheme
By: Jason Easley
Sep. 23rd, 2013
Ted Cruz is close to destroying the GOP. According to the latest CNBC All-America Economic Survey only 19% of Americans support his plan to shutdown the government unless the ACA is defunded.
The CNBC survey found that 51% of Republicans support defunding the ACA, but those numbers reverse when they are asked about including a government shutdown and default. Forty eight percent of Republicans oppose Cruz’s plan to defund Obamacare or else. Just 36% of Republicans support the Texas Republican’s threat to get rid of the ACA or the nation’s economy gets it. Republicans who aren’t tea partiers oppose defunding Obamacare, 44%-36%. Overall, support for Cruz’s gambit plummeted when if they supported defunding the ACA if it meant a government shutdown. Fifty nine percent said no. Nineteen percent said yes, and twenty two percent were not sure.
What this means is that Ted Cruz is a political sinking ship. If he was smart, he would abandon his stop the ACA at all costs jihad right now. Cruz tried to bail on this crackpot plan last week, and was immediately called ball less by his own party. The Republican Party is running away from Cruz as fast as they can because nobody outside of Mike Lee and the equally toxic Sarah Palin want to be seen within a political country mile of him.
Sen. Cruz has offered up an idea that is a threat to the political survival of the Republican Party. Everyone from Fox News to John McCain to Mitch McConnell is trying to stop him. All you really need to know about both John Boehner’s inept leadership and the level of insanity in the House is that the Republican leadership was pressured into passing a bill based on Ted Cruz’s knuckle headed scheme.
If the government shuts down over Obamacare, the Republican Party will be screwed. A government shutdown would likely end Cruz’s national political career before it even starts, and it could cost Republicans their House majority.
Drunk on tea party rhetoric, and deluded by his own dreams of the presidency, Ted Cruz is this close to blowing up the entire Republican Party.
***************Rabid Dog Ted Cruz Urges The GOP to Defund the Military in Order to Stop Obamacare
Sep. 23rd, 2013
For anyone unfortunate enough to witness an animal that has been exposed to rabies, they likely saw dramatic behavioral changes starting with lethargy progressing to foaming at the mouth, and ending with unexpected aggression, seizures, and eventual death. The word rabies comes from the Latin and means “madness,” and any American watching the Republicans in Congress can certainly agree that they are exhibiting symptoms of the final stages of rabies. Republicans are rabid to eliminate programs for the poor and particularly the Affordable Care Act, and yesterday the depth of their madness was revealed when one of their champions suggested shutting down the military if President Obama and Democrats fail to acquiesce and kill the ACA.
When Speaker of the House John Boehner stepped down and handed power to the teabagger caucus last week and passed a continuing resolution to fund the government under the condition that the Affordable Care Act is eliminated, he effectively unleashed a group of mad dogs on the government. Realizing that the crazy caucus was in charge of the House, teabagger Ted Cruz (TP-TX) issued a stern warning to Senate Republicans that if they failed to filibuster the CR defunding the health law, they were “voting for Obamacare” and if they allowed Democrats to send the government funding bill back to the House without defunding the ACA, he advised House Republicans to “defund the military.” Cruz’s intent is forcing Democrats to choose between the nation’s security and giving 30-40 million Americans access to affordable healthcare insurance. It is the truest expression of madness a sitting congressman has likely ever displayed, and it is proof the GOP is in the final stage of rabies.
Cruz said, “If Harry Reid kills the bill in the Senate, the House should begin passing smaller continuing resolutions one department at a time. It should start with a continuing resolution focused on the military. Send it over, see if Harry Reid is willing to shut down the military.” If Cruz’s plan was just one crazed teabagger’s off-the-wall statement, he would be laughed out of the Senate, but since the GOP is controlled by unreasonably crazy teabaggers and extremist conservatives, Americans should tremble at the level of damage these malcontents are preparing to wreak on the nation. At some point Americans are going to have to comprehend that Republicans are not just insane, they are criminally insane.
As the nation inches closer to shutting down and defaulting on its debts due to crazed Republicans laser-focused on inflicting harm on the people and government over healthcare reform, it appears this nation is on the verge of serious trouble. Republicans wreaked havoc on the nation’s economy two years ago over protecting tax breaks for the rich and domestic spending cuts that cost a credit downgrade, a million jobs, $19 billion, and a devastating sequester, but there was a semblance of sanity in the Republican leadership. Republican leadership is so paranoid of inflaming teabaggers, the Heritage Foundation, and Koch brothers over defunding the ACA they are little more than figureheads doing the bidding of ideological lunatics who have no qualms decimating the United States government.
It is important to remember that just threatening to default on the nation’s debt drove credit rating agency S&P to downgrade the country’s stellar credit rating. One of the reason’s S&P gave for taking the unprecedented action was that “political brinkmanship of recent months had shown evidence of America’s governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable.” Doubtless, all three major rating agencies are watching Republicans in Washington become even less stable, less effective and certainly less predictable, and it will be a miracle if they do not downgrade the nation’s credit on grounds of insanity in the Republican Party. With less than a month before the government hits the debt limit and facing a shutdown, combined with a Republican Party that shows no signs of sanity, there is little hope the nation will escape another serious economic crisis unscathed. However, there may be a silver lining over the long term.
Americans are watching crazed Republicans threatening to shut down the government, default on the nation’s debt, and possibly defund the military that will validate President Obama’s contention that Republicans are controlled by an unrestrained and dangerous minority. Last month it was revealed that even senior citizens, a dependable Republican voting bloc, were turning away from the GOP in droves because they viewed them as “out of touch,” “dividing the country,” and “too extreme.” It is likely that seniors, or sane Americans, consider threatening to shut down the government, default on the nation’s debt, and defund the military an extreme tactic just to eliminate a law passed by Congress, signed by the President, and ruled Constitutional by the conservative Supreme Court. The frightening aspect of the affair is that although it proves Republicans are off-the-wall crazy, they appear fully prepared to follow through with their threats if for nothing else than to make a point that they will not be dissuaded from their ideological conservative purity; even if it means inflicting more damage on the American people.
It is normal for the party out of power to seek leverage during budget negotiations to fund and pay the government’s bills, and after the 2011 debt ceiling crisis it appeared that the country had seen the worst the criminally insane Republicans had to offer. However, as evil as the 2011 Republicans were to threaten a default to punish the American people and preserve tax cuts for the rich, the current iteration seems Hell-bent and duty-bound to wreak immeasurable damage on the country over a dangerous obsession with the Affordable Care Act.
Despite in-fighting in conservative ranks between the establishment Republicans and teabagger extremists, America is facing a significant danger if only because the GOP leadership ceded power to the radicals who will take the country down a dark economic hole if for no other reason than their ideological libertarian bent. Many pundits are certain that sanity will prevail in Republican ranks and they will pull back from the economic precipice, but they fail to recognize there are no sane Republicans in Congress. It is important to remember that there were teabaggers in 2011 who opposed raising the nation’s debt limit, and wanted to send the economy off the fiscal cliff in 2012 “just to see what would happen.” Now, extremist teabaggers control the House and Republican caucus in the Senate, and 66% of Republican voters want their representatives to shut down the government and default on the nation’s debt, and with all Republicans lusting to eliminate President Obama’s signature healthcare reform law, the chance of the economy falling victim to insane Republican criminals is a real and present danger.
***************Right-Wingers Infiltrate Print Media In Order to Spread Obamacare Lies
By: Dennis S
Sep. 23rd, 2013
It’s Shock & Awe, the Siege of Leningrad and the Second Punic War all rolled into one campaign designed to bring down the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare).
Congressional Republicans, a few DINOs and the right-wing media are the greedy puppet-enablers of the giant military-style propaganda attacks on Obamacare in service of health care and pharmaceutical interests. The 42 kindergartenish anti-ACA House votes are but one example of the inmates running the asylum. Try to imagine any organizational parallel in your own lives of those opposed to an issue voting 42 times to continuously express that opposition when they know it will never be approved.
This will be the first part of my two-part contribution on the question of the ACA. This submission will reflect the extraordinary propaganda campaign being waged in one specific media; the print media. Its singular purpose is to convince readers to go along with right-wing state efforts to eviscerate Obamacare to the point of irrelevance. For now I’m excluding radio and TV talk shows, other electronic media, town hall meetings and assorted additional propaganda venues that are just as heavy with anti-ASA Rhetoric and apocryphal BS.
There are various paths in newspapers to cultivate a point of view through lies, deception, deceit and pure repetition. My local Southern paper pursues all. It’s owned by Halifax Media Group. Halifax is headquartered in Daytona Beach, Florida and claims to be the 12th largest media group in the United States.
On the print and electronic side Halifax owns 33 newspapers and affiliated websites. They also include specialty Sports, Lifestyle, Tourism and “For Moms” publications. But if my local Halifax property is any indicator, their true specialty seems to be pushing the Republican anti-Obama health care agenda. In print, this is done through cherry-picking AP stories, running snide cartoons in opposition to ACA, printing editorials from other newspapers, carrying the predictable right-wing columns pillorying Obamacare from the likes of George Will and Michelle Malkin and, of course, the local paper’s own editorial position and the quoting of extremists politicians on the subject whenever possible.
Here are some (not all) examples of headlines that my local readers have eyeballed in some prominent spot of their Upstate South Carolina Halifax property over the last year. My paper’s anti-Obamacare campaign started off with one of a number of cartoons. The most recent was headed ‘Obamacare Options.’ A character dressed in shirt, tie and slacks with a Democratic donkey head was depicted as thinking “Defend it.” A similarly dressed Republican elephant opted for “Defund it.” The cartoonist included a middle-age man reading a newspaper “Let it collapse under its own weight.” On the newspaper page was printed “Higher Premiums, Less Access and Employers Ending Coverage.” That’s one form of print propaganda quite popular with my paper.
Below the ½ page cartoon panel was a feature called “other voices.” Today’s ‘other voice’ was from an inevitable right-wing editorial page from an inevitable right-wing paper. This effort was entitled “More bad news. Obamacare subsidies aren’t panning out as advertised.” The piece is from the pages of The Colorado Springs Gazette. The Gazette was recently sold to the Anschutz Corporation, owned by oil billionaire, fracking-loving Philip Anschutz. Anshutz is another one of those old right-wing farts who want to leave a legacy of a mangled country when they finally pass on to you know where. This religious wing-nut, homophobe owns the uber-right Weekly Standard and has supported extremists candidates like former Congressman and immigrant-hater Tom Trancedo. ‘Other voices’ is virtually always far right, no, make that far, far, far right and a worthless read. But it does its job of negatively propagandizing everything the administration supports.
Here’s another cartoon example. Under the heading “Good news we’re going to delay your part”, a speeding locomotive, bearing the lettering “Obamacare”, is about to plunge off a train trestle while pulling a caboose with ‘Employer Mandate’ written on the side.
Again, right below it is an “other voices” feature, “Obama’s future. Latest delay puts health care reform on shaky ground.” Here’s another ‘other voices’ sample: “Health care chaos. President’s selective changes to ACA are reason for concern.” Well, you get the idea. One of the ending lines call it an “ill-conceived law.” Or how about this one? “Health care fallout. Businesses are feeling the bite of Obamacare.” BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM it home.
One more cartoon: An Obama figure waving and declaring “I’ve got a puppy.” The president is leading an enormous, vicious looking dog with a mean scowl and teeth bared with ‘Obamacare’ adorning his massive body. This absurd effort is from the pen of one Marshall Ramsey, a youngish Obama-hater from the Creators Syndicate. Another of his “cartoons” has Obama at a podium casting a shadow of a disgraced Richard Nixon while holding a speech sheet labeled AP and IRS scandals.
Let’s get to some headlines. Bear in mind the Managing Editor or ‘spot’ editor picks the stories from a huge AP selection including many positive ACA stories. Here we go with quotation marks at the beginning of the first headline and the end of the last one. “Affordability glitch. Low-wage workers could get left out in health overhaul. Health insurance policies face cancellation. Overhaul surprise Some plans won’t meet requirements. Health reforms pressure primary care doctors. Patient load to rise for overworked physicians. Health law’s rule delay could harm enforcement.”
It continues: “Obamacare divisions may hit poor. Exchanges under health law create confusion for Medicare recipients. Poor to be stuck in health care gap. President’s big plan already starting to fail. New health law poses security concerns. Small businesses rush to renew health policies. Firms trying to avoid higher prices under ‘Obamacare’. Health plan worries Democratic governors. Insurance for employees’ families in jeopardy at small companies. Insurers worry young people will opt out of health insurance. State should forego health insurance exchange, Keck says. Senator sees ‘train wreck’ for health overhaul. Physicians are fleeing new system.”
These are just a fraction of the print renunciations of ACA. For those conversant with history, it’s instructive to remember the final outcomes of those actions mentioned in the first line of this submission.
In a few days, I’ll utilize facts (whatta concept) to make all the pro-Obamacare adherents feel much better
Iran's Rouhani tells UN: we pose no threat to the world
Iranian president addresses UN general assembly and says the world is 'tired of war' and US should not threaten force in Syria
Julian Borger and Ed Pilkington New York
theguardian.com, Wednesday 25 September 2013 08.32 BST
Link to video: Iran's President Hassan Rouhani: nuclear talks possiblehttp://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2013/sep/25/iran-hassan-rouhani-nuclear-video
Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, declared that "peace is within reach" on Tuesday, in a hotly anticipated speech at the United Nations in which he offered immediate negotiations aimed at removing any "reasonable concerns" over his country's nuclear programme.
Rouhani argued that in return, Iran wanted the international community to recognise its right to enrich uranium, the issue that has been at the heart of the diplomatic impasse over the past 11 years.
He did not go into details and a meeting with Barack Obama did not materialise. The White House said it offered to arrange a discussion in the margins of the general assembly but said that Rouhani's office deemed it was "too complicated".
In his speech however, Rouhani said he had "listened carefully" to Obama address earlier in the day. He concluded that if Washington did not give in to the influence of "warmongers", then the US and Iran "can arrive at a framework to manage our differences".
The framework Rouhani suggested for dealing with the stand-off over Iran's nuclear aspirations offered a trade between increased Iranian transparency and international recognition of Iran's right to enrich.
"Our national interests make it imperative that we remove any and all reasonable concerns about Iran's peaceful nuclear programme," he said, adding that Iran "is prepared to engage immediately in time-bound and result-oriented talks to build mutual confidence and the removal of mutual uncertainties with full transparency."
On the other hand, he said that the country's mastery of the technology had reached such an "industrial scale", and so could not longer be reversed. So the world should instead recognise Iran's basic right to carry out all parts of the nuclear fuel cycle.
In his UN speech earlier in the day, Obama made clear that the US saw the Iranian nuclear programme as a much more immediate and serious threat to its core interest. He responded to the overtures of the newly-elected leadership in Tehran by putting Kerry in charge of the coming critical weeks of intense negotiations.
"Given President Rouhani's stated commitment to reach an agreement, I am directing John Kerry to pursue this effort with the Iranian government, in close coordination with the European Union, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China," the president said.
The move mirrored Rouhani's decision to put his own foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, in charge of the talks, breaking from the practice of the past eight years of abortive negotiations of assigning them to senior officials. The foreign ministers of all seven countries are due to meet for the first time at the UN on Thursday.
"Directing secretary Kerry to lead this, signals that the negotiations may be elevated to the foreign minister level, which would be very good news," said Trita Parsi, the head of the National Iranian American Council, and the author of a book on US-Iranian negotiations, A Single Roll of the Dice.
"This means that far greater political will is being invested into the diplomatic process, which in turn increases the cost of failure. That is exactly what is needed to overcome the political obstacles to a deal." Obama acknowledged the difficulties ahead. "The roadblocks may prove to be too great, but I firmly believe a diplomatic path must be tested," he said.
Obama offered Rouhani an important symbolic gesture, making the first official US acknowledgement of the CIA's well-documented role in the ousting of Iran's democratically elected government in 1953. "This mistrust has deep roots. Iranians have long complained of a history of US interference in their affairs, and America's role in overthrowing an Iranian government during the cold war," he said.
The reference to the CIA's part in the ousting of Mohammad Mosaddegh, Iran's democratically elected leader, marked a first official admission of that role, and represented an important gesture to Rouhani. It will be seen in Iran as a diplomatic victory and belated acknowledgement of a long-festering Iranian sense of injustice. The coup, supported by both the US and the UK, paved the way for the dictatorship of the shah, and then the 1979 Islamic revolution against it.
"I don't believe this difficult history can be overcome overnight. The suspicions run too deep. But I do believe if we can resolve the issue of Iran's nuclear programme that can be a major step," Obama said.
The US president expressed optimism about this week's talks. "We should be able to achieve a resolution that respects the rights of the Iranian people, while giving the world confidence that the Iranian programme is peaceful. To succeed, conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable."
Thursday's talks involve Rouhani's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Kerry, the UK foreign secretary, William Hague and foreign ministers from Russia, China, France and Germany.
Much will depend on how far Rouhani is prepared to go to remove the "reasonable concerns" about Iran's nuclear intentions. If that involves Iran's acceptance of strict limits on the degree of enrichment allowed and a stricter regime of inspections, there may room for a deal.
However, the vague nature of Rouhani's offer, the accusatory tone of much of the rest of his speech, and the failure to organise a meeting with Obama all served to dampen expectations of an immediate breakthrough.
Diplomats and observers at the UN said it was clear that Rouhani's speech was principally aimed at a domestic audience, particularly Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei and the regime's hardliners who are suspicious of Rouhani's charm offensive in the West.
*************Obama: The ‘diplomatic path must be tested’ with Iran
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, September 24, 2013 12:57 EDT
US President Barack Obama on Tuesday pushed for pursuing diplomacy with Iran’s new government, but called on Tehran to be transparent about its nuclear program.
“The roadblocks may prove to be too great, but I firmly believe the diplomatic path must be tested,” Obama told the UN General Assembly, speaking just before Iranian President Hassan Rowhani was to address the annual summit.
Obama said he had instructed US Secretary of State John Kerry to pursue a possible new diplomatic opening with Tehran.
Kerry will meet Thursday with his new Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif as well as foreign ministers from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia at the United Nations headquarters.
It will be the first such minister-level talks on the nuclear issue since the negotiations were launched a decade ago.
But Obama stressed that Iran must take “transparent” and “verifiable” actions to end international suspicions over its nuclear program.
Iran’s economy has been crippled by a series of UN and US sanctions aimed at crippling its nuclear program.
An offer by Western powers believed to lay out a softening of some of the sanctions in return for a halt to Tehran’s uranium enrichment program has so far not gotten a response from Iran.
“Since I took office, I have made it clear – in letters to the Supreme Leader in Iran and more recently to President Rowhani – that America prefers to resolve our concerns over Iran’s nuclear program peacefully, but that we are determined to prevent them from developing a nuclear weapon,” Obama said.
All eyes are watching to see if Obama will meet Rowhani on the sidelines of the annual meeting at the United Nations.
It would be a historic first since the 1979 revolution in Iran ousted the Shah and installed an Islamic republic.
“We are not seeking regime change, and we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy,” Obama told the UN.
“Instead, we insist that the Iranian government meet its responsibilities under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and UN Security Council resolutions.”
There are hopes that the new more moderate leadership which took office in August in Tehran may usher in an era of progress.
But Obama warned that “to succeed, conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable.”
“After all, it is the Iranian government’s choices that have led to the comprehensive sanctions that are currently in place. This isn’t simply an issue between America and Iran – the world has seen Iran evade its responsibilities in the past, and has an abiding interest in making sure that Iran meets its obligations in the future.”
September 24, 2013Obama’s Evolving Doctrine
By DAVID E. SANGER
WASHINGTON — For five years, President Obama has publicly struggled with the question of when America is willing to act as the world’s policeman, and when he will insist that others take the lead, or at least share the risks, costs and resentments it engenders.
He surged forces into Afghanistan only to quickly reverse himself, speeding the withdrawal with the declaration that “it is time to focus on nation-building here at home.” He briefly joined the fight to halt a slaughter in Libya, but left quickly and refused to go into Syria, a far more complex civil war he saw as nothing but a potential quagmire.
His speech Tuesday at the United Nations signaled how what some have called the Obama Doctrine is once again evolving.
In his first term, that doctrine was defined by Mr. Obama’s surprising comfort in using military force to confront direct threats to the United States. But he split with his predecessor George W. Bush in his deep reluctance to use American power in long, drawn-out conflicts where national interests were remote and allies were missing.
At the United Nations on Tuesday, Mr. Obama drove home the conclusion that he came to after his own party deserted him over a military response to the chemical weapons attack that killed more than 1,000 Syrians: The bigger risk for the world in coming years is not that the United States will try to build empires abroad, he argued, but that there will be a price to be paid in chaos and disorder if Americans elect to stay home.
To Mr. Obama’s mind, his aides say, his worldview has changed little since he came to office in 2009, after a campaign promising to end a “dumb war” and to renew outreach to America’s adversaries.
But his image around the world is radically different from what it once was. From South Asia to the Middle East, his presidency became known more for roughly 400 drone strikes against affiliates of Al Qaeda and cyberattacks on Iran’s nuclear program, both of which he saw as direct threats. Despite his early overtures, diplomacy in the region stagnated.
Now, after a remarkable month that began with his planning and then aborting a Tomahawk missile strike against the military facilities of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, Mr. Obama has recommitted himself, he told world leaders on Tuesday, to devoting the rest of his presidency to two high-risk diplomatic initiatives: finding a negotiated end to the Iran confrontation, and creating a separate state for the Palestinians that Israel can live with, without fear.
Success in a region that has stymied two Bushes and two Clintons would become the legacy issue of his presidency — but three years and four months is not a long time to resolve disputes that date back decades. It was a measure of how complicated those efforts are that Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, shied away Tuesday not only from a handshake but also from any substantive discussion of resolving its disputes with a country it has long denounced as the Great Satan.
Conspicuously missing from those two top priorities was a strategy for a lasting solution in Syria, apart from assuring the world that, by negotiation or force, its chemical stockpiles would not be released again and the country would not become a safe haven for terrorist groups. But Mr. Obama did not describe a long-range strategy.
What makes the task all the harder for Mr. Obama is a sense that American power in the region is diminished — partly because United States forces have left Iraq; partly because Mr. Obama’s own team has been deeply divided on when to intervene; and partly because Mr. Obama’s own declaration of the “pivot” to Asia has been interpreted, rightly or wrongly, as evidence he has given up on the Middle East.
One could hear echoes of that frustration in his speech to the General Assembly, when Mr. Obama came to the edge of mocking those who accuse America of intervening to seek resources or influence across the globe. At once the United States “is chastised for meddling in the region, and accused of having a hand in all manner of conspiracy,” he said, even as it “is blamed for failing to do enough,” and for “showing indifference toward suffering Muslim populations.”
But a parallel debate has played out in the Situation Room of the White House, time and again. When his defense secretary at the time, Robert Gates, and his national security adviser, Tom Donilon, told him that he would be crazy to intervene in Libya — a country where, in Mr. Gates’s words, the United States had “no significant national interests” — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Mr. Donilon’s successor, Susan E. Rice, recalled the massacre of 800,000 Rwandans during the Clinton presidency, and said Mr. Obama could not allow another genocide in the making.
Reluctantly, Mr. Obama agreed, and ordered a bombing attack, alongside NATO and the Arab League. America could not stand by, he said later, because “that’s just not who we are.”
But last month, as he debated with his staff what looked like imminent American strikes on Syria, he talked about how the box he found himself in differed from what he had faced on Libya.
“He made the case that Libya was a lot simpler,” one participant in the conversation said recently, recounting the stages the president went through as he moved from tentatively embracing a bombing plan, to a failed effort to secure Congressional authorization, to the Russian-authored diplomacy now in place. “In Libya, he had only a narrow window of time to make the decision, or it would have been too late. He had a U.N. Security Council resolution.”
The president, the aide said, ran through his long list and concluded that in Syria, “all that is missing.”
But something deeper was going on as well: Mr. Obama had absorbed some bitter lessons. His decision to stay on in Afghanistan had not enhanced the perception of American power in the region, and Libya, once the bombing was over, descended into new chaos. Mr. Gates said last week that he saw, in the Syria gyrations, a president absorbing the lesson of a decade of American mistakes, and coming to the right conclusion after the worst possible process.
“Haven’t Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya taught us something about the unintended consequences of military action?” Mr. Gates asked.
The question left hanging now is when Mr. Obama will be willing to use force after five years of decidedly mixed experiences. His message now is that the failure of allies and regional neighbors to join with the United States has had a steady, corrosive effect on the American public’s willingness to act.
And indeed, after the Congressional rebellion over his threat for the briefest of strikes against Syria, it seems hard to imagine how Mr. Obama can credibly threaten the use of force if Mr. Assad reneges on the chemical weapons disarmament plan.
Iran may be a different case. There the stakes are far higher, for Mr. Obama and for his closest ally in the region, Israel, and he made it clear that he would not allow Iran to obtain a weapon on his watch. The question, after five years and several evolutions of the Obama Doctrine, is whether the Iranians believe him.
September 24, 2013Obama and Rouhani Miss Each Other, Diplomatically, at U.N.
By MARK LANDLER
UNITED NATIONS — It was the handshake that never happened.
While American officials say the near miss between President Obama and President Hassan Rouhani of Iran at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday means little to the ultimate fate of negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, it does illustrate the acute political sensitivities that will affect both leaders as they try to embark on a diplomatic path.
After two days of discussions between American and Iranian officials about a potential meeting of the leaders, a senior administration official said the Iranian delegation indicated that it would be “too complicated” for Mr. Rouhani and Mr. Obama to bump into each other.
“We did not intend to have a formal bilateral meeting and negotiation of any kind,” said a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations. “For them, it was just too difficult for them to move forward with that type of encounter at the presidential level, at this juncture.”
For its part, the White House did nothing to dispel speculation about a meeting. It might well have felt confident, given that Mr. Rouhani was granting interviews to American broadcasters, in which he struck a remarkably moderate tone. On Tuesday morning, the General Assembly was buzzing with rumors of a history-making encounter. Hopes flagged when Mr. Rouhani failed to show up for a lunch given by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, which would have provided the best venue for a handshake.
By the time Mr. Rouhani took the rostrum at the United Nations late on Tuesday afternoon, however, it was clear that he felt compelled to undertake a slight course correction. In a speech that seemed pitched as much to a domestic audience as to a room of world leaders, he unfurled a familiar list of grievances, speaking of the repression of the Palestinian people and “warmongering” forces in the United States.
Mr. Rouhani’s words were a far cry from the inflammatory rhetoric of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He did not mention Israel, let alone threaten its existence. Nor did he deny the existence of the Holocaust. But his message was clearly aimed at placating hard-line elements in Iran, who analysts say will be quick to undermine Mr. Rouhani’s attempt at diplomacy if he is perceived as moving too fast.
A handshake with the president of the United States — on the heels of Mr. Rouhani’s other conciliatory gestures — might well have been interpreted that way, American officials said. “Every leader has his or her own politics,” the senior official said. “That’s certainly the case with President Rouhani.”
In his speech, the official noted, Mr. Obama repeated his vow never to allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. He also said Americans viewed Iran as a country that declared the United States an enemy, and has killed and injured Americans, either directly or through proxies.
There was a sense of history repeating itself at the United Nations. In September 2000, President Bill Clinton asked his aides to try to engineer an impromptu encounter with Iran’s then-President Mohammad Khatami — like Mr. Rouhani, a moderate. After much discussion about logistics, Mr. Khatami declined the offer.
A former senior adviser to Mr. Clinton, Bruce O. Riedel, said the Americans concluded that Mr. Khatami was not willing to take the political risk that would have come from a meeting with the president. Mr. Khatami’s political position in Iran was arguably weaker than Mr. Rouhani’s today.
White House officials said they were not worried that Mr. Rouhani might deliver a less than conciliatory speech after greeting Mr. Obama. His indirect criticisms of the United States and Israel, they said, were no surprise, and in any event, they said, Mr. Obama did not view meeting the heads of even adversarial countries as a concession.
“The very fact that they were unwilling to go forward with it demonstrates that they were the ones who had discomfort with it in terms of dealing with their own complexities back home,” the senior official said.
***************Binyamin Netanyahu writes off Iran president's nuclear speech as a ploy
Israeli prime minister says the world should not be taken in by Hassan Rouhani's less confrontational approach at the UN
Joel Greenberg in Jerusalem
theguardian.com, Wednesday 25 September 2013 07.01 BST
Benjamin Netanyahu: defended walkout. Binyamin Netanyahu: defended walkout. Photograph: Getty Images
The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has dismissed the UN speech of the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, as a cynical public relations ploy that presented a false picture of Iran’s nuclear programme.
Netanyahu, who is to address the UN general assembly next week, said Rouhani's speech “lacked both any practical proposal to stop Iran's military nuclear programme and any commitment to fulfil UN security council decisions”.
“This is exactly Iran's strategy – to talk and play for time in order to advance its ability to achieve nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said in a statement released by his office. “The international community must test Iran not by its words but by its actions."
The Israeli delegation walked out of Rouhani's speech, and Israel's minister for strategic and intelligence affairs, Yuval Steinitz, called his rhetoric a "game of deception", Associated Press reported.
"Rouhani came here today in order to cheat the world," Steinitz told reporters after the speech. "And unfortunately many people are willing to be cheated."
Explaining the walkout, Netanyahu said that “as the prime minister of Israel, the state of the Jewish people, I could not allow the Israeli delegation to be part of a cynical public relations ploy by a regime that denies the Holocaust and calls for our destruction".
In an earlier statement on Tuesday, Netanyahu said he appreciated the remarks of the US president, Barack Obama, at the general assembly that "Iran's conciliatory words will have to be matched by action that is transparent and verifiable".
"Israel would welcome a genuine diplomatic solution that truly dismantles Iran's capacity to develop nuclear weapons," Netanyahu said. "But we will not be fooled by half-measures that merely provide a smokescreen for Iran's continual pursuit of nuclear weapons. And the world should not be fooled either."
************Israeli boycott of Rouhani UN speech 'a mistake', says finance minister
Yair Lapid attacks PM Binyamin Netanyahu's instruction to Israeli delegation to leave during President Rouhani's address
Associated Press in Jerusalem
theguardian.com, Wednesday 25 September 2013 12.47 BST
A senior Israeli minister has criticised Binyamin Netanyahu's instruction to Israel's UN delegation to boycott the Iranian president's speech at the general assembly, saying it created the impression that Israel was not interested in encouraging a peaceful solution to Iran's suspected nuclear programme.
In a text message statement sent to reporters on Wednesday, finance minister Yair Lapid described Netanyahu's instruction to Israeli delegates to leave during the speech as a "mistake".
"Israel should not seem as if it is serially opposed to negotiations and as a country that is uninterested in peaceful solutions," said Lapid, whose centrist Yesh Atid party went into coalition with Netanyahu's Likud in March. "Leaving the UN general assembly and boycotting is irrelevant in current diplomacy, and is reminiscent of the way Arab countries have acted toward Israel."
Israel believes Iran is trying to develop a nuclear bomb, and Netanyahu has voiced scepticism at recent moderate gestures by the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, whom he has called "a wolf in sheep's clothing". Israeli officials fear Rouhani's outreach to the west could lead to an easing of international pressure on the country.
Netanyahu has explained why he instructed Israel's delegation to boycott Rouhani's speech.
"As the prime minister of Israel, the state of the Jewish people, I could not allow the Israeli delegation to be part of a cynical public relations ploy by a regime that denies the Holocaust and calls for our destruction," he said.
The Iranian leader said in his speech that he was ready to restart negotiations over his country's nuclear programme and called for moderation.
Netanyahu said Rouhani's address was filled with "hypocrisy" and that the world must keep up the pressure on Tehran.
An Israeli government official said Netanyahu believed optimism in the west about Iran's stated willingness to restart negotiations over its nuclear programme was similar to the euphoria expressed at the beginning of the wave of uprisings in Arab countries nearly three years ago.
"At the beginning of the Arab spring, Netanyahu said it could go in a good or a bad direction, and people accused him of being a dinosaur, accused him of ignoring the new hope. Of course those detractors now agree that his assessments are connected to reality," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak about the matter to the media.
"He is not afraid to stand up to conventional wisdom when convinced that his assessment is correct," the official said. "He sees this as a moral obligation."
*************Iran’s new president tells CNN: the Holocaust was ‘reprehensible and contemptible’
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, September 24, 2013 22:28 EDT
Iranian President Hassan Rowhani on Tuesday condemned the Holocaust as “reprehensible” in a new sign of a radical change by the Tehran government.
“Any crime that happens in history against humanity, including the crime the Nazis created toward the Jews, is reprehensible and condemnable,” the newly elected leader told CNN in an interview.
“Whatever criminality they committed against the Jews we condemn. The taking of human life is contemptible,” he said, according to the US broadcaster’s translation.
“It makes no difference whether that life is Christian, Jewish or Muslim. For us it is the same,” added Rowhani, who gave his first speech at the United Nations General Assembly earlier Tuesday.
However, the president also implicitly criticized the creation of Israel, an arch enemy of Iran’s clerical regime, as a Jewish homeland.
The Holocaust “doesn’t mean you can say Nazis committed crimes against a group so they must usurp the land of another group and occupy it,” he said.
Rowhani was elected in June to succeed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was a strident critic of Israel and questioned the Holocaust.
Ahmadinejad’s remarks infuriated Israel, which has not ruled out military force against Iran’s disputed nuclear program. The clerical state insists that its sensitive nuclear work is for peaceful purposes.
September 24, 2013
Obama Defends U.S. Engagement in the Middle East
By MARK LANDLER
UNITED NATIONS — President Obama on Tuesday laid down a retooled blueprint for America’s role in the strife-torn Middle East, declaring that the United States would use all of its levers of power, including military force, to defend its interests, even as it accepted limits on its ability to influence events in Syria, Iran and other countries.
In a wide-ranging speech to the General Assembly that played off rapid-fire diplomatic developments but also sought to define what he called a “hard-earned humility” about American engagement after 12 years of war, Mr. Obama insisted that the United States still played an “exceptional” role on the world stage. Turning inward, he said, “would create a vacuum of leadership that no other nation is ready to fill.”
Mr. Obama embraced a diplomatic opening to Iran, saying he had instructed Secretary of State John Kerry to begin high-level negotiations on its nuclear program. He called on the Security Council to pass a resolution that would impose consequences on Syria if it failed to turn over its chemicals weapons.
And he delivered a pitch for peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, talks that have restarted at the prodding of Mr. Kerry.
Hours later, Iran’s newly elected president, Hassan Rouhani, echoed the call for diplomacy, telling the General Assembly that “we can arrive at a framework to manage our differences.” But Mr. Rouhani said Iran would insist on its right to enrich uranium, and he warned Mr. Obama to resist influence from “warmongering pressure groups.”
Mr. Rouhani, who had mounted an aggressive charm offensive in the weeks before arriving in New York, also declined a chance to shake hands with Mr. Obama — avoiding a much-anticipated encounter that would have bridged more than three decades of estrangement between the leaders of Iran and the United States.
In their speeches, both leaders balanced their ideals as statesmen with their imperatives as politicians. But for Mr. Rouhani, a handshake may have proved too provocative for hard-line constituencies back home. At the end of a day of drama and dashed expectations at the United Nations, the spotlight swung back to the grinding work of diplomacy that awaits both nations.
In the morning, it was a somewhat diminished American leader who faced a skeptical audience of world leaders here. After first threatening, then backing off, a military strike against Syria, and now suddenly confronting a diplomatic opening with Iran, Mr. Obama has employed a foreign policy that has at times seemed improvisational and, in the view of many critics, irresolute.
The president acknowledged as much, saying his zigzag course on military strikes had unnerved some allies and vindicated the cynicism of many in the Middle East about American motives in the region. But he said the bigger threat would be if America withdrew altogether.
“The danger for the world is that the United States, after a decade of war, rightly concerned about issues back home, and aware of the hostility that our engagement in the region has engendered throughout the Muslim world, may disengage,” Mr. Obama said. “I believe that would be a mistake.”
Despite a war-weary public and its declining reliance on Middle Eastern oil, the United States would continue to be an active player in the region, Mr. Obama insisted, defending its interests; advocating for democratic principles; working to resolve sectarian conflicts in countries like Iraq, Syria and Bahrain; and, if necessary, intervening militarily with other countries to head off humanitarian tragedies.
“We will be engaged in the region for the long haul,” Mr. Obama said in the 40-minute address. “For the hard work of forging freedom and democracy is the task of a generation.”
For a president who has sought to refocus American foreign policy on Asia, it was a significant concession that the Middle East is likely to remain a major preoccupation for the rest of his term, if not that of his successor. Mr. Obama mentioned Asia only once, as an exemplar of the kind of economic development that has eluded the Arab world.
Much of Mr. Obama’s focus was on the sudden, even disorienting flurry of diplomatic developments that began after he pulled back from the brink of ordering a strike on Syria last month. He said Iran’s overtures could provide a foundation for an agreement on its nuclear program, but he warned that “conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable.”
Referring to the moderate statements of Mr. Rouhani, and an exchange of letters with him, Mr. Obama sounded a cautiously optimistic tone about diplomacy. “The roadblocks may prove to be too great,” he added, “but I firmly believe the diplomatic path must be tested.”
Similarly, Mr. Obama pushed negotiations at the Security Council on a Russian plan to transfer and eventually destroy President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons. But he faulted Russian and Iran for their support of Mr. Assad, saying it would further radicalize Syria. And he claimed it was only the American threat of military action against Syria that had set in motion these diplomatic efforts.
“Without a credible military threat, the Security Council had demonstrated no inclination to act at all,” the president said. “If we cannot agree even on this, then it will show that the U.N. is incapable of enforcing the most basic of international laws.”
The president spoke immediately after Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, delivered a blistering denunciation of the United States over reports that the National Security Agency monitored e-mails, text messages and other electronic communications between Ms. Rousseff and her aides. Last week, Ms. Rousseff canceled a state visit to Washington to signal her displeasure with the N.S.A. surveillance, the most significant diplomatic fallout from revelations that have also strained relations with other allies, like Mexico and Germany.
Mr. Obama took note of these grievances, saying the United States was rethinking its surveillance activities as part of a broader recalculation that included restricting the use of drones, and transferring prisoners out of the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and ultimately shutting it down. His words echoed a speech he delivered last spring on the need for the United States to get off “perpetual war footing.”
“Just as we reviewed how we deploy our extraordinary military capabilities in a way that lives up to our ideals,” the president said, “we have begun to review the way that we gather intelligence, so as to properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies, with the privacy concerns that all people share.”
Mr. Obama reaffirmed his support for another perennial American project: bringing Israelis and Palestinians together. With talks starting again between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and the Palestinian Authority leader, Mahmoud Abbas, Mr. Obama appealed for support.
“The time is now ripe for the entire international community to get behind the pursuit of peace,” he said. “Already, Israeli and Palestinian leaders have demonstrated a willingness to take significant political risks.”
Mr. Obama also sent a warning to Egypt’s military-backed government that it would lose American support if it continued to crack down on civil society. His message was viewed positively by the Egyptian state news media, despite the criticism, because they claimed he credited the government with taking steps toward democracy.
“We will continue support in areas like education that benefit the Egyptian people,” he said. “But we have not proceeded with the delivery of certain military systems, and our support will depend upon Egypt’s progress in pursuing a democratic path.”
For all his caveats, Mr. Obama left no doubt that the United States would use its political, economic and, if necessary, military power in the Middle East. Acknowledging that his position on Syria had prompted uneasiness in the region, he insisted that the United States would still act to protect its interests.
The president also issued a fervent call for countries to intervene when necessary — as the United States did in Libya, but conspicuously did not do in Syria.
“Sovereignty cannot be a shield for tyrants to commit wanton murder, or an excuse for the international community to turn a blind eye to slaughter,” he said.
Reporting was contributed by Somini Sengupta from the United Nations, Michael R. Gordon and Rick Gladstone from New York, and David D. Kirkpatrick from Cairo.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: September 24, 2013
An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of former President Jimmy Carter’s wife. She is Rosalynn Carter, not Rosalyn.
09/25/2013 11:19 AM
Afghan Warlord: 'The West Must Give Us Our Weapons Back'
By Christian Neef
Once, he was the Lion of Herat. Now Ismail Khan is a minister in the government of Afghan president Hamid Karzai. In an interview, he calls for the West to rearm the tribal militias to prevent a civil war once NATO forces leave the country.
Though NATO claims it will be leaving behind a pacified Afghanistan when it withdraws its troops next year, there are already increasing signs that the former mujahedeen are reactivating their militias. The mujahedeen were the main military force that resisted the Soviet occupiers and the communist Najibullah regime -- and later fought the Taliban. Their leaders, who represented diverse ethnic groups, were popular but also often notorious for their ruthlessness. Now, the mujahedeen want to arm their militias for renewed fighting and a possible civil war.
The mujahedeen feel the Afghan army is incapable of providing security in the country after NATO's withdrawal. Despite the West's efforts to nurture this fledgling military force, over the past three years one out of every three soldiers has deserted -- a total of 63,000 men.
Even leading politicians in Kabul -- including the country's vice president, Marshall Mohammed Fahim, who is himself a former warlord -- are predicting that the mujahedeen will make a comeback in 2014. Ahmed Zia Massoud, the brother of legendary mujahedeen commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, publicly proclaims that his supporters are in the process of rearming themselves.
Furthermore, Ismail Khan, 65, a leader of Afghanistan's Tajiks, warns in a SPIEGEL ONLINE interview that the Afghan army trained by the West will never be capable of ensuring the country's long-term security. Khan, who once ranked among the country's most powerful warlords, comes from the western province of Herat, which remains his stronghold. He was the provincial governor there until 2004, and is currently the minister for water and energy in Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Minister, at a rally in Herat you urged your supporters to form new militias, recruit new members and restore the former combat structures of the mujahedeen in time for NATO's withdrawal. What are you afraid will happen next year?
Khan: I told my Muslim brothers in Herat: You and your people must do everything possible in the villages to prevent the return of the Taliban after the withdrawal of Western troops. You should support the police and the army, and when the state proves to be weak, you should help it. For me and all of the former mujahedeen -- who valiantly fought against the Soviet occupation, the Najibullah regime and then the Taliban -- the main concern is security in the event that our country again plunges into crisis.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: In other words, you intend to take up arms yourselves, if necessary, because you have no confidence in the Afghan army, which has been trained by the West.
Khan: What good is this army? It has only been provided with rifles. The attacks by the Taliban are increasing, and 2013 has been the bloodiest year to date in Afghanistan. Do you recall the 2001 Afghanistan conference in Bonn, a few weeks after the fall of the Taliban? At the time, the West was convinced that the new Afghan army needed no more than 70,000 troops to restore calm to the country -- that number was far too low! What a huge mistake! The Taliban was able to reorganize before the West realized that the army, together with the other security forces, had to be bolstered to 350,000 men. The Taliban have returned to their villages in the Afghan provinces -- they have taken advantage of the mistakes made by the West.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What other mistakes have been made?
Khan: The arrogant Americans drove the most important Taliban out of Kabul, bombed the rest from the air and then ended the war. They ignored us, the experienced mujahedeen. They wanted to rapidly achieve their goal, just like the Russians before them. Only 20 days after the fall of Kabul, the leaders of the resistance against the Taliban were invited to the presidential palace where we were told: You are no longer emirs or commanders, you are warlords -- and you have to hand over your weapons. We had good weapons, including aircraft and artillery. But they gathered our tanks and artillery and took them to the scrap yards. Go to Kandahar, Herat and Mazar. Even today, the tanks are piled up in stacks of three. And when the Americans formed the coalition government in Kabul they simply "forgot" us, the leaders of the people -- despite the fact that over the preceding years the West had so desperately needed us in the fight against the Soviets, al-Qaida and the Taliban.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you feel that you have been ignored by the West?
Khan: I told the Americans at the time that "emir" and "commander" are titles that the people have given us. We have 20 years of combat experience, and there is not a single family among us that has not lost at least one member during the war years or had to go into exile abroad. Do you really want to ignore us?
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you think the Taliban is likely to return after NATO has withdrawn?
Khan: The Taliban will not rest until they have regained control over all of Afghanistan. What's the point of negotiating with them? We defeated the superpower Soviet Union in our jihad; we can also ensure Afghanistan's future security. But to accomplish this we need our weapons back.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: But the West has destroyed them, as you say.
Khan: Then we need an appropriate replacement for these weapons. The West is in the process of destroying armaments worth $7 billion (€5.2 billion) that it cannot take along when it withdraws from Afghanistan. Why doesn't it give us this military hardware?
SPIEGEL ONLINE: American four-star General John Allen, who was the commander of the ISAF troops in Afghanistan until last February, complained about you to President Karzai. Karzai announced that your statements in Herat had "nothing to do with the government's policies." An Afghan senator said that people like you now smell blood and see the withdrawal of Western troops as "an opportunity to rekindle the civil war and eliminate local rivals."
Khan: One letter? There were two. Karzai showed them to me. And I said to him: It's a good thing that someone like Allen realizes what kinds of people we have here.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: You are a member of the government. You have to weigh your words more than others do.
Khan: I didn't join this cabinet voluntarily. They forced me.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: … when you became too powerful as the governor of Herat and Karzai decided that he would rather keep you close and under control. When you look back over the past 12 years in which the international community has been in Afghanistan, what do you think has been accomplished?
Khan: I am a friend of the West. It has done a great deal for us over the past years. But no matter how many troops they stationed here in Afghanistan, they never would have given us real security. The history of Afghanistan shows that this country has always been at war, and the presence of foreign forces has tended to add to the unrest. The Afghans have to take their fate into their own hands. A forced friendship cannot last.
Interview conducted by Christian Neef
India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
September 24, 2013, 11:09 am
Political Battles Intensify in Andhra Pradesh After Jailed Politician Gets Bail
By SRIRAM KARRI
HYDERABAD, Andhra Pradesh— Massive crowds gathered in Hyderabad, the capital of the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, to welcome Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy, a leading politician of the state, who was released from a local prison on bail on Tuesday. Mr. Reddy, who founded the Y.S.R. Congress Party in 2009, spent 485 days in prison after being arrested over corruption charges. A court of India’s premier federal investigative agency, Central Bureau of Investigation (C.B.I.) granted him bail Monday after being ordered by the Supreme Court of India.
Mr. Reddy’s release is a significant event in the politics of the state. Elections for the state legislature and the lower house of the Indian parliament are expected in 2014.
India’s ruling Congress Party won 33 and 29 out of 42 parliamentary seats in the national elections of 2009 and 2004 in Andhra Pradesh respectively. The embattled Congress Party desperately needs to win in the 2014 national elections in the state, if it has to have any chance to form the federal government.
Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy, the state chief minister and the man who won the May 2009 elections for the Congress Party in the state, died in a September 2009 helicopter crash. Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy, who was released from prison Tuesday, is the deceased chief minister’s son. Mr. Reddy broke ranks with his father’s party and founded his own Y.S.R. Congress party, after the Congress leadership refused to offer him the post of the chief minister in his father’s place. Analysts see the influence of the Congress Party behind Mr. Reddy’s arrest and release.
To ensure maximum electoral benefits, on July 30, the Congress-led federal government lent its support to the old demand to bifurcate the existing state and create a separate state for Telangana region, where the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (T.R.S.) party had led a separatist agitation. By putting its weight behind the creation of a separate Telangana, the Congress Party ensured that the T.R.S. would either support it in the forthcoming elections or merge with it.
In the Seemandhra region, where people oppose the division of Andhra Pradesh, protests have continued for more than a month against the federal government’s decision. The people of the Seemandhra region fear the loss of the capital Hyderabad to the new state of Telangana. Millions of residents of Seemandhra have migrated to Hyderabad to benefit from the economic boom in the city.
“Congress has a clear game plan to maximize its seats in Andhra Pradesh using Telangana and Jagan Reddy as issues in the two regions,” said Sanjaya Baru, political analyst and former media adviser to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. “Congress now hopes to win in Telangana with the help of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (T.R.S.) over the Telangana issue. In Seemandhra, it hopes that Jagan Reddy, with whom they have stuck a secret deal, will win for it in proxy, by publicly opposing Telangana. Jagan Reddy will support Congress after the elections,” said Mr. Baru.
Mr. Reddy’s Y.S.R. Congress party won a spectacular slew of by-elections caused by the resignation of his mother and other Congress Party lawmakers in the state legislature loyal to his family. In his own election to the lower house of the Indian parliament, Mr. Reddy got an overwhelmingly large number of votes in comparison to his opponents—a sign of his popularity, which caused considerable anxiety to the Congress Party. The Congress-led federal government ordered an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation into corruption cases against Mr. Reddy and had him arrested.
N. Chandrababu Naidu, the former chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, who leads the Telugu Desam Party, accused Mr. Reddy of amassing over Rs. 100,000 crore, or $20 billion through graft. “It is a test-case for democracy that a person who has looted the public exchequer on this scale is being helped by the Congress to escape the law,” said Mr. Naidu, who believes Mr. Reddy was released after he struck a deal with the Congress Party.
Bharathi Reddy, Mr. Reddy’s wife, refuted having made any deal with the Congress Party. “Why would we see him in jail for nearly 16 months and then make a deal with Sonia Gandhi,” she said. “Y.S.R. Congress will sweep the upcoming elections because we have openly opposed Telangana and are fighting for a united Andhra Pradesh.”
Mr. Reddy’s release will energize the Y.S.R. Congress. His opposition to the creation of Telangana and the sympathy generated by his time in prison, which was perceived as punishment for his rebellion against the Congress Party, will help his electoral prospects.
The prospect of rapprochement between the ruling Congress Party and Mr. Reddy’s Y.S.R. Congress has pushed his competitor, Telugu Desam Party toward the national opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party. “The Congress has put the country and the state in peril. We have to rise to give an alternative, as we have historically done, helping create non-Congress central governments in 1989, 1995 and 1998. We will keep all options open to defeat the Congress game plan,” said Mr. Naidu.
Sriram Karri is a freelance journalist based in Hyderabad.
September 24, 2013
China Bans Items for Export to North Korea, Fearing Their Use in Weapons
By JANE PERLEZ
BEIJING — In a sign of growing concern about North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, China published a long list on Tuesday of equipment and chemical substances to be banned from export to North Korea for fear they could be used in adding to its increasingly sophisticated nuclear weapons programs.
If put into place, the export controls would be some of the strongest steps taken by China, the North’s closest ally, to try to limit the country’s nuclear programs. The announcement indicates that China is now following through on some United Nations Security Council sanctions it approved months ago, according to a noted American arms expert.
The list of banned items was released amid a flurry of reports suggesting that North Korea is accelerating its two nuclear weapons programs. Two weeks ago, new satellite photographs showed that North Korea might be resuming production of plutonium at its newly reconstructed nuclear reactor at Yongbyon. And this week, two American arms experts reported that North Korea appeared to have learned to produce its own crucial components for uranium enrichment.
The move also comes less than a week after China made an unsuccessful attempt to revive talks aimed at persuading the North to give up its nuclear capabilities. The United States continues to resist restarting the talks, which North Korea has used in the past to extract concessions without making long-term changes to its nuclear program.
“The release of the new export control list is a signal China is concerned about the speeding up of weaponization” of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities, said Zhu Feng, the deputy director of the Center for International and Strategic Studies at Beijing University, who called the move “very important.” In particular, he said, the Chinese are concerned about resumption of plutonium production at the Yongbyon complex, the centerpiece of North Korea’s nuclear program.
Another Chinese expert on North Korea, who declined to be identified because of his position in the government, said the publication of the list “says that China is increasingly unsatisfied with North Korea’s actions.”
“This is one of the practical actions to show it,” he said.
Both plutonium and highly enriched uranium can be used in nuclear bombs, but analysts say the North’s plutonium program is much further along. At least two of the three bombs the country has tested used plutonium.
China has long resisted punishing North Korea for its nuclear programs, but has appeared increasingly frustrated as the North’s young leader, Kim Jong-un, has appeared to ignore Chinese pleas for moderation. China agreed to the United Nations sanctions after the North conducted a nuclear test this year over Chinese objections.
The North responded to the sanctions with months of nuclear threats against South Korea and the United States, which, analysts say, ended only after China exerted strong pressure, apparently fearful of instability that could harm its economic progress.
David Albright, the American expert who said China was now implementing the United Nations sanctions passed in March, added that the Chinese ban “will help, since North Korea procures so much from China.” Mr. Albright, the president of the Institute for Science and International Security, added that China could take additional measures to “dramatically increase the inspection of goods into North Korea by road and rail.”
China has moved before to stop the export of other technologies that could be used in nuclear programs, including missile technology, though it did not single out any countries when it did so.
The items on the list China released Tuesday were called “dual-use technologies” because they can be used for either civilian or military purposes, and they included items that could be used to build more chemical weapons and to make biological weapons.
Banned items include Ebola, a virus that can be used for medical research as well as a biological weapon; nickel powder; radium; flash X-ray generators; and microwave antennas designed to accelerate ions. China’s Commerce Ministry, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the General Administration of Customs, and the Atomic Energy Authority jointly published the list.
In a statement, the Ministry of Commerce said the items in the 236-page document were prohibited from being sent to North Korea because “the dual-use products and technologies delineated in this list have uses in weapons of mass destruction.”
China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, who hosted the conference in Beijing last week on nuclear talks, said the time had come to resume the negotiations. And the first vice foreign minister of North Korea, Kim Kye-gwan, who attended the gathering, said North Korea was ready to talk without conditions, a standard phrase from the North Koreans for some time now.
But the Obama administration has said it sees no sign that the North Korean government is serious about reducing its nuclear program. Instead, the United States says, North Korea appears to be increasing its nuclear activities.
On those grounds, the administration said it was not interested in participating in renewed talks unless North Korea first took concrete steps to dismantle its facilities. Washington declined to send a senior official to the conference here last week, instead sending a diplomat from the United States Embassy.
In remarks at the conference, a former senior State Department official and an expert on North Korea, Evans J. R. Revere, whose presence was approved by the administration, said North Korea was “further away than ever from the goal of denuclearization.”
Mr. Revere said North Korea had “declared itself a nuclear power, revealed to the world that it has not just one but two programs to produce fissile material, confirmed that it is developing strategic rocket forces for the delivery of nuclear weapons, and sworn that it will never give up its nuclear weapons ‘even in a dream.’ ”
Bree Feng contributed research.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: September 24, 2013
An earlier version of this article misstated the year that six-party negotiations aimed at getting North Korea to give up its nuclear program began. The talks started in 2003, not 1999.
Chinese police chief suspended after online storm over teenager's detention
Web users incensed by arrest of Yang Hui as crackdown on internet freedom digs up court documents accusing police chief of giving bribes
Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing
theguardian.com, Tuesday 24 September 2013 15.59 BST
Authorities in north-west China have suspended a county police chief who oversaw the detention of a teenage boy last week for posting "online rumours", in an unexpected twist to one of the most high-profile cases to emerge from a nationwide crackdown on internet freedom. Yang Hui, a 16-year-old student in Zhangjiachuan county, Gansu province, was arrested after posting messages castigating local police for their handling of a murder case.
The authorities accused him of "spreading rumours, inciting mass demonstrations and seriously obstructing social order". He was released on Monday after seven days in custody.
Chinese web users were incensed by the arrest; in retaliation, some began exploring the backgrounds of county officials. They criticised party chief Liu Changjiang for wearing luxury watches which, as a public servant, should have been beyond his means. One uncovered old court documents accusing police chief Bai Yongqiang of giving 50,000 yuan (£5,111) in bribes to his former boss between 1995 and 2005. Bai has since been suspended, according to a Monday night post on the county government's website.
While the Chinese state newswire Xinhua said Bai's suspension was unrelated to the boy's arrest, experts say the intense public scrutiny may have played a role in his release. "This kind of thing places a lot of pressure on the local government," said Xu Xin, a law professor at the Beijing University of Technology who gave Yang pro bono legal counsel. "Public opinion is really important here." On Tuesday afternoon, the county government's phone line was disconnected.
China launched a severe crackdown on what it calls "online rumours" this summer in an effort to rein in the country's freewheeling online communities. China's microblogging websites have more than 500 million users, and a growing number have been using the sites to expose corrupt officials and criticise controversial policies. Dozens of prominent activists, political commentators and even celebrities have been detained in recent weeks, including prominent human rights lawyer Xu Zhiyong and Charles Xue, a venture capitalist with 12 million followers.
Yang was among the first victims of a new "judicial interpretation", announced this month, which endorses jail sentences of up to three years for users who write "defamatory" posts that are forwarded more than 500 times. "Arresting somebody for spreading rumours on the internet, that doesn't surprise me much at all," said Xu. "But to arrest a child, I found that astonishing."
The chain of events leading to Yang's arrest are hazy. On 12 September, the manager of a local karaoke bar was found dead on the pavement near his club; local police quickly labelled the death a suicide.
Yang spoke to the dead man's family and, over the next few days, posted a series of notes to his microblog accusing the police of covering up a murder. He said the club owner was an employee of the local courthouse, and police tried to silence his family members by beating them. The posts briefly went viral before censors took them down.
After his release on Monday, the bespectacled teenager posted a photo of himself to Sina Weibo, China's most popular microblog, in a sweater which reads "make the change". His right hand is raised in a victory sign. "Today I formally returned to my third-year middle school studies," he wrote on Tuesday afternoon. "Everything that you internet friends have said will be forever engraved on my heart."
China blocks overseas websites which it deems politically sensitive, such as Facebook, Twitter, and the New York Times. Yet authorities may make an exception for a forthcoming free trade zone in Shanghai, the Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post reported on Tuesday, citing anonymous government sources.
The zone will span a 28.8 sq km swath of the city's Pudong district and will abide by a set of still-unknown economic policies meant to attract foreign investment. It is due to open later this month. "In order to welcome foreign companies to invest and to let foreigners live and work happily in the free trade zone, we must think about how we can make them feel at home," the paper quoted an official as saying.
Indonesian police open fire on civilians in West Papua
Catholic brother says one person was killed and two injured when police shot at villagers who refused to cut hair and beards
theguardian.com, Wednesday 25 September 2013 09.40 BST
One person is said to have been killed and at least two others injured on Monday when Indonesian riot police opened fire on civilians in Waghete, West Papua.
Spokesperson for the Papuan provincial police Sulistyo Pudjo told Guardian Australia that the shooting occurred when police tried to disperse a mob that was attacking them.
"There were provocateurs who were throwing rocks at the police and military. One military person was wounded," he said.
However, according to Father Santon Tekege, a Catholic brother who lives in the capital Jayapura but hails from the remote village in West Papua's Deiyai regency, the victims were targeted because they refused to cut their long hair and beards during a random police search operation.
Tekege told Guardian Australia that the Indonesian police's mobile brigade (Brimob) was carrying out a "sweeping" operation at the local market on Monday when the incident occurred.
"Brimob had scissors to cut people's long hair and beards," Tekege said. "The police always stigmatise those with long hair, dreadlocks and long beards as being separatists."
West Papuans have been agitating for independence from Indonesia since the province was acquired with a sham ballot in 1969.
"[The police] were also sweeping for nukens (traditional dillybags) that had designs of the Morning Star flag or had 'Papua' written on them," Tekege said. "Mobile phones were confiscated and Brimob was checking the songs on people's mobile phones."
When locals refused to comply with police they were shot, he said.
Alpius Mote, 20, was killed, another was seriously injured, and a third person shot in the arm, according to Tekege. He said police also arrested two people, one of whom had since been released.
Pudjo confirmed a shooting had occurred and that people were arrested, but denied the unrest began as an argument over long hair.
"Market day must have security and it just so happened there were lots of drunken people there and people gambling. Our officers reminded them not to get drunk at the market or they would disturb the traders.
"The people besieged the police and army," he said.
After the incident, Tekege said the regional government "put out a letter to the citizens urging them to be calm and not to carry out actions in retaliation".
When Guardian Australia spoke to him on Tuesday, he said: "Today things are still tense. Community members are at their offices as usual but civilians are scared to go out from their homes because Brimob, soldiers and police are still on number one [maximum] alert.
"All activities at the local community markets have stopped. They are still guarding the area."
Benny Giay, the moderator of West Papua's Kingmi Church who has family in Waghete, told Guardian Australia from Jayapura: "[The Indonesian authorities] think that Papuans who have long hair are uncivilised so they go around and try to cut their hair. They did this in the 1980s as well.
"The man who was killed [on Monday] tried to raise his objections and he got shot. It was the actions of the police [that started the unrest] – they were going around with big scissors and cutting hair. If there was [a riot] it was a response to what the police were doing," he said.
Brazil’s president tells the United Nations: NSA spying violates international law
By Julian Borger, The Guardian
Tuesday, September 24, 2013 11:04 EDT
Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, has launched a blistering attack on US espionage at the UN general assembly, accusing the NSA of violating international law by its indiscriminate collection of personal information of Brazilian citizens and economic espionage targeted on the country’s strategic industries.
Rousseff’s angry speech was a direct challenge to President Barack Obama, who was waiting in the wings to deliver his own address to the UN general assembly, and represented the most serious diplomatic fallout to date from the revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Rousseff had already put off a planned visit to Washington in protest at US spying, after NSA documents leaked by Snowden revealed that the US electronic eavesdropping agency had monitored the Brazilian president’s phone calls, as well as Brazilian embassies and spied on the state oil corporation, Petrobras.
“Personal data of citizens was intercepted indiscriminately. Corporate information – often of high economic and even strategic value – was at the centre of espionage activity.
Also, Brazilian diplomatic missions, among them the permanent mission to the UN and the office of the president of the republic itself, had their communications intercepted,” Rousseff said, in a global rallying cry against what she portrayed as the overweening power of the US security apparatus.
“Tampering in such a manner in the affairs of other countries is a breach of international law and is an affront of the principles that must guide the relations among them, especially among friendly nations. A sovereign nation can never establish itself to the detriment of another sovereign nation. The right to safety of citizens of one country can never be guaranteed by violating fundamental human rights of citizens of another country.”
Washington’s efforts to smooth over Brazilian outrage over NSA espionage have so far been rebuffed by Rousseff, who has proposed that Brazilian build its own internet infrastructure.
“Friendly governments and societies that seek to build a true strategic partnership, as in our case, cannot allow recurring illegal actions to take place as if they were normal. They are unacceptable,” she said.
“The arguments that the illegal interception of information and data aims at protecting nations against terrorism cannot be sustained. Brazil, Mr President, knows how to protect itself. We reject, fight and do not harbour terrorist groups,” Rousseff said.
“As many other Latin Americans, I fought against authoritarianism and censorship and I cannot but defend, in an uncompromising fashion, the right to privacy of individuals and the sovereignty of my country,” the Brazilian president said. She was imprisoned and tortured for her role in a guerilla movement opposed to Brazil’s military dictatorship in the 1970s.
“In the absence of the right to privacy, there can be no true freedom of expression and opinion, and therefore no effective democracy. In the absence of the respect for sovereignty, there is no basis for the relationship among nations.”
Rousseff called on the UN oversee a new global legal system to govern the internet. She said such multilateral mechanisms should guarantee the “freedom of expression, privacy of the individual and respect for human rights” and the “neutrality of the network, guided only by technical and ethical criteria, rendering it inadmissible to restrict it for political, commercial, religious or any other purposes.
“The time is ripe to create the conditions to prevent cyberspace from being used as a weapon of war, through espionage, sabotage and attacks against systems and infrastructure of other countries,” the Brazilian president said.
As host to the UN headquarters, the US has been attacked from the general assembly many times in the past, but what made Rousseff’s denunciation all the more painful diplomatically was the fact that it was delivered on behalf of large, increasingly powerful and historically friendly state.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
Brazilian district bans sales of toy guns to ‘change the culture of violence’
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, September 24, 2013 19:50 EDT
A Brazilian territory is believed to have become the first region in Latin America to ban the sale of toy guns as the country attempts to staunch an epidemic of firearm-related crime.
The Federal District, which encompasses the country’s capital Brasilia and various satellite towns, launched the initiative as Brazil moved to tackle its murder rate.
“To change the culture of violence we must begin from childhood. Our sons will start understanding what is often repeated, that guns are not toys,” said Alirio Neto, the federal secretary’s justice secretary.
With a population of more than 200 million, Brazil recorded 43,000 violent deaths last year, 73 percent from firearms, he noted.
“Violence in Brazil is becoming like a war,” complained Valeria de Velasco, an official dealing with victims of violence in Brasilia.
The initiative to ban the sale and manufacture of toy guns was part of a government program to protect victims of violence, said to be unique in Latin America.
The program launched a campaign against such toys in Ceilandia, the most violent city within the Federal District.
Children were asked to turn over their toy guns in exchange for a book.
Local authorities set a four-month deadline and provided trade incentives to stores saddled with stocks of toy guns they can no longer sell.
In 2005, the government of then president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (2003-2010) called a referendum to ban the sale of firearms nationwide, but 64 percent voted against.
Since a voluntary disarmament campaign went into effect in 2004, authorities have removed more than more than 600,000 firearms from circulation nationwide.
[Image: "Little Girl Having Fun In A Camouflage Soldier's Outfit While Shooting A Toy Machine Gun" via Shutterstock]
Westgate mall siege over, declares defiant Kenyatta
Kenyan president defiant after siege and announces three days of mourning for 67 killed in al-Shabaab attack on Westgate mall
Afua Hirsch in Nairobi
The Guardian, Wednesday 25 September 2013
The four-day siege at Kenya's Westgate shopping mall is over, the country's president declared on Tuesday night in a statement of defiance against the terrorist threat to the east African nation.
"We have ashamed and defeated our attackers," President Uhuru Kenyatta said in a televised address. "That part of our task has been completed by our multi-agency security team … Kenya has stared down evil and triumphed."
Declaring three days of mourning, Kenyatta said the nation had experienced "immense" losses and praised the solidarity of Kenyans in response to the attack.
Kenyatta said that 61 civilians and six members of the security forces had been killed, with 62 injured. Towards the end of the operation, three floors of the complex collapsed and some bodies – including those of terrorists – remained in the rubble, he said.
"I promise that we shall have full accountability for the mindless destruction, deaths, pain, loss and suffering we have all undergone as a national family. These cowards will meet justice, as will their accomplices, wherever they are."
But while he said "the worst" of the crisis was now over, it was unclear whether Kenyan security forces had finally accounted for all the militants after four days of explosions and gunfire.
Kenyatta also failed to quell intense speculation that a British woman and several Americans may have been among the attackers, saying the information could not be confirmed.
"Intelligence reports had suggested that a British woman and two or three American citizens may have been involved. We cannot confirm the details at present," Kenyatta said. Forensic experts were working to identify the terrorists, he said.
A Kenyan security source, who did not want to be named, said that sporadic blasts heard at the mall during the day were controlled explosions carried out by bomb disposal teams, and that other units had been assisting paramedics to recover bodies.
"After the bombs and the exchanges of fire the whole place is a mess," he said. "There's burned-out shops and debris everywhere."
But that version of events was challenged on Tuesday when al-Qaida-linked jihadist group al Shabaab – which has claimed responsibility for the attack – published a photograph which it claimed showed militants still in control of parts of the mall. Later onlookers were sent scurrying for cover under vehicles outside the mall amid sounds of gunfire. Witnesses also reported seeing Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) personnel on the roof.
Conflicting reports continued about the involvement or otherwise of Samantha Lewthwaite, the British Muslim convert married to 7/7 bomber Germaine Lindsay. Lewthwaite is wanted in Kenya on terrorism charges.
Witnesses reported seeing a white woman among the attackers at the mall. Kenya's foreign minister, Amina Mohamed, said a Briton who has "done this many times before" was one of the attackers, prompting fierce speculation that Lewthwaite was directly involved.
An al-Shabaab spokesman in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, on Tuesday denied a woman had taken part. "It's a groundless lie that a female was among the mujahideen attackers," the spokesman said. "It is all about propaganda disseminated by western media outlets."
A separate source told the Guardian that 10 of the suspected attackers being held by Kenyan authorities are of Somali ethnic origin. The source said the suspects – all men – were found in civilian clothes and claim to have been hiding from the militants. An official involved in the operation said Kenyan authorities were studying CCTV footage of people entering the mall in the hours leading up to the attack.
Three other people, initially suspected as being terrorists but later released, are believed to be members of the same family – a Kenyan man and his two granddaughters, who had been in hiding and texting with police for the past three days. A relative, who asked not to be named, received news of their rescue early on Monday. The family has since been reunited.
A soldier who took part in the ground-floor operations inside Westgate said Kenyan forces were providing covering fire but had met no hostile fire in return as they searched the vast complex room by room.
Smoke was seen billowing from the mall area on Tuesday, which the government said was the result of attackers burning mattresses inside. Witnesses said the smoke was clearly coming from the car park area, prompting theories that the KDF were trying to burn their way into the mall through the roof.
MPs were debating the crisis at Westgate in Kenya's parliament late on Tuesday, with many critical of the government's handling of the crisis and of the security threats posed to Kenya by the situation in Somalia.
"We have a serious problem in Kenya of guns from Somalia," said Boniface Kinoti Gatobu, MP for Buuri. "Unless we pass a resolution here, unless we make a very concrete decision here today, then this will be nothing but a talk show."
As the MPs talked, images of the rescue mission were beginning to emerge. Film footage shot by a freelance journalist showed terrified shoppers leaving the mall with their hands above their heads.
At one point a man was seen crawling on his belly to rescue a woman with two small children – clearly in shock – who had cowered motionless beside a food stall. The footage also showed people with serious injuries and chest wounds being wheeled out on ambulances.
Al-Shabaab will emerge stronger after Nairobi mall attack, warns analyst
Islamists want to provoke Kenyan security forces in order to win Somalis' support in city, suggests counter-insurgency adviser
theguardian.com, Tuesday 24 September 2013 19.46 BST
The Somalia-based Islamist group known as al-Shabaab will emerge stronger and more unified after its terrorist attack in Nairobi, and could provide other extreme groups with an example to follow, counter-insurgency analysts warned on Tuesday.
Al-Shabaab's message is that it is "down but not out", it is "losing territory but not people", said David Kilcullen, a former adviser to David Petraeus, then US commander in Iraq, and of Nato forces in Afghanistan.
The purpose of the Westgate mall attack was to send Kenyans a message – it was the consequence of sending troops to Somalia, said Kilcullen, who was in London to launch his book Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla.
He suggested that al-Shabaab wanted to provoke over-reaction by the Kenyan security forces and thereby gain more support, especially in Eastleigh, the eastern district of Nairobi where most of the 250,000 Somalis in the Kenyan capital live. Many in that area are already being radicalised, analysts say.
Kilcullen said al-Shabaab, which announced last year that it had allied itself with al-Qaida, was supported by about 5,000 fighters, many of them Kenyans, Tanzanians and Ugandans, but also there were about 40 westerners, most of whom were American with a few British.
British security sources estimate that 50 or so Britons have joined al-Shabaab in Somalia. But that figure is believed to have fallen. British counter-intelligence officials say Syria is now the "jihadist destination of choice".
With other analysts, Kilcullen predicted that there would be further attacks in east African countries, including Uganda, which had sent troops to fight al-Shabaab in Somalia as part of an African Union force, and Ethiopia, which had deployed troops across the border in Somalia.
"[Nairobi] was clearly a successful operation which required training and audacity, and will boost the organisation," said Raffaello Pantucci, senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute.
But he said it would be surprising, given the effort and individuals required, if al-Shabaab mounted a similar attack, at least in the immediate future. More likely was a series of low-level attacks, Pantucci said.
The US director of national intelligence, James Clapper, told the US Congress this year that al-Shabaab would probably "remain focused on local and regional challenges" and "continue to plot attacks designed to weaken regional adversaries, including targeting US and western interests in east Africa".
Kilcullen said that one advantage of al-Shabaab fighters was that they did not need a strong central command and control structure. They could operate in self-contained tactical cells, he said.
He also compared al-Shabaab with the Taliban in Afghanistan; both groups had benefited from over-reaction by security forces and both administered an "efficient" system of rules guided by sharia law.
Kilcullen also compared the attack on the upmarket Nairobi shopping mall with the 2008 attack by terrorists in Mumbai who targeted an area with a luxury hotel also frequented by westerners. That incident caused concern for MI5 as Britain's domestic security service contemplated such an attack in the UK.
"The lesson from this sort of attack," said Pantucci, referring to Nairobi and the perspective of an extremist group, "is that it can be very effective."
The hardline reclusive Ahmed Abdi Godane, also known as Mukhtar Abu Zubair, recently emerged as al-Shabaab's leader amid infighting and defeats of al-Shabaab fighters in Somalia.
Godane's tactics were considered too crude by Osama bin Laden, according to a declassified document published by the Combating Terrorism Centre at West Point, the US military academy.
On Monday, Stig Hansen, a Norwegian expert on al-Shabaab told the US broadcaster ABC that the African Union-led military offensive in Somalia has been successful in targeting al-Shabaab, which was now trying to establish networks outside the country.
"They are in decline in Somalia. That might push them to use more terrorist strategies. That's one scenario. And they haven't been in decline in the rest of east Africa. We can see that there's a nucleus of some kind of shape of network inside Kenya and maybe traces of the same thing within Tanzania," Hansen said.
British special forces, and officers from the Metropolitan police and MI6, are based in Nairobi advising and training Kenyan security forces.
Trial of associate of British 'white widow' linked to Nairobi attack begins
Kenya tells the UK there is nothing to suggest Samantha Lewthwaite is behind shopping mall siege
The Guardian, Wednesday 25 September 2013
The trial began on Tuesday of an alleged terrorist associate of Briton Samantha Lewthwaite as officials tried to establish if the latter was involved in the attack on the Kenyan shopping centre.
Jermaine Grant, originally from east London, was arrested in Mombasa where Kenyan anti-terrorism police claim they found bomb making material.
Investigators claim another suspect was Lewthwaite, widow of one of the 7 July bombers who attacked London in 2005.
Lewthwaite is wanted in Kenya for terrorism offences and is allegedly a member of the al-Shabaab group blamed for the attack on the Westgate centre in Nairobi.
Kenyan officials on Tuesday told their UK counterparts there was nothing to suggest Lewthwaite was involved in the attack. But comments from Kenya's foreign minister that a British woman was among the attackers, who had repeatedly been involved in terrorism, fuelled speculation Lewthwaite may have been involved.
One possibility was that the Kenyan foreign minister may not have been fully briefed when she gave her interview on Monday to American television.
Kenyan as well as British media are reporting details fuelling claims of Lewthwaite's involvement.
Grant is on trial with his wife, Warda Breik, accused of possessing explosive material and conspiring to commit crimes. Both deny the charges.
The court in Mombasa heard evidence on Tuesday from a Scotland Yard forensic expert, part of a British police team helping the Kenyans. Detective Constable Robert John Garric said he and his team were briefed by their Kenyan counter parts that "they were looking at a plot to detonate explosives in parts of Kenya."
Garric said tests found that the material recovered from Grant's flat, if mixed for a short time, could make explosives that "could detonate easily when exposed to shock or flame".
Lewthwaite's husband, Germaine Lindsay, killed himself and murdered 26 others on a tube train between King's Cross and Russell Square. She originally denounced the 2005 terrorist attacks but later left Britain. She is believed to be using false passports and identities and is believed to have travelled to Kenya, Somalia, South Africa and Pakistan.
Witnesses to the Kenyan shopping centre massacre have said a woman who spoke English was one of the attackers. On Monday, Kenyan officials said all the attackers were men.
A Kenyan newspaper, The Star, said survivors recalled a woman giving orders as the attackers stormed the shopping centre.
The witnesses said she gave instructions in English which would be translated into Swahili as the attackers took hold of the shopping centre.
The paper quoted a witness as saying: "The woman was not armed but as soon as she issued orders, the men would go on a killing rampage."
Another witness said: "It was definitely a woman because we could tell it from the voice."
On Monday, Kenya's foreign minister, Amina Mohamed, said a British woman who has allegedly taken part in terrorist activity "many times before" was among the attackers .
She said the terrorist killer acted alongside "two or three" Americans during the atrocity.
In 2005 Lewthwaite was living with Lindsay – whom she met on an Islamic chat site on the internet – in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. Both had converted to Islam in their teens.
Lewthwaite is originally from Northern Ireland and people who knew her expressed amazement at her being linked to the attack in Nairobi.
Her grandmother Elizabeth Allen, from Banbridge, Co Down, has been given an alarm by police in case she makes contact.
Joan Baird, a veteran Ulster Unionist councillor in Banbridge who knows the family, said: "This is so distressing for everyone. Mrs Allen is 85 and she is in and out of hospital. It is just so distressing."
Raj Khan, a councillor in Aylesbury, said Lewthwaite was courteous and added: "She was not strong-headed. And that's why I find it absolutely amazing that she is supposed to be the head of an international criminal terrorist organisation."
Niknam Hussain, chair of the independent advisory group at Thames Valley police, who also knew her, said: "To ascribe a level of sophistication that she could control a whole terrorist empire, I'm sorry, I don't think that Tom Clancy could write anything like that."
September 24, 2013Greece, in Anti-Fascist Crackdown, Investigates Police
By LIZ ALDERMAN
ATHENS — The photo splashed on the cover of a Greek newspaper this weekend shocked a nation: Pavlos Fyssas, a Greek rapper whose music inveighed against far-right groups, lay dying in a pool of his own blood as his girlfriend cradled him in her arms, moments after he was stabbed in the heart.
The suspect has been linked to Greece’s neo-fascist Golden Dawn party. Almost as chilling are accusations by some witnesses that a squad of police officers stood by as a group of burly, black-clad party members chased Mr. Fyssas down. A police spokesman denied that account, saying officers arrived right after the stabbing, in a gritty Athens suburb last Wednesday, and promptly arrested the suspect.
The killing of Mr. Fyssas has spurred the government to begin a risky crackdown on Golden Dawn, opening its first investigation into whether the police forces are infiltrated by sympathizers or members of the group, one of the most violent rightist organizations in Europe.
On Tuesday, officers raided three police stations on the outskirts of Athens. The sweep came a day after the government replaced seven senior police officials — including the chiefs of special forces, internal security, organized crime and the explosives unit — to ensure the investigation would take place with “absolute objectivity.” In addition, two top members of the Greek police force resigned abruptly Monday, citing “personal reasons.”
Such steps have the potential for volatile repercussions in a country where the security forces have had links to far-right organizations at various points since the end of World War II. They are likely to test the determination of the government and the public to turn back the influence of Golden Dawn, which has climbed steadily in opinion polls in the past year and has 18 of its members in Parliament.
“This is a pivotal moment,” said Harry Papasotiriou, the director of the Institute of International Relations at Panteion University in Athens. “It is not clear whether Greece will become more or less stable as a result of any crackdown. There is always the risk that there is a more violent response, but this needs to be done.”
Until now, the government and most of the Greek public have stood by in a kind of outraged tolerance as Golden Dawn intensified a campaign of intimidation against immigrants, whom the group blames for a rising tide of crime and accuses of taking jobs away from Greeks amid a grinding economic crisis.
“But now they have killed a Greek, and they have crossed a red line,” Mr. Papasotiriou said. “That has triggered a new movement against them.”
The public outcry after the killing of Mr. Fyssas, who used the stage name Killah P, placed greater pressure on Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, a member of the right-leaning New Democracy party, to investigate a police force he has repeatedly defended, despite a cascade of reports drawing links between the police and Golden Dawn.
Human rights groups say the police have for the most part looked the other way as Golden Dawn has systematically terrorized immigrants. These aggressive acts, sometimes captured on video by Golden Dawn members and posted on the Internet, involve roving groups crushing market stands run by immigrants, riding in gangs on motorbikes armed with clubs and shields bearing swastika-like symbols and beating immigrants with wooden poles draped in the Greek flag.
Nikos Demertzis, a professor of political sociology at the University of Athens, said allegations of police collusion with the far right were not surprising. “Generally there is a tradition in Greece that the far-right organizations have certain links with the police — this is a historic, recurring theme,” Mr. Demertzis said.
Armed with promises to restore jobs and order, members of Golden Dawn hew to nationalistic and xenophobic slogans, appealing to marginalized Greeks in rough areas populated by a rising tide of unemployed immigrants, mostly from Pakistan and North Africa.
But Golden Dawn has also increasingly clashed with leftist groups. This month, thousands of Greeks protested in Athens after about 50 Golden Dawn members, wielding bats and crowbars, attacked members of the Communist Party as they hung posters for a youth festival, leaving nine people hospitalized.
Mr. Fyssas appears to have been another symbolic target. The lyrics of his rap songs often criticized what he saw as a rising tide of fascism in Greece perpetrated by Golden Dawn.
There are conflicting reports about what happened in the moments before his death. The police are investigating witnesses’ accounts that Mr. Fyssas was watching a soccer game in a cafe when one of his friends made a disparaging remark about Golden Dawn that was overheard by another patron.
Not long afterward, according to some accounts by witnesses, about 30 Golden Dawn members, including the suspect in the killing, Giorgos Roupakias, 45, converged on the cafe. Mr. Fyssas’ mother, who was not present at the scene of the killing, has asserted that about 12 police officers were present when the stabbing took place.
“Golden Dawn is more violent than far-right groups in other countries,” Mr. Papasotiriou of Panteion University said. “They have morphed into an organization that is much nastier and violent and criminal than typical far right elsewhere. Whereas one might disagree with Marine Le Pen,” he said, referring to the leader of the far-right party in France, “these guys here emulate the Nazi model and resort a lot to violence.”
Mr. Demertzis of the University of Athens said Golden Dawn was suspected of being organized like a paramilitary organization, headed by a leader who is surrounded by 10 to 20 people close to him. Cells of 30 to 50 people in different areas of the country are organized “in full obedience as soldiers,” Mr. Demertzis said, adding that they take an oath of loyalty to the leader and the organization. “They operate like commandos, or special forces in the sense that they are supposed to leave no traces behind.”
Investigators are also looking into reports in the Greek news media that special forces officers in the military have secretly trained with Golden Dawn members.
The police strongly deny any ties between their ranks and Golden Dawn. “The aim of the Greek police is for there to be no shadow over the force,” a police spokesman, Christos Parthenis, said Tuesday. “The stance of the Greek police opposite every incident of violence or lawlessness is nonnegotiable: full investigation, zero tolerance and unwavering enforcement of the law.”
The leader of a police union admitted to some troubles within the force, but blamed government officials for a failure to address the problems. “During the last three years, there were many cases during which our colleagues displayed tolerance toward outbreaks of violence by members of Golden Dawn,” said Christos Fotopoulos, head of the Federation of Greek Police Officers, during an interview on Greek television. He said that the federation had flagged the episodes to alert police chiefs and the Public Order Ministry, but that there was little reaction from either.
Niki Kitsantonis contributed reporting from Athens.
**************<Racist attacks in Greece: interactive maphttp://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/interactive/2013/sep/25/racist-attacks-in-greece-mapped
Claims that the far-right Golden Dawn party has been training a military wing have raised concerns about growing racism in Greece. Researchers working on a project called The City at a Time of Crisis have sought to track what they see as the rise of neo-Nazism in Greece using crowd-sourced public reports.
The interactive map below is constantly updated to show the frequency and severity of attacks. It does this by pulling together reports from individuals, witnesses and the media going back to May 2011.
The map shows all reported attacks (in red), but you can select specific categories (eg physical, verbal, police) from the right-hand panel. Clicking on a circle will take you to the report which you can read in full to determine its reliability.
Read analysis from Helena Smith in Athens: Greece launches inquiry into claims Golden Dawn trained by armed forces
Defence minister orders investigation into rightwing extremists as President Papoulias warns that 'a storm is approaching'
Helena Smith in Athens
The Guardian, Tuesday 24 September 2013
The Greek authorities have launched an inquiry into allegations that members of the country's armed forces have helped to train hit squads formed by the far-right Golden Dawn party.
The defence minister, Dimitris Avramopoulos, ordered the investigation as Greece's governing coalition exhibited new resolve to clamp down on the "criminal organisation" after a Greek musician was stabbed to death by one of the group's supporters.
Highlighting the menace rightwing extremism now poses in a nation hobbled by economic collapse and political division, the country's president Karolos Papoulias said that his top priority was to protect Greeks from neo-fascism. "From the time I was a young man I fought fascism and Nazism," he told reporters as he went into talks with the leftwing main opposition leader Alexis Tsipras. "It is my supreme duty as president of the republic to defend democracy and the Greek people from the storm that is approaching."
The inquiry came amid revelations that Golden Dawn, which has seen its popularity soar on the back of debt-stricken Greece's worst crisis in modern times, has not only set up a military wing but is actively training its members in the art of combat.
"In Golden Dawn we have an entire military structure with at least 3,000 people ready for everything," one member was quoted as saying by the Sunday Vima newspaper. Pictures of recruits in camouflage and balaclavas conducting night exercises in clandestine camps were published in another leading daily on Monday. The paper, Ethnos, claimed the men, some of who were armed with knives and wooden clubs, were being trained by members of Greece's elite special forces who sympathise with the ultra-nationalist party.
The extremists' meteoric rise has worried Europe, with officials expressing disquiet over an organisation believed to be behind hundreds of attacks on immigrants, and more recently gay people, over the past three years. There have been many accusations that the police and judiciary are colluding with the extremists.
But the murder last week of Pavlos Fyssas, a leftwing hip-hop artist, appears to have galvanised authorities into finally taking action. On Monday two high-ranking police officers were forced to resign after it emerged they had failed to issue orders for the arrest of Golden Dawn members involved in attacks.
The public order ministry said five senior police officers – the heads of the special forces, internal security, organised crime, firearms and explosives, and a rapid-response motorcycle division – had been moved to other posts pending investigations, Associated Press reported. The regional police commanders of southern and central Greece resigned, citing personal reasons.
The resignations followed a series of raids on the party's offices after the public order minister, Nikos Dendias, put the country's anti-terrorism unit in charge of the investigation into the killing.
By Monday night at least 10 Golden Dawn members had been arrested in connection with the murder. A 45-year-old man belonging to the group has already confessed to the killing, according to police. The suspect, who reportedly worked in the cafe of the party's local branch in Keratsini – the working class district in Athens where the murder took place – was charged with the killing on Saturday.
As prime minister Antonis Samaras's government proposed that state funding for the far right group also be cut off if investigators found organisational links to the stabbing, Golden Dawn stepped up denials that it had any connection to the death. Its leader, Nikos Michaloliakos, insisted that the alleged killer was not a member of the party and had a tentative relationship with one of its 70 branches. "He was only passing through. I cannot control what everyone does," Michaloliakos told Kontra television in a rare interview.
Golden Dawn's spokesman, Ilias Kasidiaris, went further, accusing political parties, the government and the media of waging a dirty war against the organisation because of its growing appeal – despite one poll showing its support had dropped 2.5 points following the stabbing.
"Golden Dawn has been radically strengthened, it has passed 20% [in the polls] and in a few months it will lay claim to the biggest municipalities in the land. We will not stop. We have justice on our side and more than a million Greeks," Kasidiaris said.
Although surveys have shown the vast majority of Greeks expressing outrage at Golden Dawn's tactics in the wake of the killing, polls have also revealed the party maintaining steady ground in the areas most affected by the economic crisis. One survey released on Monday showed the group sweeping Athens in municipal elections next year – prompting speculation that the government's crackdown on the group could backfire. Especially hard-hit Greeks have lapped up the party's outreach programme that has included providing support for elderly Greeks in crime-ridden areas and "Greeks only" food handouts.
"For the first time they are being given a huge amount of exposure and air time," said Alexis Mantheakis, a political analyst who said there was a possibility of the party being in government in the future. "Before there was a media blackout and they rarely appeared on television. Instead of being deflated, all this coverage is boosting their image and boosting their support. The situation in Greece is much more serious than it seems."
*************Greece anti-fascist protests: share your stories, video and images
Greek parties and unions are arranging anti-fascist protests on Wednesday, amid raised tensions over the activities of Golden Dawn. Share your stories, videos and images with us
theguardian.com, Wednesday 25 September 2013 13.38 BST
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Greek political parties and unions are to hold anti-fascist protests in Athens and other cities on Wednesday, as police continue their investigation into alleged crimes by members of the far-right Golden Dawn party.
Tensions remain high after the murder last week of Pavlos Fyssas, a leftwing hip-hop artist, and ongoing allegations that members of the armed forces have helped train hit squads affiliated to Golden Dawn. The Greek government has since suggested it will seek to ban the party.
The country's mainstream parties are hoping for a big turn-out for the early evening protests, with the opposition party Syriza, calling for a "peaceful march in defence of democracy."
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PIG PUTIN'S RUSSIA ..
Pussy Riot member in solitary confinement after hunger strike pledge
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova moved to separate cell for 'her own safety' after she wrote about being forced into slave-like labour
Shaun Walker in Moscow
theguardian.com, Tuesday 24 September 2013 15.25 BST
A jailed member of the Russian punk group Pussy Riot has been moved to solitary confinement the day after she announced a hunger strike in protest at gulag-style prison conditions.
Prison authorities said they were moving 23-year-old Nadezhda Tolokonnikova for her own safety – not as a punishment – after she complained of death threats. Tolokonnikova is serving two years for hooliganism motivated by political hatred for her part in an impromptu "punk prayer" in Moscow's main cathedral in February last year.
The long letter she wrote detailed conditions of "slave-like labour", with prisoners forced to work 17 hours a day with almost no days off, and punishments including being forced to stand in the cold or being forbidden to use the toilet.
Yuri Kupriyanov, deputy head of the prison, in turn accused Tolokonnikova's lawyer and husband of blackmail. Kupriyanov claims they threatened to publish the letter if he did not move her to the "artistic" work division, rather than the sewing workshop in which she is currently forced to work. The authorities of the prison, in the region of Mordovia, have denied all Tolokonnikova's accusations about the grim conditions that she and other women face but have launched an internal investigation.
President Pig Putin's human rights ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, said he had dispatched two representatives to the prison to investigate Tolokonnikova's complaints. "As soon as we get a report of their work, I will be able to give my opinion of what actually happened; about who is right and who is guilty," Lukin said on Tuesday.
There were words of support for Tolokonnikova from another Russian prisoner, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, formerly the country's richest man, but in jail since 2003 on charges of embezzlement and tax evasion. During his time in prison he has written extensively on life behind bars and is seen by some as a potential political figure on his release.
Khodorkovsky said he had been impressed by the cultural and intellectual content of the women's speeches to the court during their trial, and said that they gave him hope that there was a bright future ahead for Russia.
"Half a year, or even less, seems like an eternity for now, but believe me, it will pass in a flash," writes Khodorkovsky. "I wish you all the best and I very much hope that, on leaving prison wiser, you will also take with you the desire to develop our civil society, and help people to feel like they are indeed people and citizens."
Pig Putin compares Greenpeace protest with Kenyan mall attackers
Russian president draws parallel between Greenpeace activists who boarded an Arctic oil rig and jihadist group al Shabaab
theguardian.com, Wednesday 25 September 2013 13.12 BST
The Russian president, Pig Putin, has drawn parallels with Greenpeace activists apprehended for boarding an Arctic oil rig and the attacks by jihadist group al Shabaab on a Kenyan mall that left 67 people dead.
In comments on Wednesday, he said the group were "obviously" not pirates despite Russian authorities saying yesterday that they planned to charge the activists with piracy. He also defended the detention, saying coastguard officers had no way of knowing who they were.
Two members of the group were detained 18 September in their attempt to scale the Arctic platform. The coastguard seized Greenpeace's ship the next day and towed it with 30 activists aboard, to Murmansk, where they are being questioned by investigators considering piracy charges.
Pig Putin, speaking at a forum on Arctic affairs, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying: "I don't know the details of what went on, but it's completely obvious they aren't pirates."
He added, however, that the officers "didn't know who was trying to seize the platform under the guise of Greenpeace. Especially in view of the events in Kenya, really, anything can happen."
It was unclear whether Pig Putin's comments might foreshadow leniency for the activists, who could face 10-15 years in prison if convicted of piracy.
The detained activists are from 18 countries, including Russia, and a long detention or trials could draw unwelcome international attention to Russia's tough policy against protests.
The platform belongs to state natural gas company Gazprom. It was deployed to the vast Prirazlomnoye oil field in the Pechora Sea in 2011, but its launch has been delayed by technological challenges. Gazprom has said it was to start pumping oil this year, but no precise date has been set.
Greenpeace insisted that under international law Russia had no right to board its ship and has no grounds to charge its activists with piracy.
Kremlin laughs off rumors that the Pig married former Olympic gymnast
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, September 25, 2013 6:33 EDT
The Kremlin on Wednesday rubbished rumours that President Pig Putin had got remarried in a monastery to a former Olympic rhythmic gymnastics gold medallist, saying the talk had “nothing in common with reality”.
The Russian strongman’s private life has been the subject of intense speculation since he and his wife Lyudmila announced in June they were divorcing after three decades of marriage.
In an interview with the Izvestia daily, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was hard to say what the Pig did in his private life as he works so much.
“What kind of a bloke he is, whether he has a wife or not, let us leave that to him and not interfere,” Peskov said.
But in an unusual move, he directly responded to chatter on the Internet that Pig Putin this weekend married gymnast Alina Kabayeva at a secret ceremony at the Iversky Monastery on Lake Valdai in northern Russia where the president had been attending a discussion forum.
“You understand that this is all from the realm of the imagination and it is useless to deny these (rumours) or call them rubbish. We have done this already a hundred times,” Peskov said.
“The rumours stay alive, what can you do about them? But they have nothing in common with reality,” he added.
The rumour had been started by a former government official in the Caucasus who wrote on his Twitter account that he had been told the Pig had married Kabayeva at the monastery, which had been ringed off to the public.
It became widely spread after his tweet was retweeted by Russian protest leader Alexei Navalny, who has a substantial Internet following.
“Why the monastery was ringed off, I cannot tell you,” added Peskov.
Rumours of an affair with Kabayeva have shadowed Putin for years, but the speculation has never been confirmed in any way.
The Moskovsky Korrespondent newspaper, owned by tycoon Alexander Lebedev, reported in 2008 that he was about to marry Kabayeva, 31 years his junior. The report was denied and the paper closed down shortly afterwards.
Pig Putin then famously slammed people with “snotty noses and erotic fantasies” who interfered in other people’s private lives.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
Elton John concert sparks Russian parents' protest
Local committee objects to gay singer's visit, claiming he intends to break Russian law and 'come out in support of sodomites'
Reuters in Moscow
theguardian.com, Tuesday 24 September 2013 17.53 BST
A Russian parents' committee has asked President Pig Putin to cancel a planned concert by Elton John, saying he intended to violate a ban on "homosexual propaganda".
In an open letter to Pig Putin, the parents' group in the central Ural region was reported by local media as saying: "The singer intends to come out in support of local sodomites and break the current Russian law, directed at protecting children."
Critics say the law banning gay "propaganda" among minors – which has prompted calls for a boycott of Russia's hosting of the 2014 Winter Olympics – is discriminatory, barring people from being open about their sexual orientation.
The law is part of a broader attempt by Pig Putin to win over Russians in the mostly conservative country following protests against his rule among urban and often middle-class voters over his return to the Kremlin last May.
The parents' committee was unavailable for comment despite repeated phone calls.
Elton John, who reminisced in an interview earlier this month with the Guardian about having sex on a Moscow rooftop with a translator during his 1979 tour of the Soviet Union, said he wanted to perform in Russia to support the gay community.
"As a gay man, I can't leave those people on their own without going over there and supporting them. I don't know what's going to happen, but I've got to go," he said in the interview.
The singer is due to perform on 6 December in Moscow and 7 December in Kazan.
One of the world's most prominent gay celebrities, Elton John lives with his partner, David Furnish, with whom he is in a civil union, and is bringing up two children. He has campaigned for gay rights in Britain and in Ukraine where he was denied the right in 2009 to adopt a child because of his age and marital status.
Madonna and Lady Gaga criticised the law during concerts in St Petersburg last year, leading Moscow to implement a harsher visa regime for performers coming to Russia.
American singer Cher turned down an invitation to perform at the Winter Games in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi because of the anti-gay propaganda, saying the decision was a "no brainer".
Human rights groups say the new law has fuelled hate crimes against homosexuals. Homosexuality was decriminalised after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, but polls by the independent Levada Centre show a majority of Russians approve of the new legislation and nearly 40% believe gay people need medical treatment.
Russia considers raising divorce fees to avoid bad marriages
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, September 24, 2013 20:20 EDT
Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has backed a proposal to make divorce far more expensive as a way of discouraging ill-considered matches, state media reported Tuesday.
“The motives (for the suggestion) are understandable: switch on your brain when you’re getting married, otherwise there’s going to be material penalties,” the prime minister said.
Medvedev, who served as Russia’s president between 2008 and 2012, was commenting on a proposal submitted by senators that would increase the state fees for divorce to almost 30,000 rubles (700 euros, $940), a huge rise from the current charge of 400 rubles (nine euros, $12.50).
Costly divorce cases are relatively rare in Russia, which has one of the world’s most lenient divorce procedures, with couples able to annul their marriages out of court in a single procedure at a wedding office. In cases where the divorce is contested, relatively little justification is required.
Karina Krasnova, a lawyer from the company Russian Divorce, told AFP: “In Russia the situation is very favourable for divorce. It’s much cheaper because you can do it independently, because you’d don’t need lawyers.”
Some, including Medvedev, have suggested that this easy-going regime, a legacy of the Soviet Union, promotes a cavalier attitude towards matrimony, leading to high rates of divorce.
According to a global UN survey, Russia has the 15th highest female divorce rate and the 28th highest for men.
The Soviet Union was one of the first countries in the world to allow “no-fault” divorce requiring no justification for splitting, as the Communist state sought to destroy what it considered the bourgeois construct of the family. In the 1930s, 40% of Soviet marriages ended in divorce.
Stalin later reversed this policy, but divorce remained relatively straightforward.
The discussion on reducing family break-ups coincides with a campaign by the Russian government to encourage more conservative family values in keeping with those traditionally promoted by the Russian Orthodox Church.
Monday’s proposal echoed a suggestion made earlier this year by controversial deputy Yelena Mizulina, an author of the “gay propaganda” law that made it legal to ban events that could be seen as promoting homosexuality to minors.
Euthanasia cases in the Netherlands rise by 13% in a year
Rise of 13% from 2011-2012 marks the sixth consecutive year of increases, says commission that vets euthanasia cases
theguardian.com, Tuesday 24 September 2013 17.07 BST
The number of assisted suicides in the Netherlands rose by 13% in 2012, the sixth consecutive year of increases, according to the commission that vets voluntary euthanasia in the country.
Doctor-administered euthanasia for terminally ill people facing unbearable suffering was legalised in the Netherlands in 2002. For several years, the reported number of cases declined, but it has risen steadily since 2006. In 2012, a record 4,188 cases were recorded, about 3% of all deaths in the Netherlands, against 1,923 in 2006. Most cases are due to cancer.
The commission said in its annual report published on Tuesday that the reasons for the increase cannot be determined with certainty. Leading theories include a growing awareness and acceptance of the practice among Dutch doctors and patients.
If Europe's future is German, Greece has only one hope for salvation
Angela Merkel's re-election will heap yet more misery and austerity on southern Europe. But it may yet inspire a leftist victory in Greece
theguardian.com, Tuesday 24 September 2013 12.55 BST
The German sociologist Ulrich Beck opens his latest book confessing how shocked he was when he heard in the news in February 2012 that "today the German Bundestag will decide the future of Greece". Southern Europe has become a declining underclass, while Berlin acts as a colonial master imposing brutal austerity. Calling his book German Europe, Beck joins a vigorous debate about the future begun by the German intellectual, Jurgen Habermas. For Habermas and the south Europeans, the question that should have dominated the German elections but did not was "Will Europe be German or Germany European?"
The European vote was clear: 82% of Spaniards, 65% of Portuguese and 58% of Italians rejected Merkel's policies in a recent opinion poll. But the German vote, the only one that counted, went the other way, giving Merkel unparalleled power on the German and European stage. The Social Democratic party (SPD) suffered the second worst defeat in its history, reminding us of the last British elections. Both results make sense. Why should anyone vote for either the SPD or Labour if their neoliberal policies are a pale version of what Merkel or the Tories offer?
As Habermas saw it, Merkel showed no leadership during the crisis, her main response being "soporific bumbling". He was proved right when, after her triumph, Merkel repeated mantra-like, that "we cannot prematurely drop the pressure on the south to reform". The pressure was indelicately applied on German election day with the troika representing the IMF, EU and ECB lenders arriving in Athens for the latest inspection round. Government actions will be examined to ensure that the Greeks have made satisfactory progress in sacking civil servants, cutting social services and privatising state assets. The Greeks will be ordered to foreclose the homes of families unable to pay the mortgage, a policy that had been banned for five years in a rare show of sympathy for the poor by the Greek government. These "reforms" have been imposed on Greece as precondition for the disbursement of the loan and are vigorously policed before each instalment is paid.
As a result of austerity, the Greek economy has shrunk by 25%, unemployment stands at a record 27%, youth unemployment at 70%. Debt to GDP ratio was 120% at the beginning of the crisis. It has jumped to around 175% after five years of suffering. Despite the IMF's recognition of a serious under-calculation of the effects of austerity on the GDP the troika doing Merkel's bidding will ask for more blood.
The second loan to Greece comes to an end next year. Current calculations indicate that the perpetual recession will create a fiscal gap of around €5bn in by 2016. A new loan and further austerity measures are currently being discussed. Greece is leading the race to the bottom, with salaries, pensions and working conditions coming close to those of China. Greece is the guinea pig: if the plan does not meet popular resistance and succeeds in decimating living standards, it will be exported to the rest of Europe.
On the way to the German poll another momentous event happened. Last week, the antifascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas was murdered in Athens, allegedly by supporters of the Golden Dawn neo-Nazi political party-cum-criminal gang. Despite daily fascist attacks on migrants, leftists, Roma and gays, no Golden Dawn member has been successfully prosecuted and a bill to put antifascist legislation in the statute-book was recently rejected by the government. Public opinion was shocked by the murder and the government was forced to act. The toleration of fascists was abandoned, with the government fearing that revulsion against the murder would rebound against it.
Habermas noted recently that the social decline in southern Europe "reminds of conditions in the late Weimar Republic that brought the fascists to power". It was a belated admission. Southern Europe has been in a state of emergency that has led to the rise of fascism. The German electorate rebuffed the hope that the north would mitigate the squeeze on the south out of self-interest or solidarity. Merkel, in a display of historical amnesia, does not seem to care and the Social Democrats have almost identical policies. A "grand coalition" between the two offers no hope to the south. The European Union's founding principles of prosperity, democracy and human rights have been set aside in the race for fiscal discipline.
Habermas and Beck believe that Merkel is destroying their ideal of "globalisation with a human face", a project that would start in Europe. For them, greater European integration is the only defence against unfettered capitalism. The plan was unconvincing from the start and has now been comprehensively defeated. The markets have imposed their will on politicians and German voters have accepted the Faustian pact. In the south, Europe now looks an elite project uninterested in ordinary people.
The salvation of southern Europe lies closer to home. In Greece a change in government is the only hope. The left's plan to cancel the catastrophic austerity measures, negotiate a substantial haircut of the debt that even the IMF deems unsustainable, and operate a moratorium on debt repayment until the economy starts growing offers the only realistic alternative. A victory for the left looks more likely if the German elections lead to a further turning of the austerity screw. It is a historical irony that the triumph of the most aggressive neoliberalism at the centre may increase the prospect of a leftist victory in the periphery.
09/25/2013 12:54 PM
Election Reactions Abroad: 'Merkel Can Be Very Tough'
Germany's influence in Europe is at its highest in decades, and leaders around the world watched the federal election closely. Now embarking on her third term, Chancellor Angela Merkel remains a uniting figure at home and a polarizing figure abroad.
Germany's role at the center of the euro crisis and global economics has made its election a major news topic across the globe. Many in southern Europe hate Chancellor Angela Merkel for her tough stance on austerity and structural reform in highly indebted euro-zone nations. Others welcome her pragmatic approach to politics and her authenticity.
SPIEGEL spoke to eight world leaders about the German election results and Merkel's presumed continued role as chancellor. Many say they followed the elections intently, and are curious to see what Merkel does with her new mandate. They offer predictions about what kind of coalition will form in Berlin, and how that coalition may affect their own countries.
Here are some of their thoughts.
Gorbachev: Merkel Balances Domestic and Foreign Interests
"I was very surprised to see the Free Democrats voted out of the Bundestag. This probably has to do with the fact that the party no longer has figures such as Hans-Dietrich Genscher. In my opinion, there is still a large potential for a liberal party in Germany."
"Angela Merkel can be very tough, but she is above all a politician who can listen and hammer out compromises. She has managed to balance out the interests of Germany, Europe and the world in her decisions. When it comes to the question of whether the SPD or the Greens are the right partner for a governing coalition, I am of two minds. On the one hand, I am a Social Democrat; on the other hand, I founded the international environmental organization Green Cross, and I am still their president. From what I know about the Germans, it will probably turn out to be a grand coalition. Whether the conservatives form a coalition with the Social Democrats or the Greens does not make any real difference to us. After all, German-Russian relations go beyond daily politics and rest upon a solid foundation that has been established over decades."
Kapsis: German Election 'Sets an Example for Greece'
Pantelis Kapsis, 58, is the Greek deputy minister of culture.
"I'm happy that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has emerged so much stronger from this election. I would have rather seen the SPD get a better result, though. It's good that the Alternative for Germany (AFD)did not make it into the Bundestag, not only for the Greeks but also for all of Europe. I'm hoping for a grand coalition in Berlin, even if this won't make much of a difference for Greece. Nonetheless, it was the SPD that spoke out in favor of a Marshall Plan to help Greece, so their participation in the government would be positive for us. The Bundestag election also sets an example for Greece. A strong political center was always Konrad Adenauer's dream, so political extremes would never again be able to dominate. Here in Greece the opposite is unfortunately happening: Right-wing populists and extreme parties are increasingly influencing the political agenda."
Le Maire: 'Many No Longer Understand What Europe Wants'
"Angela Merkel is now a great European figure, a politician of historic stature. She has triumphed because her policies stand for consensus. She doesn't polarize, but instead unites the Germans. For me, she embodies the new Germany: a country that believes in itself and has an awareness of what it was and is. Ten years ago Germany was the sick man of Europe, and now it has found strength once again. But nothing would be worse for Europe than a Germany that forges ahead alone."
"Indeed, the German chancellor needs a credible French partner. Now it's up to France to find its strength again by pushing through genuine reforms. Some people in France believed that Angela Merkel didn't have a majority in favor of her policies and that there were many social problems in Germany. The government under Francois Hollande has been betting for too long that Merkel could be voted out of office."
"I find it regrettable that even leading Socialist politicians play on the fear of Germany. This Germanophobia shows just how much our country is suffering right now."
"Angela Merkel now has to make a historic decision: What will she do with her victory? Will she use it solely for Germany's benefit? Or to advance European unity? The success of the AFD sets off alarm bells that we need to take seriously. The current European Union is not working, which explains why extremists and euroskeptics are on the rise. Many people no longer understand what Europe wants and what it can achieve. Here in France, the National Front is calling for an exit from the eurozone. If we want to prevent such debates, we have to take people's concerns seriously. We have to talk about whether or not the euro is overvalued, and if we need a different monetary policy at the European Central Bank. It would be important for Angela Merkel to show her partners that she is open for such discussions."
Fu: 'Germany and Europe Are Lucky To Have Her'
"As a woman and a diplomat, I have closely observed Angela Merkel's performance over the years. She deserves the result of this election. Germany and Europe are lucky to have her in this leadership position."
Campbell: Merkel 'Doesn't Shout About Her Power'
"It would be very difficult in British politics to have conducted a campaign the way Merkel has. She was very low key, not making massive, big visionary speeches, not going for the jugular of her opponents. Ed Miliband is trying to be similarly measured and thoughtful, but he gets attacked for it. Of course, the campaign could have had more heat between her and the other candidates. But why should she go out and take risks?"
"Most people think a modern politician is somebody who's out there with Obama-style rhetoric, is good looking, young, full of energy. Merkel actually is very powerful, but doesn't shout about her power. That makes her stronger. Voters aren't stupid, they have a real sense of authenticity. And Merkel has that in spades."
"I'm a big fan of Germany. Your debates are much more intelligent and mature than ours. In Britain we have such a ridiculous debate about Europe, and a lot of it is based on lies and myths. When you look at German newspapers, however, you see mountains of words, people read in depth about what's going on. My impression is that this feeds healthier discussions."
"Of all the major leaders I find Merkel the most impressive. There is something modern German about Merkel. She emanates a sense and a feeling of what she's about, and that makes her such a successful politician. She has handled the euro crisis extraordinarily well, considering how difficult it must be for Germany having to bail out the rest of Europe -- and also how difficult it must be for her to be painted in the poorer countries as a witch who is making their lives more difficult."
Ferrara: 'The Alternative To Male Narcissism'
"This is a typical German election victory, a victory of logic. Germany has an impressively low unemployment rate; it has achieved prosperity, and mutti di ferro, the iron mommy, has brought home an expected victory. I like Merkel's non-style. She doesn't have the swag of Barack Obama; she doesn't dance; she's not "My Fair Lady," but more like Germany's mass-circulation Bild newspaper. Her speeches before the Bundestag don't stand out; her Berlin doesn't have the taste of grandeur."
"She is the alternative to male narcissism; she has, in a sense, left the Victory Column in Berlin's Tiergarten castrated. Reforms and particularly imaginative policies cannot be expected from the CDU. Merkel is like an engineer. She will continue to make sure the bridge holds up as heavy-laden trucks roar over it."
"For us Italians, who are used to grand gestures from their politicians -- artificial, exaggerated, sudden turnarounds -- it's amazing how this woman represents the land of the Übermensch. Merkel is a mixture of professionalism and the woman next door. She's reliable. She holds the promise of continuity."
"Following our chaotic election in February, we Italians were already bracing ourselves to dive back into the debt trap. But that is no longer possible after this election. Over the coming four years, we will often fear, hate and misunderstand Merkel. Berlusconi's opinion of a strong Merkel is hard to guess, just like everything with Berlusconi right now. The new pope's opinion of her, in contrast, is clear to see. Merkel grew up in the Eastern Bloc. She believes in economics and prosperity. Francis sees money as the devil incarnate, and for him Merkel must be something akin to the anti-pope."
Kwasniewski: 'We Have Valued Merkel For a Long Time'
"It is impressive in a time of crisis, and when trust in politics and politicians is generally dwindling, to achieve such a good result. This election victory is a personal success for Angela Merkel -- and to a lesser extent one for the CDU and CSU. The defeat of the Social Democrats, however, shows that the left in Europe has difficulty finding its place in a globalized world. A grand coalition in Berlin is perhaps something that neither of the two partners necessarily wants, but it would be a good scenario for Europe. A strong government in Berlin and an unassailable German chancellor are necessary because the European Union faces great challenges. The pro-European attitude of all potential coalition parties is a guarantee that Germany will continue to actively bolster the EU and fuel the integration hopes of eastern European countries. And what does the election mean for Poland? Nothing has changed for us. We have known and valued Angela Merkel for a long time."
Spanta: 'A Successful Peace Policy'
"We hope that Germany's engagement will continue. From our point of view, Merkel is pursuing a successful peace policy: non-intervention in Libya and a cautious approach on Syria. We see this as positive."
Translated from the German by Paul Cohen
09/25/2013 01:12 PM
Auf Wiedersehen Austerity?: European Hopes for Gentler Merkel
By Christoph Pauly and Christoph Schult
A sigh of relief can be heard around the Continent, where many European countries states are hopeful that a left-leaning German coalition partner could steer Angela Merkel toward a gentler course and less austerity in managing the euro crisis.
On Sunday evening, Günther Oettinger had himself chauffeured to the conservatives' Berlin headquarters to attend their election party. The results for his party were sensational, but the European Union's energy commissioner was not in a celebratory mood. "Damn it," Oettinger said as he leaned into the backseat of his black sedan. The projections were showing that German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU) would win the election, giving them a slim absolute majority in the German parliament, the Bundestag.
He made a face. From the point of view of the eurocrats in Brussels, it would be a disaster if the conservatives tried to govern the country entirely on their own. The German chancellor might then have to push through her policies on Europe with nothing more than a one-vote majority -- making it extremely difficult for her to overcome resistance within her own party, not to mention surmount the overwhelming majority of the opposition in the Bundesrat, the upper legislative chamber that represents the states. Oettinger would rather not even think about that possibility.
Somewhat later, when the projections showed that it was much less likely for the conservatives to win an absolute majority, Oettinger relaxed again. He is firmly convinced that there will be a grand coalition with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), even though he sees the appeal of an alliance between the conservatives and the environmentalist Green Party. "A grand coalition is good for Europe," he says.
The German EU commissioner's reaction to the German election result was echoed by most of Germany's European partners. A collective sigh of relief was felt throughout Europe. A slim absolute majority for Germany's conservatives could have posed a huge obstacle to the next efforts to save the euro. With so many euroskeptic dissenters among the ranks of the CDU and the CSU, another round of bailout packages would have triggered renewed nervousness on the financial markets.
Renewed Hope for Softer Euro Policy
The end of the coalition between the conservatives and the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) has sparked renewed hopes from Athens to Paris and Warsaw that Germany will now pursue a less rigid policy as the main guarantor for programs to save the euro. An alliance between the conservatives and the SPD, or even a coalition with the Greens, would ease tensions with Germany's neighbors, primarily in southern Europe.
Merkel is aware of the burden of her responsibility, said Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker after he congratulated the CDU leader by phone. Juncker told SPIEGEL he expects the new German government to adopt "gentler approaches" to its European partners than in the past. At the same time, the prime minister praised the SPD's policy on Europe to date for its "excellent balance between solidarity and solidity."
Brussels and many European member states have primarily had one objection to Merkel's outgoing coalition: its ruthlessness. They criticized Germany's austerity dictate and accused the chancellor of a lack of sensitivity when it comes to European history.
"Merkel will not simply be able to continue to pursue this policy with the SPD," says EU Parliament President Martin Schulz. The Social Democrat says that people's social concerns must finally be taken seriously, and he cites high youth unemployment in the crisis-ridden countries of Southern Europe as a top priority. The chancellor attempted to neutralize this issue in July with a high-profile summit in Berlin. "After paying lip service to social issues, Merkel now has to finally take action," Schulz argues.
Policy Across Party Lines
Although the election platforms of Germany's two main parties may seem similar in some respects, they differ considerably when it comes to European policy. They diverge on the issue of how much solidarity there should be among the EU member countries. The SPD favors partially collectivizing debt across the euro zone, whereas the CDU rejects this. "We cannot allow the issue of collective liability to remain off-limits," the SPD party platform proclaims. By contrast, the conservatives' election manifesto warns that collective liability "would be the road to a European debt union."
The gap will now have to be bridged in coalition negotiations. Merkel would not have it any easier with the Greens. During their election campaign, they also criticized her "one-sided austerity policy, with its lack of solidarity."
It is ironic that the conservative winner of this election will now likely have to rely on the Social Democrats. During the recent election campaign, the CDU leader accused the SPD of being "totally unreliable" on European policy. She will have to pay a price for this during the coalition negotiations.
Merkel won't agree to a system of broad liability based on euro bonds, i.e. collective bonds for all euro-zone countries. At most, she will consent to a temporary debt repayment fund, which would merely contain a portion of the current outstanding debts of the euro-zone members. This idea stems from the German Council of Economic Experts, a respected panel that advises the government.
The fact that Merkel ruled out such a debt repayment fund as recently as Saturday during the CDU's closing rally in Berlin doesn't necessarily mean much. It wouldn't be the first time she made an about-face. Furthermore, she could make her approval contingent on how effective recently introduced EU regulations for monitoring national budgets turn out to be in practice.
The Clock Is Ticking
The negotiators don't have much time. Due to the German election campaign, there is enormous mounting pressure to make decisions in Europe. Berlin has put the brakes on diverse EU programs over the past few months -- and the other European countries have done their best to make only a minimal number of new demands.
Greece's troubles are expected to intensify as soon as this fall. In the midst of the election campaign, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble made supposedly spontaneous comments aimed at carefully preparing the public for the unavoidable: "Greece will need yet another new package."
The Banque de France and a number of other European central banks no longer intend to extend the maturities of Greek sovereign bonds worth some €4 billion ($5.4 billion), in contrast to what was agreed in late 2012. Now that Greece has a national debt amounting to 160 percent of GDP, they no longer believe that the ailing country will be able to avoid another debt haircut.
It's very possible that the central banks will be pressured to extend the maturities of their bonds once again. Perhaps the new German government will seek to ease the repayment conditions in a bid to postpone the moment of truth. That notwithstanding, many Eurocrats in Brussels and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are anticipating a major debt haircut during the upcoming legislative period.
A debt haircut would be more likely if Germany had a grand coalition. Working together, the CDU and the SPD could easily muster a sufficient majority if it came to a vote in Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, on this unpopular and costly support for the Greeks.
Other Countries Need Fresh Capital
Europe's other debt-ridden countries are also breathing a sigh of relief, because they hope the Social Democrats will show more understanding for their problems. Indeed, Greece is not the only country that needs fresh capital. The aid programs for Ireland and Spain will expire at the end of this year. It's now already clear that the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), the euro zone's permanent bailout fund, will have to intervene with guarantees worth billions.
The first candidate is Ireland. Although Dublin has now managed to borrow money on the capital markets under better conditions, the Irish finance minister is asking for an additional credit line of €10 billion as a precautionary measure.
What's more, the Spanish will most likely need additional support for their banks. Madrid has already borrowed €41 billion to aid its financial sector. The program expires at the end of the year. The stress tests carried out on behalf of the European Central Bank (ECB) will show whether the recapitalization of their financial institutions has been sufficient.
The problems in Slovenia are even more pressing. It's very possible that one of the first things that the new Bundestag will vote on could be this new candidate for financial aid. Central bankers say they now assume that Slovenia can no longer solve its banks' problems on its own.
Rating agencies recently downgraded Slovenian sovereign bonds to junk status. During their September session, the ECB Governing Council and the European finance ministers intensively discussed what needs to be done to help this small country. Slovenia has already liquidated two small lending institutions. But the country's larger banks have also had to write off huge amounts in bad loans.
Regulating Europe's Banks
To prevent the financial industry from plunging entire nations into chaos in the future, Brussels is pressing for the planned euro-zone banking union to be completed as quickly as possible. In the fall of next year, the ECB will start regulating Europe's banks. But there still is no effective restructuring process that could allow an ailing bank to go bankrupt without significantly damaging the economy.
This is another area where Germany's European neighbors have been eagerly awaiting the Bundestag election. For months now, Finance Minister Schäuble has put them off with threadbare legal arguments, because he refused to make any additional concessions before the election. Liquidating banks requires a European fund that, if necessary, can intervene when shareholders, bank creditors and individual countries don't have sufficient resources. "Without a credible financing mechanism, the collective banking regulatory agency cannot work," writes Deutsche Bank.
"I haven't spoken with my former boss about it," said Jörg Asmussen, a former senior official in the German Finance Ministry and the country's current ECB director, following a recent meeting of European finance ministers in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius. But the legal experts at the ECB, the European Commission and the European Council have reportedly come to the conclusion that a European restructuring process is possible without amending the European treaties.
The new German government will now have to vote on a new restructuring fund.
Likewise, the new German finance minister-- who may also turn out to be the old one -- will lobby for a solution that holds not just shareholders but also bank creditors responsible in the event of a bankruptcy. Furthermore, the chancellor aims to prevent the European Commission from having the last word on bank closures. Instead, she wants an agency to assume responsibility for coordination. "The new German government has to make headway with the banking union," says SPD politician Schulz.
Relief in Europe
There is a palpable sense of satisfaction with the German election results in many parts of Europe. The debtor countries are relieved that the chancellor is reliant upon a left-wing party, and will probably have to alter her rigid course on Europe. At the same time, most heads of state and government welcome the fact that Merkel will remain in office and ensure continuity in the EU's key country.
The new coalition arithmetic could also have consequences that go beyond rescuing the euro. For instance, the current ruling center-right coalition has steadfastly rejected an initiative by European Commissioner for Justice Viviane Reding for a women's quota on the supervisory boards of publicly traded companies across the Continent. The SPD will attempt to write this quota into the coalition agreement.
EU Energy Commissioner Oettinger hopes that Germany will be able to make headway on climate policy again. In the outgoing German government, the two ministers responsible for this policy area -- Environment Minister Peter Altmaier of the CDU and Economics Minister Philipp Rösler of the FDP -- stonewalled each other's proposals. Consequently, over the past few months Germany has not even been able to take a position on EU climate protection goals for 2030, according to Oettinger.
The so-called Energiewende, Germany's push to abandon nuclear energy and promote renewable sources, is not only problematic from the viewpoint of German consumers of electricity. "A number of provisions of Germany's Renewable Energy Act are hard to reconcile with EU law," says Oettinger, adding that many exceptions for large consumers of electricity are problematic. "The new German government urgently needs to take action on this," the German EU commissioner argues.
Time for Reform
All in all, last Sunday's mandate by Germany's voters should improve the prospects for fundamental reform of the EU. Until now, Merkel has opposed extending the European Commission's power. She has a vision of a Europe in which the governments of the member states play the leading role.
By contrast, the Social Democrats are urging the executive branch in Brussels to play a greater role. The Commission needs to be expanded to become a government "that is elected and monitored by the European Parliament," as it says in the SPD's election manifesto. The Greens take a similar view. Indeed, the notion of a public convention that would prepare amendments to European treaties is regaining momentum.
Merkel will now no longer be able to hide behind pure crisis management. The elections to the European Parliament in May 2014 will force the chancellor to make sweeping affirmations on European policy. The strong voter support for the conservative, anti-euro Alternative for Germany (AFD) party is a clear indication that she has failed to adequately explain her political course. Although the AFD fell just short of meeting the 5 percent hurdle to enter the Bundestag, this result should not be played down, according to Luxembourg Prime Minister Juncker, who warns: "The success of the AFD means that we have a problem explaining the euro."
It's very likely that the German anti-euro party will win seats in the European Parliament next year. EU Commissioner Oettinger anticipates that roughly one-third of the seats will go to anti-EU populists -- more than ever before.
The established political parties have to counter this development with a credible alternative -- and this includes having the right candidates. The Social Democrats have a prominent pro-European politician with Martin Schultz. Merkel is still looking for a top candidate for the conservative European People's Party. She doesn't have much time left, though.
Translated from the German by Paul Cohen
09/24/2013 05:56 PM
Merkel's Test: Reluctant SPD to Extract High Price for Coalition
By David Crossland
Despite Angela Merkel's landslide win, it could take months for Germany to form a coalition. She's only five seats short of a majority but the SPD, stung by its last foray into government with the chancellor, will extract a high price -- and may say no altogether.
The party is well and truly over for Chancellor Angela Merkel. Two days after her triumph, it's fast becoming clear that her quest for a stable coalition will test her famed mediating skills to the limit.
The world is watching closely how she fares -- the outcome of the talks will determine her government's all-important European policy.
Merkel and her finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, have insisted in recent days that their stance on the euro crisis, with a strong focus on reform and austerity and strict opposition to new debt, will remain intact. But they may have to soften their approach in order to form a government.
It was always clear that the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), who want a bigger focus on stimulating growth in Europe, would be loathe to join her government in a "grand coalition." The last time they did that, during her first term between 2005 and 2009, Merkel got all the credit for their work and they promptly suffered their worst ever result in a federal election.
But the vigor with which some SPD leaders are now resisting an alliance has come as a surprise. It suggests that Merkel will need to make big concessions in terms of policies and cabinet posts -- bigger than the SPD's relatively modest number of parliamentary seats warrant -- to win them over. It also suggests there is a real possibility that her attempt to form a government may fail altogether.
She is only five seats short of an absolute majority in the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament-- but she may have to pay an extremely high price for it. It's possible, but unlikely, that she may even have to sacrifice Schäuble and hand the key post of finance minister to the SPD.
This is the flipside of her historic election win. Merkel, at the peak of her popularity, led her conservatives to their best result since 1990 but she lured so many voters away from her current junior partner, the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) -- an estimated 2.11 million -- that the FDP failed to reach the five-percent threshold needed for representation in parliament.
Some commentators are calling her the black widow of German politics.
SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel was candid about the risks of getting bitten. "The SPD isn't going to line up after Frau Merkel ruined her previous coalition partner," he told reporters on Monday after a gloomy meeting of his party's executive board. The SPD climbed just 2.7 points in the election to 25.7 percent and has just 192 seats against the CDU's 311 in the 630-seat parliament.
Regional SPD leaders are already making plain that they want their party to go into opposition.
"Ninety percent of my regional party association are against a grand coalition. It's not a disgrace for us to go into opposition," said Hannelore Kraft, the state governor of North Rhine-Westphalia who has been tipped as a possible future SPD leader and chancellor candidate.
"The SPD is prepared to hold talks with the conservatives of Chancellor Angela Merkel but the outcome is open. We won't enter a grand coalition with flags held high. We will focus on policies," Kraft told reporters.
The head of the SPD's regional parliamentary group in North Rhine-Westphalia, Norbert Römer, went further. "We're not aiming for a grand coalition and there won't be one in the end," he said.
Analysts said resistance to a grand coalition is greater than ever in the SPD.
"It's really astonishing how hard the SPD is trying to seal itself off this time," Thomas Jäger, a political scientist at Cologne University, told SPIEGEL ONLINE.
Part of the reason, he said, is that the SPD has done well in recent state elections and that its regional barons are worried their electoral support will suffer if the SPD joins Merkel. "Opposition parties like the Greens or Left Party would find it relatively easy to siphon off voters," Jäger said.
'The SPD Will Have to Show Big Symbolic Results'
Another factor is Merkel's vastly increased political stature both at home and abroad, which will allow her to dominate any coalition government to a far greater extent than during her first term, when she was a newcomer to government and her conservatives had only 24 more seats than the SPD, said Jäger.
"The SPD will have to show big symbolic results in coalition talks," said Jäger. "I can imagine that the Finance Ministry would be hard fought over. Schäuble has a lot of respect in the CDU. I can't imagine the SPD would want to join a government containing such a strong minister."
European Parliament President Martin Schulz, an SPD member, told SPIEGEL that Merkel will have to change her European policy in a grand coalition. He said Merkel would have to take real action against high youth unemployment in crisis-hit nations. Radical austerity would have to end. "Merkel will not be able to continue to pursue this policy with the SPD," Schulz said. "After giving lip service to social issues, Merkel must now finally take action."
Everything is on hold until Friday, when the SPD will discuss how to proceed at a party conference in Berlin attended by some 200 grass-roots delegates from across Germany and the 35-member leadership board.
Talks Could Last Till Christmas
If they give the green light, a period of cautious, probing talks will start, frequently interrupted for consultation with party representatives. It will be slow going. "I would be surprised if they finish much before Christmas," Bernhard Wessels, an analyst at Berlin's Free University, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. Wessels doubts that the CDU would give up the Finance Ministry though.
If talks with the SPD fail, what are Merkel's options? She could seek an alliance with the Greens, but Bavarian Governor Horst Seehofer, a powerful conservative ally, on Tuesday ruled out even talking to them. Besides, the Greens are in turmoil after Sunday's poor showing and their leadership has resigned en masse -- not the best pre-condition for the stable parliamentary majority Merkel wants.
The other option is a new election. But neither of the big parties wants that. It could lift the populist, anti-euro Alternative for Germany into parliament -- it got very close to the five-percent threshold on Sunday -- and lead to an even weaker result for the SPD.
Despite all its misgivings, the SPD will probably join Merkel in the end because public pressure is likely to mount as the weeks drag on.
"Former SPD grandees will start to appeal to the party's responsibility to the country," said Jäger. "The longer the talks go on, the greater the public pressure will be on the SPD to get on with it and find an agreement."
Schäuble got the ball rolling on Tuesday. "The state comes first, then the party," he growled.
Germany's first two black MPs enter parliament
Karamba Diaby and Charles M Huber arrive in Bundestag in moment hailed as historic by equality campaigners
Philip Oltermann in Berlin
theguardian.com, Tuesday 24 September 2013 16.03 BST
Germany's first MP of African descent said he was looking forward to the challenge of working in the Bundestag and that he would campaign for more equal opportunities in education.
In an interview at the German parliament Karamba Diaby, 51, of the Social Democratic party of Germany, said: "I myself am the product of equal opportunities and was given the chance to study as an orphan, and I want to make a difference for other people in this area too."
Diaby and Charles M Huber, of the Christian Democratic Union, are the first two black members of the Bundestag, a development hailed as a "historic moment" by equal opportunity campaigners. In addition, Angela Merkel's party will also include a Muslim MP for the first time.
Born in Senegal, Diaby moved to East Germany in 1985 and went on to become a chemist. He will represent the town of Halle in the former east. Huber, a TV actor born in Munich whose father is Senegalese, will represent the southern city of Darmstadt.
Cemile Giousouf, 35, whose parents were part of the Turkish minority in Greece and moved to Leverkusen 40 years ago, will represent Hagen in North-Rhine Westphalia. There have been Muslim politicians in Germany's parliament since 1994, but Giousouf will be the first representative for the Christian Democrats.
The number of MPs with an immigrant background has risen from 21 to 34, with the leftwing Die Linke having the highest percentage of multicultural politicians in their ranks followed by the Green party.
Mekonnen Mesghena, a migration policy expert for the Böll Foundation, described the arrival of black Germans in the Bundestag as a landmark moment: "Germany has a colonial history that stretches back to the 19th century, yet until now black Germans have had no political representation."
A detailed breakdown of the ethnic background of German citizens has only been published since 2005, but there are estimated to be about 500,000 people of recent African descent and between 3.8 million and 4.3 million Muslims living in Germany.
One of the policy areas that Diaby, Huber and Giousouf will be expected to debate in parliament is the introduction of dual citizenship, which has been advocated by the SPD and the Greens. At the moment, German citizens born to non-German nationals have to choose one citizenship before they turn 23.
09/24/2013 02:05 PM
'Fatal Mistake': Green Party Takes Stock after Election Flop
By SPIEGEL Staff
Germany's Green Party faces a shake-up after its poor performance in Sunday's election, with lead candidate Jürgen Trittin the latest to step down. Now former head Joschka Fischer is taking the party's leadership to task, as the finger pointing begins in earnest.
The most obvious election night flop in Germany was that turned in by the Free Democrats. For the first time ever, the party will not be sending delegates to the federal parliament in Berlin.
But the Green Party, which as recently as 2011 looked like it might challenge the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) for the honor of being Germany's second largest party, also imploded. On Sunday, it managed a mere 8.4 percent of the vote, well below the 10.7 percent it won in 2009 -- and far, far below expectations.
Now the finger pointing has begun in earnest -- despite the fact that there remains a theoretical possibility that the Greens could end up as Chancellor Angela Merkel's junior coalition partner. On Monday, the party announced it would choose a new leadership team at a congress scheduled for November. Green co-chair Claudia Roth said that, after 13 years as one of the party's leaders, she will not be running for a top slot. Both parliamentary floor leader Renate Künast and Jürgen Trittin, one of the Greens' two top candidates in Sunday's election, followed Roth's example on Tuesday. Katrin Göring-Eckhardt , the party's other top candidate, has not yet indicated what she plans to do.
The pressure will be great to step down. Already, former party bigwigs and current leaders have begun venting their frustrations, with former Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer leading the way.
"It looks almost as though the current leadership of the Greens has gotten older but still hasn't grown up," Fischer told SPIEGEL following Sunday's vote. "They followed a strategy that not only failed to win over new voters, but drove away many old ones." Noting the party's focus on tax hikes and social spending during the campaign, Fischer said that emphasizing a "leftist course" was a "fatal mistake."
Former party head Reinhard Bütikofer has likewise not been complimentary of the current Green leadership. "The failure … to engage in a serious debate with Chancellor Merkel regarding … her policies for Europe granted her political hegemony" on the issue, he told SPIEGEL. He also criticized Trittin for being a mouthpiece of the party's left wing.
There is, he said, "no way around" a leadership reshuffle.
Sunday's election result was a major comedown from recent expectations. Though Merkel has hinted that she will at least sound out the Greens as she seeks to build a coalition, there is little appetite on either side for an alliance. Indeed, Horst Seehofer, the head of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to Merkel's Christian Democrats, ruled out a partnership with the Greens in an interview with SPIEGEL, to be published on Wednesday. "I can only say that a flirtation with the Greens, particularly in its current constellation, would immediately strengthen the extremist right wing," Seehofer said.
That means that the Green Party is likely staring at its third consecutive legislative period on the opposition bench. By itself, that is not terribly surprising -- polls had long shown that a victory for the Social Democrat/Green pairing was a long shot. But it had always been assumed that the SPD would be the weaker party in such a pairing. As recently as 2011, the Greens were riding a wave of unprecedented support and spent months polling above 20 percent nationwide.
Heavy on Social Issues
But it didn't take long for the numbers to start dropping. There were several reasons for the plunge. Initially, it was merely a correction following the bubble of support created by the March 2011 nuclear disaster at Fukushima. But the party appeared to genuinely believe that it could become a third, broad-based party with mass appeal on the model of the CDU or SPD -- a so-called Volkspartei.
To that end, it assembled a campaign platform heavy on social issues to go along with a pledge to raise taxes instead of focusing on its traditional areas of environmental issues, Europe, education and gender equality. An ill-advised proposal to introduce one vegetarian day a week in German cafeterias didn't help. Pollsters have identified the tax plans as one of the primary reasons for the party's poor showing on Sunday.
Many critics both within the party and elsewhere say the Greens came off as know-it-alls in the campaign. "We have developed the image of a schoolmarm party, which we never wanted," Green Party member Robert Habeck, who is energy minister for the state of Schleswig Holstein, told SPIEGEL. He said the party's campaign platform read as if it sought to "morally enlighten humanity," adding that the party "had lost its last shred of magic."
There was, though, more to the Green collapse than just its platform and its campaign. Jürgen Trittin has also faced criticism in recent weeks for his involvement in the Green Party's pedophilia scandal. In August, it became known that Trittin provided his tacit approval in the 1980s to the party's call for striking laws banning pedophilia in Germany. Trittin expressed his regret, but the timing of the revelations, even though they related to an event that took place 30 years ago, could not be overcome.
Seehofer referred to the scandal in his interview with SPIEGEL, saying that one of the reasons he couldn't imagine a partnership with the Greens was the "past of Jürgen Trittin and Volker Beck," another member of the party implicated in the pedophilia scandal. "That upset me more than anything has in quite a while," Seehofer said. "For me, a line has been crossed."
The Green Party, meanwhile, appears to be heading for a difficult process of evaluation and reinvention. "We would be wise to question everything and everyone," Habeck told SPIEGEL. "We can't just return to business as usual. We could have made history in this campaign ... We have missed an extraordinary opportunity."
Gibraltar border controls examined by EC amid UK-Spanish tensions
European Commission carries out 'fact-finding mission' after summer dispute led to huge queues at Gibraltar border crossing
Paul Hamilos in Madrid
theguardian.com, Wednesday 25 September 2013 12.57 BST
Officials from the European Commission have begun inspecting border controls in Gibraltar following complaints of excessive delays caused by Spanish officials that led to a war of words with Britain.
The EC team is carrying out what it described as a "technical fact-finding mission" in Gibraltar and La Línea, Andalucia, after the Gibraltar government said overzealous border officials were causing lines of traffic to build up, making daily life a misery for people either side of the border with the British overseas territory.
The increased security on the Spanish side came after a dispute with the UK this summer over an artificial underwater reef. Gibraltar's government dropped 74 concrete blocks into the sea in a disputed area of water regularly used by Spanish fishing boats. Gibraltar described the artificial reef as a necessary environmental protection, but the Spanish government saw it as an act of provocation. The dispute simmered all summer, leading to the intervention by the EC.
In the run-up to Wednesday's visit, Gibraltar accused Spain of ordering a last-minute improvement to its traffic control system to "disguise and conceal" the delays they had caused.
"This crude attempt at the last minute by the Spanish authorities to disguise and conceal the way in which they normally conduct such searches at the border, in a manner that is likely to mislead the European Commission, will be brought to the immediate attention of the EC," said a spokesman for the Gibraltar government.
"Clearly, it would seem that the announcement of the European Commission's visit is already producing positive effects, even before the commission inspectors arrive."
The EC team consists of officials from the department of home affairs, customs union and justice, as well as the European anti-fraud office (Olaf), which will investigate allegations from Spain that Gibraltar is a haven for smuggling of illegal contraband, particularly cheap cigarettes.
"The delegation will look at installations and checks carried out at the entry and exit of persons and goods on both sides of the border as well as issues related to alleged smuggling," said the commission. The visit will last one day, but the EC did not say when its findings would be made public.
Last month, there were reports of violence at the border as tempers frayed while angry commuters queued to get home. As well as reports of missiles being thrown at the Spanish Guardia Civil officers, two unions organised a protest after it was alleged that an officer was injured when a Gibraltar-registered car failed to stop.
Around 8,000 Spaniards are thought to work in Gibraltar but live in Spain, mostly in the border towns of La Línea and Algeciras.
September 24, 2013
Ex-Leader Weds, Complicating Czech Bribe Case
By DAN BILEFSKY
No, they were not on a hiking trip in the Carpathians.
Eluding frenzied Czech news media, the disgraced former prime minister of the Czech Republic, Petr Necas, and his onetime chief of staff were married in a secret ceremony on Saturday, the Czech news media reported on Tuesday.
With the couple ensnared in the most exhaustive anticorruption sting operation in the Czech Republic since the fall of Communism, their marriage was variously viewed by analysts as a misguided love story or a cynical ploy to avoid prosecution.
In June, Mr. Necas, 48, once nicknamed “Mr. Clean Hands” for his anticorruption campaigning, was forced to resign after his chief of staff and mistress, Jana Nagyova, was charged with abuse of office for using the country’s secret intelligence service to spy on Mr. Necas’s wife, whom he divorced in August. Ms. Nagyova was also accused of trying to bribe three members of Parliament, who opposed a government austerity plan, with offers of posts in state-owned companies.
Prosecutors have been seeking to prove that Mr. Necas, a churchgoing father of four, was also involved in bribing members of Parliament.
But on Tuesday, Ms. Nagyova dealt prosecutors a blow when she walked into a police station in Prague and introduced herself as Mrs. Jana Necasova, her lawyer, Eduard Bruna, told the Czech news media. Under Czech law, family members cannot be compelled to testify against one another, and analysts said this could make it difficult for prosecutors to prove that any order to offer bribes came from the former prime minister.
“The heart of the bribery case has been whether she was acting alone or on behalf of Mr. Necas, and now it will be very difficult to prove whether he was giving her directions,” said Jaroslav Plesl, deputy editor of Tyden, a leading political magazine.
Speculation that Mr. Necas and Ms. Nagyova married in a secret ceremony had been building for days, after they were spotted at Chateau Mcely, a 17th-century chateau near Prague with a manicured English park, a spa and a lake with a white sand beach. Tabloids have been offering big rewards for recent photographs or videos of the couple.
The two had been engaged for years in a surreptitious relationship that Mr. Necas finally acknowledged in July, telling Tyden that being romantically involved with a senior aide while he was prime minister was probably a bad idea. “Interconnecting a personal relationship with a working relationship is simply not correct, and I knew that,” he told the magazine, explaining that the heart had won out over the head.
Mr. Necas has not been charged with a crime and has strenuously denied any wrongdoing. Ms. Nagyova has also professed her innocence, and was released in July after a month in jail pending trial. On Tuesday, Mr. Bruna, her lawyer, told the Czech news media that Ms. Nagyova had declined to give a statement to the police, saying she was “not yet ready.”
The inquiry, which included wiretaps of Mr. Necas’s phone calls with Ms. Nagyova, turned up $8 million in cash and stashes of gold that prosecutors suspect was linked to influence peddling, the authorities said.
When Ms. Nagyova’s home was searched in June before her arrest, the police discovered receipts for Louis Vuitton handbags totaling 120,000 euros, about $162,000. But it is unclear whether they were gifts or merely the accessories of a woman referred to as “tsarina” because of her luxurious tastes.
The case has riveted the country in a region that has struggled to shed a culture of corruption in the aftermath of the Communist era. Corruption in the Czech Republic is so endemic that one industrious young Czech recently started a “crony safari” bus tour. The stops include the modernist villas of influential lobbyists and a single address registered to hundreds of companies.
Jana Marie Preiss contributed reporting from Prague, Czech Republic.