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« Reply #9105 on: Oct 03, 2013, 07:11 AM »


Mars once covered in giant supervolcanoes, scientists find

Findings raise questions about conditions on the planet and whether or not it could have harboured microbial life

Reuters in Houston
theguardian.com, Thursday 3 October 2013 13.30 BST   

Ancient Mars was home to giant volcanoes capable of eruptions a thousand times more powerful than the one that shook Mount St Helens in 1980, scientists have said.

The finding raises fresh questions about conditions on Mars in its early years, a time when scientists believe the planet was much more Earth-like, with a thick atmosphere, warmer temperatures and water on its surface.

Major volcanic eruptions may well have triggered climate shifts that toggled Martian temperatures between cold spells when ash blocked out the sunlight and heat waves when greenhouse gases filled the skies, according to scientists.

Supervolcanoes may have made it more difficult for life to evolve on the planet's surface, but underground steam vents and the release of water into the atmosphere also could have created niches for microbes to thrive, said geologist Joseph Michalski of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona.

The discovery of supervolcanoes on Mars comes from analysis of images from a quartet of Mars orbiters over the past 15 years.

These types of volcanoes, also known as "caldera" volcanoes, are ancient, collapsed structures rather than steep, cone-shaped or domed mountains like Olympus Mons on Mars, a so-called shield volcano that stands nearly three times taller than Mount Everest, the highest peak on Earth.

"We know a lot about the volcanic history of Mars over the last 3bn to 3.5bn years, but that still leaves about 1bn years before that over which we don't really know anything about volcanism," Michalski told Reuters.

Some scientists theorised that the oldest Martian volcanoes had eroded away, but the new findings suggest a different kind of volcano existed long ago.

"If early Mars saw a lot more explosive volcanism, then the features that are left from that don't look like those shield volcanoes. That's maybe why we didn't see them," Michalski said.

Scientists say supervolcanoes erupt with about 1,000 times the force of typical volcanoes like Mount St Helens in Washington state. The eruption of Mount St Helens in 1980 blasted the top off the mountain, killed 57 people and, according to the US Geological Survey, shot ash, steam, water and debris about 24,000 metres (80,000ft) into the air.

Evidence of past supervolcanoes on Earth has been erased by plate tectonics and other geologic activities.

Michalski was actually studying Martian impact craters, not looking for volcanoes.

"We made the discovery by accident," he said. "As I went through [the images] of this one region, I found a number of them that were simply not impact craters," he said.

"One was clearly a volcano. ... It is quite possible there are many more of these," Michalski added.

Because the emission of gases from volcanoes helps create a planet's atmosphere, understanding the volcanic history of Mars is crucial to figuring out what the planet – the fourth from the Sun – was like in its early years.

Additional evidence may come from Nasa's Mars Curiosity rover, which is heading toward a 3-mile-(5-km)-high mound of deposits called Mount Sharp.

The rover touched down inside a giant impact basin near the planet's equator in August 2012 to assess if Mars ever had the chemistry and environment to support and preserve microbial life.

"There are thousands of layers of rocks in Mount Sharp and they contain a long record of geologic history," Michalski said.

"There could be interlayered rocks that are ash beds, and we predict that and we hope that the rover can test it," he said.

The research appears in the journal Nature.


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« Reply #9106 on: Oct 03, 2013, 07:35 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

Justice Department rejects tech industry’s call for transparency

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 2, 2013 17:50 EDT

A request by major technology firms to disclose more about US intelligence services’ data requests would “cause serious harm to national security,” the government said in a court filing Wednesday.

The Justice Department, responding to petitions from major US Internet firms, said it opposes the move for more transparency in the role of the companies in vast data collection programs.

The requests “would permit damaging disclosures that would reveal sources and methods of surveillance potentially nationwide,” said the filing to the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a special body which handles secret government requests.

Yahoo, Google, Facebook and Microsoft are among the firms which have asked for permission to publish the numbers of national security data requests they receive, hoping this would reassure customers that the role of the firms is limited.

But the Justice Department’s 33-page brief, which included heavy redactions in the public version to delete specific names, said the government has taken steps to be more transparent but that some information must remain classified and secret.

It said the government agreed to publish an annual report which includes an aggregate number of requests under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

But this will not be broken down on a company basis, and accordingly “will not provide our adversaries with a roadmap to the existence or extent of government surveillance of any particular provide or communications platform.”

It added that “revealing FISA data on a company by company basis would cause serious harm to national security,” and that this is the reason it is classified.

The brief also disputed claims that the companies have a constitutional right to publish the information, saying such restrictions on classified information are “well-settled.”

At a Senate hearing on Wednesday, the top US intelligence official reiterated these concerns.

James Clapper, director of national intelligence, said the government has no objection to the release of the total number of government requests but that a company-by-company breakdown “gives the adversaries, the terrorists, the prerogative of shopping around for providers that aren’t covered.”

Google, Facebook and Yahoo are among major Internet companies identified as participants in the PRISM program, described as a vast surveillance operation aimed at finding foreigners who are threats to the government. Other firms in the program included Microsoft, Apple and AOL.

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NSA chief denies that the agency is spying on your Facebook profile

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 2, 2013 14:11 EDT

The head of the National Security Agency said Wednesday the secretive intelligence service does not compile data on Americans’ use of social networks, dismissing a media report as “wrong.”

General Keith Alexander told a Senate hearing that a New York Times article “jumped to the conclusion this was done on Americans, that’s not true.”

He told the Judiciary Committee that the NSA, which has been under fire following revelations about vast surveillance efforts which collect data on Americans, only uses social networks when it is investigating “someone who is part of a terrorist investigation.”

“The fact that people assume that we’re out there mapping the social networks of US persons is absolutely wrong. What we do go after is those that are the subject of a terrorist investigation or something like that.”

Alexander said the agency can use social networks to “enrich” the information it has on a terrorist suspect.

“We don’t have the Facebook and other stuff on those people here in the US. It would have to come from the foreign side,” he said.

And if an investigation led back to an American, Alexander said, “then it would go over to the FBI. We are looking for the foreign nexus here, not the US part.”

The New York Times reported Sunday that the NSA since 2010 has created sophisticated graphs of some Americans’ social connections that can identify their associates, locations and other personal information.

The newspaper cited newly disclosed documents from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and interviews with officials.

The Senate panel called the hearing to consider the intelligence community’s use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, in light of the media revelations in recent months.

Committee chairman Senator Patrick Leahy said, “When you have all these revelations, it’s no surprise the intelligence community faces a trust deficit.”

“I think it’s time for a change,” Leahy said in opening the hearing. “And I think additional transparency and oversight are important parts of that change.”

Leahy has said he wants to end “bulk collection” of phone records along with other reforms affecting intelligence gathering.

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 SPIEGEL ONLINE
10/02/2013 03:07 PM

Shutdown Spectacle: 'America Is Already Politically Bankrupt'

As the United States government shutdown enters its second day, Washington is the target of both ridicule and concern overseas. German commentators describe the situation as a "specifically American problem" with far-reaching consequences.

The illustration on the cover of German business daily Handelsblatt on Wednesday morning fairly well encapsulates the way the US federal government shutdown is being perceived across the Atlantic. The Statue of Liberty stands bound in chains, her torch hand hanging listlessly by her side. Across it reads the headline: "The Blocked World Power."

Many Germans have found it hard to understand American lawmakers' inability to resolve their budget disagreements in time to prevent a shutdown of all nonessential government services, which went into effect at midnight on Monday night. "What Washington currently offers up is a spectacle, but one in which the spectators feel more like crying," writes the conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

"Because Republicans and Democrats, House and Senate, Congress and president could not agree on a stop-gap budget, hundreds of thousands of federal employees were sent on involuntary leave and many agencies were forced to shut down," continues the editorial. "The main actors in this dispute, which brings together many factors, both ideological and political, took a huge risk and, unhindered, proceeded to validate everyone who ever accused the political establishment in Washington of being rotten to the core -- by driving the world power into a budgetary state of emergency. The public is left wondering how things could have been allowed to get to this point and why there is so much poison in the system."

Elsewhere, German commentators asked whether a similar government shutdown could happen in Berlin, where Chancellor Angela Merkel is currently embroiled in drawn-out talks over Germany's federal budget between her conservatives and their probable coalition partner, the center-left Social Democrats. "The American situation is not at all comparable with the Germans," Professor Henrik Enderlein, a Berlin-based expert on political economy, assured news agency DPA on Wednesday. The article went on to characterize the shutdown as a "specifically American problem," a sentiment echoed by other media outlets.

Yet it was clear to many that the fallout would be far-reaching. "The whole world pays for America's shutdown," reads a headline in the right-leaning daily Die Welt above an article about the consequences on the German economy. In the article, several prominent German economists registered disapproval. "If the Americans shoot themselves in the foot right now, it is highly dangerous for the entire global economy, and of course for the German export economy," warned Anton Böner, president of the Federal Association for German Wholesalers and Foreign Trade.

The 'Kamikaze Party'

The overwhelming consensus among the German press is that the Republicans are the most to blame for the gridlock. In a Tuesday commentary, SPIEGEL ONLINE's Gregor Peter Schmitz dubbed them the "kamikaze party." He attributed the gridlock to America's mercenary political culture -- where directly elected lawmakers run for re-election every two years and campaigns are privately financed -- as well as to the lack of party infrastructure compared to Germany's parliamentary model with its publicly funded campaigns.

"It's circumstances like these," writes Schmitz, "that explain why a brigade of Republicans conduct themselves like a bunch of Berlusconis -- as enemies of the state from within who want to cripple the country because that's the desire of their conservative voters at home."

When it came to the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party, the German press was not pulling any punches. "There are fundamentalists within the world's largest democracy: The hardline wing of the Republican Party are once more crippling the United States," writes Nuremberg's Nachrichten. The Tea Party movement, it concludes, "does not engage in democracy, but in dogmatism."

"Here are fundamentalists at work who hold up their country to ridicule to advance their pure doctrine," wrote a commentator in Collogne's Stadt-Anzeiger. "What a tragedy!"

'Self-Destruction' of a Democracy

Munich's national Süddeutsche Zeitung offers a slightly more depressing take, pointing blame at all sides. "What has already been apparent in America for a few years now is the self-destruction of one of the world's oldest democracies. And the great tragedy here is that this work of destruction isn't being wrought by enemies of democracy, greedy lobbyists or sinister major party donors. America's democracy is bring broken by the very people who are supposed to be carry and preserve it: the voters, the parties and the politicians."

The argument? The Republicans who have brought Washington to stillstand are repeatedly and democratically elected by voters and given a mandate to block. The parties themselves are fomenting an increasingly radicalized culture that deepens political, societal and geographic divisions in the country, argues the newspaper. And finally, there are few politicians in America who are willing or capable of thinking beyond their own electoral constituencies.

"At the moment, Washington is fighting over the budget and nobody knows if the county will still be solvent in three weeks," the paper concludes. "What is clear, though, is that America is already politically bankrupt."

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Obama meets bank chiefs as economists warn of 'deep and dark recession'

President talks to finance executives including Goldman boss Lloyd Blankfein as business leaders urge action on shutdown

Dominic Rushe in New York
theguardian.com, Wednesday 2 October 2013 22.18 BST      

President Obama met bank executives including Goldman Sachs chief Lloyd Blankfein on Wednesday as economists, business leaders and European officials warned that the US government shutdown threatens to plunge the economy into a "deep and dark recession".

The meeting with finance chiefs came as the shutdown entered its second day and Obama prepared to meet with Republican leaders in the hope of ending the impasse. Business leaders expressed concern about the shutdown, and about a looming battle over the nation's $16.7tn debt ceiling.

Treasury secretary Jack Lew has warned that the US could default on its debts if the limit is not raised soon.

"There's precedent for a government shutdown; there is no precedent for a default," Blankfein told reporters after the meeting. He warned that the economic recovery was already "shallow".

Earlier on Wednesday, the European central bank president Mario Draghi warned that a protracted US shutdown could impede economic recoveries around the world. "If it were to be protected, it is certainly a risk to the US and the world recovery, so we need to have it present in our minds," he said.

Business Roundtable president John Engler said the shutdown and deficit row were already harming the economy. "America's business leaders are extremely disappointed by the failure of the nation's political leaders to reach an agreement on funding the basic operations of the federal government," he said.

The lobby group represents the CEOs of many of America's largest companies, including American Express, Boeing and Goldman Sachs. Engler said the group had already warned Congress that even a brief shutdown would have serious economic consequences.

"At a time when both parties should be focused on job creation and policies to accelerate growth, their chronic disagreement and gridlock are actually undermining confidence, putting people out of work and hurting the economy," he said.

The impact of the shutdown, now in its second day, is already being felt beyond government employees and frustrated tourists blocked from entering federal parks. The Internal Revenue Service has stopped issuing the W2 proof-of-income forms for some borrowers who need them to secure a loan.

The Federal Housing Administration, which currently endorses about 15% of the entire single-family mortgage market, is operating with limited staff.

Doug Lebda, the chief executive of mortgage company Lendingtree, said in a blogpost that the impact on the housing market would be minimal as long as a resolution was found soon. But it would worsen as a shutdown continued: "The longest government shutdown lasted 21 days. Let's hope US lawmakers don't try to beat the record," he wrote.

US stock markets fell Wednesday after a brief recovery Tuesday as investors bet that the shutdown was likely to continue. Mark Zandi, the chief economist of Moody's Analytics, said the shutdown was likely to cause bigger losses for investors if it continued into next week.

But he warned that would be nothing compared to the "Pandora's box" that would be opened if no deal on the debt ceiling was done before 17 October deadline. Congress must agree to raise the US's $16.7tn debt ceiling by that date or risk being unable to meet its obligations.

"That would completely undermine confidence among business people," he said. "The collective psyche will weaken – and rapidly."

Zandi, a former economic adviser to Republican presidential hopeful John McCain, said the economy would enter a "very deep recession, very quickly, and a very dark recession." Hiring would drop off immediately and the Federal Reserve would have no power to act, he said.

"We are in a very different place to 1995-96 [the time of the last government shutdown]," he said. "At that time, interest rates were higher, unemployment was lower and we were on the cusp of the tech boom."

With interest rates now at historic lows and the Federal Reserve already pumping $85bn a month into the economy through its stimulus programme, Zandi said this time around there was very little the Fed could do to halt a deep slide into recession. The recession would be "so dark that I can't imagine policymakers going down that route," he said.

A stopgap solution was unlikely to reassure business or investors, he said.

Moody's calculates that political uncertainty has cost the US economy 1m jobs since before the recession as businesses have delayed hiring for fear of changes in fiscal policy.

Last year researchers at the San Francisco federal reserve that heightened policy uncertainty had become an increasing drag on job market since the recession began. The researchers concluded that recruitment wanes as uncertainty rises and that by the end of 2012, the unemployment rate would have been close to 6.5% instead of the reported 7.8% if not for the political infighting.

"For the sake of the US economy, Congress and the administration must sit down together and quickly find a solution to fund the federal government and avoid yet another perilous showdown over raising the debt ceiling," said Engler.

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

Editorial

John Boehner’s Shutdown

New York Times
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
Published: October 1, 2013   

By Tuesday morning, the leadership failure of Speaker John Boehner was complete. In encouraging the impossible quest of House Republicans to dismantle health care reform, he pushed the country into a government shutdown that will now begin to take a grievous economic toll.

At any point, Mr. Boehner could have stopped it. Had he put on the floor a simple temporary spending resolution to keep the government open, without the outrageous demands to delay or defund the health reform law, it could easily have passed the House with a strong majority — including with sizable support from Republican members, many of whom are aware of how badly this collapse will damage their party.

But Mr. Boehner refused. He stood in the well of the House and repeated the tired falsehood that the Affordable Care Act was killing jobs. He came up with a series of increasingly ridiculous demands: defund the health law, delay it for a year, stop its requirement that employers pay for contraception, block the medical device tax, delay the individual mandate for a year, strip Congressional employees of their health subsidies. All were instantly rejected by the Senate. “They’ve lost their minds,” Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, said of the House Republicans. “They keep trying to do the same thing over and over again.”

Finally, at the last minute, when there was still time to end the charade with a straightforward spending bill, Mr. Boehner made the most absurd demand of all: an immediate conference committee with the Senate. Suddenly, with less than an hour left, he wanted to set up formal negotiations?

For six months, the Senate has been demanding a conference with the House on the 2014 budget — talks that might have prevented the impasse in the first place. But the House leadership has adamantly refused, knowing it would not succeed in getting all the cuts to taxes and spending that it demands. For Mr. Boehner to call for a conference near midnight was the height of hypocrisy.

The consequences of Mr. Boehner’s failure will be immediate: 800,000 government employees thrown out of work, over a million more working without pay, offices that provide important services closed, and programs on which poor people depend — like the Women, Infants and Children nutrition system — cut off. The longer Republicans refuse to approve a rational spending measure, the more federal agencies will be affected and the greater the damage done to an economy still in recovery.

Having let down the public, Republicans will now, inevitably, scramble to save their reputation. They are desperate to make it appear as if President Obama and the Democrats are the ones being intransigent, hoping voters will think that everyone is at fault and simply blame “Washington.” Mr. Boehner even mocked the president on Monday for refusing to negotiate over health reform, as if he actually expected Mr. Obama to join in wrecking a law that will provide health coverage to millions of uninsured Americans under threat of blackmail.

On Tuesday, Republicans came up with another self-serving offer, proposing to open a few government departments whose closures are likely to produce negative news coverage, such as Veterans Affairs and the national parks. Democrats quickly made it clear that only a full reopening of government would suffice, and three of the bills died in the House. More are expected, however.

Earlier in his presidency, Mr. Obama made the catastrophic mistake — in the face of just this sort of extortion — to believe in Mr. Boehner’s willingness to be reasonable. This time, however, the cynical games of the Republicans are not going to work.

The Republicans’ reckless obsession with destroying health reform and with wounding the president has been on full display. And, as the public’s anger grows over this entirely unnecessary crisis, it should be aimed at a party and a speaker that are incapable of governing.

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Republicans Trying To Gaslight The Public On The Shutdown

By Amanda Marcotte
RawStory
Wednesday, October 2, 2013 17:20 EDT

Republicans think you are stupid. If a terrorist group takes a hostage, rest assured that 99% of people will blame the terrorist group if the hostage is hurt or killed, and not the hostage’s allies who were not in a position to give in to the outrageous demands of terrorists. But Republicans have convinced themselves that they can get the public to blame the Democrats for the government shutdown caused by Republicans taking the government hostage.

Republicans are trying to convince everyone that they hate this shutdown and wish it weren’t happening, which of course flies directly in the face of their repeated gleeful celebrations of the shutdown that indicate that they fucking love this because anything that pisses off the liberals and hurts poor people is a win in their book. They’re shedding crocodile tears over the closing of the WWII monument that they are responsible for closing. Ted Cruz is literally threatening terrorism, saying that the shutdown leaves us vulnerable. In other words, he is straight up saying that the minority party should get what they want or people will get killed. That’s some ugly, dark, evil shit.

As with many things, the diehards are convincing themselves they believe the lie that this is the Democrats’ fault, but I doubt anyone else is. Republicans have done a terrible job of trying to convince us that this is anything but punishment for electing the “wrong” party into the White House. It’s amazingly childish, like hitting your brother and trying to convince your mom he did it to himself. Except these assholes are presumably adults.

The fact of the matter is Boehner probably could stop the shutdown tomorrow morning if he wants. He has the votes. They won’t because they don’t want to reopen the government. They want to punish us for daring to defy them and voting how we want instead of how they told us to vote. It’s unsurprising to me that the GOP uses some of the common tactics of domestic abusers, namely gaslighting the voters (trying to make them believe what they know—that the GOP is behind this—isn’t true) and claiming that it’s the victim’s fault that they “had” to hurt them. They are, after all, the party that backs an increasingly rigid and abusive sexist ideology that fits quite neatly with those rhetorical devices. But we have no need to believe them.

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The Christian Science Monitor

The tea party created an existential threat to America, not Obamacare

By pretending that the Affordable Care Act poses such an existential risk to the republic that it merits dragging our national character through the mud of a government shutdown, tea party Republicans are belittling the very real crises America soon may face.

By Justin Holbrook / October 1, 2013 at 11:01 am EDT
Falls Church, Va.

Let me make sure I understand. The tea party Republicans in the House and Senate have determined that the Affordable Care Act is so reprehensible, so pernicious, and so destructive of American liberties that it poses an existential risk to the republic.

That’s the only reasonable conclusion to be drawn from their most recent – and now disturbingly familiar – round of legislative warfare, which has now ended in a government shutdown. Why? Because tea party Republicans have been wielding nearly every existential weapon in their arsenal to blast the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) into legislative oblivion.

Shutting down the government. Threatening the full faith and credit of the United States. Anything it takes to force congressional Democrats and President Obama into white flag waving submission. Clearly for them, a law like this must be stopped at all costs. If it cannot be defeated initially, it must be stopped judicially. If the Supreme Court upholds it, Congress must repeal, derail, or defund it. This is not just a bad law – it is an evil one.

The problem is, it isn’t.

Certainly not to the majority of Democrats. And not for common-sense Republicans like me.

Common-sense Republicans understand that a law that forces Americans to opt in and pay for health-care insurance or opt out and pay a federal tax might simply be a bad law. It might skew market forces, misalign our national spending priorities, and even dress up an unconstitutional encroachment on our individual liberties in the guise of a federal tax. For common sense Republicans, none of this is good, and some of it is very bad.

But it’s not an existential threat that deserves an existential response.

Freedom of religion, speech, the press. The right to vote, to bear arms, to assemble. These are fundamental to our republic. While reasonable people might disagree over the expression, implementation, and restriction of these freedoms, no one who shares our constitutional values can disagree with their existence. If these freedoms are taken away – not simply re-scoped or modified by representatives who, by the way, are popularly elected – we would have an existential crisis.

That would be a crisis that would merit shutting the government down and refusing to raise the debt ceiling. That would deserve an existential response. But not this.

By pretending that the Affordable Care Act poses such an existential risk to the republic that it merits dragging our national character through the mud of shutdown and the threat of default, tea party Republicans are belittling the very real crises America soon may face.

We have a blossoming federal debt that could one day cripple our nation. Some tea party Republicans clearly want to repeat last year’s debt ceiling debacle. But refusing to raise the debt ceiling to permit borrowing for money already spent is like refusing to pay your bills at the end of the month. It might keep money in the bank temporarily, but it’s not a responsible solution for decades of overspending by both parties.

We have an economy that provides too few job opportunities for those who want to work and too much income inequality between those at the bottom and the top. Regardless of your position on free market economics, neither of these facts is good for anyone in America.

We have struggling schools, overcrowded prisons, ballooning student debts, and, yes, high health-care costs with limited health-care coverage. The solutions to each of these problems are neither universally obvious nor universally appealing. But they do not deserve a slash-and-burn approach to legislating that refuses to see reason in opposing viewpoints and condemns as a wrongdoer anyone who disagrees.

We live in a democratic republic. The people elect legislators who pass legislation and a president who signs it into law. By its very nature, there are winners and losers. Sometimes one party wins and gets the legislation it wants. Sometimes not. But most of the time we compromise. We get a little here and give a little there. We work together. I can tell you as the father of five children, this is a life lesson every four-year-old has to learn.

Unfortunately, it’s a lesson that tea party Republicans – caught in the fog of war and self-appointed last stands – seem to have forgotten.

So as a common-sense Republican who opposes the Affordable Care Act but even more strongly opposes the Pyrrhic tactics of the tea party Republicans, let me offer this reminder.

The Affordable Care Act is not European style health care. It does not prevent doctors from gaining the rewards of their hard work. It does not stop me from seeing my family doctor or force me to wait in government lines for aspirin. Like most government programs, it prioritizes policies in ways that benefit some people and hurt others. And, though time will tell, it very likely is an incomplete, overly expensive, and misguided step toward ensuring that all Americans have at least basic access to healthcare. But it is not an existential crisis.

The existential crisis is the one that tea party Republicans are creating. This crisis is abusing the give-and-take of the political process to such a degree that both our national pride and credit are at risk in the world. It is creating such a rift in the Republican Party that we have to spend more time defending rather than celebrating Republican ideals.

If tea party Republicans want to avoid an existential threat to the republic, they should remember that their first loyalty is not to defeating the Affordable Care Act or winning the next election. Their first loyalty is to the republic.

They should remember what Benjamin Franklin said when asked what form of government the Founders gave us: A republic, if we can keep it.

Justin Holbrook is a graduate of Georgetown University and Harvard Law School. He has deployed twice as an active-duty Air Force judge advocate, directed a clinic for disabled veterans as an associate professor of law at Widener Law School in Wilmington, Delaware, and worked as a congressional aide for Congressman Ernest Istook (R) of Oklahoma. He currently practices law in Virginia.

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

Grover Norquist slams Cruz: ‘He pushed House Republicans into traffic and wandered away’

By Arturo Garcia
RawStory
Wednesday, October 2, 2013 18:33 EDT

Prominent Republican lobbyist Grover Norquist accused Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) of causing the shuttering of government operations by selling his counterparts in the House a bill of goods he couldn’t provide.

“He said if the House would simply pass the bill with defunding he would force the Senate to act,” Norquist told the Washington Post in an interview published on Wednesday. “He would lead this grass-roots movement that would get Democrats to change their mind. So the House passed it, it went to the Senate, and Ted Cruz said, oh, we don’t have the votes over here. And I can’t find the e-mails or ads targeting Democrats to support it. Cruz said he would deliver the votes and he didn’t deliver any Democratic votes. He pushed House Republicans into traffic and wandered away.”

Norquist also criticized Cruz for making the entirety of a continuing resolution funding the government contingent upon opposition of the Affordable Care Act and turning on fellow Republicans who might not fall in line with his specific approach on the issue, regardless of the party as a whole opposing the new law.

“Ted Cruz, from left field, said we have to defund Obamacare permanently in this [resolution],” Norquist complained, adding that Cruz wouldn’t accept other concessions.

“So that got locked in as a principle,” Norquist explained. “And people went out on talk radio and said if you’re not for this you’re a coward, you’re a RINO.”

At the same time, Norquist argued, Democrats were endangered by their opposition to attempts to defund the law, not mentioning that more than 4 million people have already gone online to sign up for the healthcare exchanges that will be available under it. Democratic lawmakers, Norquist alleged, are now trying to prove they are not “clones” of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) or President Barack Obama.

“We have enough votes in the last few days showing these Democrats do what Harry Reid and Barack Obama want and not what North Carolina and Arkansas and Alaska want,” Reid told the Post.

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October 2, 2013

In Showdown With G.O.P., a Scrappy Reid Plays Hardball

By JEREMY W. PETERS
NYT

WASHINGTON — It was not enough for Senator Harry Reid to just dismiss Republican offers as “vexatious” or “kid’s stuff” or “one cockamamie, can’t-pass idea after another.” He called the White House and asked it to issue a veto threat, which it promptly did.

It was not enough for Mr. Reid, the majority leader, to accuse his counterpart in the House, Speaker John A. Boehner, of being dragged around by a tribe of rogue “banana Republicans.” He leaked a series of e-mails between their offices in an attempt to humiliate the speaker.

With Congress locked in an intractable budget dispute that kept the federal government shut down for a second day on Wednesday, Mr. Reid is not only acting as the public face of the no-compromise posture of Democrats on Capitol Hill, he is the power behind the scenes driving a hard-line strategy that the White House and Congressional Democrats are hoping will force Republicans to crack.

His tactics have been unapologetically aggressive, even when measured by the fast and loose rules of engagement in a political climate so bitterly polarized.

Advisers and Senate colleagues say that Mr. Reid, of Nevada, who at 73 is more wily and scrappy than his stooped posture and shuffling walk suggest, is animated and outraged to a degree they have rarely seen in his 25 years in the Senate. And unlike previous high-stakes budget talks — when he was eclipsed by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader — Mr. Reid is now in command.

Though he has faced seven years of Republican attempts to frustrate his agenda at every turn, this latest fight, which he believes could have been stopped if the party’s leaders had only stood up to their more junior members, has convinced him that he has no viable Republican partners on either side of the Capitol.

Mr. Reid’s passion and pique come from his conclusion that this fight is about something more fundamental than spending resolutions.

“He is not going to let this crisis make us give away something that is part of what we believe in,” said Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, and a member of Mr. Reid’s leadership team. “He feels passionately that if we allow our country to be run by hostage-taking — ‘I feel passionately about an issue, and I’m going to shut down the government unless I get my way’ — it is bad for today, it’s bad for tomorrow, it’s bad for democracy.”

Mr. Reid’s tendency to speak without inhibition or filter has created no shortage of complications and may have so alienated Republicans that they see no incentive to work with him. On Wednesday, Republican press offices, including Mr. Boehner’s, and Tea Party groups circulated remarks from Mr. Reid in which he appeared to be dismissive of cancer-stricken children. (In fact, he was ineloquently making a point about the need to fund the entire government, not just parts that Republicans have selected for special appropriations bills as a way to ameliorate the effects of the shutdown.)

Mr. Reid’s strategy to break Republicans depends on keeping his caucus unified, which is no small feat in a party as Balkanized as the Democrats can be. His colleagues said he understood all along that the only way Democrats could come out on top in a spectacle as politically harmful as a government shutdown was if they held together. With negotiations continuing, Mr. Reid declined to be interviewed.

So far, he is the only leader in Congress not to lose any of his members as the pressure rises. Mr. McConnell and Mr. Boehner, of Ohio, are both facing resistance from Republicans who represent states that have a mix of conservative and liberal voters. Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader in the House, has also lost some members of her conference who hail from Republican-leaning districts and are reluctant to appear as if they are siding with President Obama.

“From the first time we talked about this, he said, ‘We are not giving in,’ ” said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, who is one of Mr. Reid’s top lieutenants. “He had an instinctive understanding that this would work as long as Democrats didn’t fall for the bait. We haven’t, and we won’t.”

But Mr. Reid, an amateur boxer in his youth, is more than a smart strategic thinker, Mr. Schumer added: “Harry is a tough guy, and if you cross him he won’t forget it.”

Mr. Reid rebuffed Mr. McConnell last week after the Republican leader called him and urged him to try to strike a compromise with Mr. Boehner. His firm answer was no. Though Mr. Reid did meet with Mr. Boehner, Mr. McConnell and Ms. Pelosi on Wednesday at the White House, he had initially persuaded the president not to hold a similar meeting last week because he was concerned it would appear too accommodating.

Mr. Reid, no one’s idea of a polished, pressed and scripted Washington politician, seems to relish playing such an aggressive hand. At no point was this more evident than this week, when Mr. Reid’s office leaked a trove of e-mails between its staff and Mr. Boehner’s to Politico, a Web site and newspaper devoted to political coverage.

The release of the e-mails, sanctioned by Mr. Reid, was an attempt to embarrass Mr. Boehner for publicly supporting the elimination of health care subsidies for members of Congress and their staffs despite the fact that he and his advisers had privately negotiated a deal to preserve those benefits. The deal later fell apart. The move infuriated Mr. Boehner’s aides, who said they found it particularly destructive coming in the middle of a policy fight that will ultimately have to involve Republicans in some way.

“I’m sure he’s very proud of himself,” Kevin Smith, Mr. Boehner’s communications director, said of Mr. Reid.

Those close to him say that when Mr. Reid says things about Republicans like “they have lost their minds,” he means it. He has stood on his podium on the Senate floor every day this week and vowed to not negotiate with Tea Party “anarchists” and “extremists,” despite advice from his advisers that the word “unreasonable” polls better with voters.

Mr. Reid’s upbringing in tiny Searchlight, Nev., where he grew up in a shack, is never far from his mind, even when he is speaking from his mahogany desk in the Senate chamber.

“He is unique in this city,” said Jim Margolis, a longtime adviser. “And you see it in so many different ways. Is he the best TV talking head? No. He’d be the first to tell you that. Should he smile more? Yes. Should he say goodbye on the phone when he’s done talking to you? Probably. But those are things you’d assume are part and parcel of a polished figure in Washington. That is not Harry Reid.”

**********

October 2, 2013

Obama Sets Conditions for Talks: Pass Funding and Raise Debt Ceiling

By JACKIE CALMES and JONATHAN WEISMAN
NYT

WASHINGTON — In their first meeting since a budget impasse shuttered many federal operations, President Obama told Republican leaders on Wednesday that he would negotiate with them only after they agreed to the funding needed to reopen the government and also to an essential increase in the nation’s debt limit, without add-ons.

The president’s position reflected the White House view that the Republicans’ strategy is failing. His meeting with Congressional leaders, just over an hour long, ended without any resolution.

As they left, Republican and Democratic leaders separately reiterated their contrary positions to waiting reporters. The House speaker, John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, said Mr. Obama “will not negotiate,” while the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, said Democrats would agree to spending at levels already passed by the House. “My friend John Boehner cannot take ‘yes’ for an answer,” Mr. Reid said.

The meeting was the first time that the president linked the two actions that he and a divided Congress are fighting over this month: a budget for the fiscal year that began on Tuesday and an increase in the debt ceiling by Oct. 17, when the Treasury Department will otherwise breach its authority to borrow the money necessary to cover the nation’s existing obligations to citizens, contractors and creditors.

Only when those actions are taken, Mr. Obama said, will he agree to revive bipartisan talks toward a long-term budget deal addressing the growing costs of Medicare and Medicaid and the inadequacy of federal tax revenues.

While the lack of a budget forced the government shutdown this week, failure to raise the debt limit would have worse repercussions, threatening America’s credit rating with a globe-shaking default and risking an economic relapse at home. Yet the refusal by the Republican-led House earlier this week to approve government funding until Mr. Obama agrees to delay his signature health care law — a nonnegotiable demand, he has said — raised fears from Washington to Wall Street that Republicans likewise would carry out their threat to withhold approval of an increase in the debt ceiling.

In a meeting with Wall Street executives to enlist their help, and then in an interview with CNBC before his White House meeting with Congressional leaders, Mr. Obama said he needed to draw a firm line “to break that fever” in the House among hard-line conservatives who repeatedly issued fiscal ultimatums, resulting in government by crisis.

“As soon as we get a clean piece of legislation that reopens the government — and there is a majority for that right now in the House of Representatives — until we get that done, until we make sure that Congress allows Treasury to pay for things that Congress itself already authorized, we are not going to engage in a series of negotiations,” Mr. Obama told CNBC, a cable business-news channel.

Mr. Boehner, under pressure from Republican conservatives and outside Tea Party groups, has declined to bring a so-called clean continuing resolution to the House for a vote because it would pass mostly with Democrats’ votes and probably prompt a conservative backlash that could cost him his leadership office.

Mr. Obama, in the interview, said he must resist the Republican demands this time because a precedent is at stake. “If we get in the habit where a few folks, an extremist wing of one party, whether it’s Democrat or Republican, are allowed to extort concessions based on a threat of undermining the full faith and credit of the United States, then any president who comes after me — not just me — will find themselves unable to govern effectively,” he said.

Many Republicans concede that Mr. Obama has the political advantage in the current confrontation, so some in the House reacted hopefully to the president’s summons to Congressional leaders to meet late in the day. Representative Michael G. Grimm, Republican of New York, called the White House meeting “the beginning of the end of the government shutdown,” although others in Congress and the administration were less optimistic.

Frustrations in Congress were mounting along with voters’ anger. Clusters of House Republicans filtered in and out of Mr. Boehner’s office, some pleading for him to stand firm, others seeking a face-saving end to the shutdown. Mr. Grimm said he was one of a half-dozen Republican pragmatists who urged the speaker to find a way to reopen the government.

Lawmakers who spoke with the speaker said that Mr. Boehner broached the idea of a comprehensive deficit-reduction deal that could put to rest three years of gridlock and turmoil in the Republican-led House.

Publicly, however, House Republican leaders pressed forward with a new strategy to try to throw Democrats, in particular Mr. Obama, on the defensive. They proposed bills to open those parts of the government whose closings were drawing the most criticism, a list that grew as citizens’ complaints came in.

The House on Tuesday passed measures to reopen the national parks, memorials and federally funded museums,  and to finance basic services in the District of Columbia, whose budget is supplemented by Congress. But the Senate Democrats signaled that they would reject the legislation.

When Republicans were criticized for choosing Washington memorials over patients locked out of clinical trials at the National Institutes of Health, including children with cancer, they quickly passed another bill to reopen the agency. Democrats signaled they would reject that, too.

On Thursday, the House planned to pass measures financing veterans programs and paying inactive National Guard members and reservists.

“It’s a little eerie,” said John T. Burklow, a spokesman for the N.I.H., referring to the strangely quiet atmosphere at the institutes’ sprawling campus in Bethesda, Md. In all, 75 percent of the agency’s staff is furloughed.

When Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader, was subsequently asked how Republicans could choose to help children with cancer to enroll in the clinical trials, but not allow disadvantaged children to return to their Head Start classes, he replied: “That’s coming as well. We are going to take every issue that has come up and put it on the floor.”

The president threatened to veto all such one-shot bills, insisting that the government be fully reopened, and Congressional Democrats were united behind him. The Republican leaders’ seat-of-the-pants strategy also left some Republicans baffled. “You would have to assume there is a strategy here,” said Representative Devin Nunes, Republican of California.

Even as both sides weighed the costs of the shutdown, their minds had turned to the deadline to raise the debt ceiling.

Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma, suggested that the debt limit fight could actually relieve some pressure on Mr. Boehner as the hard-line conservatives focused on it.

Mr. Cole recalled that as a senator in 2006, Mr. Obama had once voted against an increase in the debt ceiling, which he has said was a protest of the deficits caused by President George W. Bush’s tax cuts and war spending. “I’m not going to give him a free vote any more than he gave the last president of the United States a free vote,” Mr. Cole said.

The White House mounted an aggressive effort to get business leaders to pressure Republicans to back down. The meeting among Mr. Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Wall Street executives — members of the Financial Services Forum who were in town for their annual meeting in Washington — took on urgency, given the potential economic threats.  “I think they should be concerned,” Mr. Obama said on CNBC.

Separately, Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew; Gene B. Sperling, the chief White House economic adviser; and Valerie Jarrett, Mr. Obama’s liaison to business groups, held a conference call with members of the Business Roundtable, who are leaders of major corporations. W. James McNerney Jr., the chief executive of Boeing, organized the call.

 “I haven’t seen this sense of urgency among business leaders,” said one administration official. “They’re asking, ‘What can we do?’ ”

But as corporate leaders lament, their influence among Republicans has waned with the influx of more populist Tea Party conservatives, who are suspicious of big business for its reliance on federal contracts. In the meeting with financial executives, according to a participant, Mr. Biden said, “It’s a different breed of cat up there.”

John Harwood contributed reporting.

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

October 2, 2013

Millions of Poor Are Left Uncovered by Health Law

By SABRINA TAVERNISE and ROBERT GEBELOFF
NYT

A sweeping national effort to extend health coverage to millions of Americans will leave out two-thirds of the poor blacks and single mothers and more than half of the low-wage workers who do not have insurance, the very kinds of people that the program was intended to help, according to an analysis of census data by The New York Times.

Because they live in states largely controlled by Republicans that have declined to participate in a vast expansion of Medicaid, the medical insurance program for the poor, they are among the eight million Americans who are impoverished, uninsured and ineligible for help. The federal government will pay for the expansion through 2016 and no less than 90 percent of costs in later years.

Those excluded will be stranded without insurance, stuck between people with slightly higher incomes who will qualify for federal subsidies on the new health exchanges that went live this week, and those who are poor enough to qualify for Medicaid in its current form, which has income ceilings as low as $11 a day in some states.

People shopping for insurance on the health exchanges are already discovering this bitter twist.

“How can somebody in poverty not be eligible for subsidies?” an unemployed health care worker in Virginia asked through tears. The woman, who identified herself only as Robin L. because she does not want potential employers to know she is down on her luck, thought she had run into a computer problem when she went online Tuesday and learned she would not qualify.

At 55, she has high blood pressure, and she had been waiting for the law to take effect so she could get coverage. Before she lost her job and her house and had to move in with her brother in Virginia, she lived in Maryland, a state that is expanding Medicaid. “Would I go back there?” she asked. “It might involve me living in my car. I don’t know. I might consider it.”

The 26 states that have rejected the Medicaid expansion are home to about half of the country’s population, but about 68 percent of poor, uninsured blacks and single mothers. About 60 percent of the country’s uninsured working poor are in those states. Among those excluded are about 435,000 cashiers, 341,000 cooks and 253,000 nurses’ aides.

“The irony is that these states that are rejecting Medicaid expansion — many of them Southern — are the very places where the concentration of poverty and lack of health insurance are the most acute,” said Dr. H. Jack Geiger, a founder of the community health center model. “It is their populations that have the highest burden of illness and costs to the entire health care system.”

The disproportionate impact on poor blacks introduces the prickly issue of race into the already politically charged atmosphere around the health care law. Race was rarely, if ever, mentioned in the state-level debates about the Medicaid expansion. But the issue courses just below the surface, civil rights leaders say, pointing to the pattern of exclusion.

Every state in the Deep South, with the exception of Arkansas, has rejected the expansion. Opponents of the expansion say they are against it on exclusively economic grounds, and that the demographics of the South — with its large share of poor blacks — make it easy to say race is an issue when it is not.

In Mississippi, Republican leaders note that a large share of people in the state are on Medicaid already, and that, with an expansion, about a third of the state would have been insured through the program. Even supporters of the health law say that eventually covering 10 percent of that cost would have been onerous for a predominantly rural state with a modest tax base.

“Any additional cost in Medicaid is going to be too much,” said State Senator Chris McDaniel, a Republican, who opposes expansion.

The law was written to require all Americans to have health coverage. For lower and middle-income earners, there are subsidies on the new health exchanges to help them afford insurance. An expanded Medicaid program was intended to cover the poorest. In all, about 30 million uninsured Americans were to have become eligible for financial help.

But the Supreme Court’s ruling on the health care law last year, while upholding it, allowed states to choose whether to expand Medicaid. Those that opted not to leave about eight million uninsured people who live in poverty ($19,530 for a family of three) without any assistance at all.

Poor people excluded from the Medicaid expansion will not be subject to fines for lacking coverage. In all, about 14 million eligible Americans are uninsured and living in poverty, the Times analysis found.

The federal government provided the tally of how many states were not expanding Medicaid for the first time on Tuesday. It included states like New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee that might still decide to expand Medicaid before coverage takes effect in January. If those states go forward, the number would change, but the trends that emerged in the analysis would be similar.

Mississippi has the largest percentage of poor and uninsured people in the country — 13 percent. Willie Charles Carter, an unemployed 53-year-old whose most recent job was as a maintenance worker at a public school, has had problems with his leg since surgery last year.

His income is below Mississippi’s ceiling for Medicaid — which is about $3,000 a year — but he has no dependent children, so he does not qualify. And his income is too low to make him eligible for subsidies on the federal health exchange.

“You got to be almost dead before you can get Medicaid in Mississippi,” he said.

He does not know what he will do when the clinic where he goes for medical care, the Good Samaritan Health Center in Greenville, closes next month because of lack of funding.

“I’m scared all the time,” he said. “I just walk around here with faith in God to take care of me.”

The states that did not expand Medicaid have less generous safety nets: For adults with children, the median income limit for Medicaid is just under half of the federal poverty level — or about $5,600 a year for an individual — while in states that are expanding, it is above the poverty line, or about $12,200, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. There is little or no coverage of childless adults in the states not expanding, Kaiser said.

The New York Times analysis excluded immigrants in the country illegally and those foreign-born residents who would not be eligible for benefits under Medicaid expansion. It included people who are uninsured even though they qualify for Medicaid in its current form.

Blacks are disproportionately affected, largely because more of them are poor and living in Southern states. In all, 6 out of 10 blacks live in the states not expanding Medicaid. In Mississippi, 56 percent of all poor and uninsured adults are black, though they account for just 38 percent of the population.

Dr. Aaron Shirley, a physician who has worked for better health care for blacks in Mississippi, said that the history of segregation and violence against blacks still informs the way people see one another, particularly in the South, making some whites reluctant to support programs that they believe benefit blacks.

That is compounded by the country’s rapidly changing demographics, Dr. Geiger said, in which minorities will eventually become a majority, a pattern that has produced a profound cultural unease, particularly when it has collided with economic insecurity.

Dr. Shirley said: “If you look at the history of Mississippi, politicians have used race to oppose minimum wage, Head Start, all these social programs. It’s a tactic that appeals to people who would rather suffer themselves than see a black person benefit.”

Opponents of the expansion bristled at the suggestion that race had anything to do with their position. State Senator Giles Ward of Mississippi, a Republican, called the idea that race was a factor “preposterous,” and said that with the demographics of the South — large shares of poor people and, in particular, poor blacks — “you can argue pretty much any way you want.”

The decision not to expand Medicaid will also hit the working poor. Claretha Briscoe earns just under $11,000 a year making fried chicken and other fast food at a convenience store in Hollandale, Miss., too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to get subsidies on the new health exchange. She had a heart attack in 2002 that a local hospital treated as part of its charity care program.

“I skip months on my blood pressure pills,” said Ms. Briscoe, 48, who visited the Good Samaritan Health Center last week because she was having chest pains. “I buy them when I can afford them.”

About half of poor and uninsured Hispanics live in states that are expanding Medicaid. But Texas, which has a large Hispanic population, rejected the expansion. Gladys Arbila, a housekeeper in Houston who earns $17,000 a year and supports two children, is under the poverty line and therefore not eligible for new subsidies. But she makes too much to qualify for Medicaid under the state’s rules. She recently spent 36 hours waiting in the emergency room for a searing pain in her back.

“We came to this country, and we are legal and we work really hard,” said Ms. Arbila, 45, who immigrated to the United States 12 years ago, and whose son is a soldier in Afghanistan. “Why we don’t have the same opportunities as the others?”


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Greek neo-Nazi leader detained on criminal charges

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, October 3, 2013 12:26 EDT

The leader of Greece’s Golden Dawn party was to be taken to a high-security prison Thursday pending his trial on criminal charges, as the government cracks down on the neo-Nazi group.

Nikos Michaloliakos, charged with running a criminal organisation, will be the first Greek party leader to be put behind bars in at least three decades.

He will be taken to a prison in west Athens alongside one of his lawmakers and two more Golden Dawn defendants pending their trial.

A trial date has yet to be set in a case that could see Michaloliakos jailed for at least 10 years if convicted of the charge.

Four Golden Dawn lawmakers were charged on Wednesday with membership of a criminal group and the party’s deputy leader Christos Pappas also appeared in court later Thursday on the same charges.

“This is the most dynamic treatment towards a neo-Nazi criminal organisation in European history, perhaps in world history,” government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou told Antenna TV.

Greek authorities are moving to dismantle Golden Dawn — which has 18 members in the 300-seat parliament — after the shock murder of an anti-fascist musician on September 18.

“The investigation does not stop here, it will be continued and expanded,” Citizen’s Protection Minister Nikos Dendias told Eleftherotypia daily.

“We will get to the end, we will fight them everywhere,” Dendias said.

Magistrates also ordered that a Golden Dawn district leader allegedly involved in the murder of the hip-hop artist Pavlos Fyssas should also be held in custody, as well as a female police officer accused of aiding the group.

About 100 of the group’s supporters had gathered outside the court, carrying Greek flags and chanting “Blood, honour, Golden Dawn,” when Michaloliakos arrived to deliver his testimony late on Wednesday.

They applauded as the 56-year-old mathematician and former disciple of Greek dictator George Papadopoulos entered the court building.

On Wednesday, four Golden Dawn lawmakers including party spokesman Ilias Kassidiaris were charged with belonging to a criminal organisation, in the first ever indictment against neo-Nazi MPs in Greece.

If convicted they face up to 10 years in prison.

Three were conditionally released while the fourth, Yiannis Lagos, was placed in pre-trial detention, as police reportedly found he had spoken to members of a gang that ambushed Fyssas on the night of his murder.

Their release was seen as surprising given the gravity of the charges, but justice officials later stressed that it did not mean the case against them would be thrown out.

“My recommendation to everyone is not to rush. We do not have any conclusive judicial ruling (yet),” said Deputy Prime Minister Evangelos Venizelos.

The three freed lawmakers left the court in a combative mood, insulting and threatening reporters.

“Everyone has seen what Golden Dawn is about,” government spokesman Kedikoglou told Antenna.

“The whole Golden Dawn chain of command was in action” in Fyssas’ murder, he said.

Golden Dawn was the country’s third most popular party until Fyssas’ murder sparked nationwide protests and a government crackdown on the group long accused of attacking immigrants, charges that it denies.

Overall, some two dozen people including six of the organisation’s lawmakers, lower-ranking party members and three police officers, face charges ranging from attempted homicide and murder to illegal arms possession and belonging to a criminal organisation.

Magistrates have compiled a large dossier on the group, whose leading lights the conservative-led government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras wants to put behind bars.

Golden Dawn denies all the accusations and says it is the victim of political persecution designed to stem its rise ahead of local elections next year.

“Golden Dawn will contest elections whenever they are held,” Pappas shouted at reporters as he was led to hear the charges against him.

Once a fringe party, Golden Dawn capitalised on growing public discontent in a country hard hit by the economic crisis and was first elected to parliament last year with nearly seven percent of the vote.

Greece’s intelligence service EYP in 2012 compiled a dossier on one of the detained MPs, Yiannis Lagos, with alleged activities including extortion and the trafficking of women for prostitution, Ta Nea daily reported this week.

The investigation launched after Fyssas’s murder uncovered close ties between Golden Dawn and Greek police, something rights and migrant groups had warned about for years.

Party spokesman Kassidiaris is also due to stand trial separately for hitting a female lawmaker on television.

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

Greek anti-fascism protests put the left's impotence on display

What unifies demonstrations from Greece to France is the lack of a clear strategy. We need to rediscover the language of communism

Alain Badiou   
The Guardian, Thursday 3 October 2013        

I begin with a feeling, an affect, which is perhaps personal, perhaps unjustified, but which I nevertheless feel, given the information at my disposal: a feeling of general political impotence. What is currently happening in Greece is something like a concentrate of this feeling.

Of course, the courage and tactical inventiveness of progressive and anti-fascist demonstrators is cause for enthusiasm. Such things, moreover, are thoroughly necessary. But novel? No, not at all. They are the invariant features of every real mass movement: egalitarianism, mass democracy, the invention of slogans, bravery, the speed of reactions … We saw all of these same things, undertaken with the same energy – joyful and always a little anxious – in May '68, in France. We have seen them more recently in Tahrir Square in Egypt. Indeed, these things must have already been at work in the times of Spartacus or Thomas Münzer.

Let us set out, provisionally, from another point of departure.

Greece is a country with a very long history, one of universal significance. It is a country, whose resistance to successive oppressions and occupations has a particular historical density. It's a country where the communist movement, including the form of armed struggle, has been very powerful. A country where, even today, the youth set an example by sustaining massive and tenacious revolts. A country where, without a doubt, the classic reactionary forces are very well organised, but where there is also the courageous and ample resource of the great popular movements. A country where there are certainly formidable fascist organisations, but also a leftist party with an apparently solid electoral and militant base.

Now, everything in this country happens as if nothing could stop the utter domination of capitalism, unleashed by its own crisis. As if, under the direction of ad hoc committees and servile governments, the country had no alternative but to follow the savagely anti-popular decrees of the European bureaucracy. Indeed, with regard to the questions posed and their European "solutions", the resistance movement looks more like a delaying tactic than the bearer of a genuine political alternative.

Such is the great lesson of the times, inviting us not only to support the courage of the Greek people with all our strength, but also to join them in meditating on what must be thought and done so that this courage should not be, in a despairing way, a useless courage.

For what is striking – in Greece above all, but elsewhere as well, particularly in France – is the manifest impotence of the progressive forces to compel even the slightest meaningful retreat of the economic and state powers that are seeking to submit the people unreservedly to the new (though also long-standing and fundamental) law of thoroughgoing liberalism.

Not only are the progressive forces making no headway, and failing to score even a limited success, but also the forces of fascism have been growing and, against the illusory backdrop of a xenophobic and racist nationalism, now claim to lead the opposition to the European administrations' decrees.

My feeling is that the root cause of this impotence is not, at bottom, the people's inertia, a lack of courage, or a majority support for "necessary evils". Many testimonies have shown us that the resources for a vigorous and massive popular resistance exist. Nevertheless, no new thinking of politics has emerged on a mass scale from these attempts, no new vocabulary has emerged from the rhetoric of protest and the union bosses have finally managed to convince everyone that we must wait … for elections.

I think that what we are experiencing today is instead that the majority of the political categories activists are trying to use to think and transform our current situations are, as they now stand, largely inoperative.

After the sweeping movements of the 1960s and 1970s, we have inherited a very long counter-revolutionary period, economically, politically and ideologically. This counter-revolution has effectively destroyed the confidence and power that were once able to commit popular consciousness to the most elementary words of emancipatory politics – words, to cite a few at random, like "class struggle", "general strike", "revolution", "mass democracy"', and many others. The key word of "communism", which dominated the political stage since the beginning of the 19th century, is itself henceforth confined to a sort of historical infamy. That the equation "communism equals totalitarianism" should come to appear as natural and be unanimously accepted is an indication of how badly revolutionaries failed during the disastrous 1980s. Of course, we also cannot avoid an incisive and severe criticism of what the socialist states and communist parties in power, especially in the Soviet Union, had become. But this criticism should be our own. It should nourish our own theories and practices, helping them to progress, and not lead to some kind of morose renunciation, throwing out the political baby with the historical bathwater. This has led to an astonishing state of affairs: regarding a historical episode of capital importance for us, we have adopted, practically without restriction, the point of view of the enemy. And those who haven't done so have simply persevered in the old lugubrious rhetoric, as if nothing had happened.

Of all the victories of our enemy, this symbolic victory is among the most important.

Back in the day of the old communisms, we used to heap mockery on what we called langue de bois, or hackneyed, cliched language – empty words and pompous adjectives.

Of course, of course. But the existence of a common language is also that of a shared idea. The efficacy of mathematics in the sciences – and it cannot be denied that mathematics is a magnificent langue de bois – has everything to do with the fact that it formalises the scientific idea. The ability to quickly formalise the analysis of a situation and the tactical consequences of that analysis. This is no less required in politics. It is a sign of strategic vitality.

Today, one of the great powers of the official democratic ideology is precisely that it has, at its disposal, a langue de bois that is spoken in every medium and by every one of our governments without exception. Who could believe that terms like "democracy", "freedoms", "human rights", "balanced budget", "reforms", and so on, are anything other than elements of an omnipresent langue de bois? We are the ones, we militants without a strategy of emancipation, who are (and who have been for some time now) the real aphasics! And it is not the sympathetic and unavoidable language of movementist democracy that will save us. "Down with this or that", "all together we will win", "get out" "resistance!", "it is right to rebel" … This is capable of momentarily summoning forth collective affects, and, tactically, this is all very useful – but it leaves the question of a legible strategy entirely unresolved. This is too poor a language for a situated discussion of the future of emancipatory actions.

The key to political success certainly lies in the force of rebellion, its scope and courage. But also in its discipline, and in the declarations that it is capable of – declarations having to do with a positive strategic future, and that reveal a new possibility that remained invisible amid the enemy's propaganda. This is why the existence of sweeping popular movements does not by itself furnish a political vision. What cements a movement on the basis of individual affects is always of a negative character: the sort of thing that proceeds from abstract negations, like "down with capitalism", or "stop the layoffs", or "no to austerity", or "down with the European troika'", which have strictly no other effect than provisionally soldering the movement with the negative frailty of its affects; as for more specific negations, since their target is precise and they bring together different strata of the population, like "down with Mubarak", during the Arab spring, they can indeed achieve a result, but they can never construct the politics of that result, as we see today in Egypt and in Tunisia, where reactionary religious parties reap the rewards of the movement, to which they have no true relation.

For every politics becomes the regimentation of what it affirms and proposes, and not of what it negates or rejects. A politics is an active and organised conviction, a thought in action that indicates unseen possibilities. Watchwords like "resistance!" are certainly suitable for bringing individuals together, but they also risk making such an assembly nothing more than a joyful and enthusiastic mixture of historical existence and political frailty, only to become, once the enemy (who is far better politically, discursively and governmentally equipped) wins the day, a bitter redoubling and sterile repetition of failure.

It's not in the contagion of a negative affect of resistance that we might find what it takes to compel a serious retreat of the reactionary forces that, today, seek to disintegrate every form of thought and action that refuses to follow them. It is in the shared discipline of a common idea and the increasingly widespread usage of a homogeneous language.

The reconstruction of such a language is a crucial imperative. It is to this end that I have sought to reintroduce, redefine and reorganise everything that hinges on the word "communism". The word "communism" denotes three fundamental things. First, it denotes the analytic observation according to which, in today's dominant societies, freedom, whose democratic fetishisation we're all familiar with, is, in fact, entirely dominated by property. "Freedom" is nothing but the freedom to acquire every possible commodity without any pre-established limit, and the power to do "what one wants" is strictly measured by the extent of this acquisition. Someone who has lost any possibility of acquiring something does not, as a matter of fact, have any kind of freedom, as is plain to see, for instance, with the "vagabonds" that the English liberals of rising capitalism executed by hanging, without any qualms. This is the reason why Marx, in the Manifesto, declares that all the injunctions of communism can, in a sense, be reduced to just one: the abolition of private property.

Next, "communism" signifies the historical hypothesis according to which it is not necessary that freedom be ruled by property, and human societies be directed by a strict oligarchy of powerful businessmen and their servants in politics, the police, the military and the media. A society is possible in which what Marx calls "free association" predominates, where productive labour is collectivised, where the disappearance of the great non-egalitarian contradictions (between intellectual and manual labour, between town and country, between men and women, between management and labour, etc) is under way, and where decisions that concern everyone are really everyone's business. We should treat this egalitarian possibility as a principle of thought and action, and not let go of it.

Finally, "communism" designates the need for an international political organisation. It endeavours to set people's inventive thinking in motion, to construct, in a fashion unalloyed with the existing state, a power internal to any given situation. The goal is for this power to be capable of bending the real in the direction prescribed by the tying together of principles with the active subjectivity of all who have the will to transform the situation in question.

The word "communism" thus names the complete process by which freedom is freed from its non-egalitarian submission to property. That this word has been the one that our enemies have most doggedly opposed has to do with the fact that they cannot endure this process, which would indeed destroy their freedom, the norm of which is fixed by property. If that is what our enemies detest above all, then it is with its rediscovery that we must begin.

Have these verbal exercises taken us far afield from Greece and the concrete urgency of the situation? Perhaps. However, a politics [une politique] is always the encounter between the discipline of ideas and the surprise of circumstances. My wish is for Greece to be, for us all, the universal site of such an encounter.

• This is an edited extract of an article in Radical Philosophy


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« Reply #9108 on: Oct 04, 2013, 05:47 AM »


The Snowden files: why the British public should be worried about GCHQ

When the Guardian offered John Lanchester access to the GCHQ files, the journalist and novelist was initially unconvinced. But what the papers told him was alarming: that Britain is sliding towards an entirely new kind of surveillance society

John Lanchester   
The Guardian, Thursday 3 October 2013 19.01 BST    

In August, the editor of the Guardian rang me up and asked if I would spend a week in New York, reading the GCHQ files whose UK copy the Guardian was forced to destroy. His suggestion was that it might be worthwhile to look at the material not from a perspective of making news but from that of a novelist with an interest in the way we live now.

I took Alan Rusbridger up on his invitation, after an initial reluctance that was based on two main reasons. The first of them was that I don't share the instinctive sense felt by many on the left that it is always wrong for states to have secrets. I'd put it more strongly than that: democratic states need spies.

The philosopher Karl Popper, observing the second world war from his academic post in New Zealand, came up with a great title for his major work of political thought: The Open Society and Its Enemies. It is, in its way, a shocking phrase – why would the open society have enemies? (But then, the title of Charles Repington's The First World War, published in 1920, was shocking too, because it implied that there would be another one.)

We do have enemies, though, enemies who are in deadly earnest; enemies who wish you reading this dead, whoever you are, for no other reason than that you belong to a society like this one. We have enemies who are seeking to break into our governments' computers, with the potential to destroy our infrastructure and, literally, make the lights go out; we have enemies who want to kill as many of us, the more innocent the better, as possible, by any means possible, as a deliberate strategy; we have enemies who want to develop nuclear weapons, and thereby vastly raise the stakes for international diplomacy and the threat of terrorism; and we have common-or-garden serious criminals, who also need watching and catching.

I get all that. It doesn't thrill me to bits that the state has to use the tools of electronic surveillance to keep us safe, but it seems clear to me that it does, and that our right to privacy needs to be qualified, just as our other rights are qualified, in the interest of general security and the common good.
Reassuring read

My week spent reading things that were never meant to be read by outsiders was, from this point of view, largely reassuring. Most of what GCHQ does is exactly the kind of thing we all want it to do. It takes an interest in places such as the Horn of Africa, Iran, and North Korea; it takes an interest in energy security, nuclear proliferation, and in state-sponsored computer hacking.

There doesn't seem to be much in the documents about serious crime, for which GCHQ has a surveillance mandate, but it seems that much of this activity is covered by warrants that belong to other branches of the security apparatus. Most of this surveillance is individually targeted: it concerns specific individuals and specific acts (or intentions to act), and as such, it is not the threat.

Even Julian Assange thinks that, and said as much in his alarming and perceptive book Cypherpunks: "Individual targeting is not the threat." When the state has specific enemies and knows who they are and the kind of harm they intend, it is welcome to target them to make the rest of our polity safe. I say again, on the evidence I've seen, this is mainly what GCHQ does. I would add that the Guardian and its partners have gone to a lot of trouble to prevent any unnecessarily damaging detail about this work being published.

Problems and risks

The problems with GCHQ are to be found in the margins of the material – though they are at the centre of the revelations that have been extracted from the Snowden disclosures, and with good reason. The problem and the risk comes in the area of mass capture of data, or strategic surveillance. This is the kind of intelligence gathering that sucks in data from everyone, everywhere: from phones, internet use from email to website visits, social networking, instant messaging and video calls, and even areas such as video gaming; in short, everything digital.

In the US, the Prism programme may have given the NSA access to the servers of companies such as Google and Facebook; in the UK, GCHQ has gained a similar degree of access via its Tempora programme, and the two of them together have a cable- and network-tapping capabilities collectively called Upstream, which have the ability to intercept anything that travels over the internet. This data is fed into a database called XKeyscore, which allows analysts to extract information "in real time", ie immediately, from a gigantic amount of hoovered-up data.

In addition, the NSA has encouraged technology companies to install secret weaknesses or "backdoors" into their commercially available, supposedly secure products. They have spent a very great deal of money ($250m a year alone on weakening encryption), on breaking commercially available security products. Other revelations have been published in Der Spiegel, and concern the NSA exploitation of technology such as the iPhone.

Access all areas

What this adds up to is a new thing in human history: with a couple of clicks of a mouse, an agent of the state can target your home phone, or your mobile, or your email, or your passport number, or any of your credit card numbers, or your address, or any of your log-ins to a web service.

Using that "selector", the state can get access to all the content of your communications, via any of those channels; can gather information about anyone you communicate with, can get a full picture of all your internet use, can track your location online and offline. It can, in essence, know everything about you, including – thanks to the ability to look at your internet searches – what's on your mind.

To get a rough version of this knowledge, a state once had to bug phones manually, break into houses and intercept letters, and deploy teams of trained watchers to follow your whereabouts. Even then it was a rough and approximate process, vulnerable to all sorts of human error and countermeasures. It can now have something much better than that, a historically unprecedented panoply of surveillance, which it can deploy in a matter of seconds.

This process is not without supervision, of course. In order to target you via one of these "selectors" – that's the technical term – the agent of the state will have to type into a box on his or her computer screen a Miranda number, to show that the process is taking place in response to a specific request for information, and will also need to select a justification under the Human Rights Act. That last isn't too arduous, because the agent can choose the justification from a drop-down menu. This is the way we live now.

British reaction

And yet nobody, at least in Britain, seems to care. In the UK there has been an extraordinary disconnect between the scale and seriousness of what Snowden has revealed, and the scale and seriousness of the response. One of the main reasons for that, I think, is that while some countries are interested in rights, in Britain we are more focused on wrongs.

In Europe and the US, the lines between the citizen and the state are based on an abstract conception of the individual's rights, which is then framed in terms of what the state needs to do.

That's not the case in Britain: although we do have rights, they were arrived at by specific malfeasances and disasters on the part of the state.

Every right that limits the behaviour of the police, from the need for search warrants to the (now heavily qualified) right to silence to habeas corpus itself, comes from the fact that the authorities abused their powers.

This helps to explain why Snowden's revelations, perceived as explosive in American and Europe by both the political right and left, have been greeted here with a weirdly echoing non-response. In the rights-based tradition, the flagrant abuse of individual privacy is self-evidently a bad thing, a (literally) warrantless extension of the power of the state.

Here in the UK, because we've been given no specific instances of specific wrongs having been committed, the story has found it hard to gain traction. Even if there were such instances – just as there were 2,776 rule violations by the NSA last year alone – we wouldn't know anything about them, because the system of judicial inspections at GCHQ is secret.

So it is a perfectly sealed mechanism: we aren't interested in rights in the abstract, and we are prevented by law from hearing about any of the specific abuses which might start to focus our attention.

The documents make clear that GCHQ's eavesdropping abilities are on a scale unmatched anywhere in the free world, and they privately boast about the "more permissive legal environment" in the UK – and yet, nobody seems to care. It's tragicomic that the surveillance story which most gripped the public imagination concerned Poole borough council's use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (Ripa) to spy on a family suspected of cheating in regard to school catchment areas.

Helping the bad guys

It's worth taking a moment to ask how helpful the publication of information about this is to the bad guys. (Girls too. But mainly guys.)

The answer is evident, I think, in the under-remarked fact that Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad didn't even have a telephone line running into it. In other words he not only didn't use the net, computers or phones in any way at all, ever, he was suspicious of the actual physical apparatus itself.

This means that the bad guys know very well that they have to be careful. (It should also be noted that the absence of any electronic footprint at the Abbottabad compound was – as depicted in the movie Zero Dark Thirty – a sign to the spies that something fishy was afoot. Nobody innocent has no electronic footprint.)

Some of the jihadi materials I read in the GCHQ documents make it clear that the terrorists are very well aware of these issues. There is a stinging jeer in one jihadi text, apropos a Swedish documentary that made clear certain bugging capabilities in Ericsson's mobile phones: "It is customary in the Scandinavian countries to publish such helpful materials."

While the broad details of general strategic surveillance are shocking and need to be known, the thing that would be helpful to the bad guys is the publication of the specific technical details. These the Guardian and its partners have gone to great lengths to keep secret.
The unkeepable secret

Bear in mind also that these documents were widely circulated: out of the 4.9 million Americans with access to classified information, 480,000 private contractors in the US had the "top-secret" security clearance issued to Snowden.

If hundreds of thousands of people had access to these secrets, how secure were they? The NSA and GCHQ had no idea that Snowden had this material, and apparently still don't know exactly what is in it – which is one reason they've been panicking and freaking out.

But if they didn't know that Snowden had copied it, how could they possibly be sure that someone else hasn't also taken a copy and slipped it to the Chinese or Russians or Iranians or al-Qaida? It was cheeky of Oliver Robbins, deputy national security adviser in the Cabinet Office, to harrumph about "very poor information security practices" on the part of David Miranda, the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald who was detained at Heathrow under anti-terror laws.

Our spooks lost at least 58,000 pages of classified documents to a US civilian sitting at a workstation in Hawaii, and did so without realising it had happened. In effect they're saying, "your secrets are safe with us, except when we lose them".

There's one further conclusion to draw from the fact that so many people had access to this material. It means that this story would at some point have come out. A programme of this scale in a modern democracy, involving hundreds of thousands of people with access to the fact of total internet surveillance, was an unkeepable secret. It may be no comfort to Snowden as he faces his future, but someone somewhere would eventually have done what he did. Some dams are fated to burst.

What's new

This brings me to my second reservation about looking at the material: the question of whether it contained anything that we didn't already know. In the Tony Scott movie Enemy of the State, the paranoid former NSA spook played by Gene Hackman lays it out with complete clarity: "The government's been in bed with the entire communications business since the 40s," he says. "They have infected everything. They can get into your bank statement, computer files, email, listen to your phone calls."

That movie came out in 1998, and was a hit, seen by many millions, so even then, in some sense, everybody knew about the work of the NSA/GCHQ. People who kept informed on these subjects have for decades been careful about using specific words over the phone, especially over transatlantic phonelines.

I remember Christopher Hitchens, at the time that concern about Salman Rushdie's welfare was at its peak, wouldn't use his name over the phone but would instead refer to "our mutual friend".

So in some sense, perhaps it's true that everybody knew. This would be analogous to the manner in which we all know surveillance is pervasive in police work, and yet police methods are by law forbidden from being used in evidence, or indeed even mentioned in court. The ban on mentioning police surveillance is there because they don't want us to realise how much of it there is. We all know that, and yet it doesn't seem to matter much. Perhaps the GCHQ stuff was the same?

I've changed my mind about that. It was changing anyway as I thought more about the meaning of Snowden's exposures, and it has changed more still now that I've looked at them first-hand.
Broad definitions

I've said that the concerns over GCHQ are at the margins of what it does: but those margins are very broad. They especially concern things that are referred to in the documents as "SD", which means "sigint development". "Sigint" is signal intelligence, which is what GCHQ does. "Development" means – well, that's the crux of it. It means finding out new things, exploring new technologies, and developing new ways of finding "targets".

When you look at the documents, it appears to be the case that SD provides the legal basis for mass surveillance of the kind revealed in the Tempora and Prism programmes. The mandate of GCHQ – which by the way didn't have a legal basis of any kind until 1994 – is surveillance for reasons of "national security, economic well being, and serious crime".

The main law concerning its activities is Ripa. If you read this 2000 act (which, by the way, I don't recommend, since it's tortured and laborious even by the standards of statute-speak), it's clear that the main focus of its provisions is targeted surveillance. It's about what the spies and cops are allowed to do to catch specific bad guys.

Ripa is pretty broad in its drafting, and it seems apparent that the intention was to let the authorities do anything they wanted with phones and email. And yet, it nowhere explicitly allows the mass interception of communications by people about whom the state has no reason for suspecting anything – which is what programmes such as Tempora and Prism permit.

Behind the times

The law always lags behind technology, that's inevitable. If you look at the first version of the modern Official Secrets Act, which was made law in 1911 and is still the main broad statement of government secrecy in effect today, its first provisions concern the making of "maps and charts".

It is evident that the kind of spying on the lawmakers' minds concerns a chap in plus-fours claiming that he's making drawings of seabirds, only why has he accidentally made accurate sketches of that nearby naval base, and why does he have a heavy German accent … ?

The current spying laws continue to lag behind reality, not only because the spies are less concerned with mysterious birdwatchers, but because life itself has changed.

Formerly, the activities for which the spies were on guard were visible acts of wrongdoing and intelligence-gathering: enemies making maps of naval bases, or breaking into offices, or bribing civil servants, or seducing and blackmailing other spies, or any of the other ways in which they could try to steal secrets.

In the case of modern signals intelligence, this is no longer true. Life has changed. It has changed because of the centrality of computers and digital activity to every aspect of modern living. Digital life is central to work: many of us, perhaps most of us, spend most of our working day using a computer. Digital life is central to our leisure: a huge portion of our discretionary activity has a digital component, even things which look like they are irreducibly un-digital, from cycling to cooking.

(I once happened to visit Google's offices in Victoria, where there's a live stream of people's queries on a huge flat screen. Most of them were in Japanese. My host, who speaks Japanese, glanced at them and looked at her watch. "Recipes," she said. "It's 7pm in Japan, people have just got in from work and are thinking about what to cook.")

As for our relationships and family lives, that has, especially for younger people, become a digital-first activity. Take away Facebook and Twitter, instant messaging and Skype and YouTube, and then – it's hard to imagine, but try – take away the mobile phone, and see the yawning gap where all human interaction used to take place. About the only time we don't use computers is when we're asleep – that's unless we have a gadget that tracks our sleep, or monitors our house temperature, or our burglar alarm, or whatever.

This is the central point about what our spies and security services can now do. They can, for the first time, monitor everything about us, and they can do so with a few clicks of a mouse and – to placate the lawyers – a drop-down menu of justifications.

Surveillance ambitions

Looking at the GCHQ papers, it is clear that there is an ambition to get access to everything digital. That's what engineers do: they seek new capabilities. When it applies to the people who wish us harm, that's fair enough. Take a hypothetical, but maybe not unthinkable, ability to eavesdrop on any room via an electrical socket. From the GCHQ engineers' point of view, they would do that if they could. And there are a few people out there on whom it would be useful to be able to eavesdrop via an electrical socket. But the price of doing so would be a society that really did have total surveillance. Would it be worth it? Is the risk worth the intrusion?

That example might sound far-fetched, but trust me, it isn't quite as far fetched as all that, and the basic intention on the part of the GCHQ engineers – to get everything – is there.

Consider the direction in which we're moving. Britain has more CCTV cameras than anywhere else in the world, by a huge margin. Nobody knows how many CCTV cameras there are in the country, but the most respectable estimate seems to be the one made by Cheshire police in 2011, which came up with a number of 1.85m. Add to this the capacity for facial recognition software, which already exists and is improving sharply.

Further add the capacity for surveillance brought by the "internet of things", involving the inclusion of internet-enabled computer chips in everything from cars (where they already are, in high-end models) to fridges to plants (which will tweet their minders when they need to be watered). This might sound like science fiction, but the current estimate is that there will be 20bn such devices in use worldwide by 2020.

Add to this the fact that a lot of this electronic potential gives access not just to external real-world data – our locations, our conversations, our contacts books – but to the inside of our heads. I call this the "knowing you're gay" test. Most of us know someone who has plucked up the courage to reveal their homosexuality, only to be cheerfully told by friends and family, "oh, we've known that for years".

Now, though, search engines know facts about people's thoughts and fantasies long before anyone else does. To put it crudely, Google doesn't just know you're gay before you tell your mum; it knows you're gay before you do. And now GCHQ does too.

New society

What this means is that we're moving towards a new kind of society. Britain is already the most spied on, monitored and surveilled democratic society there has ever been. This doesn't seem to have been discussed or debated, and I don't remember ever being asked to vote for it. As for how this trend appears in the GCHQ documents, there is something of a gap between how the spies talk in public and how they can occasionally be found to talk in private.

It is startling to see, for instance, that the justification for the large-scale interception of everybody's internet use seems to be a clause in Ripa allowing interception of "at least one end foreign" communications. Whack on to this a general purpose certificate from the secretary of state, and a general warrant, and bingo, this allows full access to traffic via companies such as Google and Facebook – because their servers are located overseas. I can't believe that that was the intention of the people who drafted Ripa, who were surely thinking more of people taking phone calls from moody bits of Waziristan, rather than your nan searching for cheaper tights.

There is a revealing moment in the most recent piece written for the Guardian by Sir David Omand, former head of GCHQ. He said that "the real debate we should be having … is about what privacy in a cyber-connected world can realistically mean given the volumes of data we hand over to the private sector in return for our everyday convenience, and the continued need for warranted access for security and law enforcement".

That's a total non-sequitur: Omand seems to think that just because we hand data over to Google and Facebook the government automatically has the right to access it. It's as if, thanks to a global shortage of sticky gum, envelopes can no longer be sealed, so as a result the government awards itself a new right to mass-intercept and read everybody's letters.

Staying within the law

All through the GCHQ material there is a tremendous emphasis on the legal basis of its operations, particularly in respect of article 8 of the Human Rights Act, which grants: "Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence."

It is repeatedly stated that "GCHQ operates within the law" and that "GCHQ does it legally" and that surveillance always has to be "justified, necessary and proportionate". Good – it would be terrifying if that weren't the case. But if GCHQ seldom breaks the law, it's because the law is so broadly drafted and interpreted it's almost impossible to break.

Also, in the GCHQ papers there are occasional glimpses of a different attitude, usually to be found in slides which are marked as "hidden" in PowerPoint presentations, or in the presenters' notes to other slides. (Many of the clearest documents are internal GCHQ briefings laid out in the form of PowerPoint talks. I was reminded of Malcolm Gladwell's great joke, in response to whether he needed audio-visual aids for a lecture: "All power corrupts, but PowerPoint corrupts absolutely.")

For instance, a legal briefing on the Human Rights Act lists the instances in which it is legal for the state to breach article 8: "In the interests of national security, public safety or the economic wellbeing of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others."

The notes make the point that national security, public safety and serious crime are the three current reasons for which GCHQ is allowed to eavesdrop, but there is a chilling addition: "'Just' 3 at the moment. No reason why GCHQ's remit would not be changed in the future but this is what we are allowed to do at the moment."

It's usually only in books that people's blood runs cold, but mine did when I read that. "Just" three at the moment: in other words, there are "just" three reasons why GCHQ can violate article 8, the right to privacy. But that could change. It would be legal in human rights terms for GCHQ's mandate to cover "the prevention of disorder", not to mention "the protection of health or morals".
Extending state power

The totalitarian state in Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four would need no broader legal justification than that: it really does allow a government to do anything it likes. It was at this point that I became convinced that Snowden's revelations are not just interesting or important but vital, because the state is about to get powers that no state has ever had, and we need to have a public debate about those powers and what their limits are to be.

At a moment of austerity and with a general sense that our state's ability to guarantee prosperity for its citizens is in retreat, that same state is about to make the biggest advance ever in its security powers. In public, the state is shrinking; in private, it is shrinking until it gets just small enough to fit into our phones, our computers, our cars, our fridges, our bedrooms, our thoughts and intentions.

Another secret slide is headed SRA – a mysterious acronym that is not explained. The slide concerns 2P intelligence, 2P meaning second party, ie other countries in the "five eyes" alliance of the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It says that an SRA, whatever it is, "authorises receipt of 2P intelligence on UK based targets where GCHQ has no authorisation".

Since GCHQ can spy on any foreign national it wants, this can only mean the surveillance of people on whom it isn't legal for GCHQ to spy. That looks to me an awful lot like a means of obtaining permission to spy on people – British citizens? – outside the law.

We've heard a lot of talk about the distinction between content and metadata – content being the stuff inside communications, metadata the who and when and where and how of the communication, but not the content. The idea is that the spooks focus on the metadata and ignore the content – so they notice your nan logging on to the net, where and when and for how long, but don't read the actual content of the search.

This distinction is written into the law in both the US and the UK. This would be reassuring, if the notes didn't say this: "GCHQ policy is to treat it pretty much all the same whether it's content or metadata." Put all these together and it is no wonder the documents contain a boast about the UK's "more permissive legal environment".

A new panopticon

The prospect this presents is something like the "panopticon" which Enlightenment philosophers advocated as a design for the ideal prison in the 18th century, and about which the French philosopher Michel Foucault wrote in his book Discipline and Punish. "He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relations in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own subjection."

When I first read Foucault's account of the panopticon, where the individual at the centre can simultaneously see and judge a whole multitude of other individuals, I thought it was brilliant but overheated. Now, it actually seems like somebody's plan. That's what we risk becoming: a society which is in crucial respects a giant panopticon, where the people with access to our secrets can see, hear, intercept and monitor everything.

Members of the security establishment always want more abilities, more tools, more powers for themselves and fewer rights for us. They never say "thanks a lot, we're good from here, we have everything we need".

Public enemies

From their point of view – the point of view of wanting ever more invasive secret powers – al-Qaida and its affiliates are the perfect enemy. Because al-Qaida combines the characteristics of an ideology and a network, it is everywhere, it is invisible, it is never more dangerous than when you can't see it.

The new emphasis on anticipating the actions of "lone wolf" terrorists raises this danger even higher: the risk of terrorism from people who have never been caught committing a crime, who have no known terrorist affiliations, who are invisible, who could be anywhere … It is the ultimate version of the scare story that used to be called "reds under the bed". How can the state every hope to protect us against people like that, if not by permanent, omnipresent, ever-increasing surveillance?

If we are going to remake society in the image of the fight against terrorism, and put that secret fight at the heart of our democratic order – which is the way we're heading – we need to discuss it, and in public.
Exaggerated risks

When we do so, it might be helpful to consider something called the banana equivalent dose (BED). This is a term used in physics to measure the amount of radiation emitted by a banana. It is a number popular with people who think the dangers of radiation are exaggerated, and who use it to make the point that almost everything is radioactive. A dental x-ray has a BED of 50; serious radiation poisoning takes a BED of 20m; sleeping next to someone for one night has a BED of 0.5 and living within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant for a year has a BED of 0.9.

Since 9/11, 53 people have been killed by terrorists in the UK. Every one of those deaths is tragic. So is every one of the 26,805 deaths to have occurred on Britain's roads between 2002 and 2012 inclusive, an average of 6.67 deaths a day. Let's call that the SDRD, standard daily road deaths. The terrorist toll for 12 years comes to 0.0121 SDRD. This means that 12 years of terrorism has killed as many people in the UK as eight days on our roads.

The security establishment will immediately reply that this figure leaves out deaths of terrorism victims abroad and the lives saved by its secret actions, none of which can be made known without jeopardising current and future operations.

Is that enough of a justification for the scale and extent of what is happening to our privacy? Is the current supervisory regime – which involves senior judges inspecting GCHQ's actions, "within the circle of secrecy", and issuing a secret report – adequate to the scale of the state's powers?

I'd repeat the point that as digital technology, and the ability to enact surveillance through technology, expands its remit, those powers are increasing almost by the day.

In the UK we have a strange sleepy indifference to questions of surveillance and privacy. "The innocent have nothing to fear," says William Hague. But who gets to define who is innocent? Who gets to say what is contradictory to the "economic wellbeing" of the UK? If the innocent have nothing to fear, why is the state reading so many of our emails, and sucking up so much metadata from our phones and computers, under the umbrella of "sigint development"?

Police state

People misunderstand what a police state is. It isn't a country where the police strut around in jackboots; it's a country where the police can do anything they like. Similarly, a security state is one in which the security establishment can do anything it likes.

We are right on the verge of being an entirely new kind of human society, one involving an unprecedented penetration by the state into areas which have always been regarded as private. Do we agree to that? If we don't, this is the last chance to stop it happening. Our rulers will say what all rulers everywhere have always said: that their intentions are good, and we can trust them. They want that to be a sufficient guarantee.

My proposals

There's no need for us to advance any further down this dark road. Here are two specific proposals. The first is that the commissioners who supervise GCHQ include, alongside the senior judges who currently do the work, at least one or two public figures who are publicly known for their advocacy of human rights and government openness. The "circle of secrecy" needs to include some people who are known for not being all that keen on the idea of secrecy.

My second proposal is for a digital bill of rights. The most important proviso on the bill would be that digital surveillance must meet the same degree of explicit targeting as that used in interception of mail and landlines. No more "one end overseas" and "sigint development" loopholes to allow the mass interception of communications. There can be no default assumption that the state is allowed access to our digital life.

As the second most senior judge in the country, Lord Hoffmann, said in 2004 about a previous version of our anti-terrorism laws: "The real threat to the life of the nation, in the sense of a people living in accordance with its traditional laws and political values, comes not from terrorism but from laws like these. That is the true measure of what terrorism may achieve."

• Follow all the latest developments on the NSA from the Guardian

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GCHQ: EU surveillance hearing is told of huge cyber-attack on Belgian firm

Belgacom boss says no company or country could have withstood cyber-attack of this size and sophistication

Ian Traynor in Brussels
The Guardian, Thursday 3 October 2013 19.05 BST   

A cyber-attack on the internet systems of the main Belgian telecommunications company, Belgacom, was so massive and sophisticated that no company or country would have been able to withstand it, a European parliament committee looking into the mass surveillance operations of the US National Security Agency (NSA) and Britain's GCHQ has been told.

The hearing of the parliament's civil liberties committee was told by Belgacom executives that it did not know the source or the purpose of the complex hacking operation detected in June. Sophie in 't Veld, the Dutch Liberal chairing the session, said it was clear from the evidence that the scale of the attack meant it could have been performed by only a "state actor".

Last month – quoting leaked documents from the NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden – the German magazine Der Spiegel reported that the Belgacom systems had been infiltrated by GCHQ in what was codenamed Operation Socialist.

An empty seat on the podium was reserved for Sir Iain Lobban, the director of GCHQ, who had been scheduled to appear before the committee but refused. A letter on Tuesday from Sir Jon Cunliffe, the UK ambassador to the EU, obtained by the Guardian, said the GCHQ chief would not appear since intelligence and national security were none of the EU's business.

The letter said GCHQ "adheres to strict principles of necessity, proportionality and legality … and upholds the law at all times, including when dealing with information from outside the UK".

MEPs voiced outrage that the UK government had failed to make anyone available for questioning over the allegations.

While the Belgacom executives and a senior official from Belgium's data protection agency repeatedly emphasised that neither customers' nor citizens' privacy had been compromised by snooping, email surveillance or phonetapping, they also confirmed that the scale of the attack was unprecedented in their experience.

"This is a kind of attack that a single company or country would be unable to withstand on its own," said Dirk Lybaert, Belgacom's secretary general. He spoke of "an attack of such complexity and of such a high level and with such resources behind it".

The executives added that the company believed it had comprehensive security systems in place to counter cyber-attacks, but had been rendered helpless by the scale of the infiltration of 124 Belgacom IT systems.

The Belgian PM, Elio Di Rupo, last month complained that the attacks amounted to an assault on the country's integrity and promised a strong response if the perpetrators were identified.

Frank Robben, investigating the attack for the national data protection agency, said it was a serious attack, but that the damage had been limited because of "rapid action". That claim was undermined by Belgacom admissions that though the malware intrusion was discovered in June, they did not know when the attack first took place.

Der Spiegel reported that it was initiated three years ago and quoted GCHQ officials as describing the operation as a success.

The executives were at pains to neither deny nor confirm media reports of GCHQ culpability, repeatedly declaring they had no evidence to prove or disprove the reports. Robben admitted that Belgium lacked the right tools and expertise to get to the bottom of the case.

The Labour MEP Claude Moraes and In't Veld complained that the evidence from the Belgians had left them mystified, raising more questions than answers.   


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« Reply #9109 on: Oct 04, 2013, 05:54 AM »

PIG PUTIN'S RUSSIA ...

30 Greenpeace activists charged with piracy in Russia

Six Britons are among environmentalists held in Russia, all of whom have now been charged

Shaun Walker in Moscow
theguardian.com, Thursday 3 October 2013 18.01 BST

All 30 of those arrested during a Greenpeace protest against Arctic oil drilling have now been charged with piracy by Russian authorities, and face trials that could see them jailed for up to 15 years. There are nationals of 18 different countries among the group, including six Britons.

Investigators had already charged 14 of the activists on Wednesday, and on Thursday laid the same charges of "piracy as part of an organised group" against the remaining 16. Those charged on Thursday included the British citizens Frank Heweston and Iain Rogers, as well as the Greenpeace ship's American captain, Peter Willcox. A long-standing Greenpeace activist, Willcox was also the captain of the Rainbow Warrior, the ship sunk by French special forces in 1985 before a planned protest against nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean.

The environmentalists were detained last month as Greenpeace's boat, the Arctic Sunrise, sailed towards the Prirazlomnaya oil rig in the Pechora Sea. Two activists attempted to board the rig, and Russian border guards intervened, descending on to the boat from helicopters. They later forcefully towed the Arctic Sunrise back to Murmansk.

Among the group are a British freelance videographer and a Russian photographer, both of whom have also been charged with piracy. Greenpeace says the charges are absurd and has appealed against the detention of its activists, who are being held in prison cells in Murmansk.

One of the British detainees was taken to hospital briefly with a suspected heart attack on Thursday afternoon, according to a Greenpeace spokesperson in Murmansk, but was returned to jail after it turned out to be a false alarm. Doctors will examine the activist on Friday. Greenpeace would not reveal the name of the activist but said family members had been informed.

Greenpeace's British arm has called for a protest outside the Russian embassy in London and the consulate in Edinburgh.

"The decision to bring charges of piracy against two freelance journalists and 28 Greenpeace activists including five from the UK is completely outrageous," said John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, in a statement. "There isn't a shred of evidence to justify holding these activists, let alone charging them with piracy."

Although Greenpeace says more than a million people have petitioned Russian embassies across the world to free the activists, a survey released on Thursday showed that ordinary Russians had little sympathy for the environmentalists' actions. The survey, by a state-run polling agency, found that 60% of respondents thought the piracy charges were appropriate, while only 17% thought they were too harsh, and 8% found them not harsh enough.

The Russian president, Pig Putin, has said it is "completely obvious" that the Greenpeace activists are not pirates, while Vladimir Lukin, the Pigs's human rights ombudsman, said there was "absolutely no basis" for the piracy charges. Lukin said a fine and a ban from entering Russia for a period of time would suffice as punishment.

Some analysts have speculated that the charges may be dropped eventually, but that with the dramatic arrests Russia is sending a warning that it will not tolerate meddling with the country's claims to the Arctic and its energy resources. Russia symbolically planted a flag on the seabed under the North Pole in 2007, and on Thursday Putin reiterated that the Arctic was "an unalienable part of the Russian Federation that has been under our sovereignty for a few centuries".

The Prirazlomnaya rig that Greenpeace attempted to board will be Russia's first offshore drilling project in the Arctic. The platform was meant to come online last year but has been beset by multiple delays and is now due to start work some time early next year.

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Russian imam says Elton John fans face ‘divine retribution’

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, October 3, 2013 10:17 EDT

A leading Russian Muslim cleric warned Thursday that fans who attend upcoming concerts by openly gay singer Elton John face divine punishment, after the star spoke out in support of Russian gays.

“The only thing we can do as believers is to call the people not to give into the temptations of the devil and not attend Elton John’s Russian concerts,” Seidzhagfar Lutfullin, the imam of a mosque in the Volga city of Kazan told the Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily.

“Divine retribution for taking part in a hotbed of sodomy will fall both on those who attend the concert and those who perform there,” said the cleric from the Zakaban mosque in Kazan, a city with a large ethnic Tatar Muslim community.

The cleric, known for his outspoken statements, also posted a message on the mosque’s website calling the British singer “the devil’s work.”

John and other Western pop stars including Madonna and Lady Gaga have criticised Russia for discriminating against gay people after President Pig Putin in June signed a law banning the promotion of homosexuality to minors.

Gay rights activists say the loosely-worded law can be used to prevent the holding of any public event. It has prompted unprecedented discussion in Russia where gay pride marches are regularly banned by officials.

John is set to perform concerts in Moscow and Kazan in December. He told Britain’s Guardian newspaper last month that as a gay man he felt he had to go and support Russian gay people despite uncertainty about his reception.

John’s planned concerts have already prompted a protest from a conservative parents’ group in the Urals.

The Urals Parents’ Committee last month wrote an open letter to Putin warning that John planned to speak out against the anti-gay law onstage and asking the president to take the situation under his personal control.


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« Reply #9110 on: Oct 04, 2013, 05:56 AM »


French MPs pass bill to curb Amazon's discounting on books

Deputies vote for move to protect small booksellers and defend France's culture against market forces and big internet firms

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris
The Guardian, Thursday 3 October 2013 16.54 BST   

France has begun a new chapter in the saga of its online book wars, with French MPs unanimously backing a move that will curb the discounting power of Amazon in the country.

Warning that small independent bookstores were facing unfair competition from the US internet firm, MPs supported a bill that will prevent it combining free delivery with 5% discounts on books.

In a rare show of unity, parliamentarians on the right and left voted for the move to defend the French "cultural exception" against market forces and global digital powerhouses.

The bill, which must now be approved by the senate, is the latest round of French politicians taking on the might of the major US internet firms.

Since 1981 French law has fixed book-prices so that readers pay the same whether they buy online, from a big high street chain, or from a small bookseller. Extensive discounting is banned.

The government said the measure has saved its independent bookstores from the ravages of free-market capitalism that hit the UK when it abandoned fixed prices in the 1990s. The law, which applies to all online booksellers, does allow for a small amount of discounting – as long as it is no more than 5%. Small booksellers argue they cannot compete with Amazon because it provides free postage and free fast delivery deals on top of 5% discount.

The culture minister, Aurélie Filippeti, who backed the bill, had told booksellers in a speech in Bordeaux last year: "Everyone has had enough of Amazon, which by dumping practices, slashes prices to get a foothold in markets only to raise them as soon as they have established a virtual monopoly … the book and reading sector is facing competition from certain sites using every possible means to enter the French and European book market … it is destroying bookshops."

Guillaume Husson, of the booksellers union, Syndicat de la librairie française, hailed the bill as a sign that public powers were "putting some balance back into the conditions of competition".

There are between 2,500 and 3,000 independent bookshops in France, compared with under 1,000 in Britain. Around 500 of the French independent bookshops sell online but they have warned that they were unable to compete with Amazon.

Romain Voog, head of Amazon France, said in Le Figaro that the bill went against the interest of consumers and would push up the online price of books compared with prices in bookshops.

"Numerous customers live far from any bookshop and appreciate being able to buy their books online," he said, adding: "If this bill passes, it will have a minor impact on Amazon but it will penalise consumers and threaten cultural diversity in France because Amazon offers the biggest choice of new and secondhand books in France."

Voog said the company's four vast new warehouses in France stocked 800,000 titles, and offered books published more than a year ago while smaller sellers focused on new releases.

In recent years the French government has taken on a number of US internet and tech firms. Investigators are looking at the terms of Apple's contracts with mobile operators and last week the French data-protection watchdog threatened action against Google for failing to comply with national privacy guidelines.


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« Reply #9111 on: Oct 04, 2013, 05:58 AM »


Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom faces charges from EU regulators

European commission's action likely to ratchet up tension between Europe and Russia

Reuters
The Guardian, Thursday 3 October 2013 20.15 BST   

EU regulators are preparing to charge Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom with abusing its dominant position in central and eastern Europe, the EU's antitrust chief said on Thursday, in a move that could lead to a fine of up to €11bn (£9bn).

The European commission's action against Gazprom is likely to ratchet up the tension between Europe and Russia, which has criticised EU attempts to boost energy market competition and end its over-reliance on Russian supplies.

It could also play into tensions with Russia over the EU's plans to build closer trade ties with six former Soviet republics, including Ukraine. Moscow has threatened to raise Ukraine's gas prices or limit supplies if Kiev signs a free-trade agreement with the EU in November.

The comments by EU Competition Commissioner Joaquín Almunia come after a year-long investigation and raids of several Gazprom units and its clients in central and eastern Europe. Gazprom supplies a quarter of Europe's gas consumption needs.

The EU antitrust regulator said at the time that Gazprom might have hindered the free flow of gas across the EU and imposed unfair prices on its customers by linking the price of its gas to oil prices.

Speaking at a conference in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, Almunia said the EU's executive was preparing a charge sheet against Gazprom, known as a statement of objections.

"It would be premature to anticipate when the next steps would be taken in this investigation, but we have now moved to the phase of preparing a statement of objections," he told an event organised by the Lithuanian Competition Authority.

He said the investigation covered Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria.

Asked when he would charge Gazprom, Almunia told reporters: "We never pre-commit to deadlines."

A source familiar with the matter told Reuters that the commission planned to take action by the end of the year.

Gazprom said it would not comment on the antitrust case. The company, which generated 4.76 trillion roubles (£91bn) in revenues last year, could stave off a potential fine by offering concessions to settle the case.

Following previous EU investigations, the company agreed to scrap a clause preventing Austrian energy group OMV and Italy's ENI from re-selling gas bought from Gazprom in other markets.

Companies can be penalised up to 10% of their annual revenues for breaching EU antitrust rules.

Lithuania, which has complained to the commission about Gazprom, is claiming almost $2bn compensation from the company at an international arbitration in Stockholm for allegedly "unfair" gas prices. It pays more for gas than any other EU state, according to the commission.


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« Reply #9112 on: Oct 04, 2013, 06:02 AM »


Irish voters set to back Seanad abolition

Polls suggest electorate will back taoiseach's proposal to abolish second parliamentary chamber in referendum

Henry McDonald in Dublin
The Guardian, Friday 4 October 2013   

Despite an alumni that includes Nobel laureate WB Yeats, former president Mary Robinson and the gay rights campaigner and James Joyce expert David Norris, Ireland's electorate is expected on Friday to vote for the abolition of the Republic's second parliamentary chamber.

But as Irish voters go to the polls in a referendum to turn the Republic into a unicameral democracy, defenders of the Seanad (Senate) say abolishing it will lead to a "power grab" by the taoiseach, Enda Kenny.

The last national opinion poll published by the Irish Times/MRBI Ipsos at the start of this week found that 44% will vote to get rid of the Seanad while 27% will oppose abolition.

Senators such as one of Ireland's leading cancer surgeons John Crown are now pinning their hopes on the 21% undecided moving to the NO camp.
For Kenny, the referendum, which also includes a vote on creating a new Irish court of appeal, is a key test of his authority as premier ahead of yet another austerity budget later this month.

But for Crown and fellow Senators, as well as the main opposition party Fianna Fáil, Kenny's claim that abolition will save €20m (£17m) a year masks the taoiseach and his Fine Gael party's real desire to concentrate more political powers in their hands.

"The Seanad has tabled 500 amendments to legislation in the life time of this current government. So, it is spurious to claim it does nothing. In fact it plays a role in improving legislation such as the recent insolvency bill during which Seanad amendments added more protection for mortgage holders from predatory, greedy banks.

"In addition, abolition will mean for example that the only economist on the joint parliamentary committee for finance, who happens to be a member of the Seanad, will lose his post. Abolition means the joint parliamentary health committee will lose the only doctor on the panel, ie myself. The oversight, the checks and balances and the expertise the Seanad provides will all be lost if there is a yes vote," Crown told the Guardian on the eve of the referendum.

More than 40% polled in the last survey cited the cost of the Seanad as their reason for voting Yes.

Seizing upon the cost issue, the taoiseach sought to bolster support for abolition.

"Friday is your day to have that voice heard very strongly to radically change our institutions. Politicians must always put people's needs first. The referendum clearly does that. The Seanad is ineffective and undemocratic, it costs €20m a year to run, and has never engaged with the Irish public the way it should have," Kenny said while on walkabout in Dublin.

The Seanad is appointed partly by parties in the Dáil, the lower chamber, nominating their own senators, or by the trade unions and the votes of university graduates and staff who normally elect favoured academics to the second chamber.

Derek Mooney, a campaigner for the no side, however claims that the government's promise to save €20m is a "con job".

Mooney says: "The figure is around €9m gross and €6m net in terms of abolition. Not one cent will be saved for another three years, but yet €14m will be spent this year on having this unnecessary referendum."

He points out that one of the dangers of having a single chamber is that a government with a large majority such as the one the Fine Gael-Labour coalition commands could for instance remove independent judges by a vote from a single chamber.

Mooney adds that what Ireland needs instead are "better politicians, not fewer politicians" and that this government has backtracked on its promise to cut back on Dáil deputies salaries in solidarity with a nation enduring austerity cuts.


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« Reply #9113 on: Oct 04, 2013, 06:04 AM »


Swiss authorities investigate potential manipulation of £3tn currency markets

Switzerland's market regulator launches foreign exchange investigation involving 'multiple banks around the world'

Jill Treanor   
theguardian.com, Friday 4 October 2013 11.26 BST   

Switzerland is investigating several financial firms over the potential manipulation of currency markets where £3 trillion changes hands every day.

The country's markets regulator said that "multiple banks around the world" were also potentially involved in an investigation that will raise fresh questions about the integrity of financial markets.

The Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority said in a brief statement: "FINMA is currently conducting investigations into several Swiss financial institutions in connection with possible manipulation of foreign exchange markets. FINMA is co-ordinating closely with authorities in other countries as multiple banks around the world are potentially implicated."

The regulator said it would give no further details on the investigations or the banks potentially involved.

In June, the UK's Financial Conduct Authority, the City regulator, launched an investigation into potential manipulation of currency markets and the role of benchmarks in some of the most liquid and activity traded markets in the world.

The FCA investigation emerged after a Bloomberg report alleged that traders at banks were putting in orders ahead of a 60-second window when benchmarks for a series of currency indices run by WM Reuters, a joint venture between the WM company and Thomson Reuters, were set.

The role played by benchmarks in financial markets has been highlighted since the Libor-rigging scandal exposed traders at banks and financial firms around the world manipulating the key standards for interest rates. Barclays was the first major bank to be fined, paying £290m in June last year, but others have since followed including Royal Bank of Scotland, UBS and more recently the interdealer broker Icap.


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« Reply #9114 on: Oct 04, 2013, 06:38 AM »

October 3, 2013

Amid Bloodshed in Pakistan, a Stock Exchange Soars

By DECLAN WALSH
IHT

LONDON — If the best time to buy, as the old business adage says, is when there is blood on the streets, then Pakistan’s commercial capital, Karachi, offers the ideal investment opportunity.

For more than a decade, the sprawling seaport megalopolis of about 20 million people has been racked by political, militant and criminal violence that has taken thousands of lives. Yet, over the same period, the city stock market, which is also Pakistan’s main exchange, has posted spectacular results.

Over the past 12 months alone, the Karachi Stock Exchange has surged more than 44 percent, placing it among the world’s top-performing stock markets in dollar terms this year, according to Bloomberg.

That follows a decade of growth in which one dollar invested in an index fund of Pakistani stocks 10 years ago would have earned, on average, 26 percent every year, analysts say, in a period otherwise notable mostly for bad news. As the stock market rose, the Pakistani military leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf fell, Osama bin Laden was captured and Taliban violence spread from the northwest to cities across the country, including Karachi.

Just as surprising, perhaps, Wall Street firms are driving the latest phase of the stock boom. Bad news can make for a good bargain, they say.

“What you see in the popular press is just one part of the picture,” said Mark Mobius, a fund manager at Franklin Templeton Investments, which has more than $1 billion invested in Pakistan stocks, mostly in the energy sector. “There’s another side to these countries, where life goes on. And that’s what we focus on.”

The gloomy image of Pakistan obscures positive aspects of its economy that, investors say, make some companies an attractive bet. Beyond the headline news, much of the country is getting on with normal life. And with a population estimated at nearly 200 million people — a high proportion of them young — Pakistan offers a large, lucrative market for consumer goods, construction and financial services firms, which constitute the bulk of the Karachi stock market.

The biggest publicly listed companies — like the multinational Nestlé, the Oil and Gas Development Company and Fauji Fertilizer, a military-run conglomerate — pay handsome dividends, which makes them attractive to foreign investors.

And the recent election victory of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, a business tycoon, has injected confidence into the financial community, which had been wary of the previous government.

For a time, Pakistani stocks were undervalued by as much as 50 percent to account for risk, compared with a regional discount of about 20 percent, said Taha Javed, a financial analyst in Karachi. Now, as foreign investors pile in, he said, “we are catching up.”

Still, there is much to overlook. With painful power shortages, a sliding national currency and dwindling foreign reserves, Pakistan’s economy has been on life support in recent years. In August, the International Monetary Fund approved a $6.6 billion emergency loan, on top of $5 billion that Pakistan already owes the fund.

Business safety is a problem. Paramilitary security forces combed Karachi last week as part of a fresh effort to combat criminal gangs that have terrorized the city. Kidnapping for ransom is common. In a “livability” survey of 140 world cities, published by the Economist Intelligence Unit in August, Karachi shared the fourth-to-last rank with the Algerian capital, Algiers. And that is only part of Pakistan’s broader security problem, with militant groups and frequent violence against religious and ethnic minorities.

And for all its impressive growth, the stock market can be worryingly unstable, as a sudden dive of about 5 percent last week demonstrated. That slump has now stabilized — it was more of a correction than a crash, it seems — but the market has a history of volatility.

The Karachi exchange closed for four months in late 2008 after an abrupt drop in prices; more recently, it has faced allegations by the news media of insider trading and cronyism. A former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, which regulates the market, is being prosecuted for corruption and tax evasion.

The juxtaposition of a booming stock market with bombs and economic austerity suggests sides to Pakistan, both positive and negative, that are little appreciated outside the country. It shows resilience and business acumen, certainly, but also worrisome fragmentation in a society where rich and poor live ever further apart.

In Karachi, where most big companies and banks have their headquarters, about 2,500 people died violently last year. But the bloodshed is concentrated in the city’s working-class areas, allowing the wealthy to continue with life as normal — with some adjustments like layers of security barriers and heavily armed private security forces.

“As far as the killings go, forget about it — that’s part of life,” said Zain Hussain, chief executive of the stock brokerage firm Taurus Securities. “It’s something that I am immune to, and so are most investors.”

Despite some recent overhauls, experts say the exchange is also still perilously underregulated. The current boom was bolstered last year by a law that allowed investors to put money into stocks without having to explain its origin — effectively facilitating money laundering, critics said.

“The penalties are minimal here,” said Javed Hassan, chief executive of the Institute of Capital Markets, a body that licenses participants in the Karachi exchange. “Nobody has gone to jail for manipulating the market.”

While the Karachi market’s success is impressive, it has been built on the money of a small number of foreign investors like Mr. Mobius. If they were to withdraw precipitously, for whatever reasons, prices would most likely tumble again.

“Despite all the positives,” said Muddassar Malik, chief executive of BMA Funds, an investment firm, “it’s not a country for the fainthearted.”


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« Reply #9115 on: Oct 04, 2013, 06:42 AM »


The Chinese city living in fear of giant killer hornets

Jonathan Kaiman visits Ankang municipality where swarms of highly venomous hornets have killed 41 people in three months

Jonathan Kaiman in Ankang
theguardian.com, Friday 4 October 2013 10.43 BST        

Link to video: China: surge in fatal hornet attacks in Shaanxi province

http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2013/oct/03/china-surge-hornet-attacks-shaanxi-province-video

Chen pointed with a shaky hand at the small plot of cabbage, scallions and corn where his friend Yu Yihong was stung to death by giant hornets.

"When he got to the hospital, there were still two hornets in his trousers," says Chen, a local farmer who, like many villagers, declined to give his full name to a foreign journalist. "The hornets' poison was too strong – his liver and kidneys failed, and he couldn't urinate."

Yu, a square-jawed 40-year-old farmer in perfect health, had been harvesting his crops when he stepped on a nest of vespa mandarinia hornets concealed beneath a pile of dry corn husks. The hornets swarmed Yu, stinging him through his long-sleeve shirt and trousers. He ran, but the hornets chased him, stinging his arms and legs, his head and neck.

After Yu succumbed to his wounds and about 50 of his friends and relatives gathered to mourn his passing. Outside the farmer's mountainside home in Yuanba village, they ate preserved eggs, buckwheat noodles and boiled peanuts in silence; one set off a string of fireworks. Yu's wife and two children sat inside weeping.

Vespa mandarinia is the world's largest hornet, around the size of a human adult's thumb, yellow and black in colour and highly venomous. Their 6mm-long stingers carry a venom potent enough to dissolve human tissue. Victims may die of kidney failure or anaphylactic shock.

Yu's story is a tragic but increasingly common one in north-west China's Shaanxi province where, over the past three months alone, hornets have killed 41 people and injured a further 1,675. Ankang, a municipality in the province's south, appears to be the epicentre of the scourge. While hornets infest its mountainous rural areas every year – 36 residents were stung to death between 2002 and 2005 – locals and municipal officials say this year is tantamount to an epidemic, the worst they have ever seen.

At least some of the deaths were caused by vespa mandarinia, experts say. The species does not typically attack unless it feels its nest is threatened. But when it does, it can be fierce and fast – the hornets can fly at 25 miles per hour and cover 50 miles in a day. They nest in tree stumps or underground, making nests extremely difficult to detect.

Both locals and experts blame this year's scourge on climate change; the past year has been unusually warm, allowing a high number of hornets to survive the winter. Huang Ronghui, an official at the Ankang Forestry Bureau's pest control department, lists a host of other possibilities: the hornets may have been agitated by a dry spell, while labourers have been moving deeper and deeper into the mountains, disturbing their nests. "Other than this, hornets are attracted to bright colours and the smell of peoples' sweat, alcohol and sweet things," he told state media. "They're sensitive to movement, such as running people or animals."

The region has also been overrun by the Asian hornet vespa velutina, a slightly smaller species which can be equally dangerous. Hundreds, even thousands inhabit their nests, which typically hang from high places. In Chengxing village, a few miles downhill from a winding mountain road from Yu's hometown, 16-year-old Tan Xingjian points at a tree in the distance. Hanging from one thick branch was a pale, basketball-sized bulb, its surface alive with darting black specks. "That's where they live," Tan says. "We don't dare to go near there."

Ankang is on alert, with the local authorities posting warning notices online, on roadside tree trunks and on primary school walls. The crisis has exhausted Gong Zhenghong, the spiky-haired mayor of Hongshan township in rural Ankang. Since September, Gong has spent nearly every night wandering the township exterminating nests with four other cadres. He says there are 248 hornet nests in Hongshan with 175 are close to schools and roads.

Gong and his team survey nests by day; once the sun sets, they dress in homemade anti-hornet suits made of rain jackets and canvass, and burn the nests with spray-can flamethrowers. "They don't fly around at night," he says.

Sometimes, his team begins work in the late evening and doesn't finish until 2am. "We'd normally send the fire squad to do this, but this year there were too many nests." Gong left his office, returned with a black rubbish bag, and pulled out the charred remains of a nest, the blackened tails of bulb-like larvae protruding from its combs.

Two other cities in Shaanxi – Hanzhong and Shangluo – have also been besieged by hornets, though the death tolls have been markedly lower. In southern China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, a swarm of hornets attacked a primary school in mid-September, injuring 23 children and seven adults. The teacher, Li Zhiqiang, told pupils to hide under their desks and tried to fight the creatures off until he lost consciousness, state media reported.

The hornets seem ubiquitous in Ankang. In Liushui township, a smattering of two-storey concrete homes sandwiched between a lush hillside and a stagnant river, an elderly shopkeeper in a purple blazer says that the hornets have infested a cabbage patch near her home. "The government has been coming down and burning them, but they can't burn them all," she adds, pointing down into the brush. "I'm not willing to go down there."

Mu Conghui, a 55-year-old Ankang villager, was stung 200 times while tending her rice field in late August. "These hornets are terrifying – all at once they flew to my head, and when I stopped, they stung me so much that I couldn't budge," she told state media. "My legs were crawling with hornets. Right now my legs are covered with small sting holes – over the past two months I've received 13 dialysis treatments."

The Ankang government says it has removed 710 hives and sent 7m yuan (£707,000) to help affected areas. "We're doing everything we can, but there's only so much we can do," says Deng Xianghong, the deputy head of the Ankang propaganda department. "God has been unfair to us."


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« Reply #9116 on: Oct 04, 2013, 06:44 AM »


Qatar World Cup boss: tournament will not be built on 'blood of innocents'

Hassan al-Thawadi says 2022 World Cup will accelerate progress of migrant workers' rights in Gulf state

Owen Gibson in Zurich
The Guardian, Thursday 3 October 2013 18.37 BST   

Hassan al-Thawadi, the man in charge of Qatar's World Cup preparations, has insisted the tournament will not be built on "the blood of innocents" as organisers come under increasing pressure over the issue of workers' rights.

In the wake of a Guardian investigation that showed dozens of Nepalese had been killed in recent weeks alone and warnings from unions that the death toll could reach 4,000 before a ball is kicked if conditions do not improve, the chief executive of the Qatar 2022 supreme committee said the issue was their "top priority".

"This is not a World Cup being built on the blood of innocents. That is unacceptable to anybody and most definitely to ourselves," said Thawadi, who was in Zurich to deliver a progress report on the country's preparations.

The focus of a meeting of Fifa's executive committee was expected to be the shift of the 2022 World Cup to winter to avoid the searing heat of the summer, but Fifa insiders said the renewed pressure over workers' rights had changed the terms of the debate.

Unions protested outside Fifa House and called on world football's governing body to do more to pressure the Qatar government on the issue. The Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, is expected to address the topic on Friday at the conclusion of the two-day meeting.

Thawadi pointed to a workers' rights charter drawn up by the Qatar 2022 supreme committee and said it had been working with Human Rights Watch and Amnesty on the issue for some time.

He insisted that the decision to bring the World Cup to the Middle East for the first time would accelerate progress in improving the rights of the migrant workers who are fuelling the rapid development of the infrastructure required.

"It's important to note this is an issue the government itself is looking into – and the government was looking into this before the World Cup came on board," said Thawadi.

"It's not a matter of the World Cup imposing pressure, that's not the case. If the World Cup is doing anything it is accelerating a number of these initiatives."

Thawadi insisted there was no prospect of Qatar being stripped of the World Cup over the issue.

"In terms of the migrant workers – when it comes to World Cup 2022 in particular – we've established strategy, a charter. This is out in public, we have established a worker welfare committee," he said.

"We are looking at provisions for our contractors and we are in dialogue with Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to look at not only the contracts but the mechanisms to enforce them."

Trade union organisations have argued that while there are laws in place in Qatar to deal with the mistreatment of migrant workers, many of whom are tied to their employer and unable to leave the country, they are too rarely enforced.

"From our point of view it's plain and simple. We want to ensure the safety, health, security and dignity of everybody," said Thawadi.

"That's what we are moving forward to and everybody is on board in terms of that road map and that agenda and is committed to delivering that. It will always be our top priority."

Human Rights Watch has called on Fifa to take practical, positive steps to ensure there is a legacy for migrant workers from the Qatar World Cup.

Nicholas McGeehan, a Gulf researcher at Human Rights Watch, said Fifa should insist on a timetable for labour reform for all construction workers in Qatar, offer technical and medical assistance to the Qataris on the issue of heat-related deaths and abolish the exit visa system that has caused workers to be trapped in the country.

"For all the controversy over Qatar's selection to host the 2022 tournament, the scrutiny and pressure that the Qatari authorities are now under after the Guardian's reporting make genuine labour reform a possibility," he said.


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« Reply #9117 on: Oct 04, 2013, 06:47 AM »


Gambian exit from Commonwealth surprises some in government

Sources close to Gambian government say they had no idea about decision believed to have been made by president

Afua Hirsch, west Africa correspondent
theguardian.com, Thursday 3 October 2013 19.09 BST    

Senior government figures in the Gambia had no forewarning of the country's withdrawal from the Commonwealth before the move was announced on state television on Wednesday night.

The decision to leave the 54-member group of nations after almost half a century is believed to have been made by the president, Yahya Jammeh, who seized power in 1994 and has increasingly ruled the west African nation with an iron fist.

Sources close to the government said they had no idea the move was coming. "This came as a surprise to us all," said one government source, who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals. "I myself am trying to find out why we have done this but there is no information about it."

The source added: "We will have to wait and see whether it has consequences. If you withdraw, you can't contribute and you can't benefit, so I can't see how it will be good for the country."

Last year Jammeh sparked international outrage after ending a 27-year moratorium on the death penalty with a spate of executions and threatening that all death-row prisoners would be dead within a month.

"After the executions last year we saw an unprecedented amount of international attention on Gambia – it's the first time its human rights record was really put under scrutiny," said Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus, Gambia researcher for Amnesty International. "The government has had its back against the wall … I think this is a way of sending a message to the international community that they are not going to tolerate input or criticism to their human rights record.

"The Commonwealth was one of the few institutions that had direct access to the government and was trying to engage with it to build human rights institutions. It's really sad that the Commonwealth is no longer going to be involved with Gambia, because they are one of the few organisations that could."

Jammeh has earned a reputation for defying international norms with his controversial actions and unilateral decisions which one source said were "erratic". In 2007 he provoked the wrath of medical experts when he claimed to have discovered a concoction of boiled herbs that could cure Aids. This year he said the herbs had cured 67 people.

Jammeh introduced a three-day weekend for public sector workers and schools on the grounds that the predominantly Muslim population needed more time to pray, socialise and tend to their fields. At the United Nations last week, Jammeh equated homosexuality with "greed, and obsession with world domination" and said that the three constituted the "biggest threats to human existence".

Questions remain over the timing of the decision to leave the Commonwealth, with no obvious development in recent weeks and only a month to go before the group's next biennial summit, in Sri Lanka.

"It's very unusual for a country to leave the Commonwealth like this," said a Commonwealth source, who also did not want to be named. "Gambia has been under pressure for years over its human rights record, so why now? Nothing unusual has happened. The president is very erratic."

***********

This could be the beginning of the end for the Commonwealth

This timid international club will suffer more defections like Gambia's if it doesn't stand up for its values

Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah   
The Guardian, Thursday 3 October 2013 21.30 BST          

Gambia has declared that it is withdrawing from the Commonwealth, a "neocolonial institution", according to the country's president, Yahya Jammeh. No further reasons were given, but the decision may well be related to the poor relationship between Jammeh and the UK. He's accused Britain of backing his political opposition, and this year the Foreign Office criticised Gambia's human rights record.

Inevitably, the spotlight now shines on an association which grew out of empire and managed to re-invent itself as a values-based club that, according to Jawaharlal Nehru, brought a "touch of healing" to the world.

Since the modern Commonwealth was created in 1949, every former British colony – and some others like Mozambique and Rwanda – has decided to join. This free and equal association has promoted democracy, international understanding and the interests of vulnerable states. Yet in today's crowded marketplace of international organisations, the Commonwealth is caught in an existential crisis about its role.

With a tiny budget (less than 1% of Britain's Department for International Development) and few resources (a smaller team than runs the UN headquarters cafe), it cannot deliver substantial programmes, instead having to rely on nudging governments to do better. Gambia's decision signals the beginning of the end for this once great institution.

Only a few member states, essentially Britain and a handful of other developed countries, want the Commonwealth to play an active role in promoting democracy and human rights. The vast majority of members would rather have a quiet body, offering technical assistance here and there and convening an occasional summit.

This divide is clearest in the debate over the holding of the next leaders' summit, in Sri Lanka this November. The Canadians have been most outspoken of a small group of members, saying that they will not attend unless the Sri Lankan government does more to improve human rights and investigate accusations of war crimes. But most other governments, some of which fear the Commonwealth focusing on their own shortcomings, actively support Sri Lanka's hosting. Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan government is relishing the idea of taking over the chair of the Commonwealth after the summit.

The departure of Gambia and the fight over the Sri Lankan summit reveal how weak Commonwealth institutions have become. The secretariat is accused of actively dodging any politically sensitive issue, and its reticence to speak out means that the Commonwealth suffers from a very low public profile. A 2009 poll in seven countries showed than only a third of people could identify what the Commonwealth does.

There is also growing frustration among member states, rich and poor. The big donors – Australia, Britain and Canada – provide about two thirds of funding for the official Commonwealth institutions and are unhappy with the lack of political action. Smaller donors also seem reluctant to pay into a club that delivers relatively little direct benefit. When I was head of the Commonwealth Foundation, I spent a lot of my time chasing member governments for substantial arrears and convincing others not to withdraw support altogether.

In reality there is very little benefit these days in membership of this club. In years gone by Commonwealth sanctions against countries like Nigeria and Pakistan mattered to their leaders. Since then, Zimbabwe has withdrawn and the Fijian government doesn't seem to care about its suspension.

Presumably this is why the seasoned diplomats who run the secretariat don't want to rock the boat too much, lest more countries jump ship. But this will backfire in the long term and public and donor support will dwindle.

The only way the Commonwealth will thrive is to re-assert the moral authority it once had. This may mean more countries withdrawing, but a smaller, more effective Commonwealth is better than one that stays silent simply to keep the club together.


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« Reply #9118 on: Oct 04, 2013, 06:49 AM »

October 3, 2013

Thievery Comes After Carnage at Kenya Mall

By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN, NICHOLAS KULISH and JOSH KRON
IHT

NAIROBI, Kenya — Mannequins were stripped clean, jewelry cases smashed, racks of expensive suits carted off, dozens of cash registers cracked open and at least one member of the Kenyan security services arrested, caught with a bloody wallet.

The looting of the Westgate mall, the scene of a siege in which scores of people were killed last month, appeared to have the scope and organization of a large-scale military operation, and many Kenyans are asking if that is what it was.

From the first hours after Islamist militants burst into the mall on Sept. 21, killing men, women and children, until a week later when shopkeepers were let back in to sweep up the broken glass, very few people were allowed inside the mall except the Kenyan security forces, mainly the army.

More and more Kenyans believe that those soldiers methodically cleaned out the mall, and that the barrages of gunfire ringing out for days were being directed not at the last of the militants but at safes and padlocks to blast them open. Some business leaders even question whether the Kenyan Army deliberately prolonged the crisis by saying that shooters were still in the building when they were actually dead, to give themselves extra time to steal.

Witnesses said that the most they saw militants loot was a couple of cans of soda, and shopkeepers cited no instances of panicked shoppers helping themselves to merchandise as they ran for their lives, leading to the widespread conclusion that the security forces must have been involved.

Kenyans are accustomed to corruption — their country is consistently rated as one of the most corrupt in the world — but the evidence of looting amid a national tragedy has been too much for many to take.

“It’s disgraceful,” said Maina Kiai, one of Kenya’s best-known human rights defenders. “It’s part of a nasty culture where power means everything, where you take what you can, you do whatever you want, and there’s no accountability.”

The Kenyan military said Thursday that it was “committed to get to the bottom of this” and appealed to the public for any information about soldiers who might have looted.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has announced an official inquiry into the security services’ response, which has been roundly criticized as slow and bungled. But official inquiries often do not amount to much, many Kenyans say. The other night on a Kenyan news broadcast, a camera panned across a shelf of previous inquiries — thick, bound tomes that went nowhere.

In a question put to viewers, 77 percent said they believed the Kenyan Army was responsible for the plundering of Westgate.

“Four-day siege or four-day shopping spree?” said one Western official working in Kenya.

Many questions are still swirling. The Shabab, a Somali Islamist group, has claimed responsibility for killing more than 60 people at the mall, but the number of militants who stormed in — and who they were — remain unknown.

On Thursday morning, at the Westgate entrance, vans usually used for taking tourists on safari disgorged a platoon of Western investigators wearing zip-off nylon pants and handguns on their hips. The mall reeked of rotten meat. Kenyan soldiers in hazardous-material suits and gas masks leaned over piles of debris, collecting evidence. There were still pools of blood on the floor, bits of flesh sticking to the tiles. Several more bodies were unearthed Thursday from a pile of rubble.

The mall’s electricity remained shut off, and inside Sir Henry’s, a men’s store on the ground floor, clerks took inventory by lantern light. Fazal Virani, one of Sir Henry’s owners, shook his head in disbelief. He pointed out that the cheaper suits in the front of the store had not been stolen, while dozens of his most expensive suits, hanging in the back and costing almost $2,000 each, were gone.

“These guys had time, man, these guys had time,” he said.

Mr. Virani then trudged upstairs to commiserate with other shopkeepers. “You get hit, too?” he asked a group of men standing ankle deep in crushed glass.

“Dumb question,” replied Michael Waweru, the owner of a small boutique. “Everyone got hit.”

Laptops, smartphones, Swiss watches, cameras, underwear, perfume and stereo speakers were all carried out of the mall, which was supposed to be tightly guarded by the military, owners said. At the checkout booths in the Nakumatt supermarket, thieves left behind hundreds of coins on conveyor belts covered in ash. Wallets were snatched from the bodies of victims, shopkeepers said, complicating the process of identification.

In one women’s boutique, blouses, jewelry and purses were snatched, leaving naked plastic mannequins. Even the little wooden carts that sold chocolates on Westgate’s ground floor had been broken into.

“Who did this?” said Atul Shah, Nakumatt’s managing director. “The people inside. Who was inside? The defense forces.”

A cleanup crew at one restaurant said that when the soldiers allowed them back in on Monday, the crew found hundreds of bottles of gin, brandy, rum, vodka and beer sitting on the bar. It looked like the scene of a fraternity party, one Western official said.

“I don’t know if they are deprived of these things or they felt they deserved them,” said Zahir Manji, who owns four shops in Westgate.

Inside the mall this week, the evidence of widespread theft was all around. Parking machines and cash registers were pried open and emptied. A huge, mounted flat-screen television had been lifted off the wall. Doors were wrenched open, and in several stores that showed no obvious signs of having been caught up in the fighting, display cases were ransacked.

Witness accounts have not suggested that the attackers broke into safes or stole anything of value. The mall’s surveillance cameras may have captured some of the looting, but Kenyan intelligence agents have taken the footage.

“A committee of inquiry will be formed,” Mr. Shah said, sighing, “and nothing will happen.”

Of Kenya’s security services, the military had been considered the most professional, and the police force the most corrupt. But in the aftermath of the mall attack, it is the police officers who are being hailed as heroes because dozens of lightly armed off-duty officers were among the first responders at the mall, and they saved hundreds of lives.

Within hours, the Kenyan military ordered the police out. Then the army took over. Scores of soldiers poured into the mall while several assailants holed up in the Nakumatt store. The standoff ended three days later after soldiers fired an antitank missile into the store, leaving it in flames and opening an enormous crater in the flagship of one of Kenya’s most important companies.

Four days after that, the first shopkeepers were allowed back in to survey the wreckage. Millions of dollars of property had been destroyed, and businesses said that at least hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and merchandise were missing.

On Thursday, the talk among a group of forlorn shopkeepers was of “terrorism insurance.” Nobody there had it. But Mr. Manji hoped that would not matter.

“This was not terrorism; this was looting,” he said. “It’s sad that the people who were supposed to protect us have robbed us.”


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« Reply #9119 on: Oct 04, 2013, 06:50 AM »

October 3, 2013

Fighting Between Rebels Intensifies Over a Strategic Town in Syria

By BEN HUBBARD
IHT

BEIRUT, Lebanon — A group of powerful rebel brigades in northern Syria is struggling to defuse an armed standoff pitting insurgents against an affiliate of Al Qaeda for control of a strategic town near the Turkish border.

The conflict over the town, Azaz, has shuttered a Turkish border crossing long used to supply the rebel movement and heightened tensions between rebels who seek the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad and extremists who want to erase Syria’s borders and establish a transnational Islamic state.

The Qaeda group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, known as ISIS, routed local rebels to take control of Azaz two weeks ago and has since set up checkpoints around the town and taken over the bases of other rebel groups.

Rebels who oppose the ISIS jihadists have collected their forces at the Bab al-Salameh border crossing a few miles away and are preparing to protect it should the jihadists advance.

Turkey has kept the crossing closed since Sept. 19 because of security concerns, a Turkish Foreign Ministry official said.

Seeking to end the crisis, a group of six powerful rebel brigades released a statement late Wednesday calling for an immediate cease-fire.

In a jab at the strict ideology of the ISIS jihadists, the statement told them not “to shed the blood of Muslims and be hasty in calling them heretics and apostates.” It also called on both sides to submit themselves to the Shariah Commission, a rebel-run court in the northern city of Aleppo, within 48 hours to resolve the problem.

It was unclear if the ISIS fighters would heed the call.

The rise of ISIS in rebel-held areas in northern and eastern Syria has posed a problem for the broader rebel movement. While many insurgents are deeply Islamist themselves, their focus remains on toppling Mr. Assad, and they accuse ISIS of prioritizing its own jihadist agenda over the fight against the president. But the rebels hesitate to confront ISIS, saying their resources are already stretched by fighting the government.

ISIS seized Azaz from the local rebel group known as the Northern Storm that led the fight last year to oust government forces from the town.

A Northern Storm commander reached by telephone said that since taking over the town, ISIS had attacked his group’s bases in nearby villages and that his fighters were shooting back with heavy machine guns meant to down airplanes.

“This is all we can do until we find a way to end this,” said the commander, who goes by the name Abu Yamen.

This week, a Qaeda spokesman accused the Northern Storm of attacking first and said the rebel group had struck a deal with Senator John McCain during his brief visit to Syria this year to fight against ISIS “and hit the mujahedeen.”

Turkey’s Parliament on Thursday extended a mandate for the army to launch military operations in Syria if necessary, as the government argued that the use of chemical weapons by forces loyal to the Assad government had aggravated Turkey’s national security concerns.

Turkey’s president, Abdullah Gul, speaking to reporters on his way to New York last week to attend the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly, called radical Islamist groups in Syria a serious security threat for his country, and warned that the continuing civil war there “could produce an Afghanistan in Eastern Mediterranean,” according to the daily newspaper Hurriyet.

Karam Shoumali and Sebnem Arsu contributed reporting from Istanbul.


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