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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1078440 times)
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« Reply #9150 on: Oct 06, 2013, 06:31 AM »

Iran's supreme leader questions Hassan Rouhani's diplomacy with US

Ayatollah Khamenei welcomes new policy of outreach with west, but said some aspects of New York trip were 'not appropriate'

Shane Hickey and agencies, Saturday 5 October 2013 15.33 BST   

The supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has told the country's president said that some of his diplomatic moves made towards the United States were "not appropriate", but reiterated his support for the new policy of outreach to the west.

President Hassan Rouhani was greeted with both cheers and eggs when he returned to Tehran from New York, where he had a 15-minute phone conversation with US president Barack Obama – a landmark development in thawing relations between the two countries.

Hardliners within Iran, including commanders in the revolutionary guard, said the president went too far in reaching out to the US.

Commenting on his website, the ayatollah said the US was "untrustworthy". "We support the government's diplomatic moves including the New York trip because we have faith [in them]," he said.

"But some of what happened in the New York trip was not appropriate. We are sceptical of Americans and have no trust in them at all. The American government is untrustworthy, arrogant, illogical and a promise-breaker. It's a government captured by the international Zionism network."

The move by the president has been met with support by Iranian legislators although factions have become wary at the pace of developments.

The revolutionary guard's chief commander, Gen Mohammad Ali Jafari, praised Rouhani recently but called the phone call a "tactical mistake" and said he should have avoided it.

"The respected president, who adopted a powerful and appropriate position in the trip … would have been better off avoiding the telephone conversation with Obama in the same way he didn't give time for a meeting with Obama and left such measures until after practical, verifiable steps by the US government and a test of their goodwill," he said in an interview earlier this week.

The revolutionary guard is one of the few institutions capable of standing up to president if it believes he is going too far and too fast.

Iran is at loggerheads with the US over its disputed nuclear program, which the west says is intent on developing weapons technology. Iran says its program is for peaceful purposes.


Obama says Iran a year away from nuclear bomb

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, October 5, 2013 14:14 EDT

US President Barack Obama said in an interview released Saturday that Iran was “a year or more away” from getting a nuclear bomb, in a clear sign of discord with Israel.

Obama also told the Associated Press that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had staked his credibility on dialogue and it was up to the United States to see if he had the political weight to follow through.

The president’s timetable contrasts with that of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who has warned that Iran has been building faster centrifuges to enrich uranium which would allow it to jump across an Israeli red line within “weeks.”

Obama, who spoke to Rouhani in a historic telephone call last week, and then hosted Netanyahu at the White House on Monday, also said it remained to be seen if the Iranian president could follow through on his initiative.

“He is not the only decision maker he is not even the ultimate decision maker,” Obama told the AP.

The president was referring to the fact that final authority on the nuclear issue in Iran rests with Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Earlier, Khamenei offered qualified backing to Rouhani’s visit to the UN last week but criticized some aspects of his performance — a possible reference to the phone call with Obama.

“We support the diplomatic initiative of the government and attach importance to its activities in this trip,” Khamenei told military commanders and graduating cadets in remarks reported by his website,

However, he added — without elaborating — that “some of what happened in the New York trip was not appropriate… although we trust in our officials.”

The September 27 telephone conversation, the first diplomatic contact between Iranian and US presidents, broke 34 years of icy relations between Washington and Tehran since its 1979 Islamic revolution.

Netanyahu warned in a speech to the UN this week that Israel would use military action to act alone to defend itself if necessary against Iran’s nuclear program.

But it appears highly unlikely Israel could take any action while nuclear talks involving the United States and world powers with Iran are taking place.

Obama has said Washington must “test” Iran’s offer of serious talks on its nuclear program.

The next round of talks takes place in Geneva later this month.

Iran denies its nuclear program is meant to produce weapons. Obama says the Islamic Republic must verifiably prove its intentions are “peaceful” in any deal that would ease US sanctions on Tehran.

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« Last Edit: Oct 06, 2013, 07:12 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #9151 on: Oct 06, 2013, 07:10 AM »

US special forces raids target Islamist militants in Libya and Somalia

Senior al-Qaida commander accused of orchestrating 1998 US embassy bombings is captured in Tripoli

Kevin Rawlinson, Sunday 6 October 2013 11.19 BST    

US special forces have carried out raids in Libya and Somalia targeting Islamist militants.

The US captured a senior al-Qaida member in Tripoli and launched a dawn raid on the southern Somali hideout of one of the heads of al-Shabaab, the group behind the Kenyan mall attack, but its forces were forced to withdraw, the Pentagon said.

US officials confirmed that forces operating in Libya had managed to capture Abu Anas al-Liby, accused of orchestrating the 1998 bombings of the United States embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. His apprehension ended a 15-year manhunt.

In a simultaneous raid, a navy Seal team attacked a compound in the southern Somalian coastal town of Baware, believed to be a staging post for foreign operations by al-Shabaab. They were forced to withdraw from the subsequent gun battle before they could confirm whether their unnamed target – thought to be one of the group's senior figures – had been killed.

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, confirmed the capture of the al-Qaida militant, born Nazih al-Ragye, and said: "Those members of al-Qaida and other terrorist organisations literally can run but they can't hide."

Speaking on Sunday in Indonesia, before an Asia-Pacific summit, he added: "We hope this makes clear that the United States of America will never stop in its effort to hold those accountable who conduct acts of terror. We will continue to try to bring people to justice in an appropriate way with hopes that ultimately these kinds of activities against everybody in the world will stop."

Liby, a Libyan believed to be 49, was indicted in New York in 2000 for his alleged role in the bombings two years earlier, which killed 224 people. The FBI had a $5m (£3.1m) bounty on his head under the US state department's Rewards for Justice programme.

"As the result of a US counter-terrorism operation, Abu Anas al-Liby is currently lawfully detained by the US military in a secure location outside of Libya," the Pentagon spokesman George Little said.

According to the Associated Press, witnesses and Libyan militant sources said the raid in Tripoli followed morning prayers. "As I was opening my house door, I saw a group of cars coming quickly from the direction of the house where Ragye lives. I was shocked by this movement in the early morning," said one of his neighbours, who did not give his name. "They kidnapped him. We do not know who they are."

The agency said two Islamist sources had confirmed the details and Liby's brother Nabih had said three vehicles full of armed men had approached Liby's home and surrounded him as he parked his car. He claimed the men smashed Liby's window, seized his gun and sped away with him.

The US said it had informed the Libyan government and received its support in the operation. But the Libyan administration denied this, saying it had never helped US forces in the country.

The Pentagon confirmed US military personnel had been involved in an operation against what it called "a known al-Shabaab terrorist" in Somalia. Local people in Barawe and Somali security officials said troops came ashore from the Indian Ocean to attack a house near the shore used by al-Shabaab fighters.

The Associated Press quoted a US security source as saying the Somali raid was carried out by members of the same navy Seal team that killed the al-Qaida founder Osama bin Laden. The senior US military official said the team had encountered fierce resistance and, after a 15- to 20-minute gun battle, the unit leader had decided to abort the mission and they swam away.

The reports followed claims by al-Shabaab that a raid was carried out involving Turkish special forces and the UK's SAS, with a member of the latter having been killed. These claims were denied by the UK.

An al-Shabaab fighter named by the AP as Abu Mohamed said the US forces had attacked a two-storey beachside house and battled their way inside. The raiders are not thought to have managed to find their target, referred to as "high value".

In Somalia, a resident of Barawe who gave his name as Mohamed Bile said militants had closed down the town in the hours after the assault, and all traffic and movements had been restricted. Militants were carrying out house-to-house searches, probably to find evidence that a spy had given intelligence to a foreign power used to launch the attack, he said.

"We woke up to find al-Shabaab fighters had sealed off the area and their hospital is also inaccessible," Bile told the Associated Press. "The town is in a tense mood."

In September 2009 a daylight commando raid in Barawe killed six people, including Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, one of the most-wanted al-Qaida operatives in the region and an alleged plotter in the 1998 embassy bombings.

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« Reply #9152 on: Oct 06, 2013, 07:17 AM »

Bahrain accuses Shiite opposition leader of inciting terrorism

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, October 5, 2013 17:00 EDT

AFP – Bahrain’s general prosecutor on Saturday said he had referred prominent Shiite opposition ex-MP Khalil Marzooq to court on charges of “inciting terrorist crimes”.

Marzooq, a senior figure in the main Al-Wefaq opposition formation who was arrested on September 17, also faces charges of “promoting acts that amount to terrorist crimes”, Abdulrahman al-Sayyed said in a statement.

The prosecutor also accused Marzooq of using his position in Al-Wefaq, a legal association, to “call for crimes that are considered terror acts under the law,” the statement said.

The prosecutor confronted Marzooq with his public speeches in which he allegedly supported the “principles of terror elements… especially the terrorist group named the February 14 Coalition, which he openly supported,” the statement said.

It said that Marzooq had raised the flag of the clandestine group at a public rally after it was handed to him by a masked man.

Last Sunday a court sentenced 50 Shiites including a top Iraqi cleric, to up to 15 years in jail for forming the February 14 Coalition, which is blamed for most of the confrontations between security forces and members of the Shiite majority.

Marzooq was deputy speaker in the 40-member parliament of the Sunni-ruled monarchy before 18 MPs from the influential Al-Wefaq walked out in February 2011 in protest over violence against demonstrators.

At least 89 people have been killed in Bahrain since Arab Spring-inspired pro-democracy protests erupted in February 2011, according to the International Federation for Human Rights.

Bahrain, a strategic archipelago just across the Gulf from Iran, is the home base of the US Fifth Fleet and Washington is a long-standing ally of the ruling Al-Khalifa dynasty.

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« Reply #9153 on: Oct 06, 2013, 07:20 AM »

October 5, 2013

As Syrian Refugees Develop Roots, Jordan Grows Wary


MAFRAQ, Jordan — For Jordan, a small desert nation that is one of the world’s driest, the recent home improvement trends at its biggest camp for Syrian refugees may prove particularly unsettling.

“This helps us forget the war,” said Dalal al-Mansour, 35, smiling at her children who were splashing around inside the four-level family fountain one recent afternoon.

With no end to the 30-month-old war back home, some Syrian refugees are seemingly settling in for the long haul by recreating fixtures of their past domestic lives: paved courtyards with decorative water fountains. One man even built a swimming pool in his courtyard.

That growing look of permanence is deeply unsettling to Jordan, which over the decades has weathered large-scale migrations of refugees, among them Iraqis and Palestinians, as well as the accompanying, existential threats to its fragile demographic balance.

The latest arrivals, nearly 600,000 Syrians, have weighed heavily even as Jordan’s importance to the United States as an Arab ally in the Middle East has increased with Egypt’s instability. They are among the roughly two million Syrians who have fled their country, most of them this year, and registered as refugees in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Hundreds of thousands more are believed to be living in the region illegally.

Like previous generations of refugees, the Syrians are quickly developing ties to their surrounding areas, increasing fears that they will stay and that their huge numbers will cause a sudden, and potentially destabilizing, redrawing of the demographic map.

Their presence presents a particular challenge to Jordan’s Hashemite monarchy, which was installed by the British to rule this new country after the breakup of the Ottoman Empire in World War I.

Like his predecessors, King Abdullah II depends on the support of the land’s original inhabitants, Bedouin tribes known as the East Bankers. Pampered politically, the East Bankers have been losing their influence to the Palestinian-Jordanians who came to Jordan as refugees in 1948 and 1967, and risk further losses if the Syrians stay. Tens of thousands of Iraqi refugees who came to Jordan in the past decade have also stayed.

In a country of only six million, the long-term presence of 600,000 Syrians — the Jordanian government says there are actually hundreds of thousands more — could further decrease the percentage of East Bankers. “If the Syrians stay, we will be destroyed,” said Raad al-Nisah, 30, who owns a small coffee stand in Marka, a neighborhood in Amman, the capital. “We will become minorities and guests in our own nation.”

Mr. Nisah said he grew up in Marka, where his parents still live. But he was unable to find an apartment there when he got married last year and was forced to move farther away. As in many other areas with a lot of Syrian refugees, rents have doubled.

Ibrahim Saif, the minister of planning and international cooperation, said the presence of the Syrians in Jordan was tantamount to “the United States absorbing the entire population of Canada.” Jordan has said the cost of hosting the refugees is $1 billion a year.

Mr. Saif said that the “backlash, animosity and all kind of negative feelings emerging” toward the Syrian refugees was a source of worry for the government. While providing assistance, he said, it was necessary to ensure that the refugee population remained a “temporary phenomenon.”

“You try to restrict their access to the labor market,” he said. “You try to restrict their access to areas that could enhance sustainability. You provide the minimum education, health and food, but not anything further. You don’t want to enhance their engagement with the rest of the society.”

He added: “It’s a very delicate balance. But you also want them to be isolated while they’re in your premises, in your country, and this is what we’re trying to do.”

Trying, but with great difficulty — particularly in Mafraq, the center of the refugee crisis. The Zaatari camp is about 10 miles east of here, but the distance shrinks by the day as the ties between the city and the camp increase. With the Syrians’ arrival since the start of the war, the population of this town has doubled to 250,000. “The situation is reaching a breaking point,” said Abdullah al-Khattab, the governor of Mafraq Province, which includes the city and the camp.

Inside his office, he rattled off the most common complaints: Municipalities are overwhelmed, with streets littered and sewers clogged. Rents have doubled, but so have the prices for residential garbage pickups and water delivery.

With the population increase, business was booming in Mafraq’s commercial area, but low-skilled Jordanians were losing their jobs to Syrians, “who have a reputation for being good and talented workers, and are willing to work for less,” Mr. Khattab said. Registered Syrian refugees also receive monthly cash allowances and food coupons from the United Nations, a source of envy for poor Jordanians.

At the Rabee Bint al-Maouth elementary and middle school here, about 1,000 Syrian children were enrolled in a new afternoon shift. Many had missed years of schooling because of the war. Many were traumatized. When a military exercise was held recently at a base near here, children thought that a war had started.

The boys act up and are violent, said Samiha Hijleh, the principal. They have broken classroom chairs, torn down the few trees in the schoolyard and smashed water pipes.

“We don’t know what to do,” Ms. Hijleh said in the schoolyard, where the additional trash produced by the new students was being burned inside three large bins. The school could not afford the extra garbage pickup.

Like the other Palestinian camps in Jordan, the Schneller camp in Amman has long melded with the area surrounding it. Moussa Youssef, 42, who grew up there after his parents arrived in 1967, said that, in his lifetime, tents gave way to shacks made of wood and corrugated zinc, then to sturdier homes of concrete and stone, and finally now to the sometimes four-story structures occupied by several generations.

No one is suggesting that the Syrians will stay permanently in Jordan. But signs that their stay could become an extended one, most clearly visible inside the United Nations’ 14-month-old Zaatari camp, strike a deep chord in Jordan.

On the main commercial strip, nicknamed the Champs-Élysées, the original tent shops have been replaced by stores made of corrugated zinc and concrete blocks. Trade between Zaatari and the outside, including the smuggling of goods, is flourishing despite the trenches and mounds that the United Nations has dug along the camp’s perimeter.

“Everything happens at triple speed in Zaatari,” said Jonathan Campbell, the emergency coordinator for the Syrian refugees in Jordan at the United Nations World Food Program. “We don’t look at Zaatari as a camp anymore, but as a municipality or town. I don’t believe the Syrians want to stay. But I know that Jordan is suspicious because every wave of refugees in the past has never left.”

With 120,000 refugees, Zaatari is already the fourth-largest community in Jordan. Each of the camp’s 12 sections is headed by local leaders, many of whom do not hesitate to exercise their influence through violence.

In the camp’s oldest section, around the Champs-Élysées, Mohammad al-Hariri, 48, a former instructor of air-conditioner maintenance in the Syrian city of Dara’a, had emerged as a leader. Better known as Abu Hussein, he welcomed guests inside a trailer reserved for entertaining.

“Tea, coffee? Whiskey, hashish or beer?” he said, with a twinkle in his eyes. “Just checking.”

Abu Hussein lamented the difficulty of maintaining order in his area. The refugees had come from different villages, he explained, though a sense of community was slowly taking shape. He waved away suggestions about his leadership, finally allowing that he sometimes helped settle disputes.

Ms. Mansour, the woman with the four-tier fountain, has been in Zaatari for one year. The nearly $250 her husband spent on the fountain was worth it, she said. In the evenings, the couple sat in the courtyard with their five children, turned off the lights and listened to Umm Kulthum, a famed Egyptian singer. “Everyone is jealous of my home,” she said.

But Mazen al-Hraki, 31, was not so lucky. He spent one month and $1,400 to have a small, concrete swimming pool built in his compound, before the authorities forced him to close it last month, citing health risks, not to mention the need to conserve water.

“We were able to enjoy it for only four days,” Mr. Hraki said. “I’m hoping a storm will come and tear it apart.”

For Jordan’s monarchy, which has faced popular protests over promised overhauls since the Arab Spring revolts, the refugee crisis has presented a challenge.

With the fears of its core constituents, the East Bankers, that they risk losing their influence to Palestinian-Jordanians, Jordan has rejected Syrian refugees of Palestinian origin, sometimes turning them back at the border, according to international humanitarian organizations. Many of those who have made it into Jordan have been kept in a facility in a northern town called Cyber City.

Jordan has remained vague about its policy toward refugees of Palestinian origin. Mr. Saif, the planning minister, said it was a “sensitive issue,” adding, “We don’t want really any additional demographic pressure on the country.”

The East Bankers have been the hardest hit as the influx of Syrian refugees has led to higher rents. Here in Mafraq, protests were held early this year after many East Bank families became homeless because of higher rents. A group called the Mafraq Youth Movement bought United Nations tents from dealers inside the Zaatari camp and housed about 20 Jordanian families in a park in the middle of the city. They called it “Camp for Displaced Jordanians.”

One of the group’s leaders, Ahmad al-Amoush, spoke inside his organization’s storefront office. “We’re not against the Syrian refugees, but we want them kept inside the camps,” he said, adding that, if they exceeded capacity, “We should build more camps.”

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« Reply #9154 on: Oct 06, 2013, 07:24 AM »

Libya's coast is often the end of a painful road to despair

Migrants chasing a better life in Europe endure dangerous treks before they can hope for place on a boat

Chris Stephen   
The Observer, Sunday 6 October 2013   

The migration road from Africa to Europe's promised land has ended for one east African woman on a patch of concrete in a market in the Libyan capital, Tripoli. Seated on a cushion, dressed in a black shawl, she sells mattresses in the baking heat amid stalls offering everything from mobile phones and bathroom fittings to electric stun guns and firearms.

She won't give her name, or the country she comes from, but knows where she wants to go: Italy. "My three children are there already," she says. "But I can't find a boat."

Libya's post-revolutionary chaos has made it the key route for migrants moving to Europe from a broad swath of Africa, stretching from Senegal in the west to Eritrea and Somalia in the east.

It is a precarious and dangerous route, taking them north through Niger, Chad and Sudan across a border that is there in name only in the midst of the Sahara. From there, they endure a 1,000-mile journey through bandit-infested territory to Libya's coast.

Those routes have now become battlegrounds for competing smuggling gangs, well armed from a country awash in weapons left over from the revolution that toppled Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Once they reach the Mediterranean, the lucky ones are shepherded to a beach rendezvous with a smuggling boat. Even then, there is a precarious trip to the island of Lampedusa, a trip that last week claimed the lives of at least 200 migrants off the Italian coast.

Many never get that far: like the mattress-seller, they are dumped in one of Libya's coastal cities and left to fend for themselves, often at the mercy of their smugglers.

"A combination of continued civil unrest, disrupted shipping lanes and European coastal patrols have resulted in trafficked persons remaining in Libya," says the US state department's Trafficking in Persons report. "These networks use a variety of techniques to hold people in conditions of forced labour and forced prostitution."

The mattress-seller makes a few pounds a day in the market, and counts herself among the lucky ones; in contrast, thousands more have been scooped up by the Libyan authorities and held in detention centres, which are packed to beyond their normal capacity.

In one centre in Zlitan, Amnesty International found migrants from Eritrea and Somalia who had been held in cells for six months without access to the centre's courtyard.

"They were in overcrowded cells without sunshine or access to fresh air," said Amnesty official Magda Mughrabi. "We have cases of women strip-searched by male guards; we've documented many cases in which the treatment amounts to torture."

Amnesty says Libya has yet to sign the UN convention on refugees, meaning it does not recognise genuine asylum applicants, instead holding them indefinitely as illegal immigrants.

The International Office for Migration, an intergovernmental organisation, said it could assist Libya. "This is a huge problem; what do you do with these people?" said IOM spokesman Chris Lom. "If the Libyans asked to help us build their migration capacity-building we would do it, but the Libyans would have to ask us." Immigrations gangs around Sabah are divided between often bitterly opposing Tuareg, Tobu and Arab tribes. They fight brutal battles for control of the smuggling routes. Under the regime of Gaddafi, border controls were tight, slowing the flow of immigrants. But since the revolution, those controls have lapsed. People and drugs are being smuggled into the country, while weapons are taken the other way.

The big concern for western diplomats is that jihadists are using the same routes to move between Libya, Algeria and Mali. The US has opened a drone base in Niger to carry out unmanned flights over the vast empty desert region to augment Libya's efforts.

Tripoli's government is itself overwhelmed with the problems of a country suffering political chaos, militia violence and fragmentation. It insists that it provides food and accommodation for all refugees.

This is scant comfort for the mattress-seller. She says she is aware of the perils of the sea journey to Europe but is determined to make it.

"I've been all around Libya, to Tobruk and Benghazi searching for a boat; reaching Italy is my dream."

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« Reply #9155 on: Oct 06, 2013, 07:33 AM »

October 5, 2013

Plan for Ridding Syria of Chemical Arms Includes Brute Force and Chemistry


WASHINGTON — The United States and its partners are planning a series of rapid steps to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons program, a strategy that is intended to guard against backsliding by President Bashar al-Assad and limit the time that international experts need to work in the country, according to senior American officials.

A major step is to be taken in early November, when equipment for producing chemicals and filling warheads and bombs with poison gas is to be destroyed by the Syrians under international supervision. That move can be carried out by equipment as simple as sledgehammers and bulldozers.


International monitors began the process of destroying that equipment on Sunday, The Associated Press reported  Sunday.

But a major centerpiece of the disarmament effort will be a mobile and highly sophisticated system developed by the Pentagon that will probably be set up outside Syria to neutralize large quantities of chemicals transported out of the country.

The system, known as the Field Deployable Hydrolysis System, is designed to convert chemical agents into compounds that cannot be used for military purposes by mixing them with water and other chemicals and then heating them.

The system, which the Pentagon says can be operated within 10 days of being shipped to a new location, would be used to neutralize the large quantities of “precursor” chemicals that could be used by the Syrian government to make sarin and other forms of poison gas and thus replenish its chemical weapons arsenal.

A senior State Department official said that the use of the mobile system would provide an “early demonstration” that steps were being taken to shrink Mr. Assad’s chemical program and would make it easier to meet the mid-2014 target for its elimination.

“It will reduce the possibility that the Syrian regime can change its mind,” added the State Department official, who asked not to be identified because the plan for eliminating Syria’s poison gas program was still being finalized. “It will greatly reduce the size and duration of the international footprint in Syria.”

The basic plan for eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons program was outlined last month in a framework agreement between American and Russian officials and has been refined in consultation with experts at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, an international watchdog group.

While the plan has been endorsed by the United Nations Security Council, its goal is unprecedented: the elimination of a nation’s chemical weapons, agents and equipment on an accelerated schedule in the middle of a civil war.

The Syrian government’s moves to consolidate its chemical arsenal at sites under its control and the fact that much of its program consists of precursor chemicals in bulk form will facilitate the disarmament effort, officials say.

International inspectors who recently arrived in Syria have generally had good cooperation with the Assad government. Still, the disarmament effort will depend heavily on the cooperation of the Syrian military and on Russia’s willingness to use its leverage with the Syrian authorities.

American officials say that while the Syrian government’s preliminary inventory of its chemical weapons program, presented last month to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, was more extensive than some experts anticipated, it was not complete.

An early test of the Assad government’s willingness to cooperate, American officials say, will come when the government submits a more formal declaration later this month.

“It is of the greatest importance that that document be complete,” the State Department official said.

Some experts believe that Mr. Assad may have calculated that there is little chance that his government could use chemical weapons on a large scale again without exposing itself to a military strike by the United States and that he can rehabilitate his international standing by cooperating with the disarmament effort.

But Amy E. Smithson, an expert on chemical weapons at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, cautioned that Mr. Assad did not have a “cooperative track record with international nuclear inspectors and may even now be busily hiding some of the man-portable chemical weapons.”

American officials say that Syria’s chemical weapons include sarin, VX, mustard gas and even ricin.

The basic strategy behind the international disarmament plan is to destroy chemical bombs and warheads where they are or at nearby locations in Syria.

This would limit the need to transport them, which could expose them to theft by some of the many groups fighting in Syria. Small warheads can be destroyed in special detonation chambers. Large weapons may need to be drained of their chemical agents before they are destroyed.

Equipment for producing chemical agents and filling munitions with poison gas is to be destroyed by early November.

To speed up the disarmament process, the large stores of precursor chemicals that can be used to make sarin and other chemical warfare agents are to be taken out of the country well before the middle of next year so they can be neutralized by the mobile systems, according to the current plans.

“We have a couple and can make some more,” the State Department official said, referring to the mobile systems.

American officials are expected to operate the systems unless it is decided to base them on Syrian territory.

They have not said where the mobile systems would be located, nor have they provided an estimate of how much the total disarmament effort will cost.

The officials did not say which country might be responsible for incinerating the residue from the neutralization of the precursor chemicals, which is one way of eliminating that waste.

The State Department official said that there were “good grounds” to think the target date for eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons program could be met.

“We take nothing for granted,” he added. “It could go off the rails in many ways, but we are planning for success under both ideal and difficult circumstances.”

Anne Barnard contributed reporting from Damascus, Syria.

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« Reply #9156 on: Oct 06, 2013, 07:34 AM »

October 5, 2013

Tunisians Agree to Talks


TUNIS — Tunisia’s feuding political parties have signed a road map to break their months-old impasse and put an end to the country’s drawn out democratic transition.

The parties of the Islamist-led ruling coalition and the largely secular opposition signed an agreement on Saturday to begin talks that would replace the current government in three or four weeks with a technocratic body to supervise elections.

The moderate Islamist Ennahda Party, which has run the country, had agreed to step down, but the deal calls for the elected assembly to finish writing a new constitution before elections.
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« Reply #9157 on: Oct 06, 2013, 07:36 AM »

Daughters of Chile's bloody past to clash over their country's future

Divided by ideology following Agusto Pinochet's coup, presidential candidates Michelle Bachelet and Evelyn Matthei are on opposite sides again

Jonathan Watts, Sunday 6 October 2013   

If a novelist had submitted the script for the coming presidential election in Chile, the plot might well have been dismissed as too perfectly symmetrical to be plausible.

The two leading candidates – Michelle Bachelet and Evelyn Matthei – are both daughters of air force generals. As girls, they played in the same military barracks and their fathers were friends. But when the country was ripped apart in the 1973 coup by General Augusto Pinochet, their families were on opposite sides of a murderous divide. One father was promoted to run the air force. The other was tortured and died in prison.

Forty years on, the two women are still on opposite sides, but this time in an election campaign that looks set to usher in major changes – of the constitution, abortion law, tax and education – in one of South America's most dynamic economies.

The timing could hardly be more sensitive. Chile has just marked the 40th anniversary of the CIA-backed coup with sombre memorials to the 3,000 victims who were killed or "disappeared" in its aftermath. And Santiago, for all its growing wealth and maturing democracy, is still frequently racked by student protests, workers' strikes, teargas and water cannon.

As much as the two leading candidates would like to look to the future, much of the coverage of the campaign has focused on their close but very different pasts. In part, this is because the race almost seems to be over before it has begun. Ahead of the vote on 17 November, polls suggest Bachelet – the Social Democrat candidate – has the support of 38% to 44% of voters, compared with 12% to 27% for her rightwing rival Matthei. But the throng of other candidates means she is not yet certain of a conclusive first-round victory.

The Observer met the former paediatrician who was Chile's first woman president from 2006-2010 at her party's campaign headquarters in a refurbished factory near the centre of Santiago. The mood among her staff is ebullient, though no one is taking victory for granted, least of all Bachelet. "It's like football, even if you are ahead the game is not won until the last minute," she tells me in fluent English. "I also need a parliament that will support me to make the structural changes that are needed."

Despite the parallels with Matthei, she would prefer the election to be seen as a contest between different visions of the future, but acknowledges that Chile still needs to face some of the unresolved issues from the past.

I ask whether she feels the air force, and in particular Matthei's father, Fernando, could have done more to help her father, Alberto. "If they hadn't seen us as enemies, probably they would never have tortured and violated our human rights as they did," she says. "The problem was that the national security policy meant people on the left were seen as enemies, not adversaries … Could they have done more? Yes. They could have not taken him into prison, not tortured him. But more than that, I want to know how we avoid repeating what happened in the past."

The two generals were close colleagues before the coup. But she emphasises that the two men had no more in common in their personalities and beliefs than their daughters.

"My father and her father were good friends, but they were very different. My dad spoke a lot and laughed a lot. I'm like him. Matthei is more German. She's quiet," Bachelet says. "They have tried to show us as clones, but we are not clones … My family really believed in social justice and were open-minded. That was seen as strange in the military of the time. That is why we have completely different visions."

The contrast became even more marked after the coup. Bachelet worked covertly as a courier for the underground socialist movement, concealing documents in her fridge. She was caught, placed in a secret jail, blindfolded and maltreated. Her father was jailed and tortured, eventually dying in detention of a stroke. "I'm from the victims' side, from the painful side," Bachelet says. "The best I can do is to contribute to the construction of a more democratic country."

Matthei's fortunes were very different. She was studying in London at the time of the coup and her father was promoted to commander-in-chief of the air force. Now the candidate for the rightwing Alianza coalition, she was not available for an interview. However, in the past she has said she should not be blamed for events that happened when she was young, and paid homage to her father as a man who raised himself up from humble beginnings. "My father could not go to college, there was no way to pay for it. He entered the air force, which he served to his best," she told supporters when she was chosen as the ruling party candidate.

While Bachelet pledges radical change, including free university education, Matthei is running on a promise of continuity – to keep delivering the growth seen under the current centre-right president, Sebastián Piñera. "Looking back now, we can be proud. No country in Latin America has progressed as far as Chile in reducing unemployment, raising wages, cutting poverty and almost eliminating extreme poverty. We are on our way to becoming a developed country," she said.

But her association with Pinochet looks likely to undermine a campaign already damaged by splits in the ruling camp and the last-minute withdrawal of its leading candidate because of depression. Matthei campaigned for Pinochet in the 1988 referendum that saw the general ousted from power and has appeared reluctant to criticise the excesses of his regime. This does not play well in an anniversary year when local television stations are filled with dramas and documentaries about the horrors of the dictatorship's death squads and "Caravan of Death".

Bachelet and Matthei are not the only candidates from families shaped by the coup. Marco Enríquez-Ominami, currently fourth in the polls, was born months before Pinochet grabbed power. His father, the Marxist guerrilla leader Miguel Enríquez, was executed a year later. His grandfathers – one of whom founded the Christian Democratic party – were tortured, and his half-brother and two uncles were killed. The future presidential candidate was taken by his mother to Cuba, where he spent 13 years in exile. Enríquez-Ominami says: "I was born into a nightmare and that's why I have the right to dream." Young and charismatic, the former film-maker is running for the Progressive party on a leftwing platform that promises free university education and a more liberal policy on abortion and same-sex marriage. "Bachelet lacks conviction," he says. "We may have a similar biography – her father was killed and so was mine. But her father was a general, mine was a revolutionary."

If she wins, Bachelet has vowed to push forward with greater equality for same-sex couples and a loosening of Chile's prohibition on abortion. She also wants a revision of the tax code and major constitutional reform to make it easier to pass legislation, to improve the rights of women and aboriginal groups, and to extend the presidential term limit (currently four years with no consecutive re-elections). This may ring alarm bells in some quarters.

Other leftwing leaders in Latin America, namely Hugo Chávez in Venezuela and Rafael Correa in Ecuador, reformed their countries' constitutions to allow their re-election, prompting concerns that they had become addicted to power. But Bachelet says there is "no chance" she will follow their example. "I'm not doing this for myself. When I was president last time, I had approval ratings of 75-80% and people asked me to change the constitution so I could extend my time in office. I told them 'over my dead body'," she says. "Only two leaders didn't do it: [Brazil's] Lula and me."

Chile is determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Bachelet knows this more than most. "There was a time when I had so much pain and rage. Things were polarised," she says. "All these years later, what I want to understand is what happened in my country and to ensure it does not happen again."

Additional reporting: Jonathan Franklin

* Michelle-Bachelet-waves-t-010.jpg (24.08 KB, 460x276 - viewed 75 times.)
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« Reply #9158 on: Oct 06, 2013, 07:40 AM »

October 5, 2013

Argentine Leader Has Head Injury


RIO DE JANEIRO — Argentina’s president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, has been told by doctors to take a month off after recently suffering a head injury, her spokesman said Saturday.

The spokesman, Alfredo Scoccimarro, said in a statement that Mrs. Kirchner, 60, had suffered a “skull trauma” on Aug. 12, and that doctors submitted Mrs. Kirchner to a neurological exam on Saturday after she presented symptoms of a migraine during a routine exam for an abnormal heart rhythm.

Mr. Scoccimarro did not provide more details about the injury, but said that doctors on Saturday had diagnosed a “chronic subdural collection,” which may refer to a collection of blood between the surface of the brain and the dura, the brain’s outermost covering.

If Mrs. Kirchner follows her doctors’ advice, the vice president, Amado Boudou, would temporarily assume presidential duties, as he did in early 2012, after Mrs. Kirchner was incorrectly given a diagnosis of thyroid cancer.

Mrs. Kirchner is currently serving her second term as Argentina’s president. She was preceded in office by her husband, Néstor Kirchner, who died in 2010 from a heart attack.
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« Reply #9159 on: Oct 06, 2013, 07:43 AM »

Netscape founder Marc Andreessen: ‘The world is going to see an explosion of countries in the years ahead’

By Pando Daily
Friday, October 4, 2013 13:20 EDT

Netscape founder and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen thinks the world is going to see an explosion of new countries in the years ahead.

“I think there is going to be double, triple, quadruple countries in the coming years,” Andreessen told Sarah Lacy at Thursday night’s PandoMonthly in San Francisco.

The cofounder of venture firm Andreessen Horowitz noted that the borders of today’s countries are in some cases arbitrary, pointing to Iraq, Syria, and much of Africa as artificial constructs. In the last few decades, the world has seen the emergence of a litany of new companies, and he sees no reason why that splintering is going to slow down.

“You’re going to get a much larger number of countries,” he said, before noting that the proliferation of nations could be a positive force in the long term, measured by a span of 100 years or more.

“The transition is going to be very painful,” he said, “but I think ultimately it’s going to be very healthy.”

He envisions a world in which neighboring countries choose to ally with each other and collaborate, rather than foment conflict. And, he thinks, software will play an important role in that cross-border cooperation.

“Notwithstanding what Malcolm Gladwell says, it is these technologies that is going to make that possible,” Andreessen said, pointing to the likes of Twitter and Facebook, which he said have accelerated the rise of social protest in recent years.

The president of Turkey has said that Twitter is insidious evil, which is an indication of the medium’s levity. Andreessen noted the irony that in Silicon Valley the criticism of Twitter is that it enables teenagers to tweet about what their cats ate for breakfast.

“The underlying point is you give people communications tools,” he noted, adding that one of his favorite books is “Orwell’s Revenge,” which is essentially a rewrite of “1984.” A central premise of the book is that people are given two-way screens in their homes so that everyone can broadcast.

 “When you give people the ability to learn and express themselves and organize, that is going to change a lot.”

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« Reply #9160 on: Oct 06, 2013, 08:15 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

October 4, 2013

Frankenstein Goes to Congress


Our question for today is: Why don’t the Republicans just throw in the towel? Really, this is not going well for anybody.

Lots of reasons. There’s Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, the General Patton of the government shutdown. And people like the Republican in the House who said he and his colleagues “have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.” Also, Ted Cruz.

“So many Democrats have invoked my name as the root of all evil in the world,” Cruz complained on the floor of the Senate Friday. This is true. Senate Republicans merely regard him as the root of most of the evil in the world.

But here’s my long-term theory. Over the past few years, Republicans have terrified their most fervent followers about Obamacare in order to disguise the fact that they no longer knew what to say about their old bête noir, entitlements. Now they can’t turn the temperature down.

Let’s review. Not so very long ago, worrying about entitlements was central to Republican identity. Then, they began to notice that the folks at their rallies looked like the audience for “Matlock” reruns. The base was aging, and didn’t want to change Social Security or Medicare. The base didn’t even want to be reminded that Social Security and Medicare were federal programs.

During the last Republican primary debates, Gov. Rick Perry called Social Security a “Ponzi scheme.” Mitt Romney jumped all over him, then raced off to tell a conservative talk show host that if the Republicans nominated someone with Perry’s view on Social Security “we would be obliterated as a party.”

This year, when President Obama proposed a budget that actually did reduce the rate at which Social Security benefits would rise in the future, the chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee denounced it as “a shocking attack on seniors.”

People like Paul Ryan still fiddled with Medicare, but only in wonkese that didn’t trickle down to the public. There were vague references to the need to “protect” programs for the elderly. But the party had lost its old rallying cry. Enter health care reform.

Just this week, Rick Perry called Obamacare “a criminal act.” He appears to be gearing up for another presidential run, and you are not going to hear any Ponzi talk this time around. However, he’s so set against the new health care law that he’s refusing to let 1.5 million really poor Texans qualify for federally financed coverage. When Rick Perry has a principle, no sacrifice is too great.

All over the nation, Tea Party politicians have been telling their most fervid constituents that Obamacare will bring the federal government into the nation’s health system, thus wrecking the wonderful coverage they now enjoy with Medicare. Which comes into their homes through the chimney, where it is dropped by free-enterprise storks.

Representative John Culberson of Texas called Obamacare “a violation of our most sacred right as Americans to be left alone.” This was during an interview with Salon, in which Culberson waxed wroth about the whole idea of any government intervention into health care.

The interviewer, Josh Eidelson, asked, “What does that mean for Medicare, then?”

“What does that mean for Medicare? What does that have to do with anything?” Culberson demanded.

So there you are. It’s not easy leading a political movement that believes the federal government is at the core of all our problems while depending heavily on the votes of citizens who get both their retirement money and health care from the federal government.

“Obamacare is the most dangerous piece of legislation ever passed in Congress. It is the most existential threat to our economy ... since the Great Depression,” said Representative John Fleming of Louisiana. Think about that for a minute. “Most dangerous piece of legislation ever” really does suggest that it’s worse than, say, the Fugitive Slave Act. On the other hand, how many members of the House of Representatives do you hear throw around the word “existential?” So there’s that.

If you were a fervent Tea Party follower, listening to this kind of talk for the last few years, you’d feel pretty confident that this showdown in Washington could only end one way, right?

“Congressmen, this is about shutting down Obamacare,” wrote Erick Erickson in the influential blog RedState. “Democrats keep talking about our refusal to compromise. They don’t realize our compromise is defunding Obamacare. ... Our endgame is to leave the whole thing shut down until the President defunds Obamacare. And if he does not defund Obamacare, we leave the whole thing shut down.”

They’ve created a monster. And now the rest of the country is turning into peasants with torches, storming their castle.


October 5, 2013

Welcome to Ted Cruz’s Thunderdome



AN ape sits where Abe sat.

The year is 2084, in the capital of the land formerly called North America.

The peeling columns of the Lincoln Memorial, and Abe’s majestic head, elegant hands and big feet are partially submerged in sludge. Animals that escaped from the National Zoo after zookeepers were furloughed seven decades ago migrated to the memorials, hunting for food left by tourists.

The white marble monuments are now covered in ash, Greek tragedy ruins overrun with weeds. Tea Party zombies, thrilled with the dark destruction they have wreaked on the planet, continue to maraud around the Hill, eager to chomp on humanity some more.

Dead cherry blossom trees litter the bleak landscape. Trash blows through L’Enfant’s once beautiful boulevards, now strewn with the detritus of democracy, scraps of the original Constitution, corroded White House ID cards, stacks of worthless bills tumbling out of the Treasury Department.

The BlackBerrys that were pried from the hands of White House employees in 2013 are now piled up on the Potomac as a flood barrier against the ever-rising tide from melting ice caps. Their owners, unable to check their messages, went insane long ago.

Because there was no endgame, the capital’s hunger games ended in a gray void. Because there was no clean bill, now there is only a filthy stench. Because there was no wisdom, now there is only rot. The instigators, it turned out, didn’t even know what they were arguing for. Macho thrusts and feints, competing to win while the country lost.

Thomas Jefferson’s utopia devolved into Ted Cruz’s dystopia.

Law and order broke down as police, who were not getting paid, eventually decided to stay home. The fanatics barricaded in the Capitol dug in, determined to tear down what their idols, the founding fathers, had built. Darkness soon devoured the rest of the country.

Unlike Suzanne Collins’s “The Hunger Games,” where the capital thrived as the nation withered, here, the capital withered first, as the federal city shriveled without federal funds. But, in other ways, it mirrors the fantasy dystopias depicted by Hollywood and Cormac McCarthy in his novel “The Road,” “bloodcults” consuming one another in “an ashen scabland,” a “cold illucid world.”

In 2084, there’s little sign of life in the godless and barren lost world. The insurance exchanges are open and the kinks are almost ironed out. But there is no one to sign up. Koch brother drones patrol the skies. A Mad Max motorcycle gang wielding hacksaws roars through the C.I.A., now a field of dead cornstalks, and the fetid hole that was once Michelle Obama’s organic vegetable garden. Will Smith and Brad Pitt are here, hunting aliens and monsters.

The Navy-Air Force game goes on, somehow, and there are annual CrossFit games on the Mall, led by flesh-eating Dark Seeker Paul Ryan, now 114 years old. CrossFit is still fighting the Department of Agriculture’s food pyramid, even though there’s no Department of Agriculture and no food.

A gaunt man and sickly boy, wrapped in blue tarps, trudge toward the blighted spot that was once the World War II monument, scene of the first shutdown skirmishes. They know they may not survive the winter.

“How did this happen, Papa?” the boy asks.

“Americans had been filled with existential dread since the 9/11 attacks, but they didn’t realize the real danger was coming from inside the government,” the man says. “It started very small with a petty fight over a six-week spending bill but quickly mushroomed out of control.”

“Whose fault was it, Papa?” the boy presses.

The man tries to explain: “The Grand Old Party, the proud haven of patriots who believed in a strong national security and fiscal responsibility, was infected with a mutant form of ideology. It was named the Sarahcuda Strain after the earliest carrier. Remember when you saw that old science fiction movie, ‘I Am Legend’? A scientist described the virus that burned through civilization as being like ‘a very fast car driven by a very bad man.’ That’s what happened: In the infected Tea Party politicians, brain function decreased and social de-evolution occurred. They began ignoring their basic survival instincts.

“It’s hard to believe now, but they were fixated on stopping an effort to get health care to those who couldn’t afford it. It eventually led them to destroy all the things they said they held most dear.”

The boy is confused. “They killed America because they didn’t care about keeping Americans alive?” he asks.

The man sits down. His voice grows faint. “Well, they didn’t seem to understand themselves or what they were doing,” he continues. “In the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, many of the feverish pols believed they were waging the right and moral fight even as G.O.P. party elders like Jeb Bush, John McCain, Karl Rove and James Baker warned them that they were dragging the country toward catastrophe. The Tea Party leaders liked to refer to themselves as the Children of Reagan. But as Baker told Peggy Noonan, Reagan always said, ‘I’d rather get 80 percent of what I want than go over the cliff with my flag flying.’ ”

The boy frowns. “But Papa, didn’t the healthy Republicans realize the infected ones had lower brain functions?”

“Well, son, they knew there was something creepy about the ringleader, Ted Cruz,” the man replies. “His face looked pinched, like a puzzle that had not been put together quite right. He was always launching into orations with a weird cadence and self-consciously throwing folksy phrases into his speeches, like ‘Let me tell ya,’ to make himself seem Texan, when he was really a Canadian.”

The boy looks alarmed. “A Canadian destroyed the world, Papa?”

“Once the government shut down, a plague came, because they had closed the Center for Disease Control,” the man says. “Storms, floods and wildfires raged after FEMA was closed down and the National Guard got decimated.

“Once we went into default, the globe got sucked into the economic vortex. With a lot of the Defense Department, F.B.I., and intelligence community on forced leave, the country became vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Without the C.I.A. to train the moderate Syrian rebels, Syria fell to Al Qaeda.

“After the final American president, Barack Obama, canceled his trip to Asia, that part of the world decided we were weak. China moved quickly to fill the vacuum. Obama grew so disgusted, he spent his final years in office isolated in the White House residence. When he stopped returning the calls of Hassan Rouhani and Bibi Netanyahu, it was only a matter of time before the Middle East went up in flames.

“What is left of the world is being run by Julian Assange from what is left of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London and by some right-wing nut in a cabin in Idaho.”

The boy begins to cry. “Papa, stop. You’re making me sad. Are all the good guys gone?”

Looking through the gray skies toward the ashen Lincoln Memorial, where an ape sits in Abe’s chair, the man replies sadly, “Yes, son.”


US government shutdown: Ted Cruz, a maverick who keeps his heartlands happy

The Texan agitator orchestrated the shutdown - and doesn't care if he's not winning friends on the Hill

Dan Roberts Washington and Tom Dart Houston
The Observer, Sunday 6 October 2013   

As an appetiser before helping to send the US government into famine mode, Ted Cruz railed against Obamacare on the Senate floor last month in a publicity-seeking speech that lasted more than 21 hours and included a Darth Vader impression and reading Dr Seuss's Green Eggs and Ham as a bedtime story for his daughters, who watched on TV.

While the grandstanding was largely symbolic, Cruz has been more than just a figurehead for the Republican showdown over Obamacare that has prompted a government shutdown. The first-term senator from Texas has emerged as an unofficial envoy between conservatives in the House of Representatives and Senate, spending hours with Tea Party supporters such as congressman Justin Amash to plot what, with hindsight, has been a highly orchestrated plan of attack.

It began over the summer with television ads reminding grassroots conservatives that it was not too late to block Obama's four-year-old Affordable Care Act by cutting off its funding. With expectations raised, Cruz ruffled feathers among mainstream Republicans by helping to bounce House speaker John Boehner into a confrontational stand-off over the normally routine continuing budget resolution.

Cruz is used to mainstream Republican opprobrium – John McCain famously described him and fellow conservative Rand Paul as "wacko birds" – but he briefly became the most hated figure in Congress when he then failed to follow through on his strategy by winning enough support in the Senate, leaving Boehner blamed for shutting down the government.

"[Cruz] pushed House Republicans into traffic and wandered away," sniped tax campaigner Grover Norquist in an interview last week.

Since then, however, "Cruz control" has begun to look more sure-footed again. His strategy of blaming Obama for the shutdown by refusing to negotiate is unlikely to succeed in persuading anyone who has been following proceedings closely, but may confuse ordinary voters enough to blame both sides equally. Republicans have also boxed the White House into a corner by selectively offering to fund ideologically favoured bits of the government such as the military and national monuments. Angrily dismissed as a gimmick by the administration which blocked most of these piecemeal measures but was forced to accept others, this tactic has succeeded in making it look as if Obama wanted to keep as many hostages in the room as possible.

Eventually, Boehner may have to cut a deal with moderate Republicans and Democrats that would end the standoff without scrapping Obamacare, but for now the conservative grassroots could not be happier.

Battling the federal government on almost any issue is a crowd-pleasing tactic in Texas, the most stubborn and independent-minded state in the union. "I think he's doing great," said Beth Cubriel, executive director at the Republican party of Texas. "He's a voice for people who are so frustrated that as long as the president has been in power the conservative view has not been covered."

Cruz won an underdog victory in the Texas Republican primary last year, preaching a fiery rightwing gospel that made his establishment-backed opponent, David Dewhurst, seem moderate and mainstream. As a Latino, Cruz helps Texas Republicans to woo an increasingly important and left-leaning demographic while retaining traditional conservative values – even though he comes across as an upstart outsider.

"He ran very effectively as an anti-establishment candidate, however counter-intuitive that seems for a Harvard-educated lawyer," said Jim Henson, director of the Austin-based Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas.

"We couldn't be prouder of Ted Cruz," said Julie Turner, president of the Texas Patriots PAC, a Tea Party group. "Ted Cruz is the tuning fork for the conservative movement." Turner fondly recalled an impromptu pre-election rally near Houston with Cruz and his wife giving speeches from the back of a pick-up truck: "They spoke our values then he went to Washington and followed them."

While Cruz's rise to fame was sudden, Felicia Cravens of the Houston Tea Party Society said that it was carefully planned: "He's been making the circuit of Tea Party events since 2009. He'd go to meetings of any size, speak to as few as 10 people. He put in the shoe leather early on to make contact with people who could be influence-makers."

The 42-year-old was born in Canada, the son of a Cuban father and American mother. He grew up in Houston and went to Princeton and Harvard Law School, where he was seen as brilliant but arrogant.

Then he worked on George W Bush's 2000 presidential campaign. After a period in Washington, Cruz returned to Texas to become solicitor general, overseeing appeal cases and taking on high-profile supreme court battles on topics such as gun rights, abortion and religious symbols. In one of his proudest moments, he helped to persuade the supreme court that Texas had the right to execute a Mexican national convicted of murder, despite opposition from President Bush and the International Court of Justice, which ruled the case should be reopened.

Polls this year suggest that a quarter of Texans adore him and a similar amount loathe him. On Thursday, several dozen department of defence workers protested outside Cruz's San Antonio office, wielding placards with slogans such as "Ted – go furlough yourself".

Bob Comeaux, a Democratic activist, joined them. "I think he is a very fine advocate for the seven or eight per cent of crazy people in the state of Texas," he said. "I have a niece who's a firefighter who's required to go to work for no pay. What kind of a country is that requires people to work for no pay? In Texas it used to be we'd elect politicians to get something done. Now there's a mentality to send people up there [to DC] to make sure nothing gets done."

A meeting of Senate Republicans on Wednesday turned into an anti-Cruz "lynch mob", according to the New York Times. Alienating colleagues is hardly a recipe for longevity in the Senate, especially if Texans conclude Cruz is more interested in his own future than theirs.

"The shelf-life of a very conservative member of the Senate is short," said Brandon Rottinghaus, associate politics professor at the University of Houston. "It's hard to govern if you're outside the boundaries of your party and your tactics are explosive."

But by the time his Senate seat is up for grabs again in 2018, Cruz presumably hopes his cowboy-booted feet will be on the desk of the Oval Office, a maverick intellectual improbably carried to ultimate power by those who love to hate big government. It would be quite a story to tell.


Cruz complains to Democrats about being seen as ‘the root of all evil in the world’

By David Edwards
Friday, October 4, 2013 13:11 EDT

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) on Friday said he had been demonized by his Democratic opponents as the “root of all evil in the world.”

During a Senate floor debate, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) accused Cruz of taking a piecemeal approach to funding the government after he proposed a series of unanimous consent request that would fund specific agencies during the government shutdown without funding President Barack Obama’s health care reform law.

“To deprive our national parks of dollars by advocating shutting the government down and then accuse others, who don’t want to leave 98 percent of the government behind and of the people who work there behind and of the American people who depend on so many other programs — whether it’s student loans or feeding the hungry — is wrong,” Schumer said.

At that point, the Democratic senator from New York proposed modifying Cruz’ piecemeal unanimous consent request, which would have only funded national parks — like the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. — to include funding for the entire government, including the Affordable Care Act.

Schumer noted that the exact same funding proposal had already passed the Senate and reportedly had support of a majority of members of the House.

Cruz, of course, refused to modify his unanimous consent request and insisted that any suggestion that he had advocated shutting down the government was a “flat-out falsehood.”

He went on to say that he appreciated being admonished by his colleagues for breaking Senate rules about impugning other Senators because Democrats also needed to heed that warning.

“You know, it has been several days since I have been to the floor of the Senate, and yet, I feel that I have been here in absentia,” Cruz explained. “Because so many Democrats have invoked my name as the root of all evil in the world.”

“And, indeed, the same Majority Leader that gave an ode to civility, just a few days ago was describing me and anyone who might agree that we should stop the harms of Obamacare, describing us as — quote — anarchists. So, I think the encouragement towards civility is an encouragement that should be heard across the board.”


October 5, 2013

A Federal Budget Crisis Months in the Planning


WASHINGTON — Shortly after President Obama started his second term, a loose-knit coalition of conservative activists led by former Attorney General Edwin Meese III gathered in the capital to plot strategy. Their push to repeal Mr. Obama’s health care law was going nowhere, and they desperately needed a new plan.

Out of that session, held one morning in a location the members insist on keeping secret, came a little-noticed “blueprint to defunding Obamacare,” signed by Mr. Meese and leaders of more than three dozen conservative groups.

It articulated a take-no-prisoners legislative strategy that had long percolated in conservative circles: that Republicans could derail the health care overhaul if conservative lawmakers were willing to push fellow Republicans — including their cautious leaders — into cutting off financing for the entire federal government.

“We felt very strongly at the start of this year that the House needed to use the power of the purse,” said one coalition member, Michael A. Needham, who runs Heritage Action for America, the political arm of the Heritage Foundation. “At least at Heritage Action, we felt very strongly from the start that this was a fight that we were going to pick.”

Last week the country witnessed the fallout from that strategy: a standoff that has shuttered much of the federal bureaucracy and unsettled the nation.

To many Americans, the shutdown came out of nowhere. But interviews with a wide array of conservatives show that the confrontation that precipitated the crisis was the outgrowth of a long-running effort to undo the law, the Affordable Care Act, since its passage in 2010 — waged by a galaxy of conservative groups with more money, organized tactics and interconnections than is commonly known.

With polls showing Americans deeply divided over the law, conservatives believe that the public is behind them. Although the law’s opponents say that shutting down the government was not their objective, the activists anticipated that a shutdown could occur — and worked with members of the Tea Party caucus in Congress who were excited about drawing a red line against a law they despise.

A defunding “tool kit” created in early September included talking points for the question, “What happens when you shut down the government and you are blamed for it?” The suggested answer was the one House Republicans give today: “We are simply calling to fund the entire government except for the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare.”

The current budget brinkmanship is just the latest development in a well-financed, broad-based assault on the health law, Mr. Obama’s signature legislative initiative. Groups like Tea Party Patriots, Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks are all immersed in the fight, as is Club for Growth, a business-backed nonprofit organization. Some, like Generation Opportunity and Young Americans for Liberty, both aimed at young adults, are upstarts. Heritage Action is new, too, founded in 2010 to advance the policy prescriptions of its sister group, the Heritage Foundation.

The billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, have been deeply involved with financing the overall effort. A group linked to the Kochs, Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, disbursed more than $200 million last year to nonprofit organizations involved in the fight. Included was $5 million to Generation Opportunity, which created a buzz last month with an Internet advertisement showing a menacing Uncle Sam figure popping up between a woman’s legs during a gynecological exam.

The groups have also sought to pressure vulnerable Republican members of Congress with scorecards keeping track of their health care votes; have burned faux “Obamacare cards” on college campuses; and have distributed scripts for phone calls to Congressional offices, sample letters to editors and Twitter and Facebook offerings for followers to present as their own.

One sample Twitter offering — “Obamacare is a train wreck” — is a common refrain for Speaker John A. Boehner.

As the defunding movement picked up steam among outside advocates, Republicans who sounded tepid became targets. The Senate Conservatives Fund, a political action committee dedicated to “electing true conservatives,” ran radio advertisements against three Republican incumbents.

Heritage Action ran critical Internet advertisements in the districts of 100 Republican lawmakers who had failed to sign a letter by a North Carolina freshman, Representative Mark Meadows, urging Mr. Boehner to take up the defunding cause.

“They’ve been hugely influential,” said David Wasserman, who tracks House races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “When else in our history has a freshman member of Congress from North Carolina been able to round up a gang of 80 that’s essentially ground the government to a halt?”

On Capitol Hill, the advocates found willing partners in Tea Party conservatives, who have repeatedly threatened to shut down the government if they do not get their way on spending issues. This time they said they were so alarmed by the health law that they were willing to risk a shutdown over it. (“This is exactly what the public wants,” Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, founder of the House Tea Party Caucus, said on the eve of the shutdown.)

Despite Mrs. Bachmann’s comments, not all of the groups have been on board with the defunding campaign. Some, like the Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity, which spent $5.5 million on health care television advertisements over the past three months, are more focused on sowing public doubts about the law. But all have a common goal, which is to cripple a measure that Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican and leader of the defunding effort, has likened to a horror movie.

“We view this as a long-term effort,” said Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity. He said his group expected to spend “tens of millions” of dollars on a “multifront effort” that includes working to prevent states from expanding Medicaid under the law. The group’s goal is not to defund the law.

“We want to see this law repealed,” Mr. Phillips said.

A Familiar Tactic

The crowd was raucous at the Hilton Anatole, just north of downtown Dallas, when Mr. Needham’s group, Heritage Action, arrived on a Tuesday in August for the second stop on a nine-city “Defund Obamacare Town Hall Tour.” Nearly 1,000 people turned out to hear two stars of the Tea Party movement: Mr. Cruz, and Jim DeMint, a former South Carolina senator who runs the Heritage Foundation.

“You’re here because now is the single best time we have to defund Obamacare,” declared Mr. Cruz, who would go on to rail against the law on the Senate floor in September with a monologue that ran for 21 hours. “This is a fight we can win.”

Although Mr. Cruz is new to the Senate, the tactic of defunding in Washington is not. For years, Congress has banned the use of certain federal money to pay for abortions, except in the case of incest and rape, by attaching the so-called Hyde Amendment to spending bills.

After the health law passed in 2010, Todd Tiahrt, then a Republican congressman from Kansas, proposed defunding bits and pieces of it. He said he spoke to Mr. Boehner’s staff about the idea while the Supreme Court, which upheld the central provision, was weighing the law’s constitutionality.

“There just wasn’t the appetite for it at the time,” Mr. Tiahrt said in an interview. “They thought, we don’t need to worry about it because the Supreme Court will strike it down.”

But the idea of using the appropriations process to defund an entire federal program, particularly one as far-reaching as the health care overhaul, raised the stakes considerably. In an interview, Mr. DeMint, who left the Senate to join the Heritage Foundation in January, said he had been thinking about it since the law’s passage, in part because Republican leaders were not more aggressive.

“They’ve been through a series of C.R.s and debt limits,” Mr. DeMint said, referring to continuing resolutions on spending, “and all the time there was discussion of ‘O.K., we’re not going to fight the Obamacare fight, we’ll do it next time.’ The conservatives who ran in 2010 promising to repeal it kept hearing, ‘This is not the right time to fight this battle.’ ”

Mr. DeMint is hardly alone in his distaste for the health law, or his willingness to do something about it. In the three years since Mr. Obama signed the health measure, Tea Party-inspired groups have mobilized, aided by a financing network that continues to grow, both in its complexity and the sheer amount of money that flows through it.

A review of tax records, campaign finance reports and corporate filings shows that hundreds of millions of dollars have been raised and spent since 2012 by organizations, many of them loosely connected, leading opposition to the measure.

One of the biggest sources of conservative money is Freedom Partners, a tax-exempt “business league” that claims more than 200 members, each of whom pays at least $100,000 in dues. The group’s board is headed by a longtime executive of Koch Industries, the conglomerate run by the Koch brothers, who were among the original financiers of the Tea Party movement. The Kochs declined to comment.

While Freedom Partners has financed organizations that are pushing to defund the law, like Heritage Action and Tea Party Patriots, Freedom Partners has not advocated that. A spokesman for the group, James Davis, said it was more focused on “educating Americans around the country on the negative impacts of Obamacare.”

The largest recipient of Freedom Partners cash — about $115 million — was the Center to Protect Patient Rights, according to the groups’ latest tax filings. Run by a political consultant with ties to the Kochs and listing an Arizona post office box for its address, the center appears to be little more than a clearinghouse for donations to still more groups, including American Commitment and the 60 Plus Association, both ardent foes of the health care law.

American Commitment and 60 Plus were among a handful of groups calling themselves the “Repeal Coalition” that sent a letter in August urging Republican leaders in the House and the Senate to insist “at a minimum” in a one-year delay of carrying out the health care law as part of any budget deal. Another group, the Conservative 50 Plus Alliance, delivered a defunding petition with 68,700 signatures to the Senate.

In the fight to shape public opinion, conservatives face well-organized liberal foes. Enroll America, a nonprofit group allied with the Obama White House, is waging a campaign to persuade millions of the uninsured to buy coverage. The law’s supporters are also getting huge assistance from the insurance industry, which is expected to spend $1 billion on advertising to help sell its plans on the exchanges.

“It is David versus Goliath,” said Mr. Phillips of Americans for Prosperity.

But conservatives are finding that with relatively small advertising buys, they can make a splash. Generation Opportunity, the youth-oriented outfit behind the “Creepy Uncle Sam” ads, is spending $750,000 on that effort, aimed at dissuading young people — a cohort critical to the success of the health care overhaul — from signing up for insurance under the new law.

 The group receives substantial backing from Freedom Partners and appears ready to expand. Recently, Generation Opportunity moved into spacious new offices in Arlington, Va., where exposed ductwork, Ikea chairs and a Ping-Pong table give off the feel of a Silicon Valley start-up.

Its executive director, Evan Feinberg, a 29-year-old former Capitol Hill aide and onetime instructor for a leadership institute founded by Charles Koch, said there would be more Uncle Sam ads, coupled with college campus visits, this fall. Two other groups, FreedomWorks, with its “Burn Your Obamacare Card” protests, and Young Americans for Liberty, are also running campus events.

“A lot of folks have asked us, ‘Are we trying to sabotage the law?’ ” Mr. Feinberg said in an interview last week. His answer echoes the Freedom Partners philosophy: “Our goal is to educate and empower young people.”

Critical Timing

But many on the Republican right wanted to do more.

Mr. Meese’s low-profile coalition, the Conservative Action Project, which seeks to find common ground among leaders of an array of fiscally and socially conservative groups, was looking ahead to last Tuesday, when the new online health insurance marketplaces, called exchanges, were set to open. If the law took full effect as planned, many conservatives feared, it would be nearly impossible to repeal — even if a Republican president were elected in 2016.

“I think people realized that with the imminent beginning of Obamacare, that this was a critical time to make every effort to stop something,” Mr. Meese said in an interview. (He has since stepped down as the coalition’s chairman and has been succeeded by David McIntosh, a former congressman from Indiana.)

The defunding idea, Mr. Meese said, was “a logical strategy.” The idea drew broad support. Fiscal conservatives like Chris Chocola, the president of the Club for Growth, signed on to the blueprint. So did social and religious conservatives, like the Rev. Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition.

The document set a target date: March 27, when a continuing resolution allowing the government to function was to expire. Its message was direct: “Conservatives should not approve a C.R. unless it defunds Obamacare.”

But the March date came and went without a defunding struggle. In the Senate, Mr. Cruz and Senator Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, talked up the defunding idea, but it went nowhere in the Democratic-controlled chamber. In the House, Mr. Boehner wanted to concentrate instead on locking in the across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration, and Tea Party lawmakers followed his lead. Outside advocates were unhappy but held their fire.

“We didn’t cause any trouble,” Mr. Chocola said.

Yet by summer, with an August recess looming and another temporary spending bill expiring at the end of September, the groups were done waiting.

“I remember talking to reporters at the end of July, and they said, ‘This didn’t go anywhere,’ ” Mr. Needham recalled. “What all of us felt at the time was, this was never going to be a strategy that was going to win inside the Beltway. It was going to be a strategy where, during August, people would go home and hear from their constituents, saying: ‘You pledged to do everything you could to stop Obamacare. Will you defund it?’ ”

Heritage Action, which has trained 6,000 people it calls sentinels around the country, sent them to open meetings and other events to confront their elected representatives. Its “Defund Obamacare Town Hall Tour,” which began in Fayetteville, Ark., on Aug. 19 and ended 10 days later in Wilmington, Del., drew hundreds at every stop.

The Senate Conservatives Fund, led by Mr. DeMint when he was in the Senate, put up a Web site in July called and ran television ads featuring Mr. Cruz and Mr. Lee urging people to tell their representatives not to fund the law.

When Senator Richard M. Burr, a North Carolina Republican, told a reporter that defunding the law was “the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard,” the fund bought a radio ad to attack him. Two other Republican senators up for re-election in 2014, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, were also targeted. Both face Tea Party challengers.

In Washington, Tea Party Patriots, which created the defunding tool kit, set up a Web site,, to promote a rally last month showcasing many of the Republicans in Congress whom Democrats — and a number of fellow Republicans — say are most responsible for the shutdown.

While conservatives believe that the public will back them on defunding, a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that a majority — 57 percent — disapproves of cutting off funding as a way to stop the law.

Last week, with the health care exchanges open for business and a number of prominent Republicans complaining that the “Defund Obamacare” strategy was politically damaging and pointless, Mr. Needham of Heritage Action said he felt good about what the groups had accomplished.

“It really was a groundswell,” he said, “that changed Washington from the outside in.”


To Understand the Shutdown You Have to Grasp the Mindset of the GOP Base

October 5, 2013
by Joshua Holland

Supporters of Americans For Prosperity and other TEA Party members rally at Leo O'Laughlin Inc. on the eve of President Barack Obama's visit to Macon, Mo. Tuesday evening, April 27, 2010. (AP Photo/Patrick T. Fallon)

It’s widely understood that the government has been shut down by a relatively small number of Republican lawmakers who represent deeply red districts. They’re insulated from public opinion at large. They don’t fear a general election loss to a Democrat; they’re motivated by avoiding a primary challenger from their right flank.

So to fully understand what’s driving the Republican Party’s brinkmanship, one has to look at the motivations of its base voters – how they see the world around them. This lies at the heart of what’s happening in the Capitol today.

Democracy Corps – a Democratic-leaning polling firm – released a study this week based on a series of focus groups they conducted with loyal Republican voters. They divided them up into three sub-groups which together represent the base of the party. Evangelicals represent the largest group, followed by Republicans who identify with the tea party movement. “Moderates,” the third group, make up about a quarter of the party’s base, according to the pollsters.

Fear of a changing society is one thing that unites all three factions. The battle over Obamacare, write the study’s authors, “goes to the heart of Republican base thinking about the essential political battle.”

    They think they face a victorious Democratic Party that is intent on expanding government to increase dependency and therefore electoral support. It starts with food stamps and unemployment benefits; expands further if you legalize the illegals; but insuring the uninsured dramatically grows those dependent on government. They believe this is an electoral strategy — not just a political ideology or economic philosophy. If Obamacare happens, the Republican Party may be lost, in their view.

    And while few explicitly talk about Obama in racial terms, the base supporters are very conscious of being white in a country with growing minorities. Their party is losing to a Democratic Party of big government whose goal is to expand programs that mainly benefit minorities. Race remains very much alive in the politics of the Republican Party.

    They worry that minorities, immigrants, and welfare recipients now believe it is their “right” to claim [public] benefits. Tea Party participants, in particular, were very focused on those who claim “rights” in the form of government services, without taking responsibility for themselves.

They are also unified in their belief that Obama is a usurper who has hoodwinked the public into re-electing him by hiding his true beliefs, which are essentially Marxist. They also think that Democrats have won the major political battles of our time because Republican legislators in Washington didn’t put up a fight.

But there are also deep divisions within the base, according to the analysis. Evangelicals still focus overwhelmingly on social issues. They think gay rights are the biggest threat to our society, but they also worry about the loss of what they see as an idyllic small-town culture. They feel besieged as the cultural ground shifts beneath them, and see themselves as a beleaguered, “politically incorrect” minority.

Tea partiers display a libertarian streak, and are far less concerned with social issues. They are staunchly pro-business. But there’s an easy alliance between these two groups – which make up well over half of the GOP base – because Evangelicals think the tea partiers are fighting back, and vice versa.

Both groups displayed a high level of paranoia, according to the researchers who conducted the study. They noted that this was the first time, in many years of conducting focus groups, that participants worried that their participation might trigger surveillance by the NSA or an audit by the IRS. In addition to thinking that Obama is a liar, and a covert Communist, these two groups were also more likely to express the belief that he is secretly a Muslim.

The moderates were, as one might expect, quite different. Like the tea partiers, they don’t worry as much about social issues. Their concerns are traditionally conservative – they worry about excessive regulation and taxation. They have a hard time taking Fox News seriously, and hold a deep disdain for the tea party faction. They are also keenly aware of their waning influence within the coalition.

    Moderates are not so sure about their place in the current Republican Party. They worry about the ability of Republicans in Congress to make government work. They believe the party is stuck, not forward-looking, and representative of old ideas. They worry about the Republican Party’s right turn on social and environmental issues — which makes it difficult, especially for young moderates — to view the Republican Party as a modern party.

Unlike the tea partiers and Evangelicals, the moderate faction desperately wants lawmakers in Washington to find a common middle ground. They are less likely to worry about unauthorized immigration than the rest of the base, and some went so far as to speak positively about immigrants’ contributions to our society and economy.

Climate change is another dividing line between moderate Republicans and the hard-right. GOP moderates may be unsure of the science on climate change, but they don’t reject it out of hand, and some are legitimately worried about the effects of a changing climate.

In this, they stand out from the Evangelical and tea party wings. The study’s authors write:

    Moderates are not even in the same conversation as Evangelicals who deeply doubt scientists writ large and Tea Party Republicans who are consumed by the big government and regulations that inevitably result from climate science.

    Evangelicals and Tea Party Republicans share and are consumed by skepticism about climate science — to the point where they mistrust scientists before they begin to speak.


October 05, 2013 05:30 PM

Speaker John Boehner: Temper Tantrum

By Diane Sweet
Crossposted from Occupy America

This new 40 second ad is scheduled to be played during this Sunday's football games.

From the same folks who bring you "Tell John Boehner," The House Majority PAC.

Click to watch:


The Big Lie Behind Rand Paul’s Pack of GOP Shutdown Lies

By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Sunday, October 6th, 2013, 7:20

Rand PaulThe GOP, driven by tea party extremism, has shut down the U.S. government, costing taxpayers on the order of $40-$80 million per day at a conservative estimate. Some estimates go as high as $300 million per day. According to, as I write this, the shutdown has cost in excess of $1,593,276,000 and it is literally climbing by the second.

Yet Rand Paul (R-KY) writes an op-ed on on Friday with the disingenuous claim that he doesn’t understand why the WWII memorial isn’t open:

    This week, we saw the outrageous spectacle of World War II veterans being told by our government that they couldn’t visit their own memorial. These former service members, who stared down the Japanese and the Nazis, were told that they couldn’t step through barricades arbitrarily placed in front of their memorial because the government has shut down. Some have speculated that it might have cost more to place the barricades there than to have done nothing at all.

This is a tear-jerker, and it is meant to be. But Paul is being as dishonest here as the day is long.

He says putting barricades up cost more than to have done nothing. But Rand Paul doesn’t mention that, the shutdown his party is responsible for is costing Americans more than if the Republicans had done nothing. And the shutdown is costing Americans more than a few barricades.

Let me put it this way: Not only do the spending cuts the GOP demands not reduce the federal debt, but the shutdown Republicans initiated claiming Obamacare is costing Americans too much money, costs more money than Obamacare.

If this makes sense to you, you are probably a tea partier.

Yet Rand Paul says Obamacare makes no sense, because, apparently, giving millions of Americans access to insurance for the first time, and forcing insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions, makes no sense.

He accuses President Obama of being “tone deaf” to Americans, completely ignoring the fact – and it is a fact – that the majority of Americans want Obamacare and that the majority of Americans do not want a government shutdown.

I think we know who is tone deaf, and it isn’t President Obama.

Then Rand Paul pulls out the Big Lie, the same one every Republican who began planning for this shutdown in 2010 are all using, that none of them wanted a shutdown. Keep in mind that they shut down the government using Obamacare as an excuse. Keep in mind that Obamacare is the law of the land, and more, a law upheld by the Supreme Court.

    No one wanted a government shutdown. Republicans have continued to offer multiple compromises that would keep the government open. I offered an amendment to keep the government open an additional week while negotiations continued. My proposal was rejected. In fact, all of our proposals were rejected.

Paul tells another lie when he claims, “Every attempt to bargain, negotiate or compromise has been rejected by the Democrats.”

Let us be clear: The Republicans have offered no compromises. They refused from the start to negotiate. Their demands – and they can be construed no other way – have been predicated on 44 unsuccessful votes to defund Obamacare, and when that failed, to delay it for a year, when, they hope, a new majority in the Senate will kill it for good. In other words, delaying Obamacare is, from their point of view, no different than killing it. Some compromise. Either way, it’s “kill Obamacare.”

Apparently, Rand Paul yearns to be known as the biggest liar in Washington, D.C., to judge by this next whopper:

    Pundits like to talk about dysfunctional government in Washington. This week demonstrated how right they are. Our government is too big, inefficient and incompetent to possibly handle American health care effectively. Why can’t this administration get its act together?

A Republican-dominated House of Representatives rushing down a road to nowhere with no clear end-game in mind save unconditional surrender by the administration, and Paul says the administration doesn’t have IT’S act together?

Paul pulls out one lie after another, each worse than the last, arriving at the tried and untrue Republican claim that Obama is building the deficit at a record pace:

    And what do we have to show for this largely dysfunctional government? Annual trillion dollar deficits and a $17 trillion debt than keeps climbing.

The truth is exactly the opposite. In fact, Obama is reducing the deficit at a record pace. It is a fact, as Sarah Jones reported here in May, that the Obama administration has presided over the most rapid deficit reduction since World War II.

    In fact, government spending under President Obama has grown at a slower rate than it did under any president since Dwight D. Eisenhower, according to Bloomberg (that’s over 50 years ago, if you’re counting).

Where does that leave Paul’s op-ed? Lie, lie, another lie, followed by more lies. So does Rand Paul have anything to say that is not a lie?

No, sadly he does not. All Rand Paul has is lies.

And so the liar from Kentucky concludes, dishonestly, that because his party has shutdown the government over a law that has been upheld by the Supreme Court, that, “What Americans were reminded of this week — more than anything else — is that big government doesn’t work.”

What doesn’t work is the House of Representatives, which has spent 15+ percent of its time this year trying to get rid of a law that has been upheld by the Supreme Court. A law, moreover, that most Americans want.

The GOP, to nobody’s surprise, is a party these days of liars and shills. But Rand Paul, apparently – and this is saying something when you consider the company he keeps – wants to be the liar of the century.

Right now, he has that award hands down.


House Republicans Are Deciding Whether They Should Totally Cave to Obama Now or Later

By: Jason Easley
Saturday, October 5th, 2013, 8:15

A senior House Republican has let it leak that Republicans are so desperate to get out of the government shutdown/debt ceiling standoff that they are debating whether to cave to President Obama now or later.

According to CNN:

    One idea being considered to end the immediate fiscal impasse is a bill to fund the government and extend the nation’s borrowing authority for six weeks, a senior Republican member of the House told CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger.

    The congressman agreed to speak with CNN on the condition of anonymity.

    The GOP lawmaker said a committee could then be set up to negotiate the fiscal issues dividing the two parties and negotiate a plan to keep the government funded for the rest of the year without the proverbial gun to their heads.

    This idea of an extension being floated among Republicans would give everyone a temporary political reprieve. It would give them a way to reopen the government but bypass the issue of tying it to a change in Obamacare, as well as avert a crisis over whether to raise the nation’s debt limit by Oct. 17 when the Treasury Department has said it will run out of money to pay its bills.

House Republicans are pretending publicly that they won’t budge on their demand to delay Obamacare, but the truth is that they are flailing around and desperately searching for a way to get out of their promise to conservatives that they will get rid of the ACA. House Republicans have gone from demanding a one year delay of the ACA to looking for an escape hatch that will let them renew this fight later.

It is doubtful that Democrats would accept a six week deal on opening the government and the debt ceiling, because there is no guarantee that anything would be resolved during the six week extension. If Democrats agreed to the short term deal, it’s likely that they would find themselves back in the same place that they are now. The only difference would be that the next showdown would take place during the holiday season.

If you read between the lines, the real question that Republicans are debating is when they should totally cave. A six week extension would mean that they cave now, and hope that they can convince conservatives that they will continue to wage war against Obamacare later.

Politically there is no reason for Democrats to accept a short term funding/debt ceiling deal that would allow House Republicans to live to fight another day. President Obama is leading a unified Democratic Party that is out to put an end to the tea party madness.

The very intentional leaking of this short term proposal is a sign that President Obama and the Democrats have the House Republicans on the ropes. A six week short term deal that would reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling should be rejected by Democrats the very moment that it is offered.

House Republicans are dumping all of their Obamacare demands, but Democrats shouldn’t bail them out. Democrats should reject anything less than the passage of a clean CR, and long term raising of debt ceiling. There is still just one way out for House Republicans. The message from the president and congressional Democrats has stayed the same. House Republicans need to pass a clean CR, and raise the debt ceiling.

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Posts: 28645

« Reply #9161 on: Oct 06, 2013, 10:01 AM »

Shutdown coverage fails Americans

Aljazerrah America
by Dan Froomkin

October 1, 2013 3:45PM ET

U.S. news reports are largely blaming the government shutdown on the inability of both political parties to come to terms. It is supposedly the result of a "bitterly divided" Congress that "failed to reach agreement" (Washington Post) or "a bitter budget standoff" left unresolved by "rapid-fire back and forth legislative maneuvers" (New York Times). This sort of false equivalence is not just a failure of journalism. It is also a failure of democracy.

When the political leadership of this country is incapable of even keeping the government open, a political course correction is in order. But how can democracy self-correct if the public does not understand where the problem lies? And where will the pressure for change come from if journalists do not hold the responsible parties accountable?

The truth of what happened Monday night, as almost all political reporters know full well, is that "Republicans staged a series of last-ditch efforts to use a once-routine budget procedure to force Democrats to abandon their efforts to extend U.S. health insurance." (Thank you, Guardian.)

And holding the entire government hostage while demanding the de facto repeal of a president's signature legislation and not even bothering to negotiate is by any reasonable standard an extreme political act. It is an attempt to make an end run around the normal legislative process. There is no historical precedent for it. The last shutdowns, in 1995 and 1996, were not the product of unilateral demands to scrap existing law; they took place during a period of give-and-take budget negotiations.

But the political media's aversion to doing anything that might be seen as taking sides — combined with its obsession with process — led them to actively obscure the truth in their coverage of the votes. If you did not already know what this was all about, reading the news would not help you understand.

What makes all this more than a journalistic failure is that the press plays a crucial role in our democracy. We count on the press to help create an informed electorate. And perhaps even more important, we rely on the press to hold the powerful accountable.

That requires calling out political leaders when they transgress or fail to meet commonly agreed-upon standards: when they are corrupt, when they deceive, when they break the rules and refuse to govern. Such exposure is the first consequence. When the transgressions are sufficiently grave, what follows should be continued scrutiny, marginalization, contempt and ridicule.

In the current political climate, journalistic false equivalence leads to an insufficiently informed electorate, because the public is not getting an accurate picture of what is going on.
Journalists have been suckered into embracing 'balance' and 'neutrality' at all costs.

But the lack of accountability is arguably even worse because it has the characteristics of a cascade failure. When the media coverage seeks down-the-middle neutrality despite one party's outlandish conduct, there are no political consequences for their actions. With no consequences for extremism, politicians who have succeeded using such conduct have an incentive to become even more extreme. The more extreme they get, the further the split-the-difference press has to veer from common sense in order to avoid taking sides. And so on.

The political press should be the public's first line of defense when it comes to assessing who is deviating from historic norms and practices, who is risking serious damage to the nation, whose positions are based in irrational phobias and ignorance rather than data and reason. 

Instead journalists have been suckered into embracing "balance" and "neutrality" at all costs, and the consequences of their choice in an era of political extremism will only get worse and worse.

One of the great ironies of the current dynamic is that political scientists Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann, who for decades were conventional voices of plague-on-both-your-houses centrism, have now become among the foremost critics of a press corps that fails to report the obvious. They describe the modern Republican Party, without any hesitation, as "a party beholden to ideological zealots."

But as Mann explained in an interview last year, "The mainstream press really has such a difficult time trying to cope with asymmetry between the two parties' agendas and connections to facts and truth."

Even with a story as straightforward as the government shutdown, splitting the difference remains the method of choice for the political reporters and editors in Washington's most influential news bureaus. Even when they surely know better. Even when many Republican elected officials have criticized their own leaders for being too beholden to the more radical right wing.

Media critics — and members of the public — have long decried this kind of he-said-she-said reporting. The Atlantic's James Fallows, one of the most consistent chroniclers and decriers of false equivalence, describes it as the "strong tendency to give equal time and credence to varying 'sides' of a story, even if one of the sides is objectively true and the other is just made up."

New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen argues that truth telling has been surpassed as a newsroom priority by a neither-nor impartiality he calls the "view from nowhere."

Blaming everyone — Congress, both sides, Washington — is simply the path of least resistance for today's political reporters. It's a way of avoiding conflict rather than taking the risk that the public — or their editors — will accuse them of being unprofessionally partisan.

But making a political judgment through triangulation — trying to stake out a safe middle ground between the two political parties — is still making a political judgment. It is often just not a very good one. And in this case, as in many others, it is doing the country a grave disservice.

So, no, the shutdown is not generalized dysfunction or gridlock or stalemate. It is aberrational behavior by a political party that is willing to take extreme and potentially damaging action to get its way. And by not calling it what it is, the political press is enabling it.
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Posts: 28645

« Reply #9162 on: Oct 07, 2013, 05:22 AM »


Russia to monitor 'all communications' at Winter Olympics in Sochi

Exclusive: Investigation uncovers FSB surveillance system – branded 'Prism on steroids' – to listen to all athletes and visitors

Shaun Walker in Moscow
The Guardian, Sunday 6 October 2013 15.31 BST   

Athletes and spectators attending the Winter Olympics in Sochi in February will face some of the most invasive and systematic spying and surveillance in the history of the Games, documents shared with the Guardian show.

Russia's powerful FSB security service plans to ensure that no communication by competitors or spectators goes unmonitored during the event, according to a dossier compiled by a team of Russian investigative journalists looking into preparations for the 2014 Games.

In a ceremony on Red Square on Sunday afternoon, the president, Pig Putin, held the Olympic flame aloft and sent it on its epic journey around the country, saying Russia and its people had always been imbued with the qualities of "openness and friendship", making Sochi the perfect destination for the Olympics.

But government procurement documents and tenders from Russian communication companies indicate that newly installed telephone and internet spying capabilities will give the FSB free rein to intercept any telephony or data traffic and even track the use of sensitive words or phrases mentioned in emails, webchats and on social media.

The journalists, Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan, who are experts on the Russian security services, collated dozens of open source technical documents published on the Zakupki government procurement agency website, as well as public records of government oversight agencies. They found that major amendments have been made to telephone and Wi-Fi networks in the Black Sea resort to ensure extensive and all-permeating monitoring and filtering of all traffic, using Sorm, Russia's system for intercepting phone and internet communications.

The Sorm system is being modernised across Russia, but particular attention has been paid to Sochi given the large number of foreign visitors expected next year. Technical specifications set out by the Russian state telecoms agency also show that a controversial technology known as deep packet inspection, which allows intelligence agencies to filter users by particular keywords, is being installed across Russia's networks, and is required to be compatible with the Sorm system.

"For example you can use the keyword Navalny, and work out which people in a particular region are using the word Navalny," says Soldatov, referring to Alexei Navalny, Russia's best-known opposition politician. "Then, those people can be tracked further."

Ron Deibert, a professor at the University of Toronto and director of Citizen Lab, which co-operated with the Sochi research, describes the Sorm amendments as "Prism on steroids", referring to the programme used by the NSA in the US and revealed to the Guardian by the whistleblower Edward Snowden. "The scope and scale of Russian surveillance are similar to the disclosures about the US programme but there are subtle differences to the regulations," says Deibert. "We know from Snowden's disclosures that many of the checks were weak or sidestepped in the US, but in the Russian system permanent access for Sorm is a requirement of building the infrastructure."

"Even as recently as the Beijing Olympics, the sophistication of surveillance and tracking capabilities were nowhere near where they are today."

Gus Hosein, executive director of Privacy International, which also co-operated with the research, said: "Since 2008, more people are travelling with smartphones with far more data than back then, so there is more to spy on."

Wary of Sorm's capabilities, earlier this year a leaflet from the US state department's bureau of diplomatic security warned anyone travelling to the Games to be extremely cautious with communications.

"Business travellers should be particularly aware that trade secrets, negotiating positions, and other sensitive information may be taken and shared with competitors, counterparts, and/or Russian regulatory and legal entities," the document reads. The advice contains an extraordinary list of precautions for visitors who wish to ensure safe communications, such as removing batteries from phones when not in use and only travelling with "clean" devices.

Soldatov and Borogan have discovered that the FSB has been working since 2010 to upgrade the Sorm system to ensure it can cope with the extra traffic during the Games. All telephone and ISP providers have to install Sorm boxes in their technology by law, and once installed, the FSB can access data without the provider ever knowing, meaning every phone call or internet communication can be logged. Although the FSB technically requires a warrant to intercept a communication, it is not obliged to show it to anyone.

Tellingly, the FSB has appointed one of its top counterintelligence chiefs, Oleg Syromolotov, to be in charge at Sochi: security will thus be overseen by someone who has spent his career chasing foreign spies rather than terrorists.

Another target may well be gay rights, likely to be one of the biggest issues of the Games. The Pig has said that competitors who wear rainbow pins, for example, will not be arrested under the country's controversial new law that bans "homosexual propaganda". However, it is likely that any attempts to stage any kind of rally or gathering to support gay rights will be ruthlessly broken up by police, as has been the case on numerous occasions in Russian cities in the past. Using DPI, Russian authorities will be able to identify, tag and follow all visitors to the Olympics, both Russian and foreign, who are discussing gay issues, and possibly planning to organise protests.

"Athletes may have particular political views, or they may be openly gay," says Deibert. "I think given recent developments in Russia, we have to be worried about these issues."

At a rare FSB press conference this week, an official, Alexei Lavrishchev, denied security and surveillance at the Games would be excessive, and said that the London Olympics featured far more intrusive measures. "There, they even put CCTV cameras in, excuse me for saying it, the toilets," said Lavrishchev. "We are not taking this kind of measure."

The FSB did not respond to a request for comment from the Guardian, while a spokesperson for the Sochi Olympics referred all requests to the security services. But Russian authorities often express a belief that NGOs working on human rights and other issues have subversive agendas dictated from abroad, and the FSB apparently feels that with so many potentially dangerous foreigners descending on the Black Sea resort for the Olympics, it has a duty to keep an eye on them.

In the end, the goal is overarching, but simple, says Soldatov: "Russian authorities want to make sure that every connection and every move made online in Sochi during the Olympics will be absolutely transparent to the secret services of the country."


Sochi surveillance: how we got the documents, and what they show

Investigators Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan reveal how they unearthed the FSB spy plan for the 2014 Winter Olympics

Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan   
The Guardian, Sunday 6 October 2013 15.34 BST   

Through our research, we examined dozens of open sources including technical documents published on the government's procurement agency website, Russian law requires all government agencies, including the secret services, to buy the equipment through this site.

We studied presentations and public statements made by government officials and top managers of firms involved with the Sochi Olympics and Sochi city. We also gathered public records of government oversight agencies such as the telecoms watchdog Roskomnadzor. For example, we found documents showing how the watchdog monitored how properly Sochi's ISPs were installing Sorm; we also found presentation documents about using Sorm at the Games which were drawn up by RNT, a firm tasked by the FSB with developing an information security architecture for Sochi.

What quickly became apparent was the contrast between judicial oversight in Russia and that in most western nations. In the west, law enforcement or intelligence agencies must get a court order before wiretapping (in the UK, a warrant signed by a secretary of state, usually the home secretary). That warrant is sent to phone operators and ISPs, which are then required to intercept the requested information and forward it to the respective government agencies.

In Russia, the FSB must also obtain a court order to eavesdrop, but once they have it, they are not obliged to show it to anybody except FSB superiors. Telecoms providers have no right to demand to see the warrant; they must pay for Sorm equipment and installation, but are denied access to the boxes. The FSB does not even need to contact ISP staff; instead it calls the FSB controller, who is linked by a protected cable to the Sorm device installed on the ISP network.


FSB: Pig Putin's immensely powerful modern-day KGB

Russia's security agency has a wide remit, guarding borders, catching spies and arresting activists deemed subversive

Shaun Walker   
The Guardian, Sunday 6 October 2013 15.34 BST   

The FSB is much more than just an ordinary security service. Combining the functions of an elite police force with those of a spy agency, and wielding immense power, it has come a long way since the early 1990s, when it was on the brink of imploding.

Today's agency draws a direct line of inheritance from the Cheka, set up by Vladimir Lenin in the months after the Bolshevik revolution, to the NKVD, notorious for the purges of the 1930s in which hundreds of thousands were executed, and then the KGB. As the Soviet Union disbanded, the KGB was dismembered into separate agencies, and humiliated. The security services were forced into a new era of openness and researchers were allowed into the archives for the first time to investigate the crimes of the Stalin period.

Many of the brighter or entrepreneurial KGB operatives left the agency in the chaos of the 1990s, using their contacts and know-how to enter the business world as security consultants, fixers or businessmen in their own right. They included the current owner of the Evening Standard and the Independent, Alexander Lebedev, previously a junior officer working out of the Soviet embassy in London, who used his knowledge of how international financial markets to make his fortune.

As the 1990s wore on the agency got back on its feet and in 1999 Boris Yeltsin asked its then director, Pig Putin, who had recently been catapulted into the top job after a career in the service's lower echelons, to become prime minister.

With Pig Putin as PM and then president, much of the FSB's power was restored. Many of his former KGB colleagues ended up in senior positions in government or at the helm of state-controlled companies. Lower down the chain of command, a blind eye was turned to FSB generals enriching themselves: it was no longer necessary to leave to earn a good living. One top officer complained that the secret service "warriors" had become "traders".

Despite its reputation as a slow-moving bureaucracy, the FSB has long taken on geeks who can help it stay ahead of the game technologically. In a time-honoured tradition, the agencytrawling the final-year students of the country's top technology institutes and inviting the best graduates to apply.

The agency has its own special institute known as IKSI, the Institute of Cryptography and Protection of Information, which used to work on code breaking but now focuses on information security. Its page on the FSB website boasts that more than 200 professors work at the IKSI, teaching students everything there is to know about computer systems and security. The only downside for computer whiz-kids is that salaries in the FSB, officially at least, are far lower than they would be at major tech firms.

Unlike the KGB, the FSB is not in charge of foreign spies. The responsibility for running agents likesuch as Anna Chapman and the nine other spies caught by US authorities, has passed to a separate agency, the SVR. But internally, the FSB has an extraordinarily wide remit.

When alleged CIA operative Ryan Fogle was caught with a blond wig and a compass, apparently attempting to recruit Russian counterintelligence officers for the US this year, it was the FSB who picked him up, interrogated him and released a humiliating video.

Its border guards, who have been under FSB control since 2003, stormed Greenpeace ship the Arctic Sunrise in September, descending from helicopters wielding guns and knives. The agency is also strongly involved in combating "economic crimes", and is responsible for most counterintelligence operations. Western diplomats report a huge rise in surveillance and harassment from people they presume to be FSB agents, with foreign journalists and businesses also targeted.

The agency still operates from the Lubyanka, the central Moscow building notorious during the Soviet era for interrogations in its basement cells. There are no official figures on how many people the FSB employs, but the security services expert Andrei Soldatov estimates the number to be at least 200,000.

After the 2006 death of former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko from polonium poisoning, in which Scotland Yard strongly suspected some level of state involvement, Britain announced a moratorium on all co-operation between the FSB and British security services. This stayed in place until May, when David Cameron paid a call on Putin at his summer home near Sochi. The leaders agreed that with the Sochi Olympics approaching, Britain would resume "limited" co-operation to ensure the security of competitors and spectators.


As Sochi Olympic venues are built, so are Kremlin's surveillance networks

Terrorism threat and Kremlin paranoia prompt Russian spy chiefs to build unprecedented eavesdropping system

Andrei Soldatov, Irina Borogan and Shaun Walker   
The Guardian, Sunday 6 October 2013 15.33 BST   

When Russia was awarded the Sochi Olympics back in 2007, there were celebrations as the country secured its first major sporting event since 1991. Vladimir Putin himself travelled to Guatemala, addressed the International Olympic Committee in English and basked in the limelight. The Sochi Olympics became his personal pet project.

With the city situated close to the various insurgencies of the North Caucasus, it soon became apparent that security concerns would be paramount. But it was not only the terrorist threat that had to be considered.

Russia's leadership is notoriously paranoid about perceived foreign meddling, and the conventional package of security measures that comes as standard with any major modern event in any country was augmented by a heightened interest in clandestine surveillance.

So as the oligarch-funded construction firms started building the venues and infrastructure for the Olympics, the FSB began making plans for a more shadowy kind of network, to address the vulnerabilities of the event.

The main role in providing security for the Olympics was handed over to the FSB in 2010, and in May of that year, Oleg Syromolotov, one of the bureau's deputy directors, was appointed as chairman of the interdepartmental operations staff to provide security at the Games. Intriguingly, Syromolotov has never been involved in counterterrorism.

Instead, he is the long-standing chief of the FSB's counterintelligence department. He has spent his entire career at the KGB and then the FSB, hunting down foreign spies. His training and experience is in identifying foreign threats.

At a conference in September 2010, a presentation ordered by the FSB was given on security in Sochi. The presentation, which we have obtained, was mostly about cyber threats, but it also said that Sorm, Russia's main system for intercepting communications, should be significantly updated in Sochi. It also specified this should be done in secret.

Sorm's tactical and technical foundations were developed by a KGB research institute in the mid-1980s, and have been updated ever since. Now, the Sorm-1 system captures telephone and mobile phone communications, Sorm-2 intercepts internet traffic, and Sorm-3 collects information from all forms of communication, providing long-term storage of all information and data on subscribers, including actual recordings and locations.

Since 2010, according to procurement and tender documents collated from the communications watchdog, Roskomnadzor, Russian authorities have been busy making sure that Sorm equipment is properly installed in the Sochi region; and several local ISPs were fined when it was discovered they had failed to install Omega, the Sorm device recommended by the FSB.

One record from Roskomnadzor shows that last November, the ISP Sochi-Online was warned officially for "failing to introduce the required technical equipment to ensure the functioning of Sorm".

Mobile networks in Sochi have also been significantly updated. In June, Rostelecom, Russia's national telecom operator, launched a 4G LTE network around Sochi, pledging the fastest Wi-Fi networks in Olympic history, free of charge. But simultaneously, according to documents seen by our investigation, Rostelecom is installing DPI ("deep packet inspection") systems on all its mobile networks, a technology which allows the FSB not only to monitor all traffic, but to filter it.

Visitors determined to take their laptops and smartphones to Sochi may be under the impression their communications are safe, thanks to the sophisticated encryption provided by most web giants such as Google and Facebook. They are likely to be wrong.

In March, Russia's communications ministry introduced new Sorm regulations for ISPs. The regulations are the first document in which major servers based in the west, such as Gmail and Yahoo are mentioned as services that should be able to be intercepted. The decree is not yet signed, but the intention is clear.

Conventional security measures will also be high at Sochi, with more than 40,000 police on duty, more than 5,000 surveillance cameras installed across the city and drones hovering overhead. Sochi will be the first time that surveillance drones have been used at an Olympics, with both the FSB and the interior ministry acquiring drones and planning to use them, according to information in the FSB's in-house magazine.

The FSB has also purchased two sonar systems to detect submarines and protect the Olympics from a sea-launched terror attack.

All protests have been banned during the runup to the Olympics, and the city will be in lockdown with only accredited vehicles allowed to enter.

Last week an FSB official, Alexei Lavrishchev, denied that Sochi would look like a "concentration camp", saying that compared with London, the security would be "invisible". He is not wrong. Snooping on communications will not be visible. But that doesn't mean it won't be there.

• Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan run the web portal and conducted this investigation in collaboration with CitizenLab and Privacy International
Sochi facts

• The estimated cost of the Olympics is £32bn, making it by some way the most expensive games ever. The London Olympics cost less than £9bn, while even the highest estimates put the last Winter Games, in Vancouver in 2010, at no more than $6bn.

• An estimated £4.9bn was allegedly spent on just one road that links the airport with the mountain cluster at Krasnaya Polyana. A Russian magazine noted that for the same price, the road could be paved with a thick layer of foie gras or caviar.

• Much of the construction is being funded by Russia's oligarchs, as part of the informal contract that in return for keeping their wealth, they must help out with major state projects. Privately, some of the leading investors have complained about spiralling costs.

• During a tour of the construction sites in February, Pig Putin asked some meek aides who was responsible for a ski jump project going over budget. He fired the offending official, who has since fled the country, on the spot.

• All protests, rallies and demonstrations have been banned in Sochi for a 10-week period before and during the Games.

• Approximately 40,000 police will be on duty during the Games, and many have been learning foreign languages in order to be able to help out visitors.


Olympic flame arrives in Russia … and extinguishes itself

Torch carrying Olympic flame goes out in 'wind tunnel' on way to Kremlin and has to be relit with lighter

Associated Press, Sunday 6 October 2013 16.36 BST   

The flame blew out and had to be relit with a lighter.

The Olympic flame, which was lit a week ago in Greece and flown to Moscow on Sunday, briefly went out as the torch bearer ran towards the Kremlin.

The glitch occurred when the man ran through a long passageway, which apparently created a wind tunnel, extinguishing the flame. A man standing along the route pulled out a lighter and the flame leaped back to life.

The torch relay will stay in Moscow for the next three days, with hundreds of athletes, cultural figures and others, including Prince Albert II of Monaco, taking part.

The flame will then begin its journey across Russia, travelling from the western enclave of Kaliningrad to the easternmost point just across the Bering strait from Alaska, before swinging back through the vast country to Sochi in time for the opening ceremony on 7 February 2014.

For most of the 39,000-mile (65,000km) trip, the flame will travel by plane, train, car and even reindeer sleigh, safely encased inside a lantern. But 14,000 torch bearers also will take part in the relay at the more than 130 stops along the way.

One of the silver and red torches, unlit, will be carried into space in November for a brief visit to the International Space Station, and this same torch will be used to light the Olympic flame in Sochi.

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« Reply #9163 on: Oct 07, 2013, 05:32 AM »


Concern for health of Greenpeace activists detained in Russia

Some activists and two journalists held in solitary confinement while others are being kept in extremely cold cells while awaiting piracy charges

Adam Vaughan, Monday 7 October 2013 11.58 BST   

Some of the 28 Greenpeace activists and two journalists being detained in Russia while awaiting piracy charges are being kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, while others are held in "extremely cold" cells, according to the head of Greenpeace.

Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace International's executive director, told the Guardian that the crew had been split up into several prisons across the port city of Murmansk in north-west Russia, which is in the Arctic Circle. Three of the group have been sent to a prison 150km away.

Naidoo said the organisation would have to "take into account" the way the protesters had been treated, but he added that Greenpeace had not been silenced by intimidation in the past and would continue to show "leadership" on the Arctic issue.

Over the weekend, Vigils were held around the world to free the "Arctic 30", with celebrities including actor Jude Law and musician Damon Albarn joining an estimated 800 people who gathered outside the Russian embassy in London.

The activists, who come from a total of 18 countries and include six Britons, were detained after the Russian coastguard seized their vessel following their protest in September against a Gazprom-owned oil platform in the Arctic, Russia's first offshore drilling in the Barents Sea.

Naidoo said: "Some of the colleagues are in cells which are pretty warm and reasonably OK to be in … whereas some are in cells that are extremely cold. This is the Arctic we are talking about."

Although several of the activists were being held in cells where they could interact with one another, Naidoo said that "some are held in solitary where they are in the cell for 23 hours and they have one hour for exercise".

Naidoo said he did not think splitting up the campaigners had been done maliciously and that he was grateful they had all met with consular representatives.

One of the Britons being held, Alexandra Harris, who has been named along with videographer Kieron Bryan, Philip Ball, Anthony Perrett, Frank Hewetson and Iain Rogers, became ill earlier this month and was taken to a hospital for examination but did not need treatment. Naidoo said that arrangements had been made for her medication. The other journalist is a Russian photographer, Denis Sinyakov.

The Greenpeace activists are being held for what the Russian courts have described as pretrial detention for two months, before facing piracy charges which carry a potential prison sentence of 15 years. "Detention without trial is recognised as being unjust, unfair, and unacceptable," Naidoo said.

The Russian president, Pig Putin, recently defended the actions of the coastguard, saying they could not have known who the Greenpeace activists approaching the oil rig were, but said: "I don't know the details of what went on, but it's completely obvious they aren't pirates."

Naidoo said that the strong response by the Russian authorities, which allowed a similar operation by Greenpeace in 2012 without arrests, would not lead him to rule out future actions in Russia.

"The events that have occurred we will have to take into account. We will have to think about what sort of actions we take in the future. As an organisation, we have never been silenced by repression from governments … If we are to save the Arctic, prevent catastrophic climate change, and resisting the inaction on the part of governments who should be taking leadership, we will do that," he said.

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« Reply #9164 on: Oct 07, 2013, 05:37 AM »

Iceland rises from the ashes of banking collapse

Populist programme of new government includes a squeeze on foreign creditors as country emerges from years of instability

Simon Bowers in Reykjavik
The Guardian, Sunday 6 October 2013 19.38 BST

A new mood of proud nationalism is emerging in economically resurgent Iceland after an out-of-control banking system sank the country into financial meltdown exactly five years ago. Riding this wave of confidence is 38-year-old prime minister, Sigmundur Davíd Gunnlaugsson, elected in April on populist promises of mortgage relief for every homeowner.

Gunnlaugsson earned his spurs in years of outspoken campaigning against the foreign creditors who still haunt Iceland, particularly the British and the Dutch governments, which intervened after the collapse of Landsbanki – the bank behind Icesave – on 7 October 2008.

Hundreds of thousands of ordinary British and Dutch savers had previously switched their savings into online Icesave accounts, attracted by market-beating interest rates and promises that: "You can also rest assured that with Icesave you are offered the same level of financial protection as every bank in the UK."

When the crash came, however, Iceland's deposit guarantee proved worthless, forcing the UK and the Netherlands to use their own taxpayer funds to compensate ordinary savers and sparking a poisonous diplomatic row.

It was a spat that, against the odds, Iceland won. While many other politicians in Iceland had urged a policy of appeasing the enraged British and Dutch governments, Gunnlaugsson had insisted they should go hang. "Icelanders, as descendants of the Vikings, are highly individualistic and have difficulty putting up with authorities, let alone oppression," he said in one of his first speeches as prime minister on Iceland's Independence Day in June this year.

"This was clearly demonstrated in the Icesave dispute, in which the people rejected an agreement they considered unfair. This was later upheld by an international court, which showed that the people's sense of justice was a reliable indicator to follow."Having helped win the famous Icesave victory from outside government, Gunnlaugsson has promised to carry that uncompromising approach with him as prime minister, hinting at a new wave of attacks on the interests of foreign creditors to Iceland's three failed banks: Kaupthing, Glitnir and Landsbanki. Between them, these institutions had assets more than nine times the size of Iceland's economic output when they failed in 2008.

From the wreckage, only three modest domestic banks emerged, allowing Iceland to keep functioning. The country was also able to let its overheated currency devalue, and impose capital controls to bring some stability.

Meanwhile, however, international bondholders and depositors were left out in the cold, waiting to recover what scraps they could from the banks' administration processes. Five years on and they are still waiting.

Meanwhile, Gunnlaugsson's main pre-election pledges were to squeeze these foreign creditors – characterised as "hedge funds" or "vulture funds" – in order to bankroll a mortgage relief programme for all homeowners and a string of pro-business tax cuts.

Political opponents savaged the pledge. "It was like promising to bring back [the boom of] 2007," reflects the Left-Green former finance minister Steingrímur Sigfússon. But the Icelandic electorate loved it.

And with creditors' interests still locked in slow administration processes, and behind tight capital control walls, Gunnlaugsson believes he has a strong hand to play.

During the election campaign this year, he said: "This does not revolve around the confiscation of assets. The loss has already been incurred. It was mostly borne by foreign creditors who have recognised the loss and got out. In their place came hedge funds that have profited enormously — on paper — from the collection now of much that was considered lost and written off …

"It cannot be accepted that Icelanders should slave away to increase such collections and regain that which had already been lost without getting any share in it."

Creditor groups remain circumspect, keen to get into private discussions with the new administration as quickly as possible. Behind the scenes, however, they are examining their legal options carefully should Gunnlaugsson's aggression go too far. Their goal is to strike a deal that will allow foreign creditors to access more than £9bn of foreign currency assets tied up with the three banks' administrators and barred from exiting Iceland. "We have been attempting to engage for some time and fail to understand the lack of progress from the authorities," said one source close to the creditors.

Gunnlaugsson's rise to power shocked some observers outside Iceland, who thought the electorate might give their backing to the Left-Green-led coalition that had taken power iafter the banking crash and steered the country through the strictures of an International Monetary Fund programme, and back to growth.

Instead, the Left-Greens suffered the heaviest defeat in Icelandic history after an election campaign dominated not by economic achievements but by the fallout from the Icesave saga.

Bouncing back into office came a coalition of the two rightwing parties – the Independence Party and Gunnlaugsson's Progressive party – that had been in charge for much of Iceland's discredited boom years between 2003 and 2008. "The old rascals are back," laughs Geir Haarde, former Independence Party leader and prime minister at the time of the crash.

The previous government had twice negotiated terms under which Iceland would repay the UK and the Netherlands, with interest, for the cost of bailing out Icesave savers. It was made plain to ministers at the time that continued IMF support depended on such a deal.

But both proposals, despite being passed by the Icelandic parliament, were overwhelmingly defeated in public referenda thanks in part Gunnlaugsson. Popular opinion in Iceland had railed against what Gunnlaugsson grass roots campaign group InDefence portrayed as bullying forces from overseas, set on extracting reparations from Reykjavik akin to those sought from Germany in the Treaty of Versailles.

InDefence attacked Britain in particular, accusing Gordon Brown's government of deliberately damaging Iceland's standing in international markets in 2008 by using anti-terrorism laws to freeze the UK assets of Landsbanki. The bank, together with Iceland's finance ministry, was even place on a UK list of financially sanctioned regimes alongside North Korea and al-Qaida.

As time went on, however, eminent economists began to reassess Iceland's reputation as a pariah state, contrasting it favourably with, among others, Ireland, which had been similarly laid low by an outsized banking sector and forced to seek emergency help from the IMF.

"Where everyone else bailed out the bankers and made the public pay the price, Iceland let the banks go bust and actually expanded its social safety net," noted Paul Krugman, admiringly. Iceland, he found, had demonstrated the "case for letting creditors of private banks gone wild eat the losses".

Nobel prize winner Joeseph Stilitz agreed. "What Iceland did was right. It would have been wrong to burden future generations with the mistakes of the financial system." For Financial Times economist Martin Wolf too, it was a triumph. "Iceland let the creditors of its banks hang. Ireland did not. Good for Iceland!" Less good, of course, for the foreign creditors. And Not all of the foreign creditors are the vulture funds Gunnlaugsson talks of. British and Dutch taxpayers still have significant exposure to the Landsbanki administration. As priority creditors they have had almost 55% of their claims repaid, though the remainder will take a good deal longer to be paid out. There are UK local authorities and charities, too, which entrusted more than £1bn with failed Icelandic banks and are still waiting to get much of their money back. Meanwhile, taxpayer-controlled Royal Bank of Scotland had been one of the largest investors in Icelandic bank bonds, a position that has left it a non-priority claimant, expecting only minimal returns in its claims.

Until recently RBS had remained on the banks' creditor lists but sold its positions to distressed debt specialists earlier this year — at a heavy loss — as the outlook for creditors began to look more uncertain in the face of Gunnlaugsson's rising fortunes.

The Icelandic prime minister has promised to give further details of his populist programme for tax cuts and home loan debt relief next month, and will be under pressure to show how he expects to fund such moves. It remains to be seen if he gains more from squeezing foreign creditors trapped within Iceland's capital controls than he loses in terms of the damage to Iceland's reputation among international investors.

Last month Gunnlaugsson flew to London to address the Iceland Investment Forum, finishing his speech by declaring: "Hope to see you, and your money, in Iceland."

The response, from an audience largely of Icelanders and representatives of the foreign creditors, was a ripple of nervous laughter. Gunnlaugsson will not want that laughter to grow any louder.
Return to riches

Icelanders are fast on their way back to becoming among the richest people in the world, just five years after experiencing one of the most dramatic financial meltdowns in history.

"If you say Iceland was a ship, it [the 2008 banking crash] caused a lot of damage to the bridge, but the body of the ship and the engine were still in good order," said Geir Haarde, prime minister at the time. He added: "Our growth prospects for the future are tremendous."

Haarde's government was ousted three months after the crash in the face of noisy street demonstrations which became known as the "pots and pans revolution". A new Left-Green led coalition pushed the country through the strictures of an IMF bailout programme.

"We raised almost every tax there was – and introduced new ones," recalled the then finance minister, Steingrimur Sigfusson, adding that there were considerable cuts in public spending too as government debt swelled to eye-watering levels.

By August 2011, Iceland had graduated from its International Monetary Fund bailout programme with flying colours. "We became a poster child for them," suggests Sigfusson, noting how the fund is still struggling to right many other sinking economies on Europe's peripheries.

Weeks after the IMF exit, a conference was held in Reykjavik, where the mood was close to celebratory. "As the first country to experience the full force of the global economic crisis," the IMF said, "Iceland is now held up as an example by some of how to overcome deep economic dislocation without undoing the social fabric."

Since then, with government borrowing receding, Iceland has been able to return to the international debt markets, and has begun repaying its emergency loans. Meanwhile, the economy – having shrunk more than 10% in two years – bounced in 2011 and 2012, and will grow by about 1.9% this year.

Many Icelanders wince at the suggestion that they have escaped lightly from their IMF ordeal. Disposable income fell by a quarter after the crash, and 30,000 people – one-tenth of the population – have fallen into serious loan default; thousands of homes have been repossessed.

But that is not the whole story. Throughout the crisis, the Icelandic population has maintained the lowest risk of poverty or social exclusion in Europe. Unemployment, which briefly rose to 9.2%, has dropped back to 5.1%. Inflation is falling back to its target range, and house prices in Reykjavik are on the rise. Credit rating agency Fitch gave this assessment of the recovery in February: "The upgrade reflects the impressive progress Iceland continues to make ... [and] is underpinned by high income-per-capita levels. Rich natural resources, a young population and robust pension assets further support the rating."

Although Iceland has a small population of 317,000, supporting one of the smallest currencies in the world, its resources are mighty in comparison. One in 84 fish caught around the world is caught by Icelandic trawlers in the nation's rich north Atlantic waters. Meanwhile, glacial meltwater powers the nations hydro power stations and, together with geothermal generators, produce electricity five times the requirements of the local population.

Haarde, who has left politics, says: "We are used to living quite well. Actually we were only set back a few years. Let's leave aside why this happened, and the blame. When the crisis came to Iceland we were fortunate enough to do what was necessary. The banks never closed, people were able to go to their banks and use their credit cards. There were older people who didn't even realize their had been a crisis."

• This article was amended

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