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« Reply #8985 on: Sep 27, 2013, 07:26 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
09/26/2013 03:39 PM

Architect of Austerity: Schäuble's Search for a Way Forward

By Ullrich Fichtner and Alexander Smoltczyk

As Germany's Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble is one of Europe's most influential politicians -- and one of its most hated. Many hold his austerity policies responsible for mass poverty and unemployment in the south. How does he know his decisions are right?

At the Federal Ministry of Finance on Berlin's Wilhelmstrasse, working home to one of the most powerful men of our time, the corridors are up to 700 meters (2,296 feet) long. They lead to 2,100 offices, whose stone doorframes form seemingly endless rows reminiscent of the set of a grim, futuristic film.

The layout of the building, designed by Nazi architects, looks like the drawing of a complex machine part. Those who enter the building inadvertently find themselves whispering, as if to avoid disturbing the power concentrated inside. History is constantly being made, day after day, in this building. Senior Nazi leader Hermann Göring once strode through its corridors. It was occupied by the Soviet military administrators after World War II, and it was the setting for both the establishment of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) and, decades later, its liquidation by the Treuhandanstalt, the agency that privatized former East German state-run enterprises.

Wolfgang Schäuble's office is in room 4358, an unadorned corner office on the fifth floor. Many people in cities like Athens and Madrid hold this man responsible for their misery. For them, he is hardly less contemptible than the other men whose offices were once in the same building. They blame him for the plight of retirees reduced to scavenging for food in garbage cans. They claim that the Teutonic furor behind his austerity measures has impoverished Europe and turned it into a place of decay. They believe that no one bears more responsibility for such policies than the man in room 4358 at the German Finance Ministry. Does this man in a gray suit actually know what he is doing?

'Into a Dark Forest'

Schäuble isn't one for small talk. He seems to have no objection to getting right to the point -- to the question of what constitutes the basis of his political decisions, and how academic insights enter into the political process. "As Bismarck said, from one second to the next, you suddenly find yourself walking into a dark forest," he says.

The minister is referring not only to his particular branch of government, but also to the system of finance, global transfers and hypersensitive expectations in an era of chronic crises. Many voters act on little more than the hope that their elected representatives in the parliament and the administration have a pretty good idea of what they are doing. But what exactly serves as the basis for their decisions?

Schäuble points to a man sitting with him at the table: an unobtrusive, alert man whom the minister, with a hint of sarcasm, calls his "chief economist." His name is Ludger Schuknecht, and his head resembles that of a nervous bird. As the Finance Ministry's director general for economic policy, a position referred to as "AL I," Schuknecht serves as the link between the world of economic theory and the world of the feasible, between knowledge and power.

"He is an outstanding academic," says Schäuble, although he is unable to resist adding a "but…" He doesn't complete the sentence, and yet it is clear what Schäuble means to say: Politics is a whole different game. Schuknecht laughs nervously.

Staying One Step Ahead

Schuknecht's job is to provide answers to all technical and specialized questions on the spur of the moment. Schäuble sometimes even calls him at night to resolve questions that are on his mind. Could you explain to me, once again, the "balance sheet crisis" in Spain, he might ask? Or: Which laws govern the shadow banks in the US state of Delaware? Schäuble expects to receive immediate input, material to contemplate.

Schuknecht's economic policy division employs about 140 people, most of them economists, whose job is to provide the state secretaries and the finance minister with the latest figures. They are expected to be consistently well informed about the latest academic debates, or preferably even a step ahead of them. Schuknecht is convinced that there isn't a single important thought that escapes his team. They represent the concentrated expert knowledge of the powerful.

Each employee in the economic policy division has access to specialized knowledge and contacts at universities, banks and associations, as well as think tanks in Brussels and Washington. Schuknecht's staff members invite professors to write concept papers or, at times, to pay a visit to the minister in room 4358.

One of those academics was Kenneth Rogoff, a Harvard economist and one of the world's foremost economic thinkers. He stopped by Schäuble's office on March 2, 2011, just after having given a talk in the ministry on his latest book, "This Time is Different," a 500-page tome on the financial crises of the last 800 years. The book, a massive collection of figures derived from archives, forgotten books and documents presumed lost, became a global bestseller and required reading for finance ministers and central bankers alike. It helped to explain the anatomy of financial crises.

Schäuble, who had read the book, met with Rogoff for an hour. "It wasn't a narrow advice-giving session," says the minister. "I asked him to explain to me what he said in his talk." As it turned out, Rogoff's views conformed to what Schäuble had always known: Ever since money has existed, there has been debt and there have been crises. And when they expand into sovereign debt crises, and when the entire structure of global finance begins to totter, there are no longer any easy answers. After the meeting, the name Rogoff began popping up in Schäuble's speeches.

The Real World

"Academics are important," says Schäuble, "because one has to constantly make an effort to understand things." And yet there is still a wide gap between all the models and theories, and actual political decisions. The world doesn't submit to theories, and history does not offer quick lessons for the future. Suddenly what the experts believe is the right thing to do diverges from the reality of what is feasible -- a reality characterized by political compromises in Brussels, unrest in Lisbon and the power struggles within the steering committee of a coalition party in Athens.

Greece is only one example, but a good one nonetheless. Schäuble often mentions Greece, and when he does he breathes heavily and pauses frequently, rubs his eyes and clasps his hands together in front of his face as if he were praying. Should the country have withdrawn from the euro zone in 2010? The possibility was discussed in the Finance Ministry, even though these discussions were never mentioned publicly. The numbers were clear, and they made a mockery of the Maastricht criteria.

"But then I get a call from (former US Treasury Secretary) Timothy Geithner," says Schäuble, "and he says, 'You do know that we wouldn't have made the decision to allow Lehman Brothers to go bankrupt if we had been asked 24 hours later, don't you?'" Schäuble shrugs his shoulders and falls silent. He cradles his head in his hands and narrows his eyes, using body language to ask: Well, what do you do in that situation? What's the right thing to do? What isn't? What's going to blow up in your face tomorrow?

"Or take the debate in 2011 over the debt haircut for Greece," Schäuble continues. He shrugs his shoulders once again. What would be the consequences of debt forgiveness? What would it mean for Portugal? And for Ireland? And how much of a haircut should private creditors be forced to accept? 20 percent? 22? 30? Or at least 50, as Schäuble had proposed from the very beginning?

'That Terrible Feeling'

It wasn't because he was sure about the number, but almost on the basis of a gut feeling derived from year after year of dealing with the feasible. In those situations, someone like Schuknecht is no longer helpful. In those situations, politicians get together late at night, drink wine and talk -- not about the specific details and not about methodology, but about all the things they have already experienced, and about what works and what doesn't.

Schäuble talks about how Jean-Claude Trichet, the then-head of the European Central Bank (ECB), warned him that by rigidly calling for a 50-percent debt haircut he was risking the worst crisis since the Great Depression. "Thank God he wasn't right," says Schäuble. "It ended up at 53 percent. In the end, you can't reach a decision like that based on scientific methods. Nevertheless, you have to make the decision as difficult as possible, weighing all the options with the help of experts. Then you reach your decision and assume it's the right one and hope, just a little, that you're not wrong."

Schäuble exhales loudly and shrugs his shoulders. He is honest enough to admit that he wasn't envious of his predecessor, Peer Steinbrück, when Lehman failed in 2008 and the global financial crisis erupted, nor did he envy Steinbrück for "that terrible feeling you get when you realize that this could turn into a panic."

The 'German Ideology'
A generation of economists has studied the trauma of the 1929 panic that led to the Great Depression. It dominates their theories and pervades their models. The lessons of that great crisis led to the emergence of two schools of thought that remain hostile to each other to this day, and that can quickly transform discussions of fiscal and economic policy into an ideological minefield.

During the crisis and as a result of its dissection by academics, London currency speculator John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich August von Hayek, the son of a Viennese doctor, became the champions of the two camps. Keynes assigned responsibility to the government, while Hayek, despite everything, continued to argue that markets should be as unregulated as possible.

To this day, controversies in economic theory can still be interpreted as variants of the contradictions between Keynes and Hayek, even if today's debates are conducted with the sophisticated mathematical models of econometrics. For Keynesians, the market is an animal that requires taming. Students of Hayek, on the other hand, prefer to see the state as a night watchman, establishing a loose framework and allowing the markets to run their course. Instead of battling a crisis, the best approach is to weather it like a storm. "These categories are too simplistic for my taste," says Schäuble. "I have a disdain for them shaped by experience. I'm beyond that."

The Flexible Approach

Perhaps that is why he and his advisors end up periodically changing their positions. In the endless corridors of the Finance Ministry, the dispute between the two schools of economic thought has broken down into a question of the right timing, with "Keynes" sufficing for the short term and "Hayek" for the longer and long term. Their goal is to maintain a balance between the rapid stimulation of a tired economy and the long-term achievement of a reasonable level of debt. They call it the "flexible approach to regulatory policy," which the rest of the world tends to describe, and deride, as the "German ideology."

Even when Schäuble sounds like former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who once casually decreed that there is no left-wing or right-wing economic policy, but merely a modern and an outmoded economic policy, he still imposes a policy on Germany's European neighbors that their governments see as conservative, at the very least, and substantially inspired by Hayek.

Someone who seeks to enshrine debt limits in the constitution, thereby strapping a chastity belt of fiscal policy onto the government, who advocates stability pacts and for whom a low debt level is more important than high unemployment figure, is staking out an ideological position.

This is the view critics, from France's Socialists to US President Barack Obama to Left Party politician Sahra Wagenknecht, hold of the new "German ideology." Schäuble finds such criticism "ridiculous" and believes that the dispute over "austerity" boils down to a "misstatement of the issues." Anyone who seriously considers the problems of countries, he says, can only conclude: "In many cases the economic foundations have become fragile, and this doesn't work in the long run. That's why simply injecting more money doesn't do any good, and why improving the underlying economic conditions is so important."

Establishing a Threshold

It is a very German and very Protestant view, which, until 2010, could easily have been dismissed as moral nonsense because it lacked strong scientific evidence. But during the course of 2010, that evidence was supplied just in time for the Greek crisis, when economists the world over were able to prove that high levels of government debt stifle growth.

In a short, elegant paper, Harvard Professors Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart even established a number, a "threshold," or magical limit: They wrote that growth suffers when government debt exceeds more than 90 percent of a country's gross domestic product. It was the kind of knowledge that could be used to shape policy.

It also helps to explain the interplay between policy and science. Since their 2010 bestseller "This Time is Different," the names of the two authors, Rogoff and Reinhart, have become a quality seal of sorts. The 90-percent mark quickly became a welcome tool for all those politicians who had always believed austerity was better than borrowing.

Throughout 2011, European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs Olli Rehn used the expressions "90-percent rule" and "90-percent threshold." They were now being quoted whenever the time came to cut budgets, admonish habitual debtors and intervene in the policies of other countries. Olivier Blanchard, chief economist of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), called the 90-percent threshold "a good reference point." And as soon as the Rogoff-Reinhart paper was published, officials at the German Finance Ministry recognized its potential value in furthering their agenda.

All Hail the Cash Injection

From all corners of Europe, there were growing calls to finally inject more money into the heart of the economy and to put an end to austerity -- with its side effects of the elderly begging for money, young people being deprived of opportunity and burning barricades in Athens and Madrid -- and to finally stop taking debt more seriously than the destruction of the European project.

At the time, the economic policy division supplied Schäuble with ammunition to fend off this attack. It argued that confidence in a sound government has historically carried more weight in Europe than in the United States. It also argued that high debt levels impose a far greater burden on Europe than on the United States, home to the world's currency, and where the government also has the option of simply printing more money. During the various conferences of the period, Schäuble argued that taking on even more debt was not the way to fight existing debt, as Rogoff and Reinhart had stated in their paper.

The Harvard professor was summoned as a crown witness of sorts against the kingdom of the dollar, on the one hand, and against the tendencies on Europe's periphery to ease off austerity, on the other. In a speech to the German parliament on Jan. 17, 2013, Schäuble mentioned Rogoff directly, saying: "We now know -- as even the former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, Mr. Rogoff, has demonstrated -- that at a certain level of government debt, a further increase in debt no longer stimulates growth, but in fact hinders it in the medium term. This is precisely why we don't do that."

The Keynesians Strike Back

Last April, three years after the publication of the Reinhart-Rogoff paper, a student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst made headlines when he claimed to have refuted the Harvard professors' numbers. Thomas Herndon, a 28-year-old graduate student in economics, concluded that the 90-percent study was filled with embarrassing typos, was based on incorrect data and compared apples with oranges. According to Herndon, key figures in the study were wrong and essentially worthless. Before long, Herndon's conclusions had been reported in every newspaper, blog and tweet from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, and from London to Tokyo.

Rogoff suddenly found himself confronted with a digital mob instead of the civil academic community. Rogoff, a scholar who has been a chess grandmaster since the age of 25, talks about the incident in his office at Harvard University. He has withdrawn from the public eye and has stopped giving interviews, fearing that anything he says will only be used against him. He agreed to an interview with SPIEGEL in an effort to defend his credibility.

Rogoff says that at times he was receiving up to 10 emails every five minutes, that he was called a filthy pig and a murderer, and that some people even suggested he should die. He says that he will never forget some of the attempts to assassinate his character on television. Some of his colleagues, he says, have called him the victim of an outrageous and even fascist campaign. He insists that he isn't telling us these things so that we will publish them, but instead to help us understand him.

"Our 90-percent thesis doesn't mean that everything is fine up to 89 percent and that everything becomes catastrophic starting at 91 percent," says Rogoff. "But something happens at this threshold. Perhaps we haven't understood it fully yet, but no one can seriously believe that it isn't a problem that some countries are reporting their highest ever national debt levels in times of peace." So is Rogoff truly the premier advocate of rigid austerity, as his critics and enemies claim? Rogoff laughs out loud -- bitterly and almost despairingly -- at the question.

Dragged Through the Mud

He can present entire binders of newspaper clippings that demonstrate how perfectly balanced the arguments he and Reinhart presented publicly have been; how they warned against radical austerity; how they advocated adjusting government budgets in a sustainable and reasonable manner, and with a sense of proportion; how they even advocated Keynesian ideas so as not to stifle growth; and how he, Rogoff, campaigned for a little less stability in Europe and a little more inflation in order to find a gentle path of transition. But none of it did very much good.

"How much unemployment did Reinhart and Rogoff's arithmetic mistake cause?" asked the British newspaper The Guardian. Rogoff is appalled by such reductive arguments. He, who prides himself on being nonpartisan and describes himself as a "centrist," whose works were cheerfully appropriated by all sides in the US presidential election campaign and quoted as proof of the validity of their opposing programs, feels like a victim of collateral damage in the old war of ideologies. "What can an academic do when politicians pepper their speeches with his name? Should I have issued a denial each time? To whom?"

In the Keynesian camp, the no less renowned New York Times columnist and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman wrote about the "Rogoff-Reinhart saga," depicting the economists in a highly unflattering light. Soon the two economists were appearing in cartoons as a pair of bunglers who, out of sheer stupidity, had the prosperity of entire nations on their conscience. As recently as this June, a major article in the German newspaper Die Zeit erroneously claimed that the 90-percent mark had been disproven and that austerity policy was wrong.

'My God, Are We on the Right Path?'
Even before they were attacked in April of this year, Reinhart and Rogoff had followed up on their 2010 working paper, which was indeed erroneous, with more exhaustive studies that further substantiated an empirical relationship between high debt levels and weak growth. Their conclusions were underpinned by independent, no less profound studies by the ECB, the IMF and the Bank for International Settlements, based in Basel, Switzerland.

Finance Minister Schäuble, a political pragmatist who used Rogoff as much anyone else, defends the economist when he says: "It really doesn't matter whether the threshold lies exactly at 90, 100 or 110 percent. That isn't really the issue at all. But one thing is clear: At some point borrowing goes too far, which no one can seriously dispute."

Nevertheless, have there been situations in his last three years as finance minister when Schäuble feared that he was barking up the wrong tree? "It would certainly be strange," he says, "if you hadn't wondered at some point during the euro crisis: My God, are we on the right path?" Of course, says Schäuble, there were times when he and others wondered whether the European Union would survive or the grand project would indeed fail. "What would have happened if a revolution had erupted in one of the countries?" Schäuble says. "That's when the economist has no answers, which brings us back to the art of the possible."

It is an erratic art form, resulting in a constant political back and forth, almost like a pendulum swinging between Keynes and Hayek. A radical shift occurred in the summer of 2010, a departure from debt-financed economic programs and a commitment by most industrialized nations to austerity in their budgets. But why? Because a professor said the right thing in a conversation in room 4358 at the German Finance Ministry? Because a study had been published at Harvard? Or because more and more new studies appeared that substantiated the correlations Rogoff had made?

The likely answer to these questions is no. It may come as a blow to the vanity of some experts, but their expertise, though employed as a tool to support political arguments, is never implemented, and certainly not directly. Their conclusions are chopped up and combined into a stew, and policymakers are not interested in the individual components.

Experience Breeds Humility

Economic insight is primarily a means to an end, a piece of background information, but not a navigation system. It's a process, says Schäuble. "You can't turn over political decisions to academics," he says. "But it's just as wrong for politicians to believe that they are always right. As a politician, you need a certain amount of humility."

Many of the players involved lack such humility, especially the experts who appear on talk shows, and are always completely convinced of their opinions and are quick to accuse lawmakers of being incapable of comprehending simple truths. But the reality is that politics, compared with the pure theories of academia, is a dirty business, and in this case it's a good thing.

Wolfgang Schäuble knows the business better than almost anyone else. The 2013 German parliamentary election was his twelfth. He has been a member of the Bundestag for 41 years. Over that course of time the Berlin Wall was toppled, he survived an assassination attempt, a world once divided into east and west had to reconstitute itself, planes were flown into skyscrapers, Wall Street crashed, and the euro shook. So many unpredictable things have happened that the minister has had plenty of time to learn how to be humble.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


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« Reply #8986 on: Sep 27, 2013, 07:27 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
09/26/2013 07:16 PM

Coalition Purgatory: Will Merkel's Party Buckle on Tax Hikes?

Chancellor Merkel's conservatives unequivocally rejected tax increases in the recent election campaign. But now that they need to find a coalition partner among left-leaning parties, their tone seems to be changing.

During the recent German election campaign, Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives categorically rejected the idea of raising taxes, saying it would be poisonous for the economy and labor market.

But now it seems things may have changed. Following the dramatic collapse of Merkel's coalition partners, the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP), in Sunday's election, the conservatives are now in search of a new coalition partner -- and there aren't too many palatable options to choose from.

The Greens and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) -- both left-leaning parties, will likely want to discuss tax hikes in any negotiations over potential coalition agreements. And some media reports have pointed to comments by members of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) that indicate the party may be wavering on the issue.

But Hermann Gröhe, general secretary of the CDU, came out to flatly deny any such thing on Thursday. "The press reports are wrong," he said in response to a report by tabloid daily Bild that he had advocated increasing the top rate to 49 percent during internal party discussions. "Our election manifesto is absolutely imperative: We reject tax increases."

And, he added, Sunday's results had given his party a strong mandate to fight for that position. With those last words, though, he seemed not to absolutely rule out tax hikes in any future coalition led by the CDU.

'We Must be Willing to Compromise'

Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and senior CDU politician Armin Laschet also seemed open to compromise. When asked if he was excluding the possibility of tax increases, Schäuble told weekly Die Zeit newspaper: "We should look now at how the talks progress."

And Laschet told the conservative Die Welt: "Of course, we must be willing to compromise in all policy areas. Otherwise we will not get a coalition."

Anyone who was paying attention during the election campaign would be excused for doing a double take when hearing such words. For example, Angela Merkel herself said in a June speech: "A clear 'no' to tax increases."

And Schäuble, in an interview on Deutschlandradio on July 28, also left no doubts as to his position: "We still have the situation where the SPD and the Greens are strongly advocating for tax increases in the election campaign. They will not come about because we refuse them."

Finally, and perhaps most bluntly, Horst Seehofer, head of the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party to Merkel's CDU, told the newspaper Bild am Sonntag on June 9: "I can assure citizens on behalf of the CDU and CSU: With us there will be no tax increases in the coming four years. That is valid 100 percent … We have the highest tax revenues of all time. Tax increases in that situation would be a mortal sin that as a Catholic you could not confess in one go."


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« Reply #8987 on: Sep 27, 2013, 07:29 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
09/26/2013 02:53 PM

Femen's Male Mastermind: 'I Am No Tyrant'

Ukrainian Victor Svyatski, 36, is reportedly the mastermind behind the controversial feminist group Femen. For weeks he has been in hiding, but on the eve of his escape, he gave an interview to SPIEGEL in which he denied being a negative force in the group and accused the Russian government of harassment.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Svyatski, why did you flee Ukraine at the end of last week?

Svyatski: I was twice beaten by unknown assailants. Then at the end of August, the police also planted weapons in the Femen office in Kiev as well as leaflets showing Russian president Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, in crosshairs ... So I went into hiding and decided to request asylum in a western European country.

SPIEGEL: Who is behind the attacks on you and Femen?

Svyatski: I regard it as an act of revenge on the part of the Russian intelligence services. At the Hanover conference in April, female Femen activists rushed up to Putin, half-naked as usual. He let it be known afterwards that he had enjoyed the protest, but actually he was furious about the public humiliation.

SPIEGEL: What does that have to do with Ukraine, which is its own country?

Svyatski: It is an enclave of Putin.

SPIEGEL: How, then, can Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych say that he wants to bring his country closer to Europe, by which he means further away from Russia?

Svyatski: That is only for show. We are a vassal state controlled by the Kremlin, in which the Russian intelligence services operate unhindered.

SPIEGEL: You yourself have been criticized thanks to a documentary film about Femen. You are said to have dominated the feminist group in macho style and as the group's idealogue.

Svyatski: The director Kitty Green came from Australia. Together we planned how we could make her film more interesting. Kitty suggested to me: 'Victor, in the film you are the tyrant, and the girls fear you.' At the end, the girls would then free themselves from me. That's how it was filmed in the end as well. But I am not as bad as in this plot.

SPIEGEL: But you are nonetheless the strongman behind Femen -- until now you picked the women and planned the performances.

Svyatski: I have always done that together with the three Femen founders, in close coordination. They have known me for years from my home town Khmelnytskyi. Femen is a group effort; I am no tyrant.

SPIEGEL: There are other accusations against the group -- you are said to have cooperated with the Ukrainian government. The head of the presidential administration pushed for women from Femen to call in as guests on a talk show to make their point.

Svyatski: The call may have happened, and it can be that the head of the administration liked our protests. There is no accord, however. No one has ever bought us. We use every opportunity to appear in the media. We can't control who invites us onto talk shows and why any more than we can control the weather.

SPIEGEL: Why has Femen never become involved with the imprisoned opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko?

Svyatski: Why should we? Simply because she is a woman? In her time in office, Tymoshenko was a man wearing a skirt. Most Ukrainians view her as being as bad as the current president, Yanukovych. When she had power, corruption was as rife as it is today. But the West thinks she is a martyr only because she is in prison.

SPIEGEL: Why is Femen less popular in Ukraine than in the West?

Svyatski: Because most people here do not care about politics. We have created a global movement, a new feminism. It's just as important as Nelson Mandela's fight against Apartheid.

SPIEGEL: What do you mean by a new feminism?

Svyatski: The way old feminism worked was that women wore grey jumpers and let their armpit hair grow. Somehow they wanted to be like men in this way. The new feminism says: It is good that women are different from men. The woman is beautiful; her breasts are a symbol of femininity. That's why the women from Femen go topless on the streets. Only through differentiation can we truly reach equality.

SPIEGEL: All of the female founders have in the meantime fled Ukraine -- so how can it continue?

Svyatski: The new headquarters is Paris. From there, Femen girls will be recruited from all over the world. Femen is like the Foreign Legion in that it can strike anywhere. In Ukraine, Femen will send foreign women who will be better protected thanks to their passports.

SPIEGEL: Are you still a part of Femen?

Svyatski: No. I have already done everything in my power. Femen has already shaken off a small patriarchy, namely me. Now the women will fight on against the big patriarchy.

Interview conducted by André Eichhofer and Matthias Schepp


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« Reply #8988 on: Sep 27, 2013, 07:32 AM »


The Christian Science Monitor

The first fish face? Fossil sports modern jaw and facial bones.

By Pete Spotts, Staff writer / September 25, 2013 at 5:46 pm EDT

The next time you and a child make fish faces at each other, take a moment to appreciate Entelognathus primordialis's contribution to the giggles.

Paleontologists working in China have uncovered 419-million-year-old fossil remains of a fish they've dubbed E. primordialis, which sports the earliest known structures comparable to the modern jaw and facial bones in today's vertebrates, including humans.

The discovery "really is significant in helping to clarify this weird transformation – the evolution of faces," says Thomas Holtz Jr., a paleontologist at the University of Maryland at College Park.

A team led by Min Zhu, with the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, uncovered the remarkable preserved fossil in rock formations at a reservoir in Yunnan Province.

The fossilized fish, roughly 8 inches long, is complete, with bones still joined. Its head and shoulders are covered with bony plates, in addition to sporting a bony skeleton.

Finding an intact fish of any sort from this geological period, known as the Silurian, is rare enough, researchers say. To find one with such important clues to the evolution of faces is remarkable. The facial structure E. primordialis displays is sufficiently advanced to suggest that the origins of jaws and other facial bones among vertebrates originate even deeper in geologic time.

It's like finding pieces of a spacecraft amid the wreckage of medieval horse-drawn carts, says Xaiobo Yu, a paleontologist at Kean University un Union, N.J., and a member of the team reporting its results in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.

Back in E. primordialis's day, Earth was undergoing gradual but remarkable changes. The south polar supercontinent Pangea was breaking up. What is now North America was isolated, wandering north as plate tectonics reshuffled the planet's land masses. Asia, and China in particular, were clusters of smaller land masses.

Biologically, Earth was recovering from two back-to-back extinctions between 450 and 440 million years ago. The period prior to the die-offs saw enormous diversification of invertebrates, shell fish, and jawless fish. With the extinction events, researchers estimate that the planet lost 60 percent of all marine invertebrates.

On land, primitive plants – mainly mosses – clustered along coastlines or around lakes while continental interiors essentially were deserts. Land creatures consisted of bugs and temporary interlopes, such as horseshoe crabs, which mate and lay eggs on land.

During the recovery, fish began to evolve jaws, teeth, and now faces. Through the Silurian and its follow-on, the Devonian period, species emerged with some or all of these features in every possible combination, Holtz explains. By the end of the Devonian, fish began to sprout fingers and toes and spend some of their time on land.

Finding a modern-looking jaw and facial bones in a 419-million year old armored fish is forcing researchers to rethink the evolutionary path that faces took en route to modern bony fish and terrestrial vertebrates.

Today's jaw-bearing fish are divided into two broad groups – those, like sharks, whose skeletons are made largely from cartilage and whose hides host tiny, sharp cartilage scales, and those whose skeletons are bone and may also have bony plates armoring their heads and shoulders.

Up to now, the general view has held that the common ancestor to the more-recent bony fish and land vertebrates, including humans, on the one hand, and to sharks and their relatives on the other, was shark-like, Dr. Yu says. That implied that sharks are more primitive than bony fish, whose additional facial bones were seen as newer in evolutionary terms.

The discovery of modern-looking structures in E. primordialis flips that picture, pointing to this bony, armored fish as a common ancestor to the lineage that would split into bony fish and the cartilaginous sharks.

If this interpretation holds up to further scrutiny, it would signal sharks are less primitive than previously thought and would prompt questions about the evolutionary pressures that would prompt the sharks' line to shed its armor and bone for an abrasive hide and cartilage.


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« Reply #8989 on: Sep 27, 2013, 07:33 AM »

NASA’s Curiosity rover finds water on Mars

By Alok Jha, The Guardian
Thursday, September 26, 2013 18:12 EDT

Dirt sample reveals two pints of liquid water per cubic feet, not freely accessible but bound to other minerals in the soil

Water has been discovered in the fine-grained soil on the surface of Mars, which could be a useful resource for future human missions to the red planet, according to measurements made by NASA’s Curiosity rover.

Each cubic foot of Martian soil contains around two pints of liquid water, though the molecules are not freely accessible, but rather bound to other minerals in the soil.

The Curiosity rover has been on Mars since August 2012, landing in an area near the equator of the planet known as Gale Crater. Its target is to circle and climb Mount Sharp, which lies at the centre of the crater, a five-kilometre-high mountain of layered rock that will help scientists unravel the history of the planet.

Last night NASA scientists published a series of five papers in the journal Science, which detail the experiments carried out by the various scientific instruments aboard Curiosity in its first four months on the martian surface. Though highlights from the year-long mission have been released at conferences and NASA press conferences, these are the first set of formal, peer-reviewed results from the Curiosity mission.

“We tend to think of Mars as this dry place – to find water fairly easy to get out of the soil at the surface was exciting to me,” said Laurie Leshin, dean of science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and lead author on the Science paper which confirmed the existence of water in the soil. “If you took about a cubic foot of the dirt and heated it up, you’d get a couple of pints of water out of that – a couple of water bottles’ worth that you would take to the gym.”

Around 2% of the soil, by weight, was water. Curiosity made the measurement by scooping up a sample of the Martian dirt under its wheels, sieving it and dropping tiny samples into an oven in its belly, an instrument called Sample Analysis at Mars. “We heat [the soil] up to 835C and drive off all the volatiles and measure them,” said Leshin. “We have a very sensitive way to sniff those and we can detect the water and other things that are released.”

Aside from water, the heated soil released sulphur dioxide, carbon dioxide and oxygen as the various minerals within it were decomposed as they warmed up.

One of Curiosity’s main missions is to look for signs of habitability on Mars, places where life might once have existed. “The rocks and minerals are a record of the processes that have occurred and [Curiosity is] trying to figure out those environments that were around and to see if they were habitable,” said Peter Grindrod, a planetary scientist at University College London who was not involved in the analyses of Curiosity data.

Flowing water is once thought to have been abundant on the surface of Mars, but it has now all but disappeared. The only direct sources of water found so far have been as ice at the poles of the planet.

The other papers included x-ray diffraction images of the soil in order to work out the crystalline structure of the minerals on the Martian surface and analysis of a volcanic rock called “Jake_M”, which is named after a NASA engineer. The analysis showed that the rock was similar to a type on Earth known as a mugearite, which is typically found on ocean islands and in rift zones.

Grindrod said that the latest results published by the NASA team were just the start of the scientific insights that would come from Mars in the next few years. “It’s the first flexing of Curiosity’s analytical muscles,” he said. “Curiosity spent a long time checking out the engineering, instruments and procedures it was going to use – these papers cover just that engineering period. The targets here weren’t chosen because of their science goals as such but as good targets to test out the instruments.”

Leshin said that, as well as the excitement of exploring a new world for the first time, the increasingly detailed analysis of the Martian surface would be critical information for planning human missions. As well as the water discovery, analysis of the soil has also shown, for example, the presence of a type of chemical called a perchlorate, which is can be toxic to people. “It’s only there at a 0.5% level in the soil but it impedes thyroid function,” she said. “If humans are there and are coming into contact with fine-grained dust, we have to think about how we live with that hazard. To me it’s a good connection between the science we do and the future human exploration of Mars.”

She added: “I do think it’s inevitable that we’ll send people there and so let’s do its as smartly as we can. Let’s get as smart as we can before we go.”

© Guardian News and Media 2013


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« Reply #8990 on: Sep 27, 2013, 07:35 AM »

Scientists create state of matter that’s pretty much the same as light sabers

By Travis Gettys
RawStory
Thursday, September 26, 2013 13:16 EDT

Scientists have created a state of matter that so far has been found in fictional galaxies far, far away.

The joint team of physicists from Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said they’d been exploring the properties of photons when they were able to coax them into binding together into molecules.

Previously, scientists had believed photons were massless particles that would not interact with one another.

But “photonic molecules” aren’t quite like laser beams, which simply pass through one another if fired at each other; they’re more like another science fiction weapon.

“It’s not an inapt analogy to compare this to light sabers,” said Mikhail Lukin, Harvard professor of physics. “When these photons interact with each other, they’re pushing against and deflect each other. The physics of what’s happening in these molecules is similar to what we see in the movies.”

This photonic bound state has been discussed theoretically, Lukin said, but had never been previously observed.

Lukin and his colleagues, including MIT physics professor Vladan Vuletic, pumped rubidium atoms into a vacuum chamber and cooled those atoms to nearly absolute zero using lasers.

Then the scientists used weak laser pulses to fire single photons into the rubidium cloud, transferring some of the photons’ energy with atoms along its path.

They had expected two photons fired at the cloud to pass through individually, but scientists said they emerged on the other side as a single molecule.

The scientists said they plan to use their discovery to aid quantum computing, instead of building sci-fi weapons.

The system could also be used for classical computing to help overcome the power-dissipation challenge now faced by chip makers.


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« Reply #8991 on: Sep 27, 2013, 07:49 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

September 26, 2013

Senators Push to Preserve N.S.A. Phone Surveillance

By CHARLIE SAVAGE
NYT

WASHINGTON — The Senate Intelligence Committee appears to be moving toward swift passage of a bill that would “change but preserve” the once-secret National Security Agency program that is keeping logs of every American’s phone calls, Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who leads the panel, said Thursday.

Ms. Feinstein, speaking at a rare public hearing of the committee, said she and the top Republican on the panel, Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, are drafting a bill that would be marked up — meaning that lawmakers could propose amendments to it before voting it out of committee — as early as next week.

After the existence of the program became public by leaks from the former N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden, critics called for it to be dismantled. Ms. Feinstein said her bill would be aimed at increasing public confidence in the program, which she said she believed was lawful.

The measure would require public reports of how often the N.S.A. had used the calling log database, she said. It would also reduce the number of years — currently five — that the domestic calling log data is kept before it is deleted. It would also require the N.S.A. to send lists of the phone numbers it searches, and its rationale for doing so, to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for review.

By contrast, a rival bill drafted by skeptics of government surveillance, including two members of the committee, Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado, would ban the mass call log collection program.

That more extensive step is unlikely to pass the committee. Ms. Feinstein contended that “a majority of the committee” believed that the call log program was “necessary for our nation’s security.”

Ms. Feinstein said her bill with Mr. Chambliss would also require Senate confirmation of the N.S.A.’s director. At the same time, it would expand the N.S.A.’s powers to wiretap without warrants in the United States in one respect: when it is eavesdropping on a foreigner’s cellphone, and that person travels to the United States, the N.S.A. would be allowed to keep wiretapping for up to a week while it seeks court permission.

That step would remove the largest number of incidents in which the N.S.A. has deemed itself to have broken rules about surveillance in the United States. Those incidents were identified in a May 2012 audit leaked by Mr. Snowden.

The rival proposals pushed by Mr. Wyden and Mr. Udall would also ban the N.S.A. from warrantless searches of Americans’ information in the vast databases of communications it collects by targeting noncitizens abroad. And it would prohibit, when terrorism is not suspected, systematic searches of the contents of Americans’ international e-mails and text messages that are “about” a target rather than to or from that person.

Still, most of the senators on the Intelligence Committee, which had received briefings about the call log program and other surveillance even before Mr. Snowden’s leaks, used the hearing on Thursday to largely defend the programs and criticize the disclosures.

Mr. Chambliss suggested that people could die because of Mr. Snowden’s disclosures, and he pressed Gen. Keith Alexander, the N.S.A. director, to describe the program’s value.

“In my opinion,” General Alexander said, “if we had had that prior to 9/11, we would have known about the plot.”

Officials have struggled to identify terrorist attacks that would have been prevented by the call log program, which has existed in its current form since 2006. The clearest breakthrough attributed to the program was a case involving several San Diego men who were prosecuted for donating several thousand dollars to a terrorist group in Somalia.

Mr. Wyden pressed General Alexander about whether the N.S.A. had ever collected, or made plans to collect, bulk records about Americans’ locations based on cellphone tower data.

General Alexander replied that the N.S.A. is not doing so as part of the call log program, but that information pertinent to Mr. Wyden’s question was classified.

***********

Ted Cruz: The GOP’s self-made monster

By Michael Cohen, The Guardian
Thursday, September 26, 2013 13:42 EDT

Over the past couple of days, as I’ve watched Ted Cruz capture the political world’s attention and drive the GOP’s self-defeating strategy on the budget and the debt limit, I’ve tried to think about what is the best metaphor to describe his extraordinary political rise – from freshman Texas senator to ideological lodestar of the Republican party.

Is he a modern-day version of George Wallace (in Gary Younge’s analogy)? Is he Elmer Gantry? Is he Frankenstein?

No, he’s the Republican’s Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.

For those not familiar with the reference, the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man is “the form of the destructor” in the 1983 film, Ghostbusters. He seems harmless. After all, it’s a giant marshmallow with a jaunty sailor’s cap. But in reality, he is a 60ft anthropomorphized destroyer, who is chosen (inadvertently) to wage the movie’s final showdown between the forces of good (the ghostbusters) and the forces of bad (Gozer).

Now, in the end of the movie everything works out for the best and everyone lives happily ever after (except, unfortunately, for those who paid to see Ghostbusters II). Things, however, are unlikely to work out so well for the Republican party.

For Cruz, on the other hand, capitalizing on the GOP’s descent into madness is a deft political move that positions him well to be a clear frontrunner to win the party’s presidential nod in 2016.

Over the past several decades, Republicans have cultivated the party’s most reactionary, uncompromising and extremist base of supporters. They have portrayed government as a deeply nefarious and destructive force; they have fetishized ideological rigidity; they have derided and demonized compromise of any sort; they have destroyed the party’s moderate wing and even drove conservatives out of the party for not being conservative enough.

Things are so bad that Liz Cheney is taking on incumbent Mike Enzi for the Senate seat in Wyoming. The reason for the primary challenge: he’s not obstructionist enough and has committed the sin of actually talking with Democrats in the US Senate. That such a challenge would come after a period in which Congress entered a new stratosphere of dysfunction and uselessness is practically unimaginable. But alas, here we are.

Of course, when it comes to Obama, the GOP’s rhetoric has been turned up to “11“. Republicans have played on the fears of those who believe Obama is a socialist, Muslim, or a proud native son of Kenya. They have decried his war on political freedom; his war on gun rights; his war on business; his war on the middle class; his war on the nation’s future generations; and his surrender to foreign tyrants. And they have portrayed his policies as a fast train to America’s destruction – none more so than his signature legislation, Obamacare.

Since 2009, Republicans have practically fallen over themselves to describe a plan to provide health insurance coverage for 30 million people and lower healthcare costs as “the worst thing ever to happen to America”.

According to Republicans, Obamacare represents a government takeover of the healthcare system (it’s not); it was passed in violation of the will of the American people (it wasn’t); it covers illegal immigrants (it doesn’t, but it should); it will put government bureaucrats in charge of your healthcare decision (it won’t); it is already causing widespread job losses (it’s not) and will destroy the economy (it won’t).

Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, calls it the “single worst piece of legislation passed in the last 50 years”. Congressman John Fleming – a Louisiana Republican – went even further, describing Obamacare as “the most dangerous piece of legislation ever passed in Congress”, and “the most existential threat” to the US economy “since the Great Depression”. The House of Representatives has now voted more than 40 times to repeal the bill and is actively working to sabotage the law.

Conservatives are even running a creepy series of ads encouraging young people to eschew Obamacare and subsidized healthcare coverage, which, it must be said, is one of the more morally depraved activities that this country has seen from a major political group in some time. But in the GOP jihad against Obamacare, this sort of action is par for the course.

Indeed, opposition to Obamacare and the demand by Republicans – largely instigated by Cruz – that any budget or debt limit extension be tied to the defunding or delay of Obamacare has led to a possible government shutdown next week. It’s an act both destructive and unworkable. Obama is not going to sign a bill undercutting his signature legislation, and they’ll take the blame, which will be politically damaging.

So, why pursue this suicidal, self-defeating course? Enter Ted Cruz – the destructor.

Though many Republicans are wary, conservatives like Cruz have demanded this strategy – and have challenged the conservative bona fides of any who fail to get in line. A month ago, speaker of the House John Boehner was powerless to resist the crazies and finally relented, introducing legislation that tied the federal budget to a defunding of Obamacare.

This move led numerous Republicans to violate Ronald Reagan’s so-called “11th commandment” – “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican” – as the two most senior GOP members have attacked Cruz. But none of this should be a surprise to them. Republicans have spent so much time describing Obamacare in the most dire terms imaginable, isn’t it completely consistent for some Republicans to take this rhetoric to its logical conclusion?

To be sure, Republicans will find their way out of this current mess, most likely by conceding defeat and passing a clean continuing resolution and debt limit extension. But that will only begin the intra-party bloodletting.

For conservatives like Cruz, who, in just nine months in office, has become a hero to the party’s base, it’s precisely this retreat that he is counting on. It will only strengthen his political message that the problem for Republicans is the cadre of sellouts like McConnell, Boehner et al who refuse to follow through on their conservative principles. For a politician like Cruz, who clearly has his eyes set on national office, defeat for the GOP on Obamacare will be his ultimate victory.

Indeed, we’ve seen repeatedly over the past two election cycles that the more radical a Republican is, the more likely he or she is to defeat a slightly less radical Republican in a Senate or House primary. This is actually how Cruz became a senator.

In the end, Republicans have no one to blame but themselves for their current crisis. Ted Cruz was created by Republicans who persistently ramped up the extremism of their attacks on government and on Obama. That reached a point where Cruz’s brand of crazy, heartless, morally wanton, uncompromising conservatism is now the default position of the party.

Unfortunately for Republicans, unlike the Ghostbusters, there is no escape from the monster they created.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013

***********

Wendy Davis to stand as Democratic candidate for governor of Texas

By Tom Dart, The Guardian
Thursday, September 26, 2013 21:54 EDT

State senator whose 11-hour filibuster against restrictive abortion legislation made her a celebrity will stand in 2014

Wendy Davis is set to run for Texas governor, in a race that could have wide-ranging consequences for Democrats at both national and state level.

The state senator from Fort Worth became an overnight celebrity in June, as a result of her 11-hour filibuster against restrictive new abortion legislation. The bill ultimately passed in a special session of the state legislature, but Davis’s stance galvanised people on both sides of the debate and led to large rallies and protests at the Texas state capitol in Austin.

Davis has been mulling over whether to run for several months, but delayed announcing her decision following the death of her father earlier this month. She will formally reveal her decision on 3 October.

“A week today, I’m announcing something big,” she wrote today on Twitter. The Associated Press reported that Davis will run, citing two unnamed Democrats with knowledge of her decision. Politico and the Dallas Morning News reported that Davis and her advisors have begun telling influential Democrats that she will stand.

The pink trainers the 50-year-old wore for her marathon speaking session became a symbol for women’s rights activists. Democrats urged her to continue the momentum by announcing a bid to succeed Rick Perry as Texas governor. The Republican former presidential hopeful, who has been in office since 2000, is standing down after the election in November 2014.

No Texas Democrat has won a statewide office since 1994, the year George W Bush ousted the most recent Democratic governor, Ann Richards. In the 2010 vote, Perry easily defeated the Democratic candidate, Bill White, a former mayor of Houston. Perry won 55.1% of the vote to White’s 42.4%.

Those are indicators of the daunting task facing Davis. She is likely to be up against Greg Abbott, the Texas attorney general, who confirmed in July that he is seeking the Republican nomination. A staunch conservative, Abbott has a campaign war chest reportedly in excess of $20m.

Right-wingers have not held back from criticising or insulting Davis, long before it was apparent she would try for governor. Last month, Abbott was drawn into a controversy and backtracked after he – apparently unwittingly –thanked a supporter on Twitter who described Davis as a “retard Barbie”.

“The stakes are incredibly high,” Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston, told the Guardian. “I can’t think there is any real doubt whatsoever that she’s going to lose. But how she performs could have dramatic consequences for the future of partisan politics in Texas and therefore the nation at large.” Democrats have long dreamed of reclaiming Texas. As the second-most populous state in the US, it has 38 electoral college votes, behind only California. “If Texas turns blue, the presidency turns blue,” said Jones.

Future demographic trends are likely to mean an increasing number of Democratic voters in Texas. In the short-term, Democrats will hope that Davis’s high profile will boost their influence, even if she loses. Thanks to the apparent futility of the task, Democratic candidates in Texas have suffered from a lack of funds in past elections, among other problems.

A disappointing result for Davis would be a heavy setback for Democrats, given the resources and nationwide attention she is sure to attract. However, a surprise victory or even a narrow loss could have a significant impact on the political landscape in subsequent elections.

“There could be a virtuous circle to her performance where she wins 46% or 47% of the vote. That sends the signal to national donors that Texas is in play. It sends a message to local donors to keep their money at home,” said Jones.

© Guardian News and Media 2013

**************

September 27, 2013

Senate Is Set to Vote on Budget Bill as House Weighs Options

By JEREMY W. PETERS
NYT

WASHINGTON — The Senate will conclude one of its more unpredictable — and stranger — weeks on Friday when it is expected to approve a bill to finance the federal government, including the health care law that Republicans have been trying to kill.

Barring any unforeseen twists, which can never be ruled out on Capitol Hill, the Senate will proceed to a series of votes at 12:30 p.m. that will send a budget bill to the House that Republicans there have vowed to change because of their strong opposition to any measure that helps the administration put the health care law into effect.

That will set up a game of legislative Ping-Pong that will tip the government perilously close to shutting down on Tuesday.

Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, has said he would reject anything but a plain budget bill, including Republican suggestions to delay the health care law or to repeal a tax on medical devices that would help pay for it.

But House Republicans and Speaker John A. Boehner seem intent on not surrendering the budget fight without wresting concessions from the Democratic-controlled Senate and President Obama.

It is unclear what the Republicans want, other than a complete repeal of the health law. Senior House Republicans continue to assess their options as the Senate prepares to vote on Friday, and are likely to insert any changes over the weekend, when the House plans to be in session.

One idea, according to a Republican who had spoken to the leadership, would be to put an amendment in the Senate budget bill that would eliminate health insurance subsidies for members of Congress and many of their aides, who must purchase their insurance on the exchanges that are part of the new law.

“That is an arrow in the quiver,” the Republican said.

That strategy, Republicans said, would put Senate Democrats in the uncomfortable position of either approving the amendment or rejecting it and risk appearing that they are willing to shut down the government over subsidies to themselves and their staffs.

But the Senate would not be able to act on any House bill until Monday, the day before the government is set to shut down if an agreement is not reached.

Getting to that point could be bumpy, starting with the Senate debate on Friday.

Conservative Republicans like Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah caused a stir on the Senate floor on Thursday when they raised objections that forced a budget vote, which could have occurred that afternoon, to be pushed back until Friday.

Mr. Cruz’s 21-hour speech from Tuesday afternoon until noon Wednesday was a sensation in the conservative media and among Tea Party activists, even as some Republican colleagues accused him of putting his own ambitions and a desire for national attention above the party’s interests.

He and his allies in the Senate, like Mr. Lee, have planned a sequel of sorts on Friday with a series of interviews on conservative radio shows and on Fox News.

On Sean Hannity’s Fox News program on Thursday night, Mr. Cruz encouraged viewers to go to a Web site that lists the telephone numbers of Republican senators who are opposed to his plan, and he encouraged them to keep fighting as Friday’s vote neared. He offered some dismissive words for his Republican colleagues.

“They’re beaten down, and they’re scared that if we stand together on this, and if a government shutdown results, that Republicans will be blamed and it’s too politically risky,” Mr. Cruz said, adding: “I hope they have second thoughts. I hope they listen to their constituents.”

The campaign has infuriated many of his fellow Republicans, who have done little to conceal their outrage. They have accused Mr. Cruz and his supporters of staging self-serving publicity stunts fueled by social media-savvy outside groups that have urged their followers to bombard the Senate with phone calls.

Mr. Cruz and his allies “have sent e-mails around the world and turned this into a show,” Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, said on Friday. “And that is taking priority over getting legislation into the House.”

************

September 26, 2013

Obama Scorns G.O.P. ‘Blackmail’ on Health Law

By PETER BAKER
NYT

LARGO, Md. — President Obama mounted a passionate, campaign-style defense of his health care program on Thursday, just days before its main elements take effect, mocking opponents for “crazy” arguments and accusing them of trying to “blackmail a president” to stop the law.

Addressing a friendly audience outside Washington, the president abandoned the professorial tone he sometimes takes while describing the program and departed from his text to fire up supporters. He portrayed critics as billionaires who would deny help for the sick, and politicians who have become hostage to Tea Party ideologues.

Mr. Obama, his voice laced with scorn, ridiculed Republicans for threatening to shut down the government or refusing to increase the debt ceiling to undercut the health care program, saying they had “put up every conceivable roadblock” and were “poisoning Obamacare” so they could then “claim it’s sick.” He cited some of their more flamboyant quotes in an attempt to portray them as extremists, including one racially charged comment.

“All this would be funny if it wasn’t so crazy,” Mr. Obama told hundreds of students, professors and others at Prince George’s Community College. “A lot of it is just hot air, a lot of it is just politics, I understand that. But now the Tea Party Republicans have taken it to a whole new level because they’re threatening either to shut down the government or shut down the entire economy by refusing to let America pay its bills for the first time in history unless I agree to gut a law that will help millions of people.”

He noted that one Republican recently said the health care program was as destructive to liberty as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. “Think about that,” Mr. Obama told the largely black crowd. “Affordable health care is worse than a law that lets slave owners get their runaway slaves back. I mean these are quotes. I’m not making this stuff up.”

At another point, referring to opponents, he asked, “What is it that they’re so scared about?”

Many in the crowd called out, “You.”

Mr. Obama also singled out sponsors of a “cynical ad campaign” discouraging Americans from signing up for the new health care program by arguing that it would effectively put the government into the room when women undergo gynecological exams and men undergo colonoscopies.

“These are billionaires several times over,” Mr. Obama said, evidently referring to the conservative political activists Charles and David Koch, without naming them. “You know they’ve got good health care.” But if people who turn down the new health care subsidy get sick, he said, the Kochs would not care. “Are they going to pay for your health care?”

“The fact is the Republicans’ biggest fear at this point is not that the Affordable Care Act is going to fail,” he added. “What they’re worried about is it’s going to succeed.”

The president’s sharp language contrasted with the more wonkish presentation he made about health care earlier in the week alongside former President Bill Clinton and seemed to suggest a level of exasperation. Polls continue to show deep public reservations about the health care program even as new marketplace exchanges are set to open next week to offer insurance plans to the uninsured.

A New York Times/CBS News poll showed that just 39 percent of Americans support the president’s health care plan, and just one in three independents view it favorably. Still, just 38 percent of the public wants Congress to stop the law by cutting off funding, as Republicans are trying to do.

Even before Mr. Obama’s speech, critics argued that he was “selling a lemon,” as the Republican National Committee put it in a statement. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican minority leader, who has been under pressure from conservatives, said, “Americans aren’t buying the spin,” and described concerns about the law from constituents in Kentucky.

“The law is a mess,” he said. “It needs to go. It’s way past time to start over.”

Mr. McConnell appealed to Mr. Obama’s party to join him, saying, “I hope some of my Democrat friends who voted for this law will look themselves in the mirror and think — truly think — about whether protecting the president’s pride is really more important than helping the American people.”

The Koch brothers did not respond on Thursday. The president’s comment about the Fugitive Slave Act referred to a rally against his health care program in New Hampshire last month sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, a Koch-financed group. “What is Obamacare?” State Representative William O’Brien, a Republican then running for Congress, asked at the rally. “It is a law as destructive to personal and individual liberty as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 that allowed slave owners to come to New Hampshire and seize African-Americans and use the federal courts to take them back.”

After a furor erupted, Mr. O’Brien defended himself in a newspaper commentary. “Those on the left are always embarrassed and compromised by any mention of slavery,” he wrote. “Indeed, they should be uncomfortable because the same philosophy that excused slavery underlies their current politics,” namely the belief “that dependency is a positive when contrasted with uncaring capitalism.” Mr. O’Brien later dropped out of the Congressional race when he took a new private sector job.

Mr. Obama offered a glowing portrayal of a health care program that would make it easier for millions of Americans to buy insurance, stop insurers from barring coverage for pre-existing conditions and protect existing health care for those already insured.

But he did not address specific criticisms and concerns expressed by Republicans as well as some Democrats, business owners and labor leaders. Nor did he dwell on the latest delay, announced Thursday, when the administration said insurance marketplaces for small businesses would not be fully open for enrollment until November, instead of on Tuesday.

“The law’s implementation has been plagued by confusion, uncertainty, delays and missed deadlines,” said Representative Fred Upton, Republican of Michigan and chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee. “The broken promises have reached near epidemic proportions. Hardly a day goes by without workers losing the coverage the president promised they could keep.”

Mr. Obama acknowledged problems, but he minimized them. “Like any law, like any big product launch, there are going to be some glitches as this thing unfolds,” he said. But, he added, “most of the stories you’ll hear about how Obamacare can’t work is just not based on facts.”

*************

September 26, 2013

Republicans Facing a Test of Unity

By ASHLEY PARKER
NYT

WASHINGTON — As the Congressional showdown over President Obama’s health care law threatens to shut down the government, conservative advocacy groups have emerged as central players — exerting outsize influence, investing tremendous time and resources, and turning the long-shot budget fight into a do-or-die battle that has pitted Republicans against one another.

“Once a number of key conservative organizations signed off on it and we decided to go to work, overnight we unleashed a monster,” said L. Brent Bozell III, chairman of ForAmerica, a Tea Party group that has been pushing a “Defund Obamacare” message. “And it’s still out there.”

Despite long odds, activist groups spent the summer gearing up. Then, when Congress returned from its August break, the group Tea Party Patriots met lawmakers with a rally outside the Capitol calling for Mr. Obama’s signature health care law to be stripped of financing. Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, led the crowd in chants of “Defund it,” while protesters urged the gathered conservative lawmakers to “Shut it down!”

Mr. Bozell’s group, which participated in the rally, mobilized its 3.5 million members to make more than 60,000 calls to Republican lawmakers — some of whom they referred to as “Washington Chickens” — imploring them to stand strong in opposing the Affordable Care Act.

During the August recess, Heritage Action — the political arm of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research organization — began a nine-city Defund Obamacare tour, hosting town hall meetings urging voters to press their representatives to “take a stand for conservative principles” and deny money for the president’s health care law.

Though Americans for Prosperity, the conservative advocacy group backed by the Koch brothers, has not adopted the explicit Defund Obamacare mantra, it has weighed in to highlight what it says are the dangers of the Affordable Care Act with a $3 million television advertising campaign running in six states featuring a cancer survivor discussing her concerns about the health care law.

The aggressive effort by the advocacy groups put pressure on the House to act and helped push rank-and-file Republicans to the right, forcing Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and his leadership team to link defunding the 2010 health care law directly to the stopgap spending bill to finance the government beyond the end of the month — a back-against-the-wall situation that top Republicans had hoped to avoid.

“They both reflected the sentiment and intensified the sentiment and focused it, about wanting to have this particular confrontation,” said Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma. “Their aim is to push as far in the direction that they want us to go as they can, whether that’s politically prudent or not.”

The groups, Mr. Cole added, sometimes fail to reflect the political realities on the ground: “It’s hard to see how you completely repeal Obamacare while a guy named Obama is president of the United States.”

Organizations leading the Defund Obamacare movement then turned their attention to the Senate. The Club for Growth, one of the groups leading the charge, on Tuesday issued a “Key Vote Alert” to senators, urging them to vote “no” on a measure that would remove the defunding proposal from a stopgap spending bill.

“This is just a test of if Republicans are for what they say they’re for, and if they’re willing to fight for what they say they’re for,” said Chris Chocola, president of the Club for Growth, which plans to “score” how lawmakers vote on the bill.

Within the ranks of Republican legislators, the frustration is palpable. House Republican leaders believe that the outside groups are pursuing a strategy that, while politically popular, is tactically unfeasible and could ultimately lead to Republicans being blamed for a government shutdown.

“They’re making a lot of money and they like making a lot of money and they like being players, but they are, in fact, jamming the leaders,” said Steven C. LaTourette, a moderate Republican from Ohio who retired from the House last year and was a close ally of Mr. Boehner. “They seize on an issue and they have litmus tests about who’s a good Republican and who’s pure and who’s not pure.  They used to do that in Salem, Mass., too, but it’s not fair.”

Conservative leaders say they feel the same exasperation — but in reverse. “We’re supposed to give them money, supposed to give them volunteers, supposed to give them votes, and then please be quiet,” Mr. Bozell said. “We’re telling them to put up or shut up, and many in Washington have their knickers in a knot.”

In the Senate, the influence of outside groups reached a fever pitch during a closed-door meeting of all Republican senators Tuesday, when several members expressed their bitterness, anger and frustration at what they see as an orchestrated effort by Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, and outside groups to attack colleagues who disagree with their tactics in the fight against Mr. Obama’s health care law.

Many senators are particularly frustrated with the Senate Conservatives Fund, a group that has been running ads — some of which featured Mr. Cruz and Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah — that attack Republicans who are not supporting their Defund Obamacare movement. The group recently called Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, and Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican, “turncoats.”

Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, referring to outside groups generally, said, “I’d be ashamed to have anything to do with them, to be honest with you.”

Dan Holler, communications director for Heritage Action, said the possibility of undoing Mr. Obama’s health care law was worth a little intraparty strife.

“I think what is particularly frustrating for the leadership this time around is they lost control of the debate,” he said. “Because their members were back home, they couldn’t control what was going on in the grass roots, and that’s a good lesson. You’re not going to rein in the passion of the grass roots.”

**************

September 26, 2013

House G.O.P. Raises Stakes in Debt-Ceiling Fight

By JONATHAN WEISMAN
MYT

WASHINGTON — With no serious negotiations in sight, a disorderly and divided Congress slipped closer to a double-barreled fiscal crisis on Thursday as House Republican leaders tried to shift the budget dispute to a fight over raising the government’s borrowing limit.

Trying to round up votes from a reluctant rank and file, House Republicans said they would agree to increase the debt limit to avert a mid-October default only if Democrats accepted a list of Republican priorities, including a one-year delay of the health care law, a tax overhaul and a broad rollback of environmental regulations.

At the same time, Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio signaled he was not ready to abandon a spending fight that could shut down the federal government as soon as Tuesday. Asked whether he would put a stopgap spending bill to a vote free of Republican policy prescriptions, he answered, “I do not see that happening.”

President Obama, who has faced three years of down-to-the-wire standoffs that have nearly ended in default or shutdowns a half-dozen times, fired back with a broadside of his own.

“No Congress before this one has ever, ever, in history been irresponsible enough to threaten default, to threaten an economic shutdown, to suggest America not pay its bills, just to try to blackmail a president into giving them some concessions on issues that have nothing to do with a budget,” Mr. Obama said before a friendly audience in suburban Washington.

The bitter back and forth in the absence of any high-level discussions between Republicans and Democrats was seen as increasing the possibility of a shutdown or default. It was a marked contrast from past showdowns when talks were taking place behind the scenes even as the parties traded public partisan shots.

The Senate faces a critical vote on Friday to cut off debate on legislation to keep the government open. If Democrats muster 60 votes, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, will move to strip out House language that guts the health care law and pass a stopgap spending bill that finances the government through Nov. 15, without Republican policy prescriptions.

At that point, no one is sure how the House will react.

“There is no secret room where everyone is sitting down and hashing this out,” said Senator Patty Murray, the Washington Democrat who is chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee.

Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader, encouraged Democrats to come to the table.

“We call on the president to sit down with us, Harry Reid to sit down with us, and let’s resolve this problem,” he said.

But in their efforts to unify restive Republicans, House leaders were only widening the partisan divisions. Behind closed doors on Thursday, they laid out their demands for a debt ceiling increase that include the health law delay, fast-track authority to overhaul the tax code, construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, offshore oil and gas production and more permitting of energy exploration on federal lands.

The legislation would also roll back regulations on coal ash, block new Environmental Protection Agency regulations on greenhouse gas production, eliminate a $23 billion fund to ensure the orderly dissolution of failed major banks, eliminate mandatory contributions to the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, limit medical malpractice lawsuits and increase means testing for Medicare, among other provisions.

Even with that legislative Christmas tree, many Republican backbenchers balked. After introducing the measure to his divided troops, a sheepish speaker of the House faced the press with a grimace. “Oh, this ought to be a blast,” Mr. Boehner sighed as he opened a news conference for questions.

Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, the No. 2 Democrat, derided the proposal. “The House is attaching the Republican Party platform to the debt ceiling,” he said. “In a week full of absurdities, this one takes the cake.”

Republican divisions in the Senate burst into full public view on Thursday. Incensed that hard-liners in his party were slowing final votes on legislation to keep the government open, Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, went to the Senate floor to accuse two fellow Republican senators, Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, of grandstanding for the benefit of their conservative-activist followers.

“Y’all have sent out releases and e-mails, and you want everybody to be able to watch,” he charged.

Economists of all political persuasions have warned that a failure to raise the debt ceiling by the Treasury’s deadline of Oct. 17 could be catastrophic. The world economy’s faith in the safety of Treasury debt would be shaken for years. Interest rates could shoot up, and stock prices worldwide would most likely plummet.

“Defaulting on any obligation of the U.S. government would be a dangerous gamble,” Doug Elmendorf, the director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, told the House Budget Committee on Thursday. “In a very uncertain world, the one thing everyone has been able to count on is that the U.S. government will pay its bills on time.”

But many House Republicans put little stock in such pronouncements.

“Economists, what have they been doing? They make all sorts of predictions,” said Representative John Fleming, Republican of Louisiana. “Many times they’re wrong, so I don’t think we should run government based on economists’ predictions.”

Those who do believe in the dangers said that they provide precisely the leverage they need to win passage of their priorities.

“People have to recognize there’s never any compromise until the stakes are high,” said Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California. “In our society, that’s the nature of democratic government.”

With the twin clocks ticking, Democratic leaders seem paralyzed by rage, claiming Republicans are relying on Democrats to be “the responsible adult in the room” and cave to their hostage-taking.

“They have a responsibility to the country. They have a responsibility to their constituents and their children,” said Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the House’s No. 2 Democrat. “They are damaging the country, and the public ought to make them pay a price.”

Democrats — and some Republicans — worried that the shift to the debt-ceiling fight is leaving the government heading to a shutdown on Tuesday with no resolution in sight.

“I’d like to see us keep that focus there,” said Representative Tom Graves, Republican of Georgia, who led the fight to link further government funding to gutting the Affordable Care Act. “We’ve got a responsibility to finish this up and let it play out.”

Ms. Murray said the shift in focus from a short-term stopgap spending bill that keeps the government open to the debt ceiling is coming because “Republicans realize fighting a small battle over a small bill is a waste of time.”

She called the House debt ceiling “Christmas list” unserious.

“This is not the time to throw in your 50 favorite flavors,” she said. “You can’t just throw everything against the wall and see what happens.”

Ashley Parker contributed reporting.

************

Enrollment to Be Delayed for Small-Business Marketplaces

Sep 26
6:40 pm
Michael D. Shear
NYT

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Thursday announced another minor delay in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, saying that the insurance marketplaces for small businesses would be fully open for enrollment a month later than it had planned.

White House officials played down the development, putting it at the end of a news release announcing that the Department of Health and Human Services was “launching the Small Business Health Option Program Marketplace.”

All functions for the program “will be available in November, and if employers and employees enroll by Dec. 15, 2013, coverage will begin Jan. 1, 2014,” the release said. Originally, the Small Business Administration had announced that open enrollment for the business exchanges would begin on Oct. 1.

Officials said the starting date for small businesses was less important than the one for the individual market because businesses are not limited to enrolling during only part of a year. Coverage for small businesses will begin as planned on Jan. 1, they said.

But critics pounced anyway, accusing the administration of accepting delays for businesses while refusing Republican demands for a delay in the requirement that individuals get insurance.

“Every step in the implementation process has seen delays and setbacks; we are certainly not surprised by this one,” said Kevin Kuhlman, the manager of legislative affairs for the National Federation of Independent Business. “But with this latest glitch in the small-business exchanges, the case for a delay of the individual mandate alongside the employer mandate only grows stronger.”

Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, said in a statement that it was time for what he called a “permanent delay” in the health care law.

“Where’s the American people’s Obamacare delay?” he said. “Where’s the concern for the privacy and security of the American people’s personal information? This law is a disaster, but the exchanges – the heart of the law – are supposed to go live in just five days? Give me a break. This law will never be ready for prime time.”

Republicans have seized on previous delays in the rollout of the health care plan as evidence that it is not ready. The administration announced earlier that it would delay until 2015 the requirement that employers provide health insurance.


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« Reply #8992 on: Sep 27, 2013, 10:11 AM »


September 27, 2013 09:00 AM

GOP to America: We Have Your Economy and We're Not Afraid To Kill It

By karoli
CrooksAndLiars

And so it begins. Republicans will probably not shut down the government, because they're focused on playing chicken (again!) with the debt ceiling, and it appears they are somewhat more unified in their resolve on this. They have issued a set of demands they expect President Obama and Democrats to satisfy in order to prevent the global economy from melting down on October 17th, and they know exactly what they're doing, it seems.

Click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJue-vRrPfA#t=15

MaddowBlog:

    I mention this, of course, because the North Carolina Republicans' reasoned, sensible approach to extortion politics has apparently disappeared over the last two months.

        Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who dubbed Cruz's threat to shut down the government over Obamacare the "dumbest idea" he'd ever heard, said Congress shouldn't give Obama a debt ceiling increase without attaching strings, and the president "is going to pay some price for it, which is a benefit for the American people."

        "I hope [an Obamacare] delay is either part of the next [continuing resolution] or I hope it's part of the debt ceiling," Burr said.

    There are a couple of important angles to this. First, if anyone was inclined to give Burr points for being an adult in July, now is the time to kick yourself. What he's describing is a dangerous extortion scheme in which radicalized lawmakers threaten to hurt the country on purpose unless Americans start losing health care benefits.The fact that Burr didn't want to threaten a government shutdown was nice, but the fact that he does want to threaten the full faith and credit of the United States is madness -- the severity of a sovereign debt crisis is vastly more serious than a shutdown.

Shutting down government: Bad. Melting down the global economy: No big deal, because it's the only way to get Obamacare repealed, billionaires' tax rates dropped, and the Keystone XL pipeline built.

It isn't just Burr, either.

Huffington Post:

    Asked bluntly if using the limit for leverage risked blowing up the economy, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) paused for a second and then offered a drawn-out "Yes" that suggested the answer was obvious.

    "That's why we're paid the big bucks -- to figure these problems out," Farenthold added.

    Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.) argued that although the House GOP conference wants to use the debt limit as leverage, there will not be a default simply because the consequences are so severe. "I think we'll reach an agreement on that. Everybody realizes we can't default on our debt, so we'll be fine," Luetkemeyer told several reporters.

    But reminded of the costs of the last showdown, he shrugged and allowed that the outcome was not entirely predictable. "Every situation is different," Luetkemeyer said. "We're going to see what happens this time."

    Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) admitted that a default would be harmful, but he argued that even if the debt limit were not raised in time, a default would be President Barack Obama's fault.

    "There is a scenario where the president could be irresponsible and force a default," Brooks told reporters. He said the U.S. government, with about $2.5 trillion in annual revenue, could easily pay the $250 billion a year required to satisfy its debt-holders.

    "We've got ten times as much money as is necessary to make our payment obligations to our creditors," Brooks said.

These idiots have apparently forgotten the 2,000 point drop in the Dow Jones Industrials in 2011 when it appeared default was imminent, and the downgrade to our credit rating that cost us low, preferred interest rates on some of our bonds.

Oh, and it will all be Obama's fault so they're totally all right with that. Because they really think sane people will look at what they're doing and blame the President?

I can hardly wait for Chuck Todd to show up and start complaining that the White House isn't compromising enough. Oh, wait. Andrea Mitchell did that earlier today with her Republican pal Kay Bailey Hutchison:

I think the Democrats have it absolutely right with that ad at the top. Republicans have the world economy in their hands and they're not afraid to strangle it, but golly, they'd hate to have to do it.

They should remember the United States doesn't negotiate with terrorists. Not terrorists with guns and not terrorists with debt ceiling votes.


***************

September 26, 2013

House G.O.P. Raises Stakes in Debt-Ceiling Fight

By JONATHAN WEISMAN
NYT

WASHINGTON — With no serious negotiations in sight, a disorderly and divided Congress slipped closer to a double-barreled fiscal crisis on Thursday as House Republican leaders tried to shift the budget dispute to a fight over raising the government’s borrowing limit.

Trying to round up votes from a reluctant rank and file, House Republicans said they would agree to increase the debt limit to avert a mid-October default only if Democrats accepted a list of Republican priorities, including a one-year delay of the health care law, a tax overhaul and a broad rollback of environmental regulations.

At the same time, Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio signaled he was not ready to abandon a spending fight that could shut down the federal government as soon as Tuesday. Asked whether he would put a stopgap spending bill to a vote free of Republican policy prescriptions, he answered, “I do not see that happening.”

President Obama, who has faced three years of down-to-the-wire standoffs that have nearly ended in default or shutdowns a half-dozen times, fired back with a broadside of his own.

“No Congress before this one has ever, ever, in history been irresponsible enough to threaten default, to threaten an economic shutdown, to suggest America not pay its bills, just to try to blackmail a president into giving them some concessions on issues that have nothing to do with a budget,” Mr. Obama said before a friendly audience in suburban Washington.

The bitter back and forth in the absence of any high-level discussions between Republicans and Democrats was seen as increasing the possibility of a shutdown or default. It was a marked contrast from past showdowns when talks were taking place behind the scenes even as the parties traded public partisan shots.

The Senate faces a critical vote on Friday to cut off debate on legislation to keep the government open. If Democrats muster 60 votes, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, will move to strip out House language that guts the health care law and pass a stopgap spending bill that finances the government through Nov. 15, without Republican policy prescriptions.

At that point, no one is sure how the House will react.

“There is no secret room where everyone is sitting down and hashing this out,” said Senator Patty Murray, the Washington Democrat who is chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee.

Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader, encouraged Democrats to come to the table.

“We call on the president to sit down with us, Harry Reid to sit down with us, and let’s resolve this problem,” he said.

But in their efforts to unify restive Republicans, House leaders were only widening the partisan divisions. Behind closed doors on Thursday, they laid out their demands for a debt ceiling increase that include the health law delay, fast-track authority to overhaul the tax code, construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, offshore oil and gas production and more permitting of energy exploration on federal lands.

The legislation would also roll back regulations on coal ash, block new Environmental Protection Agency regulations on greenhouse gas production, eliminate a $23 billion fund to ensure the orderly dissolution of failed major banks, eliminate mandatory contributions to the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, limit medical malpractice lawsuits and increase means testing for Medicare, among other provisions.

Even with that legislative Christmas tree, many Republican backbenchers balked. After introducing the measure to his divided troops, a sheepish speaker of the House faced the press with a grimace. “Oh, this ought to be a blast,” Mr. Boehner sighed as he opened a news conference for questions.

Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, the No. 2 Democrat, derided the proposal. “The House is attaching the Republican Party platform to the debt ceiling,” he said. “In a week full of absurdities, this one takes the cake.”

Republican divisions in the Senate burst into full public view on Thursday. Incensed that hard-liners in his party were slowing final votes on legislation to keep the government open, Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, went to the Senate floor to accuse two fellow Republican senators, Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, of grandstanding for the benefit of their conservative-activist followers.

“Y’all have sent out releases and e-mails, and you want everybody to be able to watch,” he charged.

Economists of all political persuasions have warned that a failure to raise the debt ceiling by the Treasury’s deadline of Oct. 17 could be catastrophic. The world economy’s faith in the safety of Treasury debt would be shaken for years. Interest rates could shoot up, and stock prices worldwide would most likely plummet.

“Defaulting on any obligation of the U.S. government would be a dangerous gamble,” Doug Elmendorf, the director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, told the House Budget Committee on Thursday. “In a very uncertain world, the one thing everyone has been able to count on is that the U.S. government will pay its bills on time.”

But many House Republicans put little stock in such pronouncements.

“Economists, what have they been doing? They make all sorts of predictions,” said Representative John Fleming, Republican of Louisiana. “Many times they’re wrong, so I don’t think we should run government based on economists’ predictions.”

Those who do believe in the dangers said that they provide precisely the leverage they need to win passage of their priorities.

“People have to recognize there’s never any compromise until the stakes are high,” said Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California. “In our society, that’s the nature of democratic government.”

With the twin clocks ticking, Democratic leaders seem paralyzed by rage, claiming Republicans are relying on Democrats to be “the responsible adult in the room” and cave to their hostage-taking.

“They have a responsibility to the country. They have a responsibility to their constituents and their children,” said Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the House’s No. 2 Democrat. “They are damaging the country, and the public ought to make them pay a price.”

Democrats — and some Republicans — worried that the shift to the debt-ceiling fight is leaving the government heading to a shutdown on Tuesday with no resolution in sight.

“I’d like to see us keep that focus there,” said Representative Tom Graves, Republican of Georgia, who led the fight to link further government funding to gutting the Affordable Care Act. “We’ve got a responsibility to finish this up and let it play out.”

Ms. Murray said the shift in focus from a short-term stopgap spending bill that keeps the government open to the debt ceiling is coming because “Republicans realize fighting a small battle over a small bill is a waste of time.”

She called the House debt ceiling “Christmas list” unserious.

“This is not the time to throw in your 50 favorite flavors,” she said. “You can’t just throw everything against the wall and see what happens.”

Ashley Parker contributed reporting.
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« Reply #8993 on: Sep 28, 2013, 06:00 AM »

September 27, 2013

U.S. and Iran Agree to Speed Talks to Defuse Nuclear Issue

By PETER BAKER
IHT

WASHINGTON — The long-fractured relationship between the United States and Iran took a significant turn on Friday when President Obama and President Hassan Rouhani became the first leaders of their countries to speak since the Tehran hostage crisis more than three decades ago.

In a hurriedly arranged telephone call, Mr. Obama reached Mr. Rouhani as the Iranian leader was headed to the airport to leave New York after a whirlwind news media and diplomatic blitz. The two agreed to accelerate talks aimed at defusing the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program and afterward expressed optimism at the prospect of a rapprochement that would transform the Middle East.

“Resolving this issue, obviously, could also serve as a major step forward in a new relationship between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran, one based on mutual interests and mutual respect,” Mr. Obama, referring to Tehran’s nuclear program, told reporters at the White House after the 15-minute phone call. “It would also help facilitate a better relationship between Iran and the international community, as well as others in the region.”

A Twitter account in Mr. Rouhani’s name later stated, “In regards to nuclear issue, with political will, there is a way to rapidly solve the matter.” The account added that Mr. Rouhani had told Mr. Obama, “We’re hopeful about what we will see from” the United States and other major powers “in coming weeks and months.”

The conversation was the first between Iranian and American leaders since 1979 when President Jimmy Carter spoke by telephone with Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi shortly before the shah left the country, according to Iran experts. The Islamic Revolution that toppled the shah’s government led to the seizure of the American Embassy and a 444-day hostage crisis that have left the two countries at odds with each other ever since.

Although both Republican and Democratic presidents have reached out to Tehran in the interim, contact had been reserved to letters or lower-level officials.

The call came just days after Mr. Obama had hoped to encounter Mr. Rouhani at a luncheon at the United Nations and expected to shake hands. Mr. Rouhani skipped the luncheon and later indicated it was premature to meet Mr. Obama. But a meeting on Thursday between Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran was described as constructive and led Iranian officials to contact the White House on Friday to suggest the phone call, according to American officials.

A senior Obama administration official, who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivities, said the White House had expressed the president’s interest in meeting Mr. Rouhani to the Iranians this week but was surprised when they suggested the phone call. Mr. Obama placed the call from the Oval Office around 2:30 p.m., joined by aides and a translator.

He opened by congratulating Mr. Rouhani on his election in June and noted the history of mistrust between the two nations, but also what he called the constructive statements Mr. Rouhani had made during his stay in New York, according to the official. The bulk of the call focused on the nuclear dispute, and Mr. Obama repeated that he respected Iran’s right to develop civilian nuclear energy, but insisted on concessions to prevent development of weapons.

Mr. Obama also raised the cases of three Americans in Iran, one missing and two others detained. In a lighter moment, he apologized for New York traffic.

The call ended on a polite note, according to the official and Mr. Rouhani’s Twitter account.

“Have a nice day,” Mr. Rouhani said in English.

“Thank you,” Mr. Obama replied, and then tried a Persian farewell. “Khodahafez.”

By talking on the phone instead of in person, Mr. Rouhani avoided a politically problematic photo of himself with Mr. Obama, which could have inflamed hard-liners in Iran who were already wary of his outreach to the United States. As it was, conservative elements in Tehran tried to reinterpret his statements acknowledging the Holocaust while he was in New York.

The state news channel, the Islamic Republic of Iran News Network, had not mentioned the phone call with Mr. Obama as of midnight Friday after word of it broke, and the original messages on Mr. Rouhani’s Twitter account were deleted and replaced with more anodyne comments. But Mr. Rouhani’s office announced the call in a statement carried by the Iranian state news agency.

“This voice contact has for now replaced the actual shaking of hands, but this is clearly the start of a process that could in the future lead to a face-to-face meeting between both leaders,” said Amir Mohebbian, a political adviser close to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Abbas Milani, an Iranian scholar at Stanford University, said Mr. Rouhani wanted to avoid looking as if he was making concessions. “The U.S. and the West have wisely decided to allow the regime to make its claims of victory at home, so long as they play earnest ball in meetings abroad,” Mr. Milani said. A call to a leader on the way to the airport may not be normal protocol, he added, but “in this case it was adroit policy for both sides.”

American advocates of closer relations between the two countries were optimistic. “The phone call wasn’t just history,” said Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, an arms control group, who attended a dinner with Mr. Rouhani in New York. “It helped fundamentally change the course of Iranian-U.S. relations. We’re on a very different trajectory than we were even at the beginning of the week.”

But others expressed caution, arguing that Iran was reaching out only because of the sanctions that have strangled its economy.

“The economic pain now is sufficient to oblige a telephone call, though not a face-to-face meeting,” said Reuel Marc Gerecht, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which supports stronger sanctions against Iran. “We will see whether the pain is sufficient for the Iranians to shut the heavy-water plant at Arak and reverse Iran’s path to a rapid breakout capacity with enriched uranium.”

Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the Republican majority leader, criticized Mr. Obama for not pressing Iran to halt what he said was its support for terrorism and for Syria’s government. “It is particularly unfortunate that President Obama would recognize the Iranian people’s right to nuclear energy but not stand up for their right to freedom, human rights or democracy,” he said.

In announcing the call with Mr. Rouhani, Mr. Obama said that only “meaningful, transparent and verifiable actions” on the nuclear program could “bring relief” from sanctions.

“A path to a meaningful agreement will be difficult, and at this point, both sides have significant concerns that will have to be overcome,” he said. “But I believe we’ve got a responsibility to pursue diplomacy, and that we have a unique opportunity to make progress with the new leadership in Tehran.”

Recognizing the delicacy of the outreach effort, Mr. Obama made a point of trying to reassure Israel that he would not jeopardize an ally’s security. “Throughout this process, we’ll stay in close touch with our friends and allies in the region, including Israel,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel is scheduled to visit Mr. Obama at the White House on Monday.

Before leaving New York, Mr. Rouhani said his government would present a plan in three weeks on how to resolve the nuclear standoff. “I expect this trip will be the first step and the beginning of constructive relations with countries of the world,” he said at a news conference.

He went on to say that he hoped the visit would also improve relations “between two great nations, Iran and the United States,” adding that the trip had exceeded his expectations.

Mr. Rouhani and his aides have been on an extraordinarily energetic campaign to prove that they are moderate and reasonable partners and to draw a stark contrast with his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But Mr. Rouhani has yet to propose anything concrete to suggest how different the Iranians really are in their approach. The first glimpse of that is due to come on Oct. 15 and 16, when Iran plans to present its own road map in Geneva.

Mr. Rouhani emphasized that his government had the authority and the will to reach a nuclear settlement within what he called “a short period of time.” But he was visibly irritated when asked whether his diplomatic blitz was merely designed to buy time with his Western interlocutors.

“We have never chosen deceit as a path,” he said. “We have never chosen secrecy.”

Thomas Erdbrink contributed reporting from Tehran, Mark Landler from Washington, and Somini Sengupta from the United Nations.

Click to watch: http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2013/sep/28/obama-historic-phone-call-iran-rouhani-video

************

Obama and Rouhani speak on phone in first such contact in decades- live

• Read Obama description of phone call
• Read Rouhani description of phone call
• Obama sees 'comprehensive solution' on nuclear issue
• UN security council to meet at 8pm for Syria vote
• Read the latest summary

Matthew Weaver and Tom McCarthy   
theguardian.com, Friday 27 September 2013 22.52 BST  

United Nations ambassadors from the five permanent members of the UN security council – Britain, France, the US, Russia and China – announce on Thursday they have agreed the wording of an enforceable resolution to eliminating Syria's chemical weapons. It is the first time since the conflict in Syria began that the security council has imposed binding obligations on Syria

10.49pm BST
Summary

We're going to wrap up our live blog coverage for the day. Here's a summary of where things stand:

• US president Obama and Iranian president Rouhani spoke on the phone in the first such high-level contact between the countries since the Islamic revolution.

• Both sides said the call went well. "I believe we can reach a comprehensive solution" on Iran's nuclear program, Obama said. "In regards to #nuclear issue, with political #will, there is a way to rapidly solve the matter," Rouhani's English-language account tweeted.

• "We’re mindful of all the challenges ahead," Obama said. The two spoke for about 15 minutes through an interpreter. The call was Iran's idea, the White House said.

• Iran said it would bring a proposal on its nuclear program to a meeting of the five permanent security council members and Germany in mid-October.

• The UN security council was to meet Friday night to consider and likely to vote on a resolution to dismantle Syria's chemical stockpiles. The details of the resolution have already been agreed to, officials said. UN chemical inspectors could enter Syria early next week.

• A car bomb at a mosque in Rankous north of Damascus killed at least 30 people Friday. Activists said at least 112 people on the opposition side died in violence Friday.

• The main coalition of the Syrian opposition that has been dealing with diplomats in the West was in the process of apparently breaking up, as more groups fighting inside the country left it. Supreme military council commander Salim Idris had to cut short a trip to France to try to stanch the flow.

    Here a last visit between (former) POTUS & (former) Iranian chief of state: #NARA pic.twitter.com/7buUF4WD8w
    — Michael Beschloss (@BeschlossDC) September 27, 2013

Updated at 10.52pm BST

10.49pm BST

According to the White House, the idea to hold the phone call came at short notice from the Rouhani team, Guardian diplomatic editor Julian Borger (@JulianBorger) reports:

    Having turned out the chance of a face-to-face meeting at the UN because it would be “too complicated”, Rouhani said he wanted to talk to Obama before he left for Iran.

    The call took place at 2.30 EST, it lasted about 15 minutes and took place through an interpreter. A senior administration official confirmed that Rouhani's Twitter feed [@HassanRouhani] had accurately reflected the tone of the conversation, and noted: “We'll be continuing to watch that Twitter account.” that Rouhani had finished by saying: “Have a nice day” and Obama concluded with goodbye in Farsi.

    “It was quite cordial in tone,” the official said. “Both leaders expressed their determination to solve this [nuclear] issue expeditiously. Both leaders expressed that sense of urgency.”

    The official said that the Israeli government and congressional leaders, both sources of resistance to a rapprochement between Washington and Tehran, had been alerted before the call began.

    The official recalled that in his first inaugural address in January 2009, Obama declared, in a phrase directly aimed at Tehran: “We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” The official added: “What we are have seen here is a unclenching – hopefully - of that fist.”

10.26pm BST

Israel is in the loop, Reuters quotes a White House official as saying:

    The United States has communicated with the Israeli government about President Barack Obama's phone conversation with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a senior administration official said on Friday.

    The Israeli government has every right to be skeptical of Iran's government pledges to resolve international concerns over its nuclear program, and the United States intends to keep Israel informed as U.S. contacts with Iran continue, the official said.

*************

September 27, 2013

In Tehran, Phone Call Between Presidents Is as Good as a Handshake

By THOMAS ERDBRINK
IHT

TEHRAN — Night had fallen here in the Iranian capital as Hassan Rouhani, the new president of Iran, sent a message via his now-famous Twitter account: He had just gotten off the phone with President Obama, who had called him.

“Wow, this is fantastic,” said Armin Kay, an engineer reacting to the news. “The most important thing is that Obama took the initiative. This will go down really well with our leadership.”

It was the first direct conversation between leaders of Iran and the United States since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

In Iran, many had been disappointed when Mr. Rouhani failed to show up Tuesday at a United Nations luncheon, where he had been expected to shake hands with Mr. Obama. But the Friday call as Mr. Rouhani was heading to the airport to fly home to Iran, after four days of frenetic diplomacy in the United States, was almost as good as a handshake.

“After the positive meeting between the foreign ministers of Iran and the United States on Thursday, we could see this coming,” Amir Mohebbian, a political adviser close to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in an interview after the phone call, referring to Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Secretary of State John Kerry. “This was a polite farewell, a thank you for all the positivity from Iran.”

If talks on Iran’s nuclear program next month go well, he said, “we could witness a meeting after that.”

Another analyst close to Mr. Rouhani praised the phone call by Mr. Obama as “the best thing he could have done.” The analyst, Nader Karimi Joni, who works as a journalist and has been jailed for opposing the interests of hard-liners, said the call was a “verbal farewell for a V.I.P. guest, similar to seeing Mr. Rouhani off personally.”

The official Islamic Republic of Iran News Network, a 24-hour television channel, showed news of the meeting between Mr. Zarif and Mr. Kerry, but as of midnight Friday had not mentioned the phone conversation between the presidents.

The government’s Islamic Republic News Agency, however, prominently displayed the news on its Web site. “While President Rouhani was leaving New York for Tehran, President Obama called him, and both sides emphasized a quick solution for the nuclear problem,” it said. “They also considered the background for finding solutions for other issues and cooperation in regional issues. Both presidents asked their foreign ministers to pave the way for cooperation.”

Some Iranians said the immediate practical impact of the phone call could be a surge in the value of Iran’s currency, the rial, which has weakened to historic lows against the dollar in recent months because of the accumulated economic sanctions on Iran, imposed by the United States and European Union in response to the nuclear standoff.

“To be sure, the dollar will drop tomorrow against the rial,” Mr. Kay said.

Mr. Rouhani’s visit to the United Nations and his outreach to the United States government have not been greeted with universal approval or even acceptance in Iran, where suspicion toward Washington’s motives can always be found and Ayatollah Khamenei harbors a deep hostility toward America.

During the weekly Friday prayers in Tehran, one of the most important political platforms in the country, Ayatollah Mahmoud Emami Kashani repeated Mr. Obama’s words that the United States did not want to change the Iranian government. “Everybody knows it is impossible to topple the Islamic system. These are only rants,” said the ayatollah, who was appointed by Ayatollah Khamenei.

Before the prayers the official chanter referred to the “double standards of Obama,” which drew a familiar refrain from the crowd: “Death to America!”

The seemingly breathless momentum of the diplomacy, after decades of hostility and suspicion, was clearly taking some Iranians by surprise.

“Things are going really, really fast — faster than expected,” said Mostafa Afzalzadeh, a journalist for several conservative outlets. “It is shocking. I am really curious what people will say tomorrow.”

Others have been more philosophical, even a bit irreverent, about the possibility of reconciliation. Some Iranians have joked that a conversation between the two presidents would be between Hassan and Hussein, a reference to Mr. Rouhani’s given name and Mr. Obama’s middle name.

Both names are revered saints in the Shiite Muslim faith.

***************

Brian Williams' Iran propaganda

The NBC star tells his viewers that Iranian leaders are 'suddenly claiming they don't want nuclear weapons', even though they've been saying it for years

Glenn Greenwald   
theguardian.com, Saturday 28 September 2013 11.47 BST   

There is ample reason for skepticism that anything substantial will change in Iran-US relations, beginning with the fact that numerous US political and media figures are vested in the narrative that Iran is an evil threat whose desire for a peaceful resolution must not be trusted (and some hard-line factions in Iran are similarly vested in ongoing conflict). Whatever one's views are on the prospects for improving relations, the first direct communications in more than 30 years between the leaders of those two countries is a historically significant event.

Here is what NBC News anchor Brian Williams told his viewers about this event when leading off his broadcast last night, with a particularly mocking and cynical tone used for the bolded words:

    This is all part of a new leadership effort by Iran - suddenly claiming they don't want nuclear weapons! ; what they want is talks and transparency and good will. And while that would be enough to define a whole new era, skepticism is high and there's a good reason for it."

Yes, Iran's claim that they don't want nuclear weapons sure is "sudden" - if you pretend that virtually everything that they've said on that question for the past ten years does not exist. Here, for instance, is previous Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in an August 13, 2011, interview:

    "Q: 'Are you saying that at some point in the future you may want to acquire a nuclear deterrent, a nuclear weapon?'

    "Ahmadinejad: 'Never, never. We do not want nuclear weapons. We do not seek nuclear weapons. This is an inhumane weapon. Because of our beliefs we are against that.

    "Firstly, our religion says it is prohibited. We are a religious people. Secondly, nuclear weapons have no capability today. If any country tries to build a nuclear bomb, they in fact waste their money and resources and they create great danger for themselves. . . .

    "Nuclear weapons are the weapons of the previous century. This century is the century of knowledge and thinking, the century of human beings, the century of culture and logic. . . . Our goal in the country and the goal of our people is peace for all. Nuclear energy for all, and nuclear weapons for none. This is our goal.

    "All nuclear activities in Iran are monitored by the IAEA. There have been no documents against Iran from the agency. It's just a claim by the US that we are after nuclear weapons. But they have no evidence that Iran is diverting resources to that purpose."

In fact, the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a 2005 religious edict banning the pursuit of nuclear weapons, and in January of this year, Iranian official Ramin Mehmanparast declared: "There is nothing higher than the exalted supreme leader's fatwa to define the framework for our activities in the nuclear field." He added: "We are the first country to call for a Middle East free of nuclear weapons. When the highest jurist and authority in the country's leadership issues a fatwa, this will be binding for all of us to follow. So, this fatwa will be our top agenda."

The following month, Khamenei himself said: "We believe that nuclear weapons must be eliminated. We don't want to build atomic weapons." The New York Times noted that "American officials say they believe that Ayatollah Khamenei exercises full control over Iran's nuclear program."

These are identical to the statements top Iranian officials have been making for years. In 2012, Khamenei "insisted his country was not seeking nuclear weapons, claiming that 'holding these arms is a sin as well as useless, harmful and dangerous.'" The following month, Iran's top leader gave what Professor Juan Cole described at the time as "a major foreign policy speech" and said:

    The Iranian nation has never pursued and will never pursue nuclear weapons. There is no doubt that the decision makers in the countries opposing us know well that Iran is not after nuclear weapons because the Islamic Republic, logically, religiously and theoretically, considers the possession of nuclear weapons a grave sin and believes the proliferation of such weapons is senseless, destructive and dangerous."

Can that be any more absolute? Iran's top leadership has been making similarly unambiguous statements for almost a full decade, even taking out a full page ad in the New York Times in 2005 to counter the growing clamor in the US for a military attack by proclaiming that Iran had no desire for nuclear weapons, was not pursuing them, and wanted transparency, accountability and peace - exactly what Brian Williams told his viewers last night was a "sudden" and newfound claim.

Obviously, the fact that Iran claims it does not want nuclear weapons is not proof that it is not seeking them or will not seek them at some point in the future; all government statements should be subjected to skepticism (and one can only dream of the day when US media stars subject the statements of their own government to the same skepticism accorded to those of leaders of non-allied countries). But what is true is that US intelligence agencies have repeatedly though secretly concluded that they do not believe that Iran is building a nuclear weapon, and even top Israeli military officials have expressed serious doubts that Iran is building, or will build, a nuclear weapon.

But whether Iran is sincere is an entirely separate question from the one about which Williams radically misled his viewers last night. While Iran's actual intentions regarding nuclear weapons may be debatable, the fact that they have repeatedly and over the course of many years emphatically disclaimed any interest in acquiring nuclear weapons is not debatable. It is indisputable fact that they have done exactly that. There is nothing new or "sudden" about this claim.

To the contrary, Iran has been trying to make Americans hear for years that they have no interest in nuclear weapons. Indeed, they have repeatedly made clear that they have not only banned such weapons but favor region-wide nuclear disarmament, including of Israel's vast nuclear arsenal, which actually exists. It is Israel, not Iran, which has steadfastly refused to allow inspections of its nuclear arsenal (despite UN demands they do so) or to join the NPT or other conventions designed to monitor and regulate nuclear weapons.

But these facts have been excluded almost entirely from the dominant US media narrative for years. The fact that Iran, at its highest leadership levels, has repeatedly and unequivocally disavowed any interest in nuclear weapons is something that most Americans simply don't know, because the country's media stars have barely ever mentioned it. Brian Williams himself was either ignorant of this history, or chose to pretend last night that it did not happen when framing this historic event for his viewers.

Whichever of those two options is true, NBC News feels free to spout such plainly false propaganda - "suddenly claiming they don't want nuclear weapons!" - because they know they and fellow large media outlets have done such an effective job in keeping their viewers ignorant of these facts. They thus believe that they can sow doubts about Iran's intentions with little danger that their deceit will be discovered. Many NBC News viewers have likely never heard before that Iran has emphatically claimed not to want nuclear weapons and have even formally banned them, and thus are easily misled into believing Williams when he tells them that these current claims represent some "sudden", inexplicable, and bizarre reversal that are not to be trusted.


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« Reply #8994 on: Sep 28, 2013, 06:09 AM »

September 27, 2013

Rise in Deadly Attacks on Shiites in Iraq Stirs Anger at Government

By TIM ARANGO
IHT

BAGHDAD — As Satar Jabar mourned the death of his mother last week, three explosions struck the funeral tent, killing nearly 100 people, including his young son and two of his brothers.

“I feel like I lost my life, my home,” Mr. Jabar said as he received mourners in his home Wednesday afternoon in Sadr City, the gritty and sprawling neighborhood where the attack occurred. “They destroyed everything.”

As visitors recited Koranic verses and sipped tea, angry residents gathered around the corner at the site of the attack, with its charred truck and burned buildings, and demanded that the attackers be executed.

“We want to execute them here,” Mr. Jabar said.

The attack on the funeral last weekend was the deadliest single terrorist strike in recent memory in Iraq, and it has consumed Sadr City, home to a vast Shiite underclass loyal to the radical and politically powerful cleric Moktada al-Sadr, with grief. It has also set off waves of anger toward a government that the people here increasingly view as incompetent and corrupt, even illegitimate, adding to the isolation of a Shiite leadership already struggling to contain growing Sunni unrest.

As anger grew in the community, with groups of people gathering at the attack site and putting up barriers to block traffic, traces of government authority vanished. Security forces withdrew from the center of the neighborhood, with men in black outfits that identify them as militiamen granting access to certain areas. Workers in government buildings — a court, a health center, a Ministry of Education office, schools — went home after protesters demanded they leave.

Rumors circulated that public executions were imminent, and many of the gathered residents expected that they would be carried out. But, in fact, four suspects captured by local militiamen had already been turned over to the government.

The Shiite-dominated central government, led by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, is battling an increasingly deadly Sunni insurgency that is morphing into a bloody sectarian fight reminiscent of the country’s civil war of several years ago. The violence is relentless and daily: on Thursday morning bombs struck public markets in two areas near Baghdad, one predominantly Shiite, the other Sunni, killing more than two dozen people.

As the government tries to put down the Sunni insurgency, it now faces rising unrest among members of the country’s Shiite majority, who are becoming more determined to take up the fight themselves. This is perhaps expressed most vividly in the sentiments stirring Sadr City, home to many former fighters in Mr. Sadr’s militia, the Mahdi Army, who had largely put down their weapons in recent years and put their faith in the political process.

But now that their community faces a deadly streak of terrorist violence, and believes the government incapable of protecting them, that is changing, demonstrated by the protests and unrest this week in Sadr City.

“The whole city is angry,” said Razak Jassim, 43, a friend to Mr. Jabar who joined him in mourning on Wednesday.

“We are all boiling here,” Mr. Jabar said. “We are all waiting for an order from Moktada.”

By that he meant an order from Mr. Sadr to rise up against both the government and the Sunni community. If such an uprising came, it would destabilize Iraq further and could, perhaps, lead the country back to the dark times of the sectarian civil war that gripped it in 2006 and 2007.

But so far Mr. Sadr, who became a kingmaker in Iraqi politics after the 2010 elections by supporting a second term as prime minister for Mr. Maliki, has urged caution. For instance, after militiamen in Sadr City arrested the four suspects in last weekend’s terror attacks, locals said, he refused calls for public executions and ordered the men turned over to the government.

Mr. Sadr may be cautious, for now, but Asaib al-Haq, another powerful Shiite militia that is a rival to the Mahdi Army and also draws some support in Sadr City, has remobilized. Like other Shiite militias here, it has sent many fighters to Syria to help the government of President Bashar al-Assad, whose leadership is dominated by an offshoot of Shiite Islam, but it has also become stronger on the streets of Iraq.

The group, which is backed by Iran and split off from the Sadrist movement several years ago and was responsible for many deadly attacks on the American military when it was here, has seen its political wing welcomed into the government by Mr. Maliki. And as the security forces have proved ineffective in stemming attacks by Sunni insurgent groups, the group’s armed unit, according to militiamen, is increasingly working in secret with the government.

“We don’t do anything until the government asks us,” said one of the group’s leaders, who gave his name as Abu Abdellah. “We have a direct connection with the leaders of the security forces.”

In supporting Asaib al-Haq, Mr. Maliki has apparently made the risky calculation that by backing some Shiite militias, even in secret, he can maintain control over the country’s restive Shiite population and, ultimately, retain power after the next national elections, which are scheduled for next year. Militiamen and residents of Shiite areas say members of Asaib al-Haq are given government badges and weapons and allowed freedom of movement by the security forces.

But other powerful Shiite factions, including the Sadrists, who model their movement after Lebanon’s Hezbollah, are rivals to Asaib al-Haq, whose government support has inspired deep resentments among the followers of Mr. Sadr. It has also sparked frequent street clashes between Asaib al-Haq militiamen and gunmen loyal to Mr. Sadr, which could presage a deadly fight for Shiite dominance in Iraq.

Echoing the sentiments of many of Mr. Sadr’s followers, Karar Hassan, 46, who lost a son in last weekend’s attacks in Sadr City, said this week: “We have had enough killing. Now it is our turn to take action.”

Hamid Khalaf, 37, who joined the protesters in Sadr City, said: “We will not be fooled again by government promises. We gave up our arms and put our faith in the security forces, and all we got was more death and more instability. We tell Maliki that this is your last chance. We will make a coup against your government or you will have to kill us all.”

Sadr City is, in many ways, a community consumed by death, and notions of vengeance. Green, white and yellow banners honoring local men killed fighting in Syria are draped from walls at traffic intersections. Outside the homes that line the narrow and dusty streets are black banners with pictures of victims, some of them children, of terrorist attacks here.

A poster, hung by protesters, read, “We don’t want water, or electricity, we just want to see the execution of our son’s killers.”

As Mr. Jabar walked along his street on Wednesday he pointed to a neighbor’s house.

“Someone was killed here,” he said.

He pointed to another.

“And here also.”

Yasir Ghazi, Duraid Adnan and an employee of The New York Times contributed reporting.


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« Reply #8995 on: Sep 28, 2013, 06:13 AM »


India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
September 27, 2013, 8:29 am

Rahul Gandhi Opposes Ordinance Seeking to Protect Convicted Lawmakers

By HARI KUMAR

NEW DELHI— An ordinance prepared by India’s governing coalition to allow Indian lawmakers convicted of a crime to contest election while appeals against their conviction are pending in higher courts received a serious political setback Friday afternoon.

The Congress Party’s vice president, Rahul Gandhi, in a brief and dramatic press conference in New Delhi spoke out strongly against the ordinance to protect the tainted members of the Indian parliament and state legislatures. Mr. Gandhi, 43, scion of the Gandhi family, dressed in a white kurta and pyjama, and sporting a scruffy beard arrived unannounced at the Press Club of India in New Delhi, where some leaders of his party were interacting with journalists.

“My opinion of this ordinance is that it is a complete nonsense. It should be torn up and thrown out,” said. Mr. Gandhi said. “This is the time to stop this nonsense. If we want to actually fight corruption in this country, whether it is my party or the B.J.P., we can’t continue making these small compromises,” Mr. Gandhi added.

He did not answer any questions from the journalists and left after making his surprise statements. He rarely interacts with the press and does not agree to be interviewed. Barely anyone seems to be familiar with his considered opinions on the major policy questions facing India.

United Progressive Alliance, India’s governing coalition, which is led by Mr. Gandhi’s party had prepared the ordinance and sent it to the President of India to sign it into law. That attempt to protect tainted politicians attracted widespread and intense criticism from India’s leading opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (B.J.P.) and other political parties, intellectuals, opinion makers and the press.

Earlier this year, India’s Supreme Court struck down the section 8(4) in the Representation of Peoples Act 1951 as unconstitutional. It was this judgment which the government wanted to bypass through this ordinance.

Mr. Gandhi is leading his party’s campaign for national elections in early 2014. He is considered the frontrunner for the prime minister’s job if his party returns to power.

The B.J.P. has already announced that Narendra Modi, the chief minister of the western state of Gujarat as its prime ministerial candidate. Mr. Modi has been campaigning aggressively.

The Congress Party has been embattled by allegations of widespread corruption during the past four years. Mr. Gandhi’s dramatic comments are being read as an attempt to reclaim some moral ground. India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is currently in U.S. to attend the United Nations General Assembly meeting. The controversial ordinance was hurriedly issued a day before Mr. Singh left the country.

A substantial number of Indian lawmakers have criminal cases registered against them. Association for Democratic Reforms, a nonprofit which works on governmental and electoral reforms, said in a recent press release that 1460 out of the 4807 Indian politicians who were elected to the parliament and state legislatures in the past five years have criminal cases registered against them. Only 24 lawmakers have been convicted.

The B.J.P. quickly dismissed Mr. Gandhi’s announcement as political theater. “You can’t do anything in the Congress party without the consent of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. This kind of dramatic action cannot absolve you of your all-around incompetence and corruption,” said Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, a spokesperson of the B.J.P.

On Thursday, Sushma Swaraj, a senior B.J.P. leader and the leader of opposition in the lower house of the parliament, submitted a memorandum opposing the ordinance to the President of India. “It is illegal, immoral and unconstitutional,” Ms. Swaraj said afterwards.

Arun Jaitley, another senior leader of the B.J.P. said in a written statement, “The moral question being asked is once a provision has been held to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court should the Indian Parliament exercise its legislative jurisdiction to enable convicted persons to continue as  a law maker”.

Jayaprakash Narayan, a former bureaucrat turned politician, who opposed the ordinance wrote in Tehelka magazine, “The argument that a convicted person should have the right to represent people is ludicrous, if not so tragic. People have a right to credible representation.”

*************

Mumbai building collapse kills dozens

Rescue teams find 29 bodies but say some survivors are still trapped in rubble of five-story apartment block

Reuters
theguardian.com, Saturday 28 September 2013 11.37 BST   

Rescuers have recovered 29 bodies from a collapsed five-storey apartment block in Mumbai.

More survivors and bodies are believed to be trapped in the rubble. The cause of the collapse of the 35-year old building is not known.

A shortage of cheap homes in Indian cities has led to a rise in illegal construction, often using substandard materials and shoddy methods.

In April, a building collapse killed 72 people in Thane, just outside Mumbai, India's financial centre. Officials said the structure used poor materials and did not have proper building permits.

Milind Bafna, a Mumbai government official whose employees were housed at the building, said 30 people were injured in the latest building collapse.

Officials previously said 46 people had been rescued by Friday evening. Bafna said more were found alive on Saturday morning.


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« Reply #8996 on: Sep 28, 2013, 06:17 AM »


Chinese police rescue 92 children from gang planning to sell them

More than 300 people arrested after police swooped on locations in 11 provinces after six-month investigation

Reuters
theguardian.com, Saturday 28 September 2013 10.53 BST   

Chinese police have rescued 92 children and two women kidnapped by a gang for sale and arrested 301 suspects, state media said on Saturday.

Police simultaneously swooped on locations in 11 provinces on 11 September after a six-month investigation, China Central Television and state news agency Xinhua said, quoting the ministry of public security.

State media did not give a breakdown of how many boys and how many girls were kidnapped or give a reason for the delay in reporting the operation.

A traditional preference for boys, especially in rural areas, and a strict one-child policy have contributed to a rise in the trafficking of children and women in recent years.

Kidnapped women are sold to men in remote areas who are unable to find brides due to a sex imbalance resulting from the one-child policy, which has also encouraged sex-selective abortions.

The government would impose harsher punishment on people who buy kidnapped children, state television said.

Xinhua said the government would also punish parents who sell their children.

China has tried to stop the kidnapping and sale of children and women recently. In 2011, police said they had rescued more than 13,000 abducted children and 23,000 women over the past two years or so.

*************

Mao's Little Red Book to get revamp

New version of Quotations from Chairman Mao, the world's second most published book, to hit Chinese shelves in November

Tania Branigan in Beijing
theguardian.com, Friday 27 September 2013 15.54 BST

It will not be especially little, and the cover will be only partly red. But a new version of the world's second most published book is due to appear on Chinese shelves, decades after it fell from favour with the end of Maoism.

The re-emergence of Quotations from Chairman Mao – better known as the Little Red Book – comes amid an official revival of the era's rhetoric. China's leader, Xi Jinping, has embraced Maoist terminology and concepts, launching a "mass line rectification campaign" and this week even presiding over a televised self-criticism session.

Only the Bible has been printed more often than the Quotations, which was a keystone of Mao's personality cult. A billion copies circulated in the Cultural Revolution – the population pored over it in daily study sessions; illiterate farmers memorised chunks by heart. In the west, translations were brandished by radicals.

But the political frenzy ebbed, and production of the Little Red Book had mostly stopped long before Mao's death; afterwards, as China embarked on reform and opening up, officials began to pulp copies. Later, in a more relaxed age, commercial reprints and introductions to his thought appeared, but no new editions of his works: "This has been a very sensitive topic," said Daniel Leese, author of Mao Cult and an expert on the era at the University of Freiburg.

The new version is due for release in November, just before the 120th anniversary of Mao's birth. Its chief editor, Chen Yu – a senior colonel at the Academy of Military Science – describes it as a voluntary initiative. "We just want to edit the book, as other scholars work on the Analects of Confucius… We don't have a complicated political purpose," said Chen.

But Leese suggested it was a "trial balloon" from Maoist sympathisers: "If they hadn't seen how the general tone towards the Maoist heritage had changed, I don't think they would have dared. This is party internal politics popping up in the public sphere."

Chen said his team of 20 had worked for two years on the project, under pressure from left and right. The title may not include the word "quotations", he said, and will be attributed to Mao Zedong instead of Chairman Mao because the former is more neutral.

The best-known editions are the military versions covered in red plastic and shrunk to fit the pocket of an army uniform – hence the book's nickname in the west.

Many knew the text well enough to cite quotes by page number; they became ideological weapons to be wielded in any political struggle. Under siege by Red Guards, the then foreign minister reportedly retorted: "On page [X] it says Comrade Chen Yi is a good cadre …"

But they also coloured even commonplace exchanges, as described by one historian: "Serve the people. Comrade, could I have two pounds of pork, please?"

This time the cover will be at most partially red, said Chen. The new book will draw on other compilations of Mao's sayings and writings, remove quotes wrongly attributed to Mao and correct those which have become distorted.

An "internal reference" version with limited distribution will run to double the length – 240,000 characters – and include "thoughts about the Cultural Revolution and other special events confirmed as wrong by the government", Chen said, so that people could study Mao comprehensively.

Leese noted that unlike other collections of Mao's thought, the Little Red Book covered his later years in power – which saw the purges of the Anti-Rightist Campaign , the Great Famine and Cultural Revolution.

Mao still occupies a place of honour in modern China. His body lies in state in Tiananmen Square; his portrait hangs from its gate; and his face gazes from banknotes. Others have appropriated his heritage in unexpected ways: "There is a whole industry of Mao's thought as managerial wisdom, much as became of Sun Tzu's Art of War," said Jeremy Paltiel, a Carleton University expert on the Communist party.

But the party has drawn a veil over the later years of Mao's rule since its 1981 resolution proclaimed that he was 70% right, 30% incorrect. The return to that period's terminology has confused and in some cases concerned observers.

"[Xi] might not be the initiator, but he certainly endorses it," said Joseph Cheng, a political scientist at the City University of Hong Kong.

Some perceive a tactical manoeuvre, designed to appeal to leftwingers estranged by the trial of Bo Xilai and concerned that financial and economic reforms will be unveiled at a key party meeting in November.

Others see genuine conviction: "Xi believes in Maoism. He wants to completely revive Mao's policy and he has already started it," said political scientist Zhang Ming.

That does not mean a return to class struggle or abandonment of the market. Rather, it is about the Great Helmsman as a guide for party leadership.

"It is not the same era any more," said Beijing-based historian Zhang Lifan. "He will not actually do exactly what Mao did. He just makes a gesture as if he will."


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« Reply #8997 on: Sep 28, 2013, 06:20 AM »


Uzbekistan's first daughters and the family squabble behind the dictatorship

Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, the youngest daughter of Islam Karimov, reveals she has not spoken to her sister Gulnara for 12 years

Shaun Walker   
theguardian.com, Friday 27 September 2013 16.02 BST   

Both sisters have huge fortunes, jet-set lifestyles, and personal websites laden with soft-focus photographs and prose that trumpets their generous philanthropic initiatives. But in a rare glimpse into their private lives, a secret has emerged about the two glamorous daughters of Uzbekistan's ruthless dictator Islam Karimov: they hate each other.

Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, Karimov's 35-year-old younger daughter, told the BBC's Uzbek service that she was completely estranged from her sister, Gulnara Karimova, and that the pair have not spoken for 12 years.

Both avoid the media, and Lola has tended to keep quiet since she attempted to sue a French publication that called her a "dictator's daughter" in 2011. Human rights activists testified at the trial, and she lost the libel case. She is based in Geneva, is Uzbekistan's ambassador to Unesco in Paris, and lives in a mansion that reportedly cost £29m.

Gulnara, 41, is even more prolific. She has her own jewellery line and has made several high-budget music videos as her alter-ego GooGoosha. Last year, she recorded a duet with Gerard Depardieu, in which the actor and soon-to-be-minted Russian citizen growled romantic French phrases over the top of Karimova's Russian lyrics. Until recently she also had a diplomatic post, as ambassador to United Nations in Geneva. She has made a number of petulant attacks on international journalists and human rights activists on her Twitter feed, but does not give interviews.

The lavish video for Googoosha's song How Dare. Video: YouTube

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zVgMB7gacx0

Despite their remarkably similar biographies, it seems that the sisters are more consumed with rivalry than they are bound by loyalty. "Any good relationship requires a similarity of outlook or likeness of character," said Lola in her interview. "There is nothing like that in our relationship, has never been and is not now. We are completely different people. And these differences, as you know, only grow over the years."

Lola said that she does not even see her sister at family events, making sure that her two or three visits to Uzbekistan per year do not coincide with times when Gulnara is there. She added that they have not so much as spoken for 12 years.

The squabble has far more significance than a mere family matter, as rumours swirl about the health of the 75-year-old Islam Karimov, who has ruled Uzbekistan since 1991 and has such a tight grip on power there are no other politicians with major public profiles. Gulnara has long been seen as a potential successor, but is deeply unpopular in the country, with a US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks referring to her as "the single most hated person in the country". She has also been the target of a number of international corruption investigations in recent months and critics have long claimed that she runs a huge business empire in Uzbekistan. She has denied all wrongdoing.

It may be that Karimova-Tillyaeva is attempting to distance herself from her sister at a time when the net appears to be closing around Gulnara. French police have reportedly searched property belonging to her, and she has also been named in a Swedish corruption investigation. Lola said in her interview that she does not know whether her father is aware of the numerous allegations of corruption and other wrongdoing surrounding the business interests of her sister, as she and her father never discuss politics.

Karimov is accused of butchering hundreds of his own citizens at a massacre in the city of Andijan in 2005, though has nevertheless been courted by western leaders due to his country's proximity to Afghanistan. Rights activists have accused him of boiling opponents alive, and torture is widespread in the country's jails. In June, he said in a televised interview that those Uzbeks who went to Russia to seek work were "lazy", and said he felt "disgusted that people go there for a slice of bread".

The comments were particularly grotesque given that his own daughters lead charmed lives featuring luxury cars, mansions across Europe and glamorous parties, while millions of Uzbeks work in appalling conditions on construction sites and performing other manual labour jobs in Russia, in order to alleviate the financial situation for their impoverished families back in Uzbekistan, one of the poorest countries in the region. Karimov has also been accused of forcing Uzbeks, including children, to spend their summer months picking cotton for little or no remuneration.

Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva made what appeared to be thinly veiled criticisms of this practice in her interview. "I am against any exploitation, especially the exploitation of children," she said. "It is hard for me to assess this situation but it is regrettable if such a situation exists."

However, her claim that she and her sister have not spoken in 12 years appears to be contradicted by another US diplomatic cable, which suggests that as recently as 2004, the pair frequently partied in Tashkent together. The cable reported that Lola claimed to own a nightclub in the Uzbek capital and could be found there almost every night.

"[Lola] Karimova typically arrives in her – one-of-a-kind, for Tashkent – Porsche Cayenne S sports utility vehicle around 10 o'clock for the traditional floorshow and stays until the wee hours dancing the night away in the raucous disco. On occasion, her older sister, Gulnora, joins her around three o'clock in the morning."

These sisterly nightclub outings are apparently long in the past, however. Lola also appeared to rule out a dynastic power handover when her father dies or retires. She said that she was no politician and was focussing on being with her family, while also making sure to rubbish the likelihood of her sister taking over. Gulnara's chances of running Uzbekistan, said Lola, are "slim".


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« Reply #8998 on: Sep 28, 2013, 06:23 AM »


September 27, 2013

Japan’s Leader Gives No Ground in Islands Dispute

By RICK GLADSTONE
IHT

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan on Friday rejected any concession in a standoff with China over a group of islands claimed by both countries, declining to even acknowledge that the islands are disputed.

At a news conference following his attendance at the United Nations General Assembly, Mr. Abe said he was open to dialogue with China about the islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, and that he did not want their disagreement to infect the broader relationship between the two countries.

But Mr. Abe, a conservative who wants to strengthen Japan’s military, made clear that for Japan the question of who owned the uninhabited islands in the East China Sea was not open to negotiation.

“Concerning the Senkaku islands, Senkaku is an inherent part of the territory of Japan in light of historical facts and based upon international law, and the islands are under the valid control of Japan,” he said through an interpreter. “However the invasion by Chinese government vessels in our territorial waters are continuing, to our regret.”

He also said “Japan would not make a concession on our territorial sovereignty” regarding the islands but that “having said so, we do not intend to escalate this issue any further.”

Mr. Abe appeared to be responding in part to remarks by Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, who said at an appearance last week at the Brookings Institution in Washington that China wanted to resolve the issue peacefully but that Japan had to first acknowledge that ownership of the islands is in dispute.

Japan has administered the islands for decades, but China regards Japanese claims to the islands as a resonant reminder of Japanese militarism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Japan counters that China did not express interest in the islands until recent decades after reports that the seabed nearby might contain oil and gas.

Japanese officials have expressed growing concern about China’s sovereignty assertions over the islands. For months, the two countries’ patrol boats have played cat-and-mouse games near the islands. A few weeks ago, at least seven Chinese patrol ships entered waters surrounding the islands, and Japanese air force jets were scrambled after a drone aircraft was detected in the region, which Japanese officials have suggested was dispatched by China.

Mr. Abe, who came to power in December, has said he might place government officials on the islands, which could further escalate the confrontation with China. While Mr. Abe did not reiterate that possibility on Friday, his chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, told reporters in Japan a few weeks ago that it was among the options under consideration.


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« Reply #8999 on: Sep 28, 2013, 06:25 AM »


Java tragedy survivors claim Australian authorities ignored plight

Up to 70 feared dead after boat with asylum seekers on board sinks off Java

Australian Associated Press
theguardian.com, Saturday 28 September 2013 07.45 BST   

Survivors of a boat that sank off Java claim the Australian embassy ignored a distress call. Twenty-two asylum seekers have been confirmed as drowned but authorities in Indonesia fear that number may rise to more than 70.

"I called the Australian embassy; for 24 hours we were calling them. They told us just send us the position on GPS, where are you," one survivor, Abdullah, a man from Jordan, was reported as saying by Fairfax media. "We did, and they told us, 'OK, we know … where you are'. And they said, 'We'll come for you in two hours'.

"And we wait two hours; we wait 24 hours, and we kept calling them, 'we don't have food, we don't have water for three days, we have children, just rescue us'. And nobody come. Sixty person dead now because of Australian government."

One of the passengers, a Lebanese man, had reportedly lost his pregnant wife and eight children in the disaster.

Just 25 of those aboard had been rescued before efforts to locate survivors were postponed on Friday evening due to failing light.

It's believed to be the first fatal attempted asylum-seeker crossing under the Abbott government, and comes after another group of 44 asylum seekers were rescued by an Australian navy vessel in the Sunda Strait on Thursday.

The boat that sank on Friday had departed from the fishing village of Pelabuhan Ratu, in the Sukabumi regency, on the south coast of western Java. It first got into trouble about 10 hours into its journey and efforts were made to return to Indonesia before it sank.

A police official from the district of Cianjur in Java said authorities were alerted to the incident after bodies were discovered floating in an estuary on Friday morning.

"We have now found 22 dead bodies, most of them are children as they cannot swim," the official said, according to news agency AFP. He said the boat had broken into several pieces.

A spokesman for the Indonesian search and rescue agency, Basarnas, said his office was not advised of an incident involving an asylum seeker boat until 3pm local time on Friday.

He said the Australian Maritime and Safety Authority had contacted Basarnas about the boat.

The latest tragedy in waters between Indonesia and Australia comes amid a ramping up in tensions between Canberra and Jakarta over the asylum seeker issue, and days ahead of talks in Jakarta between Tony Abbott, and the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Abbott and Yudhoyno will meet on Monday, with asylum seeker policy expected to be at the top of the agenda.

Strong waves are preventing Indonesian rescuers from continuing the search for survivors on Saturday morning.

"The waves are just too high for our speed boats to go out yet. They're four to six metres. We hope conditions improve soon," Warsono, a police official in Cianjur district on Java, told AFP, adding no helicopter had been deployed.


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