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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1083056 times)
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« Reply #9120 on: Oct 04, 2013, 06:53 AM »

Replica of Tutankhamun's tomb aims to divert tourists from threatened site

Creators hope £420,000 facsimile will give visitors a better understanding of tomb as they will be able to stay for longer

Patrick Kingsley in Cairo, Thursday 3 October 2013 17.06 BST

An exact replica of the tomb of Tutankhamun is set to be installed near the 3,000-year-old original, in what one of the world's leading Egyptologists has called a revolutionary development in Egyptian archaeological conservation.

Officials hope the £420,000 project will prolong the life of the original while promoting a new model of sustainable tourism and research in a country where many pharaonic sites are under severe threat.

Tutankhamun's tomb is one of 63 burial sites in Luxor's Valley of the Kings. After years of visitors, some have had to close due to damage while others – such as Tutankhamun's – are under threat, with restoration efforts likely to make the problem worse.

"The attempt to fix the tombs to make them visitable is itself now the largest long-term risk to the tombs," said Adam Lowe, whose Spanish-based firm Factum Arte led and funded the creation of the tomb's replica under the supervision of Egypt's supreme council of antiquities.

The project aims to divert visitors away from the threatened original while still giving them the chance to experience what it is like inside. The process could be used to give visitors the chance to experience other sites that are too fragile ever to be opened again.

"It's revolutionary," said Kent Weeks, a leading Egyptologist who has been researching pharaonic sites since the 1960s. "It's not just a way of protecting the tomb of Tutankhamun, but it's a test case, a model that could be used to protect other sites across the country."

The project's leaders acknowledge that visiting a replica will sound less appealing to many than seeing the real thing. But they hope the facsimile, which is indiscernible from the original, will give visitors a better understanding of the tomb.

The original version can only be visited for short periods at a time, making it more difficult to appreciate. But the sturdier replica will be able to accommodate more people for longer periods, allowing them to learn more about why the tomb is special.

"The challenge is to get people to visit the facsimile and say: my god, I can't tell the difference – and what's more, there are things I can experience in the facsimile that I can't in the original," said Lowe. "We want people going to both, and tweeting and blogging and saying: this is a very interesting moment in the history of conservation, we understand the problem, and the facsimile is better than the original."

With tourism decimated since the ousting of Mohamed Morsi as president in July, Egyptian authorities hope the new tomb will help bring visitors back to Luxor.

"This is the first build in the Valley of the Kings for 3,000 years," said Nigel Hetherington, co-author of a book about the area. "We are essentially replicating a pharaoh's tomb for the first time ever."

He said that if was replicated across Egypt's many other historical sites, many of which are under threat from looting and decay, the project could have other far-reaching benefits.

"It's a long-term plan that will put Egyptians in charge of documenting their own heritage. With this technology, they'll be able to scan any of their sites. In terms of building a database, it's a godsend, and it could safeguard not just the Valley of the Kings, but all of Egypt's heritage sites."

The facsimile is said to be one of the most sophisticated replicas ever made. Its creation involved measuring 100 million points in every square metre of the original tomb. Factum Arte used laser scanners to capture the texture, shape and colours of the tomb, before reproducing it with machine-operated blades, some with a width of less than two-tenths of a millimetre.

The process builds on that used to make replicas of fragile caves in southern France, and a high-resolution facsimile of Veronese's Wedding at Cana.

The tomb's replica will be installed near the Luxor home of Howard Carter, the legendary Egyptologist. The installation is scheduled to start in December.

"There's a lot of arguments between conservators and tourism experts about whether replicas will help or hinder tourism," said Weeks. "But we should be able to show that there is no conflict between the economic needs of the country and conservation needs of the tombs. One can make a much more meaningful visit to the replica than one ever could to the original."

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« Reply #9121 on: Oct 04, 2013, 06:54 AM »

Havana street produces 12 sets of twins

High number of twins in Cuban capital district baffles scientists, as locals blame everything from genetics to a sacred tree

Associated Press in Havana, Friday 4 October 2013 10.41 BST   

Some say it could be something in the water. Others point to a tree with mystical significance for locals. Maybe it's just chance. But neighbours marvel at the 12 sets of twins living along two consecutive blocks in western Havana, ranging in age from newborns to senior citizens.

"We were the first ones," said Fe Fernandez, 65, who wears her gray hair closely cropped. "It's incredible!" said her identical sister, Esperanza, who shares the same features but whose black-dyed hair falls to shoulder length.

At first blush there isn't much about 68-A Street to mark it as different from anywhere else in the city. Children play ballgames in the road nearly free of traffic, as tropical music floats out from behind graceful porches and balustrades. But if you spend any time here, before long you might think you're seeing double.

"Hi, I'm Carla, and this is my sister Camila," said Carla Rodriguez, a smiley, bespectacled nine-year-old. "We're twins and we love living on this block because we have twin friends."

Tamara Velazquez, who's been busy raising six-year-old identical sisters Asley and Aslen, said: "I never expected it. No fertility treatments. It was my first pregnancy, and at five weeks they did an ultrasound and I was carrying twins.".

"It's a lot of work. It requires a lot of patience," Velazquez said. "They are very active and dominant, although each has a different character."

Ten of the twin sets here are identical, and the other two fraternal. None of the mothers interviewed said they had received fertility treatments, although most said multiple births run in their extended families including relatives living elsewhere. None of the families are related to each other.

All but one of the sets were born into these homes, and the lone newcomers moved into a house that was vacated by twins who moved to Spain. Others have died or moved away over the years. "Twins leave, twins come," Fe Fernandez joked.
Havana twins 2 Twins Fe Fernandez (l), and her sister Esperanza, aged 65. Photograph: Ramon Espinosa/AP

It's impossible to say what could be behind the high number of twins here, or whether there is any cause at all.

Scientists say a variety of factors play into twin births, such as race, the mother's age and diet. Western Africa, from where many Afro-Cubans can trace their ancestry, has significantly elevated rates of twinning.

While there's been no scholarly study of the twins on 68-A Street, they nonetheless consider themselves part of a special community. Some look to faith for an explanation.

"There are neighbours who are religious. Many say it's the Siguaraya tree, which people ask for things and is in one of the homes," Fe Fernandez said. "The people believe in it strongly."

Leafy and embellished with delicate white blossoms, the Siguaraya is considered sacred in the syncretic Afro-Cuban Santeria faith and is associated with a powerful "orisha", or spirit.

Others, such as Mercedes Montero, mother of 21-year-olds Xavier and Lorena, chalk it up to the luck of the draw.

"It's a very big coincidence," Montero said, "one of those strange things in life."

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« Reply #9122 on: Oct 04, 2013, 06:56 AM »

A new Leonardo da Vinci painting might have been discovered

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, October 3, 2013 16:47 EDT

An Italian weekly said in its Friday edition that a new painting by Leonardo da Vinci of Renaissance noblewoman Isabella d’Este has been reliably authenticated with carbon dating.

The portrait, which was believed to have been either lost or never even painted, belongs to an Italian family which kept it in the vault of a Swiss bank, the Sette magazine reported.

It measures 61 by 46.5 centimetres (24 by 18 inches) and depicts the prominent Italian marquess, who was a patron of the arts, in profile.

It is “a faithful transposition of the famous sketch hanging in the Louvre,” said Sette, which belongs to the Corriere della Sera daily.

“This is a sensational discovery although it is still short of confirmations,” it said.

It quoted Carlo Pedretti, a world expert in the Tuscan painter (1452-1519), saying: “I can immediately recognise Da Vinci’s handiwork, particularly in the woman’s face.”

Only around 15 works have been reliably attributed to Leonardo, including the “Mona Lisa” — the most famous and popular painting in the world.

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« Reply #9123 on: Oct 04, 2013, 07:17 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

US shutdown: Republicans threaten to take debt limit fight to the brink

White House rules out using legal veto to force Congress's hand as economists warn of potentially catastrophic standoff

Dan Roberts in Washington and Dominic Rushe in New York, Friday 4 October 2013 12.17 BST

The White House has ruled out using a legal veto to force Congress to extend the US debt limit as conservative Republicans threaten to take what the Treasury described as a potentially catastrophic economic standoff to the brink of a 17 October deadline.

President Obama had been encouraged by senior Democrats to call the bluff of hardline Republicans who want to add a debt limit refusal to an existing spending impasse that has already shut down much of the federal government.

Some Democrats argue that powers granted under the 14th amendment to the constitution, which was introduced to control southern states after the civil war, would allow the president to unilaterally borrow money if there was such a threat to the credit-worthiness of the US.

"Using the 14th would show the Republicans he means business," one former aide to Bill Clinton told the Guardian last week.

But the White House ruled out the option on Thursday, ending days of Washington debate about whether this obscure legal authority might provide a way out for Obama – at least from one half of Republicans' fiscal pincer movement. "The administration does not believe the 14th amendment gives power to the president to ignore the debt ceiling," said spokesman Jay Carney.

"The fact that there is significant controversy around the president's authority to act unilaterally means that it would not be a credible alternative to Congress raising the debt ceiling and would not be taken seriously by the market."

With options dwindling for forcing Republicans to drop their fight, Obama faces a protracted battle linking both spending and borrowing authority in a combined budget standoff.

Some conservative lawmakers are even questioning administration insistences that Congress must increase the debt limit by 17 October.

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, one of several Republicans who first urged speaker John Boehner to link the budget with their demands to scrap healthcare reform, said the government shutdown may change the debt deadline by slowing down spending. "I don't know if the drop dead date on the debt limit is going to be 17 October because the government is not spending any money now," he told the Guardian. "This might get pushed back a little bit further."

Sensenbrenner also argued that public sympathy was shifting towards Republicans as the government shutdown wore on. "What I'm hearing from the public, mostly from phone calls that we get here and in my Wisconsin office, is that for a while Republicans were getting blamed for stonewalling but after Sunday – when we sent five proposals over to the Senate – the pendulum is starting to swing the other direction," he said.

"Where the public is at now is a lot different than in previous debt ceiling fights including August 2011. People are concerned about the debt because the debt has really ballooned and the president has got to be much more specific and convincing than just saying we've got to raise it so the government can pay its bills."

Earlier on Thursday, the US Treasury insisted that the shutdown would not affect its estimate of when the government would run out of cash, and warned that the US was heading toward a catastrophic event that could plunge the country into financial crisis.

A default would be unprecedented and has the potential to be catastrophic," Treasury said in a report. "The negative spillovers could reverberate around the world, and there might be a financial crisis and recession that could echo the events of 2008 or worse," the report said.

A row over the debt ceiling in 2011 led to a historic downgrade of the US's debt and panic on stock markets worldwide. "As we saw two years ago, prolonged uncertainty over whether our nation will pay its bills in full and on time hurts our economy," Lew said.

"Postponing a debt ceiling increase to the very last minute is exactly what our economy does not need – a self-inflicted wound harming families and businesses. Our nation has worked hard to recover from the 2008 financial crisis, and Congress must act now to lift the debt ceiling before that recovery is put in jeopardy."

The report came as US investors appeared to be getting increasingly nervous about the impact of the government shutdown and the upcoming debt ceiling debate. The Dow was down more than 160 points in morning trading and has closed down eight of the last 10 trading days.

The Treasury report said that the last row over the debt ceiling, which was resolved at the 11th hour, had persistent, negative consequences on the wider economy. "The financial markets stress that developed in August of 2011 persisted for many months. Then, as now, the economic expansion was vulnerable to adverse shocks," Treasury said.

Even the possibility of a default could decrease household wealth, increase borrowing costs and shake business confidence, the report said. "In the event of a default, the US economy could be plunged into a recession worse than any seen since the great depression." 

The US dollar and Treasury securities are at the center of the international finance system. In the catastrophic event that a debt limit impasse were to lead to a default on Treasury securities, financial markets could be shaken to their core as was seen in late 2008," the Treasury said.

The Treasury reached its borrowing limit in May and has been using "extraordinary measures" to fund payments ever since. Treasury secretary Jack Lew expects to exhaust those measures by 17 October and the congressional budget office expects the nation could start defaulting on obligations by 22 October unless swift action is taken.


October 3, 2013

G.O.P. Elders See Liabilities in Shutdown


WASHINGTON — The hard-line stance of Republican House members on the government shutdown is generating increasing anger among senior Republican officials, who say the small bloc of conservatives is undermining the party and helping President Obama just as the American people appeared to be losing confidence in him.

From statehouses to Capitol Hill, frustration is building and spilling out during closed-door meetings as Republicans press leaders of the effort to block funding for the health care law to explain where their strategy is ultimately leading.

“Fighting with the president is one thing,” said Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri. “Fighting with the president and losing is another thing. When you’re in the minority you need to look really hard to find the fights you can win.”

The complaints come from fervent opponents of the president’s health care overhaul, who say that the shutdown is overshadowing discussion of the problems associated with the law and ruining any chance for revising it.

“This is a huge distraction,” said Gov. Bill Haslam of Tennessee. “Instead of that being the conversation, we’re talking about the government shutdown, and the average citizen can’t help but say the Republican Congress isn’t helping.”

Members of Congress from swing areas and Republican governors appear the most vocal. At a meeting with House Republicans in the Capitol on Tuesday, Representative Dave Reichert of Washington pointedly questioned what the end game is for the party, according to someone who attended and spoke on the condition of anonymity because the session was supposed to be confidential. Mr. Reichert, typically mild-mannered, represents a highly competitive suburban Seattle district.

And on Wednesday at a private luncheon, several Senate Republicans — Dan Coats of Indiana, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire — assailed Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who has led the movement to block funding for the health law.

Ms. Ayotte was especially furious, according to two people present, and waved a printout from a conservative group friendly to Mr. Cruz attacking 25 of his fellow Republican senators for supporting a procedural vote that the group counted as support of the health law.

Ms. Ayotte asked Mr. Cruz to disavow the group’s effort and demanded he explain his strategy. When he did not, several other senators — including Mr. Johnson, Mr. Coats and even Mitch McConnell, the minority leader — joined in the criticism of Mr. Cruz.

“It just started a lynch mob,” said a senator who was present.

Despite the uproar, Mr. Cruz did not offer a plan for how his party could prevail in the shutdown battle and suggested his colleagues were defeatists.

Republican elders worry that the tactics of Mr. Cruz and his allies in the House are reinforcing the party’s image as obstructionist, and benefiting Mr. Obama at a time when his standing with the public is sliding. A New York Times/CBS poll last week found that 49 percent of Americans disapprove of the president’s job performance.

“The story people see now is President Obama sinking like a rock for months, and the only thing holding him up are the Republicans,” lamented Haley Barbour, the former governor of Mississippi who previously led the Republican National Committee. “We have to get to the best resolution we can under the Obama administration, and then focus on some other things.”

The tensions reveal deeper divisions about how to address more fundamental problems facing the party. Nearly a year after a second consecutive and decisive presidential loss, the rebranding effort that almost every top Republican called crucial has been set aside or obscured by the wrangling with Mr. Obama.

That means there has been little progress on issues the party establishment believes are critical to a revival, like an immigration overhaul, or something conservative intellectuals are more eager for, like a populist-oriented economic approach.

“There are certainly opportunity costs to Republicans in the confrontations and crises we’re witnessing,” said Pete Wehner, a former George W. Bush aide and a leading voice for change.

“Even if you don’t lay most of the blame on the G.O.P., there’s no question, I think, that the effort to reform and modernize the G.O.P. — and to rally support among Republicans around that effort — is being at a minimum impeded.”

And the spotlight on further dysfunction in Washington undercuts those Republicans who want to make less polarizing figures outside Washington — especially governors — the new face of the party.

“The fight here is important to have — this is an important part of political life,” said former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida at a recent news conference in the capital. “But I do think the emphasis of being against the president’s policies, no matter how principled they are, needs to be only half the story, if not less.”

Mr. Bush cited the accomplishments of three Republican governors and potential presidential candidates — Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Chris Christie of New Jersey — who he said were offering “a more positive, hopeful, optimistic message.”

Mr. Bush’s comments reflect what has become gospel among many Republican professionals: that the language and images projected by the Washington wing of the party are interfering with efforts to modernize.

In a speech this week to Republican state officials, Ed Gillespie, a former Republican chairman, lamented how members of the party’s Congressional caucus were “always in the position of talking about what they’re against — what they want to block or repeal or defund.”

“And we join them in staunch opposition to the president’s harmful policies — but our party might be better off if we spent more time speaking in positive terms about why we’re against those policies and, more importantly, what we’re for,” said Mr. Gillespie, who is chairman of the group he spoke to, the Republican State Leadership Committee.

The constant focus on Congressional and White House bickering especially annoys Republican governors who feel that the party can take back the White House in 2016 if they nominate one of their own and run not only against the Democrats, but also against Washington dysfunction, much as George W. Bush did in 2000.

“There’s a clear contrast there,” Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada said of the difference between his fellow chief executives and Republicans in Washington. “People are craving leadership and craving problem-solvers.”

Mr. Haslam of Tennessee noted that governors, unlike House members, have to answer to a much broader electorate, one where “the political pendulum swings back really fast.”

“If you’re in a seat that’s 80 percent Republican, you don’t see the pendulum swinging by very fast,” he said.


October 3, 2013

Boehner Pledges to Avoid Default, Republicans Say


WASHINGTON — Speaker John A. Boehner has privately told Republican lawmakers anxious about fallout from the government shutdown that he would not allow a potentially more crippling federal default as the atmosphere on Capitol Hill turned increasingly tense on Thursday.

Mr. Boehner’s comments, recounted by multiple lawmakers, that he would use a combination of Republican and Democratic votes to increase the federal debt limit if necessary appeared aimed at reassuring his colleagues — and nervous financial markets — that he did not intend to let the economic crisis spiral further out of control.

They came even though he has so far refused to allow a vote on a Senate budget measure to end the shutdown that many believe could pass with bipartisan backing. They also reflect Mr. Boehner’s view that a default would have widespread and long-term economic consequences while the shutdown, though disruptive, had more limited impact.

With the mood in Congress already unsettled by the bitter sparring over the fiscal standoff, the Capitol was shaken anew Thursday afternoon when a high-speed chase beginning near the White House ended near the Senate office complex with Capitol Police shooting the driver to death.

The sound of gunfire outside the Capitol forced at least five senators in the vicinity to take cover on their stomachs and led to a temporary lockdown of members of Congress and their staffs. The House and Senate adjourned for the day shortly after the incident as the shutdown extended into a third day.

Along with Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate Republican leader, Mr. Boehner has long dismissed the idea that Congress would not act to prevent a damaging default, and President Obama on Thursday called a default “the height of irresponsibility.” But the failure of the House and Senate to reach a deal ahead of the shutdown has raised questions of whether Republicans could be persuaded to join in raising the debt limit before the Treasury Department runs out of money about the middle of October.

His comments were read by members of both parties as renewing his determination on the default and came as the Treasury warned that an impasse over raising the debt limit might prove catastrophic and potentially result “in a financial crisis and recession that could echo the events of 2008 or worse.”

Lawmakers said that in recent days, Mr. Boehner, who is under fierce attack from Democrats over his handling of the shutdown, has made clear that he is willing to use a combination of Republican and Democratic votes on the debt limit if need be. Representative Leonard Lance of New Jersey, one of the moderate Republicans who met privately with Mr. Boehner on Wednesday, would not provide details of the meeting, but said, “The speaker of the House does not want to default on the debt on the United States, and I believe he believes in Congress as an institution, and I certainly believe he is working for the best interests of the American people.”

One lawmaker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Mr. Boehner suggested he would be willing to violate the so-called Hastert Rule to pass a debt-limit increase. The informal rule refers to a policy of not bringing to the floor any measure that does not have a majority of Republican votes.

A spokesman for Mr. Boehner pushed back on the idea that the speaker would try to pass a debt-limit increase mainly with Democratic votes. “The speaker always, always prefers to pass legislation with a strong Republican majority,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner.

But Mr. Steel acknowledged that Mr. Boehner, who has long and deep ties to the business community, understood the need to head off a default.

“The speaker has always been clear that a default would be disastrous for our economy,” Mr. Steel said. “He’s also been clear that a ‘clean’ debt hike cannot pass the House. That’s why the president and Senate Democrats should drop their ‘no negotiations’ stance, and work with us on a plan to raise the debt limit in a responsible way, with spending cuts and reforms to get our economy moving again and create jobs.”

It is conceivable that Mr. Boehner could pass a debt-limit increase with a slim majority of Republican votes, with Democrats making up the difference, as he has in the past on budget measures. But moving in that direction poses risks of a threat to Mr. Boehner’s leadership position from a watchful conservative bloc, which has warned that his post could be on the line if he goes against the legislative position of large numbers of the rank and file.

Representative John C. Fleming, Republican of Louisiana and one of his conference’s more conservative members, said that he doubted Mr. Boehner would be able to pass any bill — with or without Democratic support — that did not extract some significant concessions from Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats.

“I just don’t think there’d be hardly any Republicans in support of raising the debt ceiling without cuts to spending, changes to Obamacare, and perhaps other issues,” Mr. Fleming said. He added that he thought House Republicans would demand at least some sort of delay to the president’s signature health care law, as well as require that every dollar increase in the debt ceiling be matched by a dollar increase in spending cuts.

At the same time, growing numbers of House Republicans have expressed frustration at those insisting on changes to the health law when Mr. Obama has made clear he will not accept them. Their unhappiness, the furor caused by the shutdown and the desire to avoid default could help protect Mr. Boehner.

Representative James Lankford, Republican of Oklahoma and chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, said he did not think House Republicans had the “energy” to deal with a debt default.

“The speaker’s been over and over on that on the debt ceiling, that there’s no intention for default,” he said. “That’s been public, private, everywhere he’s had an opportunity.”

Democrats saw the disclosure of Mr. Boehner’s private comments as a possible sign of progress.

“Even coming close to the edge of default is very dangerous, and putting this issue to rest significantly ahead of the default date would allow everyone in the country to breathe a huge sigh of relief,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate.

A Treasury Department report released Thursday said the debt-limit impasse could cause credit markets to freeze, the dollar to plummet and interest rates to rise precipitously.

After its release, Mr. Obama reiterated administration warnings about the potential economic consequences of not increasing the debt limit. “As reckless as a government shutdown is, as many people as are being hurt by a government shutdown, an economic shutdown that results from default would be dramatically worse,” Mr. Obama said Thursday, speaking to construction workers at M. Luis Construction in Rockville, Md., a suburb north of Washington.

W. James McNerney Jr., chief executive of Boeing, and also the chairman of the Business Roundtable, a corporate association, and of the White House export council, said in an interview on Thursday that for corporate America, the standoff over the government shutdown “drives an even deeper concern about the debt limit.”

"Moderate voices in the business community and elsewhere do not seem to be making much of an impact — encouraging the kind of cooperation among our political leaders that we need to solve this problem. It’s frustrating,” he said.

Representative Michael G. Fitzpatrick, Republican of Pennsylvania, one of just 22 House Republicans this year who helped Mr. Boehner pass, with a majority of Democratic support, three crucial bills — to avert a fiscal showdown, to provide relief for the victims of Hurricane Sandy, and to pass the Violence Against Women Act — said he expected he may be asked to do so again.

“Hurricane Sandy, the fiscal cliff, all of the big votes require reasonable Republicans and Democrats to come together in order to pass it and get it to the president’s desk,” he said. “This will be no different.”

Jackie Calmes and Jonathan Weisman contributed reporting.


October 3, 2013

Experts See Potential Ways Out for Obama in Debt Ceiling Maze


WASHINGTON — Even as President Obama insists that he would be powerless to save the economy from catastrophe should Congress fail to raise the nation’s debt ceiling, some law professors say he does have options. They may be politically unattractive, unpalatable to the financial markets and subject to legal challenges, these experts say, but these choices are better than failing to live up to the nation’s financial commitments.

The view that Mr. Obama could continue borrowing without Congressional authorization is based on three arguments.

One is grounded in an aggressive understanding of presidential power, the second in an interpretation of an obscure provision of the 14th Amendment and the third on a choice among three irreconcilable constitutional obligations.

A senior administration official was dismissive of all three options, calling them “unicorn theories,” reflecting the White House’s position that only Congress can solve a problem of its own creation.

“The Constitution gives Congress — not the president — the authority to borrow money, and only Congress can increase the debt ceiling,” Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said on Thursday, adding that Congress must “authorize the Treasury to pay the bills that Congress racked up.”

But Eric Posner, a law professor at the University of Chicago, said that the meaning if not the words of the Constitution left Mr. Obama with room to act.

“The president has inherent emergency powers,” he said. “It has long been understood that the president should act to protect the country.”

That is the broadest option for Mr. Obama. The second is based on the actual text of the Constitution, though there is a dispute about what the words in question mean. Section 4 of the 14th Amendment says: “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.”

The provision, adopted in 1868, was meant to ensure the payment of Union debts after the Civil War. But it was written in more general terms, as the Supreme Court once noted in passing. “While this provision was undoubtedly inspired by the desire to put beyond question the obligations of the government issued during the Civil War,” Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes wrote in 1935, “its language indicates a broader connotation.”

On Thursday, Mr. Carney dismissed the argument, popular in some legal circles, that the amendment authorized the president to raise the debt ceiling.

“We do not believe that the 14th Amendment provides that authority to the president,” he said. He added that the meaning of the provision had divided constitutional scholars. That alone, Mr. Carney said, “means that it would not be a credible alternative.”

Laurence H. Tribe, a law professor at Harvard, is one of the skeptics who agrees with the White House. “The president should hold firm,” he said, “and not permit Congress to insist on holding its breath rather than doing its job of authorizing payment of the debts it has already incurred unless and until the president blinks on one of his signature initiatives.”

The third alternative, the subject of a 2012 article in The Columbia Law Review, focuses on what the article’s authors call the irreconcilable instructions Congress will have provided to Mr. Obama if it fails to act. Having been told to spend, but not to raise taxes or issue debt, “the president has to decide which of Congress’s orders to follow,” said Neil H. Buchanan, a law professor at George Washington University, who wrote the article with Michael C. Dorf, a law professor at Cornell. The president must, in the article’s words, “choose the least unconstitutional option.”

That option, the authors concluded, is issuing more debt.

“Anything you do that’s remotely realistic is going to be unconstitutional,” Professor Dorf said. “But the president should still try to minimize the constitutional violation.”

Professor Posner countered that the article was unrealistic. It would be political suicide, he said, for Mr. Obama to announce that he was violating the Constitution.

Professor Tribe also rejected the idea, saying it was proposed by “otherwise very sensible law scholars” who in this case had concocted “a prescription for a free-for-all that abandons the rule of law.”

“We have no metric for comparative lawlessness,” he said.

Mr. Obama will still have choices if Congress fails to act, Professor Tribe added, but they involve spending priorities. “Congressional spending directives to the president contain an implicit condition that, if the money just isn’t there to be spent, the president must make tough choices — prioritizing repayment of bondholders who have lent money to our country over those who have been promised payment under various sorts of entitlements, politically painful though that would be.”

However one interprets the Constitution, there remains the practical question of whether the nation’s creditors would continue to lend to the United States if the president did take unilateral action.

“I don’t think anyone in their right minds would buy those bonds,” Michael W. McConnell, a law professor at Stanford, said of debt issued without Congressional authorization.

Were Mr. Obama to act, court challenges would inevitably follow. But most legal experts said they expected judges to stay out of the fray, either by ruling that the particular challengers had not suffered the sort of direct injury that gave them standing to sue or by ducking the issue by calling it a “political question” not fit for judicial resolution.

In any event, Professor Dorf said, courts could not move quickly enough. “Even when courts move very fast, they don’t move as fast as markets,” he said.

There is at least one reason, Professor Posner said, to hope for a court challenge that would reach and be decided by the Supreme Court: “It would be the most interesting case in decades.”

Jackie Calmes contributed reporting.


Obama slams John Boehner: Take a vote, stop this farce

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, October 3, 2013 12:25 EDT

President Barack Obama on Thursday directly attacked Republican Speaker John Boehner, saying he could end a “reckless” US government shutdown in just five minutes.

“Take a vote, stop this farce and end this shutdown right now,” Obama said during a fiery speech in the Washington DC suburbs.

Obama said that Boehner could reopen the government and send hundreds of thousands of people back to work “in just five minutes” by passing a temporary operating budget with no partisan strings attached.

“Speaker John Boehner won’t even let the bill get a yes or no vote, because he doesnt want to anger the extremists in his party,” Obama said.

“That is what his whole thing is about.”

“There’s a simple way to prove it. Send the bill to the floor, let everybody vote.”

“It will pass. Send me the bill, I will sign it. The shutdown will be over and we can get back to the business of governing and helping the American people. It could happen in the next half hour.”


If the GOP Gets it’s Way the USA Will be DOA

By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Oct. 4th, 2013

“We’re taking our toys – and yours – and going home!”

Tea party Republicans have opted out of the United States. They have ceased to participate in our democracy. Where political power is supposed to derive from the people, the tea party derives its power from corporations. It speaks for corporations, it acts for corporations. It has never spoken or acted for the American people. And now with the shutdown it has made clear that it never will.

Not only have America’s interests been attacked – our standing and our reputation overseas, our ability to defend ourselves from attack – but the American peoples’ interests have been attacked. People, already beaten down by tea party Republicanism, now find themselves deprived of essential services and 2 million federal employees are seeing their paychecks delayed while 800,000 civilian federal employees are losing their paychecks altogether. Veterans are losing benefits, flu shots are not being given. WIC will shut down and mothers and children left hungry. The list goes on.

Bad as all this is, the Republicans are actually happy about it, as giddy as revolutionaries, to have attacked the American people so successfully. Our fragile economy, so painstakingly brought back from the precipice over the past five years, is poised to take a swift kick in the backside by gleeful Republican politicians.

“Take a dirt nap, USA!”

Tea party Republicans did not just let the government shut down. They carefully planned and orchestrated this terrorist attack on America. And as I said above, they’re just as happy as can be. Rachel Maddow pointed to this fact on Tuesday, calling the GOP “giddy” and on Wednesday, Michele Bachmann told Sean Hannity that “this is about the happiest” her party has been in a long time. Last week, The Washington Post quoted Bachmann as saying “We’re very excited. It’s exactly what we wanted, and we got it.”

Worse, we’ve seen them call for secession and revolt, and even issue an invitation for the military to intervene and “save” our republic by destroying it (because military dictatorships are so democracy-friendly). It is sad to think we have lived to see the Grand Old Party become a byword for treason. They have used the excuse of terrorism to feed the military industrial complex’s appetites for years and all the while they were planning their own insider attack.

Terrorist Plotters

“Et tu, Ted?”

It is a well known historical fact that the assassins of Julius Caesar – Gaius Cassius Longinus and Marcus Junius Brutus – saw themselves as patriots, just as do Ted Cruz and his fellow conspirators. Brutus and Cassius thought they would be hailed as saviors of the republic when they stabbed Caesar to death.

But the people loved Caesar, and the conspirators had miscalculated: they fled for their lives and were hunted down, defeated, and killed. It is instructive to note that in Dante’s Inferno, only three people are so evil that they get chewed up by Satan’s mouths: Brutus, Cassius, and Judas Iscariot.

Make room for Ted Cruz, our modern-day Benedict Arnold.


Pearl Harbor. 9/11. This shutdown is a punch below the belt. An attack not only on America but on Americans. As insidious as any al Qaeda plot and all the worse because it is an act by people we ought to be able to trust, people the American people elected to look out for their interests, not attack them. Yes, the Taliban is an enemy of America but the GOP has shown itself to be THE enemy and for this act of terrorism let their memory be damned in the years, decades, and centuries to come.


Fox News Poll Finds Disapproval Of GOP Skyrocketing After They Shut Down Government

By: Jason Easley
Oct. 3rd, 2013

Bad News is everywhere for the Republican Party. Even the Fox News poll has found disapproval of the Republican Party jumping to 59% in their latest poll.

According to the Fox News poll, disapproval of the Republican Party has jumped from 46% in September of 2012 to 59% today. Disapproval of the GOP has climbed from 54% in January to 56% in April to nearing 60% today. Approval of the Republican Party has fallen from 45% to 35%. In contrast, Democratic Party unfavorability has stayed stable in the Fox poll at between 48% and 49% all through 2013.

Support for repealing the ACA has dropped from 39% in June to 30% today. This could mean that the linking of funding the government to defunding or delaying the ACA has completely backfired on the Republican Party. The number of Americans who think that they will be better off under Obamacare has risen by 7 points from 34% to 41%, and by a margin of 36%-19% respondents thought that Ted Cruz’s fake filibuster hurt efforts to repeal the ACA.

Eighty one percent think the government shutdown is a serious problem, and they are blaming John Boehner and Ted Cruz (42%) more than they are blaming Harry Reid and President Obama (32%). A new CBS News poll confirmed the Fox News poll by finding that 44% of Americans blame Boehner and the Republicans for the shutdown, while 35% blame Obama and the Democrats.

The behavior of House Republicans isn’t just hurting their 2014 chances. It is damaging the whole Republican Party. When a Fox News poll finds a sizable margin of people are blaming the Republicans things are really bad. The Fox News polls have always shaded their questions with loaded terms, so it means a lot when a poll that is normally friendly to the GOP finds things going this badly.

Republicans dismiss most polls as “rigged by the liberal media,” but it is difficult for them to ignore a poll that cones from the supposed only real news source that they trust. The government shutdown isn’t just bad for Republicans. It’s disastrous.

All of the Republican talking points blaming Harry Reid and President Obama for the shutdown are failing miserably. Every moment that the shutdown continues compounds the damage. We all knew that this day would come someday. The Republican Party is being destroyed by their own obsession with Obamacare.


A Delusional Eric Cantor is Betting on President Obama Caving

By: Sarah Jones
Oct. 3rd, 2013

Eric Cantor seems to believe that if Republicans keep hanging tight with their winning position of destroying the economy, the President will cave. Reminder: This is from the folks who brought you “Romney surge”, “unskewed polls” and “Ohio is in the bag”.

CQ Roll Call published a very confident sounding email from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor laying out the Republican strategy for winning. The title of the email is “Current State of Play, Strategy, and Goals,” because nothing says “play” like kids with cancer not getting the help they need because the government is shutdown. #Winning. Naturally their strategy is to blame Democrats and wait for the President to cave.

From Roll Call:

    Our Strategy: While no one can predict with certainty how the current shutdown will be resolved, I am confident that if we keep advancing common-sense solutions to the problems created by the shutdown that Senate Democrats and President Obama will eventually agree to meaningful discussions that would allow us to ultimately resolve this impasse. The American people have elected a divided government and they expect us to work together and they will not countenance one party simply refusing to negotiate.

To achieve this goal of getting the public to blame Democrats, Republicans are going to pass piecemeal items to fund specific things (they don’t mention this but their funding has been at lower levels than agreed upon). Then, when Democrats balk, Republicans can take their whinging to the TV and point fingers as Rome burns.

The President is not going to negotiate policy over hostages like the debt ceiling or Boehner’s shutdown.

He said it, he meant it.

Cantor ought to go ask Osama bin Laden if President Obama means what he says.

Republicans are so busy seeing Obama through the lens of their own hatred and clear prejudice that they don’t see the obvious. This is a man who means what he says. He is not messing around. He rightfully sees the health of our economy as his responsibility to the people of this country. So, while he takes a ton of crap from Republicans personally, he will not tolerate deliberate attempts to destroy our economy and harm American families. What Republicans are pulling is not “negotiating”. They are harming our economy over a tempter tantrum that they lost the election.

Republicans refuse to do their jobs until they have hostages in their hands because they want to get their way, and the people denied them that power by denying them the Senate and the White House.

Obama’s red line is obvious to anyone who’s not blinded by the Republican bubble. Romney surge, anyone?


An Open Mic Catches Rand Paul’s Loose Lips Sinking The Republican Shutdown Ship

By: Jason Easley
Oct. 3rd, 2013

An open mic and camera caught Rand Paul discussing shutdown strategy with Mitch McConnell. Paul admitted that Republicans don’t want to be there, and their only hope is to look reasonable.


WPSD 6 reported the conversation:

    Senator Paul began, “Do you have a second?”

    “I’m all wired up here, um,” Senator McConnell replied.

    “I just did CNN and I just go over and over again ‘We’re willing to compromise. ‘We’re willing to negotiate.’ I think… I don’t think they poll tested we won’t negotiate. I think it’s awful for them to say that over and over again,” Paul said.

    “Yeah, I do too and I, and I just came back from that two hour meeting with them and that, and that was basically the same view privately as it was publically,” McConnell agreed.

    Paul added, “I think if we keep saying ‘We wanted to defund it. We fought for that and that we’re willing to compromise on this’, I think they can’t, we’re gonna, I think… well I know we don’t want to be here, but we’re gonna win this I think.”

Rand Paul admitted to the world the Republicans only hope of getting out of the government shutdown is if Democrats didn’t focus group test their talking points enough. It is nice to see Mitch McConnell confirm that there isn’t going to be a secret deal. Obama is telling Republicans privately the exact same thing that he is saying publicly. They are going to get nothing.

However, Republicans are saying something publicly that they don’t believe privately. Publicly, the Republicans are talking tough. Privately, they are desperate for a way out of the shutdown that allows them to claim some little symbolic or token victory.

After saying no to everything since Obama took office, Republicans aren’t going to be able to fool people into thinking that they are the party of compromise with a few well tested shutdown talking points. Paul has the mood of the country wrong. The American people want these games to stop. The Democratic message is a call for the American people to take a stand against these partisan games. Republicans don’t have a counter message to the actual mood of the country.

Rand Paul is delusional if he thinks that Republicans are going to win this. They’ve already lost. The only things left to be determined are the size of the loss, and whether or not this will cost them control of the House in 2014.

Rand Paul basically admitted that the Republican tough talk is empty. Paul probably thought he was being clever by speaking to McConnell in front of the camera and mic, but all he did was dig the hole a little deeper for the Republican Party.


Bankers and Business Leaders Concerned About Debt Limit

8:57 am
Jackie Calmes

WASHINGTON – The prospect of a mid-October debt crisis on top of the government shutdown “shapes up to be sort of a perfect storm” for the economy that is rattling American bankers and businesses, a leading corporate executive said on Thursday.

“The banking community, they legitimately are concerned and it’s a deeper concern than the last time around,” when Congress nearly failed to increase the debt limit in mid-2011, said W. James McNerney Jr., chief executive of Boeing and chairman of both the Business Roundtable, a group of major corporations, and the White House export council.

By itself, the shutdown — more than three days old and with no end in sight — “is going to have an impact,” Mr. McNerney said in an interview. He predicted furloughs at companies like his that have direct or indirect relationships with the government if the shutdown lasts a week or two – as many in Congress have said it will.

But the bigger worry, he added, is about the Oct. 17 deadline for Congress to increase the nation’s borrowing limit so that the Treasury Department can continue to cover the government’s existing liabilities and obligations to citizens, contractors and creditors here and abroad. Failing to do so could precipitate a global financial crisis, say both federal and private-sector economists.

For business leaders, the Boeing chief said, the impasse between the White House and the Republican-run House over a budget to end the shutdown “drives an even deeper concern about the debt limit.” Republicans are demanding that Mr. Obama agree to defund or delay his signature domestic achievement, the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, as a condition of their support either for financing the government or increasing the debt limit.

“Moderate voices in the business community and elsewhere do not seem to be making much of an impact, encouraging the kind of cooperation among our political leaders that we need to solve this problem,” Mr. McNerney said. “It’s frustrating.”

But he refused to take sides, even as the White House and some moderate Republicans have urged the business community to put pressure on House Republican leaders to drop their demand – enforced so far by Tea Party lawmakers and outside groups – that Mr. Obama make concessions on his three-year-old health-insurance law.

“This is an issue about the functioning of the U.S. government,”  Mr. McNerney said. “This is not an ideological issue for us. I think the best role we can play is to make it clear that this is an economy, job-threatening and competitiveness issue.”

Even if Congress and the White House reach some accord to avert the worst outcomes – the first-ever default by the United States government – the repeated cycles of self-imposed crises over the budget since 2011 could well have an ongoing cost, he said.

“I think markets are worried that there is a permanent government-generated volatility that the stock markets or the credit markets really haven’t taken into account in the way they price things,” Mr. McNerney said.

The long-term effect, he predicted, would be “to impair credit markets” as well as “the value of stocks that people have in their pensions and 401(k)s.”

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« Reply #9124 on: Oct 05, 2013, 06:12 AM »

NSA and GCHQ target Tor network that protects anonymity of web users

• Top-secret documents detail repeated efforts to crack Tor
• US-funded tool relied upon by dissidents and activists
• Core security of network remains intact but NSA has some success attacking users' computers
• Bruce Schneier: the NSA's attacks must be made public
• Attacking Tor: the technical details
• 'Peeling back the layers with Egotistical Giraffe' – document
• 'Tor Stinks' presentation – full document
• Tor: 'The king of high-secure, low-latency anonymity'

James Ball, Bruce Schneier and Glenn Greenwald   
The Guardian, Friday 4 October 2013 15.50 BST    

The National Security Agency has made repeated attempts to develop attacks against people using Tor, a popular tool designed to protect online anonymity, despite the fact the software is primarily funded and promoted by the US government itself.

Top-secret NSA documents, disclosed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, reveal that the agency's current successes against Tor rely on identifying users and then attacking vulnerable software on their computers. One technique developed by the agency targeted the Firefox web browser used with Tor, giving the agency full control over targets' computers, including access to files, all keystrokes and all online activity.

But the documents suggest that the fundamental security of the Tor service remains intact. One top-secret presentation, titled 'Tor Stinks', states: "We will never be able to de-anonymize all Tor users all the time." It continues: "With manual analysis we can de-anonymize a very small fraction of Tor users," and says the agency has had "no success de-anonymizing a user in response" to a specific request.

Another top-secret presentation calls Tor "the king of high-secure, low-latency internet anonymity".

Tor – which stands for The Onion Router – is an open-source public project that bounces its users' internet traffic through several other computers, which it calls "relays" or "nodes", to keep it anonymous and avoid online censorship tools.

It is relied upon by journalists, activists and campaigners in the US and Europe as well as in China, Iran and Syria, to maintain the privacy of their communications and avoid reprisals from government. To this end, it receives around 60% of its funding from the US government, primarily the State Department and the Department of Defense – which houses the NSA.

Despite Tor's importance to dissidents and human rights organizations, however, the NSA and its UK counterpart GCHQ have devoted considerable efforts to attacking the service, which law enforcement agencies say is also used by people engaged in terrorism, the trade of child abuse images, and online drug dealing.

Privacy and human rights groups have been concerned about the security of Tor following revelations in the Guardian, New York Times and ProPublica about widespread NSA efforts to undermine privacy and security software. A report by Brazilian newspaper Globo also contained hints that the agencies had capabilities against the network.

While it seems that the NSA has not compromised the core security of the Tor software or network, the documents detail proof-of-concept attacks, including several relying on the large-scale online surveillance systems maintained by the NSA and GCHQ through internet cable taps.

One such technique is based on trying to spot patterns in the signals entering and leaving the Tor network, to try to de-anonymise its users. The effort was based on a long-discussed theoretical weakness of the network: that if one agency controlled a large number of the "exits" from the Tor network, they could identify a large amount of the traffic passing through it.

The proof-of-concept attack demonstrated in the documents would rely on the NSA's cable-tapping operation, and the agency secretly operating computers, or 'nodes', in the Tor system. However, one presentation stated that the success of this technique was "negligible" because the NSA has "access to very few nodes" and that it is "difficult to combine meaningfully with passive Sigint".

While the documents confirm the NSA does indeed operate and collect traffic from some nodes in the Tor network, they contain no detail as to how many, and there are no indications that the proposed de-anonymization technique was ever implemented.

Other efforts mounted by the agencies include attempting to direct traffic toward NSA-operated servers, or attacking other software used by Tor users. One presentation, titled 'Tor: Overview of Existing Techniques', also refers to making efforts to "shape", or influence, the future development of Tor, in conjunction with GCHQ.

Another effort involves measuring the timings of messages going in and out of the network to try to identify users. A third attempts to degrade or disrupt the Tor service, forcing users to abandon the anonymity protection.

Such efforts to target or undermine Tor are likely to raise legal and policy concerns for the intelligence agencies.

Foremost among those concerns is whether the NSA has acted, deliberately or inadvertently, against internet users in the US when attacking Tor. One of the functions of the anonymity service is to hide the country of all of its users, meaning any attack could be hitting members of Tor's substantial US user base.

Several attacks result in implanting malicious code on the computer of Tor users who visit particular websites. The agencies say they are targeting terrorists or organized criminals visiting particular discussion boards, but these attacks could also hit journalists, researchers, or those who accidentally stumble upon a targeted site.

The efforts could also raise concerns in the State Department and other US government agencies that provide funding to increase Tor's security – as part of the Obama administration's internet freedom agenda to help citizens of repressive regimes – circumvent online restrictions.

Material published online for a discussion event held by the State Department, for example, described the importance of tools such as Tor.

"[T]he technologies of internet repression, monitoring and control continue to advance and spread as the tools that oppressive governments use to restrict internet access and to track citizen online activities grow more sophisticated. Sophisticated, secure, and scalable technologies are needed to continue to advance internet freedom."

The Broadcasting Board of Governors, a federal agency whose mission is to "inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy" through networks such as Voice of America, also supported Tor's development until October 2012 to ensure that people in countries such as Iran and China could access BBG content. Tor continues to receive federal funds through Radio Free Asia, which is funded by a federal grant from BBG.

The governments of both these countries have attempted to curtail Tor's use: China has tried on multiple occasions to block Tor entirely, while one of the motives behind Iranian efforts to create a "national internet" entirely under government control was to prevent circumvention of those controls.

The NSA's own documents acknowledge the service's wide use in countries where the internet is routinely surveilled or censored. One presentation notes that among uses of Tor for "general privacy" and "non-attribution", it can be used for "circumvention of nation state internet policies" – and is used by "dissidents" in "Iran, China, etc".

Yet GCHQ documents show a disparaging attitude towards Tor users. One presentation acknowledges Tor was "created by the US government" and is "now maintained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)", a US freedom of expression group. In reality, Tor is maintained by an independent foundation, though has in the past received funding from the EFF.

The presentation continues by noting that "EFF will tell you there are many pseudo-legitimate uses for Tor", but says "we're interested as bad people use Tor". Another presentation remarks: "Very naughty people use Tor".

The technique developed by the NSA to attack Tor users through vulnerable software on their computers has the codename EgotisticalGiraffe, the documents show. It involves exploiting the Tor browser bundle, a collection of programs, designed to make it easy for people to install and use the software. Among these is a version of the Firefox web browser.

The trick, detailed in a top-secret presentation titled 'Peeling back the layers of Tor with EgotisticalGiraffe', identified website visitors who were using the protective software and only executed its attack – which took advantage of vulnerabilities in an older version of Firefox – against those people. Under this approach, the NSA does not attack the Tor system directly. Rather, targets are identified as Tor users and then the NSA attacks their browsers.

According to the documents provided by Snowden, the particular vulnerabilities used in this type of attack were inadvertently fixed by Mozilla Corporation in Firefox 17, released in November 2012 – a fix the NSA had not circumvented by January 2013 when the documents were written.

The older exploits would, however, still be usable against many Tor users who had not kept their software up to date.

A similar but less complex exploit against the Tor network was revealed by security researchers in July this year. Details of the exploit, including its purpose and which servers it passed on victims' details to, led to speculation it had been built by the FBI or another US agency.

At the time, the FBI refused to comment on whether it was behind the attack, but subsequently admitted in a hearing in an Irish court that it had operated the malware to target an alleged host of images of child abuse – though the attack did also hit numerous unconnected services on the Tor network.

Roger Dingledine, the president of the Tor project, said the NSA's efforts serve as a reminder that using Tor on its own is not sufficient to guarantee anonymity against intelligence agencies – but showed it was also a great aid in combating mass surveillance.

"The good news is that they went for a browser exploit, meaning there's no indication they can break the Tor protocol or do traffic analysis on the Tor network," Dingledine said. "Infecting the laptop, phone, or desktop is still the easiest way to learn about the human behind the keyboard.

"Tor still helps here: you can target individuals with browser exploits, but if you attack too many users, somebody's going to notice. So even if the NSA aims to surveil everyone, everywhere, they have to be a lot more selective about which Tor users they spy on."

But he added: "Just using Tor isn't enough to keep you safe in all cases. Browser exploits, large-scale surveillance, and general user security are all challenging topics for the average internet user. These attacks make it clear that we, the broader internet community, need to keep working on better security for browsers and other internet-facing applications."

The Guardian asked the NSA how it justified attacking a service funded by the US government, how it ensured that its attacks did not interfere with the secure browsing of law-abiding US users such as activists and journalists, and whether the agency was involved in the decision to fund Tor or efforts to "shape" its development.

The agency did not directly address those questions, instead providing a statement.

It read: "In carrying out its signals intelligence mission, NSA collects only those communications that it is authorized by law to collect for valid foreign intelligence and counter-intelligence purposes, regardless of the technical means used by those targets or the means by which they may attempt to conceal their communications. NSA has unmatched technical capabilities to accomplish its lawful mission.
"As such, it should hardly be surprising that our intelligence agencies seek ways to counteract targets' use of technologies to hide their communications. Throughout history, nations have used various methods to protect their secrets, and today terrorists, cybercriminals, human traffickers and others use technology to hide their activities. Our intelligence community would not be doing its job if we did not try to counter that."

• This article was amended on 4 October after the Broadcasting Board of Governors pointed out that its support of Tor ended in October 2012.


Why the NSA's attacks on the internet must be made public

By reporting on the agency's actions, the vulnerabilities in our computer systems can be fixed. It's the only way to force change

Bruce Schneier, Friday 4 October 2013 15.50 BST        

Today, the Guardian is reporting on how the NSA targets Tor users, along with details of how it uses centrally placed servers on the internet to attack individual computers. This builds on a Brazilian news story from last week that, in part, shows that the NSA is impersonating Google servers to users; a German story on how the NSA is hacking into smartphones; and a Guardian story from two weeks ago on how the NSA is deliberately weakening common security algorithms, protocols, and products.

The common thread among these stories is that the NSA is subverting the internet and turning it into a massive surveillance tool. The NSA's actions are making us all less safe, because its eavesdropping mission is degrading its ability to protect the US.

Among IT security professionals, it has been long understood that the public disclosure of vulnerabilities is the only consistent way to improve security. That's why researchers publish information about vulnerabilities in computer software and operating systems, cryptographic algorithms, and consumer products like implantable medical devices, cars, and CCTV cameras.

It wasn't always like this. In the early years of computing, it was common for security researchers to quietly alert the product vendors about vulnerabilities, so they could fix them without the "bad guys" learning about them. The problem was that the vendors wouldn't bother fixing them, or took years before getting around to it. Without public pressure, there was no rush.

This all changed when researchers started publishing. Now vendors are under intense public pressure to patch vulnerabilities as quickly as possible. The majority of security improvements in the hardware and software we all use today is a result of this process. This is why Microsoft's Patch Tuesday process fixes so many vulnerabilities every month. This is why Apple's iPhone is designed so securely. This is why so many products push out security updates so often. And this is why mass-market cryptography has continually improved. Without public disclosure, you'd be much less secure against cybercriminals, hacktivists, and state-sponsored cyberattackers.

The NSA's actions turn that process on its head, which is why the security community is so incensed. The NSA not only develops and purchases vulnerabilities, but deliberately creates them through secret vendor agreements. These actions go against everything we know about improving security on the internet.

It's folly to believe that any NSA hacking technique will remain secret for very long. Yes, the NSA has a bigger research effort than any other institution, but there's a lot of research being done – by other governments in secret, and in academic and hacker communities in the open. These same attacks are being used by other governments. And technology is fundamentally democratizing: today's NSA secret techniques are tomorrow's PhD theses and the following day's cybercrime attack tools.

It's equal folly to believe that the NSA's secretly installed backdoors will remain secret. Given how inept the NSA was at protecting its own secrets, it's extremely unlikely that Edward Snowden was the first sysadmin contractor to walk out the door with a boatload of them. And the previous leakers could have easily been working for a foreign government. But it wouldn't take a rogue NSA employee; researchers or hackers could discover any of these backdoors on their own.

This isn't hypothetical. We already know of government-mandated backdoors being used by criminals in Greece, Italy, and elsewhere. We know China is actively engaging in cyber-espionage worldwide. A recent Economist article called it "akin to a government secretly commanding lockmakers to make their products easier to pick – and to do so amid an epidemic of burglary."

The NSA has two conflicting missions. Its eavesdropping mission has been getting all the headlines, but it also has a mission to protect US military and critical infrastructure communications from foreign attack. Historically, these two missions have not come into conflict. During the cold war, for example, we would defend our systems and attack Soviet systems.

But with the rise of mass-market computing and the internet, the two missions have become interwoven. It becomes increasingly difficult to attack their systems and defend our systems, because everything is using the same systems: Microsoft Windows, Cisco routers, HTML, TCP/IP, iPhones, Intel chips, and so on. Finding a vulnerability – or creating one – and keeping it secret to attack the bad guys necessarily leaves the good guys more vulnerable.

Far better would be for the NSA to take those vulnerabilities back to the vendors to patch. Yes, it would make it harder to eavesdrop on the bad guys, but it would make everyone on the internet safer. If we believe in protecting our critical infrastructure from foreign attack, if we believe in protecting internet users from repressive regimes worldwide, and if we believe in defending businesses and ourselves from cybercrime, then doing otherwise is lunacy.

It is important that we make the NSA's actions public in sufficient detail for the vulnerabilities to be fixed. It's the only way to force change and improve security.

• Bruce Schneier writes about security, technology, and people. His latest book is Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust That Society Needs to Thrive. He is a member of the EFF's board of directors


German intelligence service is as bad as the NSA

There has been much criticism of the US agency in Germany, but surveillance laws in both countries fail to protect internet privacy

Kai Biermann, Friday 4 October 2013 15.50 BST   

In recent weeks there has been much criticism of the US National Security Agency. It spies on people indiscriminately – even the citizens of its European allies – goes the furious and clearly justified accusation. Politicians in Germany and the EU have repeatedly criticised the US. Yet it seems they themselves are sitting in a rather large glass house.

The German intelligence service – the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) – to name an example close to home, does exactly the same thing as the NSA abroad and it does so within a similar legal framework. "The differences between the BND and the NSA are much smaller than is generally accepted by the public," write Stefan Heumann and Ben Scott in their study on the legal foundations of internet surveillance programmes in the US, the UK and Germany.

Heumann works at the German thinktank Neue Verantwortung (New Responsibility), Scott was an adviser to the former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and is now a policy adviser at the Open Technology Institute, part of the New America Foundation thinktank. In their study, the analysts compared the legal foundations, focus and parliamentary oversight of spying programmes in three countries.

Their findings: the NSA runs the biggest spying programme and has the advantage that its targets – the internet providers – are mainly based in the US. Yet at its core the NSA's surveillance is no different from that of the British GCHQ and the BND in Germany. The underlying laws have the same structure, write Heumann and Scott, even if "their interpretation can differ".

Heumann and Scott are not the first to say this. The Berlin-based lawyer Niko Härting, for example, has compared the legal foundations for the work of the NSA and the BND. He also found that both agencies are essentially doing the same thing in that they consider everyone living outside their territory to be "without rights". In short: intelligence services are allowed to spy on foreigners completely unimpeded. Härting points out that it is, after all, the job of foreign intelligence services to watch everybody else.

But Heumann and Scott go one step further, deploring the weakness of legal controls on the intelligence services, which they say are far too limited.

    "In all three countries the services enjoy great secrecy and freedom when it comes to gathering information abroad. National legal limits and control mechanisms only apply to domestic citizens. And in most cases these limits only come into effect after the event, once the communication data in question has already been intercepted."

All three countries, they conclude, lack robust systems capable of protecting citizens from unwarranted surveillance.

Of the three countries they looked at, the authors said checks and balances in Britain are the weakest. Neither parliament nor the courts are involved in regulating or authorising surveillance programmes. Oversight is limited exclusively to within the service itself.

One point in the authors' comparison of Germany and the US stands out as particularly interesting. The US Fisa courts – closed courts that authorise and regulate surveillance there – come in for a lot of criticism for meeting in secret. In Germany it is the same, say Heumann and Scott. The sessions of the German equivalent, the G-10 parliamentary commission, are also held in secret. "Since the G-10 commission meets in secret, we do not know whether and to what extent [it] upholds its legal powers of control," writes Heumann.

In all three countries, the legal frameworks regulating surveillance are much too vague and broad. These are: the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (Fisa), particularly paragraphs 215 and 702; the British Intelligence Services Act (ISA) and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa); and in Germany the BND Gesetz (BND Act) and, regulating interception of communication, the G-10 Gesetz.

The study's authors note that the German G-10 law – just like laws in the US – only protects residents in Germany. But as soon as these people communicate with someone outside of the country, this communication is not covered by the law and can be intercepted. Conversations and messages that cross borders are not subject to any control mechanisms. In practice, the BND operates at this point in a legal vacuum.

In Germany, the federal chancellery is also responsible for regulating the BND. But public trust in this body's resolve to impose limitations on the intelligence agency has been shaken – not least by suggestions back in August that the NSA scandal had been laid to rest without the need for further investigation.

Heumann summarises:

    "In the United States, Britain and Germany, most of the legal foundations for surveillance measures by intelligence agencies date from a time when the internet played a subsidiary role in communications. The laws are formulated for the most part so broadly that they leave the intelligence services a lot of scope to interpret their mandates. How exactly the intelligence agencies interpret their powers is often classified information, and as such is not understandable for the public."

Technological development has meant it is now possible to mount surveillance on many things. Given that when filtering internet data in real time it is rarely possible to differentiate immediately between domestic and foreign communications, everything is recorded first and only then sorted into data that can be evaluated and that which cannot. "In other words: every communication on the internet which could be of significance for intelligence is stored and shared, regardless of which legal regulations apply to control the collection of this data," write the authors.

With their study, Heumann and Scott want to lay the foundations for an international debate on surveillance. They suggest how services and laws can be altered to strengthen privacy rights. This reform, they conclude, is urgently needed.

This article was originally published on Zeit Online. Translation by Josie Le Blond
• Bruce Schneier is an unpaid member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation's board of directors. He has not been involved in any discussions on funding.

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« Reply #9125 on: Oct 05, 2013, 06:13 AM »

10/04/2013 06:13 PM

Berlusconi Vote: Italian Senate Panel Recommends Expulsion

In a widely expected development, an Italian Senate committee moved on Friday to recommend that Silvio Berlusconi be stripped of his position in the legislature. A court upheld the former prime minister's conviction in August on tax evasion charges.

The days of Silvio Berlusconi's political career appear to be coming to an abrupt end. On Friday, an Italian Senate committee voted to recommend that former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi be expelled from the Senate as a result of his August conviction for tax fraud.

The move, which had been expected, came two days after Berlusconi's defeat in a vote of confidence on current Prime Minister Enrico Letta. Friday's Senate move is the second major setback for the Italian politician this week.

A final decision is planned within the next 20 days in the Senate, but the Immunity Committee's decision is considered an important precondition for expelling Berlusconi from public office. The Senators on the committee took a full five hours on Friday to deliberate the issue. Committee chairman Dario Stefano said the body had voted by a "majority" to recommend that the Senate vote to remove Berlusconi from office.

A 'Political Judgement'

Berlusconi himself did not appear at the meeting. He said he expected a "political judgement" against him that would be biased and not based on facts.

Despite his statement, the decision is in fact based on a law that stipulates that members of parliament whose conviction of a serious crime has been upheld must step down from office. At the beginning of August, a court upheld Berlusconi's conviction in the final appeal of a tax evasion case linked to his company Mediaset, and sentenced the former Italian leader to four years in prison. Berlusconi had originally been convicted over deals his firm made to purchase TV rights for American films in October 2012.

Berlusconi has argued that the law, which first went into effect in January 2013, cannot be applied retroactively to a conviction on tax offenses that occurred years ago. Berlusconi has also appealed his possible expulsion from the Senate to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and has demanded that the legislative body await its ruling before making any decision.

Both the former prime minister and his supporters have sought to defend the politician against the threat of being banished from the Senate. Earlier this week, Berlusconi even threatened to topple Letta's government by withdrawing important ministers. In the end, though, many of his supporters refused to back him up.

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« Reply #9126 on: Oct 05, 2013, 06:15 AM »

10/04/2013 06:20 PM

The Barefoot Mayor: Local Hero Takes on Sicilian Corruption

By Fiona Ehlers

The new mayor of Messina is a man of the people. The tireless nonpartisan is known to go barefoot through the city. And in the land of Berlusconi, he is fighting against corruption, organized crime and widespread disenchantment with politics.

Men with coarse features and shaved heads are pulling a heavy cart through the streets of Messina. The men, barefoot with tattoos on their upper arms, are sweating as they shout, again and again: "Viva Maria!"

By tradition, the men who carry the Madonna are dockworkers, ex-convicts and henchmen with the Sicilian Mafia, and these men look the part. They hope for redemption from the Virgin Mother for crimes ranging from extortion to drug dealing and murder. Along the side of the road, law-abiding bystanders hand their small children up onto the cart to be blessed.

La Vara, or the procession of the Madonna, is Sicily's most important festival. It's been celebrated for about 500 years, complete with fireworks and sweet cannoli. La Vara is also seen as an arena for local bigwigs to show off their clout. On the day of the festival, those who are in charge here, the church and the Mafia, are always in the front rows. But everything is different this year. This year, the new mayor pulls the cart, with the help of a prominent Mafioso, but the mayor doesn't kiss the mobster's hand. Instead, he jumps onto the cart, setting off a ripple of whispers below, because this is something a mayor has never dared to do. Then they begin to shout, again and again, "Renato! Renato!"

Mayor Renato Accorinti often walks around barefoot, and the day of the festival is no exception. He is wearing a T-shirt from Addio Pizzo, an anti-Mafia movement, imprinted with the words: "A people that pays no protection money is a free people." At last year's procession, Addio Pizzo activists handed out flyers against the Sicilian Cosa Nostra and the Calabrian 'Ndrangheta and were chased away.

Now the mayor jumps from the cart onto the stage in front of the cathedral and says, in a soft voice: "This is a public festival, and I'm a man of the people. A future is possible in Messina! We can only be strong together!" There are several minutes of applause.

A New Kind of Politician

Accorinti has been mayor of the city of about 250,000, on the Strait of Messina, since June 24. He is a physical education teacher, not a party politician, and he campaigned as part of a citizens' movement called "Let us change Messina from the bottom up." Anyone who accompanies him is astonished by his stamina, and by the southern Italians' newfound enthusiasm for politics.

Accorinti takes only a few steps before a crowd has formed around him. "For us, you are a second Pope Francis," they say, addressing him in the familiar form, and showering him with hugs and kisses. Accorinti returns the sentiment by hugging, kissing and addressing them all in the familiar form. His election came unexpectedly. He was an accidental mayor, a sensation for Sicily. The island on the outermost edge of Europe is Italy's poorest region -- corrupt, clannish and a sinkhole for millions in European Union subsidies.

Most of all, however, the election is a sensation for Messina, a city where for decades municipal politics was essentially a vehicle for personal enrichment. The wives of Accorinti's two predecessors were arrested in July for embezzling government funds. The city has a budget shortfall of €600 million ($812 million). While the Mafia is in control in Palermo and Reggio Calabria, Messina is traditionally the place where it catches its breath and plans its next move.

Accorinti is an example of how, in a country that was run into the ground for decades by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, someone can govern without scandal, pomp or grand gestures. He is a local hero, unlike the combative partisan politicians who currently make up a very shaky government in Rome.

Messina's Bridge to Nowhere
Accorinti is a bachelor who lives with his mother, a sufferer of dementia, in the working-class apartment where he was born 59 years ago. Until winning the election, he was a movimentalista, or political activist. He spent 40 years fighting for bike paths and human rights, and against the privatization of the water supply.

On the day of his election, Accorinti was standing in a gymnasium. His supporters lifted him up above their heads, and then he took off his shoes and, surrounded by thousands of people, ran to the city hall. He was all too familiar with the building, from his days submitting petitions and letters of protest, as well as engaging in hunger strikes. For decades, he was repeatedly thrown out of the building by the authorities. "Now I have the tools to make changes, but not the power," he says today. "Politics is nothing more than a service." His first official act was to have the electric turnstiles in the lobby removed, "so that anyone can come in, at any time."

It's a Monday morning, and Accorinti's three waiting rooms are full. Sitting on the red velvet sofas are men without work, homeless people and a family that lives in a shantytown. They've brought along food and squeaky tricycles for their children, who are causing pandemonium.

"Welcome to the Third World," says the doorman. It is shortly after nine, and the chaotic scene is perfectly normal in a country where the government has hardly any presence, where there is no welfare, little in the way of unemployment benefits, and only the vague hope that the boss, the godfather or perhaps the mayor will do something for these people.

"Give me a few hours," Accorinti tells the family from the shantytown, "I'll look into it." It's a phrase he uses a lot. Then he asks his secretary whether he can make a phone call. The secretary asks him when he will get used to the fact that he is now the boss and can do as he pleases.

He puts on the obligatory jacket for his first city council meeting in the afternoon. He hates these meetings, under chandeliers and baroque frescoes, at which the council members use grand gestures to berate, blackmail and intimidate each other. He would rather be working with the people, looking for solutions to their problems.

'No to the Bridge!'

When he came into office, Accorinti ordered a cleanup of the local beach and city parks -- with the help of city employees unaccustomed to getting their hands dirty. His biggest achievement to date was the appointment of a professional and efficient city council. His pièce de resistance is the fight against the new Messina bridge.

The plans call for what would be the world's largest suspension bridge, an earthquake-proof structure spanning the Strait of Messina, about three kilometers (1.9 miles) wide -- a project that would cost billions of euros. It was the Berlusconi government's prestige project, and it is an example of both Italy's inventive spirit and its hubris. But it was never a project that made sense. Yet four or five years ago, there were many indications that the bridge would be built.

That was until Accorinti showed up and, in the summer of 2002, climbed to the top of a transmission tower, to the spot where the bridge piers would be standing one day. At a height of 220 meters (722 feet), he unfurled banners that read "No to the bridge!" The photos that a friend took from a helicopter quickly made headlines around the world.

In Messina, he went from door to door and explained his opposition to the project to people. Many were in favor of the bridge, which they hoped would provide jobs. They also wanted to be connected to a country that takes care of them. Accorinti told them about the likely environmental damage, the true costs of the project and the Mafia, which stood to profit from the construction contracts and the removal of construction dirt. At the moment, it seems unlikely that the bridge will be built. Instead, Accorinti wants to create an economically viable ferry connection between Messina and Reggio, operated by the city. He will make new enemies with the project, because a powerful shipping company owns the current ferries.

Believing Against Odds

The family that was sitting in his waiting room at city hall lives only a few blocks from the mayor's apartment. He pays them a visit, as promised. They are the fifth generation of a family that has been living in the shantytown since the 1908 earthquake, which claimed about 100,000 lives. Now they are standing there in their mirrored sunglasses, surrounded by corrugated sheet metal and debris, with their hands on their hips. They are now loud and demanding, telling Accorinti that they want him to get them a house, immediately. But he remains hard-nosed. He doesn't want them to ask him for favors. Instead, he wants these people to come up with their own ideas on how to improve their lives.

Later on the same day, he will complain that everyone wants his attention. He works 12 to 14 hours a day and sleeps only two to three hours. How long can he keep this up?

For years, a town south of Naples also had a mayor who was a political outsider, a fisherman who wanted to save a national park and made tossing cigarette butts onto the street a punishable offence. Then members of the Neapolitan crime syndicate Camorra shot him to death in his Audi. If he continues like this, say his friends, Renato will soon be dead. But it won't be at the hands of the Mafia, which wouldn't dare hurt him. It'll be a heart attack, the friends say.

On the evening after the procession of the Madonna, Accorinti is sitting in a pub when he is joined by some of his former students. They remind him of the time he told them why it's important to rebel against the Mafia, and how he took them to visit the families of Mafia victims and the wreck of the car bomb attack on Judge Giovanni Falcone.

"Will it be possible to make Messina into a better city?" the students ask. "It will be possible to believe in it," says Accorinti. And after that? He could travel to India, or he could become a teacher again. It doesn't matter what he does, because he has already changed Messina forever.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #9127 on: Oct 05, 2013, 06:18 AM »

Spain's biggest corruption trial ends with 53 people convicted

Ex-Marbella mayors and planning adviser Juan Antonio Roca among those found guilty in real estate fraud and bribery case

Paul Hamilos in Madrid, Friday 4 October 2013 17.15 BST   

Spain's largest-ever corruption trial has ended with a former adviser at Marbella town hall sentenced to 11 years in prison and fined €240m (£203m) for his role in masterminding a network of real estate fraud and bribery.

Former urban planning adviser Juan Antonio Roca was among 53 people convicted in the Costa del Sol resort after a two-year trial that involved former mayors, numerous town councillors and a German aristocrat.

The convictions centred around a cash-for-votes scandal – known as the Malaya case – that saw around €670m paid in bribes from municipal funds over three years in the mid-1990s.

The scheme, which extended across political parties, began when Jesús Gil, the former owner of Atlético de Madrid football club who died in 2006, was mayor of Marbella between 1991 and 2002.

Former mayors Marisol Yagüe and Julián Muñoz were sentenced to six and two years, respectively. Forty-two others were acquitted.

The local "Mr Big", Roca ran Marbella from his private offices for more than a decade, paying town hall officials each time they voted to approve planning permits or contracts to provide municipal services. Planning requirements were widely flouted or completely ignored, resulting in swaths of the once-beautiful seaside resort being covered in high-rise buildings.

The trial was seen as a test case for Spain's attempts to come to terms with the widespread corruption that has seen many parts of the country paved in concrete.

It took the judge, José Godino, more than 40 minutes to read out the sentences, most of which were shorter than the prosecution had demanded. Roca had faced up to 30 years in prison, but was sentenced to less than half that. He has been in jail since 2006.

"This court has arrived at the firm conviction of the reality of the widespread system of corruption that was established in the city of Marbella on the part of the defendants and under the power exercised by Mr Roca," said Godino.

After hearing the sentences, Yagüe described it as a "hard and unjust beating", while former assistant to the mayor Isabel García said: "We have to keep fighting".

As right-hand man to Gil, Roca went from being unemployed to a multimillionaire in just over a decade in the 1990s, with three palaces in Madrid. When he was arrested, police discovered stuffed lions in his home and a Miro painting in the bathroom.

But the man most people blame for the culture of widespread corruption escaped justice when he died at the age of 71. As mayor, Gil lorded it over the town, in effect turning Marbella into a private fiefdom, but at the time of his death he faced numerous cases against him for bribery, and had been banned from public office.


October 4, 2013

Desperation Fuels Trips of Migrants to Spain


TARIFA, Spain — The southern tip of Spain is barely nine miles from the coast of Morocco, a distance so tantalizingly close that African migrants trying to reach Europe can see the Continent from the Moroccan shoreline.

To actually reach Europe is not so simple, yet they come anyway.

For months now, a rising number of migrants have been daring the waters of the Mediterranean. And the Spanish police and boat captains say many asylum seekers have become so desperate that they are trying to reach Europe on flimsy rubber dinghies. So many migrants are now traveling by dinghies that the price for a modest one can reach $680 in Morocco, compared with only $109 in Spain.

“Some people will clearly risk death to reach Europe,” said Israel Díaz Aragón, who captains one of the boats of Spain’s maritime rescue services. “It has been a very busy summer, because we’re now also rescuing Africans who not only cross in a toy boat but haven’t even spent money on buying proper oars.”

The danger of migration in the Mediterranean became evident again on Thursday when a boat of African migrants capsized near the Italian island of Lampedusa. At least 111 people died and more than 200 people are still believed missing.

The shipwreck revived calls for the European Union to create a common, humane response to the flow of migrants, and to improve cooperation with the countries where the migrants originate in Africa and the Middle East. But the difficulty of completely curtailing this exodus is evident in Spain, which in recent years has worked with Morocco to stop illegal immigration.

The dinghies illustrate the risks migrants are willing to take. For many years, the main landing point in Spain was the Canary Islands, in the Atlantic Ocean, off the southwestern coast of Morocco. Criminal networks used powerful boats to smuggle people across.

But then Spain sharply increased patrols in the waters off western Africa, cutting off the route to the islands, while also installing a network of thermal infrared cameras along its entire shoreline, making it almost impossible for larger vessels to go undetected.

The impact was immediate: In 2006, a record 39,180 people reached Spain illegally by boat. Last year, the total was 3,804. Now, though, traffic is increasing across the Strait of Gibraltar, even as the voyage has become more dangerous as many migrants use dinghies to elude cameras. Spanish officials estimate that four-fifths of illegal immigrants who have crossed the strait this year have used dinghies — as opposed to large trawlers.

Italy has seen an especially large increase of migrants this year, more than 24,000 so far, including thousands traveling from war-torn Syria. On Friday, Italy recognized the Lampedusa tragedy with a national day of mourning. And Italian officials repeated their demands that Europe take greater responsibility for the waves of migrants reaching Italian shores.

“Today, we have a new Checkpoint Charlie,” said Italy’s interior minister, Angelino Alfano, speaking in Parliament on Friday, and referring to the crossing between East and West Berlin during the cold war. “Its name is Lampedusa.”

The numbers in Spain are far lower but increasing after several years of decline. The Spanish military police say more than 900 people have been intercepted in the strait this year.

In Morocco, where the ruling monarchy has been relatively unscathed by the Arab Spring, officials have increased cooperation with Spain and are intercepting many boats before they can even reach Spanish waters.

Doing this, though, has also involved a clampdown by the Moroccan police against sub-Saharan migrants who have flocked to the country’s northern cities closest to Spain, according to some human rights advocates.

“Since late July, the Moroccan authorities have basically been cleaning out illegal migrants from the north,” said Helena Maleno, who works for Caminando Fronteras an association that helps migrants. “This repression has made migrants feel desperate to get out and even willing to jump in the water without a proper boat.”

Recently, the Spanish police in Ceuta and Melilla — two Spanish enclaves in northern Morocco — have also struggled to contain migrants trying to break through border fences. Last month, about 100 people entered Melilla after tearing down fencing and charging past the police, leaving six officers injured.

In Thursday’s accident near Lampedusa, most of the migrants came from Eritrea and Somalia, according to Italian and United Nations officials. Those who travel by boat to Spain, however, normally are from western Africa.

“Almost everybody now claims to come from Mali, because there’s been a war there and that makes them confident nobody can send them back,” said Manuel Ovidio, a captain in Spain’s military police.

Interviewed in a Spanish police cell after being rescued at sea, Amadou Makalou showed the blisters on his hands from paddling. He said he had left Bamako, Mali, then crossed Mauritania before a month in Tangier, in Morocco. There, he pooled money with six other Malians to buy a dinghy.

They hid for hours in a forest before setting into the sea from a nearby beach at about 1 a.m. Mr. Makalou, 34, said his family had remained in Bamako. Asked whether he knew about Spain’s unemployment rate, Mr. Makalou laughed.

“It can’t be worse than Mali,” he said. “Europeans want to scare us away, but they don’t have a clue what kind of problems we leave behind.”

Raphael Minder reported from Tarifa, and Jim Yardley from Rome. Gaia Pianigiani contributed reporting from Rome.

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« Reply #9128 on: Oct 05, 2013, 06:30 AM »

Ankara fails to deliver on democracy

This week's reform package was not enough, because Turkish society has changed faster than its politicians

Elif Shafak   
The Guardian, Friday 4 October 2013 20.15 BST   
'It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they killed people on the streets, and I didn't know what I was doing in Istanbul …" There was something about Turkey's Taksim Square protests that often made me think of the opening line in Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar. The same gloom was in the air; heavy with pepper spray and tear gas.

As difficult as last summer was for the nation, autumn brings new hope. The long-awaited "democratisation package" was announced this week at a huge press conference, and translated into Arabic and English simultaneously. The details tell a lot. The fact that it was named "democratization package" gave the impression that it would have something for every religious, ethnic and political group. Thus, like eager children, all 76 million of us gathered around the presents, expecting there to be something for us. Writers and journalists wanted freedom of expression. Tired of being sued and brought to court for our words, we hoped that the package would recognise the importance of a free, diverse press in a democracy The Alevi minority wanted equal rights and the recognition of their cemevi as houses of worship. Students and academics wanted universities to be places where science and free thought flourish, as well as the right to peaceful demonstration. And the Kurds? They wanted serious steps to be taken now that they have invested so much in the peace process. It is significant that Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned head of the PKK, was watching the press conference live from his prison cell.

But when the presents were opened, many of Turkey's children were disappointed. Immediately a hullabaloo followed, with critics accused of being ungrateful by those in favour of what the government offered. The importance of gratitude is instilled in Turks in early childhood, and to understand how Turkish politics works you have to understand the role it plays. Criticising something that has been given to you is seen as evidence of ingratitude – and ingratitude is culturally looked down upon. That some Turks think in these terms about politics is evidence of the sad fact that we still see the state as a father and ourselves as its children.

The package had both positive and negative aspects. It returned Mor Gabriel, a 1,700-year-old monastery in Mardin, to the Christian Syriac community. A decision long overdue, since it already belonged to them and the state had no right to confiscate it in the first place. At the same time, there was no mention of the Greek Orthodox seminary in Heybeliada. Why is it that the Syriacs have been returned their monastery and the Greek Orthodox have been left out? Nobody understands. Yetvart Danzikyan, an Armenian columnist for the daily Radikal, said that "the failure to reopen the seminary has caused disappointment not only among the Greek community, but all minority groups".

The ridiculous ban on the three Kurdish letters – w, q, and x – which don't exist in the Turkish alphabet was lifted. You will no longer be in trouble if you give your child a name containing any of these letters. Names of locations that had been Turkified will now be returned to their former spelling. Kurdish language can be taught in private schools, should students opt for it. But such steps, although progressive, are far from satisfying the millions of Kurds who have felt suppressed for too long. Not surprisingly the BDP, the primary Kurdish party, expressed its displeasure.

An important step was the lifting of the ban on headscarves being worn by those in public services. Similarly there are signs that the electoral threshold will be lowered, after discussions in parliament. New regulations will be made regarding hate speech. However, this, too, is conditional. Hatred against an ethnic minority is a crime, but what about hatred against a sexual minority?

Personally, I am relieved that the student oath that we repeated every morning has been abolished. "I am a Turk, I am correct, I am diligent … May my existence be a gift to you," it reads, drumming into us that we were not individuals but part of an undifferentiated mass and had delegated our existence to the state and the nation. That mentality is changing. We are individuals. We owe this cultural shift to the young protesters of Taksim Square.

The problem with the democratisation package is that it is not enough, not any more. Society has changed: Turkey's people are changing faster than its politicians. And the gap is increasingly visible. These reforms do not embrace the whole of society, giving the impression that some citizens are being favoured and others forgotten. The Alevis, who were not even mentioned in the prime minister's speech, are massively disappointed – and rightly so.

After the summer of 2013, Turkey is more polarised than ever. Nowadays you are either "pro" or "con". People who believe we should debate both the positive and the negative things in the country are being pushed to the margins. This is our biggest loss. We don't have intellectual bridges connecting people from different sides any more. Instead, we have two angry, resentful camps. Both the government and the opposition demand "Are you one of us, or one of them?" Those who refuse this artificial duality are fast becoming Turkey's new minority, and it is no big surprise that they won't get any presents from anyone.

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« Reply #9129 on: Oct 05, 2013, 06:35 AM »

Ireland will need EU support when bailout ends this year, says IMF

International Monetary Fund report warns that poor state of Irish banks is holding back recovery

Phillip Inman, economic correspondent, Friday 4 October 2013 16.30 BST

A slowing economy, sky-high debts and a weak banking sector mean Ireland will need support from the European Union when its current bailout ends later this year, the International Monetary Fund said in a report on Friday.

In a clear call for Brussels to accede to Irish demands for a credit line next year, the IMF warned that Dublin's recovery would be hampered without cheaper funding for its ailing banks.

The report will deal a blow to the Irish government, which is under pressure domestically to maintain business and consumer confidence in the face of significant economic headwinds. In particular, export growth, which has underpinned the economy's recovery, has fallen in 2013.

The IMF said that while exports had picked up moderately in recent months, the recovery would not stop Ireland's debts hitting 123% of GDP by the end of the year. Making matters worse, the poor state of the country's banks is holding back the domestic economy.

"Irish banks face weak profitability that hinders their capacity to revive lending. European support to lower banks' market funding costs could help sustain domestic demand recovery in the medium term, protecting debt sustainability and financial market confidence," it said.

The IMF has conducted 11 reports on Ireland's economic recovery since it joined a three-way bailout of the country with the EU and the European Central Bank in 2010.

Ireland would be the first bailed-out eurozone country to wean itself off emergency aid if it exits the €85bn scheme on schedule at the end of this year.

The IMF said Dublin was on track to meet its obligations under the deal, but "near-term prospects are weaker and significant fiscal, financial sector and unemployment challenges remain".

Ireland was forced to seek help after a property crash left its banks massively under-capitalised and the state's finances collapsed.

Since then it has stuck rigorously to the recipe of austerity laid out in the programme by its "troika" of lenders.

The EU is desperate for Ireland to exit the rescue smoothly to show the tough-love approach can succeed, given the struggles of fellow bailout recipients Greece and Portugal and deep-rooted public dissatisfaction across the region.

Ireland has met nearly all its funding needs through next year by issuing debt periodically over the last 12 months, having issued a 10-year bond in March for the first time since being locked out of markets in late 2010.

Yet banks continue to shun calls from households and businesses for easier credit conditions while struggling with low profits and a ratio of bad loans that has reached 26%.

Unemployment also remains a huge problem. A fall in the jobless rate from 15% to 13.7% since early 2012 has eased the social security burden but 58% of those without work are considered long-term unemployed, "posing a risk to Ireland's growth potential", said the IMF.


October 4, 2013

Ireland Votes on Shutting Its Senate


DUBLIN — Ireland’s voters had a chance on Friday to accomplish what some American voters, with their government partly shut down, can only dream of: abolishing one house of the nation’s legislature. And the Irish were expected to vote to do so.

Two constitutional amendments were on the ballot on Friday, one to abolish the upper house of Parliament, the Seanad, or Senate, and the other to create a new appellate court. Results were expected Saturday.

The debate over the Seanad turned on money and usefulness. The Irish government argued that the upper house, its members mostly appointed by the governing party, was fundamentally elitist and, in any case, too expensive.

Unlike the United States Senate, the 60-member Seanad cannot block laws passed by the lower house, only delay them.

Since its establishment under the 1937 Constitution, the Seanad has been little changed, despite regular demands for reform and numerous official reports with radical recommendations.

Senators argue that the move is nothing but a naked power grab by the government and Prime Minister Enda Kenny masquerading as a cost-saving exercise.

One well-known senator, Feargal Quinn, a former business executive, has berated the government for refusing to even consider an overhaul instead and for running a campaign largely based on the more than $27 million it says the country will save if the upper house is eradicated.

“Shutting half our Parliament is not the correct response to economic collapse,” Mr. Quinn said. “Shutting half our Parliament only shuts down oversight and shuts out new voices. That’s no way to run a country.”

Mr. Kenny has declined to debate opponents of the abolition, a move the newspaper The Irish Examiner criticized in an editorial on Friday. “By refusing to debate the issue, he is adopting a timeworn custom of mushroom cultivation — keep voters in the dark and cover them liberally with manure,” the editorial said.

The government’s director of elections, Minister for Jobs Richard Bruton, said that the Seanad was beyond reform, terming it an expensive, elitist, ineffective luxury the country could no longer afford.

“How many people know that 90 percent of senators are elected exclusively by politicians and that many politicians have six or seven votes in the Seanad, while the vast majority of the population have none?” he said on a recent campaign stroll in Dublin’s city center. “How many people know that the Seanad can only delay legislation, not overturn it, and the last time it used this power was in 1964?”

Despite the profound nature of the proposed change, the government campaign has been met by widespread public apathy, and before the polls closed at 10 p.m. on Friday, turnout was at record lows in many parts of the country.

This is the 33rd referendum since the 1937 Constitution was signed; 23 of the proposals have passed, and 9 have been rejected. The highest turnout was almost 71 percent, the lowest 28.6 percent.

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« Last Edit: Oct 05, 2013, 06:53 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #9130 on: Oct 05, 2013, 06:37 AM »

Leonardo da Vinci experts identify painting as lost Isabella D'Este portrait

Portrait found among private Swiss collection has a Mona Lisa smile and same paint pigment and primer as those used by artist

Tom Kington in Rome, Friday 4 October 2013 14.16 BST   

Researchers in Italy claim to have unearthed the portrait of a noblewoman by Leonardo da Vinci which has been lost for 500 years and features the same enigmatic smile as his Mona Lisa.

The portrait of Isabella d'Este, which carbon dating suggests was painted around the start of the 16th century, has been found in a vault in a private collection in Switzerland, and has been verified by a leading authority on the renaissance polymath.

"There are no doubts that the portrait is Leonardo's work," said Carlo Pedretti, an emeritus professor of art history at the University of California.

If acknowledged as genuine – and if experts concur that it was painted before the Mona Lisa – the portrait could shake up academic studies of one of the world's most famous paintings.

The 61cm x 46.5cm portrait, which uses the same pigment and primer that Leonardo used, is thought to be the completed version of a sketch he made of D'Este, which, like the Mona Lisa, hangs in the Louvre in Paris.

The unnamed family which owns the portrait, and asked for it to be analysed, has kept a collection of about 400 paintings in Turgi since the start of the 20th century, according to the Corriere della Sera newspaper.
sketch of Isabella D'Este A preliminary sketch of Isabella D'Este. Photograph: Corriere della Sera

In a letter to the owners, Pedretti said he was convinced Leonardo had painted the face, while two assistants were responsible for a palm leaf the subject is holding.

Leonardo first met D'Este in 1499 when he took up residence at her court in Mantua, where she was marquesa. A patron of the arts and a leading figure in the Italian renaissance, whose dress sense influenced women in Italy and France, she sat for the artist and later implored him in letters to turn his sketch into a painting.

Leonardo promised he would complete the commission, at one point suggesting he could work from the sketch without her sitting again. In 1514 it is likely the two met again at the Vatican, but historians have argued that the painting was either never completed or was lost forever.

However, one historical clue suggests Leonardo did complete the work. In 1517, while in France, he showed a series of paintings to Cardinal Luigi d'Aragona, prompting the cleric's assistant to write: "There was a painting in oil depicting a certain Lombardy lady."

Pedretti said that after studying the portrait for more than three years he was now going public with his findings, although he needed a few more months to be absolutely sure which parts of the painting were the work of Leonardo's assistants.

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« Reply #9131 on: Oct 05, 2013, 06:43 AM »

Support victims of rights abuses in Russia

The Guardian, Friday 4 October 2013 21.00 BST   

In Berlin on 7 October we are holding a concert, To Russia With Love, in support of the innocent victims of violence and human rights violations in Russia, and to show solidarity with all those who hold dear Russia's future. On 7 October 2006, the renowned journalist and human rights activist, Anna Politkovskaya, was murdered in Moscow. Over the past decade the death toll and list of dubiously convicted people in Russia have grown exponentially. They include not only journalists and human rights activists, but business people, lawyers and musicians. The names of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, Sergei Magnitsky (the lawyer who died in prison), Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina are known worldwide. These names have become symbols of resistance to arbitrary power and unjust jurisprudence.

The trials are underway of the so-called Bolotnaya prisoners – the young people who dared take to the streets to demand their constitutional rights. An unprecedented harsh sentence has recently been imposed on the rural schoolteacher, Ilya Farber, who fell victim to corrupt officials. And there's the latest arrest of 30 Greenpeace activists accused of piracy for their attempt to attract world attention to ecological distractions caused by Gazprom in the Arctic.

We are musicians. We are a peaceful people. It is naive to believe that our joint action can dramatically change something and justice will prevail. Dostoevsky's famous words that "beauty will save the world" evidently also sound naive. But we do choose idealism and do believe in miracles. Our goal is not only to create wonderful sounds, but also to bring effective help to all those who are in real need. We are asking musicians and artists to send words of encouragement or messages of support which will be published in the programme notes of the concert. Contact us at

Gidon Kremer
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« Reply #9132 on: Oct 05, 2013, 06:44 AM »

10/04/2013 05:02 PM

End of the Ride: Free Democrats Clear Out Offices

Voted out of parliament in September, Germany's business-friendly Free Democratic Party is in the grips of an existential crisis. It has laid off 500 employees and faces an extremely uncertain future.

Last Thursday, Philipp Rösler had one last official duty to perform as Angela Merkel's vice chancellor: a funeral ceremony. At Villa Hügel in the western city of Essen, political and industry leaders paid their respects to Berthold Beitz, the Krupp steel dynasty patriarch who died eight weeks ago. Rösler, wearing a black suit and a black tie, sat down in the first row and waited in silence for the eulogy to be given by German President Joachim Gauck.

One of Gauck's predecessors, Richard von Weizsäcker, was one of the last to be ushered into the room. Rösler stood up to greet the former president, but the elderly and frail Weizsäcker didn't notice him. Instead of acknowledging Rösler, Weizsäcker took the seat next to him. It was a lonely moment for Rösler, who left the ceremony the minute the last bars of the funeral music had died down.

People close to Rösler say that he feels exasperated and disappointed. Together with parliamentary leader Rainer Brüderle, Rösler bears the primary responsibility for the fact that the Free Democratic Party (FDP) will not be represented in the German parliament, the Bundestag, in the next legislative period -- a first since the establishment of the body. After initially succumbing to a state of shock, the liberals, as they are described in Germany because of their tendency toward laissez-faire policies, now seem to be gradually realizing what the election loss means for them.

500 Jobs Cut

Dramatic scenes are unfolding these days in the houses of parliament in Berlin, where 93 FDP lawmakers and the parliamentary group had their offices until now. About 500 employees are being laid off. At party headquarters around the corner, about one in three jobs could be eliminated. The entire party leadership has announced its intention to step down, although when that will happen isn't clear yet. The party currently lacks the funds to hold a special convention to re-elect its executive bodies.

The FDP's financial situation was already troubled before, but now the party faces the threat of bankruptcy. In keeping with its poor showing in the election, the party's share of government campaign funds is much smaller than it had expected. Contributions have also declined sharply.

In public, the liberals are met with derision, contempt and, in some cases, hatred. Brüderle and Rösler shut down their Facebook pages after they were flooded with insults. The center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), withdrew from their coalition with the FDP without so much as a good-bye. Chancellor Angela Merkel sent Rösler a brief text message.

The party is now pinning its hopes on Christian Lindner, its leader in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, but he too makes a somewhat clueless impression. With their devastating election loss, the FDP, once an important national party and coalition kingmaker for the conservatives, will no longer play an important role in German politics.

A few members of the FDP are comforted by the notion that voters could find themselves missing the party soon -- particularly if the next government moves to raise taxes. Honorary Chairman and former Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher is already talking about a "fresh beginning." But what should the FDP's focus be in the future? Lindner and Wolfgang Kubicki, the party's leader in the parliament of the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, would like to see the FDP more closely aligned with social issues. Saxony state leader Holger Zastrow, on the other hand, is pushing for an economically liberal course.

The Brutal Side of Politics

But how many people even have the time or interest to commit themselves to a party that hardly performs any political function and is only represented in a few state parliaments? The current top leadership, from Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle to Development Minister Dirk Niebel, will step down. Former rising stars, such as 36-year-old Health Minister Daniel Bahr and current General Secretary Patrick Döring, 41, are already political has-beens.

Many at the FDP feel that their world has come apart at the seams. Some are angry, while others are more likely to break out in tears. Career plans were destroyed and lifetime achievements devalued overnight, exposing the brutal side of the business of politics.

On the day of Beitz funeral, Rösler was asked if he had any plans for the future yet. He shook his head. "I'm happy," said Rösler, "that I won't have to say anything anymore now."

A Disintegrating Party

On the fourth day after the election, the office of Otto Fricke, 47, is already filled with moving boxes. "Like shit," the FDP's parliamentary budget spokesman yells into his mobile phone, in answer to the question of how he feels. It's a frank answer. Otherwise, he's been telling people: Not bad. I'm okay.

Fricke is now operating at two levels. He continues to function at the one level and, at the other, he sometimes offers a glimpse of how he really feels. At the one level, he says things like: "As parliamentary budget spokesman, it is my job to deal with the dissolution of the parliamentary group." And, at the other, he notes more bluntly: "Everything is falling apart at the moment." The first level is the dominant one. It relates to duties and responsibility, things you can cling to.

"If you happen to know of anyone who needs an experienced secretary," Fricke says into his phone. He's dealing with his immediate obligations, to see that his staff is taken care of. Fricke ends the conversation and places the phone on the table in front of him. It's constantly flashing, indicating that he's received yet another text message: expressions of sympathy, job offers, parting words. Fricke pours himself a glass of water and opens a box of chocolates, but he isn't hungry. He's lost a lot of weight since election night.

At least he's found a home for the fish in his office aquarium. The father of an employee has agreed to adopt them.

Fricke serves as a personnel manager of sorts for the FDP's parliamentary group. He has divided his duties into three areas. His first obligation is to take care of the employees in his own office. The parliamentary group is his second concern, while making sure that he gets back on his own feet is his third priority. So far he's been dealing with the first two sets of challenges.

Last Monday, Fricke left a meeting of the parliamentary group early in order to speak at his office staff meeting. Some 120 people, some with tears in their eyes, were there to lament both their own fates and the end of the FDP's tenure in the Bundestag.

Everything has to be cleared out by Oct. 22. Fricke doesn't know yet whether he'll have enough space left after that to complete the rest of the winding-down process. He is currently haggling with the Bundestag administration because it wants to shut down the email addresses of lawmakers and employees after only four weeks.

"It's like a bankruptcy proceeding," says Fricke -- just faster.

The FDP Bankruptcy

FDP Executive Director Jörg Paschedag knows hard times are ahead for him. The FDP is about to lose a source of revenue, now that it will no longer have lawmakers to donate a portion of their pay to the party. And a party that no longer has any power also ceases to be an attractive partner for associations, lobbyists and corporations. BMW is cancelling its donation of the leases of five luxury sedans to the FDP, worth €60,000 ($81,000). Cornelius Boersch, the head of Swiss financial company Mountain Partners and a good friend of Foreign Minister Westerwelle, is sad to see the FDP voted out of office, but he also makes no mention of further donations, preferring to focus on "moral support" from now on. Billionaire August von Finck, who donated a sum in the millions several years ago, no longer wishes to discuss the issue today.

Executive Director Paschedag has already begun cutting costs. He says he cancelled a newspaper subscription last Monday and slashed the office-cleaning budget. The motor pool is next. "We will have to save €1-1.2 million in personnel costs a year," says Paschedag. It's quite possible that the party will have to move out of its current headquarters in Berlin, where the FDP pays about €600,000 in annual rent.

Party conventions will become more modest. "It doesn't always have to be expensive convention centers," says Paschedag. Instead of the current practice of inviting 662 delegates, he adds, the FDP could hold smaller meetings in the future.

The FDP has been spending more money that it takes in. According to 2011 account statements, the party's federal association was burdened by "negative net assets" of €8.6 million. If it were a business, the FDP could very well be in bankruptcy court by now.

Two Ministers Say 'Goodbye'

The panoramic view of Manhattan skyscrapers and the East River shimmering in the east from the windows on the 22nd floor of the Deutsche Haus, Germany's permanent mission to the United Nations in New York, is overwhelming. "I'm impressed every time I come here," says Foreign Minister Westerwelle. He's drinking a cup of tea, hoping it'll improve his hoarse voice.

Westerwelle suffered a punishing defeat at the hands of German voters only 48 hours earlier, but he behaves as if nothing had happened. He has just finished a briefing on the meetings at the UN. There is much to worry about at the moment, including Syria and Iran, and yet there is still a spark of hope, he says. It's the usual Westerwelle rhetoric.

His schedule is full for the coming weeks, and he also wants to pay a last visit to Afghanistan. After that, he says, he will spend four weeks or more on vacation and finally relax a bit. He vaguely mentions offers he has had to do something completely different. He has no financial worries. After spending 17 years in the Bundestag, Westerwelle is in good shape.

'2017 Is the Most Important Milestone'
Dirk Niebel's comedown is worse. The development minister is sitting in the Bundestag cafeteria with a cup of coffee, not quite sure how to describe his feelings. His skin looks pasty, and his eyes are puffy from a lack of sleep. He devoted more energy to the campaign than most others in the FDP, making more than 200 appearances. Now it looks as though he were the biggest loser.

In his civilian life, which is now almost two decades ago, he was a job placement officer. He doesn't want to go back to that. But what else can he do? Niebel was development minister, part of a historic misunderstanding, since the FDP's goal was to eliminate the ministry. He provoked environmentalists with his aggressive behavior and the army cap he was so fond of wearing. More importantly, he made enemies by placing fellow party members in important positions, even when they lacked the necessary qualifications. Niebel took care of his own people, but he may have paid too little attention to himself.

Back to the Boondocks

FDP General Secretary Döring is standing in his office and settling accounts with himself. "It depresses me that I didn't live up to the responsibility I assumed," he says. Now it's time to clear out his office. He certainly doesn't want to take any of his files home with him. He kicks the one moving box in the room into a corner. He points to a wall unit into which he has just shoved a stack of books. He intends to shred it all.

Many in the party feel that Döring is primarily to blame for the election losses, since he was in charge of campaign planning. There is a deep hostility between Döring and designated Chairman Lindner. Döring's career in the FDP is over.

Does he feel that his work in the last few years has been worthwhile? He says he plans to move away from Berlin, and that he won't miss "this square kilometer of lunacy" in which he had his second home in recent years. He plans to return to his former profession. Döring owns part of a pet health insurance company. "I'm lucky. I can go back to my business," he says.

The New Man

Future party leader Lindner is fanning himself with a letter. It's from an FDP member in Cologne. "By refusing to vote for the FDP, my friends and I achieved what we felt was necessary," the letter reads, "namely, a change in the FDP leadership and a return to the liberal values we support."

Lindner has received hundreds of such letters. He clings to the message they convey because it's one of the few hopeful signs he has at the moment. It seems to demonstrate that there is still life in the FDP, and that many see him as its savior. The only problem is that Lindner himself doesn't know yet how to go about saving the party. "I don't have a finished program yet, or a completed plan of action," he says.

Lindner has no illusions about the task in front of him. He has already made his first policy decision. "The FDP will remain a party that represents the interests of the state," he says. As clichéd as they sound, his words have consequences. Lindner will keep the party on a pro-European course, and it will not advocate for a radical, neoliberal approach. "The protest party in the center" that Westerwelle dreamed about years ago isn't part of Lindner's vision.

To continue to generate public interest in the party, Lindner will need to appear on television frequently. But who's going to want to listen to him if he merely preaches moderation on talk shows and still has no idea how to solve the party's problems?

Lindner always looked good compared to those who were above him in the hierarchy. He seems more contemporary than Brüderle, more eloquent than Rösler and not as strained as Westerwelle. Soon he'll be the FDP's leader, which means that there will no longer be anyone in the party to serve as contrast.

He cannot expect a honeymoon period. Even in the party's current predicament, there will still be no lack of FDP members ready to malign the incoming party boss. Some members of the old leadership are already saying that while Lindner may be a good speaker, he has never been interested in organizational issues, which is precisely what's important now.

But the old guard isn't Lindner's problem. Instead, he will have to come to terms with those who want to continue playing a prominent role in the FDP, such as Wolfgang Kubicki. Next to Lindner, the FDP parliamentary leader in Schleswig-Holstein is the only remaining FDP politician with nationwide recognition. But Kubicki became known primarily for publicly blasting the party leadership and saying that he wanted to become deputy chairman.

Frank Schäffler, a senior member of the FDP in Hamburg who almost broke up his party over the euro issue, is also pushing his way into the leadership. "Lindner has to bring the party together," he says. "That means that there also has to be room for my positions." He says he notified the leadership in his district that he plans to run for a spot on the national executive board at the convention in December. "The euro and the federal government's shift away from nuclear power and toward green energy will remain key issues. I believe that I can make a contribution in these areas," says Schäffler.

His fellow party members won't be leaving Lindner much time. Elections for the European Parliament are scheduled for next May, when there will also be three state parliamentary elections in Germany. If things don't improve by then, the detractors will start speaking up. Lindner knows this, but he operates on a different time frame. "In my opinion, the 2017 national election is the most important milestone," he says. "Until then, it's all just intermediate objectives. I don't want to use them as my benchmarks."


Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


10/04/2013 04:05 PM

Democratic Deficit: Is Germany's Parliamentary Hurdle Obsolete?

By Melanie Amann, Thomas Darnstädt and Dietmar Hipp

Last month's election saw nearly 7 million Germans voting for parties that ultimately fell short of the 5 percent hurdle required to win seats in parliament. Political scientists are arguing for the threshold to be lowered or eliminated to ensure democratic legitimacy.

Bernd Lucke, head of the Alternative for Germany (AFD) party, is a man of ideas. His suggestions about why Germany should abandon the euro brought his splinter party within a hair's breadth of winning seats in the Bundestag, Germany's parliament. A week after the election, Lucke is putting forward another idea.

The German electoral system, says this newcomer on the political scene, needs to be reformed. Parties falling narrowly short of the 5 percent hurdle required to enter the Bundestag should still be allowed to take seats in parliament, he believes, albeit without voting rights. This new category of parliamentarian, says Lucke, should be given "the right to speak and ask questions, and to take part in committee work."

Lucke's proposal is unlikely to resonate with Germany's Constitutional Court, however, which strictly enforces the equal status of all members of parliament. But Lucke is not the only one to criticize the country's electoral laws for excluding parties unable to attract 5 percent of the vote. An increasing number of politicians and constitutional experts are questioning whether the clause -- introduced in reaction to the chaotically fractured party politics of the Weimar Republic -- remains practical in modern-day politics.

Never before in Germany's postwar history has the ruling, which was introduced to ensure the functionality of parliament, created such a democratic deficit. For the first time, two parties -- the AFD and the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP) -- fell narrowly short of the 5 percent hurdle. The result: More votes than ever before will remain unrepresented in parliament.

As a result, 6,855,044 citizens' votes have been lost, making it as if an entire state even larger than Lower Saxony had opted to sit out this election altogether. Put another way, 15.7 percent of votes will not be represented in parliament during this legislative period -- that's a parliamentary group the size of the FDP at its most popular.

"From a democratic perspective, this is alarming," says the Green Party's Hans-Christian Ströbele, adding that he has always been opposed to the 5 percent hurdle. Many experts on the German electoral system agree that it is unconstitutional for millions of votes to be disregarded. The proportional representation system, which was introduced in 1952, is supposed to guarantee that every vote is equally weighted. If millions of votes simply fall by the wayside, they believe, this egalitarian principle is violated.

The fact that the 5 percent hurdle has remained in place for so long is partly due to the Constitutional Court's fear of "too much" democracy. Its concerns are linked to the fractured party politics of the Weimar Republic and its subsequent downfall, which ushered in the Nazi dictatorship in 1933.

After World War II, there was a strong consensus among Germany's mainstream political players that splinter parties should never again be able to inhibit the formation of a functioning government. The Constitutional Court decided in favor of a 5 percent hurdle, concluding that the democratic deficit created through a potential loss of votes was a small price to pay for democratic stability. The court concluded that a lack of admission control "could result in a failure to form large political parties, which would instead break apart into a vast number of non-functioning splinter groups."

Outdate Worries?

According to Ströbele, however, these concerns are "vastly outdated." Some constitutional experts agree that the court's fears are obsolete and do not warrant the exclusion of such a large number of voters. Dieter Grimm, a former judge and professor of law, says that since Germany has enjoyed "decades of great political stability," the danger of fractured party politics is relatively small.

Grimm also argues that the exclusion of "pesky competitors" could lead to complacency among the estalished political players. "Considering that the most important mobilizing factor in the political system is competition, a lowering of the admission hurdle could promote the openness among political parties that our constitution calls for," he says.

Many experts agree that the 5 percent hurdle is too high. Hanover-based law professor Hans-Peter Schneider, for example, considers "a lowering of the admission requirement to 4 percent constitutionally viable." Ströbele, meanwhile, is making more drastic demands, saying that a 2 or 3 percent hurdle is required to avoid a democratic deficit.

Calls for Reform

An analysis of election results shows that the majority of splinter groups remain far below the 5 percent hurdle. Of the 30 parties that competed in last month's election, 20 secured significantly less than 1 percent of the vote. A 2 percent threshold, therefore, would have enabled no more than three additional parties -- the AFD, the FDP and the Internet activist Pirate Party -- to win seats in parliament.

In Lucke's view, safety precautions such as the 5 percent hurdle represent an excessive and unconstitutional encroachment on voter rights. He seems to have a point. For example, Speyer-based party critic and constitutional expert Hans Herbert von Arnim thinks there are other, more moderate ways of ensuring the functionality of parliament. Indeed, Constitutional Court judges have acknowledged the fact that changes in the political landscape need to be continually evaluated, and that electoral law should -- if needed -- be adapted to reflect them.

In response to a complaint Armin filed in 2011, the Constitutional Court decided to lift the 5 percent hurdle required to enter the European Parliament after concluding that the danger of fractured party politics did not exist at the European level.

Not the Right Time?

Unlike the Bundestag, the European Parliament is not required to form a government that has to maintain a permanent majority. But are democratic conditions in Berlin really so much more complicated than in Brussels? The German government cannot be removed by parliament, as was the case during the Weimar Republic. Under the current system, the chancellor remains in place until a majority in the Bundestag agrees on a successor.

Despite the criticism, the desire for political stability in Berlin is greater than ever. Heidelberg-based political scientist Dieter Nohlen, an influential election expert, pointedly warns that a change to the parliamentary admission hurdle is not advisable at a time like now, when "solutions for urgent political problems are needed and a grand coalition provides the best conditions," referring to a government made up of the center-right Christian Democrats and the center-left Social Democrats, the two largest parties in Germany.

Indeed, the greater the number of parties represented in parliament, the harder it is to reach consensus. And it only gets harder the smaller those parties are -- and the more they dig their heels in on what is often the only point on their platform.

Minimizing Drawbacks

This is the price that comes with Germany's proportional representation system, which is supposed to represent as many political movements as possible in proportion to their popularity. The system can be dangerous, though: If every interest group, no matter how narrow or self-centered its agenda, were to be represented in parliament, there would not be a force strong enough to assume responsibility for the common good.

It seems that if Germany doesn't want to replace its proportional system with a majoritarian one, the 5 percent hurdle is the lesser of two evils. There should, however, be regulations to ensure that the loss of votes is kept to a minimum. For years now, Chemnitz-based professor of politics Eckhard Jesse has been advocating the introduction of an "additional vote" (Nebenstimme) that would allow voters to choose an alternative party in the event that their first choice doesn't make it into parliament.

Such a ruling would eliminite the state of affairs that voters -- especially supporters of extremist parties -- find so unfair. As things stand, when their chosen party fails to win seats in parliament, other parties -- in some cases those whose policies they strongly oppose -- often benefit. "That is doubly unfair," says Armin, the political pundit.

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« Reply #9133 on: Oct 05, 2013, 06:59 AM »

October 3, 2013

Armenian Church, Survivor of the Ages, Faces Modern Hurdles


ECHMIADZIN, Armenia — In this ancient city, tucked in a valley that has witnessed the rise and fall of empires, King Tiridates III converted to Christianity and declared Armenia to be the world’s first Christian state. The year was 301, more than a decade before the Emperor Constantine put Rome on a similar path.

Since then, the Armenian Apostolic Church, which still has its main cathedral here, has survived conquest and dispersion, genocide, and government-imposed atheism during the years Armenia was part of the Soviet Union. It also endured centuries of internal rancor, including a split in 1441 that led to the establishment of a rival leadership now based in Lebanon.

As church leaders gathered here last week for a rare bishops’ conference, they seemed to be ready to put at least some of those differences aside as they confronted a new set of challenges: entrenched secularism at home, assimilation of followers in the large Armenian diaspora abroad and general disaffection with organized religion.

“The church is in dire need of renewal,” Catholicos Aram I, the leader of the Lebanon-based faction of the church, said in an interview as he strolled across the campus here of the Mother See. “And by renewal, I mean the church has to be responsive to the needs and expectations of the people.”

He added, “The church has to respond to the challenges of the present-day world.”

Exactly how the church plans to do that remains elusive, however, and some skeptics said the split within the church leadership remained as divisive as ever, while the number of people regularly attending church has dwindled.

The church has more than nine million adherents worldwide, most outside Armenia. Statistics show that more than 98 percent of Armenians consider themselves Christians, but only 8 percent said they attended services at least once a week — data that suggest the church is still struggling to overcome the legacy of forced atheism 23 years after Armenian independence.

There have also been a number of recent controversies, including the resignation of the head of the church in France, Archbishop Norvan Zakarian, in a dispute over demands by the church leadership to reinstate a priest facing criminal assault charges.

“The whole situation of the division of the Armenian church is not resolved,” said one Western-based archbishop who asked not to be identified to avoid exacerbating tensions. “Yes, this is a conclave, but the church is not unified.”

Aram acknowledged that he claimed the same basic title as Catholicos Karekin II, the church leader based in Echmiadzin, who also has the added designation of supreme patriarch of all Armenians. Still, Aram denied any fissure.

“We don’t have any division in the Armenian church,” he said. “We are one church. We are one people. We are one nation. We are one mission. We have two Catholicoi, and we are rich — this is an expression of the richness of the church.”

For his part, Karekin told his audience of 62 bishops in black hoods and robes with purple accents, who had come from as far away as Australia and Latin America, that it was time to come together.

“All these controversies and administrative divisions did not allow carrying out unified reforms,” Karekin said. “We are an entire century behind the opportunity to modernize the church.”

He added, “The time has come to consolidate all forces.”

To minimize the prospect of sharp disagreements at the conference, a tight agenda was adopted: creating universal practices for baptisms and confirmations, discussing the canonization of victims of the 1915 Armenian genocide in recognition of the 100th anniversary, and planning another conference next year.

In an apparent bid to generate positive publicity around the bishops’ conference, church officials billed it as the first synod of its kind in nearly 600 years — a bit of snappy marketing that was widely repeated by the Armenian news media and in a speech by President Serzh Sargsyan during the opening ceremony.

“Now, we are witnessing the epoch-making event indeed,” Mr. Sargsyan said. “For centuries, due to different circumstances, and particularly in the last six centuries, it was not possible to invite a bishops’ synod of the Armenian Church.”

Experts, however, said that was not quite true.

At the event nearly 600 years ago, a conclave in Echmiadzin in 1441, church leaders decided to move the headquarters back here from Sis, in what is now Turkey, where the Armenian kingdom of Cilicia had been conquered by Egyptian Mamluks.

A new leader, Kirako Virapetsy, was elected to replace Catholicos Gregory IX, who was ill and remained in Sis. But when Gregory died, officials in Sis elected their own replacement.

“The year 1441 is being mentioned here and there as if to give it more importance and significance,” said Hratch Tchilingirian, an expert on the church who teaches at Oxford University’s Oriental Institute.

Mr. Tchilingirian said a bishops’ synod was held here in 1969. Armenian clerics from the United States attended, even though it was during the cold war, while those from Lebanon refused to attend.

He said that last week’s agenda seemed to ignore tough issues in favor of safe topics. For example, before the 75th anniversary of the genocide, both branches of the church issued statements about canonizing victims.

Archbishop Aris Shirvanian, the director of ecumenical and foreign relations at the Armenian Apostolic Patriarchate of Jerusalem, said that reaching an agreement to canonize victims — the first saints designated by the church since the 1500s — was a top priority.

“We, the bishops and archbishops living today, are descendants of Armenian genocide,” Archbishop Shirvanian said.

“All of us are survivors. That’s the driving spirit behind this meeting.”

Whatever the agenda, Echmiadzin, which is also called by its original name, Vagharshapat, remains at the center of Armenian spiritual life.

It is about 12 miles west of the capital, Yerevan, between the biblical mountains of Ararat and Aragats. Priests in black robes can often be seen strolling through downtown.

The conversion of Tiridates III in 301, a decade before the Roman emperor Constantine embraced Christianity, is credited to St. Gregory the Illuminator, the patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Living in Vagharshapat, the capital of Armenia at the time, Gregory reportedly had a vision. As the faithful tell it, the skies parted and a ray of light blazed down, surrounding a group of angels and a man — Jesus — who struck the ground with a golden hammer and made an altar-shaped structure appear amid a column of fire with a cross shining above it.

It was on that spot that Gregory oversaw construction of the Cathedral of Echmiadzin — meaning, “Jesus Christ, the only begotten, descended.”

Noah Sneider contributed reporting.

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« Reply #9134 on: Oct 05, 2013, 07:09 AM »

The Lede - The New York Times News Blog
October 3, 2013, 5:09 pm

Iran Frees Another Reformer, but Netanyahu Warns Iranians, in Persian, Not to Be ‘Dupes’


As Iran released another political prisoner on Thursday, Israel’s prime minister slipped into Persian to suggest that only “sadeloh,” or “dupes,” would be fooled by recent diplomatic overtures from the clerical government in Tehran.

The release of the dissident journalist Isa Saharkhiz was confirmed to The Lede by his son Mehdi, a graphic designer and blogger based in New Jersey who later posted an image of his father at home on Twitter.

Before his arrest in 2009, during street protests over the disputed presidential election, Mr. Saharkhiz had worked on the campaign of a leading opposition candidate, Mehdi Karroubi. A decade earlier, he had served in the reformist administration of President Mohammad Khatami, overseeing a brief flowering of independent newspapers.

The subsequent suppression of those publications by hardliners encouraged young reformists to turn instead to the Internet to express themselves and to organize. The younger Mr. Saharkhiz, who blogs as OnlyMehdi, played an important role in disseminating video of the 2009 protests on YouTube.

Speaking on Thursday to BBC Persian, a satellite news channel widely viewed inside Iran, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pointed to the most indelible video of the brutal crackdown on dissent in 2009 as evidence that Iran’s people were being held hostage by an authoritarian government.

“The issue is this regime’s control of Iran, its aggressive designs, the brutalization of its own people, its own people,” he said. “We don’t forget. I saw Neda on the sidewalk, I saw her choking in her own blood. I saw the desire of the Iranian people to have real freedom, a real life. I know that it’s there.”

Unlike President Obama, who said in his address to the United Nations General Assembly last week that the United States was “not seeking regime change” in Iran, Mr. Netanyahu argued in his appeal to the Iranian people that they would never be free of the clerical theocracy if it armed itself with nuclear weapons.

In another part of the interview posted online by his office, Mr. Netanyahu continued to argue that Iran was bluffing over the ultimate aim of its nuclear program, slipping into Persian to cast the Iranian leadership’s “harfe pooch,” or “empty words,” as convincing only to “sadeloh,” or “dupes.”

Mr. Netanyahu spoke hours after Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters that he “did not interpret Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comments” on Iran this week “as suggesting that we are being played, somehow, for suckers. I understood it to be a warning: Don’t be played.”

Mr. Netanyahu heaped scorn on what he called a duplicitous charm offensive by Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, during his address to the United Nations on Tuesday. He amplified those comments in an interview with NBC News in which he said: “Everybody knows that Iran wants to destroy Israel and that it’s building, trying to build atomic bombs for that purpose. You don’t want to be in a position where this messianic, apocalyptic, radical regime that has these wild ambitions but nice spokesmen gets away with building the weapons of mass death.”

Later in the interview, Mr. Netanyahu dismissed the election that brought Mr. Rouhani to the presidency this year and reiterated his conviction that ultimate authority in Iran rests with a supreme leader who is a dangerous religious fanatic.

“If they had a free go, are you kidding, they’d toss out this regime, they’d go in blue jeans,” the Israeli prime minister said. “I mean these people, the Iranian people, the majority of them are actually pro-Western. But they don’t have that. They’re governed not by Rouhani. They’re governed by Ayatollah Khamenei. He heads a cult. That cult is wild in its ambitions and its aggression.”


October 4, 2013

Netanyahu Plans to Meet With European Leaders on Iranian Nuclear Talks


JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said Friday that he would meet with European leaders next week in hopes of influencing the negotiations scheduled to begin Oct. 15 over Iran’s nuclear program, part of what he described as a “comprehensive international struggle.”

“I will emphasize the fact that the sanctions on Iran can achieve the desired result if they are continued,” Mr. Netanyahu said upon returning to Israel from a five-day visit to the United States. “The world must not be tempted by the Iranian stratagem into easing sanctions as long as the Iranians do not dismantle their military nuclear program.”

Mr. Netanyahu spent the last three days in an intense media blitz following a speech at the United Nations on Tuesday in which he tried to unmask what he has repeatedly denounced as a “charm offensive” by the new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani. Mr. Rouhani has agreed to engage in talks with the United States and other Western powers over Iran’s nuclear program, which he insists is solely for civilian purposes. But he wants the economic sanctions against his country relaxed and some uranium enrichment capabilities maintained, conditions that Mr. Netanyahu virulently opposes.

In a series of interviews with major American broadcasters, Mr. Netanyahu referred to Iran as a cult and called for the complete dismantling of its nuclear facilities. He said he was in discussions with President Obama about what kind of agreement with Tehran might be acceptable.

“What we’re talking about right now is, I think, what are meaningful actions that will do the job,” Mr. Netanyahu told Charlie Rose of CBS News. When Mr. Rose asked whether the two leaders were in agreement, Mr. Netanyahu said, “Well, we’re talking about that.”

Mr. Netanyahu was also interviewed by a Persian-language news outlet for the first time on Thursday. In an interview with the BBC’s Persian service, he said, “We are not suckers,” using the Persian word for “suckers.” He added that he would welcome an agreement but not a fake one — using the Persian word for “fake,” according to a statement from his office.

Upon landing in Israel, the prime minister’s spokesman, Mark Regev, also took issue with an article published in the Friday editions of The New York Times that said Mr. Obama, fearing that Mr. Netanyahu was on the verge of carrying out an airstrike against Iran’s nuclear plants a year ago, sent two emissaries here to stop him.

“The story is completely untrue,” Mr. Regev said. “No such emissaries were sent with that message. The American position to us is clear and has always been clear, that Israel has the right to defend itself by itself against threats.”

Mr. Regev declined to answer questions about how close Mr. Netanyahu came last year to attacking Iran, and acknowledged that the prime minister had no way of knowing for sure what agenda Mr. Obama or members of his administration had for the visits.

“I’m not commenting on what the prime minister was doing or not doing, thinking or not thinking,” he said. “I can’t tell you what the Americans were thinking. I can tell you what messages were delivered, and it’s not true.”

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