Golden Dawn remains defiant amid Greek revulsion at musician's murder
Far-right party's leader threatens to 'open the gates of hell' as inquiry presents evidence of collusion with security forces
Helena Smith in Athens
theguardian.com, Wednesday 25 September 2013 18.29 BST
Thousands of Greeks have taken to the streets to denounce the murder of a rap musician stabbed to death by a member of the far-right Golden Dawn as a government inquiry presented evidence of widespread infiltration of security forces by the ultra-nationalist party.
The organisation has denied any involvement in the killing of Pavlos Fyssas and the party's leader, Nikos Michaloliakos, warned that what he described as mud-slinging and slander "would open the gates of hell".
Golden Dawn, whose emblem resembles the swastika, said the media was behind a "dirty war" to annihilate it and singled out the Guardian – "the newspaper of capitalists in the City" – for inciting violence against the group. "[All of which] proves, exactly, the role of certain embassies in the entire operation to dismantle [Golden Dawn]," it said.
The statement was posted on the party's website after a survey by the polling company Alco showed support for the group dropping by four percentage points, from 10.8%, in the wake of the fatal stabbing.
The overwhelming majority of respondents blamed Golden Dawn – whose meteoric rise on the back of economic discontent has made it Greece's third-largest party – for the escalating violence.
Last week's killing not only convulsed Greek society but prompted a number of former Golden Dawn sympathisers and cadres to break their silence. The picture that has emerged is of an organisation run as a chain of cells with a strict chain of command leading all the way up to Michaloliakos, a mathematician who founded the party more than 20 years ago.
Members have spoken of collusion with the police – who in one video are seen giving cover to Golden Dawn supporters during street battles against anti-fascists – and special forces from whom they have claimed to have received training in clandestine camps.
Stepping up investigations into whether Golden dawn acted as "a criminal neo-Nazi" organisation, judicial authorities have signalled that at least five more party cadres will be charged in connection with Fyssas's murder.
Public order minister Nikos Dendias, who ordered the probe into Golden Dawn, said he had sent further evidence of the extremists' complicity in attacks on immigrants, leftists and trade unionists to Greece's supreme court. The file chronicles more than 150 incidents in a dossier of violence dating back to 1992. It comes in addition to human rights groups linking the neo-fascist party to over 300 assaults, mostly on dark-skinned migrants, in the three years since debt-stricken Greece descended into economic crisis.
Antonis Samaras' fragile coalition has pledged to cut off state funding to the party if it is found to be connected to the murder. Golden Dawn has vehemently denied any involvement in the crime, despite the man who has confessed to the killing claiming allegiance to the group.
Greece has come under heavy pressure from Brussels to clamp down on the openly racist party, with several MEPs and other officials expressing doubt over whether the country should be allowed to assume the rotating presidency of the EU in January if it fails to do so.
Austerity measures push Greek universities to point of collapse
University of Athens faces 'most serious crisis in its history' and suspends operations because of cuts, while others follow suit
theguardian.com, Wednesday 25 September 2013 15.13 BST
Internationally mandated austerity measures have pushed universities in Greece to the point of collapse with many of the debt-stricken country's pre-eminent higher education institutions being forced to suspend operations.
After the University of Athens announced it could no longer function because of lay-offs demanded by the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank, universities in Thessaloniki, Patras, Ioannina and Crete have followed suit. All say that cuts in administrative staff, including guards and archivists, have made it impossible to keep their doors open. Greece is under pressure to streamline its bloated public sector by relocating 25,000 civil servants into a strategic reserve or mobility scheme on reduced pay by the end of the year. Those who cannot find jobs in other government departments will be culled.
In a letter to the prime minister, Antonis Samaras, the president of the Federation of University Teachers, Stathis Efstathopoulos, wrote: "With great angst we have ascertained that with the government's decision to place specialist and much valued administrative staff into the mobility scheme our universities are at risk of collapse. Even if we accept that we have a surplus of personnel we cannot, from one day to the next, operate with 40% less staff."
Until now government posts had been guaranteed by the Greek constitution. But almost four years into its worst financial crisis in modern times, Athens' troika of creditors has ridden roughshod over that taboo, saying deficit-reducing targets demanded employees be dismissed.
Among the 12,500 civil servants already identified for transfer into the scheme are administrative staff at universities working in libraries, laboratories, clinics and professorial offices. Announcing suspension of operations on Tuesday, the rector of the University of Athens, the country's oldest higher education institution, said it was impossible for the university to operate without the 498 employees who have been stripped from its ranks.
"In order to function, the University of Athens has to be supported with the staff to run eight libraries, 174 laboratories, 66 university clinics established at the biggest hospitals in Attica and 18 museums," he wrote in a letter to Samaras. "In light of the announcement regarding the removal of such a large number … Athens University faces the biggest and most serious crisis in its history."
As a result it would neither be able to register students, already gathered for the start of the new academic year, conduct postgraduate courses or release exam scores. "It is very likely we will lose the next six months … but the bigger issue is we don't lose the university altogether," he said.
Barely days after the start of a fresh round of negotiations with creditors, the closures have once again put Samaras's fragile coalition on the defensive. The mass-selling Ta Nea newspaper describes the closures as a huge challenge, not only for students but their families at a time of intense political, economic and social upheaval.
Universities, like most public bodies, had become a breeding ground of public sector profligacy used widely by politicians as a source of patronage in return for votes. Tellingly, only 295 of the 7,680 administrative staff employed in tertiary education since 1994 had been appointed on the basis of a meritocratic process, according to Ta Nea. "In one historic case a lifeguard was paid for years by Athens University of Economics and Business despite the pool in the student housing complex to which he had once been appointed having closed," the newspaper reported.
Although the need to pare down the public sector is now universally accepted, the crude fiscal logic applied to many of the cuts has been increasingly criticised, with many arguing that instead of reinvigorating the state administration the cost-cutting is weakening it to a terminal degree.
In the case of Greece's universities many researchers are believed to have been recruited as administrative staff because of funding cuts. "What we are seeing is a randomised set of cuts and job losses without any kind of focus … or meaningful review of how the state administration operates," said professor Kevin Featherstone, who heads the London School of Economics Hellenic Observatory. "The troika is not focusing enough on structural reforms which would be growth enhancing."
Russia's first Womad festival brings world music to North Caucasus
Mountainside near town of Pyatigorsk hosts artists from across globe after eleventh-hour Kremlin jitters were calmed
Wednesday 25 September 2013 17.39 BST
In a woodland clearing on the slopes of Mount Mashuk, which towers over the small town of Pyatigorsk in the Caucasus, the crowds were starting to gather. Mount Mashuk, two days by train from Moscow, is a traditional destination for hikers, and those taking the water at nearby spa resorts. It It was made famous in the writings of Mikhail Lermontov, who was killed in a duel on Mount Mashuk at the age of 26.
But these crowds were here for something else – the first-ever Womad Russia. Held just up the hill from where Lermontov died, the festival is markedly different from its British counterpart. Police with dogs patrolled the entrance and the perimeter fences. No alcohol was allowed on the site; even soft drinks were confiscated from festivalgoers – just in case something stronger was being smuggled through.
Womad – the World of Music and Dance – has a near-equal standing with Glastonbury on the British festival calendar, with a reputation for being an easy-going family affair that promotes music from around the globe. Its formula has been exported to 27 countries, from Abu Dhabi to New Zealand.
The first Russian Womad, held last weekend, involved long and complex negotiations about where it should be held, with some local authorities apparently fearing it could become a terrorist target.. But the project was finally given the go-ahead as part of a campaign to encourage tourism in the Caucasus, backed by £1m from the Development Bank of Russia.
But, with just one day to go, the festival very nearly didn't happen. The Kremlin had realised – after reading a newspaper interview – that Peter Gabriel was one of Womad's co-founders. Gabriel, an active supporter of human rights campaigns around the world, had previously spoken out about the jailing of Pussy Riot.
"At first it didn't sink in," said festival director Chris Smith. "I didn't believe it was happening."
Lengthy discussions followed in which Smith argued this would be a cultural exchange and a non-political festival, and that Peter Gabriel's views were his own. It was only on Friday afternoon – less than 24 hours before the concert was due to go ahead – that the event was given official approval.
On the day there was great music, and no politics – though Alexander Khloponin, Russia's deputy prime minister and presidential envoy to the North Caucasus, did drop in. Surrounded by security men, he stood at the front of the stage and clearly enjoyed watching Pelageya, a cheerfully flamboyant singer who is a big star in Russia, with a style that veered between folk-rock and rock.
There were bands from across the Caucasus and elsewhere in Russia, including Ayarkhaan, a remarkable female trio from Sakha, on the edge of Siberia, and five Cossack groups from across the country who provided a furious display of acrobatic dancing, as well as appearances by the Australian-based Tatar singer Zulya and Seun Kuti, son of the firebrand Nigerian legend Fela.
Most of the audience had come from the local region, attracted by the low ticket cost (around £6 for two days), and were keen to see foreign bands they knew nothing of.
Though much about the festival was different to Britain's Womad, some things never change: it rained for two days.
French socialists vow ‘unprecedented’ spending cuts in 2014 budget
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, September 25, 2013 13:55 EDT
France vowed “unprecedented” cuts in public spending to rein in its deficit without compromising much-needed growth, as it unveiled its draft 2014 budget on Wednesday.
The pledge came as new figures showed the number of registered job seekers in France fell for the first time in more than two years.
But critics on either side of the political spectrum remained sceptical that the cost-cutting would alleviate hardship in the Eurozone’s second largest economy, which is grappling with record-high unemployment, limited investment and low consumer spending.
Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici and Budget Minister Bernard Cazeneuve presented the draft budget to the cabinet, outlining 15 billion euros ($20 billion) worth of cuts.
“We prefer to find savings rather than increasing taxes,” Moscovici and Cazeneuve said in their introduction to the draft budget.
Some 80 percent of savings next year will come from cuts in public spending, which is far higher in France than in its main European partners, and only 20 percent from a rise in taxes.
State spending will reach 57.1 percent of GDP this year, and is expected to drop to 56.7 percent in 2014.
The two ministers said outgoings excluding debt interest and pension payments would fall in absolute terms by 1.5 billion euros from 2013 levels — a reduction they described as unprecedented for post-war France.
Public debt, meanwhile, will reach a record 95.1 percent of GDP in 2014 — far higher than previous government estimates — before falling back again the following year.
The ministers reiterated a pledge that France’s public deficit would gradually drop, meeting the 2015 EU-mandated deadline to bring it below three percent.
These decisions are all based on predictions of 0.9 percent economic growth next year and 0.1 percent in 2013 — compared to zero growth in 2012.
In a signal that there could be light at the end of the tunnel finally, the labour ministry said the number of registered job seekers fell by 50,000 to 3.23 million at the end of August.
Labour Minister Michel Sapin however said a lasting turnaround in unemployment promised by the Socialist government and President Francois Hollande had not yet been achieved.
“The results of one month do not represent a turnaround,” Sapin said in a statement.
However, he welcomed what he termed a “significant” drop in a country where unemployment affects nearly 10.9 percent of the active population.
The fall in registered job seekers was the first since May 2011.
Critics meanwhile blasted the budget, saying it would not help French people already seriously battered by the ongoing financial crisis.
Jean-Luc Melenchon, figurehead of the far-left, said the spending cuts just added to previous, huge cuts already implemented by the Socialist government since Hollande came to power last year.
“We must end this policy that continuously increases the suffering of the people and leads to economic, social and political disaster,” he said in a statement.
Valerie Pecresse of the main opposition right-wing UMP and a former budget minister, said there were no real “savings” in the draft and that spending was being stabilised rather than decreased.
“This budget is an anti-spending power budget and therefore an anti-growth budget,” she said on France 2 television.
The government, however, said it expected consumers’ purchasing power to rebound, with growth of 0.3 percent this year and 0.8 percent in 2014 — compared to a drop of 0.9 percent in 2012.
Hollande said the draft budget — which still needs to be approved by parliament — encouraged “a return to growth and employment.”
Among taxes outlined in the draft, a new one percent tax on the gross operating surplus of companies with more than 50 million euros in turnover sparked controversy among a business community already worried about low investment in France.
In terms of jobs in what critics regard as France’s bloated public sector, the budget is broadly neutral.
Although 13,123 jobs are to be eliminated in non-priority ministries, there are plans to create nearly 11,000 others in education, the justice department and the police.
European Union warns French minister over Roma comments
Socialist interior minister said France was 'not here to welcome' minority community and that most should be deported
Angelique Chrisafis in Paris
theguardian.com, Wednesday 25 September 2013 18.00 BST
The European Union has warned France it could face sanctions over the treatment of its Roma community after the interior minister said the majority should be deported and that France was "not here to welcome these populations".
The European Commission spokesman Olivier Bailly warned France that "free circulation and the freedom to live in other countries" within the European Union were fundamental rights written into treaties and if they weren't respected the commission would use "all the means at its disposal to sanction violations".
He said: "Roma, like all EU citizens, have the freedom to circulate freely in all member states of the EU and to live in a country other than their country of origin."
The angry response from Brussels comes six months before local elections in which several political parties, ranging from the far-right to the Socialists in power, have seized on the issue of the Roma's illegal camps, portraying the ethnic minority's presence as threat to French people. The popular and outspoken interior minister Manuel Valls told the radio station France Inter on Tuesday that "these populations have lifestyles that are very different from ours, and are clearly in confrontation" with the lifestyle of the French. He said few Roma could integrate into French society.
Asked about the Socialist government's controversial dismantling of camps – continuing a crackdown begun under the previous rightwing administration of Nicolas Sarkozy – Valls said: "I approved the dismantling of these veritable slums that represent a danger both for the people of Roma origin, but also of course the people who live in working-class neighbourhoods" near them.
Critics say the policy is discriminatory against the roughly 20,000 Roma in France, most of whom trace their origins to Bulgaria and Romania and who have not been offered viable alternatives to squalid makeshift settlements.
While some Socialists, including the government minister Arnaud Montebourg, criticised Valls's comments as "excessive", the interior minister stood by his words, telling BFMTV the "majority" of Roma should be taken to the border. He said: "We must not discriminate, nor must we put our head in the sand."
In 2010, Sarkozy prompted criticism from the European Commission and the Vatican when he linked immigration to crime and promised to expel Roma migrants and destroy illegal camps.
France has been pushing to keep Romania and Bulgaria from gaining full access to Europe's Schengen zone, which allows passport-free travel. The two eastern European countries are set to accede to the 26-nation zone on 1 January.
Spanish prime minister raises 'anachronism' of Gibraltar at UN
Mariano Rajoy renews row at general assembly, saying UK clings to its imperial past despite pledges made 50 years ago
Paul Hamilos in Madrid
theguardian.com, Thursday 26 September 2013 11.52 BST
The Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, described Gibraltar's status as an "anachronism" in a speech before the United Nations general assembly, in the latest salvo over the contested British territory.
Speaking on Wednesday night, Rajoy said: "This anachronism continues to cause inconvenience to the citizens of Gibraltar," as well as to those Spaniards who live on the other side of the border.
Rajoy accused Britain of disregarding the process of decolonisation approved by the UN in the 1960s and called for dialogue with London.
Rajoy's speech came shortly after officials from the European commission completed a one-day visit to Gibraltar to inspect border controls. The EC team went following complaints that Spanish border officials were causing lines of traffic to build up, making daily life a misery for people either side of the border.
The six-person EC team carried out a "technical fact-finding mission" on both sides of the border, interviewing residents and inspecting immigration and customs procedures.
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.
The Spanish foreign minister, Jorge Fernández Díaz, on Wednesday reiterated the claim that Gibraltar "was not working with Spain to tackle the illegal smuggling of tobacco", and other illegal activities, and that Spain had no choice but "to increase controls on the border, which is causing the extra-long queues".
In a statement, the government of Gibraltar accused Fernández of talking "complete nonsense … [he] should know better than to make factually incorrect statements of this kind. The reality is that the laws against tobacco smuggling are tougher in Gibraltar than they are in Spain itself. The reality is that Gibraltar has transposed, implemented and fully complies with all EU directives against money laundering."
The EC team consisted of officials from the department of home affairs, customs union and justice, as well as the European anti-fraud office (Olaf), investigating allegations from Spain that Gibraltar is a haven for smuggling of illegal contraband, particularly cheap cigarettes.
In the runup to Wednesday's visit, Gibraltar accused Spain of ordering a last-minute improvement to its traffic control system to disguise 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."
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.
Atheism to be taught to Irish schoolchildren
Up to 16,000 primary school pupils in non-denominational sector will get tuition in atheism, while the rest will be offered courses on the internet and on smartphone apps
Henry McDonald in Dublin
theguardian.com, Thursday 26 September 2013 12.12 BST
In a historic move that will cheer Richard Dawkins, atheists in Ireland have secured the right to teach the republic's primary schoolchildren that God doesn't exist.
The first ever atheist curriculum for thousands of primary school pupils in Ireland has been drawn up by Atheist Ireland in an education system that the Catholic church hierarchy has traditionally dominated.
The class of September 2014 will be reading texts such as Dawkins' The Magic of Reality, his book aimed at children, as well as other material at four different primary levels, according to Atheist Ireland.
Up to 16,000 primary schoolchildren who attend the fast growing non-denominational Irish school sector will receive direct tuition on atheism as part of their basic introduction course to ethics and belief systems.
But Atheist Ireland's co-founder Michael Nugent stressed that all primary school pupils, including the 93% of the population who attend schools run by the Catholic church, can access their atheism course on the internet and by downloading an app on smartphones. He said these will be advertised and offered to all parents with children at primary schools in the state.
"There will be a module of 10 classes of between 30 to 40 minutes from the ages of four upwards. It is necessary because the Irish education system has for too long been totally biased in favour of religious indoctrination. And if parents whose kids are in schools under church control want to opt their kids out of learning religion (as is their right these days) then they can use our course as an alternative for their children to study," he said.
Nugent added: "Religion isn't even taught properly as an objective subject with various religions and their origins examined and explained. The teaching is to create faith formation first, not objective education. We see our course as a chance for young Irish children to get an alternative view on how the world works."
Jane Donnelly, a member of Atheist Ireland and a parent with two children in an Irish secondary school, welcomed the creation of an atheism alternative for Irish pupils.
"I opted my two girls out of religious education classes and they were told to go to the library and find a philosophy book to read during RE instead. The range of philosophy books was very limited so I sent them into school each day with a copy of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion for them to read."
Religion, education and the Irish Republic
• God is omnipresent in the 1937 Irish constitution, with article 6.1 stating: "All powers of government, legislative, executive and judicial, derive, under God, from the people"; and article 44.1 noting: "The State acknowledges that the homage of public worship is due to Almighty God. It shall hold His Name in reverence, and shall respect and honour religion."
• Since the foundation of the republic, the Catholic church controls up to 93% of the state's 3,200 primary schools.
• The Catholic church's near monopoly of influence in education means that the ultimate power in each school is the local Catholic bishop.
• In Dublin the city's archbishop, Diarmuid Martin, is patron of about 470 primary schools. He is responsible for the management of the ethos of those schools, for senior appointments and is the one who can be sued when legal action takes place.
• The Irish taxpayer and not the church pays the bills for all the schools the hierarchy controls.
• The current Irish education minister, Ruairi Quinn, has promised "the most radical change in primary education in Ireland since the state was founded in the 1920s" by taking the power of the church from running almost all schools in the state and into the hands of elected governors. So far his reforms have not begun in earnest.
Second stash of euros found at former home of one-time IRA hunger striker
Officials say they have found €60,000 in bath at Irish property tycoon Tom McFeely's house to add to earlier €140,000
Henry McDonald, Ireland correspondent
theguardian.com, Thursday 26 September 2013 10.35 BST
A second stash of thousands of euros has been found in the one-time Dublin home of a former IRA hunger striker turned Celtic Tiger property tycoon, it has emerged.
Ireland's Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) has been carrying out searches of the house of the bankrupt builder Tom McFeely after €140,000 was found hidden in a bath at the luxury property in Donnybrook last Friday.
As CAB officials went through McFeely's former home in Ailesbury Road they discovered another €60,000 hidden in the bath. The latest cash was made up of €50 notes wrapped up in elastic bands.
The €200,000 will remain frozen in a Dublin bank controlled by the state as further investigations are carried out.
McFeely took part in the first IRA hunger strike for political status in the Maze prison in 1980, spending 53 days without food before it was called off. A native of Dungiven in County Derry, he was sentenced for offences including trying to kill police officers and carrying out a post office robbery in Northern Ireland during the 1970s.
In the 21st century, McFeely has been accused by residents of a private flat complex in Dublin of carrying out the collective robbery of their life savings.
McFeely's Prior Hall apartment block was so hastily constructed during the property boom of the Celtic Tiger years that Dublin Corporation (now Dublin city council) has ruled it unsafe for habitation. McFeely's reputation as a builder was destroyed after the council concluded that Priory Hall was a fire trap, and residents were forced to leave their homes.
Since the council's safety warning in 2009, up to 250 residents have been left in limbo, with many in temporary accommodation. Last month, a Priory Hall resident, Stephanie Meehan, claimed that the stress of dealing with the problems arising from the complex had driven her partner, Fiachra Daly, to kill himself on 15 July aged 37.
McFeely and his business partner Larry O'Mahony borrowed €186m from Irish Nationwide Building Society at the peak of Ireland's property boom, and these loans are now controlled by the National Assets Management Agency (Nama) – the state body that took over the toxic properties and other assets of builders and speculators whose portfolios collapsed when the Celtic Tiger boom went bust.
The state agency is also taking legal action against McFeely's wife, Nina Lynn Kessler, over debts claimed by Nama in relation to the Ailesbury Road property, which has an unpaid mortgage of €9.5m.
McFeely has a reputation for having a volatile temper, and last year was reportedly pictured trying to attack a reporter with a broken pint glass when she confronted him at a Portuguese resort.
With Angela Merkel's Germany at the helm, Europe will remain a tortoise
Don't expect much more from Merkel and Brussels – but the US and Chinese competition has problems too
Timothy Garton Ash
The Guardian, Wednesday 25 September 2013 20.30 BST
So the German people have spoken, and the European Union will continue to be a tortoise. Next May, following elections to the European parliament, we will discover just how slow and unhappy a creature it is. Then, across the next decade, a larger, Aesopian question will be posed: can the European tortoise somehow outrun the American eagle and the Chinese dragon? Or will it at least keep pace with them?
Resounding though Mutti (Mummy) Merkel's election victory was, Germany's new government still has to be formed. In the federal republic, such coalition talks traditionally happen at the pace, and with all the grace, of tortoises mating. Assuming the result is a so-called "grand coalition" with the Social Democrats, there should be a small but desirable adjustment in Germany's policy towards the eurozone.
On Monday, Merkel suggested that there would be no change in her own approach to a southern Europe traumatised by debt, austerity and depression (in both the economic and psychological senses of the word). Referring to the impressive way Germany managed down its own unit labour costs and restored its competitiveness, she said: "What we have done, everyone else can do."
The Social Democrats understand a little better, or perhaps just express more frankly, that the economics of eurozone recovery are not that simple. Some debt burdens are just unsustainable. Improved supply also requires demand. But since the Social Democrats will be the junior partner in this coalition (if that is what emerges), since the results on which they will be judged by voters are primarily domestic, and since most German voters don't want to pay another cent for allegedly feckless southerners, those eurozone policy adjustments will be modest.
At best, the soft underbelly of the European tortoise – a debt and depression-ridden southern Europe – will continue to bleed. At worst, it will haemorrhage, politically as well as economically. As Costas Douzinas noted in the Guardian on Tuesday, the Greek economy has shrunk by 25%, with youth unemployment at around 70% and a growing national debt-to-GDP ratio approaching 175%. In Greece more social misery and political extremism seem inevitable. Elsewhere, in Spain and Ireland for example, painful reforms are beginning to show some slow, uncertain results.
In the German election, the political centre held. In next May's 28-country elections to the European parliament, that is less likely. Representatives of protest parties of all shapes and colours – from Greece's fascist Golden Dawn to Ukip, from the partly post-communist The Left party in Germany (which is back in the Bundestag, unlike the liberal Free Democrats) to Geert Wilders' Freedom party in the Netherlands – might fill those parliamentary seats in Brussels. If this happens, the European parliament will become a glasshouse full of people throwing stones. Yet that fragmentation will also compel the mainstream, pan-European alliances of conservative, liberal and socialist parties to work more closely together, thus producing a kind of implicit grand coalition in the Brussels parliament, as well as (probably) an explicit one in the Berlin one.
At the same time, Merkel will be even more inclined than she is already to run the European show by pragmatic inter-governmental deal-making, whether in the eurozone of 18 states (when Latvia adopts the euro in January) or the EU of 28 (now that Croatia has joined the larger club). But Merkel's problem is that she does not have a strategic partner in either of the EU's other two leading powers.
France's François Hollande is the Little President Who Would – but his country is weakened by its own domestic economic problems and slowness to reform. Britain's David Cameron, with a stable coalition government and a slowly recovering north European free market economy, could in theory be that partner. In practice, his Eurosceptic Conservative party and his own tactical miscalculations have launched him on a foolish course of attempted "renegotiation" of the terms of Britain's membership of the EU. In short, Britain could, but won't; France would, but can't. That leaves Merkel as Europe's single Mutti. She has a few solid medium-sized partners in countries such as Poland, but they alone are not enough.
So there you have the EU for the foreseeable future: a giant, weary tortoise, with chancellor Merkel sitting astride its shell, trying to steer its woozy head and coax its bleeding underbelly across stony ground. Yet before one falls into deepest melancholy, as a European, it's worth taking a leaf out of Aesop's book and looking at the competition – the American eagle and the Chinese dragon. After all, in Aesop's fable, it was as much the hare that lost as it was the tortoise that won.
I'm watching the German and European slow motion spectacle from the United States. But my TV screen is filled with a partisan style of politics that is the diametric opposite of Germany's centrist, consensual, coalition-building democracy. While Berlin's Christian and Social Democrats negotiate their incremental differences, Washington is engulfed in shrieking brinkmanship, like a giant game of "chicken", with Republicans threatening not to lift the country's national debt ceiling unless that ghastly European-style Obamacare can be brought down. There is even talk of a government shutdown in just a few days' time. Imagine that happening in the United States' erstwhile governance pupil, and now exemplar, Germany. While the US private sector is recovering some of its legendary dynamism, it still faces deep problems of imperial and welfare overstretch, and neglected infrastructure.
And rising China? The failure of president Xi Jinping's new administration to show any signs of political reform makes a deeper crisis in that country ever more probable at some point over the next decade. Jamil Anderlini, of the Financial Times, reports a professor at the Party School of the central committee of the Communist party of China saying this: "We just had a seminar with a big group of very influential party members and they were asking us how long we think the party will be in charge and what we have planned when it collapses. To be honest, this is a question that everyone in China is asking but I'm afraid it's very difficult to answer."
In short, the world's three giant economies all have substantial political problems, of strikingly different kinds. Europe's Merkelian tortoise will not gather speed any time soon, but nor is it now likely to take a big fall. Can we say the same of the eagle and the dragon?
09/25/2013 04:26 PM
Political Diversity: German Parliament Sees Ethnic Mobilization
By Michael Fröhlingsdorf and Özlem Gezer
Parliamentarians with foreign roots were considered exotic in Germany for a long time, but that has changed. Candidates with Turkish heritage now represent a new force in the country's political landscape.
On the Wednesday before Germany's Sept. 22 election, members of the local branch of the Seniors' Union, a faction of the center-right Christian Democratic party (CDU), in the western city of Hagen were looking forward to an exciting afternoon. All the chairs in the Gasthaus Abrahams were taken and the tables were covered with glasses of beer and cups of tea.
Norbert Lammert, president of Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, was visiting this part of the Ruhr Valley region to speak about what Chancellor Angela Merkel has achieved over the past four years.
But the old political veteran interested some of the pensioners far less than the small, dark-haired woman who accompanied Lammert to a table at the end of the room. Cemile Giousouf, born in nearby Leverkusen, is the parliamentary candidate for Merkel's CDU in Hagen, where she has lived for only the past few months.
"She looks nice enough, even if she's a bit gnomish," said one man to another sitting at his table. It sounded like approval.
The crowd certainly didn't intimidate Giousouf, who went from table to table, shaking hands and patting shoulders. In a short speech, she thanked Lammert, the local CDU chapter boss and "generally everyone supporting me." The innocent address lasted less than five minutes, and Giousouf avoided mentioning anything remotely political.
The CDU's First Muslim Candidate
But she didn't have to -- her mere presence was political enough. She considers herself a "strategic signal" by the CDU that the party is taking immigrants seriously. The 35-year-old was the first Muslim parliamentary candidate for the Christian Democrats. The party put her in the Hagen district because two-fifths of the city's population has an immigrant background. She didn't manage to win the district outright, but Giousouf will still join the Bundestag because her spot on the party list was good enough for a seat. The daughter of so-called "guest workers," who came to Germany more than 40 years ago, will be the CDU's first MP with Turkish roots, finally following the trail blazed by the country's other major political parties.
The newly elected Bundestag will represent Germany's 800,000 voters with Turkish heritage better than ever before. Out of 630 MPs, 11 have roots in Turkey -- an increase of six on the previous parliament. Five belong to the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), three come from the environmentalist Greens, two are members of the far-left Left party and Giousouf, of course, is with the conservative Christian Democrats.
Politicians from other ethnic backgrounds have also managed to get into the Bundestag. The SPD candidate in the eastern city of Halle, Karamba Diaby, is a trained chemist originally from Senegal. He will be one of the nation's first two black MPs. But Romeo Franz failed to become the first member of the Sinti ethnic group to enter Germany's parliament after his Green party fared worse than expected on Sunday.
'Steadily Rising for Some Time'
According to the information service Mediendienst Integration, this election saw almost 100 parliamentary candidates with foreign roots, 34 of whom were successful.
"The number of representatives with immigrant backgrounds has been steadily rising in state and local legislatures for some time," says Orkan Kosemen, an immigration expert for the Bertelsmann Foundation. "Now the parties are becoming more courageous and accepting at the federal level."
Even Germany's conservative parties no longer fear they'll lose votes by promoting foreign candidates.
Sometimes, the parties don't even take note of where a parliamentarian's parents come from. The Left party failed to mention its most prominent MP with immigrant roots -- saying ahead of the election that they had five such parliamentarians, forgetting that deputy party leader Sahra Wagenknecht's father came from Iran.
While some politicians actively promote their foreign ties in their biographies, others do not even mention the issue on their own websites. Sometimes only their name or the color of their skin can hint at heritage from outside Germany. But these days, all parties are trying to benefit from the immigrant factor.
An Appropriate Candidate for Hagen
Giousouf's path into parliament was already being planned by Christian Democratic officials in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia three years ago. Back then, the former state minister for integration and current CDU party leader, Armin Laschet, made her an advisor in his ministry. She admits it was "total coincidence" that she ended up campaigning in Hagen. The party leadership decided they needed an appropriate candidate for the region.
But she still had to prove herself by winning a vote against a long-serving CDU official and defending her promising spot on the party list, when another female candidate challenged it on grounds of seniority. "If we immigrants are forced to put up campaign posters for the next 30 years, there won't be any such representatives in the Bundestag," Giousouf said at the time to ensure her position.
Ever since, she's been forced to address the question of her role as a Muslim in an ostensibly Christian party. She says her "religious otherness" poses no problems, but her candidacy was undoubtedly a new experience for the Christian Democrats in Hagen.
Giousouf not only managed to attract several party bigwigs to the town during the campaign, one local CDU official said she also drew the interest of people who had previously shunned the conservatives as she handed out flyers to prospective voters in a market square.
'I Embody Kreuzberg with All That I Am'
Immigrants would seem to have better career opportunities in left-leaning parties, but in the 1990s, having foreign roots was a real disadvantage even in the Social Democrats, according to Sebastian Edathy. The son of a German mother and an Indian father, the legal policy expert's last name was originally Edathiparambil before he decided to shorten it.
Last year, he took over the chairmanship of a high-profile parliamentary inquiry into the NSU scandal, a series of racist murders by neo-Nazis that shook Germany. "Due to my political expertise, not my background," he emphasizes.
Hamburg native Aydan Özoguz, deputy chairwoman of the SPD, managed this year to bag her constituency, Wandsbek, for the party for the first time.
And Cansel Kiziltepe, the SPD candidate for Berlin's Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district, personifies just how normal the rise of immigrant politicians has become. Like Giousouf, she will join this year's freshman batch of MPs. The 37-year-old was born in her electoral district, which like Hagen has a large immigrant population. Her guest worker father worked as a mechanic at Mercedes-Benz and her mother was a housewife. "I embody Kreuzberg with all that I am," she says.
Out in the neighborhood shortly before the election, she wore a short leather jacket and her curly hair spilled out onto her shoulders. An SPD official recommended she pin up her hair for a campaign poster so she wouldn't look "too Turkish" on them. On a busy street, Kiziltepe stopped and called out of the car window to an old schoolmate smoking a cigarette in front of his telephone shop. "I'm counting on you," she said in Turkish. "Of course, we're only going for you, we've never voted before!" he replied. A woman at a beauty salon asked Kiziltepe for Turkish flyers. Campaigning in Turkish works, the SPD officials have been pleased to discover.
A Girl from the 'Hood
Unlike many of her friends from school, Kiziltepe has always been focused on her career. She studied economics, worked as a staffer in the Bundestag and for a German trade union association. These days she's responsible for economic analysis for carmaker Volkswagen. On her Facebook profile, she describes herself as: "Mother with career. European. Economist. Renter. Worker. Unionist. Pro pensions. Girl from the 'hood." Many identities, one candidate.
The growing number of MPs with families from Turkey -- including Kurds -- isn't surprising to political party observers. "There's really an ethnic mobilization in that area," says Professor Thomas Saalfeld at the University of Bamberg.
According to him, Germany's Turkish population has started to place more importance on their political representation than in past decades. Candidates are well connected to the community, and much of their campaign information is written specifically in Turkish.
No one knows for certain if the country's 5.8 million voters with foreign roots support politicians with similar backgrounds, but Saalfeld believes that traditional party ties -- Turkish-Germans backing the SPD and ethnic Germans from eastern Europe going for the CDU -- are breaking down. "The second and third generations of immigrants behave more like other voters do," he says. "They aren't static blocs anymore."
And that has increased the pressure on German political parties to back candidates with foreign backgrounds. "They need to have visible representatives of the entire population," the professor says.
That makes it unsurprising that young and upcoming politicians often have to fight perceptions that they aren't simply "token immigrants" used for PR purposes, according to Bielefeld-based sociologist Devrimsel Deniz Nergiz. "They're under a lot of pressure to prove their particular abilities and suitability," she says, referring to a recent survey done for her dissertation.
Moreover, they are often shunted into the role of integration expert both by their parties and the media. But that's something many are no longer willing to accept, preferring instead to be taken seriously in other policy areas.
"It's something that will really only change when the number of exotic (politicians) increases to the point that they're no longer a minority," says Nergiz.
Cemile Giousouf wants "to focus on integration and education" issues as an MP in the Bundestag. "That's what I'm about," she says. But Cansel Kiziltepe dreams of one day becoming finance minister. She admits she'll need both patience and some more time to accomplish this, but she believes she's on the right path.
Sitting in a kebab shop in Kreuzberg, she stirs her Turkish tea and muses over her future with a comparison to Peer Steinbrück, Merkel's former finance minister and defeated SPD challenger for the chancellorship: "Aside from Peer, I'm pretty much the only economist in the party -- who, if not I, could do it better?"
Translated from the German by Marc Young
09/25/2013 04:15 PM
Narrow Failure: Will Germany's Anti-Euro AFD Party Implode?
Germany's euroskeptic Alternative for Germany party came tantalizingly close to the threshold needed for parliamentary representation in Sunday's election. But it failed. Now members are worried that the young party could unravel.
Someone hands a toy sword up to party chairman Bernd Lucke who is standing onstage. Lucke grabs hold of the sword, which is the same bright blue color that represents Lucke's anti-euro party, Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany). Jubilant supporters in the ballroom of Berlin's Maritim Hotel cheer and chant his name.
He is Lucke, their Luke Skywalker. Lucke, the luminary among euroskeptics.
Alternative for Germany's 4.7 percent result in Sunday's election for the Bundestag, Germany's parliament, is an astonishing success for a party only seven months old. It's also a historic success -- the Green Party, in its first run for the Bundestag in 1980, achieved just 1.5 percent. But 4.7 percent is also a failure, falling just short of the 5 percent hurdle a party must achieve in order to hold seats in the Bundestag, and Lucke isn't feeling particularly victorious. Once he climbs down onto the ballroom floor, his smile is gone and his youthful face takes on a bitter expression, deep lines forming around his eyes.
He says he needs to take time to think about where things should go from here. He doesn't say out loud the thing his supporters fear most -- that their Luke Skywalker might resign his position and return to Hamburg University, where he is a professor of economics. No comment, Lucke says when asked about this possibility. First he needs to think.
If he quits, Alternative for Germany would find itself staring into the abyss. The party has 16,000 members but no staff infrastructure, no detailed platform -- and no government posts to hand out. Instead, it has within its ranks an abundance of bitter opponents, rival factions and scores of right-wing populists just waiting to tear each other apart. Election day marked the end of a temporary truce within many of the party's regional organizations. The coming months won't just determine how things go on from here -- they will determine whether things go on at all. Alternative for Germany had initially planned to hold its national convention in early 2014. That plan has now been moved forward to December.
Sights Set on EU Elections
"It's important that the party doesn't fall behind, but starts turning its attention to the EU elections," says Alexander Gauland, a member of Alternative for Germany's executive board. After the European Parliament election in May 2014, the party plans to run for the state parliament elections in Saxony, Thuringia and Brandenburg -- states where the party won more than five percent of the vote on Sunday.
But one key part of any election is a party's platform, and anti-euro policies are little use at the regional level. Alternative for Germany hasn't reached a consensus on its family, energy, foreign or education policies, much less its tax policy.
And in any case, the party needs to know whether Lucke is staying. He's the only member of the party's national committee who cuts a good figure both on TV and in town squares. He's also the only leader whose authority is unquestioned within the party.
Talk of a 'Cleansing Process'
It was Lucke's shuttle diplomacy and his emailed appeals, often sent at 3 a.m., that got the fractious party's organizations in states such as Hesse, Bavaria or Berlin to make peace -- even if it was a fragile one.
Berlin's regional organization especially was the scene of bitter trench warfare from the start. A newly elected regional committee member was anonymously outed as gay and a newly installed business director was attacked with anti-Semitic slurs. Committee members fought it out in secret meetings.
The Berlin region's leading candidate, economics professor Joachim Starbatty, got a taste on election day of what's in store for him. Late that evening, an elderly, white-haired man cornered Starbatty and tapped him aggressively on the chest. "I supported you for months," the man growled at the baffled candidate. "But if you keep collaborating with those rabble-rousers from the gay dark room scene, my people and I will take action, got it?"
Starbatty drew back, gave an embarrassed smile and tried to placate the irate man. "Thank you for expressing your anger openly," he said. "Let's have a calm talk soon." The man retreated, grumbling.
In trouble spots such as Berlin, just talking might soon may no longer be enough. By the evening of election day, the phrase "cleansing process" was making the rounds. Lucke hopes the party's 4.7 percent success will take the wind out of the sails of some of the gripers. "Otherwise, I'll have to intervene in some cases more decisively than I have so far," the party leader says.
He is all his party has. Without him, the second-tier leaders are powerless. These leaders include "Dr. Adam, Dr. Gauland, Dr. Petry and Professor Starbatty," as Lucke likes to rattle off the names and titles of his highly educated fellow party leaders. Alternative for Germany has seen success primarily because it was founded quickly and run under firm direction from the top. With its powerful leader, strong regional chiefs and hordes of highly motivated volunteers, the party avoided the chaos that has plagued the Pirate Party, another newcomer on Germany's political scene. This set-up made it possible for Alternative for Germany to register for the federal election in all of Germany's states, and to run a successful grassroots campaign.
The total amount of donations that party treasurer Norbert Stenzel says he collected also shows what a wide-spread effect this small party has had in a short period of time -- €4.3 million ($5.8 million) since its foundation, including only two large donations of just under €50,000. When the campaign coffers ran dry shortly before the election, Alternative for Germany made an online appeal for donations. Within just 48 hours, the party received more than half a million euros, once again made up of small contributions.
The party's supporters are certainly heterogeneous. The people celebrating in the Maritim ballroom on Sunday evening are by no means just frustrated retirees. They are young and old, men and women. "Alternative for Germany has turned Germany blue," the campaign manager declared proudly from the stage. "It's no longer possible to imagine the political scene without Alternative for Germany."
Fear of Euro and of Foreigners
An election day poll conducted by German broadcaster ARD showed what Alternative for Germany voters think of the party -- 83 percent of those who voted for the anti-euro party agreed with the statement, "Alternative for Germany doesn't solve any problems, but names them."
Party officials didn't just give voice to their supporters' fears in their election campaign, they practically screamed them. They fear that energy will become too expensive, that savings accounts will see their value eroded, that foreigners will drain Germany's welfare system and Germans will have to work until age the of 67 while Greeks just laze about. In doing so, the party's PhD-holding leaders managed to present themselves as being down to earth, and established politicians as being aloof.
Alternative for Germany's campaign events were akin to group therapy sessions addressing these fears, except that the therapy wasn't aimed at mitigating or healing the problems. Alternative for Germany has no solutions to offer. Rather, it lives by picking apart other parties' solutions.
The pivotal question is whether Alternative for Germany will still be able to reach and motivate voters now that it will be an extra-parliamentary opposition group. The party feels that the success of achieving 4.7 percent of the vote gives it legitimacy, but that still doesn't give it the kind of platform that parliamentary seats would provide. Participation in the Bundestag would have meant guaranteed media exposure and jobs for many of its activists. Without that, the party will remain limited to holding speeches at youth centers and in hotel conference rooms. And it's likely many members will simply return to their normal jobs.
Still, deputy leader Frauke Petry isn't worried that the motivation of party supporters will suffer. "When the euro bailout starts up again, people will turn to Alternative for Germany in droves," she says.
Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein
Libor rigging fine set at £55m as ex-staff face US criminal charges
Former Tory treasurer Michael Spencer runs into political row as firm he founded given stiff penalty and ex-employees charged
Jill Treanor and Rajeev Syal
The Guardian, Thursday 26 September 2013
The City dealer run by former Conservative party treasurer Michael Spencer has been fined £55m by regulators and three of its former employees charged with criminal offences in the United States as part of the global investigation into Libor rigging.
Spencer said he regretted the actions of the three – one of whom was known to colleagues as "Lord Libor". Regulators hit the Icap money broking firm he runs with huge fines and released pages of embarrassing email exchanges showing offers of a curry night out, a Ferrari and "bubbly on its way" in return for moving the yen Libor rate.
One of the City's highest profile figures, Spencer was drawn into a political row as the Labour MP John Mann called for his donations to the Conservative party to be handed to the armed forces charities where Libor fines are sent.
Labour's vice-chairman Michael Dugher also called for the money to be returned. "David Cameron fought tooth and nail to avoid launching a proper inquiry into the scandal of rigging interest rates, the very scandal which has now engulfed one of his big donors – a man who has given him nearly £5m," Dugher said. "It just goes to show what we already knew. In the end it's a privileged few whose voices he hears, and whose interests he acts in."
Each of the one-time employees – Darrell Read, who lives in New Zealand, Daniel Wilkinson and "Lord Libor", Colin Goodman – face 30 years in jail for each of the three charges levelled against them by the US department of justice (DoJ). They have been charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and two counts of wire fraud. In the US a criminal complaint is not evidence and a defendant is presumed innocent until convicted.
Spencer's tenure as treasurer of the Conservative party overlapped with the period of the fines – between July 2006 and December 2010 – but he claimed that this was not relevant. Even if he had not been holding the senior political role Spencer said: "I can't believe I'd have been able to pick it up."
A Tory official said the demands to repay Spencer's donations were "nonsense".
Spencer has attended a series of dinners in Downing Street and close links with the party since leaving his post as co-treasurer. Last year he was described as a personal friend of the prime minister by cabinet minister Francis Maude.
Spencer described the 10 former and current employees as "rotten apples" but acknowledged the desk on which they worked had never been audited during the relevant four-year period.
Announcing the latest development in the Libor scandal, which erupted in June 2012 when Barclays was fined £290m, Scott Hammond, deputy assistant attorney general for the antitrust division's criminal enforcement programme, said: "In exchange for bigger bonus checks, the three defendants undermined financial markets around the world by compromising the integrity of globally used interest rate benchmarks."
Icap, in which Spencer and his family own a 16% stake worth £400m, will pay £14m to the Financial Conduct Authority. It is the FCA's fourth fine for Libor rigging and first against a non-bank. The remainder of the £55m will go the US authorities.
According to the FCA one of the brokers received £5,000 every quarter in "corrupt bonus payments".
The regulators link the activities to those of UBS, the Swiss bank which has so far faced the largest Libor fine of £940m. The DoJ's complaint names former UBS trader Tom Hayes as a "co-conspirator" in its charges against former Icap employees along with "others known and unknown".
According to the FCA, which does not name individuals, there were 300 written requests to change Libor rates to brokers at Icap, and more orally which were harder to chart.
Libor – the London interbank offered – is a benchmark rate based on submissions by major banks about the price they think rivals would charge them to borrow money over different periods of time. It in turn is used a benchmark against which £300tn of financial contracts around the world are set.
According to the DoJ, Goodman distributed a daily email to individuals outside of Icap, including derivatives traders at several large banks as well as those responsible for providing Libor submissions to the British Bankers' Association. The BBA is now being stripped of its involvement in the rate.
Goodman's email contained what were termed his "SUGGESTED LIBORS", purported predictions of where yen Libor ultimately would fix each day across eight specified borrowing periods. Read and Wilkinson, along with Goodman himself, often referred to Goodman as "Lord Libor"," the DoJ said.
Spencer did not rule out taking a bonus for this year but said top executive payouts would be affected. "None of the three individuals at the centre of the activity remains with the firm. Others are either no longer with the company or are being disciplined," he added. "We deeply regret and strongly condemn the inexcusable actions of the brokers who sought to assist certain bank traders in their efforts to manipulate yen Libor. Their conduct contravenes all that Icap stands for."
'Will buy you a Ferrari if you move 3 month up'
Desk head: "Lord Baliff, I would suggest a lunch over golden week. Monday or Tuesday, if you are around ... As for kickbacks etc, we can discuss that at lunch and I will speak to [senior yen trader] about it next time he comes up for a chat."
Trader: "OK with an annual champagne shipment, a few p*** ups … and a small bonus every now and then."
Broker: "How about some form of performance bonus per quarter from your b bonus [sic] pool to me for the Libor service …"
Derivatives broker: "Morning Lad, on the scrounge again, if possible keep 3 [months] the same and get 6 [months] as high as you can. My guy … will want it has high possible. Waiting for my credit card to get returned to me from a drunken night out bowling but will be supplying you with copious amounts of curry on it's imminent return.
Derivatives broker: "Make 6m go lower! They r going up. [Trader] will buy you a Ferrari next year you move 3 [month] up and no change 6 [month]"
Derivatives broker: "brooliant!! they are making fortunes with these high fixings!!! :-)
Trader told broker that he "need[ed] high at the start of Oct". Broker replied: "Gotcha … just give me a 'wish list' at the start of each day."
Engineers build computer of one-atom-thick carbon tubes
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, September 25, 2013 13:59 EDT
American engineers said Wednesday they had built the first computer made entirely of microscopic carbon “nanotubes” — a big step in the quest for faster, ever-smaller electronic devices.
While performing only basic functions at speeds likened to a 1950s computer, the tiny machine was hailed as a breakthrough in the search for an alternative to silicon transistors, which control the electricity flow in computer microchips.
Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are rolled-up, single-layer sheets of carbon atoms — tens of thousands can fit into the width of a single human hair.
They are pliable and have the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any known material.
Silicon is a good semiconductor but cannot be reduced to such a thin layer.
Scientists believe the structure of CNTs may make them better at carrying currents — thus yielding transistors that are faster, more energy efficient and smaller than silicon — but actually building nanotube chips has proved difficult.
“People have been talking about a new era of carbon nanotube electronics moving beyond silicon,” said Stanford engineering professor Subhasish Mitra, who led the research.
“But there have been few demonstrations of complete digital systems using this exciting technology. Here is the proof.”
The computer, built in a laboratory at Stanford University’s School of Engineering, was just a few square millimetres in size and able to perform basic counting and number-sorting functions using 178 transistors each holding between 10 and 200 nanotubes.
It runs at 1 kilohertz — a processing capacity millions of times weaker than today’s computers.
The 178-transistor limit was due to the team using a university chip-making facility rather than an industrial process, meaning the computer could in theory be made much bigger and faster, a statement on the study said, published in the journal Nature.
The machine ran a basic operating system that allowed it to multitask and swap between the two processes, it added.
Mitra and his team had been able to deal with two inherent shortcomings of CNT transistors: the tubes do not always grow in perfectly straight lines, which means that mispositioned ones can cause a short circuit, while others changed form and could not be switched on and off.
The team devised a method to burn up and eliminate the uncontrolled CNTs in a transistor and to bypass mispositioned ones.
Though it could take years, the Stanford approach hinted at the possibility of industrial-scale production of CNT semiconductors, Naresh Shanbhag, director of a computer chip design consortium, said in a statement issued by the university.
“These are initial necessary steps in taking carbon nanotubes from the chemistry lab to a real environment,” added Supratik Guha, director of physical sciences for software giant IBM’s Thomas J Watson Research Centre.
Commenting on the achievement in Nature, Franz Kreupl of the Technische Universitaet Muenchen’s Department of Hybrid Electronic Systems said the computer represented a significant advance in electronic engineering.
But the transistors will have to become smaller than the current 8 micrometres thick (millionth of a metre) for the technique to be feasible, and the processor quicker, he said.
NASA’s Starship Project aims to make interstellar travel a reality
By Tom Dart, The Guardian
Wednesday, September 25, 2013 14:22 EDT
It would be hard enough these days to find a human capable of playing a 12-inch LP, let alone an alien. So perhaps it is time for Nasa to update its welcome pack for extraterrestrials.
The agency announced earlier this month that its Voyager 1 probe has left the solar system, becoming the first object to enter interstellar space. On board is a gold-plated record from 1977.
It contains greetings in dozens of languages, sounds such as morse code, a tractor, a kiss, music – from Bach to Chuck Berry – and pictures of life on Earth, including a sperm fertilising an egg, athletes, and the Sydney Opera House.
Now, Jon Lomberg, the original Golden Record design director, has launched a project aiming to persuade Nasa to upload a current snapshot of Earth to one of its future interstellar craft as a sort of space-age message in a bottle.
The New Horizons spacecraft will reach Pluto in 2015, then is expected to leave the solar system in about three decades. The New Horizons Message Initiative wants to create a crowd-sourced “human fingerprint” for extra-terrestrial consumption that can be digitally uploaded to the probe as its journey continues. The message could be modified to reflect changes on Earth as years go by.
With the backing of numerous space experts, Lomberg is orchestrating a petition and fundraising campaign. The first stage will firm up what can be sent in a format that would be easy for aliens to decode; the second will be the online crowd-sourcing of material.
Especially given the remote possibility that the message will ever be read, Lomberg emphasises the benefits to earthlings of starting a debate about how we should introduce ourselves to interplanetary strangers.
“The Voyager record was our best foot forward. We just talked about what we were like on a good day … no wars or famine. It was a sanitised portrait. Should we go warts and all? That is a legitimate discussion that needs to be had,” he said.
“The previous messages were decided by elite groups … Everybody is equally entitled and qualified to do it. If you’re a human on Earth you have a right to decide how you’re presented.”
“Astronauts have said that you step off the Earth and look back and you see things differently. Looking at yourself with a different perspective is always useful. The Golden Record has had a tremendous effect in terms of making people think about the culture in ways they wouldn’t normally do.”
Buoyed by the Voyager news, scientists gathered in Houston last weekend for the annual symposium of the Nasa- and Pentagon-backed 100-Year Starship project, which aims to make human interstellar travel a reality within a century.
“I think it’s an incredible boost. I think it makes it much more plausible,” said Dr Mae Jemison, the group’s principal and the first African-American woman in space. “What it says is that we know we can get to interstellar space. We got to interstellar space with technologies that were developed 40 years ago. There is every reason to suspect that we can create and build vehicles that can go that far, faster.”
Jeff Nosanov, of Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, near Los Angeles, hopes to persuade the agency to launch about ten interstellar probes to gather data from a variety of directions. They would be powered by giant sails that harness the sun’s energy, much like a boat on the ocean is propelled by wind. Solar sails are gaining credibility as a realistic way of producing faster spacecraft, given the limitations of existing rocket technology. Nasa is planning to launch a spacecraft with a 13,000 square-foot sail in November next year.
“We have a starship and it’s 36 years old, so that’s really good. This is not as impossible as it sounds. Where the challenge becomes ludicrous and really astounding is the distances from one star to another,” Nosanov said.”Voyager 1 at its current speed, if it was pointed in the right direction – which it is not – would take 50,000 years to get to the next star. And this is the fastest thing ever built.”
“Using this system that’s going to be flown next year, making some realistic changes to it, you can go two or three times faster than Voyager. That takes the 36-year journey of Voyager to the Heliopause [interstellar boundary] and makes it 18 years or 15 years, and that is starting to get closer to some day where you might be able to propose it to Nasa as a real mission.”
Advances in 3D printing could solve one of the biggest challenges to manned long-term space flight: what to eat. Star Trek’s “replicators” no longer seem like science-fiction. In May, Nasa awarded a $125,000 grant to a company aiming to print a pizza from long-lasting foodstuffs. The International Space Station is expected to take delivery of an equipment-making 3D printer in 2014.
“You can use 3D printing to make tissue-engineering scaffolds. You can 3D print anything if you could make the base material. So with tissue-engineering scaffolds you print the scaffold that you want and then you would seed it with cells and hopefully grow the tissue of interest,” said Dr Ronke Olabisi, a member of the 100-Year Starship research team.
However, even sending astronauts on a two-year round-trip to Mars is deeply problematic, since space’s weightless environment and cosmic rays take a huge toll on the body. “Microgravity is huge, as is radiation. So if one doesn’t kill you, the other will,” said Olabisi.
So the best hope for new discoveries might be to stay at home and look up. Construction on the Square Kilometre Array, the biggest-ever radio telescope, is set to start in 2016. The project is being built in South Africa and Australia and is headquartered at Jodrell Bank Observatory, near Manchester.
Thousands of linked dishes with millions of antennae will create a telescope with a combined collecting area of about one square kilometre, generating more data every day than is currently produced by the entire world’s daily internet usage.
The Array is hoped to be fully operational by 2023 and is expected to offer insights into the formation of galaxies after the Big Bang and aid the search for extra-terrestrial life.
According to one theory, we had better hurry up. If humanity does not somehow destroy life on Earth, the universe’s natural selection eventually will – through an asteroid strike, perhaps, or a comet collision. “The universe is going to select for life-forms with particular characteristics and the key characteristic is an ability to leave your planet and survive,” said Hakeem Oluseyi, assistant professor of physics and space sciences at Florida Institute of Technology.
“Stars are temporary, planets are temporary and if we look at the history of life on Earth the first three-quarters of that life was single-cell organisms and they appear to have this ability that they can survive in space.”
“Once your species comes into existence, the clock is ticking … you have so many years, 100 million years or whatever, and then you’re going to be wiped out of existence by the universe.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
In the USA...United Surveillance America
September 25, 2013
A New Senator Stops Talking, and a Vote on Spending Nears
By JONATHAN WEISMAN
WASHINGTON — The Senate on Wednesday moved toward approving legislation to keep the government open without gutting the health care law after Senator Ted Cruz’s 21-hour-and-19-minute verbal assault on it ended with a 100-to-0 vote that is likely to lead to an outcome that Mr. Cruz had tried to stop.
The strange series of events started with Mr. Cruz’s marathon speech — which began Tuesday afternoon and went on until noon on Wednesday — and ended with the unanimous vote to cut off debate and proceed to consideration of a bill passed by the House that would keep the government open past Monday.
Mr. Cruz’s “yes” vote angered fellow Senate Republicans, baffled Democrats and confused conservative activists who had mobilized to stand with him against any procedural step forward.
On Sunday he made clear that he opposed cutting off debate — called cloture — unless the majority leader, Harry Reid, agreed that 60 votes be required to strip the bill of language that would gut the health care law. On “Fox News Sunday,” Mr. Cruz, a freshman from Texas, declared his opposition to “any vote for cloture, any vote to allow Harry Reid to add funding for Obamacare with just a 51-vote threshold.”
“A vote for cloture is a vote for Obamacare,” Mr. Cruz said.
Yet after the vote on Wednesday, Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, said Mr. Cruz had never intended to oppose the motion to take up the bill, an assertion contradicted by Mr. Cruz’s words and procedural motions for days before the tally. Aides to senior Republican senators fumed that they had been deluged by conservative activists pressing for a “no” vote.
On the Democratic side, Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York said that “the only reason Ted Cruz switched to ‘yes’ is that he would have had so few people voting with him it would have been embarrassing.”
Mr. Reid greeted the conclusion of Mr. Cruz’s performance by declaring it “a big waste of time.”
While heads spun on Capitol Hill over Mr. Cruz’s performance, Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew on Wednesday handed Congress a new deadline to worry about: Oct. 17. That is when the Treasury will have only $30 billion of cash on hand, putting the United States on the precipice of an unprecedented default, unless Congress raises the government’s statutory borrowing limit. It is the first hard deadline offered by the Treasury and compounds the problems of a Congress already struggling to keep the government open past Monday, when much of it will run out of money.
“The president remains willing to negotiate over the future direction of fiscal policy, but he will not negotiate over whether the United States will pay its bills for past commitments,” Mr. Lew wrote in a letter to the House speaker, John A. Boehner of Ohio.
The Senate has taken up the House bill, which would keep the government open through Dec. 15 while stripping money from President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Senate leaders in both parties reached agreement to push forward final votes and cut off debate on Friday on the spending bill itself. That would give Mr. Boehner more time to find a path forward in the restive House before the midnight Monday deadline shutting down the government.
House Republicans will begin the second stage of the fiscal showdown on Thursday with a meeting to approve legislation to increase the debt ceiling and delay the health care law for a year, force construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, and speed up an overhaul of the tax code.
Some Senate Republicans urged Mr. Boehner to put a spending bill without policy prescriptions to a vote to keep the government operating — possibly for as little as a week — while negotiations continued. Other Republicans said he should attach only minor changes to the Affordable Care Act, like a repeal of a tax on medical devices that helps pay for the law.
Aides to the Republican leadership said Mr. Boehner would make a decision about his next moves only after the Senate completes work on a bill that Democrats hope will finance the government through Nov. 15 without any conservative policy measures. Senate Republicans conceded they were not likely to stop that, and they pressed Mr. Cruz and his allies to relent.
“We’re getting so late here there really could be a shutdown,” said Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah. “That doesn’t help anybody.”
With his indefatigable stand on the Senate floor, Mr. Cruz — who was elected just last year — managed to raise his own profile, anger some colleagues, thrill others and escalate the war over the health care law. The program begins enrolling the uninsured on Tuesday, the same day much of the government would shut down.
“We must all hang together or we most assuredly will all hang separately,” Mr. Cruz said in the 21st hour of his speech, quoting Benjamin Franklin and addressing his fellow Republicans.
Just feet away from the Senate chamber, in the ornate Lyndon Baines Johnson Room, Senate Democratic women gathered with mothers and babies to defend the health care law.
“They can talk for the rest of this term,” said Senator Barbara A. Mikulski, Democrat of Maryland. “They can stand there day and night. They can shut down government, and those who are colluders can stand with them. We are going to stand with the people of the United States of America.”
The biggest vote will be on the spending bill later this week, when Democrats must win over 60 senators to cut off debate on the House measure. If that is achieved, a simple 51-vote majority will be needed on the Democratic version, which leaves the health care law alone.
If they succeed, Mr. Boehner may have a matter of just hours to decide whether to let the House vote on the Senate’s spending bill over the strenuous opposition of conservative activists, or to add Republican policy provisions to the bill and send it back to the Senate, a move sure to shutter the government.
For now, Mr. Cruz is basking in his moment.
“Coming into this debate, we clearly were not united,” he said, greeting reporters off the floor. “There were significant divisions in the conference. I hope those divisions dissolve, that we come together in party unity and that all 46 Republicans vote against cloture on the bill on Friday or Saturday.”
But those divisions were far from healed. Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, followed Mr. Cruz to the floor with a blistering speech, saying the health care law had been subject to months of debate in committee and on the floor, had been amended repeatedly, and was an issue in the 2012 presidential election. He was especially incensed by Mr. Cruz’s comparison of Republicans who are not standing with him to appeasers who allowed Hitler to march through Europe.
“Elections have consequences, and those elections were clear,” Mr. McCain said. “A majority of the American people supported the president of the United States and renewed his stewardship of this country.”
Annie Lowrey, Ashley Parker and Jeremy W. Peters contributed reporting.
September 25, 2013
Cruz, Tea Party Hero, Rankles Senate G.O.P. Colleagues
By JEREMY W. PETERS
WASHINGTON — Senator Ted Cruz’s crusade to dismantle President Obama’s health care law has helped cement his status as an emerging hero of the Tea Party and conservative grass roots. But it is stoking resentment and derision from many other Republicans, including his own Senate colleagues, who see his campaign as impractical, self-interested and potentially damaging to the party’s electoral efforts in 2014 and beyond.
The episode has drawn unwanted attention to a deepening rift among Republicans who feel torn between warring elements. As the party looks to take the Senate majority next year and recapture the White House in 2016, the split pits an emerging, younger class of social-media-savvy leaders like Mr. Cruz of Texas, who claim the mantle of a resurgent grass roots, against those who believe their colleagues are recklessly pursuing a strategy that builds up individual political brands at the party’s expense.
Some Republicans are beginning to complain more and more that with the help of outside, Tea Party-inspired groups, Mr. Cruz and others like Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky — both presidential prospects who battled alongside their colleague from Texas in the current health care fight — are leading conservatives to believe the current fight over cutting money for the health law is winnable when it is not.
“This is not a situation where you dig your heels in and Obamacare gets defunded,” said Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, who has one of the most conservative voting records in the Senate. “I think people are willing to hope that’s true. I wish it were true. Trust me, I hope Senator Cruz’s oratory convinces five Democratic senators to vote with us. I just don’t think that’s going to happen.”
Mr. Cruz and others who insist that they can prevail in defunding the health care law, Mr. Johnson added, are misleading voters who are looking to them for leadership that the party has lacked lately. “They just want anybody who offers them a path, whether it’s realistic or not,” he said.
Senators complained publicly this week that their phone lines had been clogged with calls from voters, many of them misinformed about the true nature of the health care defunding bill now before Congress, as well as the confusing procedural gymnastics taking place on the floor.
“We have people calling into our office every day saying, ‘Please support the House bill,’ ” said Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, referring to the bill that the House passed defunding the Affordable Care Act. “Well, I do,” he added, sounding exasperated. “Do I think this has been a constructive process? Not particularly.”
Mr. Cruz’s 21-hour, all-night assault on the Affordable Care Act — which ended rather anticlimactically on Wednesday after the Senate voted to take up a budget bill that Democrats intend to alter to their liking — has focused national attention on the 42-year-old agitator, who is only nine months into his first term in the Senate but appears to have greater ambitions. On Tuesday night as he spoke, his political action committee was hosting a $2,500-per-plate fund-raiser in Washington. A television provided a live feed of his speech.
Mr. Cruz’s efforts have helped re-energize a sizable contingent of conservatives who felt leaderless and demoralized after Republicans lost seats in Congress and the White House last year.
Groups like FreedomWorks, Heritage Action for America and Tea Party Express have relished picking fights with Republicans like Mr. Corker, whom they dismiss as turncoats. And this week they mobilized as part of a carefully choreographed and mutually beneficial effort to rally conservatives behind Mr. Cruz’s cause.
A few days before Mr. Cruz took to the Senate floor on Tuesday, members of his staff began reaching out to some of the country’s leading conservative grass-roots groups.
They were cryptic and unspecific, saying only that something big was coming, according to one activist who was contacted, and that they should be prepared to activate their social networks and spread the word. They sprang into action once the senator began talking. They used the Twitter hashtag his staff provided — #MakeDCListen — to rally their followers online, and deluged their subscriber lists with millions of e-mails telling people to call their senators and demand they support Mr. Cruz as he pulled his all-nighter.
So far, their message of entrenched Washington Republican interests being at odds with the interests of ordinary Americans has proved to be a powerful one.
“We should continue the fight, that’s what the people want,” Mr. Paul said shortly after Mr. Cruz left the Senate chamber.
Senator Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, said they were acting as a last line of defense for voters who expected Republicans to act. “A lot of people thought the Supreme Court would act. It didn’t,” he said. “A lot of people thought Mitt Romney would win, or some other Republican would win, and that would stop it. That didn’t happen.”
That message was also a consistent theme of Mr. Cruz’s as he spoke into Wednesday morning.
“All of Washington wants to tell you, the citizen: Can’t be done,” he said. “You cannot win. Your view will not be listened to.”
Conservative Republicans who ordinarily find themselves aligned with Mr. Cruz say they found a certain absurdity in this kind of talk.
“I love their vigor and their spirit,” said Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, referring to the Republicans who have bucked the party leadership lately. “But to be told we’re not listening by somebody who does not listen is disconcerting.”
Mr. Cruz and his allies in the Republican Party claim a big mantle: the voice of disaffected and restless conservatives, and some say that has upset the established political order.
“Every senator thinks that they’re the center of the universe, and now it is literally the case that a very decentralized community has a lot more say,” said Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks. “We now have a seat at the table,” Mr. Kibbe added, taking stock of his detractors in the Senate. Voters, he said, “can choose their leaders based on who’s performing, and that very competitive, bottom-up atmosphere is really what they’re complaining about. They’re like the dinosaurs seeing the first icebergs floating by.”
No amount of grass-roots energy matters unless the Republican Party wins elections, several senators noted this week. And Mr. Cruz’s strategy, they complained, was sure to be a losing one.
“I’m not in the shut-down-the-government crowd,” said Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee. “I’m in the take-over-the-government crowd.”
Jonathan Martin contributed reporting.
Democrat’s Obamacare question stumps Ted Cruz during faux filibuster
By David Ferguson
Wednesday, September 25, 2013 12:06 EDT
During Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)’s epic “faux-libuster” Tuesday night, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) managed to briefly flummox the junior Senator from Texas by asking him about some of the real world consequences faced by people who are denied health care coverage under the current system.
A real Senate filibuster requires that the Senator who carries out the parliamentary maneuver must be obstructing Senate business, which Cruz is not currently doing. In spite of this, the ideologically-minded Texas Senator has spent the last 18-plus hours standing and speaking to a largely empty Senate chamber about the perils of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Cruz has read Dr. Seuss, given multiple shout-outs to actor Ashton Kutcher and quoted song lyrics by country music star Toby Keith. Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Rand Paul (R-KY) have pitched in with lengthy, long-winded questions of their own to give their arch-conservative colleague a break.
But it was at about 5:53 in the video embedded below when Durbin asked about a woman who was denied health care in his state that Cruz lost his glib self-assurance and truly seemed to stumble.
“Let me ask a specific question,” said Durbin. “One of the reasons that I voted for health care reform — and I’m proud that I did — was illustrated by a woman that I met in southern Illinois.”
“This woman’s name is Judy,” he continued, “and Judy is a housekeeper at a motel that I often go to and we’ve become friends. Judy has worked a whole life in manual labor. She’s been everything you can imagine, a cook, a waitress, housekeeper, all of these things. She’s 62 years old. Judy told me that she has never had health insurance one day in her life, ever. She’d worked every single day she could, but she never had health insurance.”
“It turns out that Judy was diabetic,” said the Illinois Senator, “and she found some hospitals and doctors locally to give her some care.”
Under Obamacare, he said, the state of Illinois will be offering 165 different health insurance plans from eight different insurance companies. Under Illinois’s Medicaid expansion, Judy will have health insurance in spite of her pre-existing condition. Durbin asked Cruz if he cares about the millions of people like Judy who would be insured under the Affordable Care Act.
Cruz thanked Durbin for the question and complimented him on his “sincerity and passion” in “believing in government solutions.”
“But I will say this,” said Cruz. “You tell the story of Judy. The best way for Judy or anyone to have health insurance is to have an economy that is booming, where people can get jobs and have opportunities.”
Durbin scoffed, saying, “I think your answer to Judy is ‘You need a better job.’ After working a lifetime, 62 years of hard work, the best that she can do. She’s never had health insurance and I think your answer was, ‘Judy, get a better job.’”
Chris Matthews rips Ted Cruz: ‘He seeks to divide, he seeks to destroy, he seeks to demoralize’
By Arturo Garcia
Wednesday, September 25, 2013 23:17 EDT
MSNBC host Chris Matthews tore into Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) on Wednesday, accusing him of appropriating the legacy of Matthews’ personal hero, former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
“Cruz is out to make a name [for himself] — not by uniting a country in danger, as Churchill did, not by building up a country’s defenses and morale, as Churchill did,” Matthews argued. “His calling card is just the opposite: He seeks to divide, he seeks to destroy, he seeks to demoralize until the country is so divided, its ability to govern so destroyed, its morale so depressed, that even someone like the freshman senator from Texas starts to look credible.”
Matthews also criticized Cruz, who completed a 21-hour speech on Wednesday railing against the Affordable Care Act (that included his recitation of a Dr. Seuss story) for then turning around and voting alongside everyone else in the Senate to pass a spending plan that will be eventually include funding for the law, fending off the government shutdown Cruz had called for before passing the buck to House Republicans on the issue.
“Ted Cruz, whatever else we decide he is or he decides he wants to be, is no Winston Churchill battling Hitler, any more than Snoopy was battling the Red Baron,” Matthews said dismissively.
Later in the opening segment, Matthews likened Cruz and other Tea Party Republicans to another Texas Republican, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX), who would not tell Matthews in a Sept. 20 interview that he considered President Barack Obama to be legitimately elected.
“I’ll bet there’s 30 or 40 of them in the House right now, who couldn’t get that out of their mouth,” Matthews told guests David Corn and Howard Fineman.
With Just 107 Words, Bernie Sanders Obliterates Ted Cruz’s 21 Hour Fake Filibuster
By: Jason Easley
Sep. 25th, 2013
Ted Cruz and company talked for 21 hours, but on The Ed Show, Sen. Bernie Sanders revealed the truth behind their lies with just 107 words.
Sen Sanders said:
“I think what everybody needs to know is that on their 43rd try Republicans will not be successful in defunding Obamacare, and most importantly, we are just beginning, just beginning to catch up to the rest of the industrialized world that guarantees healthcare to all people as a right. Cruz is quite right that once people begin to see that healthcare is a right for human beings. You know what? They like it, and they want more of it. And they do not want to endanger their children, their families. and themselves when an illness comes. Healthcare is a right, and we’re beginning to make some progress.”
Sen. Sanders was able to cut through twenty one hours worth of Republican BS with 107 words. He was able to do this, because he has the truth on his side. Republicans are fighting so hard against the ACA, because they don’t want the American people to know that they can have healthcare. The ACA is going to reduce the deficit by $210 billion because it isn’t a new government program. The federal government isn’t giving people free healthcare.
What the government is doing is forcing the health insurance industry to play by the rules of the free market. The Obama administration is providing 30 million Americans access to the healthcare system. Ted Cruz and the other Republicans had to talk for 21 hours to build their web of lies, because it is only through fear and falsehoods that they can convince people that having access to healthcare is not a right.
Bernie Sanders was 100% correct. When the American people understand that healthcare is a right, and that they too can easily have access to healthcare, the whole ballgame is going to change. Republicans know that once the law is fully implemented, they will never be able to repeal Obamacare. They won’t be able to turn back the clock. People are not going to take to the streets begging lawmakers to give them less access to life saving medical care. In fact, the American people will likely demand more and better care.
Sen. Sanders uttered four words that absolutely terrify the Republican Party. Healthcare is a right. Once the American people experience a world where they can’t be turned down for health insurance, it will be another liberal step forward for this country.
Ted Cruz talked for 21 hours, and couldn’t offer any facts. Bernie Sanders spoke for 107 words, and diagnosed the reason behind everything that the Republicans are doing. Progress is coming, and Americans will soon learn that Republicans have denied them an important right for decades.
Sen. Sanders said it all, “Healthcare is a right.”
Republican Traitors Call for a Government Shutdown Even If Obamacare Isn’t Defunded
Sep. 25th, 2013
Ever since the Koch brothers funded a sect of anti-government extremist libertarians, the word patriot has taken on a different meaning than someone who feels strong support for their country. Apparently to be a teabagger patriot, one has to lack the ability to learn and understand things logically, possess an inherently malicious spirit, and have deeply emotional dislike for American citizens and the United States government. During each of the Republican manufactured economic crises over the past two years, so-called patriots in the teabagger movement lusted to create a credit default, send the economy over the fiscal cliff, and now shut down the government. As the current GOP-created financial crisis looms, most Americans do not want congressional Republicans to shut down the federal government if they cannot kill the Affordable Care Act, but over half of Republican voters and Koch-patriots are clamoring for a government shutdown if Republicans fail to kill the ACA.
Last week a poll revealed that 66% of Republican voters want their heroes in Congress to shut down the government and damage the economy if President Obama fails to kill the Affordable Care Act. A new survey shows Republican voters have a substantial number of compatriots that are pressing their representatives to punish Americans by shutting down the government because they cannot abide Americans having access to basic healthcare insurance. The Pew poll showed that all Republicans hate the idea of 30-million Americans having access to affordable healthcare insurance, but 87% of teabaggers supported the House Republicans budget agreement that defunded the healthcare law, and 71% want Republicans to shut down the government to prove they are serious about keeping Americans sick.
The Republican and teabagger opposition to the Affordable Care Act leads one to wonder why they want to kick 3-million young people off their parents’ health insurance, prevent 71-million Americans from getting free regular check-ups and vaccinations, allow insurance companies to deny coverage for a pre-existing condition, or stop 24-million Americans from getting insurance through state exchanges or stop 13-million people from signing up for Medicaid? The only conclusion is that they are inherently mean-spirited, anti-government, and hate Americans for electing (twice) an African American man as President. They are also inherently stupid for advocating a government shutdown that will not stop implementation of the ACA, but it will impact several other areas of the economy and put federal employees out of a job that admittedly will give Republicans a great deal of satisfaction. However, it appears that nothing will give Republicans and their assorted cheerleaders any more satisfaction than tens-of-millions of sick Americans, and they have spent no small amount of time and money to deny them basic healthcare coverage.
Since the healthcare reform debates began in 2010, conservative groups have spent over $400 million to convince Americans they do not deserve, and should not get, health insurance coverage. Groups like the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity and Generation Opportunity, and Jim DeMint’s Heritage Foundation have made keeping Americans sick their primary focus over the past few weeks with fear-mongering speeches and multi-million dollar ad buys targeting young and old alike. In fact in one Koch-funded ad titled “The Exam,” a young woman visiting a gynecologist with her feet in stirrups for a free cancer screening is abandoned by her physician for a horrifying Uncle Sam figure waving a speculum implying that the Affordable Care Act is the government intruding into a woman’s private parts. The irony of women undergoing Republicans’ bible-forced transvaginal ultrasounds is another story.
The message the Koch brothers are sending Americans is they are better served without healthcare insurance and it is a belief shared by Republicans, libertarians, and teabaggers who must revel in the thought of millions of young and old Americans sick. What is curious, is why conservative groups are spending an inordinate amount of time and ten-of-millions of dollars to eliminate a health law that has no financial impact on them personally. It is true that conservatives deplore any government program that is successful and works for the people because it eliminates their decades-old argument that government is inherently bad and a failure, but there must be something more. Something like endemic inhumanity that celebrates millions of their fellow citizens inability to have access to even basic healthcare and enough malice to demand shutting down the government if they cannot deny millions of Americans a healthcare plan.
The question teabaggers, libertarians, and racially-motivated Republicans cannot answer is exactly how shutting down the government, or causing a credit default “protects the people from Obamacare” they still claim is the single most “existential threat to the United States” since Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. The president of the conservative belief tank Heritage Foundation, Jim DeMint, has spent no small amount of time touring the nation and telling conservative audiences that Obamacare, like the Veteran’s Health Administration, is un-American and must be stopped even if it means shutting down the government or defaulting on the nation’s debt. DeMint cannot say how the Affordable Care Act is un-American or destroying America any more than Republicans or the Kochs can, but apparently it is so hideous that Republican and teabag voters want their representatives to shut down the government if it remains in place.
The simple fact is the Republicans, Koch brothers, and teabaggers have no reason to oppose the Affordable Care Act other than it was implemented under an African American President’s Administration, or they truly hate the American people the health law is serving. The so-called teabagger patriots have no more feeling of strong support for this country than they do compassion for their fellow Americans, and with Republicans are demonstrating to the entire world precisely how to stifle democracy. The Affordable Care Act was passed according to the United States Constitution, ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court, and yet Republicans have voted over forty times to eliminate it and are ready to shutdown the government if they cannot realize their malice and evil intent for the American people.
With the government running out of money to operate in less than a week, and the nation hitting its debt ceiling two weeks later, Republicans and their teabagger compatriots want to inflict serious economic damage on the country just because they hate the idea of their fellow citizens having access to healthcare. It is beyond a shadow of a doubt the ultimate expression of evil and inhumanity as well as extreme hatred for this nation and its founding document. Teabaggers, like Republicans, are no more patriots than the Koch brothers are humanitarian altruists because for two-and-a-half years they have actively and with great malice attempted to subvert the government and now advocate shutting it down over a health law they have failed to defeat.
Gohmert: ‘Amnesty’ and Obamacare are a plot for ‘firing every fulltime American’
By David Edwards
Wednesday, September 25, 2013 14:40 EDT
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) this week asserted that Senate Democrats were using the health care reform law and an immigration bill to encourage “firing every fulltime American employee and hiring the immigrants.”
During an Tuesday interview with conservative radio host Lars Larson, Gohmert was already gearing up for Sen. Ted Cruz’ marathon non-filibuster of a stopgap spending bill over the question of whether or not to fund Obamacare.
“People are already being told after the first of the year that you can’t get your pacemaker, you can’t have this, you can’t have that,” he explained. “People are waking up, this is not good.”
“It’s going to kill jobs out there, it’s going to hurt people,” Larson agreed. “The companies are already saying we can’t afford your health care so we’re either going to dump you on Obamacare or we’re going to cut your hours to where you don’t qualify anymore.”
“The Senate says their solution is the immigration bill they passed,” Gohmert replied. “Because under their immigration bill, companies would have a hard time not doing what the Senate bill encourages — and that is firing every fulltime American employee and hiring the immigrants who have just been given legal status.”
“Because if you fire the Americans and hire the people that came in illegally, they get legal status under the Senate bill, then you don’t have to provide them Obamacare insurance or pay the fines,” he added. “So, maybe if the Senate got everything they wanted, both Obamacare and their amnesty bill, you’d have most Americans that work for big companies losing their jobs all over America.”
“So we’re just going to hand all the jobs to people who aren’t legally in the country and say they’re cheaper to employ because we don’t have to buy health insurance for them,” Larson concluded.
“Right, exactly,” Gohmert agreed. “That’s what the Senate immigration bill does.”
The Republican Party is Crumbling as Rush Limbaugh Attacks Fox News For Being Liberal
By: Jason Easley
Sep. 25th, 2013
Rush Limbaugh has declared war on Fox News, and is attacking the network for using liberal talking points and not supporting Ted Cruz.
Since it came on the air, Fox News has been entirely, totally, thoroughly, excitedly, and eagerly supported on this program. And people there defended countlessly and endlessly, and yet, and look, I don’t expect that to purchase anything. Don’t misunderstand. I don’t expect to buy like minded treatment, but I really don’t expect the kind of, I don’t even know how to characterize it. Brit Hume actually picked up liberal talking points about me, the Republican Party, and people being afraid of me.
(Audio clip of Hume saying, ‘I’m not sure they’re calling the shots but make no mistake about it, Bill. These — some of these radio talk show hosts have real influence. They have a huge following, particularly in very conservative areas where they are most popular and where the many members of congress who inhabit those areas are not worried about being reelected if they can get nominated. But they are worried about a primary challenge that could deny them the nomination…So they’ll go a long way to avoid it and keeping radio talk show hosts off their back is one way of doing that.
Fox News has once again fallen in with this idea that Republican elected officials are afraid of this show. Note, that they are apparently not afraid of Fox News. Whatever that means.
LIMBAUGH: In these 21 hours, even the hours leading up to it, the criticisms of Ted Cruz from his own party. The attempt to ruin him and mock him in his own party and from the so-called conservative media. And then of all places Fox News trashing all over this, and Fox News essentially blaming me and other conservative media for making Ted Cruz what he is.
Brit Hume, of all people, essentially said that Ted Cruz is who he is because he’s being pressured by people like me. And left to his own devices, Cruz might not be doing this, is the implication. He didn’t actually say that. I was literally stunned watching this. The fact that even after 21 hours, even at the beginning of it, they cannot at least admit that this is who the man is. He doesn’t need any advisers here. He doesn’t need any pressure. The man is not a coward. Ted Cruz isn’t afraid of anybody. The real question is, what is the Republican establishment afraid of? What are some of these conservative media types at Fox News afraid of? What is the Washington establishment on the Republican side afraid of? Government shutdown, losing elections, what do you guys think you’ve been doing?
Did you look at how many Republicans didn’t show up to vote for Mitt Romney in 2008? Do you realize that if the Republican Party base had turned out, Obama would have been defeated? Why didn’t it happen?
First off, Limbaugh is wrong. By total number of votes, Republican turnout was virtually the same in 2012 as it was in 2008. The problem for Republicans is that the same narrow of white men keeps turning out, while Democrats are adding women, Hispanic, and African American voters.
Sen. Ted Cruz has restarted the full blown civil war in both the Republican Party, and right wing media. Fox News and Limbaugh are two of the three biggest players in conservative media. (The Drudge Report completes the un-holy trinity of right wing propaganda.). When they start going after each other, the foundation of the Republican propaganda machine is cracking.
What is happening here is that the Republican Party is literally tearing itself apart from top to bottom. House Republicans are fighting with each other. Senate Republicans are split in two. The party leadership is trying to stop a far right rebellion that will destroy the economy, and party’s top two propagandists are now at each other’s throats.
The Republican Party is crumbling before our very eyes.
The intra-party warfare isn’t really about Obamacare and funding the government. This is the same power struggle that has been going on for nearly six years. Republicans aren’t unified at all, and even their ability to dominate the media with a unified message is on the verge of complete collapse. Right wing media has been driving the Republican Party for years. If they can no longer agree on a message and direction, it’s pretty much over for the Republicans.
Citigroup will pay Freddie Mac $395 million in mortgage settlement
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, September 25, 2013 21:13 EDT
US banking giant Citigroup Wednesday announced an agreement to pay Freddie Mac $395 million to settle claims of potential flaws in millions of mortgages it sold Freddie.
Wednesday’s settlement covers potential future claims on 3.7 million loans sold to the quasi-public Freddie between 2000 and 2012, a period that includes the housing boom. Freddie has contended that Citi and other banks sold it loans that did not meet key standards.
Citi said it would finance the payment with its existing mortgage repurchase reserves.
Banks must make representations to Freddie about the loans before they are sold. If the claims are faulty, the bank can be forced to repurchase the loans.
Wednesday’s settlement ends the back-and-forth between Freddie and Citi on the loans at issue.
In May, Citi reached a settlement with the US Federal Housing Finance Agency over charges Citi violated federal securities laws in the sale of residential mortgage-backed securities to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The FHFA is the conservator for the two mortgage-finance giants.
Terms of the Citi-FHFA settlement were not disclosed.
Wednesday’s agreement marks Citi’s latest effort to move past a trove of litigation and other problems after the housing bust. Citi and other leading banks have faced a huge number of claims related to problematic loans that were granted.
“Today’s agreement with Freddie Mac marks another important milestone in successfully resolving Citi’s legacy mortgage issues,” said Jane Fraser, chief executive of CitiMortgage.
A Freddie Mac spokesman also praised the deal.
“We believe the agreement is an equitable one that resolves legacy repurchase issues and allow both companies to move forward,” Freddie Mac spokesman Tom Fitzgerald said.
In July, Citi announced a similar settlement with Fannie Mae for $968 million.
Breakthrough hailed as US and Iran sit down for nuclear deal discussion
John Kerry has 'substantive' talks with foreign minister as hopes grow for a timetable to end bitter stalemate
Julian Borger in New York
theguardian.com, Friday 27 September 2013
Iran and the US held their first substantive high-level meeting since the 1979 Islamic revolution on Thursday night at multilateral talks hailed on both sides as a fresh start for nuclear negotiations, raising hopes of a solution to the long running stalemate.
The US secretary of state, John Kerry, and the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, sat next to each other at the seven-nation meeting at the UN headquarters, and lingered afterwards for a bilateral discussion of more than 20 minutes, a breakthrough in a relationship that has been frozen for more than three decades.
The meeting was chaired by the EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, who said that the parties would meet again in Geneva on 15 October for a two-day meeting aimed at achieving the first real diplomatic progress for several years. Zarif and Kerry said it was possible that the two of them would attend the Geneva meeting.
Ashton said she and Zarif both wanted a deal concluded in an ambitious timeframe and said an agreement could be implemented within a year.
"The discussions were very substantive, businesslike," Zarif said, adding he hoped a solution could be found in a timely fashion.
Kerry noted a change in tone from Iran saying Zarif was "very different in the vision that he held out with respect to the possibilities for the future. I have just met with him now in a side meeting in which we took a moment to explore a little further the possibilities of how to proceed based on what President Obama laid out in his speech to the general assembly earlier this week," Kerry said.
"And we've agreed to try to continue the process that will make concrete and find a way to answer the questions that people have about Iran's nuclear program."
The secretary of state suggested Zarif had put some new ideas forward, saying: "I think all of us were pleased that the foreign minister came today, that he did put some possibilities on the table. Now it's up to people to do the hard work of trying to fill out what those possibilities will do."
Ashton said: "It was a substantial meeting with a good atmosphere, and energetic. We had a discussion on how we would go forward with an ambitious timeframe to see if we can move along quickly … The good news is there are talks about a timetable."
The meeting was also attended by foreign ministers from the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China. Britain's foreign secretary, William Hague, also welcomed what he described as a new Iranian approach to the talks.
"I think the tone and spirit of the meeting we've had has been very good and indeed a big improvement on the tone and spirit of previous meetings on this issue and I pay tribute to Minister Zarif for that and for taking the approach that he has so far," Hague said.
Ashton noted that the six-nation negotiating group that she convenes had previously offered a confidence-building package involving some sanctions relief in return for Iran accepting limits on its uranium enrichment, and getting rid of its stockpile of medium-enriched uranium, which is the main proliferation concern.
Western diplomats have said a more comprehensive deal could be done, in which Iran agrees only to produce low-enriched uranium for use in nuclear power stations and accepts more stringent scrutiny from weapons inspectors, and, in return, the West lifts the bulk of its sanctions and recognises Iran's right to enrich. Iranian officials have hinted that such a deal might be possible.
Ashton said she was keen to hear any proposals Tehran might have before the Geneva meeting, asking that they be provided early so they could be studied.
In his remarks after Thursday night's meeting, Zarif hinted that a trade-off was possible, but was vague on its outlines.
"We hope to be able to make progress towards resolving this issue in a timely fashion based on respecting the rights of the Iranian people to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, including enrichment, at the same time making sure that there is no concern on the international level that Iran's nuclear programme is anything but peaceful," he said.
How far Iran is prepared to go in removing international concern could determine whether the talks succeed or fail. Western diplomats said that more transparency alone would not be enough; Tehran would have to accept the principle of limits on its uranium enrichment. That may become clearer in Geneva.
Iran’s president promises ‘good faith’ in nuclear talks with U.S.
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, September 26, 2013 20:45 EDT
President Hassan Rouhani said Thursday that Iran was committed to negotiate on its nuclear program in “good faith” after the highest-level talks yet held with world powers.
“We are fully prepared to seriously engage in the process toward a negotiated and mutually agreeable settlement and do so in good faith and with a business-like mind,” Rouhani told a think tank forum in New York.
He addressed the Asia Society and Council on Foreign Relations soon after his foreign minister held talks with major powers at the United Nations in the highest-level contact ever between the United States and Iran over its nuclear program.
“We hope that this positive sep that has been taken as a first solid and strong step will help us continue talks,” Rouhani said.
Asked about his recent remarks to The Washington Post that he wanted a deal within months, Rouhani said: “The sooner the better.”
“We think that a speedy settlement will support both sides,” he said.
China and U.S. call on Iran to accept nuclear offer
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, September 26, 2013 13:03 EDT
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi agreed Thursday on the need for a positive response by Iran in renewed nuclear talks, a US official said.
“Both the US and China believe that Iran should cooperate and should respond positively to the offer on the table,” the official told reporters.
Kerry later Thursday will hold one of the highest-level meetings between Iran and the US since the 1979 revolution when he sits down with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif for nuclear talks led by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany.
The group, dubbed the P5+1, made a new offer to Iran earlier this year, before Rouhani’s election, on how to overcome a current stalemate in the nuclear dossier.
It is believed to have offered an easing of international sanctions which have crippled the Iranian economy, in return for a slow down of Iran’s controversial uranium enrichment program.
But the Iranian government has yet to respond fully to the offer.
Kerry and Wang met just hours before the landmark meeting of the global powers seeking to rein in Iran’s suspect nuclear program.
“On Iran they were coordinating in the run-up to today’s P5+1 meeting,” the senior State Department official said.
“They talked through the elements of the diplomatic track as well as the sanctions track.”
Kerry also asked Wang to share his impressions of the new Iranian leadership which took power in August, after recent Iranian-Chinese talks on the sidelines of a conference in Bishkek.
“The foreign minister shared a bit of his thinking with regard to the new leadership in Iran,” the US official said, but refused to go into further detail.
New Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, seen as a moderate in Iranian politics, has made overtures to the West since taking office.
September 26, 2013
Rouhani, Blunt and Charming, Pitches a Moderate Iran
By SOMINI SENGUPTA
UNITED NATIONS — Descending on New York this week in a Shiite cleric’s traditional fine wool robes, Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, turned himself into a high-speed salesman offering a flurry of speeches, tweets, televised interviews and carefully curated private meetings.
On Tuesday, he capped his speech to the United Nations General Assembly with a nod to the Torah and the Psalms, which elicited applause and then, from him, the slightest hint of a smile. That day he also hosted a clutch of media executives as his chief of staff did what previously would have been unthinkable, meeting with a dozen influential American business leaders.
Over salmon kebabs in his hotel on Wednesday evening, he bluntly told a gathering of former United States diplomats and Iran scholars that he would never give up his country’s right to enrich uranium, but would swiftly resolve its nuclear standoff with the West. The next day he took aim at Israel’s nuclear arsenal in a public speech in the morning, and at night wooed his country’s influential, often skeptical diaspora with a banquet for 800.
But amid the fervent diplomatic theater, intended to end Iran’s isolation, it was at times difficult to tell whether Mr. Rouhani was a genuinely transformative Iranian leader, as his cabinet insisted, or a more polished avatar of the past, as his critics claimed.
In television interviews and public addresses throughout the week, he repeatedly sought to cast himself as a moderate ready to do business with the West. But it was also clear that whatever he said here was closely and instantly dissected at home, raising uncertainty over whether he could truly deliver a compromise with the West, if that is what he sought.
And so he condemned the Nazis in a television interview, but quickly hedged by saying he was not a historian. And even as he called for “time bound” talks to resolve the nuclear standoff, he skipped a lunch at which he might have had the chance to meet President Obama and shake his hand. Even charmed diplomats pointed out he offered no concrete proposals, while also noting he had received nothing concrete from Western officials to take back to his constituents.
Those who watched him closest this week describe Mr. Rouhani as serious, controlled and single-mindedly focused on message. He seemed intent to convey that he was prepared to take concrete steps to normalize relations with the West, that he was reasonable and that he enjoyed the backing of the street and his country’s religious establishment. He also seemed to be in somewhat of a rush, even while saying events might have been moving too fast.
“He did not come to New York to negotiate with speeches or throw in the towel and surrender. He came to New York to start negotiations,” said Vali Nasr, dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. “He is very clever, very pragmatic, but he’s also now showing himself to be bold, a risk-taker. He is taking the biggest risk any Iranian has in reaching out to the West.”
The contrast with his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, could not be more stark. Mr. Ahmadinejad used his podium at the General Assembly to criticize Israel, deny the Holocaust and dangle the notion that Sept. 11 was the handiwork of Americans. Mr. Rouhani, in his public speeches, has mentioned Israel only once, calling on it to sign the Nonproliferation Treaty.
All the same, he has insisted on Iran’s right to build what he says is a civilian nuclear program. At a dinner for about 20 former diplomats and Iran scholars on Tuesday at the One UN New York, a hotel across the street from the United Nations building, one guest recalled that Mr. Rouhani was bluntly asked: What is Iran doing and why is it doing it?
“His answer was very simple,” said the guest, who could not be named because it was a confidential meeting. “We are enriching. We are doing it because it is our right.”
The only time the usually unflappable Mr. Rouhani was mildly exercised, the guest said, was when he spoke of Israel’s complaints about Iran’s nuclear program. Mr. Rouhani, he recalled, sharply pointed out that Israel itself had nuclear weapons.
The next morning, speaking at a meeting on disarmament, Mr. Rouhani called on Israel to give up its nuclear weapons.
Remarks like that prompted some critics to say that Mr. Rouhani was simply a camouflaged version of Mr. Ahmadinejad, pressing the same aims. “Rouhani came here today to cheat the world, and unfortunately many people were willing to be cheated,” Israel’s minister of intelligence and internal affairs, Yuval Steinitz, said Tuesday at the United Nations.
Gary Samore, a former Obama adviser, and now the president of United Against Nuclear Iran, said the substance was “very similar to Ahmadinejad’s, but he says it in a much kinder and gentler way.”
“That’s the definition of a charm offensive,” he continued.
To foreigners, Mr. Rouhani may seem like something of a paradox. He wears the garb of a cleric, though with high-end dress shoes. He prefers to be called Dr. Rouhani, for his doctorate in law, rather than by his clerical title. His office has used Twitter to congratulate Iran’s women’s volleyball team and blast excerpts from his address at the General Assembly.
“He’s far from being a traditional Shia cleric,” said M. Hossein Hafezian, who worked with him for nearly 10 years at his Center for Strategic Research in Tehran. He described Mr. Rouhani as a political “insider” and a moderate, but one who has shunned being called “westernized or liberal, because that would be a curse.”
One diplomat here described him as so composed while meeting one of his Western counterparts that he seemed hard to grasp. The diplomat, who asked not to be identified because of the delicacy of the bilateral meeting, said he was struck by the fact that Mr. Rouhani “didn’t have advisers whispering in his ears the whole time.”
Mr. Rouhani’s interest in lowering tensions with the West is most directly helped by his closest aides. He has surrounded himself with men, who, like other Iranian bureaucrats, favor trim beards and suits without ties, but who speak the language of the American elite. Several, like his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, were educated here.
Perhaps the most unexpected — and closely guarded — encounter this week was attended by Mr. Rouhani’s chief of staff, Mohammad Nahavandian. He attended a breakfast meeting on Tuesday, organized at his request, with about a dozen New York business leaders, most of them retired, from the banking and energy sectors. His message, according to the breakfast organizer, was that Iran is now pro-business and welcomes private investment, if and when sanctions are lifted.
“This was the beginning of exploring if something like that could happen,” the organizer said, asking to remain anonymous because of the delicacy of the gathering.
Still, said William H. Luers, a retired United States ambassador who now runs an advocacy group called The Iran Project, Mr. Rouhani’s greatest challenge would be to convince skeptics in Iran and the United States. “He has to demonstrate this is more than a charm offensive, that he means what he says, that if there’s a response he’s ready to be engaged,” Mr. Luers said.
The same applies to Mr. Obama, he added. “It’s too far along,” Mr. Luers said. “We’ve said too much on both sides. There’s too much distrust to just say we had a good conversation.”
Iran lawmakers pass bill allowing men to marry adopted daughters
Human rights activists say approved bill, making girls vulnerable to the ruling from age 13, 'legalises paedophilia'
Saeed Kamali Dehghan
theguardian.com, Thursday 26 September 2013 19.11 BST
Parliamentarians in Iran have passed a bill to protect the rights of children which includes a clause that allows a man to marry his adopted daughter and while she is as young as 13 years.
Activists have expressed alarm that the bill, approved by parliament on Sunday, opens the door for the caretaker of a family to marry his or her adopted child if a court rules it is in the interests of the individual child.
Iran's Guardian Council, a body of clerics and jurists which vets all parliamentary bills before the constitution and the Islamic law, has yet to issue its verdict on the controversial legislation.
To the dismay of rights campaigners, girls in the Islamic republic can marry as young as 13 provided they have the permission of their father. Boys can marry after the age of 15.
In Iran, a girl under the age of 13 can still marry, but needs the permission of a judge. At present, however, marrying stepchildren is forbidden under any circumstances.
As many as 42,000 children aged between 10 and 14 were married in 2010, according to the Iranian news website Tabnak. At least 75 children under the age of 10 were wed in Tehran alone.
Shadi Sadr, a human rights lawyer with the London-based group Justice for Iran, told the Guardian she feared the council would feel safe to put its stamp of approval on the bill while Iran's moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, draws the attention of the press during his UN visit to New York.
"This bill is legalising paedophilia," she warned. "It's not part of the Iranian culture to marry your adopted child. Obviously incest exists in Iran more or less as it happens in other countries across the world, but this bill is legalising paedophilia and is endangering our children and normalising this crime in our culture."
She added: "You should not be able to marry your adopted children, full stop. If a father marries his adopted daughter who is a minor and has sex, that's rape."
According to Sadr, officials in Iran have tried to play down the sexual part of such marriages, saying it is in the bill to solve the issue of hijab [head scarf] complications when a child is adopted.
An adopted daughter is expected to wear the hijab in front of her father, and a mother should wear it in front of her adopted son if he is old enough, Sadr said.
"With this bill, you can be a paedophile and get your bait in the pretext of adopting children," Sadr said. Some experts believe the new bill is contradictory to Islamic beliefs and would not pass the Guardian Council.
An initial draft of the bill, which had completely banned marriage with adopted children, was not approved by the council and it is feared that MPs introduced the condition for marriage to satisfy the jurists and clergymen. This is why Sadr fears it can pass the council this time.
The bill has prompted backlash in Iran with the reformist newspaper, Shargh, publishing an article warning about its consequences. "How can someone be looking after you and at the same time be your husband?" the article asked.
Shiva Dolatabadi, head of Iran's society for protecting children's rights, has also warned that the bill implies that the parliament is legalising incest. "You cannot open a way in which the role of a father or a mother can be mixed with that of an spouse," she said, according to Shargh. "Children can't be safe in such a family."
Execution of juvenile offenders in Iran has also been in spotlight in recent years amid confusion between the age of majority – when minors cease to be legally considered children – and the minimum age of criminal responsibility, which is 15 for boys and nine for girls under Iranian law.
September 27, 2013
Scores Feared Trapped in Collapse of Mumbai Building
By GARDINER HARRIS and NEHA THIRANI BAGRI
MUMBAI, India — Scores of people may be trapped or dead after a five-story residential building collapsed early Friday morning, the fifth deadly collapse this year in and around Mumbai, a city with crumbling housing infrastructure and poor building norms. At least four people were confirmed dead.
The scene Friday was a chaotic pile of broken steel and concrete rubble, with more than two dozen fire trucks and at least 15 ambulances on the streets.
The authorities said it was too early to determine the exact cause of the collapse or the number of people trapped or dead inside the structure, the Babu Genu Market building. Onlookers said the building had more than 100 residents, nearly all of whom were likely home when the structure fell early in the day. The building was about 30 years old, officials said.
“The building collapsed suddenly at 6 a.m. this morning,” said Tanaji Ghodge, a deputy police commissioner. “We don’t know how many people will come out of the rubble yet. The rescue operation is going on in full force.”
Babu Gupta, a sound engineer who lives next door, said the building had about 24 occupied one-room apartments, each with four to eight residents, underscoring the dangerous overcrowding in many buildings in Mumbai.
“There were many people in that building whom I was friends with. We often played cricket together on this street,” Mr. Gupta said. “There is Parmar, there is Jadhav, there are so many others. There must be at least 15 of my friends in that building. There is no news of them yet.”
Murli Khadpekar, a neighbor, said he heard a “loud bang” at 5:53 a.m. and came running out to see that the Babu Genu Market building’s huge rooftop water tank had come crashing down, and that the building had collapsed. The building was mostly occupied by city trash collectors and laborers, he said.
“The municipal corporation has given two notices to repair the building as it was not safe, but they did not do anything about it,” Mr. Khadpekar said, referring to Mumbai’s city government.
Hundreds of police officers, firefighters, dockyard workers and neighbors crowded around the site of the collapse Friday in the kind of chaotic scramble that is routine after such disasters in India. Police officials tried to clear the area of bystanders. Neighbors watched from balconies and terraces overlooking the spot of the collapse.
Dr. Habbu Jadav, the superintendent of J.J. Hospital nearby, said 17 people had been brought in with injuries as of 11:45 a.m. and that there were four deaths, with many more people in critical condition. Family members surrounded hospital officials asking if their relatives were among the dead or injured. One of them, Pankaj Lokhande, said he learned that his close friends, the Chawda family, were found in the rubble. A mother and her two children were dead, while the family’s father, a retired city official, survived because he was already hospitalized with a critical illness, he said.
“The Chawda family lived on the fourth floor of the building, but they were found on the ground floor under slabs of concrete,” Mr. Lokhande said.
In April, an illegally constructed building in a Mumbai suburb collapsed and killed 74 people, the deadliest such incident in decades. Two more incidents followed in June, killing 19 people together. In July, the Bhiwandi garment factory collapsed, killing six people. There have been other collapses in India, including a hospital in Bhopal in April.
The collapses highlight problems with India’s housing stock and construction standards. Many of the structures that dot Mumbai’s skyline are crumbling and date to the country’s independence, when they were hurriedly built as part of the city’s emergence as a commercial hub.
Mumbai’s buildings department is known as being corrupt, and bribing inspectors and other government officials is considered part of the normal cost of doing business. One result is that many buildings are visibly crumbling. Another problem is rent control rules that allow tenants to live in apartments for a few dollars a month and even pass those rights to their descendants, giving landlords little incentive to invest in building maintenance. The city requires extensive approvals for even minor repairs, a process so cumbersome that repairs are often either delayed or done illegally and without the advice of engineers.
Much of Mumbai’s new construction is shoddy and dangerous as well. Part of the reason is the city’s endemic corruption and high land prices, which encourage quick building projects. But even routine and approved construction practices are suspect. India is one of the only countries in the world where buildings as tall as six stories are constructed using a small-batch process of mixing concrete by hand, rather than having trucks deliver premixed concrete.
The quality of the concrete used in these structures depends on how well the man standing at the concrete drum mixes the sand, gravel, cement and water. Some batches are poor, and that leads to structural weaknesses that worsen soon after construction is completed.
In most of the world, structures more than two stories high require premixed concrete not only because of government rules but also because few other places can find workers willing to carry loads of concrete by hand up more than one or two flights of stairs. In India and Bangladesh, workers routinely carry such loads up five or more flights.
Sheetal Shinde stood at a nearby tea stall with tears in her eyes looking at the rescue operation. “There are five of my relatives in that building,” she said. “They are still trapped inside.”
India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
September 26, 2013, 8:54 am
Ahead of India-Pakistan Talks, Militants Kill as Many as 12 in Indian-Controlled Kashmir
By GARDINER HARRIS
Militants dressed in Indian Army uniforms killed up to a dozen people in attacks on Thursday on an Indian police station and army base in Indian-controlled Kashmir, officials said. The attacks, near the disputed border with Pakistan, came a day after the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, said he would hold talks in New York with his Pakistani counterpart.
Three militants armed with assault rifles and grenades arrived in three-wheeled auto-rickshaws around 6:50 a.m. and attacked the police station in Hiranagar, officials said. “They first lobbed a grenade and then fired indiscriminately,” Anand Datta, an inspector from the Hiranagar police station, said by telephone. “The first policeman killed was the sentry at the gate, and later three others also died.”
The militants then hijacked a truck and drove to an army base in the nearby Samba district. S.N. Acharya, an army spokesman, confirmed that at least three soldiers were killed in that attack, including a lieutenant colonel.
Omar Abdullah, the chief minister of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, said that altogether, the militants killed 12 people in the two attacks, but there were no immediate details about the remaining five deaths.
The three militants were killed after government forces confronted them in a counterattack that continued into the afternoon, Indian officials said. Television footage showed Indian helicopters and other military equipment converging on the area.
The attack led opposition politicians to call on Mr. Singh to cancel his planned meeting in New York this weekend with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan.
“Pursuing a spineless diplomacy at this juncture will present India as a ‘soft state’ which could be pushed around by any big or small country,” said Rajnath Singh, president of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
But government officials said the attack followed a pattern of similar assaults, including ones this summer, that seemed timed to derail talks between two prime ministers who have repeatedly called for such a dialogue.
“This is one more in a series of provocations and barbaric actions by the enemies of peace,” said Prime Minister Singh, according to a statement released by India’s Press Information Bureau. “Such attacks will not deter us and will not succeed in derailing our efforts to find a resolution to all problems through a process of dialogue.”
It was a somewhat risky decision by a prime minister little known for taking political chances. Militant attacks in Kashmir invariably receive enormous news media attention in India, and are often followed by jingoistic drumbeating not only by right-leaning politicians but also by popular media figures. After an Indian soldier was found beheaded in January at the Line of Control that separates the Indian and Pakistani claims to the disputed territory, Sushma Swaraj, a leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, called for the Indian Army to behead 10 Pakistani soldiers in response.
Mr. Sharif campaigned earlier this year on a platform that called for a robust peace process with India, and Prime Minister Singh has long made known his desire for better relations with Pakistan. But the border between the two countries is one of the most heavily militarized in the world, and there are many who benefit both politically and economically from continued frosty relations.
Mr. Abdullah, the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, said that canceling the pending dialogue between Mr. Singh and Mr. Sharif, on the sidelines of the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly, would be a victory for the militants. The militants seemed to have only recently infiltrated the border, officials said. Mr. Singh’s decision to meet Mr. Sharif on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York this weekend was made public Wednesday.
India and Pakistan have feuded over control of Kashmir since the two nations were born shortly after World War II. Pakistan claimed the province because of its Muslim majority. But the British gave the province to India, and the two countries have since fought at least three wars over it.
A considerable section of Kashmiris would like to be independent from both countries, giving the conflict a volatile complexity. An insurgency within Kashmir that India has long accused Pakistan of helping to fuel began in 1989. India has occasionally used brutal tactics to try to quell the insurgency, and a controversial law in Indian-controlled Kashmir protects soldiers from being prosecuted even for crimes like murder and rape.
After a fairly quiet 2012, attacks in Kashmir have intensified this year, with more than 100 people killed. Not coincidentally, Pakistan held national elections this year, and India’s are scheduled for 2014.
Hari Kumar contributed reporting from New Delhi, and Sameer Yasir from Kashmir.
Queensland plan to 'name and shame' young offenders under fire
Human rights groups say attorney general Jarrod Bleijie's reforms contravene UN conventions
theguardian.com, Friday 27 September 2013 10.47 BST
Laws to be introduced in Queensland which will identify juvenile offenders could be the subject of court action, with human rights groups arguing they contravene UN conventions.
The Queensland attorney general, Jarrod Bleijie, has announced reforms to the juvenile justice system which will see repeat offenders publicly identified – "named and shamed" as Bleijie puts it – and detention ceasing to be seen as a last resort in sentencing.
Juvenile prisoners who turn 17 while in detention and have more than six months left on their sentence will be transferred to an adult prison.
The director of the Human Rights Law Centre, Hugh De Kretser, said the laws were in violation of the UN convention on the rights of the child to which Australia is a signatory.
"We are already looking at options for ensuring young people are treated appropriately in Queensland," he told Guardian Australia.
"It is likely Australia will be criticised for these changes by the UN."
De Kretser said the centre was following the changes in Queensland closely and exploring possible legal options.
He said another concern was how disproportionately Indigenous people would be affected by the policy; the government should be focusing more on reducing the number of Indigenous children in prisons.
"We also have significant concerns the changes will result in more transfers of children to adult prisons," he said.
"If you are exposing children to adult prisons you are not only risking their health and wellbeing but the likelihood of reoffending increases.
"We should be focusing on their rehabilitation."
Bleijie said when he announced the laws that they would act as a deterrent, but De Kretser disagreed, saying most juvenile offenders acted impulsively.
"Regardless of your view on how harsh punishments should be for juvenile offenders, these laws are counterproductive," he said.
According to the children's court of Queensland the number of juvenile offenders fell by 8.6% in 2010 to 2011 and by 6.9% in the 2011 to 2012 financial year.
Figures for the past financial year are yet to be released.
Under the proposed laws, first-time offenders will not be identified and the court will have the discretion to block some repeat offenders from being named.
New offences for breaching bail will be introduced with penalties including a maximum of a one-year prison sentence.
"Our reforms are tough but necessary," Bleijie said.
"The former Labor government's slap-on-the-wrist approach has left Queensland with a generation of arrogant recidivist young offenders.
"We are balancing the scales of justice by making repeat offenders more accountable but allowing first-time offenders to get back on the straight and narrow."
Juvenile histories will also be made available in adult courts under the new laws, which the Queensland government is planning to introduce next year.
The Queensland Law Society (QLS) has also opposed the new laws, with a criminal law committee member, Kurt Fowler, saying they would marginalise juvenile offenders and their families.
"There is no evidence at all to suggest naming and shaming works in anyway as a deterrent to crime," he said.
"It's not unreasonable to think they could do more harm than good."
Fowler said it was not the role of law society to advocate for legal challenges to laws and it would not take part in any action.
He was most concerned for young people living in rural and regional areas – including Indigenous youths – who could be ostracised in small communities, along with their families.
Coalition urged to raise emissions reduction target in wake of IPCC report
Greens say Tony Abbott must drop 'anti-science ideological view' as findings show government target of 5% is inadequate
theguardian.com, Friday 27 September 2013 10.10 BST
The government has been urged to raise its emissions reduction target in the wake of the IPCC report findings, with the Greens calling on Tony Abbott to "abandon his anti-science ideological view" towards climate change.
Leaked drafts of the keynote UN report on climate change, which is released once every six years, show that global carbon emissions need to be cut by 10% a decade if a widely agreed limit of 2C of warming is to be met.
Australia has a bipartisan target of a 5% emissions reduction by 2020, on 2000 levels. This stretches to 25% if other countries increase their efforts to slash emissions.
Erwin Jackson, the deputy chief executive of the Climate Institute, which produced a report stating that the Coalition's Direct Action climate plan would fail to meet the 5% target without further funding, said the government needed to raise its target to 25%.
"Currently, Australia isn't making a fair contribution," he said. "The 5% target is weaker than the US and not comparable to what the Chinese are doing.
"South Korea's target would be equivalent to 15% for Australia. We are well short when compared to comparable economies and it all boils down to whether Australia, as a country vulnerable to climate change, is prepared to do its fair share."
Under the previous Labor government, the Climate Change Authority provided advice on what Australia's emissions reduction target should be. It is due to release its latest assessment next month, which is predicted to call for the target to be increased to 15%.
But the Coalition has pledged to introduce legislation to abolish the Climate Change Authority.
A spokeswoman for the environment minister, Greg Hunt, told Guardian Australia that the authority's report would have no bearing on the government's emissions reduction target, which will next be reviewed in 2015.
"At the moment there is a taskforce working on the mechanics of our [Direct Action] policy and we will release the terms of reference within 30 days, as per our election commitment," she said.
"Once our scheme is up and running we will look to review the emissions target in 2015. It will be done within the department – that's what you have a department for, after all."
The Greens said that the IPCC's report shows a world on track for 4C of warming unless there is "strong, committed" political will to cut emissions.
"With Australia taking on the presidency of the G20 and other countries stepping up to the challenge, it would be negligent for Tony Abbott to try to abolish emissions trading and the clean energy package," said the Greens leader, Christine Milne.
"Tony Abbott must now abandon his anti-science ideological view and back off from his promise to repeal the carbon pricing mechanism and supporting institutions, such as the Climate Change Authority and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, all of which are proving highly effective in reducing emissions."
The IPCC report has also prompted NGOs to question the government's stance on foreign aid, which received a hefty cut in the Coalition's pre-election costings.
Edward Boydell, climate change adviser for Care Australia, said the impacts of climate change would be most heavily felt by the world's poorest people.
"The people who don't have the resources to cope with climate change are the ones really on the frontline," he said. "They rely on a stable climate for their livelihood and will struggle to adapt.
"This requires a rapid reduction in Australia's emissions but also, as a country with a high level of prosperity, it requires Australia to support those in our region affected by climate change.
"There needs to be resourcing and support for people on the frontline facing unavoidable impacts. There was a global $100bn a year mitigation fund agreed to in Copenhagen in 2009 and Australia needs to pay its fair share.
"We need to ramp up support and target it at those who are most vulnerable."