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« Reply #9000 on: Sep 28, 2013, 06:32 AM »

Greek police arrest Golden Dawn leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos

Leader and senior members of far-right party held on charges of founding a criminal organisation

Staff and agencies, Saturday 28 September 2013 09.52 BST   

Link to video: Greeks agree with arrest of Golden Dawn leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos

Greek police have arrested the leader and other senior members of the far-right Golden Dawn party on charges of founding a criminal organisation.

Police announced the arrests of 16 Golden Dawn members, including party head Nikolaos Michaloliakos, spokesman Ilias Kassidiaris and two other politicians.

The arrests included a local Golden Dawn leader in an Athens suburb. The rest were ordinary members. It is the first time since 1974 that a party head and sitting MPs have been arrested.

Police officials said an operation by the counter-terrorism unit was still ongoing late on Saturday morning, and that about 35 arrest warrants for Golden Dawn members had been issued.

The arrested MPs will retain their parliamentary seats unless they are convicted of a crime. Golden Dawn holds 18 of the Greek parliament's 300 seats, after winning nearly 7% of the vote in general elections last year.

Police are investigating the party for links with the killing of an anti-fascist rapper by a self-proclaimed Golden Dawn supporter. The stabbing to death of Pavlos Fyssas on 17 September sparked violent protests in Athens.

Kassidiaris is infamous for hitting a woman live on television for which he escaped prosecution.

Golden Dawn – Greece's third most popular party, according to opinion polls – has denied any links to the rapper's killing and Michaloliakos has warned it may pull its members of parliament from parliament if the crackdown does not stop.

The party expressed outrage at the arrests in a text message to journalists on Saturday. "We call upon everyone to support our moral and just struggle against the corrupt system! Everyone come to our offices!" it said.

A later text message called for supporters to head to police headquarters "with calm and order". A small group of about 30 people initially gathered, standing on the sidewalk across the street from the building.


How I was knifed by Golden Dawn supporters - video interview

A young Greek woman describes how she was set upon by two supporters of Greece's far-right movement Golden Dawn. The woman suffered cuts to her face and arms in the attack, which happened the day after the anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas was stabbed to death. She says she has not reported the attack to the police, because she does not have confidence that they will take action. The interviewee's voice has been disguised


Greeks agree with arrest of Golden Dawn leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos - video

Greeks in Athens respond to news that the leader of the far-right Golden Dawn party has been arrested on charges of founding a criminal organisation. As well as the party's leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, spokesman Ilias Kassidiaris and two other party politicians have also been arrested. Police have reportedly issued around 35 arrest warrants for other Golden Dawn members

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« Reply #9001 on: Sep 28, 2013, 06:34 AM »

Italy's coalition on brink of collapse as politicians fail to agree fiscal deal

Failure to agree on €3bn of budget measures underlines breakdown between Democratic party and People of Freedom

Reuters in Rome, Friday 27 September 2013 23.00 BST   

Italian prime minister Enrico Letta failed to secure backing for a vital package of fiscal measures on Friday as divisions with centre-right partners in his fragile coalition took the government to the brink of collapse.

Letta flew back from a visit to New York with coalition unity already in tatters after a threat by centre-right politicians to walk out over Silvio Berlusconi's battle against a conviction for tax fraud.

After two days of mounting tension and with financial markets on edge, he met ministers late on Friday in a last-ditch attempt to avert a rise in sales tax and secure approval for additional budget measures needed to bring Italy's deficit within European Union limits.

However, with the meeting still in progress, officials made clear that no deal could be reached.

"The conditions aren't in place at the moment," said one official.

Letta is now expected to go before parliament next week to seek support to continue in office.

Failure to agree on €3bn of budget measures, demanded by both Letta's centre-left Democratic party (PD) and Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL), underlined the breakdown between the two traditional rivals, which were forced together by last February's deadlocked election.

Economy minister Fabrizio Saccomanni, who has staked his credibility on meeting the EU budget limits and faced constant sniping from the PDL over recent months, was furious at the breakdown, officials said.

PDL politicans said proposals to avert the one percentage point rise in sales tax, scheduled to take effect in October, would have been funded by an increase in fuel taxes which would have punished consumers.

With the sales tax rise, passed by the previous government led by Mario Monti, due to kick in on Tuesday, prospects for a deal appear remote.

"We can't accept the blame for this," PDL secretary Angelino Alfano, who is also deputy prime minister, told the cabinet, according to one official. "We can't stay in the government if taxes are going up and there are no cuts to spending," he said.

Letta's left-right coalition has flirted with collapse ever since Italy's top court convicted former premier Berlusconi of tax fraud last month and sentenced him to four years in prison, commuted to a year of house arrest or community service.

On Wednesday, PDL politicians said they would resign en masse if a Senate committee meeting on 4 October votes to begin proceedings to expel their leader from parliament.

On returning to Italy on Friday after courting foreign investors in New York, Letta met President Giorgio Napolitano who, if the government fell, would have to either call new elections or try to oversee the creation of a new coalition.

A spokesman for the president's office said the head of state, who has repeatedly said he does not want a return to the polls, had given Letta his full support to seek the backing of cabinet and parliament.

If Letta, who has a commanding majority in the lower house, can secure the backing of a few dozensenators among PDL rebels or opposition parties including the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, he could form a new coalition.

The political convulsions in the eurozone's third largest economy have increasingly worried investors, although with the European Central Bank guaranteeing stability in the markets, there has been none of the panic seen during previous crises.

At an auction of 10-year bonds on Friday, Italy's borrowing costs rose to their highest level in three months, while the premium investors demand to hold Italian debt rather than AAA-rated German paper widened to 267 basis points from under 250 at the start of the week.

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« Reply #9002 on: Sep 28, 2013, 06:37 AM »

Britain accused of trying to impede EU data protection law

Proposals would make it more difficult for spy agencies to get hold of material online

Philip Oltermann in Warsaw
The Guardian, Friday 27 September 2013 20.47 BST   

Britain has been accused of trying to impede data protection reforms that would make it more difficult for spy agencies to get hold of material online.

The European parliament is planning to vote on a new, unified law for EU member states in the next few weeks, but activists fear Britain is deliberately obstructing the path to new legislation.

Speaking at an international conference on data protection in Warsaw on Thursday, the UK information commissioner, Christopher Graham, said the first draft of the proposed regulation was "too dirigiste". Britain was "not interested in regulation that is a to-do list".

The first draft of the new general data protection regulation was presented on 25 January 2012. Following the revelations about the extent of US and British surveillance from Edward Snowden, one German commissioner said there was an urgent need for regulation.

However, the British view is that the disclosures have merely highlighted how differently European countries feel about online privacy, which will make it harder to reach any compromise.

"The Snowden revelations have showed us how important it is that we reach a compromise," said Peter Schaar, Germany's federal commissioner for data protection and freedom of information. "There is a real need for an international regulatory framework. For once, the Americans are as concerned about this as we are in Germany."

But a British source said "data protection law used to be a Rubik's cube", and after Snowden it had become "a Rubik's cube on steroids".

The standoff between Britain and other EU countries has several dimensions. Broadly, there is nervousness in the British government about a new piece of legislation that would transfer more power from Westminster to Brussels. More specifically, there is a disagreement over enforcement. Britain's view is that by not leaving any room for discretion, controllers will be forced to fine even small transgressions, for example by inexperienced startups.

"If you have inflexible regulation, you overclaim and lose authority. Less is more," said Graham at the conference.

Other European countries are seen to favour a stricter punitive system, which would set out clear guidelines. This month in Brussels, the EU commission's director for fundamental rights and citizenship, Paul Nemitz, had implicitly criticised Britain for "bickering and wanting changes" to the guidelines.

As well as the disagreement over data protection regulation, European states are at odds over the future of "Safe Harbor", a policy agreement established between the US department of commerce and the European Union in November 2000 which enables companies to transfer data between the two countries irrespective of different security standards.

In the wake of the Snowden disclosures, Viviane Reding, the European commission's vice-president, said: "The Safe Harbor agreement may not be so safe after all," and she ordered an assessment of the deal by the end of the year.

In July, German data commissioners called on Angela Merkel to suspend Safe Harbor, though at the Warsaw conference this week Germany seemed to row back from such demands, asking merely for reform of the programme.

Other countries in the EU, including Britain, see Safe Harbor as a useful mechanism by which to boost European regulation with tough US jurisdiction.

"What keeps Google awake at night," said one source, "is European regulation and FTC [federal trade committee] enforcement."

Data protection activists hope that Europe will use the pending revision of Safe Harbor and the negotiations over a new EU-US trade deal as a bargaining tool. But they fear the momentum gained by the Snowden revelations is being lost.

• The standfirst on this story was amended on 27 September 2013 to remove an incorrect reference to the UK information officer


September 27, 2013

British Leader Is Under Attack From Right and Center


LONDON — Prime Minister David Cameron goes into his party conference this weekend facing significant challenges, more constrained than any other Conservative prime minister in memory. He is under fire from both the center and the right, but he needs to appeal to both as he tries to gather momentum heading into the next elections in 2015.

In the center is his coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats, while on the right is the U.K. Independence Party, or UKIP (pronounced YOO-kip), which is attracting populist support with its anti-European Union, anti-immigration message.

While UKIP is at best expected to win only a handful of seats in Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system, it could still drain crucial votes from the Conservatives in marginal constituencies, a circumstance that would add to Mr. Cameron’s problems.

With his Conservatives seen as lagging the opposition Labour Party in popular opinion, Mr. Cameron is already expected to have a hard time winning a majority in elections expected in May 2015. And he faces a right-wing uprising among Conservative legislators who see him as a weak leader, too soft on issues like gay marriage and immigration, and blame him for failing to win an outright majority in 2010.

More than 30 of those Conservative legislators voted against Mr. Cameron in the debate over whether to take military action in Syria, an indication, some suggest, that they would rather see him lose the next elections to get the more right-wing leader they want, who seems to be Boris Johnson, London’s populist-sounding mayor.

At his party’s conference, Mr. Cameron is faced with “trying to capture the center and the right at the same time,” said Tony Travers, a professor at the London School of Economics.

Mr. Travers’s colleague Patrick Dunleavy predicted a staged Cameron advance — “to look right wing now at this year’s conference and more centrist next year,” just before the elections.

The Conservatives’ worries are compounded by the fact that the boundaries of parliamentary constituencies favor Labour because of the distribution of their voters, and Labour has no real competition on its left from the weak Green Party.

“There is a very serious problem,” said Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee, which represents Conservative lawmakers, “which is that the British electorate are almost entirely disenchanted with our main political parties and also with our democratic institutions and increasingly don’t vote at all.”

“If UKIP takes 5 percent of the vote, that can be a very serious impediment when we are already fighting with one hand tied behind our backs because of the parliamentary boundaries,” Mr. Brady said.

Charles Lewington, a former director of communications for the Conservatives and now managing director of Hanover, a consultancy firm, said that there had been a “failure of communication over immigration over the last two years,” but that data from focus groups suggested that potential UKIP voters could be won over if the Conservatives’ proposed immigration restrictions were better known.

“They tend to say, ‘That’s fantastic, but we didn’t know that was happening,’ ” Mr. Lewington said. “The party conference can be used as a platform to explain policies which, in terms of immigration, are bearing fruit.”

Telling voters that supporting UKIP could elect Labour could cut UKIP’s poll ratings, now about 12 percent, in half, he said. “The challenge is how you get it from that down to 2 or 3 percent,” Mr. Lewington said.

Mr. Cameron’s election strategist, Lynton Crosby, an Australian, wants to adopt some of UKIP’s issues in an attempt to neutralize the party’s appeal.

Yet to Mr. Cameron’s left lies his coalition ally, the Liberal Democrats, who used their annual conference to try to distance themselves from his party. The Tories are likely to respond in kind before the elections.

“It makes sense for the two parties in the coalition to start to plan their distancing from each other,” Mr. Brady said. “For us that means concentrating on projecting our separate vision of what we would seek to do as a majority Conservative government.”

The first task will be to claim credit for signs of economic recovery. “The Conservative Party will say, ‘This is the fiscal strategy demanded by us and driven through by us — often in the teeth of opposition from our coalition partners,’ ” Mr. Lewington said.

Many Britons still blame the last Labour government, defeated in 2010, for the economic recession that the Tories say they are in the process of remedying, and by 2015, economists say, the recovery should be felt by many in the form of higher employment and an increase in real wages.

At the same time, the Labour leader Ed Miliband has made his own strategy clear: Argue that the recovery has been slower and weaker than necessary because of adherence to austerity, and that its few fruits will go to the wealthy, not to “ordinary Britons.” At his party conference, Mr. Miliband positioned himself as more left wing, proposing a temporary freeze on energy prices and changes in tax rules to help small, rather than large, businesses. But he was careful not to promise lavish new spending or threaten new consumer taxes.

Mr. Cameron is criticized within his party for his personality and work habits. Some Tory lawmakers grumble about his lack of accessibility and his tendency to take their support for granted, something he did with disastrous consequences in the parliamentary vote on Syria that he lost.

They also cite his reputation for “chillaxing,” or chilling out and relaxing, reinforced recently by a photo, posted accidentally after a family wedding, showing the prime minister asleep by his ministerial red box, containing his governmental homework, in his sister-in-law’s bridal suite.

Many agree with Peter Tapsell, a lawmaker who was overheard telling Mr. Cameron in 2011 that he had never known a prime minister more adept at getting out of scrapes, before adding that he had never known one who got into so many in the first place.

But Mr. Cameron also displays a calm, aloof confidence, which some attribute to his elite education, and he is credited with a sense of perspective, which some ascribe to the death of his 6-year-old son, Ivan, in 2009. And despite the mismanaged vote on Syria, his position as prime minister seems secure until the elections.

Perversely, perhaps, Mr. Lewington said, the effort by some cabinet ministers to raise their profiles as potential successors may have helped Mr. Cameron because his biggest potential election rival, Mr. Johnson, “becomes a less obvious alternative leader.”

Mr. Johnson seems content to let Mr. Cameron try to win a majority in 2015, and if he fails, to emerge to pick up the pieces.

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« Reply #9003 on: Sep 28, 2013, 06:38 AM »

French watchdog barks at Google over missed deadline on privacy policy

CNIL set to levy fine as tech giant contests 'applicability of French data-protection law to services used … in France'

Dominic Rushe in New York, Friday 27 September 2013 20.52 BST   

France's data-protection watchdog warned on Friday that it will impose sanctions against Google, after the company missed a three-month deadline to adjust its privacy policy.

The Commission nationale de l'informatique et des libertés (CNIL) said it had initiated procedures to fine Google after it failed to meet a deadline to alter its latest policy on how it collects and uses data. The agency said that on the final day before the deadline, Google contested the request, "notably the applicability of the French data-protection law to the services used by residents in France".

The fine, of up to €150,000 ($203,100) is trifling by Google's standards – the search giant made $10.7bn in profits in 2012. But the fine comes as data-protection agencies in Britain, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands are investigating Google's privacy policy. The company is also facing pressure to adjust its privacy policy in the US.

In March 2012, Google changed its privacy policy in Europe to combine those from more than 60 services, including Gmail, Google+ and YouTube, into one. The move consolidated information collected across the services and consumer groups expressed concern that users might not want the information from those services to be connected.

CNIL said in June that Google's new privacy policy was a violation of the 1978 French data-protection act. The agency asked Google to provide clearer information about its privacy policy and to modify its data-collection tools.

In a statement on Friday, a Google spokeswoman said: "Our privacy policy respects European law and allows us to create simpler, more effective services. We have engaged fully with the CNIL throughout this process, and we'll continue to do so going forward."

The French regulator's move comes in a week when a US judge ruled that Google may violate wiretap laws when it scans the e-mails of non-Gmail users. The ruling will allow a class action lawsuit against the company, backed by privacy advocates, to move forward.

Judge Lucy Koh also ruled that Google's privacy agreements were less than explicit. "A reasonable Gmail user who read the Privacy Policies would not have necessarily understood that her e-mails were being intercepted to create user profiles or to provide targeted advertisements," she wrote.

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« Reply #9004 on: Sep 28, 2013, 06:39 AM »

Icelandic bank says it cannot meet £1.5bn debt repayment schedule

New Landsbanki, said it will go bust if forced to stick to a steep repayment schedule, in euros, from the start of next year

Simon Bowers   
The Guardian, Friday 27 September 2013 20.14 BST   

New Landsbanki, the state-owned Icelandic bank forged in the midst of the 2008 Icesave scandal, has asked for more time to repay a £1.5bn bond that is threatening to destabilise Iceland's recovering economy.

At a meetingon Friday in London with creditors to the old bank, which include the British and Netherlands governments, Icelandic negotiators are understood to have said New Landsbanki will go bust if it is forced to stick to a steep repayment schedule, in euros, from the start of next year.

Moreover, the Central Bank of Iceland has said publicly the country cannot support the schedule. "The repayment profile ... is too heavy for the economy. The bonds will have to be extended or refinanced," it said.

New Landsbanki was formed five years ago by taking the Icelandic assets of the failed bank out of the administration process, in return issuing the bonds that are soon due to be repaid.

New Landsbanki is a solvent bank servicing Icelandic customers.

The highly charged meeting is thought to be the first time British and Dutch officials involved in the poisonous Icesave dispute have sat across the table from Icelandic government representatives since a European court ruled in January that Iceland was under no legal obligation to honour deposit guarantees promised to foreign Icesave savers.

The Efta court, which ensures compliance with EU law in Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein, also ruled that politicians in Reykjavik had not been discriminatory when they enacted emergency laws safeguarding domestic deposits transferred to New Landsbanki but not those of overseas Icesave savers.

One Icelandic source with knowledge of Friday's meeting said: "It is an extremely, extremely sensitive situation." Ahead of the meeting, another well-placed source said: "I don't expect the Icelanders will get a very warm reception."

Concerns have been growing that Iceland might, yet again, turn on foreign creditors of its failed banks – not least because of the aggressive election rhetoric of Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, leader of the nationalist Progressive party, who swept to power in April at the helm of a centre-right coalition.

He wants to introduce pro-business tax cuts and offer debt relief to all Icelandic households. He has hinted that he could extract the money to fund these moves from foreign creditors in exchange for agreeing to exempt them from Iceland's increasingly tight capital controls. "We have a unique opportunity to be compensated for the loss incurred in recent years," he said on a blogpost in April. "That opportunity must not be lost!"

Gunnlaugsson's popularity owes much to his links with the InDefence grassroots campaign which blocked previous attempts to reach a settlement of the Icesave dispute, defeating proposals in national plebiscites, forcing the matter to the Efta court.

The decision of the court in January was a vindication of his position and a humiliating blow for the previous government which, under pressure from the EU, had sought to reach a settlement and avoid a courtroom confrontation, fearing it could destroy Iceland's international standing.

As priority claimants to the old Landsbanki estate, British and Dutch authorities, together with many UK local authorities and charities, have received 55% of their original claim, and administrators hope to make a full recovery for them. However, they have been told outstanding recoveries will take years to come through.

Moreover, if, as expected, capital controls remain in existence, payouts to creditors will effectively have to be signed off by the Icelandic government. "I expect these estates to be hanging over us for at least five to ten years," said one well-placed source.

January's court ruling effectively ended a four and a half year diplomatic and legal row over whether the Icelandic state could, or should, be compelled to stand behind the Icesave deposit guarantees.

The foreign governments and their deposit guarantee schemes had reluctantly become the largest creditors to the old Landsbanki, now known as LBI, in October 2008 after finance ministers for both the UK and the Netherlands directed that hundreds of thousands of retail savers with Icesave should be refunded in full using taxpayer funds.

So outraged was the then British chancellor, Alistair Darling, at what he saw as an illegal act, that he had used anti-terrorism powers to freeze the UK assets of Landsbanki for more than six months.

Prior to the crash, British and Dutch depositors had rushed to put their money in Icesave online accounts in 2007 and 2008, attracted by market-leading interest rates. On the Icesave website, UK savers had been told: "You can also rest assured that with Icesave you are offered the same level of financial protection as every bank in the UK."

Behind the scenes UK financial regulators had been pressing old Landsbanki to convert its branch operation in the UK, which had taken £4.3bn in Icesave deposits, into a full subsidiary business supervised by the Financial Service Authority.

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« Reply #9005 on: Sep 28, 2013, 06:42 AM »

The power of football: the night Lech Wałęsa changed Poland for ever

Thirty years ago on Saturday, on a remarkable night in Gdansk, football supporters began what ended with the fall of the Polish communist regime six years later

Maciej Slominski   
Friday 27 September 2013 12.08 BST   

It was an historic night even before kick-off but it was not until seven years later that the full extent of what happened at the Lechia stadium in Gdansk on 28 September 1983 could be fully appreciated.

Thirty years ago on Saturday, Lechia Gdansk took on the Italian giants Juventus in the European Cup Winners' Cup. It was Lechia's first – and so far only – foray into Europe and the prospect of seeing Giovanni Trapattoni's Juve, with players such as Paolo Rossi, Michel Platini and Zbigniew Boniek, in action meant that the stadium had filled up by noon. At the end of the night, though, no one was talking about the football.

At the time, Poland, was a fragmented country. In August 1980 the communist authorities had signed an agreement with Solidarnosc, the Solidarity movement, at the Gdansk shipyard to end a 17-day general strike. As Karol Nawrocki and Mariusz Kordek write in their brilliant book, Lechia v Juventus – More Than a Game, 10 million people belonged to Solidarity then and there was real hope among them that there could be a regime change.

Sixteen months, later, however, that hope had vanished as General Jaruzelski introduced martial law and outlawed Solidarity. The main members of the party were thrown into jail and that seemed to be the end of it.

However, some chose to fight on. Gdansk was always at the heart of resistance despite the fact that during those dark times there were only three places where you could freely express your anti-system views. The first two were the shipyard and the second was Church of St Bridget. The third was the Lechia Gdansk stadium.

And for the Juventus game Solidarity, now an underground movement, decided that, with the game being televised, that it was a good moment to show that they still existed. Obviously the head of the movement, its symbol, Lech Wałęsa, had to be there.

There were going to be 30,000 people at the game so getting there incognito would not be a problem for Wałęsa. The security forces knew that there would be a substantial turn-out for the game and had information that Wałęsa would be there. They had divided the city into several different zones to have an overview of proceedings but also decided that they could not arrest Wałęsa as they did not recognise Solidarity as a political party and therefore Wałęsa was a "private person".

It should be added that the day before, state television had published a heavily edited discussion between Wałęsa and his brother in which the former was portrayed as being very vulgar and caring only about money. The authorities even had secret hopes that Wałęsa would be booed at the stadium.

It did not quite work out like that. In the first half the fans were mainly focused on the football but, at half-time, the situation changed dramatically. Piotr Adamowicz, a Solidarity man, spoke to the camera men from NBC and CBS, who trained their cameras on Wałęsa in the crowd.

Then it all began. First quietly, then louder and louder. "Solidarnosc! Solidarnosc! Solidarnosc!" A few years later, when archive security records of the match were found, they said that it was only a couple of thousand fans chanting but it was far more than that. In fact, it was the whole stadium.

It was so loud that it reached the Lechia dressing room, with the home team manager, Jerzy Jastrzebowski, saying: "We were in the dressing room during half-time when we heard it and it sent shivers down our spines, the whole ground singing 'Solidarnosc'."

State television was so worried about the rest of the country hearing the chants that they delayed transmission of the second half by six minutes and then decided to show it without any sound at all. Lechia lost the game 3-2 and the tie 10-2 but it did not matter, a much more important victory had been secured.

It was decided that Wałęsa should leave the stadium early to avoid being caught up in any riots if there were any. But there was no trouble. The fans felt something special was happening and did not want to ruin it.

What happened next? The mid-to-late 1980s were a time of economic and political stagnation, leaving people with a sense of apathy. Often, the shelves at the supermarkets were empty and ration stamps were introduced.

It is estimated that between one and two million Poles left the country in the late 1980s. Of the 80 Lechia fans who went to the first leg in Turin, only 11 came back.

Slowly, slowly the system began to crumble. In November 1989 a TV debate between Wałęsa and Alfred Miodowicz (a regime-friendly trade union activist) ended in crushing victory for the former, the Solidarity leader being on top form after years in the wilderness.

Finally in February 1989 what has become known as the Round Table Talks were organised between Solidarity and the government, ending with semi-free elections in June 1989 (semi-free as a certain number of parliament seats had already "been" given to the Communist party).

By the end of 1990 Wałęsa was the Polish president. Wałęsa has often been asked about that night in Gdansk. "Why did the security let me in?" he wondered once. "Maybe they thought I would be whistled and booed after the TV programme they showed? They hoped the nation would turn their back on me? It would have been my end."

As it turned out it was not. Rather it was a beginning. One of the Solidarity leaders once said: "What happened during the Juventus game kept us going for next five years."

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« Reply #9006 on: Sep 28, 2013, 06:47 AM »

How serious is Germany about its democratic principles?

If there's a grand coalition between the CDU and the Social Democrats, current laws mean that Die Linke and the Greens wouldn't be able to challenge the government's legislation

Gregor Gysi, Friday 27 September 2013 18.46 BST   

In several respects Germany's general election has produced a historically remarkable outcome. Contrary to what it may first look like, it is a result that will have direct consequences for Europe too.

At first sight, it appears as if last Sunday produced a smash-and-grab triumph for Chancellor Angela Merkel, confirming her politics and her role in Germany and Europe. But once you look more closely, you realise that the CDU and CSU don't have a majority to continue their political pathway of old. Because with the Free Democratic party – and this is truly historic – we saw a party being voted out of parliament which has had a seat in the Bundestag since 1949. Merkel has lost the junior partner who used to give her a majority.

This is also the reason why we now have a majority to the left of the CDU/CSU in parliament, however slim it may be. The Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens managed to get a majority from 1998 to 2005, but since then, one thing has become clear: the SPD will only be able to get one of its people into the top seat if it forms a coalition with my party, Die Linke (The Left).

In 2013, Die Linke became the third-strongest political entity in Germany. Modern German politics is unthinkable without a proper leftwing party, and we certainly won't go away voluntarily. With this election, Germany has finally caught up with normal European standards in this respect – this too is a historic moment.

The realisation that the Social Democrats need to change their attitude to Die Linke is gradually dawning on its party members. Its leadership can no longer suppress this debate. If the SPD and the Greens really mean what they said in their election manifestos, they should at least seek to enter a conversation with Die Linke. Resisting such calls will only leave voters disappointed and their credibility in pieces.

But even if it doesn't form the next government, the potential red-red-green majority will force Merkel to make concessions. Whoever ends up in bed with the CDU, a left-of-centre majority will remain as a threat in the background and influence European policy.

The Social Democrats and Greens may have helped usher through the bailouts that helped only the banks, investors and hedge fund managers in the last term, driving up government debt and forcing extreme austerity measures on countries in southern Europe. But unless they want to lose their credibility completely, they will need to change their emphases to an active programme for growth in the south of Europe. Without such a European "Marshall Plan" these countries will end up defaulting on their debt – which would have consequences for Europe too.

In addition, Merkel will be warned by the anti-euro Alternative für Deutschland nearly making it into parliament. It is evident that her European "rescue" policy is damaging the European idea to such an extent that such anti-European parties can gain ground.

The final historical aspect of this election may only be realised during the coalition negotiations. If there is a grand coalition, we will have a parliamentary opposition without any rights. With only 127 out of 630 seats, the current parliamentary laws mean that Die Linke and the Greens wouldn't be able to challenge the government's legislation, either with a complaint of unconstitutionally, a commission of inquiry or a parliamentary hearing.

The only comparable instance in the history of Germany's federal republic was when the Free Liberal party was alone in opposition against a grand coalition in 1966 and 1969.

If such a scenario becomes reality, Europe will be watching with interest how serious Germany is about democratic principles, especially since my country enjoys lecturing other nations when they ignore the needs of minorities. Europe's largest country can't afford to have democracy without serious debate. This is why my party will push to find ways of respecting the rights of the opposition even in these unusual circumstances.


September 27, 2013

After Rout in German Elections, Social Democrats Consider Coalition With Merkel


BERLIN — In the first step of what could be a long road to building a new German government, the defeated Social Democrats agreed on Friday to enter into talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives over a possible coalition, naming fair wages, good jobs and a strengthening of the country’s social system as key points.

Recent surveys have shown that a majority of Germans would like to see a “grand coalition” government between the country’s two main parties, traditionally political rivals. But in the wake of Sunday’s national elections, when the center-left Social Democrats had their second-worst showing since the end of World War II, many in the party are more concerned with building up a profile in opposition to Ms. Merkel’s conservatives, having become wary of the potential political cost of entering a coalition that could make them appear to be too close to the chancellor.

“We are in an extremely difficult situation,” Stephan Weil, a Social Democrat who is the governor of the state of Lower Saxony, told the ARD public broadcasting network ahead of the talks, which began Friday night. “We need to agree on a course for the Social Democrats in the coming years, and that will involve a lot of wrangling tonight, but I expect there will be a clear decision.”

The 200 delegates who met Friday evening agreed that a handful of leaders could meet with representatives from the Christian Democrats to sound out common points. If enough are found, delegates will meet again to vote on whether to proceed with formal coalition negotiations.

Delegates agreed that issues addressed in the Social Democrats’ campaign platform must be address in negotiations. They include passage of a national minimum wage, repealing an unpopular family subsidy for young children who are cared for at home and an increase in some taxes for those in the highest earning bracket.

“Now it is up to Ms. Merkel to begin working on building a government,” Sigmar Gabriel, the party chairman, said after the meeting.

Delegates further agreed that all 447,000 members of the party would vote on a possible coalition agreement. While Social Democrat leaders said the move would ensure “a high level of transparency democracy within the party,” some experts saw it as a high-stakes move with possible far-reaching consequences.

“It would be very risky,” said Timo Grunden, a political scientist at the University of Giessen. If the members vote to seek a coalition, it increases the pressure on Ms. Merkel’s party, he said. But if they vote a leadership proposal down, he said, new national elections would be required, presumably along with new party leadership.

A new round of balloting could shift the current outcome, in which Ms. Merkel’s conservative bloc, made up of her own Christian Democratic Union and a sister party, the Christian Social Union, emerged the clear winner, even though they came up five seats short of an absolute majority. Their partners in government for the past four years, the Free Democrats, failed to win enough votes to remain in Parliament, leaving the chancellor looking for a new party willing to enter into a coalition.

The other option for Ms. Merkel, the left-leaning Greens party, won only 8.4 percent of the vote, setting off a crisis in its leadership and leaving it in a weakened position to enter into talks with the conservatives.

Coalition-building can be an arduous process, all the more so when those involved are accustomed to opposing one another over key issues. When the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats had to work out an agreement in 2005, it took until the end of November for a government to be formed.

The Social Democrats have largely supported the chancellor’s policy on the euro, despite hopes from Germany’s partners in Europe that their inclusion in a new government might result in a softening of Ms. Merkel’s position toward weaker members of the euro zone. Her initial comments on Monday gave no indication of any such intentions, insisting that European policy would continue “in the same spirit as before.”

Alison Smale contributed reporting.


Germany's grand coalition could undermine democracy, says leftwinger

CDU/SPD government would take 503 out of 630 seats in Bundestag, leaving only 127 for Die Linke and Greens

Philip Oltermann in Berlin, Friday 27 September 2013 16.30 BST   

A leading member of Germany's leftwing Die Linke party has warned that a grand coalition between Angela Merkel's CDU and the Social Democrats would leave the country with a weak opposition unable to stand up to a powerful government.

Gregor Gysi, writing in the Guardian, says: "Europe will be watching how serious Germany is about democratic principles."

A powerful coalition is looking the most likely outcome of negotiations between the parties, particularly after the SPD's leadership announced on Friday that they would start exploratory discussions with the CDU next week.

Gysi says such a coalition would have 503 out of 630 seats in the Bundestag, leaving only 127 seats for Die Linke and the Greens. This would mean that they could not effectively interrogate or block legislation passed by parliament.

A former member of the East German Communist party, Gysi was a key figure in Die Linke's election campaign. The party gained 8.6% of the vote in last Sunday's general elections, making it the third largest force in the next parliament.

However, the party suffered a 3.3% decline in its share of the vote from the last election, losing 360,000 voters to the newly formed anti-euro Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), particularly in the east where Die Linke has traditionally been most successful.

In an interview on Friday, Die Linke's party leader, Katja Kipping, has suggested a joint member's vote among all left-of-centre parties on the country's political future. "The cleanest solution would be if all parties left of the centre would ask their base if they preferred red-red-green or a coalition with Merkel," she said.

A coalition between the SPD, the Greens and Die Linke would achieve an overall majority over Merkel's party and its Bavarian sister-party, the CSU, but any coalition with Die Linke is still considered a taboo because of some of its politicians' links to the old communist GDR regime. Both the Social Democrats and the Greens have ruled out such a union for now.

Either way, it is looking increasingly unlikely that the next German government will be formed any time soon. According to a report in Süddeutsche Zeitung, the SPD is also considering a member's vote on the possibility of a grand coalition.

Such a vote would most likely be held before the party's conference in mid-November. Many party members are said to be against a grand coalition since the party suffered from such an arrangement in 2005 – 2009.

In spite of Merkel's triumphant win on Sunday, the onus is on her to coax a reluctant SPD into coalition talks. Tax rises, dual citizenship and the introduction of a minimum wage have been mooted as areas in which the conservatives may make concessions in order to lure the Social Democrats to the negotiation table.

According to a survey by state broadcaster ARD, a grand coalition would be the solution most favoured by German citizens. Forty-eight per cent of those asked would most like to see a coalition between the CDU and the SPD, while only 16% would prefer a red-red-green accord.

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« Reply #9007 on: Sep 28, 2013, 06:49 AM »

Tunisia's Islamist government to resign and pave way for fresh elections

Negotiations begin on caretaker administration after weeks of crisis involving Ennahda-led coalition and secular opposition

Reuters, Saturday 28 September 2013 12.16 BST   

Tunisia's Islamist government has agreed to resign and negotiate with secular opponents to form a caretaker administration and prepare for elections, a senior ruling party official has said.

The negotiations aim to end weeks of crisis involving the Islamist-led coalition government and secular opposition parties that has threatened the transition to democracy in the north African country where the Arab Spring uprisings began in 2011.

Tunisia's powerful UGTT labour union, mediating between the two sides, proposed the ruling Islamist Ennahda party agree to three weeks of negotiations, after which it would step down and make way for an independent transitional administration and set a date for elections.

"The dialogue will start on Monday or Tuesday," Lotfi Zitoun, an Ennahda party official, said on Saturday. "Ennahda has accepted the plan without conditions to get the country out of the political crisis." Another source close to the talks confirmed Ennahda had agreed to the proposal.

Since Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was ousted in 2011 after street protests against his rule, Tunisia has struggled with divisions over the political role of Islam. The opposition accuses Ennahda of imposing an Islamist agenda on one of the Muslim world's most secular nations.

Tunisia's path to transition, however, has been mostly peaceful compared to Egypt, where the army toppled an elected Islamist president and Libya, where the central government struggles to curb rival militia influence.

Tunisia's political crisis erupted in July after the killing of an opposition leader by suspected Islamist militants, bringing the opposition on to the streets to demand Ennahda step down.

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« Reply #9008 on: Sep 28, 2013, 06:51 AM »

Kenya siege: eight held in connection with attack on shopping centre

Kenyan police hold suspects under counter-terrorism legislation, which allows detention for long periods without charge

Afua Hirsch in Nairobi
The Guardian, Friday 27 September 2013 19.34 BST   

Kenyan police have arrested eight people in connection with the attack on the Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi in which at least 67 people died. Three others have been released after questioning, said the interior minister, Joseph Ole Lenku.

"Police are holding eight suspects as they seek to unmask the faces behind the terror attack," he said. All eight are being held under counter-terrorism legislation, which allows detention for long periods without charge.

The government also said that an international arrest warrant issued on Thursday for the Briton Samantha Lewthwaite, while not linked directly to the Westgate attack, was part of the ongoing security operation. "In view of the security situation, the level of Interpol alertness has been raised in respect to known global terrorists including the British woman Samantha Lewthwaite," a statement said.

Ole Lenku said investigators trying to identify the attackers were searching through the rubble of the mall where three floors collapsed after a series of blasts and a huge blaze. He said they were making good progress.

Investigators have recovered a vehicle believed to have been used by the terrorists who led the attack, a top government official told the AP. They are also building the profile of a man who warned a pregnant woman at the mall to flee for her own safety moments before last Saturday's attack, he said. Another intelligence official said the attackers rented a small store in the mall up to a year before the attack. The claim chimes with reports that the levels of weapons and ammunitions involved in the attack suggested long-term planning.

The collapse of a third of the mall has made it inaccessible to international forensics experts combing through the building. The official said it was expected that bodies would be found after excavation of the collapsed roof began.

However, Manoah Esipisu, a government spokesman said: "There are some reports that 160 more bodies will be uncovered – this is just another misleading fact being bandied around by people who don't have information. Until we have forensic information we cannot say anything conclusively."

Lawyers representing one of the detained men have filed a writ of habeas corpus to secure his release. Ali Gitonga was arrested at the Armed Forces memorial hospital in Nairobi where he being treated, said Al Amin Kimathi, executive director of the Muslim Human Rights Forum. Gitonga, a driver, said he was dropping his employer at Westgate when the attack started.

"We believe that Gitonga is innocent – the state have not provided any information that suggests there is a good reason why he was arrested," said Kimathi. "We believe this is a case of profiling – Gitonga is a Kikuyu who converted to Islam. [The authorities] believe it is the later converts who have been recruited. That is the strongest point they have against him."

Two relatives of Gitonga were arrested on Sunday when they visited him in hospital, before being released on Thursday, Kimathi said. "We are getting worrying reports of youths like these being detained for a long period after having been arrested simply for visiting someone in hospital," he added. "It is a long time for the police to determine their innocence, and they never appeared court."

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« Reply #9009 on: Sep 28, 2013, 06:53 AM »

09/27/2013 03:26 PM

Video Games and Cigarettes: Syria's Disneyland for Jihadists

By Christoph Reuter

Foreign Islamists coming into Syria have been gathering in the relatively quiet north. But many of them are finding transit towns -- with good food, video games and smoking -- preferable to the front. When they do end up fighting, it's often with each other.

Atmeh looks like the set for a movie about al-Qaida. New arrivals pulling suitcases on wheels search for their emirs, Africans and Asians can be seen on the village streets, and long-haired men dressed in traditional Afghan clothing walk around wielding AK-47s. There are patrons at the local kebab stand whose northern English dialect is peppered with Arabic words and phrases. "Subhan'Allah, bro, I asked for ketchup," says one man. The many languages heard on the street include Russian, Azerbaijani and Arabic spoken with a guttural Saudi Arabian accent.

The once-sleepy smugglers' nest on the Turkish border has become a mecca for jihad tourists from around the world. A year ago, SPIEGEL reporters in Atmeh met with one of the first foreign fighters in Syria, a young Iraqi who said that he had come to overthrow the dictatorship. Meanwhile, more than 1,000 jihadists are staying in and around Atmeh, making it the densest accumulation of jihadists in all of Syria. Ironically, while war rages in the rest of the country, the foreign jihadists have made one of Syria's quietest spots into their base. Or perhaps they have chosen Atmeh precisely because it is so quiet. Once they arrive, many are reluctant to leave.

The Turkish mobile phone network provides strong reception, and the shops carry Afghan pakol wool hats, al-Qaida caps and knee-length black shirts made of the same coarse material used in the Pakistani tribal regions. New restaurants have popped up, and a company called International Contacts books flights and exchanges Saudi riyals, British pounds, euros and US dollars into the local currency. The pharmacy sells miswak, a teeth-cleaning stick from Pakistan with which the Prophet Muhammed supposedly brushed his teeth. The package label promises that the use of miswak increases the effectiveness of subsequent prayers by a factor of 70.

The Jihadist is Always Right

A third Internet café opened in mid-June to accommodate the many jihadists wanting to communicate with their relatives and friends at home via phone, email or chat programs. This prompted the owner of the first café to hang al-Qaida flags above his computers as a sign of loyalty to his customers. The move has improved business despite the growing competition. The heavily armed customers use Skype to tell their friends at home about what a paradise Atmeh is. The rents are cheap, they say, the weather and food are good, they can walk around with their weapons and, with a little luck, they can even find wives. In the evenings, the sound of several jihadists playing Counter-Strike spills into the streets in a cacophony of video game warfare. In Atmeh, the holy war is a costume spectacle, and everyone can feel as if he were part of it -- without suffering any harm. In August, a restaurant specializing in various national dishes for the international crowd of jihadists opened in Atmeh. Falafito has koshari for Egyptians, falafel for Saudis and chicken tikka for Pakistanis, to list just a few offerings.

Even local business owners are pleased about their fanatical clientele. The Syrian salesman in a mobile phone shop says: "A man from Dagestan comes here every few days. First he bought a Samsung Galaxy, a week later he bought an iPad, and then he bought a newer model of the Samsung Galaxy. He must have spent more than $1,000 (€740) here."

Why are the foreigners in Atmeh in the first place, asks an exasperated local commander with the Free Syrian Army (FSA)? "If they have come here to fight, then the front is that way," he adds, pointing east.

In fact, Atmeh is a transit station for jihadists who usually arrive at the nearby Turkish airport in Hatay. Some remain in the region, while others continue on to Aleppo, to the mountains of Latakia, to Rakka in the east, or to wherever the unclear front happens to be.

Some Syrian rebels team up with the jihadists, but many find the foreigners sinister. And even when the latter do fight against regime troops, FSA commanders are puzzled as to why commanders like Abu Omar al-Shishani, from Chechnya, aren't using the ammunition and anti-aircraft missiles they have obtained. Indeed, the FSA commanders fear the jihadists could use their weapons against Syrian rebels or even in terrorist attacks elsewhere in the world.

'We Can't Afford a Second Front'

"We hope that the jihadists leave again after (Syrian President Bashar) Assad has been overthrown," says Hassan Hamada, a former colonel in Syria's air force who made headlines a year ago when he defected to Jordan with his MiG-21. Hamada is now a member of the FSA leadership in northern Syria. "For now, we can't afford a second front," he says.

So, for the time being, they are fighting side by side, and jihadist and secular fighters still coexist. Shops in Atmeh sell music CDs, and women still wear trousers in the streets. This is because there is no power vacuum in Atmeh like the one there was in Iraq in 2003. Instead, there is a complicated structure of local councils, FSA brigades and moderate Islamists with whom the radicals must come to terms.

When the foreign fighters are asked about their plans, they only mention Syria as a stage. "First there is jihad here, until we achieve victory! Then we will liberate Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine," says a young Arab from the UK. Israel is no longer of paramount importance now that Shiites are seen as the real enemies. Although Shiites are also Muslims, the Sunni radicals believe they are worse than any infidel.

These are the kinds of things they say in Atmeh, but their influence is already fading in Daret Azzeh, a city 25 kilometers (16 miles) away, where the FSA thwarted the jihadists' efforts to assume power. Now the two groups work rotating shifts at checkpoints. But when the town council asked for help in repairing a water line, the jihadists merely shrugged their shoulders. "They want to take over half the world," says Ahmed Rashid, a lawyer and town council member, "but they would already fail in a small city."

Disparate Groups Lacking Solid Leadership

Meanwhile, in Atmeh, the jihadists are practicing a way of life that existed in the days of the Prophet, albeit with such amenities as Facebook and Counter-Strike. Though unintended, the scene is reminiscent of the early days of Islam, after the death of the Prophet, when three of the first four caliphs grappled with rivals from within their own ranks. All the radicals in Atmeh want a theocracy, but this doesn't stop individual groups from constantly maligning each other, becoming rivals and occasionally starting feuds. In mid-June, there were at least five jihadist groups in and around Atmeh:

    Dawla al-Islamiyya fi al-Iraq wa bilad al-Sham (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), a growing group with more than 200 adherents
    Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (Army of Emigrants and Helpers), with about 170 fighters
    Abu al-Banat, a group of about 70 men, named after its emir and consisting almost exclusively of Chechens, Dagestanis and Azerbaijanis. Its numbers are declining.
    Abu Musab al-Jazairi, named after its Algerian founder and financier, with about 60 members Jabat al-Nusra (Front of Defense), with about 100 fighters

Al-Nusra is the murkiest of the groups, and it is in the process of disintegrating, at least in Idlib province, now that its leader, Abu Mohammed al-Golani, who has never appeared in person, swore allegiance to al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in April 2013. The rank and file in Syria have a low opinion of Zawahiri for several reasons. The Egyptian is not seen as particularly charismatic, and although he managed to have himself named the successor of former al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden from his hiding place in the Afghan-Pakistani border region, he has failed to unite the terrorist conglomerate, allowing new groups to grow along its fringes.

In addition, jihadist pilgrims want a leader to call the shots. They want an emir in the flesh, someone who issues commands and delivers verdicts in person. But al-Nusra lacks such an emir. Even in their own propaganda videos, all that one sees of Abu Mohammed al-Golani is a figure with a tinny, distorted voice and pixelated face. Members often say that they know someone who knows someone who has met the emir, but that, upon closer examination, their stories often come to nothing. Several former al-Nusra members from Aleppo, Idlib and Damascus have said in recent months that no one has ever seen or even spoken with the man.

Besides, says a Syrian who left al-Nusra to join Dawla, the latter is "cooler." Members can smoke, he says, as long as no one is watching. This is an important competitive advantage in the chain-smoking Syrian rebel community. Cigarettes are normally taboo among the jihadists because "smoking drives away the angels and delays our victory," says the former al-Nusra member, quoting his local ex-emir.

Taking Extremism Too Far

While many of the Syrian al-Nusra members have gravitated to more moderate groups, the foreigners have joined Dawla, which has become the strongest group in the north.

But the most radical emir in the north has been Abu al-Banat, a former Russian officer from the Caucasus republic of Dagestan who converted to Islam and has gathered disciple-like supporters since then. Although he speaks only broken Arabic, he summarily declared al-Nusra and the other jihadists groups to be "kafirs," or infidels, because they refused to submit to his command.

In the spring, the self-proclaimed emir from Atmeh went with his supporters to the village of Mashad Ruhin, nine kilometers away, which he then sealed off with armed guards and transformed into his personal emirate.

Al-Banat had three men beheaded in the village square in April. In a video of the brutal execution, which appeared online in the summer, an unkempt man surrounded by a gawking crowd, including children, speaks into the camera in broken Arabic. The man is Abu al-Banat. Three bound men cower on the ground next to him. An assistant slowly cuts off the head of one of the men and then proceeds to the second man. Then he holds the severed head up to the camera like a trophy.

Oddly enough, the recently published video appeared first on Syria Tube. The PR site for the Syrian regime claimed that the beheading victims were three Christian priests who had been killed in late June in the town of Rassania. The story was promptly disseminated by the Catholic news agency Agenzia Fides, which has a history of broadcasting made-up horror stories.

What the video actually depicts is the murder of alleged Assad loyalists in al-Banat's camp in April, although who the three men were and what offences they committed remains unclear. As a former member of his group recalls, al-Banat "was both judge and accuser in one." The villagers were horrified, says a man from a nearby town. "No matter what the three men did, people aren't lambs to be slaughtered." The executions triggered an exodus, with only about 70 supporters remaining behind.

Apparently the other jihadists unanimously agreed that the beheadings had gone too far, and on the night of June 28, there was a rare instance of collaboration. A Chechen Dawla commander and a group of heavily armed men invaded Mashad Ruhin and declared al-Banat's reign of terror over. His remaining supporters surrendered without resistance, and al-Banat and two aides were taken away. All access routes had been sealed off during the attack by checkpoints of the FSA to prevent other jihadists from coming to the emir's aid -- but no one came.

The leaderless remnants of al-Banat's jihadist group reportedly packed their bags in the coming days and left the village.

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« Reply #9010 on: Sep 28, 2013, 07:28 AM »

In the USA..United Surveillance America

September 27, 2013

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


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:


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, 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.


Senate strips Obamacare defunding clause and sends spending bill to House

House conservatives may still attach measures into bill aimed at scrapping Obamacare amid government shutdown threat

Dan Roberts in Washington, Friday 27 September 2013 19.09 BST   

A narrow majority of Senate Republicans took steps to try to avoid a US government shutdown on Friday, voting in favour of a procedural motion that passes the vexed spending bill back to their more radical colleagues in the House of Representatives.

Only 19 Republican senators, led by Ted Cruz of Texas, voted against the so-called cloture motion, which marked the last chance for Republicans to prevent Democrats from stripping out a clause that would defund the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Two subsequent Senate votes, stripping out the Obamacare threat and agreeing final passage of the so-called "clean" spending bill, were each passed along party lines by 54 to 44.

Twenty-five Republicans voted with Democrats in favour of allowing the spending authorisation bill to progress.

But Cruz predicted that his House colleagues would stand their ground against Obamacare and refuse to accept the spending bill which will now be sent back to them by the Senate.

House conservatives are threatening to try once again to attach measures aimed at scrapping Obamacare before pinging the bill back to the Senate hours before current spending authorisation expires on Monday night.

"When it comes back to this body in a few days, I very much hope we unite," said Cruz shortly before the series of Senate votes on Friday.

Watched by a number of allies from the lower chamber, including congressman Justin Amash of Michigan, Cruz succeeding in garnering support from a clutch of fellow conservative senators including Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky but fell significantly short of the 40 votes needed to block passage of the bill.

With the help of Republican leaders, Senate majority leader Harry Reid secured a total of 80 votes in favour of cloture, allowing him to stage three more straightforward majority votes that stripped out the Obamacare threat and sent the so-called continuing resolution back to the House.

The scale of the Republican split in the Senate may help moderates in the House who are urging the party to step back from its threat to shut down to the government if Obamacare is not blocked.

House speaker John Boehner has been urging colleagues to turn their fire instead on a separate budget fight over whether to extend government borrowing limits in mid-October. But many House Republicans were in uncompromising mood on Friday morning, and are threatening to attach more riders to the spending bill over the weekend.


September 28, 2013

House G.O.P. to Plan Next Step as Budget Clock Runs Down


WASHINGTON — House Republicans will meet in a rare Saturday session as they plan their next move to keep the government open past midnight on Monday while extracting major concessions on President Obama’s health care law.

The Senate turned up the pressure on the House on Friday, passing a stopgap spending bill that would keep the government financed through Nov. 15 while leaving the health care law intact. Now, House Republicans must decide whether to accept the measure, attach minor changes to the health care law that could win Democratic support, or confront the Senate anew by again tying further government financing to a gutting of the law.

Any move short of passing the Senate bill is likely to shut down the government, at least briefly, unless it is accompanied by a measure that would finance the government for at least a few days. That would allow the Republican to keep their struggle alive.

In his Saturday radio and Internet address, the president will accuse Republicans in the House of being “more concerned with appeasing an extreme faction of their party than working to pass a budget that creates new jobs or strengthens the middle class,” according to a transcript released in advance.

“And in the next couple days, these Republicans will have to decide whether to join the Senate and keep the government open, or create a crisis that will hurt people for the sole purpose of advancing their ideological agenda,” he adds. “The American people have worked too hard to recover from crisis to see extremists in their Congress cause another one.”

Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, the chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, will use the Republican radio address on Saturday to shift the debate to another important deadline, Oct. 17, when Congress must raise the government’s statutory borrowing limit or risk a potentially catastrophic default on the national debt.

“The president is now demanding that we increase the debt limit without engaging in any kind of bipartisan discussions about addressing our spending problem,” Ms. Rodgers said. “He wants to take the easy way out — exactly the kind of foolishness that got us here in the first place.”

Congressional Republicans are waging a two-front political war: one with Mr. Obama and the Democrats, the other within their own ranks.

The House Republicans’ meeting, which is to begin at noon, is intended to produce spending legislation that is coupled with Republican health care demands, and the measure would face a vote on Sunday. That would leave the Senate just one day to deal with the House legislation before much of the government closes down for lack of funds. Without unanimous support in the Senate, the rules of the chamber would never let any such measure pass that quickly.

It is unclear how the House will proceed. Divisions within the Republican caucus have prevented the leadership from presenting a united front or developing a coherent strategy that would keep the government operating and raise the debt limit while extracting demands from the Democrats. House conservatives, encouraged by hard-liners in the Senate like Ted Cruz of Texas, torpedoed a plan by the leadership to tie an increase in the debt ceiling to a laundry list of Republican priorities. They argued that the leadership was pushing legislation that contained too little deficit reduction and undermined the push to gut the health care law.

Republicans are split between moderates who are searching for fig-leaf concession to keep the government open and conservatives who will accept nothing less than a one-year delay in the health care law. Enrollment in the law’s new insurance exchanges begins on Tuesday.

“I’ve been very clear,” said Representative Charlie Dent, a moderate Republican from Pennsylvania. “I do not support shutting the government down. I do not support default — under any circumstances.”

House conservatives insist that Democrats will give in to their demands rather than defend a health care law that the Republicans say is unpopular with voters in both parties. Sixty-one House Republicans introduced legislation on Friday evening to delay the law, the Affordable Care Act, for one year, and they said they would attach the measure to the Senate spending bill. That voting bloc is large enough to dictate the debate if its members can stick together.

“The Democrats realize that we need to delay Obamacare by one year because it’s not ready for prime time,” said Representative Raúl Labrador, Republican of Idaho. “It’s not ready for action,”

But even in the conservative ranks, there is little agreement about the demands that should be made to keep the government open. Social conservatives are seeking to attach language to the next version of a stopgap spending bill that would allow employers and health care providers to opt out of the requirement that insurance policies cover contraception. Representative Chris Smith, Republican of New Jersey, said it “would be unconscionable” to vote for even a short-term spending measure without it.

That has left Senate Democrats exasperated. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, took a hard line on Friday, saying he would not accept any changes to the health care law, no matter how minor, if they were the price to prevent a government shutdown. He backed that up by announcing that the Senate would meet again on Monday, on the eve of the shutdown, and allow the House to struggle through the weekend.

Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said there could be no negotiations until House Republicans united around a position.

“They don’t yet,” he said.


What happens if the U.S. government shuts down?

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, September 27, 2013 13:44 EDT

A US government shutdown is looming. Congress is struggling to pass a stopgap budget measure that would keep the doors open beyond the fiscal year, which ends at midnight September 30.

But with congressional bickering in full swing, and the deadline less than four days away, there is increasing anxiety about who and what will be affected.

During the previous two shutdowns, for six days in November 1995 and 21 days from December that year into early 1996, some 800,000 federal employees were ordered to stay home, according to a congressional report.

Here is a snapshot of what is likely to occur in the event Congress can not agree on a federal spending bill by October 1.

WHITE HOUSE and CONGRESS: These facilities will remain open, although both are likely to furlough some staff. The State Department has said it will temporarily furlough non-essential staff too.

PENTAGON: Military personnel will remain on duty, although the Department of Defense says there may be delays in their paycheck processing. More than half of the department’s 800,000 civilian employees are expected to be furloughed, and the Pentagon has warned of likely “hardships” for many workers.

NATIONAL SECURITY: Such services will remain operational, such as US border patrol and airport screeners. Personnel who are deemed to “protect life and property,” such as emergency service providers like disaster response teams, would stay on duty.

MEDICAL RESEARCH: The National Institutes of Health (NIH) could be severely impacted. It would not be allowed to begin new clinical trials or see new patients.

MUSEUMS and PARKS: The Smithsonian museums and all 368 sites in the National Park Service system would close. Seven million tourists were affected during the last shutdown.

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY: EPA administrator Gina McCarthy warned that the agency “effectively shuts down.” That means virtually no one monitoring or enforcing air and water quality or oil pollution regulations.

POSTAL SERVICE: Since the US Postal Service has its own independent sources of funding, it remains open, as does the Federal Reserve.

SOCIAL SECURITY: Most entitlement programs will continue, although there will be hiccups. Social Security checks will be mailed, but Social Security offices will close. Military veterans will receive their benefits as well, but disability claims will be backlogged. Veterans hospitals will remain open.

WASHINGTON: Congress is granted exclusive jurisdiction over the US capital, and during the 1995-96 shutdown, the city was the focus of embarrassment as it halted its trash collection. Now, Mayor Vincent Gray says he will declare all city employees as “essential personnel” in the event of a shutdown, and use a contingency cash reserve fund to pay wages.

ECONOMY: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Friday that a temporary shutdown would “shatter our economy.” That may be hyperbole, but the impact could well be significant. According to Macroeconomic Advisers, the effect on fourth-quarter GDP grown of a two-week shutdown beginning October 1 would be 0.3 percentage points.


Harry Reid Warns Boehner Get Some Courage because, ‘We’re not going to be extorted.’

By: Jason Easley
Sep. 27th, 2013

Sen. Harry Reid slammed John Boehner and warned him that the Senate is not going to be extorted. He told Boehner to get some courage and pass the Senate bill, or the government will shutdown.

Reid said,

    The bill we just passed. The bill would pass the House overwhelmingly if the Speaker had the courage to bring it to the floor and let 435 members of the House of Representatives vote. I think they should think very carefully this weekend about their next step. Any bill that continues to play political games would force a government shutdown. They need to accept what we just passed. To be absolutely clear, we are going to accept nothing as it relates to Obamacare. There’s a time and place for everything, and this is not that time or place.


    We’re not going to be extorted. The country’s not going to be extorted. We’re not going to negotiate with a gun to our heads. We are not going to allow the Republicans to say give us what we want or the economy is going to close. Think about that. It’s no way to govern, and it has to end.

On the Senate floor the Sen. Reid warned House Republicans that the clock is ticking, “I want everyone to listen and to hear: The United States Senate has acted. This is the only legislation that can avert a government shutdown, and that time is ticking as we speak.”

Ted Cruz’s scheme was designed to fracture the Democrats by applying pressure to red state Democrats who are up for reelection next year. His plan has failed miserably. Democrats are standing together, so Cruz has moved on to leading a House rebellion against Boehner. Meanwhile, Reid is letting the Speaker know that he has one way out of this. He needs to allow a vote on the Senate bill. If Boehner allows a vote on Senate bill, it will definitely pass.

Democrats aren’t going to help Boehner.

He is going to have to bring the Senate bill up for a vote all on his own. The only way Boehner gets out of this mess is to stand up to tea party extremists by allow by allowing the House vote on the Senate bill. If he refuses to do this, the government will shutdown. The economic and political fallout will be on the Republicans, and their House majority may be in jeopardy.


Chaos in The GOP as Ted Cruz is Leading a House Rebellion Against John Boehner

By: Jason Easley
Sep. 27th, 2013

National Review Online has the details of Cruz advising the House Republicans:

    On a Thursday conference call, a group of House conservatives consulted with Senator Ted Cruz of Texas about how to respond to the leadership’s fiscal strategy. Sources who were on the call say Cruz strongly advised them to oppose it, and hours later, Speaker John Boehner’s plan fizzled.

    It’s the latest example of Cruz leading the House’s right flank.

    The private call came together after Boehner unveiled his strategy at a Republican conference meeting earlier this week. Boehner’s plan — to focus on a debt-limit package, rather than a drawn-out CR battle — made many conservatives uneasy. As they mulled a response, they reached out to Cruz.

    On the call, Cruz told them that Boehner was making a mistake, and urged his friends to fight until the end on the CR. The group agreed, and they complained that Boehner’s shift to the debt limit was a diversion. Senator Mike Lee of Utah joined Cruz on the call, and both senators said they’d stand with House conservatives as they opposed the leadership.


    Later Thursday, Cruz met again with House conservatives at a venue near the Capitol. According to one House member, the bicameral bloc talked deep into the night about the CR and how to pressure Boehner. At the top of the agenda: making a one-year delay of Obamacare a requirement for government funding, and to accept nothing less, should the defunding effort continue to unravel. There is fear the Boehner is resistant to making that demand as part of a CR, and conservatives discussed ways to force his hand.

The House Republican leadership has no power over their own caucus. Anything Speaker John Boehner says is meaningless, because a number of House Republicans are taking their orders from Ted Cruz.

This showdown is not about Obama and the Democrats versus the Republicans. It’s Ted Cruz versus John Boehner.

As Cruz and Boehner fight it out, the Speaker may have to turn to President Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and the House Democrats to avoid a crisis. Boehner may have to give up a lot and deliver a handful of votes if he expects the Democrats to once again save him from his own party. However, it looks like the White House and Rep. Pelosi are content to let Boehner sleep in the bed that he has made. There are no talks public or private talks going on between Boehner and the White House.

The congressional Republicans have moved beyond dysfunction, and are steamrolling towards destruction.

What this means in terms of government shutdown is that it looks very, very likely that there will be no agreement to avoid it. Boehner will probably have to send the same bill back to the Senate that they just rejected.

Foolish House Republicans are being led on a suicide mission by a man who is risking nothing. It is full on civil war now, and Ted Cruz is out to destroy the Republican Party.


Republican Fascists Will Stop at Nothing Less Than Ending Our Representative Democracy

By: Rmuse
Sep. 27th, 2013

America’s government is far from perfect, but it worked relatively well until 2009 when Republicans’ raison d’être became neutering the legally elected government at all costs to punish the electorate for choosing an African American man as President. Throughout the President’s tenure, Republicans fabricated one phony debt crisis after another to cripple the government’s ability to operate and keep the economy stagnating regardless the damage to the people. In fact, it is safe to say obstructing governance, and democracy, has been the Republicans’ only goal for four straight years.

Now that the government is due to run out of operating funds and hit its debt limit, Republicans have created another crisis over funding the government, paying the nation’s debt, and a three year-old health law they claim is an existential threat to the nation. However, the looming threat of a government shutdown and credit default Republicans promise are not about spending, debt and deficit, or even the Affordable Care Act; it is about ending the nation’s representative democracy and ushering in fascism and rule by oligarchy.

After the 2008 election Republicans acted as if they won control of Congress and the White House, and attempted to thwart President Obama and Democrats attempt to govern the nation. They have persisted in that vein throughout the President’s tenure and it drove credit rating agency S&P to downgrade America’s credit because “Republican political brinkmanship had shown evidence of America’s governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable.” When Republicans revealed their ransom demands to raise the debt ceiling on Wednesday, they exposed their disregard for democracy and revealed their only goal is fundamentally transforming the way America is governed; even if they have to decimate the economy to achieve their goal.

It is obvious that Republicans reject the results of the last election or they would not threaten to rule by destroying the nation’s economy. Americans should not underestimate the Republicans’ threat because there is just enough support for a default that analysts including Chris Krueger from Guggenheim Partners,  warned on Wednesday that “there is a 40% chance of a credit default scenario as a result of the looming fight over raising the debt ceiling.” Krueger did not inspire confidence that Republicans will pull back their threat because he continued that “the path forward on the debt ceiling remains a total mystery and our 60% probability that the U.S. will not enter into default is based on nothing more than blind faith.” Krueger’s blind faith aside, there are an overwhelming number of Republican and teabag voters supporting a default, and enough congressional Republicans willing to vote against raising the debt limit that the 40% figure is a serious threat to the nation’s economy. Crashing the economy may seem risky for demanding enactment of their agenda, but Republicans are intent on satisfying their wealth donors’ vision for America.

The Republican list of demands for raising the debt ceiling has nothing to do with the nation’s debt, and everything to do with implementing every single Republican legislative proposal for the past two years and the RNC platform voters rejected last November. Whether it is eliminating the EPA’s regulatory oversight, “repealing Obamacare,” eliminating the financial reform law, tax reform according to the Ryan budget, raiding federal employee’s pensions, or approving the Keystone XL pipeline, the ransom demands are a reiteration of Willard Romney’s first day to-do list had he won the presidency. The ransom demands represent the nation’s agenda if Republicans ran the government, but since they are not in charge they have made blowing up the economy a “valid legislative strategy” to rule unchallenged and contrary to the will of the voters.

What Americans are witnessing from Republicans and Koch teabagger extremists is an attempted bloodless (for now) coup d’état with the full faith and credit of the United States the price to pay for adhering to the Constitution’s mandate for running the government. Republicans are mesmerized by nihilists in the extremist conservative movement who believe that America’s form of government, and its Constitution, are worthless and so detestable that they have to be destroyed to give wealthy oligarchs power to dictate which laws are enacted according to their fascist vision. Boehner said as much a couple of months ago when he told an interviewer that Republicans primary goal is repealing laws their corporate donors oppose, and the list of ransom demands represent policies Wall Street and the Koch fascists lust for in their “fundamentally transformed” vision of  America.

The Koch brothers, ALEC, and libertarian wing of the party have long plotted to dismantle the government departments they regard as standing in their way of controlling the course of the nation, and they found willing assistance from ignorant racists in the teabagger movement to support the fascist takeover. In 1944, Henry A. Wallace defined an American fascist as one who puts money and power ahead of human beings and uses demagogues and stooges as fronts for the power behind the scenes. In 2013, stooges and demagogues are the likes of Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, and Mike Lee who are fronts for Wall Street and the Koch brothers who are calling the shots behind the scenes.

Republicans, Wall Street, and the Koch brothers lost the last two Presidential elections, and for the President’s first term they behaved like petulant little brats who took their basketball and stopped the game because they were losing. Now, Republicans and their wealthy backers are willing to puncture the ball, blow up the basketball court, and gun down innocent bystanders on their way home to pout if they lose the debt limit game. It is not governance; it is a group of angry losers willing to destroy the nation’s economy because the other side won the last election and the voters retained the President who demands the nation be governed according to the Constitution and not the libertarian vision of a transformed America controlled by a fascist regime.

The current debt limit and funding crisis are about subverting democracy and ushering in fascism under cover of “protecting Americans from Obamacare” and “reforming successful government programs,” and have nothing to do with governing according to the Constitution. Republicans, or the Koch brothers, are not running the government, but one would not know it based on their threat to enact their platform or cause a devastating credit default. America has functioned as a representative democracy for 226 years, but Republicans refuse to accept the voters will and appear ready to crash the economy unless their party platform is enacted under duress. President Obama said, “If we continue to set a precedent in which a president — any president, a Republican president, a Democratic president — where the opposing party controls the House of Representatives, if that president is in a situation in which each time the United States is called upon to pay its bills the other party can simply sit there and say, ‘Well, we’re not gonna pay the bills unless you give us what we want,’ that changes the constitutional structure of this government entirely.”

The President is right, and hopefully he understands that Republicans and their fascist supporters want to change the structure of this government from the constitutionally mandated representative democracy to fascism by oligarchs. With a 40% chance of Republicans following through on their threat of a credit default, one hopes the President has a plan to save the economy because with only a 60% chance America resolves its debt obligation unscathed, it will take more than blind faith to hope America survives.


Obama Stands Tall and Says No To Every Single Thing That Republicans Are Demanding

By: Jason Easley
Sep. 27th, 2013

President Obama looked the House Republicans threatening our economy in the eye today, and responded with a big fat no to every single demand that they are making.

Video begins at 32:00 mark:

The president began by announcing that he spoke to the Iranian president on the phone. This is the first phone conversation between the leaders of the two countries since 1979. Obama also talked about a UN resolution on Syria.

Obama then moved on to Congress. He said that Congress is responsible for passing a budget and paying our bills. He praised the Senate for their CR vote, and told the House that it is up to them to do the same. He said, “This debate isn’t really about deficits.” The president pointed out that our deficits are falling at the fastest rate in 60 years. He said House Republicans are so concerned with appeasing the tea party that they are threatening to shutdown the government unless he guts or delays the ACA.

The president repeated, “That’s not going to happen.”

Obama said that if House Republicans have an ideas for improving healthcare, he is happy to work with them, but he made it clear that he will not be moved by threats of a government shutdown. The president said, “Any Republican in Congress who is currently watching, I encourage you to think about who you are hurting.” Obama used the words of Republican senators and governors to tell the House to knock it off, and get this done.

President Obama said not raising the debt ceiling would be worse than a government shutdown. It would be an economic shutdown. The president warned that a default would have a destabilizing effect on the world economy.

Obama said, “Nobody gets to threaten the full faith and credit of the United States just to extract some political concessions.”

He said that he will not set that precedent, “That is not how our constitutional system is designed. We’re not going to do it.”

The president’s message to House Republicans was, “Do not shut down the government. Do not shutdown our economy. Pass a budget. Pay our bills on time.” The president added later, “Do not threaten to burn the house down because you haven’t gotten 100% of what you want.”

President Obama has made his position clear. He is not going to negotiate. He will not respond to House Republican threats, and they are not going to get what they want. If Obama sounded like he was scolding misbehaving children, it’s because he was. House Republicans are throwing a tantrum and making demands. The President of the United States has to be the adult in the room who lays out the boundaries and says no.

If the Republican plan was to scare Obama into getting what they want, it’s not working. They are the ones who should be scared. Should the economy be thrown into recession again, it will be the names of House Republicans on the ballot next year. Obama isn’t running. He can afford to play hardball. It’s obvious that House Republicans continue to misjudge the toughness of this president. They keep threatening him, but Obama never blinks.

This is not going to end well for the House Republicans. Obama’s no will never turn to yes, and the clock is ticking towards a government shutdown.

Your move, Ted Cruz.


As The Republican Party Goes Up in Flames Fox News Blames Obama

By: Jason Easley
Sep. 27th, 2013

As the Republican Party self destructs before our eyes, Fox News is stomping their feet and blaming Obama for polarizing America.

The Republican Party has completely fallen apart over Obamacare. Republicans are being consumed by their own polarization, and Fox News trotted out Bill O’Reilly to blame Obama.


    O’REILLY: “Talking Points” does not believe that Fox News, the media or any other entity is polarizing America. It’s the Obama administration driving that. The President was elected to change America. That’s what he said he would do. And he has largely kept that promise. This country is now much different than it was in 2008.

    The problem is the country is weaker. And the economy is still problematic. Wages for working Americans have actually gone down on President Obama’s watch.

    So it’s not the media, Fox News or anybody else that’s creating division its politics. There are millions of Americans who still like President Obama, but his job approval rating is falling fast — 43 percent in the latest CBS News/”New York Times” poll. Fox News is set up to report that kind of information and analyze why it’s happening and we do. Unlike some other networks, FNC encourages robust debate from all kinds of people.

    As you may know there is an intense debate right now over how Republicans are handling Obamacare. Some FNC commentators side with Senator Ted Cruz who wants to just blow it up. Others like Charles Krauthammer, Brit Hume, Bernie Goldberg say that allowing Obamacare to fail is the best course of action if you want to roll back the entire nanny state. That debate is healthy, and it’s going on right here.

O’Reilly was responding to Bill Clinton calling out Fox News and the media for polarizing the country, but his rebuttal was completely detached from the real world. Fox News has whipped up polarization since before Barack Obama took office. Immediately after the president took office, Glenn Beck drove the racist narrative that is prevalent in conservative circles today. The Fox News agenda has always been to polarize and divide. Fox tries to divide the media into two camps, Fox News and liberal bias. They have tried to polarize the country based on political affiliation, religion, race, gender, and sex.

Unfortunately for them, their campaign of polarization was too effective. The divides that are ripping the Republican Party into pieces and threatening the economy were caused by Fox News. FNC got in bed with the Kochs and gave the AstroTurf tea party endless promotion. Fox News shamelessly campaigned on the air for Ted Cruz and other tea party champions. This is all coming back to bite them, and they are blaming President Obama.

The Republican Party is collapsing in on itself, and much of the internal fighting was promoted by Fox News.

Fox News makes a lot of money by polarizing America. The Republican Party is going up in flames in part because of Fox News. Blaming President Obama for what they have sown is typical behavior from the unaccountable and irresponsible conservative media.

It wasn’t Obama who polarized America. Fox News, you built that.


Fox News Humiliates Itself Trying to Respond To Obama Calling Out Their ACA Lies

By: Jason Easley
Sep. 26th, 2013

In response to President Obama calling out their ACA lies, Fox News responded by proving the president right in the most humiliating way possible.

Obama said:

    But we need you to spread the word. But you don’t have to take my word for it. If you talk to somebody who says, well, I don’t know, I was watching FOX News and they said this was horrible — (laughter) — you can say, you know what, don’t take my word for it, go on the website. See for yourself what the prices are. See for yourself what the choices are. Then make up your own mind.

    That’s all I’m asking. Make up your own mind. I promise you, if you go on the website and it turns out you’re going to save $100, $200, $300 a month on your insurance, or you’ll be able to buy insurance for the first time, even if you didn’t vote for me — (laughter) — I’ll bet you’ll sign up for that health care plan.

In response, Fox News exec Neil Cavuto did the verbal equivalent of throwing up on himself:


    Mr. President, tell that to tens of thousands of retirees at IBM and Time Warner and dozens of others, who’ve been dumped from their coverage and told to find their own coverage.

    Fox News didn’t break that news to them, Mr. President.

    Their companies did.

    Fox News didn’t push more of those firms to hire part-time workers.

    Your healthcare law did.

    Fox News didn’t incentivize fast food restaurants to scale back their benefits.

    Your healthcare law did.

    Fox News didn’t make doctors want to opt out.

    Your healthcare law did.

    Fox News didn’t make insurance premiums sky rocket.

    Your healthcare law did.

    Just like Fox News didn’t grant hundreds of exemptions to companies that needed them.

    You did.

    And Fox News didn’t delay one key provision after another, including online enrollment for those small business exchanges.

    You did.

    Just like it wasn’t Fox News that said we had to pass this to see what was in this.

    You did.

    Or was that Nancy Pelosi? Sometimes I’m confused.

    But of this I am not.

    Fox News didn’t re-do basic math.

    Sir, you did.

    Fox News didn’t say you can cover 30 million more Americans and not see a hit in premiums.

    You did.

    Fox News didn’t say you could throw in those with pre-existing conditions and not have to pay for it.

    You did.

    Fox News didn’t all but say you could get something for nothing.

    You did.

    Fox News didn’t come back years later and say, oh yea, we did raise some taxes.

    You did.

    Here’s where you are right about Fox News, however, Mr. President.

    We can do math. And did.

    You cannot. And did not.

    We said it, and proved it.

    You didn’t. And we’re all suffering for it.

    Take it from the numbers guy at Fox.

    Numbers don’t lie.

    The number of Americans working part-time and nervous.

    The number of retirees days away from being dumped on exchanges and anxious.

    The number of company bosses with any news to pass along on those exchanges, but still clueless.

    The number of doctors who want out.

    The number of congressmen now opting out.

    No, Mr. President, none of those numbers lie.

    But with all due respect sir, I can only conclude you do know; I know you hate us at Fox.

    But please take a look in a mirror, and fast.

    You think we’re the skunk at your picnic.

    But that doesn’t mean we’re the ones that stink.

    Because that smell isn’t coming from the folks reporting on your law.

    Mr. President, that smell is your law.

Cavuto is the numbers guy at Fox News, in the same way that Paul Ryan is the numbers guy in the Republican Party. They’re both clueless. There were three things missing from Cavuto’s little rant. 1). Facts 2). Data 3). Truth.

Neil Cavuto didn’t get to be an executive at Fox News by not knowing the style. Cavuto sounded tough. He sounded like he was taking on the president, but he was lying. His words were empty. He had no data to back up his claims. Everything he said was a Republican talking point, and absolutely none of it can be proven with facts. Fox News embarrassed itself, and demonstrated how weak the argument against the ACA has become.

As the data comes in, these bogus claims are falling apart. In their response, Fox News proved Obama right. These critics have nothing but distorted talking points and empty scare tactics on their side.

The only thing that smells here is the BS that is another Fox News fail.


Bill Clinton Calls Out Fox News for Polarizing America

By: Jason Easley
Sep. 26th, 2013

President Clinton is calling out the psychological tactics that are being used by Fox News to polarize and divide the American people.

Transcript via CNN:

    CLINTON: And I worry about that and I worry that — I use to worry that CNN was going to do – lose too many viewers because …

    MORGAN: I’m not in favor of that , Mr. President, we are …

    CLINTON: No, no, let me — let me …

    MORGAN: … storming ahead.

    CLINTON: Obviously, — yes you’re doing better but — you’re more entertaining now which is good. But, but, but you became more entertaining without becoming more extreme which is important. I mean — it’s because people are wired when they see all this conflict to get in to their fray so that — and you know what it takes, you got to have 800,000 viewers in a cable show to breakeven, and if you get more than that your profits go up.

    So, the good news about the media today is that we have more sources of information than ever before; the bad news is we are all of us prone only to go to the places we agree with. So, MSNBC has — has grown because they have …

    MORGAN: We don’t mention that in — I’m sorry it’s a …

    CLINTON: And Fox News had this big base and I know it’s very carefully done psychologically and substantively. And we just — everything is serving to polarize the country. The problem is if you look around the world, the places where people worked together, they’re doing well. The places where people fight all the time, they’re not doing very well. It’s not rocket science, so why would you keep doing something that doesn’t work? Because even in a Democracy, people constantly vote for that which they claim to hate.

    So, here is one new test, the next test which would have a big impact on changing America, if we could get the voter turn out in midterm elections, the next one is in 2014 to equal the voter turn out in presidential elections we would at least stop having two different Americas vote in off years. And that would create a clear signal that Americans want us to build a dynamic vital center. And they don’t get that signal now; you can just cast the politicians if they think they are voting in a way that will be rewarded, that the public has to send a different set of signals. And I believe we can do that.

President Clinton slightly mentioned MSNBC, but let’s face it. The real problem is Fox News. MSNBC has a small audience compared to Fox News, and more importantly, MSNBC has no power within the Democratic Party. Fox News’ opposition to Ted Cruz’s fake filibuster highlighted the fact that Fox is part of the Republican Party. Fox News does the bidding of the Republican Party. Fox News is more important to the Republican Party in terms of messaging than Rush Limbaugh or any talk radio host. Fox has given the GOP a direct pipeline with which to directly influence 2-3 million Republicans a day.

The psychological element that President Clinton mentioned revolves around the conditioning tactics that Fox uses to keep their audience only watching their channel. Fox News has brainwashed their viewers into believing that the the only truth in media can be found on their network. Fox routinely exploits the Republican myth of liberal media bias, and their message is that no other non-conservative outlet can be trusted. The idea behind the propaganda is that if it isn’t Fox or FNC approved, it is lying to their viewers.

It is a self reinforcing cycle. Fox News puts out the Republican message, when is the fed back to Republican elected officials through Fox News viewers. This is the bubble effect that causes the belief among Republicans that the country hates President Obama as much as they do. It is also the fuel behind the House Republicans refusing to do anything but repeal Obamacare.

Political polarization is worse than it has ever been in part because of Fox News, and their business model. President Clinton was correct. The country will never be able to work together unless we all can agree on problems and facts. As long as polarization is lucrative, don’t expect the corporate media to encourage bipartisanship anytime soon. However, one of the vital steps that will have to occur before the country can grow as one is that people will have to turn off Fox News.


Afraid of No Man or Their Money, Obama Takes Down The Koch Brothers

By: Jason Easley
Sep. 26th, 2013

Charles and David Koch may own the Republican Party, but during his speech on the ACA, President Obama showed today that he owns the Kochs.


    THE PRESIDENT: Look, part of the reason I need your help to make this law work is because there are so many people out there working to make it fail. One of the biggest newspapers in the country recently published an editorial I thought was pretty good. They said, the Republicans in Congress are poisoning Obamacare, then trying to claim it’s sick. (Laughter.) That’s exactly what’s been happening.

    I mean, they have tried to put up every conceivable roadblock. They cut funding for efforts to educate people about what’s in the law. Some of them said if their constituents called them, we won’t even try to explain to them what’s in the law. They actually opened up an investigation into people who try to help churches and charities understand how to help people sign up for the law.

    Some of the tea party’s biggest donors — some of the wealthiest men in America — are funding a cynical ad campaign trying to convince young people not to buy health care at all. I mean, think about it. These are billionaires several times over. You know they’ve got good health care.

    AUDIENCE: Right! (Applause.)

    THE PRESIDENT: But they are actually spending money on television, trying to convince young people that if you’ve got the choice between getting affordable health care or going without health care, you should choose not having any health care. Now, do you think if you get sick or you get hurt, and you get stuck with a massive bill, these same folks, they’re going to help you out?


    THE PRESIDENT: Are they going to pay for your health care?


    THE PRESIDENT: It is interesting, though, how over the last couple years, the Republican Party has just spun itself up around this issue. And the fact is the Republicans’ biggest fear at this point is not that the Affordable Care Act will fail. What they’re worried about is it’s going to succeed. (Applause.) I mean, think about it. If it was as bad as they said it was going to be, then they could just go ahead and let it happen and then everybody would hate it so much, and then everybody would vote to repeal it, and that would be the end of it.

While Republican shudder at the very thought of crossing the Koch brothers, the president called out their ef

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« Reply #9011 on: Sep 29, 2013, 06:41 AM »

Hassan Rouhani greeted with cheers and protests on return to Iran

Iranian president gets mixed reception on return home following UN trip and historic phone call with US president

Julian Borger, diplomatic editor, Saturday 28 September 2013 16.56 BST   

Hassan Rouhani returned to Tehran from New York on Saturday after his historic phone call with Barack Obama to a mixture of cheers from supporters and protests from hardliners who threw eggs and shoes at his car.

The reception greeting the Iranian president at Tehran airport reflected the precarious tightrope he will have to walk to do a deal with the west. Ultra-conservative protesters chanted: "Death to America" and hurled invective and missiles at Rouhani's car. But his supporters outnumbered his opponents – estimated about 50-strong – and more importantly, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, sent his closest foreign policy adviser to greet Rouhani.

The presence of Ali Akbar Velayati gave weight to Rouhani's insistence that he had the highest authority to pursue his diplomatic initiative at the UN general assembly, which culminated in a groundbreaking 15-minute phone conversation with Obama on Friday, conducted on a mobile phone while Rouhani was on the way to John F Kennedy airport.

Iranian state television did not broadcast the hardliner protests at the airport, and the state news agency, Irna, instead played up the fact that the US had presented Rouhani with a 2,700 year-old Persian silver drinking vessel, shaped like a gryphon. It had been seized from an art dealer who had smuggled it out of Iran in 2003 and the state department had been waiting for a thaw in relations in order to return it.

The majority of the official and semi-official Iranian press reports on Rouhani's trip have been supportive or neutral. Even Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Revolutionary Guards' external operations wing, the Quds Force, a powerful figure in the security apparatus, had positive things to say about the visit. Suleimani acknowledged the respect the world had shown to Rouhani, attributing it to the "resistance and endurance" of the nation.

However, the delicate nature of Rouhani's position was also evident in the careful managing of the coverage of the New York trip. Rouhani contradicted the White House account of his phone call with Obama stressing that the conversation had been an American idea.

"Yesterday, at the moment we were preparing for moving towards the airport, the White House contacted us and expressed the willingness of the US president to have a phone conversation for some minutes," Rouhani told reporters at Tehran's Mehrabad airport according to the Fars News Agency.

A number of tweets put out just after Friday's phonecall by Rouhani's official English-language Twitter account, reflecting the friendly and bantering tone of the conversation, were deleted a few hours later and replaced with a more formal, less detailed version.

Iranian officials have also sought to deny that Rouhani described the Holocaust as reprehensible in a CNN interview, even though the translation was provided by an official Iranian interpreter. A senior member of parliament has even called for the news channel to be sued over the issue.

At a press conference before leaving New York, Rouhani had said the visit had exceeded his expectations, but his team is well aware of the resistance in Tehran that will have to be overcome in order to make the necessary compromises over the nuclear programme on secure an enduring settlement with the west.

A senior official in the Iranian delegation pointed out that hopes of detente with the west had been dashed before during the term of the last moderate president, Mohammad Khatami, as a result of ideological resistance in Tehran and the failure of the Bush administration to response positively to Iranian overtures in 2003.

"We have followed this path before and we know it does not necessarily end well," the official told the Guardian. When it was suggested that there was more chance of a breakthrough now there were presidents in both Washington and Tehran who favoured diplomacy, the official replied: "You need more than for the stars to be in alignment. You need luck too."


September 29, 2013

Israel and Others in Mideast View Overtures of U.S. and Iran With Suspicion


JERUSALEM — For Israel and Persian Gulf states like Saudi Arabia, President Obama’s telephone call with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran on Friday was the geopolitical equivalent of discovering your best friend flirting with your main rival.

Though few nations have a greater interest in Mr. Obama’s promise to stop Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, his overtures to Mr. Rouhani were greeted with alarm here and in other Middle East capitals allied with the United States. They worry about Iran’s sincerity, and fear that Mr. Obama’s desire for a diplomatic deal will only buy Iran time to continue a march toward building a nuclear weapon.

But beyond that, the prospect of even a nonnuclear Iran — strengthened economically by the lifting of sanctions, and emboldened politically by renewed relations with Washington — is seen as a dire threat that could upend the dynamics in this volatile region.

One gulf academic, in a Twitter post, likened the phone call to “the fall of the Berlin Wall.” An Israeli lawmaker said in a radio interview that he hoped that Mr. Obama would not be the next Neville Chamberlain, known for appeasement of the Nazis in 1938.

“There is a lot of suspicion and even paranoia about some secret deal between Iran and America,” said Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist who is close to the royal family. “My concern is that the Americans will accept Iran as it is — so that the Iranians can continue their old policies of expansionism and aggression.”

Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni-dominated gulf countries share a concern about a shift in the balance of power toward Iran’s Shiite-led government and its allies. For Israel, Iran remains the sponsor of global terrorism and of the Lebanese militia Hezbollah and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, both avowed enemies of Israel’s existence.

“They can change the regime, but one thing won’t change and that is the hostility against Israel,” warned Uzi Rabi, chairman of a Middle East studies center at Tel Aviv University. “Part of the plan is to drive a wedge between Americans and Europeans and Israel. I hate to say it, but what the Iranians managed to do is to change the whole game.”

There was no official reaction on Saturday from Riyadh or Jerusalem to the telephone call, which was the first direct conversation between American and Iranian presidents in more than three decades. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel spent the day rewriting the speech he is scheduled to deliver Tuesday at the United Nations and preparing for a meeting on Monday with Mr. Obama. After years in which Mr. Netanyahu exploited Iran’s nuclear ambitions to rally the world against Iran and force its isolation, Israel could find itself increasingly isolated in its hard-line stance.

“I will tell the truth in the face of the sweet-talk and the onslaught of smiles,” Mr. Netanyahu said as he departed overnight for New York, according to a statement released by his office Sunday morning. “One must talk facts and one must tell the truth.”

Mr. Netanyahu had instructed his colleagues not to address the phone call, and several canceled scheduled television interviews with the Israeli media Saturday night. Asked about it, Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister of strategic affairs, said, “The main thing is not procedures but substance.”

“The most critical problem with Iran is its aim of achieving nuclear weapons, but the problem with Iran is wider,” added Mr. Steinitz, who led Israel’s delegation in a boycott of Mr. Rouhani’s speech last week at the United Nations. “Iran is not a peace-seeking country or regime — on the contrary. Iran is maybe the most aggressive country in the world, and it’s not just against Israel.”

Saudi Arabia and other gulf states view Iran as a regional nemesis whose nuclear program is only one element of a broader effort to project power. The rivalry is made more bitter by the sectarian dimension and competition over supplying oil to the world. The Saudi leadership has long been uneasy with Mr. Obama’s handling of the Arab uprisings that began in 2011, which it sees as a threat to the regional order. The president’s overtures to Iran add to a growing impatience and exasperation among Arabs in the gulf over Washington’s retreat from threats to strike Syria, whose civil war is viewed as a proxy for the larger sectarian and strategic battle unfolding across the region.

“The gulf states, and the Iranians, still see this as a balance-of-power struggle,” said Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center. “And Obama’s warning and Rouhani’s charm offensive, as well as what they would see as a hoodwinking of the United States on the nuclear issue, could have far-reaching consequences on the balance-of-power struggle.”

Mustafa Alani, a Dubai-based security analyst, said the Saudis think Mr. Obama is “not a reliable ally, that he’s bending to the Syrians and Iranians.” Mishaal al-Gergawi, a political analyst based in the United Arab Emirates, said, “There is a lot of cynicism, and it feeds into the notion that Obama is very naïve — he was naïve with the Muslim Brotherhood, naïve with Bashar al-Assad, and he is now naïve with Iran.”

Israeli analysts, too, worry over what they see as the Obama administration’s weak and wavering policies toward the Middle East. After the Syria chemical weapons crisis, some said the phone call only upped the ante for a diplomatic victory that could lead Washington to accept what Jerusalem would consider a “bad deal” with Iran, which insists its nuclear program is for civilian purposes only.

“Obama is interested in showing foreign policy success because he hasn’t had too many of them,” said Emily Landau, an Iran expert at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. “I’m afraid that for the sake of that he might be willing to compromise on the nuclear issue in a manner that I think is detrimental to U.S. national security interests, leave aside Israel.”

Ms. Landau was one of several Israeli analysts who urged the world to focus not on Mr. Rouhani’s statements in New York but the continued nuclear activity in Iran. She pointed to a Sept. 12 letter that Iran sent the International Atomic Energy Agency with 20 pages of complaints about its investigation as a sign that nothing had changed. She and others also noted that Mr. Rouhani was Iran’s nuclear negotiator in a 2003 deal that it later violated; several Iran experts have seized on a speech he gave then emphasizing the importance of enrichment ability for weapons-grade uranium as political leverage.

Mr. Rouhani “confirmed the assessment that Iran had used the calm atmosphere of negotiations as a smokescreen behind which it continued to deliberately advance its nuclear program,” wrote Chen Kane, a senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Washington. The speech reinforced the view that Iran’s “main objective in negotiating” she said, “was simply to gain time.”

The skeptics’ main concern now is that four to six months of negotiations would allow Iran to get to the breakout point for developing a bomb. “It’s not just that forever we go on with an Iranian nuclear program that never reaches conclusion, it’s that diplomacy can be a way of helping it get to the finishing line,” cautioned Jonathan Spyer of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. “The last week of diplomacy in New York has really created the impression that a very, very different understanding of what’s going on here, and what is potentially on the table, exists between the U.S. administration and the Israel government.”

Yoel Guzansky, who handled the Iranian nuclear file for the Israeli prime minister’s security council from 2005 to 2009, said the new momentum for nuclear talks with Iran had “sidelined” Israel as “a potential spoiler.”

“You can’t do anything while Iran and the U.S. are talking, you’ll just be someone who is destroying the last chance for peace,” said Mr. Guzansky. “If there is a change of tone in Iran and Washington, Israel should also change the tone. If there is a deal we embrace it, we support it, but show us the details.”

David K. Kirkpatrick contributed reporting from Cairo, Robert F. Worth from Washington, and Ben Hubbard from Beirut, Lebanon.


Netanyahu heads to America to challenge Iranian charm blitz

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, September 29, 2013 7:55 EDT

Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu left for New York early Sunday in a bid to challenge perceptions that Iran under its new president poses less of a nuclear threat than before.

“I intend to tell the truth in the face of the sweet talk and charm offensive of Iran” Israeli public radio quoted him as saying as he boarded the plane at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport.

“Telling the truth at this time is essential for world peace and security and, of course, for Israel’s security.”

Earlier in the week he described Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s conciliatory speech to the United Nations General Assembly as “cynical” and “full of hypocrisy.”

On Monday Netanyahu will meet US President Barack Obama at the White House then return to New York to address the General Assembly on Tuesday.

Netanyahu has long put what Israel and the west say is a covert Iranian programme to develop a nuclear weapon at the forefront of his security concerns.

Iran denies the charge and in his UN address Rouhani said that “nuclear weapons… have no place in Iran’s security and defence doctrine.”

The self-styled moderate, tasked with easing concerns over Iran’s nuclear program, made history on Friday by speaking by phone to US President Barack Obama, in the first contact between the countries’ leaders since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Israeli media said that Netanyahu had instructed his ministers and senior officials not to comment on the call.

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« Reply #9012 on: Sep 29, 2013, 06:43 AM »

Pakistan: deadly bomb blast kills dozens in Peshawar

Thirty-one people killed and scores wounded in explosion in north-western frontier city week after church bombing

Reuters, Sunday 29 September 2013 08.30 BST   

A bomb blast in Peshawar, north-west Pakistan, has killed 31 people and wounded 70, a week after a bombing at a church in the frontier city killed scores, police and hospital authorities said.

Islamist violence has been on the rise in Pakistan in recent months, undermining the efforts of the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, to tame the insurgency by launching peace talks with the Taliban.

Sunday's blast happened outside a police station in Peshawar in an area crowded with shops and families. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

The casualties were confirmed by police and by Arshad Javed, a doctor at Lady Reading hospital in Peshawar.

It follows an attack by a Taliban faction on Peshawar's Anglican church last Sunday that killed more than 80 people, the deadliest attack on Christians in predominantly Muslim Pakistan.

The Taliban have repeatedly rejected Pakistan's constitution and have called for the full implementation of Islamic law and for war with India.

Sharif is due to meet his Indian counterpart ,Manmohan Singh, on the sidelines of the United Nations general assembly later on Sunday, only hours after the latter described Pakistan as the "epicentre of terrorism in our region".

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« Reply #9013 on: Sep 29, 2013, 06:49 AM »

Inside the brutal and hopeless world of Mumbai's trafficked teenage sex slaves

Hazel Thompson has spent 11 years investigating the red light district of India's biggest city. In a new book she gives a voice to girls who were taken from their homes, raped, caged and sold for sex

Hazel Thompson
The Observer, Saturday 28 September 2013 12.42 BST   

It was pitch black as I stumbled through the labyrinth of the dark corridors of a large brothel house in Kamathipura, Mumbai's notorious red-light district. I'd been told to hide my camera under my scarf, not to speak and not to make eye contact with anyone. With my hand I felt the filthy walls dripping with condensation from the intense heat.

Eventually, guided by my Indian fixer, I came to a dimly lit door at the end of a corridor. Like a prison guard, an ageing madam came to the front of the brothel and unlocked the large padlock with her set of keys. I was taken into the reception area of the brothel, the space where the customers are taken to select a girl. In the ceiling I could see a small, open trap door. When the madam had disappeared, I climbed up a wooden ladder and pushed through the small gap.

Suddenly I was face to face with a "box cage". I knew what I was looking at. The prostitutes had told me of the caged rooms and boxes they had been held in for months, even years, when they were first taken and trafficked to the red-light district. The madams would keep the girls like slaves in the cages until they were "broken", to the extent that they would not try to run away. The girls told me they never knew if it was night or day. They were only taken out to eat or to be given to a customer for sex. For years I had wanted to photograph these cages, to prove that these places actually exist.

I was returning to Kamathipura 11 years after my first visit – ostensibly as an aid worker. In reality I was using the access I got to make a photographic and video record of a world that shouldn't be allowed to exist. I did a lot of hiding in the back of brothels, trying to chronicle the lives of girls trafficked and tricked into sex slavery. Before 2002, when I first came to India to photograph children born into this vile industry, I knew nothing about trafficking. Those early days of visiting Kamathipura changed my life, and I've been unable to let this story go.

I was unable to let go because of girls such as Guddi. I first met Guddi while I was shooting on 14th Lane, in the heart of Kamathipura. I was sheltering from the intense summer heat in the charities clinic when Guddi came rushing through the door. She was distraught and crying after being beaten by one of the gangsters who run the district.

I didn't understand what she was saying as she explained the problem to one of the charity's staff, but I could see her pain and brokenness as tears trickled down her childlike features. I witnessed the shocking sight of her badly bruised legs as she pulled up her skirt to show us the results of her beating. And I remember watching her as she told us what had happened. I remember thinking how incredibly beautiful this girl was, and how she looked so out of place. She had a poise and an innocent beauty that belonged more on a Bollywood poster than in the dark lanes of Kamathipura.

Her youth and vulnerability showed me how the hardened women also lining the streets of the red-light district were also once little girls whose childhoods had been stolen from them. From that day in the clinic, Guddi and I slowly became friends. She stood looking for customers on the same corner each day, and every time I entered the red-light district she would greet me. Over time she started to open up and tell me her story. That tale, and others, different but just as brutal, became the basis of the book.

Guddi was just 11 years old when she was trafficked. She was lured directly from the protection of her parents and 13 other siblings, from her home in a poor village near Kolkata. Her trafficker was her mother's friend, who had lived next door to her family home all her life. She promised Guddi well-paid domestic work in Mumbai that would help feed her struggling family. Guddi's life dramatically changed as soon as she arrived in Mumbai. She was taken to Kamathipura, where she was dragged into a brothel on 14th Lane and raped by a paedophile customer, while the madam and her daughter held her down by her arms and legs to restrain her. The customer raped her so violently that she was hospitalised for three months. They raped her to break her. She was then held, not knowing if it was day or night, in a caged room in a brothel house on 14th Lane, the same street she still lives in.

Every time I return to Kamathipura, I never know if I will find Guddi still standing on her corner. I always hope she has escaped, and then I also dread that if she is not in her usual place, the reason may be that she hasn't survived a beating. The last time I said goodbye to Guddi, she wept in my arms. She asked me not to forget her. But how could I forget this precious life, whose heart I could feel beating against my chest as she cried? I begged her to leave as I feared for her life. I didn't want her to die there and believed that she did have a future out of this place.

All she could say to me was: "I am trapped on all sides, sister: my life was taken when they brought me here."

Her phrase gave the ebook its title – Taken. Guddi's face is on the cover. She stands for so many women's lives and for their families' lives. Lives that have been destroyed by sex trafficking and slavery. My ambition is that Taken, showing the reality of a red-light district in all its dangerous and sordid dimensions, will inspire people to help put an end to this modern-day slavery. I was given incredible trust and access to tell these women's stories. I just hope I have provided a platform that can give these voiceless victims a voice.

Sex slavery in India has deep links with Britain's history: the system was originally set up by the British military. Take a look at The Queen's Daughters in India. It is a report of two women who, in 1892, went undercover as aid workers, just like I have, investigating and interviewing the girls trapped in sex slavery more than 120 years ago. When I read this book I wept, because I was reading the same stories – of girls being sold, tricked and trafficked into prostitution.

Taken will be published as an interactive ebook, but I am also working with Danny Smith from the Jubilee Charity, which campaigns for children at risk. We are launching together the Taken campaign, which includes a petition calling on India and other countries to criminalise the purchase of sex and stop criminalising women. Legislation passed in Sweden in 1999 made the purchase of sex illegal, and that has dramatically reduced the number of women trafficked into sex slavery. It also stops victims of trafficking being criminalised by the police and the legal system. The sex trafficking of women and girls is widespread in India, and on the rise. We are inviting people to join the Taken campaign in calling for change by signing our petition.

Over the past 11 years, I have watched and photographed thousands of men visiting Kamathipura to find pleasure. But a red-light district is not a place of pleasure. It is a place of pain. I have often wondered if men would come and have sex with these women if they knew the true stories of how they have been trafficked, and that actually they are paying to rape a girl who is a sex slave. Taken tries to tell some of those stories.

Taken: Exposing Sex Trafficking and Slavery in India is available for £7.99 from iBooks on iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch or at, from 9 October. For more information about the ebook and campaign visit Hazel Thompson will donate the profits from the sales of each Taken digital book to the British charity Jubilee Campaign, which has set up the Taken campaign to rescue and rehabilitate girls and women from Mumbai's sex industry.


Mumbai's sex slaves: 'I have had bad dreams about the life these girls lead'

Hazel Thompson, a photographer from Surrey, explains why she spent 11 years documenting the city's red light district

Vanessa Thorpe, Saturday 28 September 2013 13.59 BST

Photographer Hazel Thompson, 35, has spent a large part of the last 11 years in Mumbai learning about, and living with, the sex slaves who are held captive, often in cages, in the maze of backstreets known collectively as "the lanes" in Kamathipura, the city's oldest and biggest red-light district.

The plight of the trafficked children that Thompson has watched growing up has drawn her closer to the women than she could have predicted. It has changed her into a determined campaigner, instead of a journalist working at an emotional distance. Some of the girls whose lives she has charted are still living in the lanes as enslaved prostitutes. A few others have been rescued and have prospered, sometimes working with the charities that helped them.

Next month Thompson's extensive and shocking chronicle of life in these lanes, Taken, is to be published as an ebook, allowing readers to understand the reality of a grim trade that dates back to the colonial era.

"A few months ago, when a lot of the work on the book was already done, someone handed me a book called The Queen's Daughters, about two American missionaries in the Victorian era who uncovered the Bombay sex trade that had been set up for the British army," said Thompson, who first went out to Mumbai with the British charity Jubilee Campaign and has worked with the support of several fixers and researchers. "I found I have been following in the footsteps of these women and that much of the language used by the girls to tell their stories is still used today."

In 1888 the British parliament ruled that organised prostitution inside designated "comfort zones" should end in India, yet four years later the two missionaries, Elizabeth Andrew and Kathleen Bushnell, were able to report back that military-run brothels were not only still functioning, but around half the girls kept there were aged between 14 and 16.

Just as girls are still rounded up today and taken from their families, sometimes in exchange for money, in the days of empire a commanding officer would order his quartermaster to "go into the villages and take from the homes of these poor people their daughters". The colonel would make the final selection and the girls were then licensed and checked by a doctor.

"My work in the lanes became even more important to me after reading this, since it seems we caused the problem out there. It is a legacy of British rule that needs to change," said Thompson, the daughter of a teacher and an accountant – someone who enjoyed what she describes as the ultimate middle-class childhood in Surrey.

"It has affected me like no other story. I have bad dreams about the life these girls lead. It is your brain's way of getting it out of your system," she said.

Thompson's chief concern now has been to ensure that the publication of the ebook next month does not impact on the people who have helped her and who often live in fear of the rival gangs that dominate each different lane.

"I feel I have family out there now; that sort of level of trust was needed and so I feel a lot of responsibility. I am making sure that everyone is OK and that they know when the book is coming out. I don't want to harm anyone, I want to bring about change. And the people I work with out there have encouraged me and tell me they need international stories to help pressurise the Indian government to tackle this properly."


Taken: Exposing sex trafficking and slavery in India - video

Hazel Thompson describes how she went undercover to find the truth about what goes on in Kamathipura, Mumbai's notorious red light district, and what it is like for the women who are forced to live with the filth and violence that is endemic there

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* Kamathipura-Mumbai-010.jpg (36.92 KB, 460x276 - viewed 21 times.)
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« Reply #9014 on: Sep 29, 2013, 06:56 AM »

China opens Shanghai free-trade zone

Government pledges to allow foreign investment and new trade zone is expected to be a test ground for economic reforms

Associated Press in Beijing, Sunday 29 September 2013 12.40 BST   

A free-trade zone in Shanghai that China's government has billed as a major step for financial reforms and economic experimentation has formally started.

State media reported that a first batch of 25 Chinese and foreign companies were granted licences to register in the zone.

The China (Shanghai) pilot free-trade zone is a nearly 11-sq mile district that covers four existing special trade zones in Pudong district, including one at the airport.

China's state council formally announced rules for the zone on Friday. They outline goals to upgrade financial services, promote trade and improve governance as well as measures to encourage foreign investment in 18 sectors in the country's tightly regulated service industry.

There are also plans to experiment with the convertibility of China's tightly controlled currency, the yuan, and let market forces rather than regulators set interest rates.

The zone is expected to serve as a testing ground for such financial experiments before they are rolled out elsewhere in China. No timeline was given for any changes, but rules in the zone will be introduced over a three-year period.

At a ceremony marking its opening on Sunday, Gao Hucheng, the commerce minister, said the government hoped it would act as "an experimental field to conduct economic reform" and promote economic development nationwide.

The Shanghai zone has been touted as the most important attempt at economic reform since the establishment of the country's first special economic zone in 1980 in Shenzhen, near Hong Kong.

That zone allowed in foreign investment aimed at harnessing cheap labour to build a manufacturing industry that became a driving force in helping China eventually become the world's second-biggest economy.

The government has pledged to open up 18 service industry sectors to foreign investment, including shipping, law and engineering. Foreign-owned performing arts agencies and medical institutions will be allowed.

The sale of video game consoles, which is banned in China, will also be allowed, pending approval from authorities of individual games and systems.

Another initiative will permit foreigners to set up joint-venture talent management agencies with local partners.

The rules say the opening-up measures will be applicable to companies that are registered in the zone.

Foreign companies will also be allowed to provide some internet services, though the official Xinhua news agency reported before the launch that internet restrictions would not be lifted, following a report by a Hong Kong newspaper that banned websites such as Facebook would be unblocked inside the zone.

Dai Haibo, deputy secretary general of Shanghai's government and vice-director of the zone's management committee, said it would take three years to determine whether the zone's rules and system were effective.

After three years, the country will build on the experience gleaned from the Shanghai free-trade zone and there may be further reform goals, he told a news conference following the official opening ceremony.

Wei Yao, a China economist at Société Générale, said in a research note that setting up the zone in Shanghai, a city of "great strategic importance", was a clear sign that policymakers wanted to push for fast economic liberalisation.

"The framework that is shaping up looks rather promising, although details of most measures are to be put in place over the course of six months to a year," she wrote. "Like all previous economic experiments, this project is going to be a work in progress, subject to constant refinement."

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