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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1076546 times)
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« Reply #9060 on: Oct 01, 2013, 07:00 AM »

South Korea unveils cruise missile in military show of force

Seoul marks Armed Forced Day by unveiling missile capable of targeting all parts of North Korea

Associated Press in Seoul, Tuesday 1 October 2013 08.24 BST   

South Korea has displayed a domestically built missile capable of hitting all parts of North Korea and other sophisticated weapons at the country's biggest Armed Forces Day ceremony in a decade.

Tuesday's televised ceremony at a military airport near Seoul involved about 11,000 troops, 190 weapons systems and 120 aircraft.

Among the weapons featured was a Hyunmu-3 cruise missile with a range of 620 miles (1,000km), which South Korea has developed in recent years. It was the first time the missile has been shown publicly.

President Park Geun-hye said in a speech that South Korea must bolster its national defence to neutralise North Korea's nuclear and missile threats.

South Korea will conduct a military parade through Seoul streets later on Tuesday for the first time since 2008.


South Korean lawmaker charged with plot to overthrow government

Lee Seok-ki discussed launching attacks on South Korean targets if war broke out with North, claims senior prosecutor

Associated Press in Seoul, Thursday 26 September 2013 08.52 BST   

South Korean prosecutors have charged a leftwing lawmaker with plotting a pro-North Korea rebellion to overthrow the government.

Senior prosecutor Kim Soo-nam told a news conference on Thursday that Lee Seok-ki had been charged with discussing launching strikes on national infrastructure in South Korea with his colleagues in May in the event of a war with North Korea.

Kim says Lee and his colleagues identified possible targets, such as a telecommunications facility in Seoul.

Kim says Lee believed tensions between the two Koreas earlier this year would lead to war. Three of Lee's colleagues have also been indicted.

Lee argues that the charges were fabricated to divert criticism from allegations that the national spy agency smeared the main opposition candidate in the last election.

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« Reply #9061 on: Oct 01, 2013, 07:02 AM »

September 30, 2013

Indonesia: Australian Leader Aims to Halt Flow of Asylum Seekers


Prime Minister Tony Abbott of Australia pledged Monday to work with Indonesia to stop the flow of people traveling by boat to Australia to seek asylum, even as his new government pursued a tough policy of turning back vessels that has created diplomatic tension between the countries. Mr. Abbott, who traveled to Indonesia for talks, has come under fire for continuing a policy that ships asylum seekers arriving by boat to third countries for processing and denies them the right to ever settle in Australia. Mr. Abbott’s own plans for combating people smuggling — including forcing boats packed with asylum seekers back into Indonesian waters, buying up boats and gathering intelligence in Indonesian villages — have been heavily criticized by Indonesia. Migrants from the Middle East and South Asia pay smugglers to get them into Indonesia and then onto rickety boats that make the perilous voyage to the Australian territory of Christmas Island, where the migrants can apply for asylum. On Friday, a vessel carrying about 100 people from Lebanon, Pakistan and Iraq sank off West Java, killing at least 36 people.
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« Reply #9062 on: Oct 01, 2013, 07:05 AM »

Assad will remain in office and may run for re-election, Syrian official says

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, October 1, 2013 7:28 EDT

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad will remain in office, and has the right to decide to run for re-election next year, Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi said on Tuesday.

“Syria is staying put: the state, the nation, the people and the president. This is the Syrians’ choice,” Zohbi told journalists.

“All the people call for President Bashar al-Assad to be president of this state, whatever the opposition, the Americans and the traitors say,” he added.

Conflict broke out in Syria 30 months ago after Assad’s regime launched a crackdown on Arab Spring-inspired protests demanding political change.

The regime has consistently blamed a foreign-backed “terrorist” plot for the violence that has wracked the country ever since.

Zohbi said it is “the president’s right to take a decision” on whether he will run for a new term in mid-2014, when his mandate is set to expire.

In an interview last week with China’s state CCTV, Assad had said it was up to the Syrian people to choose whether he would run for election.

In Tuesday’s speech, Zohbi said the opposition “does not have the courage to go to the polls,” and that “had it had the courage, we would not have reached this point”.

More than 110,000 people have been killed in Syria’s war, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, and millions more have been forced to flee their homes.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #9063 on: Oct 01, 2013, 07:09 AM »

Qatar promises crackdown over deaths of World Cup construction workers

Announcement by 2022 host is clearest admission about serious problems it has in its handling of 1.2 million migrant labourers

Martin Chulov in Doha and Robert Booth   
The Guardian, Tuesday 1 October 2013   
Qatar: the migrant workers forced to work for no pay in World Cup host country - by Pete Pattisson Link to video: Qatar: the migrant workers forced to work for no pay in World Cup host country

Qatar has promised to crack down on private building companies who exploit migrant workers, following a Guardian investigation that revealed alarming numbers of labourers are dying in the building boom prior to the 2022 World Cup.

Qatari labour minister Saleh al-Khulaifi said the Gulf state would recruit more inspectors to mount raids and checks on companies to ensure they comply with labour laws and hire more interpreters to speed up the treatment of complaints from foreign workers.

The move, announced on Monday, is the clearest admission yet from a senior official of serious problems in Qatar's handling of its 1.2 million migrant labourers. It follows warnings that unless Qatar's punishing labour system is changed, at least 4,000 workers could die before a ball is kicked at the World Cup.

Al-Khulaifi said Qatar took allegations of maltreatment very seriously, and told reporters: "We will not hesitate to take necessary action to protect the rights of [the] expatriate workforce."

His remarks followed a review that pointed blame at contracting companies who recruit migrant workers from across south Asia to toil on a huge range of building projects as the gas-rich kingdom ploughs more than $20bn (£12bn) a year into new infrastructure.

The boom will see at least $100bn spent on up to nine football stadiums, a new airport complete with a separate terminal for the Emir, a highway to Bahrain, a railway and metro network and 29 new hotels. One of the biggest projects is an entire new city, Lusail, which is scheduled to host the World Cup final.

From 4 June to 8 August this year, 44 Nepalese workers died, about half from heart failure or accidents.

Workers have described being forced to work in 50C heat without a supply of drinking water by employers who withhold salaries for several months and retain passports to prevent workers from leaving the country. Endemic sickness and hunger in overcrowded and insanitary quarters has been reported.

The pro-government Peninsula newspaper reported: "The ministry takes the issues of labourers very seriously. The inspection of contracting companies is going on to check how they are dealing with their workers. Companies are under scrutiny to make them comply with the provisions of the labour law regarding health, safety, accommodation and salaries, among others."

But an official employed by the Nepali government as a legal adviser for Nepali nationals told a news conference on Monday the reports of ill-treatment were false, Reuters reported.

"We deny all that is mentioned in these false reports, and ask the bodies that publish them not to use Nepali workers as a means to achieve their inappropriate targets and agendas," Mohammad Ramadan said.

"We also stress that all Nepali workers are safe and fully respected," Ramadan said.

Citing Nepali embassy figures, Ramadan said 276 Nepalis died in Qatar last year, of which 20% were on work sites. The rest died of natural causes and in accidents not at the workplace, he said.

Ali al-Marri, the chairman of Qatar's National Human Rights Committee, an official state body, told the same news conference: "The numbers published by the media differ greatly from the actual numbers."

Fifa's executive committee is due to meet this week in Zurich, where it will consider the impact of allegations of abuse of foreign labour in Qatar on World Cup preparations. Pressure has been growing on Fifa and Qatar to act, with FifaPro, the global alliance of professional footballers' unions, saying last week it was deeply alarmed at the deaths of workers.

But there is concern that Qatar's labour ministry may not be in full control of the pre-World Cup building programme and that the separate Qatar 2022 supreme committee is more influential. On Monday night, the response was attacked by international union leaders as "extremely weak and disappointing".

The International Trade Union Confederation said the promised raids and checks did nothing to abolish the Qatari system which strips migrant workers of their passports, renders them powerless to complain about conditions, and traps them in Qatar, unable to leave.

"They already have labour inspectors and they have no impact," said Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the ITUC, who has previously met the Qatari labour minister for talks in Geneva on the issue. "What is needed are laws that protect workers' rights to join a union, bargain collectively and refuse unsafe work, and only then can inspectors do their job.

"As it stands, there are laws that give employers total control over workers so no worker will feel able to speak to a labour inspector."

Human Rights Watch, the New York-based group which produced a June 2012 report that found "pervasive employer exploitation and abuse of workers in Qatar's construction industry," welcomed the move but called for prosecutions to create a deterrent effect and "end the culture of impunity". "This is an unprecedented acknowledgement of the problem from an official body in Qatar and I don't think we have heard anything like this from any labour ministry in the Gulf," said Nicholas McGeehan, Gulf researcher for HRW. "They have to be prepared to criminally sanction Qatari employers and they must not scapegoat non-Qatari companies at the bottom of the food chain. An increase in inspections is necessary and a step forward, but there needs to be legal reforms to end the 'kafalah' system, which binds workers to one employer."

India revealed over the weekend that 41 of its nationals in Qatar died over the summer, 27 of them in August, the hottest month of the year when daytime temperatures hovered in the mid to high 40s. The Indian embassy said on its website that more than 230 nationals had died in Qatar in each of the past three years, although it did not provide a complete breakdown of the causes of death. Some died of natural causes, others in road accidents.

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« Reply #9064 on: Oct 01, 2013, 07:11 AM »

09/30/2013 02:56 PM

Ms. Kalashnikov: The Women Rebels of Congo

By Johannes Korge

They murder, rob and kidnap, just like their male comrades. Some women fight for rebel groups in Congo against their will, while others are driven by desperation. Photographer Francesca Tosarelli documented their dangerous lives.

The Kivu region is extremely dangerous. The lush area on the eastern outskirts of the Democratic Republic of Congo is the hiding ground for some of Africa's most notorious rebel groups, like the fighters for the M23 Movement, which is engaged in a conflict with the country's government. Here, there is little by way of infrastructure or state control.

Despite the dangers, an interest in the marauding rebel groups has repeatedly brought photographer Francesca Tosarelli to the region along the borders of Congo, Uganda and Rwanda.

Over the course of four months in early 2013, the young Italian sought contact with M23, Mai Mai Shetani and other rebel groups, creating "Ms. Kalashnikov," a stunning photo series about the largely unknown subgroups in the African rebel scene. The series focuses on the increasing number of women who are joining their ranks.

"I'm fascinated by how the dividing lines between genders are blurred by these conflicts," Tosarelli says. "These women don't fit any roles established by society. They can be mothers and organized killers at the same time."

Before photographing them, she first needed to earn their trust. "It wasn't always easy for me; personal connections had to develop first," she says.

Motivated by Revenge

That was the case with Major Mathilde Samba, who at the age of just 31, already has years of military experience. After serving in the Congolese army for 13 years, in November 2012 she switched sides. Since then, she has been fighting alongside her husband for M23. The couple sent their daughters far away to the capital Kinshasa to protect them from the fighting in the east. Samba says she believes the only way to influence Congo's history is through M23's war, and that she has lost trust in the corrupt state power.

"One needn't have any illusions or sugarcoat anything," says Tosarelli. "In the field these women conduct themselves no differently than their male comrades." And that includes committing murders, robberies and kidnapping. For many of these women revenge is the primary motivation for this, particularly among the younger fighters. Many of them have lost relatives to the rebels, or were raped or wounded. Now, they seek vengeance in the rebel ranks.

Young People at Risk

Take Rehema Rahijya, for example. The young woman, who either can't remember or won't reveal her age, doesn't look much older than 16. In 2012, she joined the Mai Mai Shetani rebels. The story that the foot soldier tells is similar to many that Tosarelli heard while conducting her research: Fighters raped her sister and stole the family's livestock. She says she'll never marry or find another job. After all, who would want a murderess? Lack of prospects and the wish for atonement have already driven her into a rival rebel group. She will not reveal whether she has ever been forced to fight.

Young people are particularly vulnerable to the dangers of the Kivu region, where the spheres of influence are constantly changing amid frequent skirmishes. Although United Nations troops and the Congolese army ensure something resembling security in the cities, the jungles and scrubland are practically uncontrollable. Militias frequently kidnap young people to add to their ranks. Boys are forced to take up arms, and girls are enslaved as household and sex workers, and now frequently as soldiers too.

Stark Contrasts

"My photos should show how multi-layered both the motivations and understanding of roles can be among the women fighters," Tosarelli says. "Some of these women want to fight, while others make you wonder if they have a choice."

Perhaps none of the women featured in the photographer's work embodies this contrast like Colonel Fanette Umuraza. A 32-year-old with a university degree in political science, she is a fighter through and through. She vehemently champions the ideology of M23's military chief Sultani Makenga, having worked her way up to serve as his right-hand woman. She says she wants to free the women of Congo from their role as victims, though the fact that rebel groups have been repeatedly accused of committing rapes makes this seem contradictory.

Umuraza has proven herself as a fighter, and men under her command stand at her attention. She has demanded and earned the respect of even the toughest rebels. Yet in stark contrast to her camouflage uniform, Tosarelli's photo series features her wearing lavender nail polish.

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« Reply #9065 on: Oct 01, 2013, 07:13 AM »

September 30, 2013

Somali Militants Mixing Business and Terror


NAIROBI, Kenya — Illicit ivory, kidnappings, piracy ransoms, smuggled charcoal, extorted payments from aid organizations and even fake charity drives pretending to collect money for the poor — the Shabab militant group has shifted from one illegal business to another, drawing money from East Africa’s underworld to finance attacks like the recent deadly siege at a Nairobi shopping mall.

Now officials here and in the West are redoubling efforts to defeat or at least contain the group — with a watchful eye on its hydra-headed sources of money — before its fighters can strike again in Kenya or even the United States.

For years, American officials have been deeply worried about the Somali militant Islamist group, which claimed responsibility for killing more than 60 men, women and children in the mall in the Sept. 21 attack. But despite comprehensive multiagency efforts to shut down its sources of money, the group still controls lucrative smuggling routes in southern Somalia, extracts protection money from Somali businesses and has raised hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars abroad, part of it from the United States.

Somali elders say the Shabab employ a team of accountants — essentially white-collar militants — who have devised elaborate taxation schemes in Somalia, for instance $500 per farm per year or $2 for every sack of rice that passes through their checkpoints.

“They calculate your income, they do the math,” said Mohamed Aden, a former president of Himan and Heeb, a partially autonomous region of central Somalia near Shabab territory. “And then you have to obey. Otherwise, they kill you. That’s just how it is.”

In addition to its illicit financing activities, the group has proved adept at stealing from Islamic charities, like mosque-building projects and schools, according to several Somali elders.

But the Shabab are also known as savvy businessmen. After the group seized the port of Kismayo in southern Somalia, some car dealers as far as Mogadishu preferred importing vehicles there, instead of using the main government port, saying the Shabab ran a tighter operation with lower fees.

Though African Union forces have pushed the group out of Kismayo, its fighters still control the sandy hinterland around the port, and Somali elders say it continues to tax items like T-shirts, sugar and soap.

“They have a diversified income stream,” said Jonathan Schanzer, the vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former counterterrorism official at the United States Treasury. “Sort of a perfect cocktail that created this nightmare scenario.”

Somalia’s perennial chaos makes the Shabab’s tendrils even harder to remove. Militant groups around the world dabble in the felonious, but the long history of anarchy in Somalia, whose central government imploded in 1991, creates the ideal environment for war profiteers.

Shabab militants are able to extract extortion fees, kidnap Western aid workers along the Kenyan border, collude with Indian Ocean pirates and then retreat to their strongholds with no worries about being arrested or prosecuted because law enforcement is virtually nonexistent in Somalia.

The country’s extreme poverty is another complicating factor. When the United States designated the Shabab a terrorist organization in 2008, setting off sanctions on material support for the group, aid agencies complained bitterly that the American rules were making it impossible to distribute lifesaving aid in Shabab-controlled areas. The American government relaxed the enforcement of some of these rules in 2011, when a famine swept through southern Somalia, to ensure that assistance got to the millions of Somalis who needed it.

While the Shabab control far less territory than they did a few years ago, many people in this region remain terrified of their network of assassins and their continued ability to stage large-scale attacks on civilians, like the massacre in the Kenyan mall or a suicide bombing in Uganda in 2010 that killed scores of people. And as the Shabab transform themselves from a guerrilla movement that once aspired to rule Somalia and fielded a large army of young fighters (Shabab means “youth” in Arabic) to a leaner and more mobile terrorist organization, their costs will go down.

Mr. Schanzer said the attack on the Nairobi mall probably cost the group “close to $100,000,” calculating the price of the automatic rifles, bullets and grenades that were used, along with training costs and possibly rent for a store in the mall that investigators suspect may have been used as a weapon depot before the attack.

Over the weekend, Kenya’s major newspapers reported that the country’s intelligence services had information about a potential strike on the mall but failed to act. American officials said that the warning had been based on fragmentary information and that they had no “actionable” or specific intelligence about the attack.

Many analysts had long believed that Nairobi might be spared because it is one of the Shabab’s logistical hubs, with the Somali enclave of Eastleigh serving as the financial capital for the group.

“That’s where the money transaction companies are,” said Ken Menkhaus, a professor of political science at Davidson College. “That’s where business can be done undetected.”

Mr. Menkhaus said Eastleigh also served as a center for recruitment and fund-raising, and was even used by Shabab fighters looking for a place to recuperate after being wounded on Somalia’s battlefields.

Just about all of the institutions in Somalia collapsed under the weight of 20 years of anarchy, including the banking sector, giving rise to a lightly regulated money transfer business. Western officials have struggled with how to prevent the estimated $1.3 billion per year that flows into Somalia, often from small storefronts in London or Minneapolis, from reaching militant groups without punishing the countless Somalis who rely upon these remittances to survive.

In May, two Minnesota women, both naturalized American citizens from Somalia, were sentenced for providing material support to the Shabab after going door to door with others to raise money for the group, often pretending the donations were for the poor.

A United Nations investigative team reported this summer that Somali businessmen in Qatar had raised money and wired it, using a money transfer service, to a Shabab hit squad to finance “a wave of assassinations.”

The British bank Barclays, one of the few to work with the Somali money transfer companies, has begun severing ties with them, fearing that it could run afoul of laws meant to stem terrorist financing.

President Hassan Sheik Mohamud of Somalia said in an interview that his country desperately needed to replace its informal money transfer business with a proper banking sector, but that it needed more time. The sudden shutdown of financial transfers could be disastrous, he said, especially now, when Somalia is struggling to recover from years of chaos and needs infusions of investment to keep the momentum going.

If anti-Shabab measures are too broad, Mr. Mohamud said, they could backfire. For instance, cutting off the ability of Somali expatriates to send back money to relatives could make many people poorer and drive more jobless, disillusioned youths into the Shabab’s ranks to earn cash to support themselves.

“We need to break that vicious circle of generations losing hope,” Mr. Mohamud said.

As long as large areas of Somalia remain violent and ungoverned, as they do today, the Shabab will have plenty of opportunities to do business. The group has cashed in on the Chinese demand for illicit elephant ivory, training fighters to sneak across the Kenyan border and slaughter elephants for their tusks, businessmen in Kismayo say. Shabab fighters have also extorted access fees from some aid groups, Somali elders say, often getting tens of thousands of dollars to allow humanitarian aid to be distributed in their zones.

But perhaps nothing has been more lucrative for the Shabab than the underground charcoal trade. Known as black gold, the charcoal made from burning Somalia’s acacia forests is highly prized in the Arabian Peninsula. Exporting charcoal was banned under the dictatorship of President Mohammed Siad Barre, but it roared back to life in the chaos that followed his ouster in 1991.

Before Kenyan forces captured Kismayo, the charcoal trade earned the Shabab more than $25 million a year, according to United Nations investigators. The loss of Kismayo was a huge setback for the Shabab, and the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution last year banning imports of Somali charcoal.

But the Shabab have shifted the business to other ports still under their control, continuing to export millions of sacks of charcoal per year.

“They have less money, but they don’t need a lot of money,” Mr. Menkhaus said. “You can still do an awful lot of damage with not that much money.”

Lydia Polgreen contributed reporting from New York, and Eric Schmitt from Washington.

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« Reply #9066 on: Oct 01, 2013, 07:14 AM »

September 30, 2013

Argentine Judge Seeks to Put Franco Officials on Trial


MADRID — Almost two decades ago, Spanish judges led by Baltasar Garzón began an unprecedented international crusade against alleged perpetrators of human rights abuses, including former regime leaders like Augusto Pinochet of Chile.

Now, however, Spain is on the receiving end of a similar judicial move, with an Argentine judge seeking to extradite and put on trial police officials from the dictatorship of Francisco Franco who are accused of torturing regime opponents until 1975, when Franco died.

The case is being played out in Argentina’s courts after a group of Spaniards claiming to have suffered such torture filed a lawsuit in Buenos Aires in 2010. They had previously failed to get redress in Spain, where such crimes are covered by a 1977 amnesty law that was designed to ease Spain’s return to democracy.

However, using the same principle of universal jurisdiction for human rights that Judge Garzón had invoked in the 1990s, an Argentine judge, María Romilda Servini de Cubría, recently issued arrest warrants against four officials of the Franco regime.

Two of the men on her list are already dead, but the other two former police officers, Jesús Muñecas and Antonio González Pacheco, are expected to be summoned soon by a Spanish judge.

Even if Spain eventually refuses to extradite its citizens, the request from Argentina is in itself “a very important moral sanction on the Franco regime, which also shows Franco’s victims that they can count on international support,” said Victoria Sanford, professor of anthropology at City University of New York.

The Spanish government has refrained from commenting on the extradition request, pending a decision by Spain’s national court. Ironically, that decision is now in the hands of Pablo Ruz, who replaced Judge Garzón three years ago after Mr. Garzón was suspended and eventually barred from Spain’s judiciary for using illegal eavesdropping methods.

Mr. Garzón gained abrupt international fame in 1998 for an unsuccessful attempt to prosecute General Pinochet, the former dictator of Chile. But among his many other politically sensitive and contentious pursuits, Mr. Garzón also then tried to investigate crimes committed during the Spanish Civil War and the ensuing Franco dictatorship.

Separately, Judge Ruz is also in charge of Spain’s most important political corruption case, centering on whether a former treasurer of the governing Popular Party, Luis Bárcenas, used a slush fund to make illegal payments to senior party officials, including Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. On Monday, Judge Ruz widened that case by indicting an architect who overhauled the party’s headquarters, amid suspicions that he was paid under the table for his work.

Whatever the political sensitivities in Spain, Ana Messuti, an Argentine international criminal lawyer who has been leading the Buenos Aires case against the Franco regime officials, said the recent arrest warrants should be viewed as the first rather than a final step toward bringing to account officials who violated human rights during the Franco era.

Ms. Messuti said: “We’re trying to build up a mega-case that should reach a mega-result and demonstrate that Spain had a regime that carried out something akin to genocide against a whole segment of its own population.”

What is seen as Argentina’s meddling in Spanish affairs has ruffled feathers in Spain. It follows a legal and political standoff last year between the two governments after the administration of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner nationalized YPF, which had been majority-owned by Repsol, Spain’s biggest oil company. Repsol is claiming at least $10.5 billion in compensation from Argentina for the loss of YPF.

Furthermore, Spanish law does not foresee the extradition of its own citizens unless their citizenship has been acquired by fraudulent means, according to Javier Cremades, chairman of Cremades & Calvo-Sotelo, a Spanish law firm. Mr. Cremades said he could also not see the case progressing because “Spain’s amnesty law has already resolved the legal and political issues linked to the Franco period.”

But Unión Progresista de Fiscales, a left-leaning association of Spanish prosecutors, issued a statement welcoming Argentina’s attempt to make amends for “the lamentable performance of our judicial system” in terms of confronting the crimes of the Franco era. “We hope the Spanish government will live up to the circumstances,” it added.

Argentina’s extradition request means that “we’re now getting back the favor that we did to Argentina by putting an end to this notion of complete impunity,” said José Galán, a Spanish lawyer.

Mr. Galán represented victims of Argentina’s military dictatorship in the trial of an Argentine Navy captain, Adolfo Scilingo, whose crimes included throwing prisoners to their deaths from planes. After being indicted, Mr. Scilingo volunteered to stand trial in Madrid, but was eventually convicted in 2005 of crimes against humanity and is serving a prison sentence of 640 years.

Mr. Galán claimed Argentina’s extradition request was “a real headache” for Spain’s Popular Party, many of whose members are “the real heirs of Francoism.” But he also noted that even under previous Socialist administrations, Spain had done little to confront its darker past and resisted calls by human rights associations and Judge Gárzon to set up an independent truth commission to investigate crimes committed under the Franco regime.

Last week, a group of victims of the Franco regime held a press conference here, in which they detailed some of the abuses that they had suffered at the hands of the officials targeted by Argentina, in particular Mr. González Pacheco, known during his time in Franco’s police as “Billy the Kid” because of the way he liked to show off his gun.

Felisa Echegoyen, 65, said she was arrested in 1974 by five policemen who kicked down the door of her flat and threatened to throw her out of the window because she had helped distribute Communist pamphlets. Mr. González Pacheco, she alleged, put a kerchief in her mouth to stop her screaming and kicked her. Ms. Echegoyen said she was then beaten “almost every hour” while questioned by police at their Madrid headquarters. Eventually, she was sentenced to two years and four months, but only served part of the conviction.

Jesús Rodríguez Barrio, an economics professor, recalled how Mr. González Pacheco had pointed his gun to his head while he signed a police declaration that stated he was a Trotskyist activist.

“What is happening in Argentina is one of the last opportunities,” to bring the Franco regime to justice, Mr. Rodríguez Barrio said. “We still have a generation of victims who can talk, but most of our torturers were older than us, so time is running out.”
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« Reply #9067 on: Oct 01, 2013, 07:16 AM »

Aristide supporters protest in Haiti

Thousands mark anniversary of ex-president's ousting in 1991, with some calling for current president to resign

Associated Press in Port-au-Prince, Tuesday 1 October 2013 08.50 BST   

Riot police in Haiti have broken up an anti-government demonstration by thousands of people to mark the anniversary of the ousting in 1991 of the former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

A handful of protesters responded by setting ablaze barricades that blocked a major thoroughfare through the heart of downtown Port-au-Prince.

Critics of the current president, Michel Martelly, gathered under a heavy police presence on Monday morning and marched through the capital's shanties, all Aristide strongholds. Some demonstrators demanded that Martelly resign because of corruption allegations, while others protested over the absence of elections. Riot police fired teargas at the demonstrators after they left the approved route.

Haiti was supposed to have held legislative and local elections two years ago, but infighting among different branches of the government has delayed the vote. Martelly has said elections will be held this year, but that looks unlikely.

Aristide's political party, the Lavalas Family, has said it plans to run, and its popularity could pose a formidable challenge to Martelly and his allies. Thousands of people shadowed Aristide in May as he toured the capital following a court hearingin one of the biggest rallies in Port-au-Prince this year.

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« Reply #9068 on: Oct 01, 2013, 07:18 AM »

September 30, 2013

With Accusations of Sabotage, Venezuela Expels 3 U.S. Embassy Officials


CARACAS, Venezuela — Stepping up hostilities with the United States, President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela expelled the top American diplomat and two other embassy officials from the country on Monday, accusing them of supporting plots to sabotage the country’s electrical grid and the economy.

“Get out of Venezuela! Yankee go home!” Mr. Maduro shouted as he announced the expulsions at a military event to commemorate the bicentennial of a battle in Venezuela’s war of independence.

“We have detected a group of officials of the United States Embassy in Caracas, in Venezuela, and we have been tracking them for several months,” Mr. Maduro said during a live television broadcast. “These officials spend their time meeting with the Venezuelan extreme right wing, financing them and encouraging them to take actions to sabotage the electrical system, to sabotage the Venezuelan economy.”

The expulsions were the latest diplomatic swipe at Washington by Mr. Maduro since he took over for the country’s longtime president, Hugo Chávez, who died in March. Late last year, as Mr. Chávez grew increasingly ill, the two nations held informal talks aimed at improving the long-strained relations between them, and there was some optimism on the American side that Mr. Maduro, a former foreign minister sometimes described as pragmatic, would be amenable to a thaw.

But it quickly became clear that Mr. Maduro intended to stick closely to Mr. Chávez’s example, painting the United States as an imperialist aggressor out to undermine his government. Early on, he accused the Obama administration of plotting against him, and hours before he announced the death of Mr. Chávez on March 5, he kicked out two American military attachés, saying they had tried to recruit Venezuelan military personnel to conspire against the government.

The diplomats expelled on Monday included Kelly Keiderling, the chargé d’affaires, who runs the embassy in the absence of an ambassador here. The United States has not had an ambassador in Caracas since 2010, when Mr. Chávez refused to accept the new one proposed by Washington because of remarks that Mr. Chávez said were disrespectful.

Mr. Chávez had already expelled the American ambassador, Patrick Duddy, in 2008, saying that his government had discovered an American-supported plot by military officers to topple him. Mr. Duddy was later allowed to return to Caracas.

Another one of the diplomats expelled on Monday was Elizabeth Hoffman, an official in the embassy’s political section, whom Mr. Maduro had publicly accused at least as early as April of meeting with opposition figures to plot sabotage of the electrical system. He said at the time that he had proof but took no action until Monday. The third official being expelled is David Moo, the vice consul.

Foreign Minister Elías Jaua later said on television that the evidence against the American diplomats included meetings held in recent weeks with democracy advocates, union members and elected officials belonging to the political opposition, whom he accused of planning to destabilize the country.

Mr. Maduro said the officials had 48 hours to leave the country.

“We completely reject the Venezuelan government’s allegations of U.S. government involvement in any type of conspiracy to destabilize the Venezuelan government,” the American Embassy said in a statement. It called the meetings held by the officials “normal diplomatic engagements,” adding, “We maintain regular contacts across the Venezuelan political spectrum.”

Ever since he was elected by a narrow margin in April in a special election to replace Mr. Chávez, Mr. Maduro has struggled with intense economic woes and a deeply divided populace. He has often accused plotters and saboteurs of being responsible for a variety of the nation’s ills, including electrical blackouts and the deadly explosion at the national oil company’s enormous Amuay refinery.

“He needs diversions and distractions,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a policy group in Washington. “The situation is so dire in Venezuela that he needs to find a scapegoat, and it’s convenient and politically so tempting to kick out U.S. diplomats.”

But Mr. Shifter said that describing the United States as the source of the country’s problems might not have the same effect it did for Mr. Chávez, who was beloved by many of his supporters. Mr. Maduro does not inspire nearly the same devotion, and the country’s economic woes are getting worse, with inflation over 45 percent a year and shortages of many basic foods and goods, including toilet paper.

“I doubt that it has the resonance it used to have,” Mr. Shifter said of the diplomatic expulsions.

María Eugenia Díaz contributed reporting.

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« Reply #9069 on: Oct 01, 2013, 07:47 AM »

In the USA..United Surveillance America

NSA Has Built Its Own, Secret, Warrantless, Shadow Social Network, And You've Already Joined It

By Techdirt
Monday, September 30, 2013 8:58 EDT

Soon after the very earliest reporting on Ed Snowden's leaked documents about PRISM, the folks from Datacoup put together the very amusing GETPRSM website, which looks very much like the announcement of a new social network, but (the joke is) it's really the NSA scooping up all our data and making the connections. It's pretty funny. Except, of course, when you find out that it's real. And, yes, that seems to be the latest revelation out of Ed Snowden's leaks. The NY Times has an article by James Risen and Laura Poitras (what a combo reporting team there!) detailing how the NSA has basically built its own "shadow" social network in which it tries to create a "social graph" of pretty much everyone that everyone knows, foreign or American, and it all happens (of course) without a warrant. And, note, this is relatively new:

    The agency was authorized to conduct “large-scale graph analysis on very large sets of communications metadata without having to check foreignness” of every e-mail address, phone number or other identifier, the document said. Because of concerns about infringing on the privacy of American citizens, the computer analysis of such data had previously been permitted only for foreigners.

    The agency can augment the communications data with material from public, commercial and other sources, including bank codes, insurance information, Facebook profiles, passenger manifests, voter registration rolls and GPS location information, as well as property records and unspecified tax data, according to the documents. They do not indicate any restrictions on the use of such “enrichment” data, and several former senior Obama administration officials said the agency drew on it for both Americans and foreigners.

There were apparently two policy changes that allowed this to happen, and both occurred in the past three years. First, in November of 2010, the NSA was allowed to start looking at phone call and email logs of Americans to try to help figure out associations for "foreign intelligence purposes." Note that phrase. We'll come back to it. For years, the NSA had been barred from viewing any content on US persons, and the NSA, President Obama and others have continued to insist to this day that there are minimization procedures that prevent spying on Americans. Except, this latest revelation shows that, yet again, this isn't actually true.

The second policy change came in January of 2011, when the NSA was told it could start creating this massive "social graph" on Americans without having to make sure they weren't Americans any more, as indicated above.

Somewhat amazingly, the new report notes that in 2006, the NSA asked the Justice Department for permission to do exactly this sort of thing, and was rejected, saying that a "misuse" of that kind of data "could raise serious concerns." Indeed, it could, and does raise serious concerns, but apparently the current administration just doesn't give a crap.

If all of this sounds familiar, it's almost exactly what the feds tried to setup in 2002 with the Orwellian name Total Information Awareness. Except that time (right after 9/11, when you'd think the public would be at its most receptive to such programs), as word got out about the program, the public rightly flipped out, and we were told the program was shuttered. Except, as some have been arguing for years, it was never shuttered, it was just rebuilt in secret.

And, of course, the NSA is still willing to defend this massive breach on Americans' privacy:

    An agency spokeswoman, asked about the analyses of Americans’ data, said, “All data queries must include a foreign intelligence justification, period.”

    “All of N.S.A.’s work has a foreign intelligence purpose,” the spokeswoman added. “Our activities are centered on counterterrorism, counterproliferation and cybersecurity.”

Note the continued shift in language. For a while, they kept saying that the NSA does no surveillance on Americans at all. At all! They insisted that would be illegal. Then, later, people started to note that they would use the phrase "targeting foreign intelligence" which had just enough (barely) wiggle room to get people to think that they were only looking at non-US person data and content, but really meant as long as the overall investigation "targeted" foreign intelligence, it was fine. Now they're even walking back from that, and saying that apparently it's fine to spy on Americans without a warrant so long as there's "a foreign intelligence justification." In short: if you can come up with some excuse for how it might impact something foreign, the NSA can spy on Americans without a warrant.

That's no limitation at all. In fact, such a rule is meaningless. We already know that the NSA gets every telephone record handed over because they claim it's "necessary" to "connect the dots" on foreign terror plots. And, similarly, now they're arguing that they can look at anything else so long as they claim that there's a "foreign intelligence justification." That means they have no limits. They just have to come up with some wacky reason to claim that so-and-so might have foreign connections that are important to know about, and voila, their life is open for the NSA to dig in, all without any oversight or a warrant.

Somewhat surprisingly, the already disclosed phone metadata dragnet is actually not used for this social network effort, but that doesn't mean the NSA is lacking in data with which to create this shadow spying social network. It uses the NSA's taps on fiber optic networks, the ones that collect a ton of internet data, as Dianne Feinstein confirmed last week.

    The N.S.A. documents show that one of the main tools used for chaining phone numbers and e-mail addresses has the code name Mainway. It is a repository into which vast amounts of data flow daily from the agency’s fiber-optic cables, corporate partners and foreign computer networks that have been hacked.

    The documents show that significant amounts of information from the United States go into Mainway. An internal N.S.A. bulletin, for example, noted that in 2011 Mainway was taking in 700 million phone records per day. In August 2011, it began receiving an additional 1.1 billion cellphone records daily from an unnamed American service provider under Section 702 of the 2008 FISA Amendments Act, which allows for the collection of the data of Americans if at least one end of the communication is believed to be foreign.

Um. That's an awful lot of records on Americans. And yet, we're still being told that the NSA doesn't spy on Americans? Yeah, right.

Anyway, it appears that the GETPRSM social network has been in existence for quite some time now, and don't worry if you haven't received your invite. You've already joined.


NSA stores metadata of millions of web users for up to a year, secret files show

• Vast amounts of data kept in repository codenamed Marina
• Data retained regardless of whether person is NSA target
• Material used to build 'pattern-of-life' profiles of individuals
• What is metadata? Find out with our interactive guide

James Ball, Monday 30 September 2013 17.35 BST   

The National Security Agency is storing the online metadata of millions of internet users for up to a year, regardless of whether or not they are persons of interest to the agency, top secret documents reveal.

Metadata provides a record of almost anything a user does online, from browsing history – such as map searches and websites visited – to account details, email activity, and even some account passwords. This can be used to build a detailed picture of an individual's life.

The Obama administration has repeatedly stated that the NSA keeps only the content of messages and communications of people it is intentionally targeting – but internal documents reveal the agency retains vast amounts of metadata.

An introductory guide to digital network intelligence for NSA field agents, included in documents disclosed by former contractor Edward Snowden, describes the agency's metadata repository, codenamed Marina. Any computer metadata picked up by NSA collection systems is routed to the Marina database, the guide explains. Phone metadata is sent to a separate system.

"The Marina metadata application tracks a user's browser experience, gathers contact information/content and develops summaries of target," the analysts' guide explains. "This tool offers the ability to export the data in a variety of formats, as well as create various charts to assist in pattern-of-life development."

The guide goes on to explain Marina's unique capability: "Of the more distinguishing features, Marina has the ability to look back on the last 365 days' worth of DNI metadata seen by the Sigint collection system, regardless whether or not it was tasked for collection." [Emphasis in original.]

On Saturday, the New York Times reported that the NSA was using its metadata troves to build profiles of US citizens' social connections, associations and in some cases location, augmenting the material the agency collects with additional information bought in from the commercial sector, which is is not subject to the same legal restrictions as other data.

The ability to look back on a full year's history for any individual whose data was collected – either deliberately or incidentally – offers the NSA the potential to find information on people who have later become targets. But it relies on storing the personal data of large numbers of internet users who are not, and never will be, of interest to the US intelligence community.

Marina aggregates NSA metadata from an array of sources, some targeted, others on a large scale. Programs such as Prism – which operates through legally compelled "partnerships" with major internet companies – allow the NSA to obtain content and metadata on thousands of targets without individual warrants.

The NSA also collects enormous quantities of metadata from the fibre-optic cables that make up the backbone of the internet. The agency has placed taps on undersea cables, and is given access to internet data through partnerships with American telecoms companies.

About 90% of the world's online communications cross the US, giving the NSA what it calls in classified documents a "home-field advantage" when it comes to intercepting information.

By confirming that all metadata "seen" by NSA collection systems is stored, the Marina document suggests such collections are not merely used to filter target information, but also to store data at scale.

A sign of how much information could be contained within the repository comes from a document voluntarily disclosed by the NSA in August, in the wake of the first tranche of revelations from the Snowden documents.

The seven-page document, titled "The National Security Agency: Missions, Authorities, Oversight and Partnerships", says the agency "touches" 1.6% of daily internet traffic – an estimate which is not believed to include large-scale internet taps operated by GCHQ, the NSA's UK counterpart.

The document cites figures from a major tech provider that the internet carries 1,826 petabytes of information per day. One petabyte, according to tech website Gizmodo, is equivalent to over 13 years of HDTV video.

"In its foreign intelligence mission, NSA touches about 1.6% of that," the document states. "However, of the 1.6% of the data, only 0.025% is actually selected for review.

"The net effect is that NSA analysts look at 0.00004% of the world's traffic in conducting their mission – that's less than one part in a million."

However, critics were skeptical of the reassurances, because large quantities of internet data is represented by music and video sharing, or large file transfers – content which is easy to identify and dismiss without entering it into systems. Therefore, the NSA could be picking up a much larger percentage of internet traffic that contains communications and browsing activity.

Journalism professor and internet commentator Jeff Jarvis noted: "[By] very rough, beer-soaked-napkin numbers, the NSA's 1.6% of net traffic would be half of the communication on the net. That's one helluva lot of 'touching'."

Much of the NSA's data collection is carried out under section 702 of the Fisa Amendments Act. This provision allows for the collection of data without individual warrants of communications, where at least one end of the conversation, or data exchange, involves a non-American located outside the US at the time of collection.

The NSA is required to "minimize" the data of US persons, but is permitted to keep US communications where it is not technically possible to remove them, and also to keep and use any "inadvertently" obtained US communications if they contain intelligence material, evidence of a crime, or if they are encrypted.

The Guardian has also revealed the existence of a so-called "backdoor search loophole", a 2011 rule change that allows NSA analysts to search for the names of US citizens, under certain circumstances, in mass-data repositories collected under section 702.

According to the New York Times, NSA analysts were told that metadata could be used "without regard to the nationality or location of the communicants", and that Americans' social contacts could be traced by the agency, providing there was some foreign intelligence justification for doing so.

The Guardian approached the NSA with four specific questions about the use of metadata, including a request for the rationale behind storing 365 days' worth of untargeted data, and an estimate of the quantity of US citizens' metadata stored in its repositories.

But the NSA did not address any of these questions in its response, providing instead a statement focusing on its foreign intelligence activities.

"NSA is a foreign intelligence agency," the statement said. "NSA's foreign intelligence activities are conducted pursuant to procedures approved by the US attorney general and the secretary of defense, and, where applicable, the foreign intelligence surveillance (Fisa) court, to protect the privacy interests of Americans.

"These interests must be addressed in the collection, retention, and dissemination of any information. Moreover, all queries of lawfully collected data must be conducted for a foreign intelligence purpose."

It continued: "We know there is a false perception out there that NSA listens to the phone calls and reads the email of everyday Americans, aiming to unlawfully monitor or profile US citizens. It's just not the case.

"NSA's activities are directed against foreign intelligence targets in response to requirements from US leaders in order to protect the nation and its interests from threats such as terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."


US government shuts down some services as Congress exceeds deadline

Recriminations fly as Republican rancour over Obamacare leads to first federal shutdown in two decades

Dan Roberts, Tuesday 1 October 2013 08.47 BST   

Barack Obama addresses US troops on Armed Forces Television promising that active duty service personnel abroad will be exempt from the government shutdown.

The US government was forced to begin closing swaths of non-essential services on Tuesday morning after frantic rounds of late night political sparring failed to avert the first federal shutdown in nearly two decades.

As a midnight deadline to extend Congressional spending authority ticked ever closer, Republicans staged a series of last-ditch efforts to use a once-routine budget procedure to force Democrats to abandon their efforts to extend US health insurance.

Three separate attacks on the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, were staged by the House of Representatives, only to be rejected in turn by the Democrat-controlled Senate, which accused Republicans of holding the country to ransom.

Shortly before midnight, Senate majority leader Harry Reid marked the end of the process by rejecting House calls for formal talks to reconcile their conflicting positions, arguing it was impossible to negotiate with a “gun to our heads”.

“This is a very serious time in the history of our country,” Reid said. “Millions of people are going to be affected tomorrow and the Republicans are still playing games”

An estimated 800,000 federal workers will be forced to stay at home from Tuesday under a stalemate that could drag on for days and disrupt services as varied as national parks and the US space programme.

The White House has drawn up a list of essential staff who are legally allowed to carry on working, but President Barack Obama warned that a shutdown would have an immediate affect on the fragile US economy.

“We do not have a clear indication that Congress will act in time for the president to sign a Continuing Resolution before the end of the day tomorrow, October 1,” said a White House statement issued shortly before midnight.

“Therefore, agencies should now execute plans for an orderly shutdown due to the absence of appropriations. We urge Congress to act quickly to pass a Continuing Resolution to provide a short-term bridge that ensures sufficient time to pass a budget for the remainder of the fiscal year, and to restore the operation of critical public services and programs that will be impacted by a lapse in appropriations.”

Obama also issued a statement to military employees after signing a Republican-proposed law that exempts active-duty servicemen from the effects of the shutdown, but will not protect civilian workers.

“I know the days ahead could mean more uncertainty, including possible furloughs,” Obama said. “You and your families deserve better than the dysfunction we’re seeing in Congress.”

House speaker John Boehner denied that Republican tactics were responsible for the shutdown, insisting Democrats were to blame for refusing to negotiate over Obamacare.

“I didn't come here to shut down the government,” Boehner told one of several heated House debates.

“I came here to fight for a smaller, less costly and more accountable federal government. But here we find ourselves in this moment dealing with a law that’s causing unknown consequences and unknown damage to the American people and to our economy. And that issue is Obamacare.”

But Democrats are confident that US public opinion will continue to hold Republicans to blame for what could be days of disruption until a deal can be struck.

They argue that Republicans are using underhand methods to overturn a law that was passed four years ago, ratified by the supreme court and endorsed by voters at the last presidential election.

Senator Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, said: “If we surrender to hostage-taking tonight, these guys would be back within a couple of weeks without a shadow of a doubt. What we are dealing with tonight is an extraordinary anti-democratic act.


Don’t fall prey to ‘both sides-ism’: Republicans are to blame for government shutdown

By Michael Cohen, The Guardian
Monday, September 30, 2013 15:36 EDT

There is a frustrating tendency in American political reporting to adopt a position of “both sides-ism” – as in, “both sides” are equally to blame for the nation’s chronic political dysfunction. Sometimes, it must be said, this assessment is correct. After all, the US political system was practically designed to breed legislative gridlock.

Not this time, however.

There is one party that is solely to blame for the first government shutdown in 17 years. And it’s the Republican party.

Indeed, the debate happening in Washington right now is not even between Democrats and Republicans. It’s not even about the deficit, or the budget, or government spending priorities. Rather, it is one strictly occurring between Republicans who are trying to find some magic bullet to destroy “Obamacare” – the country’s fiscal health be damned.

In the House of Representatives, bills that would allow the government to continue to operate were amended with provisions defunding or delaying Obamacare. This is, for Democrats, a nonstarter. The reason is obvious: the Affordable Care Act is the president’s signature achievement and he is not going to sign a bill that undoes or even delays it.

Nor should he. Obamacare is the law of the land. It was passed by Congress, signed by the president, upheld by the US supreme court, and it is already going into effect. There is no reason for President Obama to be cowed by such legislative extortion.

Yet, rather than accept the reality of Obamacare, Republicans are using the prospect of a government shutdown and/or a default on the nation’s debt to try to stop it.

In key respects, this dispiriting series of events is the logical conclusion of the Republican party’s descent into madness. The GOP has become a party dominated by a group of politicians who are fundamentally nihilistic, contemptuous of democracy and willing (even proud) to operate outside the long-accepted norms of American democracy.

In the US system of government, compromise is perhaps its most essential element. Republicans must work with Democrats; the House of Representatives must work with the Senate; and both bodies must find common ground with the president. It’s not always pretty, but it generally works.

The problem today is that the modern GOP thinks about compromise in the same way that imperial Japanese soldiers thought about surrender in the second world war. At least in defeat, Republicans can argue they fought to the last; but by compromising, they would be surrendering their principles.

That’s the only explanation for how members of the party can view the possibility of a government shutdown – or even worse, the catastrophe of debt default – as somehow a better option than reconciling themselves to the abomination that, bizarrely, they believe Obamacare to be.

Granted, this isn’t the view of all Republican office-holders – or even a majority. But it is the view of the party’s most extreme supporters, and today, it’s these individuals who are guiding the party’s leadership.

In fact, if the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, were to bring a clean budget bill to the House floor, with no provisions defunding or delaying Obamacare, it would almost certainly pass – with Democrats and Republicans joining together to support it. It would then get majority approval in the Senate and be signed by President Obama.

So, why hasn’t that happened yet? Because Boehner has pledged only to pass legislation that has the support of enough Republican members (unaided by Democrats) to be enacted. Since that is impossible right now, the government will shut down.

In the end, however, we have a pretty good sense of how this will turn out. The government will shut down for a few days, but perhaps more; and the US will come perilously close to a debt default. In the end, however, semi-sane Republicans will come to their senses, concede defeat and pass a budget resolution and debt limit extension with Democratic support.

That the US will have come to such a pass – for no reason other than the extremism of the Republican party – is an important reminder of who is blame for the governing dysfunction that has come to define the US democracy today. © Guardian News and Media 2013


Boehner Refuses To Allow Vote on Popular Democratic Bill That Would Avoid Government Shutdown

By: Jason Easley
Sep. 30th, 2013

House Republicans are admitting that the clean Continuing Resolution that passed the Senate would pass the House, but John Boehner won’t allow a vote on it.

Senate Democrats put out a video of Republicans admitting that the Senate bill would pass the House if Boehner would allow a vote on it.

The video clip features NBC’s Chuck Todd saying that the group of House Republicans who would vote in favor of the Senate passed bill that would fund the government without touching the ACA is growing. The clip featured Republicans Raul Labrador of Iowa and Tom Cole of Oklahoma admitting that their are enough Republican votes in the House to pass the Senate’s version of the CR.

If the votes are there, then why don’t they stop playing games and pass this already?

The answer is Speaker John Boehner. The Speaker won’t allow the Senate bill to come to the House floor for a vote. Boehner is being guided by the whims of tea party Republicans, who have vowed to raise holy heck if the House passes a clean CR that doesn’t get rid of Obamacare. This isn’t the first time that Rep. Boehner has allowed himself to be guided by the extremists. The sequester cuts could have been avoided earlier this year, but John Boehner refused to allow a vote on a popular Democratic sequester replacement bill.

Dozens of House Republicans would vote for the Senate bill today if it was brought to the floor. Democrats know this, which is why they aren’t going to budge. Eventually, Boehner will crack and allow a vote on the Senate bill. The House will pass it. The president will sign it, and the tea party will be defeated again.

Republicans are working around the clock trying to blame Harry Reid for the likely government shutdown. The real responsibility for this mess rests with a series of terrible decisions that have been made by John Boehner. The Speaker is the one who decided to cave in to the extremists in his own caucus. It was Boehner who decided to let the House send the Senate passed CR back to them with the delay Obamacare language reinserted. Most importantly, it is Rep. Boehner who is shutting down the government by refusing to allow his own Republicans to vote on a bill that they would support.

The bulk of the responsibility for the potential re-tanking of the economy rests with John Boehner.


Treasonous House Republicans Are Giddy With Joy Over Shutting Down The Government

By: Rmuse
Sep. 30th, 2013

Boehner destroy the nationIt is natural for human beings to feel good for someone they know is excited and happy they are finally achieving a long sought-after goal, especially after years of hard work and perseverance. It is a sad fact of life, though, that throughout history there have been human beings that get excited and enjoy deliberately causing pain and suffering to other people. Yesterday House Republicans were absolutely giddy with joy they were finally achieving their two-and-a-half year goal of shutting down the government. It is highly probable that they are particularly excited their hard work will affect millions of American citizens and a laundry list of government employees enumerated in a 2011 contingency plan the last time Republicans tried to shut down the government.

There cannot be many Americans left who are unaware that Republicans love causing harm to the American people, the economy, and the government they have campaigned vehemently against over the past two years, and few should be surprised they are excited they are close to shutting it down. In fact, after House Republicans voted to shut down the government unless Democrats acquiesce to Republican ransom demands unrelated to government funding, teabagger Michele Bachmann said “We’re very excited! It’s exactly what we wanted, and we got it.”  Texas Republican congressman John Abney Culberson clapped his hands and celebrated the upcoming government shutdown Republicans lusted after for two-and-a-half years and could barely contain himself as he said, “It’s wonderful! We’re 100 percent united.” It is difficult to imagine taxpayer-funded congressional Republicans being so excited over shutting down the government of the people they were elected to serve, but there is no accounting for what makes Republicans happy.

No American should be surprised Republicans are tickled they get to wreak more havoc on America because just a little over two years ago House Speaker John Boehner said “I’m pretty happy I got what I wanted” after causing a credit downgrade, killing a million jobs, and adding $18.9 billion to the nation’s deficit besides setting the stage for sequestration and indiscriminate cuts to the defense of the United States. Boehner and Republicans were very pleased with themselves for keeping their sequester cuts in place in their continuing resolution that will kill 750,000 jobs before year’s end and about a million more next year as well as ravaging jobs in the defense industry crucial to the national security of the United States. One wonders just how much Republican joy is because they are harming the United States economy and government during a time of war, or if the 66% of Republican and 79% of teabagger voters are part of the happy conspiracy supporting House Republicans deliberate plot to weaken the United States while Americans are fighting a war in Afghanistan.

According to Article III, Section 3 of the United States Constitution, “any person who levies war against the United States or adheres to its enemies by giving them Aid and Comfort has committed treason within the meaning of the Constitution. The term aid and comfort refers to any act that manifests a betrayal of allegiance to the United States, such as furnishing enemies with arms, troops, transportation, shelter, or classified information.” Republicans deliberately harmed the U.S. economy in the 2011 debt ceiling crisis, and the resulting sequestration cuts began affecting the defense industry on March 1 2013. Coupled with using extortion for political gain, the Republican plot to shut down the government must be regarded as one part of several subversive acts to weaken the power of the United States to attack or resist its enemies. The Treason Clause is particularly applicable to Republicans because they were, and are, weakening the United States during a time America is at war in Afghanistan.

The Republicans lust to shut down the government is for reasons typical of traitors unwilling to accept they do not control the government.  First, like the last time Republicans shutdown the government, a Democrat is in the White House, and second, this Democrat in the White House is an African American the fascist power behind Republicans cannot manipulate so they are pleased the government, including regulatory agencies they cannot destroy, will be shut down. It is important for Americans to remember that Republicans threatened to shut down the government since they controlled the House in 2011, and it explains why Boehner and teabaggers are excited that finally they get to deny millions of Americans access to vital services, withhold hundreds-of-thousands of public servants’ pay, and a land another blow to the nation’s economic recovery during a time of war.

Republicans are probably most joyous that they set up a scenario that whether the President and Democrats pay the ransom to keep the government running or not, millions of Americans will be adversely affected.  Republicans will use any extreme measure to shut down the government and they hedged their bets by including a conscience clause giving Christian medical providers the legal right to withhold medical care from gays and single mothers, and gave extremist Christians the right to force their employees to adhere to their religious beliefs. House Republicans knew in advance Democrats or the President would not go along with theocratic amendments in the continuing resolution the same as they knew delaying the ACA’s implementation would never fly; so they included them to assure they could shut down the government. The Affordable Care Act is just the reason du jour for a shut down that, like the looming debt ceiling crisis, is cover for inflicting more economic damage on the nation during a time of war.

Even though America is at war in Afghanistan, it is believable Republicans are excited they get to further weaken the economy and thus the ability of the United States to protect national security interests at home and around the world. Republicans want a government shutdown to harm the economy more than they want to eliminate the ACA, and regardless they think they are “doing the right thing,” shutting down the government and damaging the economy is treason according to Article III, Section 3. Any person who deliberately endangers the American economy during a time of war is guilty of treason, and it applies to House Republicans, their maniacal leader Senator Ted Cruz, 66% of Republican and 79% of teabagger voters, various Koch entities inciting opposition to the health law, and the Heritage Foundation that devised the health law and now campaigns to shut down the government if it is not eliminated.

Republicans know the health law is good for Americans, and although esteemed economic expert Paul Krugman contends conservatives “don’t understand” the policy behind the ACA, that is just not true. They understand it perfectly and know it is already succeeding or they would not take extraordinary measures to see it eliminated; including shutting down the government and harming the economy in a time of war. With national security agencies preparing to lay off personnel when the shutdown occurs, hundreds-of-thousands of defense industry employees already facing furloughs and job losses, and economic recovery hanging in the balance, it is time for Americans to face the reality that the Republican Party is deliberately jeopardizing this nation’s security and for that they are guilty of treason.


Tea Party – Pee on America and Call this Experiment in Democracy Over

By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Sep. 30th, 2013

ted-cruz-meet-the-pressIt is indicative of Republican extremism that Ted Cruz and other Republicans insist that Democrats doing what Republicans want is “compromise.” Remember when Ted Cruz told David Gregory Sunday that delaying Obamacare is the “essence of a compromise,” that it is Demcorats who have adopted an “absolutist position.”

First Cruz insisted Obamacare be defunded. He insisted Democrats do exactly what he and other Republicans wanted – and had voted 44 times to achieve.

Now he insists Obamacare be delayed for a “at least” one year. He insists Democrats give him what he wants. If he doesn’t get it, he will shut down the government.

“And even now, what the House of Representatives has done is a step removed from defunding, it’s delaying it,” he added. “Now, that’s the essence of a compromise… On the other side, what have the Democrats compromised on? Zero. Nothing.”

He calls this compromise.

Compromise is both sides giving a little and meeting somewhere in the middle. Republicans aren’t willing to do that. From the very beginning of Obama’s presidency they have insisted that Democrats do precisely what they say, or America gets it – right in the head.

Nobody is fooled by Cruz and his word-play. Delaying Obamacare for “at least” a year is the same as killing it.

Rand Paul told Face the Nation yesterday,

“I’ve said all along it’s not a good idea to shut down the government, but I also think it’s not a good idea to give the president 100 percent of what he wants on Obamacare without compromise.”

What Cruz and Paul will continue to ignore is that Obamacare is a law. It is not reasonable to speak in terms of giving Obama “100 percent of what he wants” when what he wants is for the House to meet America’s obligations. The Affordable Care Act is now the law of the land, upheld by the Supreme Court, and the Republicans refuse to fund it. This is not even remotely reasonable. Paul’s position is nonsensical and absurd.

They want America to believe Obama is the architect of the shutdown. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), for example, told Face the Nation’s Bob Schieffer Sunday that Obama is “driving the shutdown.”

“He wants control of the checkbook,” Blackburn said.

What Blackburn and Paul are ignoring is that the Republicans are refusing to pay America’s legal debts – that Congress has already spent the money they are now fighting about. This is not about extra spending. This is not about Obama wanting to control the checkbook but about Republicans behaving legally and writing a check for debts they’ve already incurred.

Let’s look at an example: If Cruz owned a store and a customer bought something and then refused to pay it, Cruz would be incensed. He would tell the customer that he incurred a debt that he was now legally obligated to pay. Few of us would think the customer was within his rights to insist in exchange, Cruz change the name of his store.

One has nothing to do with the other.

But that is the game Cruz and his fellow tea partiers are playing.

And the thing is, Obamacare, while not perfect, works. The insurance is not expensive and people who don’t have it will be able to get it – even people that insurance companies can now legally reject. NBC News posted a guide just this morning answering pertinent questions about the healthcare law. It is pointed out that the government will even help people pay for their insurance, that even families making up to $94,000 could get a subsidy.

What makes the tea party games worse is that people don’t want them to shut down government over Obamacare. Indeed, people don’t want Obamacare delayed or eliminated.

Paul Begala wrote on CNN Sunday that

    Obamacare clocks in at just 29% support in a recent CNBC poll. So you’d think that the Republicans’ position of repealing the ACA would be more mainstream. But you’d be wrong.

    That same CNBC poll shows that Americans oppose defunding Obamacare, with only a little more than one-third of voters saying they want it defunded. They want to mend it, not end it.

    What’s worse for the Republicans, when the question shifts to whether you support shutting down the government and/or defaulting on U.S. debt in order to kill Obamacare, the GOP position loses by a crushing 59 to 19 percentage points. When you’re down to just 19% of your countrymen and -women supporting your crusade, it’s time (as we say in Texas) to pee on the fire and call the dogs: The hunt’s over.

Who, precisely, we must ask ourselves, are Cruz and Paul and others fighting for if it is not the American people? As Jason Easley wrote here yesterday, “Cruz and his small band of Republican ACA defunders aren’t defending the poor and middle class. They are trying to keep them locked into a system that either denies them health insurance, or makes it unaffordable.”

As President Obama has pointed out, they are also not fighting for the Constitution. It is quite clear that House Republicans feel they are the only branch of government and that the executive and judicial branches are superfluous.

One thing is for certain: the tea party isn’t planning to pee on Begala’s metaphorical fire. Their plan is to pee on America and call the dogs: this experiment in democracy is over.


Progressives target McConnell and Boehner over government shutdown

By Eric W. Dolan
Monday, September 30, 2013 14:23 EDT

In a statement released Monday, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee said would launch a series of online ads in Kentucky, Ohio, and Washington D.C. targeting Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republican House Speaker John Boehner over the looming government shutdown. They aim to have the ads viewed 1 million times.

“The way a government shutdown ends must be that Republicans cave — not that Democrats cave by cutting vital programs like Social Security. With this ad campaign, we’re making sure Republican leaders feel the heat back home,” PCCC co-founder Adam Green said.


Republicans Wig Out On NSYNC After Informative Tweet about ObamaCare

By: Sarah Jones
Sep. 30th, 2013

Conservatives hate ObamaCare so much that after NSYNC tweeted a link to help inform the public about the healthcare law.

*NSYNCVerified account ‏@NSYNC
Love, hate, or just confused by it -learn all you can about the Affordable Care Act which starts enrolling tomorrow!

    Love, hate, or just confused by it -learn all you can about the Affordable Care Act which starts enrolling tomorrow!

    — *NSYNC (@NSYNC) September 30, 2013

Responses were not too good (swear words were edited out for our gentle readers). These are all of the responses, not just the negative replies from Republicans:

1. Sara ‏@SJHotel 3h
@NSYNC UNFOLLOW #byebyebye
2. Arlan ‏@ArlanWasHere 2h
Whoa. “@NSYNC: Love, hate, or just confused by it -learn all you can about the Affordable Care Act!
3. Michelle Lancaster ‏@SkiGarmisch 2h
@NSYNC BYE BYE BYE! No #Obamacare !
4. @jdonels ‏@jdonels 2h
@NSYNC f*ck you
5. SunnyRight ‏@sunnyright 2h
@NSYNC So your solution to “learn” about it is to direct everyone to a pro-ObamaCare website. Propaganda. Lovely.
6. Michelle Malkin ‏@michellemalkin 2h
@NSYNC Learn about all the self-employed small biz owners losing their health plans because of Obamacare! ==>
7. jim palmer ‏@spiv 2h
@NSYNC go pitch for AARP instead
8. EEÉ ‏@EEElverhoy 2h
Oh good grief. MT @NSYNC: Love, hate, or just confused by it -learn all you can about the ACA which starts enrolling tomorrow!
9. Gary Eaton ‏@garysteveneaton 2h
@EEElverhoy @NSYNC WTF?!
10. EEÉ ‏@EEElverhoy 2h
Calling all 11yr old girls! MT @NSYNC: learn all you can about the ACA which starts enrolling tomorrow!
11. Annie Lowrey ‏@AnnieLowrey 1h
Oh dear. RT @NSYNC Love, hate or just confused by it: learn all about the ACA which starts enrolling tomorrow!
12. Julie Borowski ‏@JulieBorowski 1h
13. Daniel Solomon ‏@Dan_E_Solo 1h
Healthcare, no strings attached. MT @NSYNC Learn all you can about the Affordable Care Act!
14. ***SnarkySpice*** ‏@CassiaSpice 55m
I used to like you. How sad that you’re now liberal #puppets. @NSYNC
• ★♥ Harriet Baldwin ‏@HarrietBaldwin 33m
.@NSYNC Sick have Medicaid. Elderly have Medicare. Young ppl won’t buy Obamacare. They’ll pay the fine. Why are you in with this #EpicFail?
• Hans-Hermann Hophead ‏@red_mercer 19m

So, here’s a warning to all you brands out there: Don’t you dare follow the law or try to educate American citizens about it, or else conservatives are gonna get you. You are not allowed to even mention it, let alone try to inform them about the law, forget endorsing it. Pretending as if you have no opinion on the law is not good enough. If you’re not a rabid hater of the law, they hate you.

On the plus side, if you have been annoyed by conservatives greedily banging on about their Medicare while decrying government run healthcare, this is your golden opportunity to lose them. All you have to do is tweet a link to the government’s website regarding a law, and presto! Conservatives will hate you so much that they’ll finally leave you alone.

And they say ObamaCare is good for nothing.

Republicans brainwashed their base a little too well against ObamaCare, especially since it was based on their own ideas. Now they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, with a angry base that refuses to forget “death panels”.

So much for conservatives defending Ted Nugent et al with screeches about “free speech”. And who can forget how angry Republicans get when liberals use their wallet to object to political opinion like Rush Limbaugh calling Sandra Fluke a “slut”. But if a band dares to tweet a link to information about a law, well, freedom dies.

Updated: 8:26 PM to clarify that these are all of the responses, not just the negative responses from Republicans.


Republicans Get Called Out for Playing ‘Hide and Sneak’ with Women’s Rights

By: Sarah Jones
Sep. 30th, 2013

While they were destroying the economy, Republicans did not forget about their War on Women, so please don’t feel left behind, ladies.

Republicans sneaked a moral conscience provision in their defundy/delay ObamaCare measure passed on Sunday. That’s code for insurance doesn’t have to pay for your birth control, you “sluts”. This little doodad was slipped in during a House Rules Committee on Saturday evening. All of the Republican men who fathered children they have been denying also offered to pay back support.

Naturally, the National Organization for Women was “appalled” by the actions of House Republicans and called them out for playing hide and sneak with women’s health. Clearly, NOW operates in the past when women had “rights” and we trusted women to make their own decisions.

In a press release issued Monday, NOW asked, “What about a woman’s conscience?”

    This outrageous measure is an aggressive continuation of the Republicans’ War on Women. Republicans are playing “hide and sneak” as they attempt to enact birth control restrictions while hoping no one is paying attention. What the radical fringe that now controls the GOP hasn’t figured out yet is that women — including the 99 percent of sexually active women who have used birth control — are not so easily fooled. Women voters will hold them accountable for their continuing attacks on our access to basic reproductive healthcare.

    No woman — no matter who she works for — should be denied health care as basic as contraception. Politicians who vote to restrict birth control will undoubtedly pay a price at the polls in 2014.

Here’s a clue, NOW: Republicans don’t think women are human beings (see their many attempts to compare us to barn animals), so therefore, in their mind, women do not have a conscience. Refer to your Binders Full of Women for clarification, and please stop raising silly points.

Never mind the fact that birth control reduces abortions and forget about your crippling endometriosis and fibroids, girls, or the fact that 1.5 million women rely on the birth control pill for exclusively non-contraceptive purposes. Republicans are against birth control because you look better in the kitchen.

In fact, a 2011 Guttmacher study found that “more than half (58%) of all pill users rely on the method, at least in part, for purposes other than pregnancy prevention—meaning that only 42% use the pill exclusively for contraceptive reasons.”

Remember when Republicans pledged that they wouldn’t stuff unpopular issues into must pass legislation? “Advance Legislative Issues One at a Time: We will end the practice of packaging unpopular bills with “must-pass” legislation to circumvent the will of the American people. Instead, we will advance major legislation one issue at a time.”

Not so much.

So when Republicans refused to push back against conservative mouthpiece Rush Limbaugh when he called Sandra Fluke a “slut”, it wasn’t because they are weak, fear-driven children. It’s because secretly they agreed with him when he said:

“What does it say about the college coed Susan Fluke [sic], who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute.”

The Republican idea is that birth control is directly related to sex and Republicans are generally against sex unless the person engaging in it is a male elected official having an affair or breaking the law (Sanford, Vitter). Republicans are also allegedly against abortions, and anyone who is not logic impaired can sort out the relationship between birth control and abortion (birth control was designed to prevent pregnancy, hence it’s name), but they are still against birth control because – - sex. Females having sex. Females making choices. UGH. Binders full of women having sex and not asking permission. Double UGH.

Never mind that pregnancy that almost killed you, this is all about slut shaming.

The War on Women is alive and well, patriots.

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« Reply #9070 on: Oct 01, 2013, 10:39 AM »

October 01, 2013 08:00 AM

'House Of Turds': NY Daily News Mocks John Boehner

By Diane Sweet
Crossposted from Occupy America

Oh my. The New York Daily News marked the first government shutdown in 17 years on Tuesday with a cover that parodies a hit political drama and mocks House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).

Under the headline "House of Turds," the latest cover shows Boehner seated at the Lincoln Memorial with blood dripping from his hands -- a send-up of the popular Netflix series "House of Cards."

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« Reply #9071 on: Oct 02, 2013, 05:02 AM »

Golden Dawn leaders brought to court to face charges of murder and assault

Greeks stunned not only by revelations about country's far right group but also by strength of clampdown

Helena Smith in Athens, Tuesday 1 October 2013 18.31 BST   

When the moment of justice came for Golden Dawn it happened in a flash. One by one, the men who had headed the neo-Nazi party were delivered to court with lighting speed, black SUVs screeching to a halt as riot police kept onlookers at bay and agents in bulletpoof vests and balaclavas pushed the burly politicians, handcuffed and smiling, into building number six.

"We are crystal clean," one MP, Nikos Michos, managed to shout as he was led into the Athens courtroom. And then it was over.

Tuesday's scenes were the second act of a drama that started in the early hours of Saturday when counter-terrorism officials, in an unprecedented operation, arrested the most prominent figures of Greece's far-right Golden Dawn movement on charges of operating a criminal organisation masked as a political group.

Nikolaos Michaloliakos, the extremists' enigmatic leader, was said to be in his pyjamas when police surrounded his home and knocked at the door. Like his second-in-command, Christos Pappas, who subsequently surrendered, and the four MPs who were hauled before a public prosecutor on Tuesday, he stands accused of murder, money-laundering, blackmail and illegal possession of arms.

Greeks are stunned by the latest developments. They are shocked not only by the tactics employed by police, and the ferocity with which they have clamped down on the group but also the revelations that have since emerged surrounding the country's third biggest political force.

Four years into the debt-stricken country's worst crisis in modern times, there is widespread disbelief. None more so than in the migrant communities of Athens, where the far-rightists had overseen a reign of terror, escalating attacks on dark-skinned foreigners as their ratings soared in the polls.

"Every night we've been scared," said Shahid Sahid, a Bangladeshi immigrant who has lived in the Greek capital with his wife for the past 26 years. "They would roam the streets with clubs and iron bars looking for people like me."

On Tuesday, however, Golden Dawn diehards, led by Michaloliakos's daughter, Ourania, massed at the court complex to greet the MPs as heroes. "We are with you," they cried.

The anti-immigrant party has virulently denied accusations of criminal intent, insisting it had nothing to do with the death of Pavlos Fyssas, a 34-year-old Greek musician whose brutal murder two weeks ago triggered the crackdown. The rapper died within minutes of being stabbed by a self-professed member of Golden Dawn.

As they testified before an investigating magistrate the four MPs, led by Ilias Kasidiaris, the party's one-time spokesman, claimed that the charges were politically-motivated – a reflection, he said, of the government's terror at the group's runaway success in the polls.

Eleni Zaroulia, Golden Dawn's only female MP and Michaloliakos's wife, threw a plastic cup from which she had been drinking and then spat at a journalist when asked what the party's reaction to the allegations were.

"Get out of here. I'm speaking to you in Greek!" she shouted before spitting again.

The 48-year-old MP, who has given speeches denouncing "subhuman foreigners" in parliament, will take over the reins of Golden Dawn, while her husband, believed to have been referred to as "the Führer" by cadres, remains behind bars.

On Tuesday his continuing detention looked increasingly possible as police, citing intercepted telephone calls, announced they had incontrovertible proof linking the leader to Fyssas's murder. The revelations came as ex-members described how the extremists had recruited young Greeks, often desperate for work, with promises of money and a job.

"It is very easy to join Golden Dawn but very hard to leave," one member was quoted as telling police in testimony leaked to the media. "When I stopped going to meetings I received threatening telephone calls."

In a detailed account of the "brain-washing" recruits received, another supporter described how members had been trained in Nazi-style hit-squads to attack immigrants, "especially Pakistanis for fun".

Golden Dawn has been linked to more than 300 assaults – mostly directed at migrants but more recently targeting gay people and leftists – since it was elected to the Greek parliament with almost 7% of the vote and 18 MPs in June 2011.

The far-right party has long rejected accusations that it is a neo-Nazi organisation. But those denials were roundly rebuffed this week when police unearthed Nazi paraphernalia in the houses of several of the MPs.

While Michaloliakis had a framed picture of Hitler in his home, Pappas, the party's chief policymaker and holder of some of its hardest views, kept books, pictures and flags honouring the Führer in his own maisonette – along with vintage wine bottles emblazoned with the image of the Italian dictator and fellow fascist Benito Mussolini. Both men will appear before an investigating magistrate, who will decide whether to imprison them pending trial, this week.

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« Reply #9072 on: Oct 02, 2013, 05:03 AM »

Italian PM appeals to MPs ahead of confidence vote

Enrico Letta asks parliament to save coalition government from collapse following withdrawal of ministers by Silvio Berlusconi

Lizzy Davies in Rome, Wednesday 2 October 2013 11.33 BST   

The politics of the eurozone's third largest economy was in a state of uncertainty as the prime minister, Enrico Letta, urged MPs to search their consciences and support his government in a make-or-break confidence vote.

In a speech before the upper house of parliament, the head of Italy's five-month-old grand coalition said it was up to MPs from all sides of the spectrum to save the country from the "potentially fatal risk" of government collapse.

About 25 minutes into the speech, Silvio Berlusconi, the former prime minister whose decision to withdraw his centre-right ministers from the coalition sparked the crisis, entered the senate.

Facing what appeared to be an unprecedented rebellion within his own Freedom People (PdL) party, on Tuesday night Berlusconi had told loyalists to vote against the confidence vote.

But, on his way in to Palazzo Madama on Wednesday, he said the vote could yet go either way. "Let's see what happens," he told reporters. "We will listen to Letta's speech and then decide."

The Ansa news agency later reported that the PdL's official party line would be to vote against 'no' to the confidence vote, paving the way for a dramatic but as yet unquantifiable split in the main centre-right party.

As the debates went ahead in the Senate, it was unclear how much support Letta could count on from PdL dissidents.

In the most important speech of his career, Letta, urged senators to accept that Italy's government could not be held hostage by Berlusconi's increasingly pressing legal woes. The billionaire media magnate was convicted in August of tax fraud and faces imminent expulsion from the Senate.

In a direct rebuke to the 77-year-old who has dominated Italian politics for two decades, Letta said the interests of one person and those of an entire nation "neither could nor can overlap". In a democratic state, he added, "sentences are respected and enforced".

Berlusconi has to choose by the middle of this month whether to serve his sentence under house arrest or in community services. Italians, he said, were sick and tired of "blood and theatrics" and of "politicians who butcher each other and then change nothing".

As Italy showed signs of emerging from its worst recession since the second world war, he said, the country needed a government that focused on its pressing socio-economic problems, which include record youth unemployment and a public debt of over €2tn.

Plunging it back into political limbo would delay efforts to help struggling businesses, embarrass Italy in Europe, and hit hardest ordinary families who have suffered the most during the economic downturn, he said.

"Italy is running a risk that is potentially fatal, without remedy," he said. "Thwarting this risk, to seize or not seize the moment, depends on the choices we will make in this chamber. It depends on a yes or a no."

In a final appeal that referred obliquely to Berlusconi, he asked senators for "courage and confidence" to avoid being hit by "shameful regret". He said it would be "a confidence [vote] that is not against anyone; a confidence [vote] that is for Italy".

If the government is able to continue, he said, it would exercise tight control over public finances and avoid the deficit running over 3%, he said. If it was struck down and a new election had to be held, he said, Italy ran a risk of fresh ungovernability, with a deadlocked parliament likely due to an electoral law that Letta says is a reform priority.

The prime minister's speech began by quoting Luigi Einaudi, a former Italian president. "In the lives of nations, the mistake of not knowing how to seize the fleeting moment is irreparable," he said.


Silvio Berlusconi's allies turn on him to keep Italy's grand coalition alive

Key figure says more than 40 MPs from billionaire's Freedom People party ready to back PM Enrico Letta in confidence vote

Lizzy Davies in Rome, Tuesday 1 October 2013 20.48 BST      

Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's longest-serving postwar prime minister, who has dominated the country's politics for two decades, appeared to be facing an unprecedented rebellion in his own party that raised hopes of the eurozone's third-largest economy avoiding a government collapse.

On the eve of a make-or-break day in parliament when the prime minister, Enrico Letta, is likely to call for a confidence vote in the grand coalition he has headed since April, Berlusconi appeared on Tuesday night to be on a collision course with a breakaway faction of his People of Freedom (PdL) party.

If the vote is called and fails, Letta will have to resign and the government will fall, a situation likely to spread shockwaves through the European markets. It would presage a fresh period of uncertainty for a recession-mired country that has already spent two months in political limbo this year, and could eventually prompt a new election.

However, as outrage about Berlusconi's decision to withdraw his ministers from the coalition built not only among his opponents but also within his own party, hopes grew last night that the Letta government could be saved by a faction of disgruntled PdL "doves".

To win the confidence vote in the senate, Letta needs to attract extra votes from either the centre-right PdL or the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) to reach the magic number of 161. He has said, however, that he has no interest in continuing at the head of a government that only sneaks in by a handful of votes.

His chances appeared to have been significantly boosted on Tuesday, when Carlo Giovanardi, a long-time ally of Berlusconi, struck the first major blow when he announced that "more than 40" PdL MPs were prepared to vote to keep the government afloat.

Then, in a stunning move likened by one observer to an "Et tu, Brute?" moment, Angelino Alfano, the deputy prime minister long seen as Berlusconi's political heir, appeared to solidify the mutiny. "I remain firmly convinced that all our party should tomorrow back the confidence vote in Letta," he said, according to Ansa.

His words defied the 77-year-old billionaire party chief, who on Friday faces a senate committee vote – which is almost certain to go against him – on whether he should be stripped of his seat because of his conviction for tax fraud.

Berlusconi has made a series of contradictory statements in recent days, appearing at times to be prepared to offer external support for the government after first calling for Italy to return to the polls "as soon as possible".

But after a late-night summit with party "hawks" at his Rome residence, he gave no doubt as to his intentions, reportedly calling on his MPs to vote against a confidence vote. The decision, which came soon after Letta said he had refused the resignations of Berlusconi's five ministers, including Alfano, set the stage for a dramatic parliamentary showdown.

For Letta, Tuesday's session in the upper house of parliament will be by far the biggest test of his career. The mild-mannered 47-year-old has attempted to reconcile the centre-left and centre-right for five months, a task which became dramatically more difficult after Berlusconi's conviction on 1 August.

If the numbers claimed by Giovanardi are borne out – and analysts warned against assuming anything – Letta would have a majority which would afford him room for manoeuvre.

If, during the debates on Tuesday, he senses that he does not have the support needed, he could choose not to call a vote and go instead to the Quirinale to have a crisis meeting with the president, Giorgio Napolitano.

The 88-year-old head of state, forced to serve an unprecedented second term in the aftermath of February's inconclusive election, is desperate to avoid a crunch vote that would see the government fall.

He does not want Italians to return to the polls any time soon, especially before a new electoral law is passed that could avoid returning a deadlocked parliament as in February.

In recent days, critics of Berlusconi's strategy, from the Vatican to Italy's leading employers' association, have lined up to condemn him for risking a new period of turmoil in a country struggling to exit its longest recession in decades.

Italy's statistics agency, Istat, announced on Tuesday that, for the first time since records began, youth unemployment rose above 40% in August. Overall joblessness stands at 12.2%.

For the Democratic party and other supporters of the Letta government, this is reason enough for the government not to be made to fall.

"This country needs anything but more electoral and political limbo," said Sandro Gozi, a PD MP. He said that to go to new elections without first redrawing the electoral law that led to a deadlocked senate would be "masochistic". "We would risk finding ourselves in exactly the same situation as today," he said.

But, over in the M5S, the view is different. Its MPs are expected to vote en masse against the confidence vote. "The situation is extremely serious. There is a government crisis with a totally fractured majority," said Paola Carinelli, who represents the M5S in the chamber. "But precisely because of this, what sense is there in keeping it alive? Rather let's have new elections."

She said the government had failed to deliver. "What a government should be doing in a situation of this gravity is respond to the problems of the country. Instead, in recent weeks, they have just been arguing with each other and not prioritising the interests of the country," she said.

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« Reply #9073 on: Oct 02, 2013, 05:10 AM »

Good riddance, Turkish school oath – but reforms don't go far enough

The Turkish PM's reform package makes some welcome concessions to Kurds. But Erdoğan is no champion of democracy

Kaya Genç, Tuesday 1 October 2013 15.37 BST   

One of the most painful activities of my childhood years in Turkey was taking the student oath every Monday morning and Friday afternoon. Barely awake, in the early hours of the morning or after a long week of studying, I had to proclaim loudly: "I am a Turk, honest, hardworking. My principles are to protect the younger, to respect the elder, to love my homeland and my nation more than myself. My ideal is to rise, to progress. May my life be dedicated to the Turkish existence." It concluded with a sentence that expressed the central principle of the education system: "How happy is the one who says 'I am a Turk!'"

That oath is no more. It is gone, just like that, with a decision made by the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his advisers. When the announcement was made on Monday, I breathed a sigh of relief but that short passage had already made its indelible mark on my consciousness. How can one forget those lucidly formulated principles of a country's founding ideology when forced to shout it twice a week for almost a decade?

The student oath was composed by Reşit Galip, who served as minister of education in 1933, the year the oath was introduced. Galip reportedly visited a school and asked the pupils to repeat his phrases. He then wrote them on a piece of paper, sent it to authorities in Ankara and in a matter of weeks the oath was being repeated in every school in Turkey.

At school the rebellious among us would avoid taking the oath: some would move their lips in sync, while others came to school late to avoid it. But the school administrations took the oath very seriously. The headmaster and his group of dedicated teachers would walk among rows of students to inspect whether it was being recited properly and with the desired level of fervour. On Fridays, when pupils would be impatient to leave for the weekend, the oath would turn into a last barrier between the boring world of education and the freedom that awaited us outside the school gates. "This is not a proper oath, children!", the headmaster would suddenly decide. "You shouted the words too quickly. I want you to shout them slower and louder and with genuine passion or I will make you take the oath as many times as I desire!"

As tedious as I found it, the oath must have irritated pupils of Kurdish and Greek origin most. A friend of a friend would repeat a slightly altered version. "I am a Kurd", he would say: "I have been forced to be dishonest. So I am hard at work on lying."

The removal of the oath was not the only reform introduced in Monday's democratisation package. The most significant change is for headscarved women, who will be allowed to work as civil servants and become parliamentarians. Political organisations like the Peace and Democracy party will be able to receive state funding, and the eight-decade long ban on Kurdish letters (q, w and x) will be abolished. However for many the reforms fell short of expectations and had nothing substantial to offer to the country's Alevis. Erdoğan's decision to postpone more significant reforms to a later date was seen as part of his strategy for next year's local elections. There were also criticisms of the manner in which the package was announced, with some commentators likening the fanfare to Ottoman officials unveiling modernisation in the 19th century.

After witnessing the draconian way in which his government handled the Gezi protests this summer, it is increasingly difficult to see the prime minister as a champion of democracy. But this doesn't change the fact that the lifting of the student oath is great news for pupils. Monday mornings will continue to bring them the realities of school and discipline, but at least they will be spared the embarrassment of shouting the antiquated slogans of a bygone era.

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« Reply #9074 on: Oct 02, 2013, 05:14 AM »


Pussy Riot's Nadezhda Tolokonnikova ends nine-day hunger strike

Russia's Federal Penitentiary Service says Tolokonnikova is receiving food, two days after she was moved to prison hospital

Sean Michaels, Wednesday 2 October 2013 11.21 BST      

Pussy Riot's Nadezhda Tolokonnikova has ended her nine-day hunger strike. Although deteriorating health forced Tolokonnikova to halt her protest against prison conditions, her husband has said that she will resume the strike if she is not transferred away from Mordovia's Penal Colony No 14.

On Tuesday, Russia's Federal Penitentiary Service revealed that Tolokonnikova is again receiving food, two days after she was moved to a prison hospital. According to state news agency RIA Novosti, the 23-year-old is in a stable condition and receiving diet food over a drip. While human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin told Russian media that Tolokonnikova had received a promise that she would be transferred to a different penal colony, there was no such indication from her husband, Pyotr Verzilov, who said she may yet resume her fast.

Meanwhile, members of the Russian Presidential Human Rights Council have published a report confirming several of Tolokonnikova's claims about conditions at Penal Colony No 14. As stated in her open letter from 23 September, many prisoners work as many as 16 hours per day, contrary to the eight-hour legal maximum, and are underpaid for their work.

But even after conducting interviews with dozens of prison inmates, members of the council stopped short of recommending a criminal investigation into conditions at the site. They also suggested that instead of transferring Tolokonnikova to a different penal colony, she could be moved to a different division within the same site. Nevertheless, RIA Novosti reported that Tolokonnikova's lawyer, Dmitry Dinze, has moved ahead with his request that Mordovian prosecutors open a case against prison administrators: Tolokonnikova alleges that, among other offences, the colony's deputy chief threatened to murder her. Authorities have denied all allegations.

Russian courts have repeatedly denied early parole for Tolokonnikova or the other jailed member of the group, Maria Alyokhina. In a recent interview, Alyokhina said that Pussy Riot will not stage any other protests at religious sites, such as the one that resulted in their arrest. "We've paid attention to the fact that … this [is] a criminal offence," she said on Rossiya TV. "We wouldn't go to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour again – or, unquestionably, to any other church."

Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina are scheduled to be released in March 2014.


Russia ‘to charge Greenpeace group with piracy’

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, October 1, 2013 10:54 EDT

Greenpeace activists detained in Russia for an open-sea protest against Arctic oil drilling will on Wednesday be formally charged with piracy, the Interfax news agency said, citing an unnamed source.

If found guilty, the 30 detained activists could face a maximum punishment of 15 years in jail.

“They will be charged according to Section 3 of the Criminal Code’s Article 227 (piracy committed by an organised group,” Interfax quoted a law enforcement source as saying on Tuesday.

The source said the 30 detained activists will be charged in the northern city of Murmansk.

A spokeswoman for the Investigative Committee confirmed to AFP that the activists are expected to be charged on Wednesday but declined to specify the charges.

President Pig Putin last week raised hopes that the activists would face lesser charges when he said that they “of course are not pirates”, but had broken international law by protesting close to a Russian oil rig.

The crew of Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise icebreaker was detained last month over the protest and detained for two months.

They are now in pre-trial detention centres in the cities of Murmansk and Apatity, nearly 2,000 kilometres north of Moscow and above the Arctic circle.

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