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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1090423 times)
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« Reply #9225 on: Oct 09, 2013, 07:30 AM »

Nobel Chemistry Prize won by Karplus, Levitt and Warshel for devising computer simulations that are used to understand and predict chemical processes

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 9, 2013 6:32 EDT

Three molecular chemists won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry on Wednesday for devising computer simulations that are used to understand and predict chemical processes, the jury said.

Martin Karplus, a US-Austrian citizen, Michael Levitt, a US-British citizen, and Arieh Warshel of the US and Israel, were honoured “for the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems,” the jury said.

Their prizewinning work has helped develop computer models mirroring real life, “which have become crucial for most advances made in chemistry today.”

As a result, powerful computer programmes can be used to predict complex chemical processes, providing pharmaceutical engineers and manufacturing chemists with a fast-track way to solve problems.

These processes can take place in a fraction of a millisecond, defeating conventional algorithms that try to map them step by step.

The contribution of the three was to combine classical physics with quantum physics in their model.

This hugely boosts the number of permutations for calculation, although it also requires enormous computer power to crunch the data.

“The strength of the methods that Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel have developed is that they are universal,” the Nobel panel said.

“They can be used to study all kinds of chemistry; from the molecules of life to industrial chemical processes. Scientists can optimize solar cells, catalysts in motor vehicles or even drugs, to take but a few examples.”

Karplus, 83, Levitt, 66 and Warshel, 72, all work at US universities.

The trio will share the prize sum of eight million Swedish kronor ($1.25 million, 925,000 euros), reduced because of the economic crisis last year from the 10 million kronor awarded since 2001.

In line with tradition, the laureates will receive their prize at a formal ceremony in Stockholm on December 10, the anniversary of prize founder Alfred Nobel’s death in 1896.

Last year, the honour went to Robert Lefkowitz and Brian Kobilka of the United States for identifying a class of cell receptor, yielding vital insights into how the body works at the molecular level.

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« Reply #9226 on: Oct 09, 2013, 07:32 AM »

First-ever comet material discovered on Earth

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, October 8, 2013 20:24 EDT

A comet exploded over modern-day Egypt 28 million years ago, raining down fire and leaving behind a “mysterious” black pebble — the first-ever comet material found on Earth, scientists said Tuesday as they announced the discovery.

“Comets always visit our skies — they’re these dirty snowballs of ice mixed with dust — but never before in history has material from a comet ever been found on Earth,” said professor David Block at South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand.

Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun had a scarab broach made from yellow silica glass created when the comet’s explosion heated sand to 2,000 degrees Celsius (3,600 degrees Fahrenheit).

But also left behind was the first comet material discovered on Earth — a black pebble embedded in the modern-day Sahara’s sands, the university said in a statement.

The pebble was “the first ever evidence of a comet entering Earth’s atmosphere and exploding, raining down a shock wave of fire which obliterated every life form in its path,” it said.

South African scholars headed a team of geoscientists, physicists and astronomers who tested the pebble, which was found in 1996.

It had “been sitting around for a long time” until it ended up with a team member studying diamonds, according to Johannesburg University professor Jan Kramers.

The shock of impact created microscopic diamonds on the pebble, but studies showed this was no ordinary bit of stone.

The 30-gramme (one-ounce) pebble had a clear “extraterrestrial component” yet was distinctly different from meteorites, said Kramers.

“If you compare it with meteorites… they contain only about three percent carbon. And this thing contains 65 percent carbon,” he told AFP.

Chemical tests led the experts to “the inescapable conclusion that it represented the very first known hand specimen of a comet nucleus,” according to the University of the Witwatersrand.

Previous comet material has only been found in dust in the Earth’s atmosphere or carbon-bearing dust in Antarctic ice.

“NASA and ESA (the European Space Agency) spend billions of dollars collecting a few microgrammes of comet material and bringing it back to Earth,” said Kramers, who is the head writer of an upcoming peer-reviewed article on the discovery.

“Now we’ve got a radical new approach of studying this material, without spending billions of dollars collecting it,” he added.

Though only one was discovered, many more such stones are thought to litter the desert in the 6,000-kilometre (3,700-mile) area where the comet struck.

Named after Hypatia, the famous astronomer from Alexandria born in the year 350, the pebble will help future study into where our own planetary system comes from, said the Witwatersrand’s Block.

“Comets contain the very secrets to unlocking the formation of our solar system and this discovery gives us an unprecedented opportunity to study comet material first hand,” he said.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #9227 on: Oct 09, 2013, 08:05 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America..

Politicians, press dodge crucial debate on surveillance

by Dan Froomkin
Al Jazeera America.
October 9, 2013 6:00AM ET

Commentary: The Snowden leaks have exposed the need for a national discussion on privacy, but it isn't happening.

Throughout all the bombshell revelations this summer about U.S. government surveillance, President Barack Obama and top intelligence officials have insisted they welcome a public debate on the balance between security and privacy.

But in reality, they could not be trying much harder to stifle it.

Thanks to the bountiful leaks from Edward Snowden to The Guardian and other newspapers, the public is finally getting an accurate sense of the vast U.S. electronic surveillance regime that collects, connects and retains massive amounts of information about all of us — although government officials are asking us to believe that almost none of it ever gets looked at by anyone.

Far from being forthcoming, however, when administration representatives have made themselves available for questions, their answers have been defensive — often vague or overly narrow, misleading or plainly untruthful. In oversight hearings, they have attacked the leaks and the leaker, made unsubstantiated complaints about press coverage, misrepresented the concerns of privacy advocates and employed scare tactics.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has been one of the few members of Congress to complain about it, raising one subterfuge in particular: "After years of stonewalling on whether the government has ever tracked or planned to track the location of law-abiding Americans through their cellphones," he said in a statement last week, "once again, the intelligence leadership has decided to leave most of the real story secret — even when the truth would not compromise national security."

The President has charged two ostensibly independent commissions to report back to him on some possible reforms, but he has indicated that he thinks the most that might be needed is some tweaks. "People may want to jigger slightly sort of the balance between the information that we can get versus the incremental encroachments on privacy that if haven't already taken place might take place in a future administration, or as technologies develop further," Obama told reporters in August.

What the nation needs, however, is not reassurance from politicians about a few secret changes to covert programs. We need an accessible public discussion of what privacy means in this new era.

Americans have historically had a reasonable expectation that the government was not watching their every move. But the kind of ubiquitous surveillance that once required a massive application of manpower is now cheap, and will soon be effortless.

Thanks to the Snowden revelations, we now know that the government already sweeps up vast amount of information about Americans, including "metadata" showing whom they talk to and email, public and commercial information including bank codes, insurance information, Facebook profiles, transportation manifests and GPS-location information.

When you add that all up — even stopping short of actually listening in on your phone calls and reading your emails — there is basically no privacy left.

So the central questions posed by the Snowden revelations are these: Is there still a right to privacy in the modern age? And if so, how far does it extend?

The nature of privacy is too important to be be determined by a small group of experts behind closed doors.

And because congressional leaders appear disinclined to call attention to their own historical submissiveness to the executive branch in this area — even though they control the funding and oversight of the intelligence agencies — the following questions will need to be addressed in public by the media, through probing journalism, on-the-record interviews, public-records requests, and town halls and other public forums that encourage citizen involvement:

Do American citizens have a right to private electronic communication? Does anyone else here or abroad? Does that right protect just the content of their communications or the metadata about those communications? Or does the government's duty to protect Americans justify the collection, storage, analysis and monitoring of every electronic communication between persons?

Although most people travel openly in public and do not take precautions about being seen, they do not thereby consent to being tracked. Nor do they expect their phones to be used as tracking devices. So should there be limits to the government use of location data gathered from cell phones, mobile apps and public video cameras?

What is permissible for other governments to do to Americans? Is the U.S. government protecting Americans from surveillance by foreign governments, or is it sharing our secrets with them? Does the U.S. intelligence community recognize any privacy rights at all for citizens of other countries?

What about attorney-client privilege? Doctor-patient confidentiality? Journalist-source secrecy? Should those be shielded from the scrutiny of U.S. intelligence — either at home or abroad? Should U.S. legislators and judges be subject to the same surveillance as everyone else?

Is the very act of collecting massive amounts of information about Americans and putting it into a giant database a violation of privacy? Or does it only matter when and if that information is accessed and used by officials?

Secure encryption protects Internet commerce, provides security and authenticates identity. Should Americans grant the government the power to undermine it? If so, under what circumstances?

And why should we trust what government officials say about surveillance programs? If nothing else, the Snowden leaks have made it painfully obvious that they have misled the public for a very long time.

Despite such dishonesty, Americans are being asked to trust that the government will access its massive databases only for legitimate investigative purposes. We are being asked to trust the intelligence community to police itself.

How can the public be confident that any of the rules meant to protect its privacy are really being enforced? How can we be confident the government can even keep track of what it is doing?

Finally, how much of the surveillance regime really needs to be secret? Al-Qaeda operatives are surely aware that the government is watching them in countless ways. What could more disclosure about the general nature of the programs tell them that they do not already surmise? How can Americans assert their rights against encroachment from such programs if they remain ignorant about them?

The Snowden revelations have been so numerous that they are still being processed, and more are to come. Predicting the public's reaction is difficult: More shocks could bring numbness and paralysis — or they could stimulate the public's desire for a coming-to-terms.

The public and the press have perhaps been cowed from demanding a more open and frank discussion of these issues in deference to national security concerns. But the Snowden revelations demand more of us.

The nature of privacy is too important to be determined by a small group of experts behind closed doors. This is the kind of debate that comes around only once in a generation, and is possibly even unique to this moment in history as our analog world transitions to a digital one.

The future of this debate depends on how the national press responds. It could allow this story to fade into just so much more background noise. Or the press could embrace its rightful role as the champion of the public interest, and make sure regular American citizens are a party to important decisions about what is private and what is not in the digital age.

Opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Al Jazeera America.


Whatever Democracy you have left in America will be finally and totally gone ... read below ...

October 8, 2013

Supreme Court Again Weighs Spending Limits in Campaigns


WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday seemed prepared to strike down a part of federal campaign finance law left intact by its decision in Citizens United in 2010: overall limits on direct contributions from individuals to candidates.

The justices seemed to divide along familiar ideological lines, and they articulated starkly different understandings of the role of money and free speech in American politics.

“By having these limits, you are promoting democratic participation,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said. “Then the little people will count some and you won’t have the super-affluent as the speakers that will control the elections.”

Justice Antonin Scalia responded, sarcastically, that he assumed “a law that only prohibits the speech of 2 percent of the country is O.K.”

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who probably holds the crucial vote, indicated that he was inclined to strike down overall limits on contributions to several candidates, but perhaps not separate overall limits on contributions to several political committees.

At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, President Obama said the case had the potential to destroy what was left of campaign finance regulation.

“The latest case would go even further than Citizens United,” he said. “It would say anything goes: there are no rules in terms of how to finance campaigns.”

The case, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, No. 12-536, is a sort of sequel to Citizens United, which struck down limits on independent campaign spending on television advertisements and the like by corporations and unions. The new case is an attack on the other main pillar of federal campaign finance regulation: limits on contributions made directly to political candidates and party committees.

The case was brought by Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama businessman, and the Republican National Committee. It is in one way modest and in another ambitious. It does not attack the familiar basic limits on contributions from individuals to candidates or party committees. The $2,600 cap on contributions to a given candidate in each election, for instance, is not at issue in the case.

Instead, the challengers take issue with separate overall limits of $48,600 every two years for individuals’ contributions to all federal candidates and $74,600 to political party committees. (Federal law continues to ban direct contributions to candidates or political parties from corporations and unions.)

“These limits,” said Erin E. Murphy, a lawyer for Mr. McCutcheon, “simply seek to prevent individuals from engaging in too much First Amendment activity.”

Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. responded that the aggregate limits were an important tool to prevent circumvention of the base limits. Allowing multiple contributions to interlocking political committees affiliated with candidates and parties could, he said, effectively funnel large sums from individuals to support given candidates.

“Aggregate limits combat corruption,” he said.

The court’s more liberal members outlined various ways the base limits could be avoided. Justice Elena Kagan said it would be possible to write checks for $3.5 million to various entities in the hope the money would find its way to a candidate. “You give $3.5 million,” she said, “you get a very, very special place at the table.”

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. responded that the proposed end runs were fanciful.

“What I see are wild hypotheticals that are not obviously plausible and certainly lack any empirical support,” he said.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer repeatedly suggested that the case should be returned to a lower court to develop evidence on these points, but his proposal did not seem to gain traction.

Should the court agree that some overall limits are unconstitutional, the decision could represent a reassessment of a basic distinction established in a 1976 decision, Buckley v. Valeo, which said contributions may be regulated more strictly than expenditures because of their potential for corruption.

Independent spending, the court said, is political speech protected by the First Amendment. But contributions may be capped, the court said, in the name of preventing corruption.

The effect of the distinction is to allow unlimited spending from rich people, corporations and unions so long as the spending is not coordinated with the candidate they support. Several justices suggested that it makes no sense in such an environment to limit direct contributions to candidates and parties.

“It’s not that we’re stopping people from spending big money on politics,” Justice Scalia said.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy contrasted two people.

“One person gives an amount to a candidate that’s limited,” he said. “The other takes out ads, uncoordinated, just all on his own, costing $500,000. Don’t you think that second person has more access to the candidate?”

Mr. Verrilli said the court’s campaign finance jurisprudence treated the two kinds of expenditures differently.

Justice Kagan acknowledged the point but said the solution was not to deregulate contributions. Rather, she said, it is to rein in independent spending.

“If this court is having second thoughts about its ruling that independent expenditures are not corrupting, we could change that part of the law,” she said, to laughter.

Chief Justice Roberts returned repeatedly to a possible distinction between the two kinds of overall limits. He said he accepted the possibility of circumvention where multiple committees were involved but could not see why individuals could not give to any numbers of candidates.

“The effect of the aggregate limits is to limit someone’s contribution of the maximum amount to about nine candidates,” he said. “Is there a way to eliminate that aspect while retaining some of the aggregate limits?”

Ms. Murphy did not seem eager to win only half of her case.

The chief justice asked a similar question of Mr. Verrilli. Would it be possible, he wanted to know, to address circumvention “while at the same time allowing an individual to contribute to however many House candidates he wants to contribute to?”

Mr. Verrilli conceded that the current limits forbid some contributions of that kind. “That’s true,” he said. “We can’t help but acknowledge that. It’s math.” But he said the limits were permitted by the First Amendment.

Chief Justice Roberts disagreed.

“You could not have a rule that says The Post or The New York Times can only endorse nine candidates,” he said.

Justice Alito at one point suggested he might endorse the chief justice’s approach. “These aggregate limits might not all stand or fall together,” he said.

Last year, a three-judge panel of the Federal District Court in Washington upheld the overall limits, saying they were justified by the need to prevent the circumvention of the basic limits.

“Although we acknowledge the constitutional line between political speech and political contributions grows increasingly difficult to discern,” Judge Janice Rogers Brown wrote for the court, “we decline plaintiffs’ invitation to anticipate the Supreme Court’s agenda.”

The court led by Chief Justice Roberts has so far been consistently hostile to campaign finance limits in its half-dozen decisions in argued cases on the subject so far. The five more conservative justices have voted together in all of those cases, though Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito have taken a more incremental approach than the bolder one called for by Justices Scalia, Kennedy and Clarence Thomas.


The War on Civil Rights Goes to The Supreme Court

By: Adalia Woodbury
Wednesday, October 9th, 2013, 9:26 am

While McCutcheon v the FEC is an important case because it would finish the conservative dream of transforming our representative democracy to a corporatist dictatorship, the SCOTUS has a docket full of additional cases taking direct hits at established constitutional rights and social policy.

Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action brings affirmative action back to the Supreme Court.  Unlike direct challenges to affirmative action, this case claims that states have a right to use the ballot initiative to ban it. Depending on the ruling.  the Teatalitarian Party could see this case as a green light to circumvent the U.S. constitution. The question before the Supreme Court is whether an amendment banning affirmative action in a state constitution violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. constitution.

The state constitutional amendment that bans affirmative action resulted from a ballot initiative  in 2006. The proposal was rejected by the 6th District Court in 2011 because “it places an unfair burden on those seeking to have race considered as one of many factors in university admissions.” Practically speaking, this means the constitutional amendment protects advocacy for white privilege while banning advocacy for greater diversity in the student body.  Rick Snyder’s Attorney-General, Bill Schuette appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States which will listen to arguments for this case on October 15th.

The plaintiffs in McCullen v. Coakley claim that Massachusetts’ abortion clinic buffer zone law violates the first and fourteenth amendment rights of pro-birth activists who just want to be really close when they offer women sidewalk “counselling” the women never asked for. Of course, the pro-birth movement’s definition of “counselling” includes things like shoving pictures of aborted fetuses in women’s faces.  Anyone can see you can’t do that 35 feet away.

They also like to tell the women that they will burn in hell, that abortions cause breast cancer and makes it harder to bear children later. But I digress.

The law, passed in 2000, establishes a buffer zone that keeps protestors 35 feet away from the clinics’ entrances and driveways. Originally, the law was passed following a 1994 mass shooting in which 2 abortion clinic employees were killed and several more people were wounded.

But, as the plaintiff’s lawyer explained  ”You can’t stand outside 35 feet and communicate with people … You have to have eye contact.”

The plaintiffs claim the buffer law is really about “view point discrimination” directed at the pro-birth movement and they have high hopes that the court will “revisit some of its own prior precedents that led lower courts to believe that, as a matter of law, pro-life speech is less deserving of protection.”

The fact of the matter is the law keeps all protestors, regardless of viewpoint, 35 feet away from the abortion clinic.  As such, the law doesn’t preclude the pro-birth movement from voicing their opinions to people who want to hear them. The fact that the pro-birth movement thinks that just because they do have a right to say whatever they want, it means they can literally force people to listen.  Moreover, the extreme elements of the pro-birth movement aren’t satisfied with merely telling their lies and shoving pictures in women’s faces.  As noted earlier, Massachusetts passed the abortion buffer zone law because a pro-birther shot several people outside an abortion clinic, killing two of them.

We also have the history of clinic bombings, pro-birthers harassing and killing doctors in the name of furthering their cause.  In other words, this law was passed as a means to provide physical safety to patients and people who work at the clinics.

Conservatives aren’t happy with merely limiting women’s access to abortion under any circumstances, including those under which the mother’s life is at risk or the pregnancy is the result of rape.  Now, they’re arguing that employers have the right to impose their religious beliefs about contraception on women they employ.

This time conservative activists are hoping the court rules in favor of employers stepping between women and their doctors in one or both of two cases. The Court will hear Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius at the request of the Federal Government.  Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius is working its way through the legal system.

In Mount Holly v. Mount Holly Gardens Citizens in Action, which will be argued on December 4th, conservatives hope the court will gut the protections against racial discrimination provided under the Fair Housing Act.

In 2000, the township of Mount Holly began to buy homes in the low income and predominatly African American/Hispanic neighborhood.  Most if not all of the homes were demolished and replaced with new, more expensive homes.  The community sued the township, alleging that the township violated the Fair Housing Act and other anti-discrimination laws. In practical terms, they were priced out of their neighborhood and for that matter, priced out of any housing in Mount Holly, including rentals.

According to the DOJ’s amicus brief,  the community presented a study during litigation, which concluded that the redevelopment plan the redevelopment plan would adversely affect 22.54% of the African-American households and 32.31% of the Hispanic households, but only 2.73% of the white households.  The study also concluded that the new housing would be affordable to 79% of the entire county’s white households, but only 21% of African American and Hispanic households.

It isn’t hard to see that the township’s idea of improving the neighborhood would result in a radical change in the neighborhood’s demographics.  It also isn’t hard to see why far right organizations like the CATO institute favor this form of neighborhood improvement and have joined with the Township in this case.

The Gardens’ residents can’t afford the new housing not because of their race but because of their poverty. While it’s a harsh truth that a disproportionate number of minorities live in poverty, claiming that making expensive products is racist and that these “racists” have an obligation to compensate the victims of poverty is absurd. The FHA was intended, in the words of Senator Walter Mondale, “to permit people who have the ability to do so to buy any house offered to the public if they can afford to buy it. It would not overcome the economic problem of those who could not afford to purchase the house of their choice.”

Of course, such thinking only makes sense to people who believe that laws protecting minorities from discrimination are an affront to the racial entitlement known as white privilege. Let’s face it, the same people who argue how unfortunate it is that a disproportionate number of minorities live in policy, have done everything to preserve it.  They have worked to make college less accessible, eliminate protections against racism in college admissions. By creating obstacles to post-secondary education, conservatives are also denying the people affected by those policies the opportunity to get better paying jobs.

When combined with other policies that will inevitably result in creating an underclass largely comprised of racial minorities, the end result is creating more racial segregation.  So while building more expensive houses is not, per se, racist, passing policies that inevitably result in racial segregation is.


Bernie Sanders Storms The Supreme Court to Stop the Koch Brothers Theft of Democracy

By: Jason Easley
Tuesday, October 8th, 2013, 5:28 pm

At a rally outside the Supreme Court, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) took on the Koch brothers and said, “Freedom of speech does not equal freedom to buy the United States government.”


Sen. Sanders said,

    In the long history of our country people have fought and died for democracy. Democracy means one person, one vote. The fact that all of us have the opportunity to be involved in the political process to stand up for what we believe in. Three years ago, or so the Supreme Court decided that corporations are people. They decided that through independent expenditures billionaires could spend unlimited sums of money to impact elections.

    Let me say one word to you right now about how relevant that is. As all of you know, the government of the United States shut down. Hundreds of thousands of workers are suffering, millions of people are not getting the services they need. Right now, as we speak, in the House of Representatives there are people who are being threatened that if they vote for a clean CR to open the government without destroying the Affordable Care Act then huge sums of money will be spent against them in the next election.

    We are living in a society where a handful of people with incredible sums of money, folks like the Koch brothers and others, are undermining what this democracy is supposed to be about. The bottom line here is that if we do not want to move this nation to an oligarchic form of society where a handful of billionaires can determine the outcome of these elections, then it is imperative not only that we overturn Citizens United, but that we put a lid on how much people can contribute in elections.

    Freedom of speech, in my view, does not mean the freedom to buy the United States government

Sen. Sanders was present at the Supreme Court to hear oral arguments in the case of McCutcheon vs. FEC. The Supreme Court will deciding the fate of the caps that limit how much donors can give to candidates and political organizations during a two year election cycle later in this term.

If the Supreme Court rules the caps unconstitutional, it will allow conservative billionaires to spend even more money in their attempt to execute a hostile takeover of the United States government.

The case is so dangerous to our democracy that President Obama weighed in on it today. The president called for spending limits in our elections, and spoke about the role that the conservative billionaires have played in shutting down the government.

Sen. Sanders is fighting the good fight, and if Americans want to know why the government is shutdown, all they have to is follow the money. Government shutdowns are bad, defaults are worse, but these tactics are nothing compared to the damage that the current Supreme Court is doing to our democracy.


Debt ceiling: Obama issues fresh warning to Republicans as stalemate drags on

President shoots down new suggestions among Republicans that US could prioritise payments to avoid lasting damage

Dan Roberts in Washington, Tuesday 8 October 2013 22.46 BST   
Barack Obama expresses dismay over the political impasse between Republicans and Democrats

Barack Obama has warned of immediate damage to US creditworthiness if Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling – even if the Treasury can find funds to avoid triggering a technical default in the bond market.

With billions of dollars of payments to social security, recipients and lenders competing for possible attention if such a crisis were to occur, the president shot down new suggestions among Republicans that the administration could prioritise payments to avoid lasting damage.

Dubbed the 'pay China first' strategy by some Democrat critics, the argument growing in Congress is that October 17 is not the hard and fast deadline portrayed by the White House because the US has a choice over which bills to pay first and can avoid missing market-sensitive payments.

But the notion was rejected by the president on Tuesday, who told reporters that skipping any payments would alarm markets to such an extent that the cost of borrowing for the US government was bound to go up anyway.

“What I am told is: if the markets are seeing that we are not paying our bills on time, that will affect our creditworthiness – even if bondholders are paid on time,” said Obama.

Obama refused to answer questions about the legal requirements on the US to prioritise certain financial liabilities first, although Treasury secretary Jack Lew is expected to give further details to Congress on Thursday in evidence that will be keenly scrutinised by bondholders and other international creditors already anxious about the crisis.

The last time the US was perceived as close to a default, during a similar standoff over debt limits in 2011, credit rating agency Standard & Poor's downgraded the US to AA-plus from AAA, even though a temporary deal was struck.

All three agencies would have to take immediate action if payments to bond holders were missed, but may take similar precautionary measures as soon as theOctober 17 deadline for a debt ceiling deal declared by the US Treasury is passed.

Obama again ruled out taking extreme legal steps to circumvent the deadlock in Congress, such as relying on the 14th amendment to make unilateral borrowing decisions.

"Setting aside legal analysis," the president said taking that approach would cause damage because it would end up tied up in litigation. He also insisted he was not a fan of "rolling out a big coin" to raise the debt ceiling, a reference to the idea of minting a $1tn coin to resolve the situation.

His comments came as positions hardened further between the White House and Republican leadership.

Obama reiterated that he would be prepared to accept a temporary extension of the debt limit and government spending authority as a prelude to talks with Republicans, but otherwise stuck to his position that he will not negotiate at all while Congress continues to threaten a default or maintains the shutdown.

This brought a swift, if increasingly predictable, response from House speaker John Boehner, who pointed to previous occasions when presidents have negotiated to avoid such standoff.

“What the president said today is that if there is unconditional surrender by Republicans, he will sit down and negotiate with us,” said Boehner, “Well, that's just not how our system works.”


Obama Slams Citizens United and the Koch Brothers for Skewing Our Politics

By: Jason Easley
Tuesday, October 8th, 2013, 3:52 pm

During his press conference today, President Obama took aim at Citizens United and the Koch brothers for causing many of the problems in Washington, and skewing American politics.

When asked about the latest Supreme Court campaign finance case that would go beyond Citizens United, the president said,

    Well the latest case would go even further than Citizens United. It would essentially say anything goes. There are no rules in terms of how to finance campaigns. There aren’t a lot of functioning democracies around the world that work this way where you can basically have millionaires and billionaires bankrolling whoever they want, however they want, in some cases undisclosed. What it means is ordinary Americans are shutout of the process. And Democrats aren’t entirely innocent of this in the past, and you know I had to raise a lot of money for my campaign. There’s nobody that operates in politics that has perfectly clean hands on this issue, but what is also true is that all of us should bind ourselves to some rules that say the people who vote for us should more important than somebody who’s spending a million dollars, ten million dollars or a hundred million dollars to helps us get elected. Because we don’t know what their agendas are. We don’t know what their interests are.

    And I continue to believe that Citizens United Contributed to some of the problems we’re having in Washington today. You know, you have some ideological extremist who has big bankroll and they can entirely skew our politics, and there are a whole bunch of members of Congress right now who privately will tell you, I know our positions are unreasonable, but we’re scared that if we don’t go along with the tea party agenda or some particularly extremist agenda that we’ll be challenged from the right, and the threats are very explicit, so they toe the line. That’s part of why we’ve seen a breakdown of just normal routine business done here in Washington on behalf of the American people.

The president explained that the Republicans who are in gerrymandered districts are much more worried about a tea party challenger, and that makes it harder for them to compromise.

Obama was obviously talking about the Koch brothers when he mentioned extremist billionaires who are skewing our politics. While the other right wing billionaires were active in the 2012 election, the Koch brothers are still spending hundreds of millions of dollars on repealing Obamacare efforts alone.

The reason why John Boehner has no power over the House Republicans is that they answer to the Koch brothers and other big donors first. This is why if the American people want their government to function properly and work for them again, Citizens United must be gotten rid of. Until this nation has elected leaders that answer to the people, the United States will continue to limp from one Republican created crisis to another. Because we have one political party being opposed by right wing billionaires who are trying to take over the government.


Are Moderate Republicans Ready to Revolt Against G.O.P. Leadership?

By: Becky Sarwate
Tuesday, October 8th, 2013, 6:41 pm

Despite a strong aversion to anyone who brands themselves a conservative in 2013, I am really starting to like New York House Republican Peter King (not to be confused with “cantaloupe calf” idiot Steve King). King apparently has no qualms at all about refuting the claims of his party’s leadership in the interest of common sense. Despite endless G.O.P attempts to brand the current government shutdown as a development of Democratic choice, King will have none of it.

See King go toe to toe with Fox News host Chris Wallace this weekend, reminding the disingenuous network that Republicans “are the ones who shut down the government.” Listen to him blame treasonous Senator Ted Cruz for foisting a “strategy doomed to failure” on House lemmings. My enthusiasm is tempered of course by the fact that King has yet to agree to join Democrats in bringing up a clean continuing resolution for a House floor vote, but I wonder how long he can hold out. New York State is definitely not Tea Party territory, and for every safe and cozy gerrymandered Representative, there is a swing state House member that has to worry about his or her position in 2014.

There are other signs that the once quiet Republican moderate voice is converting to a dull roar. One of the lead stories featured in the New York Times this week, A G.O.P. Moderate in the Middle … of a Jam, evaluates the plight of Representative Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania. Dent, who occupies the seat once held by unyielding conservative Senator Patrick J. Toomey, has demonstrated real leadership throughout this crisis. Last week he did the Tea Party unthinkable. Partnering with Democratic Representative Ron Kind of Wisconsin, Dent rolled out a bill that would reopen the government with six months of spending. The proposal included a repeal of the ACA medical device tax but stopped far, far short of demanding the defund or repeal of the Obamacare horse that has already left the barn.

Then we have sometimes maverick Arizona Senator John McCain, who was ahead of the curve in March of this year when he labeled Cruz and fellow GOP obstructionist Rand Paul (among others) a crew of “wacko birds.”

Granted, these are just three voices and I join the chorus of many pundits at both ends of the political spectrum who assert that G.O.P. leadership owns much of the blame for this sorry state of affairs. By allowing themselves to be shoved so far to the right that the party is now hanging onto relevancy by the thinnest of threads, they exposed the entire country to the empowered bullying of extremists. But if there is any good to come from the shutdown and impending debt ceiling battle (and granted, it is precious little), I suspect that a coalition of humiliated Republican lawmakers are about to go all Farrah Fawcett from The Burning Bed on their cohorts.

Politico writer Manu Raju published a story last week about the party’s growing disenchantment, with Ted Cruz and his kamikaze tactics. “At a closed-door lunch meeting in the Senate’s Mansfield Room, Republican after Republican pressed Cruz to explain how he would propose to end the bitter budget impasse with Democrats, according to senators who attended the meeting. A defensive Cruz had no clear plan to force an end to the shutdown — or explain how he would defund Obamacare, as he has demanded all along, sources said.”

I know most of us are thinking, “Yeah, let me know when they start piling on Cruz in OPEN door meetings.” But as disapproval of Republican shutdown tactics surges to 70 percent and the stalemate continues with no end in sight, the dwindling caucus of sane G.O.P. leadership is bound to revolt. After all, 21st Century politics is all about the election cycle and dominating the news of the day. And with millions of workers displaced by the shutdown across party lines, with government tasks piling up and with mounting evidence that red states are faring worst of all in the stalemate, it won’t be long before high profile Republicans decided they’d like to try to keep their jobs, even as party mates cost taxpayers theirs.


A Terrified John Boehner Warns House Republicans, ‘Democrats Want to Annihilate Us’

By: Jason Easley
Tuesday, October 8th, 2013, 1:28 pm

In a private meeting with House Republicans a terrified Speaker John Boehner warned his House Republicans that the Democrats, ‘want to annihilate us.’

According the National Review,

Speaker John Boehner rallied his troops this morning at a closed-door conference meeting at the Capitol. Democrats are trying to “annihilate us,” he told his members. “We can get through this if we stick together.” The Ohio Republican added that a “grand bargain” is off the table. What he wants is something that “builds on the gains we’ve made over the past three years, puts points on the board, and doesn’t raise taxes.”

John Boehner finally gets it. Democrats aren’t playing some damn game. They are taking a stand against the House Republican tactics of obstruction and hostage taking. It reveals the depths of their delusion that House Republicans consider forcing them to govern to be the equivalent of annihilation. Democrats aren’t trying to destroy the House Republicans. They are trying to get them to do their jobs.

Boehner’s language is telling. He was not speaking as a firm confident leader who was planning on victory. The use of the phrase, “we can get through this” demonstrated fear and terror. Republicans aren’t winning. They know they aren’t winning, and now they are just looking to survive.

Boehner also undercut his own claim that this isn’t a game by using the sports analogy of putting points on the board. If this isn’t a game to Republicans, why is Speaker Boehner so interested in scoring political points?

House Republicans were so certain that Democrats would cave on the government shutdown that they never considered what might happen if Democrats simply said no. The more Democrats say no, the more John Boehner tries to lower expectations. The House Republicans have gone from getting rid of the ACA, to delaying the ACA, to looking for something, anything that they can use as a symbolic victory.

Democrats aren’t going to give Boehner and his House Republicans anything. That’s why he is trying to just ride it out. Speaker Boehner now realizes what the real stakes are, and he has been reduced to hoping that the Republican House majority can survive.


October 6, 2013

The Boehner Bunglers


The federal government is shut down, we’re about to hit the debt ceiling (with disastrous economic consequences), and no resolution is in sight. How did this happen?

The main answer, which only the most pathologically “balanced” reporting can deny, is the radicalization of the Republican Party. As Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein put it last year in their book, “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks,” the G.O.P. has become “an insurgent outlier — ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

But there’s one more important piece of the story. Conservative leaders are indeed ideologically extreme, but they’re also deeply incompetent. So much so, in fact, that the Dunning-Kruger effect — the truly incompetent can’t even recognize their own incompetence — reigns supreme.

To see what I’m talking about, consider the report in Sunday’s Times about the origins of the current crisis. Early this year, it turns out, some of the usual suspects — the Koch brothers, the political arm of the Heritage Foundation and others — plotted strategy in the wake of Republican electoral defeat. Did they talk about rethinking ideas that voters had soundly rejected? No, they talked extortion, insisting that the threat of a shutdown would induce President Obama to abandon health reform.

This was crazy talk. After all, health reform is Mr. Obama’s signature domestic achievement. You’d have to be completely clueless to believe that he could be bullied into giving up his entire legacy by a defeated, unpopular G.O.P. — as opposed to responding, as he has, by making resistance to blackmail an issue of principle. But the possibility that their strategy might backfire doesn’t seem to have occurred to the would-be extortionists.

Even more remarkable, in its way, was the response of House Republican leaders, who didn’t tell the activists they were being foolish. All they did was urge that the extortion attempt be made over the debt ceiling rather than a government shutdown. And as recently as last week Eric Cantor, the majority leader, was in effect assuring his colleagues that the president will, in fact, give in to blackmail. As far as anyone can tell, Republican leaders are just beginning to suspect that Mr. Obama really means what he has been saying all along.

Many people seem perplexed by the transformation of the G.O.P. into the political equivalent of the Keystone Kops — the Boehner Bunglers? Republican elders, many of whom have been in denial about their party’s radicalization, seem especially startled. But all of this was predictable.

It has been obvious for years that the modern Republican Party is no longer capable of thinking seriously about policy. Whether the issue is climate change or inflation, party members believe what they want to believe, and any contrary evidence is dismissed as a hoax, the product of vast liberal conspiracies.

For a while the party was able to compartmentalize, to remain savvy and realistic about politics even as it rejected objectivity everywhere else. But this wasn’t sustainable. Sooner or later, the party’s attitude toward policy — we listen only to people who tell us what we want to hear, and attack the bearers of uncomfortable news — was bound to infect political strategy, too.

Remember what happened in the 2012 election — not the fact that Mitt Romney lost, but the fact that all the political experts around him apparently had no inkling that he was likely to lose. Polls overwhelmingly pointed to an Obama victory, but Republican analysts denounced the polls as “skewed” and attacked the media outlets reporting those polls for their alleged liberal bias. These days Karl Rove is pleading with House Republicans to be reasonable and accept the results of the 2012 election. But on election night he tried to bully Fox News into retracting its correct call of Ohio — and hence, in effect, the election — for Mr. Obama.

Unfortunately for all of us, even the shock of electoral defeat wasn’t enough to burst the G.O.P. bubble; it’s still a party dominated by wishful thinking, and all but impervious to inconvenient facts. And now that party’s leaders have bungled themselves into a corner.

Everybody not inside the bubble realizes that Mr. Obama can’t and won’t negotiate under the threat that the House will blow up the economy if he doesn’t — any concession at all would legitimize extortion as a routine part of politics. Yet Republican leaders are just beginning to get a clue, and so far clearly have no idea how to back down. Meanwhile, the government is shut, and a debt crisis looms. Incompetence can be a terrible thing.


October 8, 2013

Uninsured Find More Success via Health Exchanges Run by States


WASHINGTON — Robyn J. Skrebes of Minneapolis said she was able to sign up for health insurance in about two hours on Monday using the Web site of the state-run insurance exchange in Minnesota, known as MNsure. Ms. Skrebes, who is 32 and uninsured, said she had selected a policy costing $179 a month, before tax credit subsidies, and also had obtained Medicaid coverage for her 2-year-old daughter, Emma.

“I am thrilled,” Ms. Skrebes said, referring to her policy. “It’s affordable, good coverage. And the Web site of the Minnesota exchange was pretty simple to use, pretty straightforward. The language was really clear.”

The experience described by Ms. Skrebes is in stark contrast to reports of widespread technical problems that have hampered enrollment in the online health insurance marketplace run by the federal government since it opened on Oct. 1. While many people have been frustrated in their efforts to obtain coverage through the federal exchange, which is used by more than 30 states, consumers have had more success signing up for health insurance through many of the state-run exchanges, federal and state officials and outside experts say.

Alan R. Weil, the executive director of the National Academy for State Health Policy, an independent nonpartisan group, credited the relative early success of some state exchanges to the fact that they could leap on problems more quickly than the sprawling, complex federal marketplace.

“Individual state operations are more adaptable,” Mr. Weil said. “That does not mean that states get everything right. But they can respond more quickly to solve problems as they arise.”

In addition, some states allow consumers to shop for insurance, comparing costs and benefits of different policies, without first creating an online account — a barrier for many people trying to use the federal exchange.

The state-run exchange in New York announced Tuesday that it had signed up more than 40,000 people who applied for insurance and were found eligible.

“This fast pace of sign-ups shows that New York State’s exchange is working smoothly with an overwhelming response from New Yorkers eager to get access to low-cost health insurance,” said Donna Frescatore, the executive director of the state exchange.

In Washington State, the state-run exchange had a rocky start on Oct. 1, but managed to turn things around quickly by adjusting certain parameters on its Web site to alleviate bottlenecks. By Monday, more than 9,400 people had signed up for coverage. The Washington Health Benefit Exchange does not require users to create an account before browsing plans.

“The site is up and running smoothly,” said Michael Marchand, a spokesman for the Washington exchange. “We’re seeing a lot of use, a lot of people coming to the Web site. If anything, I think it’s increasing.”

Other states reporting a steady stream of enrollments in recent days include California, Connecticut, Kentucky and Rhode Island.

In Connecticut, a spokesman for the state-run exchange, Access Health CT, said users have generally had a smooth experience with the Web site other than “a couple of bumps and hiccups on the first day.”

By Monday afternoon, the Connecticut exchange had processed 1,175 applications, said the spokesman, Jason Madrak.

Daniel N. Mendelson, the chief executive of Avalere Health, a research and consulting company, said: “On balance, the state exchanges are doing better than the federal exchange. The federal exchange has, for all practical purposes, been impenetrable. Systems problems are preventing any sort of meaningful engagement.”

“By contrast,” said Mr. Mendelson, who was a White House budget official under President Bill Clinton, “in most states, we can get information about what is being offered and the prices, and some states are allowing full enrollment. All the state exchanges that we have visited are doing better than the federal exchange at this point.”

In California, Peter V. Lee, the executive director of the state-run exchange, said that more than 16,000 applications had been completed in the first five days of open enrollment. Mr. Lee said that while the consumer experience “hasn’t been perfect,” it has been “pretty darn good.”

Some state-run exchanges have run into difficulties because they rely on the federal marketplace for parts of the application process, like verifying an applicant’s identity. Minnesota, Nevada and Rhode Island are among the states that have reported problems with the “identity-proofing” process, which requires state-run exchanges to communicate with the federal data hub.

Brandon Hardy, 31, of Louisville, Ky., was one of the first to sign up for health insurance through Kentucky’s state-run exchange, working with an application counselor who guided him through the process last Wednesday. Mr. Hardy, who is uninsured and has epileptic seizures that land him in the hospital every few months, spent about 45 minutes filling out the online application, and learned that he would be eligible for Medicaid under the health care law.

“It was pretty easy,” Mr. Hardy said of the process. “What I really need is a neurologist, and now hopefully that will happen. This is like a huge relief.”

Attempts to sign up for coverage through the federal marketplace have often proved more frustrating.

Bruce A. Charette, 60, of Tulsa, Okla., said he had been trying to log onto the Web site for the federal exchange since last Wednesday, but had not been able to see the available plans or their rates.

Mr. Charette said he was asked verification questions that did not appear to match his identity. One question, he said, asked about the name of a pet for which he had purchased health insurance two years ago. “I don’t have any pets,” he said.

“It’s obvious that the site is overloaded,” said Mr. Charette, an electrician who works in the aviation industry and said he did not have health insurance. “I am not going to stare at a computer screen for 45 minutes, waiting for a response. It looks as if the Web site is freezing up.”

Still, some groups helping people sign up for insurance through the federal marketplace said they were finally able to complete applications on Tuesday, a week into open enrollment.

“This was the first day that I have been able to get onto the Web site and sign people up,” said Laura Line, corporate assistant director for Resources for Human Development in Philadelphia, which has a contract to help people in Southeastern Pennsylvania enroll in health plans through the federal exchange. “We have been setting appointments and answering a ton of phone calls now that we are able to do something.”

Katie Thomas and Jennifer Preston contributed reporting from New York.

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Russian parliament will debate taking children from same-sex parents

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 9, 2013 18:20 EDT

Russian lawmakers will in February debate a bill that could see homosexual couples lose custody of their children, parliamentary documents showed Wednesday.

The debate will likely coincide with the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi which have already been marred by boycott calls over Russia’s controversial new anti-gay legislation.

The bill, published on the website of Russia’s Duma lower house of parliament, says the state can strip parents of custody if they practise “non-traditional sexual relations,” the term used in Russian laws to describe homosexual relations.

Russia’s homosexual community has feared such a measure ever since President Pig Putin in June signed a “gay propaganda” law which sparked international condemnation.

Pop singers Madonna and Lady Gaga and openly gay British actor Stephen Fry also heavily criticised the law, which bans the disseminating of information about homosexuality to minors.

In a note explaining the parenting bill, lawmakers said the proposed amendment to the family code was in line with the “propaganda” law.

“Harm to the child’s psyche is great if one of the parents practises sexual contact with the same sex,” the note says.

The author of the bill, Alexei Zhuravlyov of the United Russia ruling party, has cited a controversial study on gay parenting conducted in 2012 by conservative US professor Mark Regnerus.

The New Family Structures study claimed that adult children of lesbian mothers reported lower income and poorer health than children brought up by heterosexual couples.

However many peer reviews said its results were inconclusive.

Last month, when the Russian bill on parenting was first proposed, Regnerus himself criticised it as a “political project” that would harm children, in an article for US news website The Atlantic Wire.

In an interview with Slon.Ru last month, Zhuravlyov said that “exposing” homosexuals would be easy enough once their children were in school.

“Homosexuals should not bring up children,” he said. “It brings more harm than an orphanage.”

Russia does not allow gay marriage or civil partnerships. It has also banned adoption by gay couples from foreign countries.

The existing grounds for depriving parents of custody in Russia include chronic alcoholism, abuse and abandonment. The decision to move a child out of the family and into a children’s home is taken by a court.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]


The Lede - The New York Times News Blog
October 9, 2013, 6:58 pm

Video Offers Glimpse of Russia’s Ban on Gay ‘Propaganda’ in Action on a Moscow Street


Video recorded this week during the arrest of gay rights activists in Moscow shows what Russia’s legal ban on “propaganda for nontraditional sexual relationships” looks like in practice.

The raw footage, accompanying a report from the independent Russian news site Grani, shows police officers arresting activists as they marched through the Russian capital’s Arbat district on Sunday, chanting and carrying a banner that read: “Hitler Also Began With the Gays. No to Fascism in Russia.” The activists also chanted against legal moves to take children away from gay parents.

The video also captures the response of some bystanders, who initially intervened to prevent the police officers from using excessive force, before discovering what the protest was about. The clip is not subtitled, but the intervention of the bystanders begins when an older woman steps in and tells the officers, “You can’t act like that.”

She then turns to a man behind her and says, “Hey man, help out.”

The man, wearing a black hat and a leather jacket, then says: “Major. Officer. What did they do?”

A short time later, as the confusion continues, a female protester in a black jacket and a rainbow scarf explains to the woman and an officer, “We are protecting the rights of L.G.B.T.”

The officer asks, “What’s that?”

The protester replies, “Lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders.”

The older woman asks, “You’re for them?”

The protester says, “We’re for them.”

The older woman says: “Ohhhhhhhh no. Then no.”

The protester responds, “Hitler started with the gays.”

The older woman says, “This is the decline of morality.”

At a later stage, as a male protester in a blue hat is being pushed into a police car, he shouts, “What law have I violated?”

The officer answers simply, “19,” referring to the law on following police orders.

A female bystander asks, “What did they do to you?”

The male protester says, “Now they’re going to hit me!”

After the police bundle him into the car, an officer says to the female bystander, “We warned him.”

Click to watch:


October 9, 2013

A Russian Region Neither at War Nor at Peace, but Facing a Crackdown


MAKHACHKALA, Russia — The race lasted only a few seconds and ended with the sound of a gunshot. Shamil Abdulayev, who was 24 years old at the time, had tried to run away from a group of men he knew were bent on abducting him. They wore ski masks and traveled in a white Lada sedan with tinted windows.

“My boy was wounded in the leg, and witnesses said they hit him on the head with a rifle butt, put handcuffs on him and threw him in the car,” Patimat Abdulkadyrova, his mother, said of the episode this summer. The car drove away, disappearing into the city traffic together with Mr. Abdulayev.

The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, are still four months away, but residents of this city, the capital of Dagestan, say they have been feeling the effects for months. The Russian authorities, determined not to have the festivities marred by a terrorist attack, are clamping down on the seething North Caucasus region — which lies uncomfortably close to the Olympic city — picking up people suspected of being militants and detaining them without charges, human rights activists say.

The North Caucasus republics of Chechnya and Dagestan, which have long been the sites of an Islamic insurgency and terrorist attacks, are home to the bloodiest current conflict in Europe, the International Crisis Group concluded in a recent report. Last year, the fighting killed at least 700 people and wounded 525, the report said. In the first half of this year, at least 242 people died and 253 were wounded.

The Caucasus Emirate, the main Islamist terrorist group in the region, released a video in July calling on supporters to attack the Olympics, which the group said were being held “on the bones” of dead Muslims.

For a time, Russia tried amnesties and economic development to counter the violence in the region, including an idea to build ski resorts in mountain provinces to coincide with the Olympics. The Caucasus Emirate responded by blowing up a ski lift.

With the approach of the Olympics, “all the soft measures are being overturned,” Varvara Pakhomenko, a researcher at the International Crisis Group, said in an interview. “We are seeing in Dagestan the explosion of homes of relatives of militants, enforced disappearances and torture.”

Economic development never went far in Makhachkala, a forlorn city that received a measure of attention in the spring as the occasional home of the family of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Along the waterfront, generously called the Caspian Riviera, gaudy hotels, their neon signs tracing the blinking shapes of palm trees, waves or dancing girls, wait for tourists who rarely show up.

When the morning breeze picks up off the Caspian, plastic bags and dust twirl down the potholed streets of Russia’s most dangerous city.

Policemen stand guard at intersections, dressed in streaked white-and-blue urban camouflage.

In September, President Vladimir V. Putin said the military and Interior Ministry should act more forcefully to improve security before the Olympics, but the crackdown began in earnest as long ago as January, analysts and rights groups say.

The region, not exactly at war but never having achieved peace, is mired in what resembles a Latin American-style dirty war, a conflict that is strung out and low grade, and rife with abuses. Abductions have been a signature, if unacknowledged, element of Russia’s anti-insurgency tactics for years.

Reported instances of enforced disappearances have increased since January, when a new regional governor arrived in Dagestan and shifted the approach to security ahead of the Olympics, according to Memorial, a Russian human rights organization.

So far this year, 58 people have been abducted by men in unmarked cars, 19 of whom disappeared altogether, though leaving clues pointing to the security services, according to the group’s office in Makhachkala.

“The number of disappearances is constantly growing,” said the group’s local researcher, Serazhutdin Datsiyev. “We receive heartbroken families at our center every week.”

A considerable part of the mayhem stems from blood feuds festering among the families of security agents and officials and the families of the militants, analysts of the region say.

The Kremlin has acknowledged this problem, and it has cracked down on local officials accused of using their positions to further personal feuds. While human rights advocates hailed that step as long overdue, it has added to the general sense of pandemonium ahead of the Olympics.

Residents of Makhachkala, in just one example of the astonishing stories making the rounds, learned in September that federal investigators had accused their former mayor, Said D. Amirov, of plotting a terrorist attack using a small shoulder-fired antiaircraft missile.

The investigators said Mr. Amirov was planning to use the missile to shoot down the airplane of the head of the Dagestan pension fund, the newspaper Kommersant reported, and to pin the blame on militants. The plot failed, the article said, only because the mayor and two accomplices could not find anybody trained to fire the missile.

If the accusations seem improbable, consider that Mr. Amirov says he has survived no fewer than 16 assassination attempts by his enemies, leaving him using a wheelchair and earning him the nickname Koschei the Immortal, after a character from a Russian fairy tale.

So far it remains unclear whether the reported increase in abductions of people suspected of being militants or the openly stated policy of arresting local officials accused of corruption is having much effect.

Ramazan J. Jafarov, the deputy premier for security in the Dagestani regional government, denied in an interview that the police secretly detained suspects, and drew attention to the policy of federal law enforcement of targeting abusive policemen and local officials, like the former mayor.

Residents and human rights advocates scoffed at his denials. After Mr. Abdulayev vanished into the back of the Lada in June, doctors at a hospital told relatives they had released him to the police after treatment, according to his mother.

But in official terms, he has simply vanished. “We have been asking every day for months, searching and searching, and they say, ‘We have not found your son.’ ”

“God willing,” she whispers, tears forming in her eyes, “this will come to a conclusion soon.”


Dear Pig Putin, I offer myself for the Arctic 30

In an open letter to Vladimir Putin, the executive director of Greenpeace International makes a plea to the Russian president

Kumi Naidoo, Wednesday 9 October 2013 14.52 BST   
Link to video: Greenpeace head offers himself for Russian-held activists

Dear Pig

Following the refusal yesterday of bail for our activists and a freelance photographer, and in response to your offer in Salekhard to engage in discussion over the fate of the Arctic, I request an urgent meeting with you.

I would of course be willing to meet you anywhere in the world, in a place of your choosing, but I ask that if possible our meeting is held at your earliest convenience in Russia.

Unlike the world leaders with whom you are more used to convening, I would not carry with me the power and influence of a government. Instead, I would come equipped only as the representative of millions of people around the world, many of them Russian, whose fervent wish is to see an early end to the continued imprisonment of the 30 brave and peaceful men and women held in Murmansk.

Their fate is a matter of global concern. Therefore, I would come to you with an offer. I am willing to move my life to Russia for the duration of this affair. I would offer myself as a guarantor for the good conduct of the Greenpeace activists, were they to be released on bail. They, we, Greenpeace, do not believe ourselves to be above the law. We are willing to face the consequences of what we did, as long as those consequences are within a nation's criminal code as any reasonable person understands that code to be.

It is clear from your own statements that you do not regard the activists as pirates, although that is the charge levelled against them. You, in common with millions around the world, know that in being accused of piracy they are charged with a crime that did not happen, that our activists are accused of an imaginary offence. Indeed, you have previously said that you have admiration for groups like Greenpeace, and that our protests inspire sympathy in you. Were our friends to be released on bail, I offer myself as security against the promise that the 28 Greenpeace International activists will answer for their peaceful protest according to the criminal code of Russia.

The law, as we both know, does not apply the offence of piracy to the actions of peaceful protesters. I therefore ask you to use any avenues of action open to you as president of the Russian Federation to request that the excessive charges of piracy against the detainees are dropped, and that any charges brought are consistent with international and Russian law. I also respectfully ask that the two independent freelancers, who are not Greenpeace members, be immediately freed.

One day after the arrest of the activists, the UN issued its latest warning on the threat posed to all of us, to your nation, to mine, to the world, by climate change. The findings of the report, authored by our greatest scientific minds, imply that we cannot afford to prospect for and burn new sources of fossil fuels. That is why the protesters felt compelled to make the stand they did, a stand that was both peaceful and respectful of your nation.

My own personal history as a young activist in the anti-apartheid movement has taught me that dialogue is paramount, that in the interests of finding a common understanding we must be willing to talk. I believe that my offer to come to Moscow, to meet you, and to stay there, affords us such an opportunity. This continued affair benefits nobody, including the great nation of Russia, and certainly not the families and friends of the people in prison.

I appreciate the risk that my coming to Russia entails. Last year I was part of a peaceful protest that was identical in almost every respect to the one carried out by my colleagues. Our peaceful protest last year was witnessed by the Russian coastguard, who refused to intervene when requested to by Gazprom because they understood that our actions posed no threat to the safety of people or property. But one year later, the activists who did exactly the same thing now face a charge of piracy and the prospect of years in jail.

In coming to Russia, I do not expect to share their fate, but it is a risk I am willing to take in order to find with you that common understanding.


Kumi Naidoo

Executive director

Greenpeace International


Russian investigators claim Greenpeace ship carried 'narcotic substances'

Spokesman says tests suggest morphine and opium poppy pods found on Arctic Sunrise, seized during protest

Shaun Walker in Moscow, Wednesday 9 October 2013 20.13 BST       

Russian investigators have raised the stakes in their battle with Greenpeace, claiming drugs have been found aboard the organisation's ship, the Arctic Sunrise.

They also said a number of Greenpeace activists had put the lives of Russian coastguards at risk with their actions, and announced that new charges are in preparation against some of the 30 people currently in detention. All of those arrested, who are from 18 countries and include six Britons, have already been charged with "piracy as part of an organised group", a charge which carries a sentence of between 10 and 15 years in prison.

The 30 were arrested and their ship seized during a protest against the Prirazlomnaya oil rig, located in the Arctic waters of the Pechora Sea and operated by Russian energy giant Gazprom.

Vladimir Markin, spokesman for Russia's powerful Investigative Committee, said in a statement on Wednesday that criminal investigators and experts were examining documents and equipment seized during a search of the Arctic Sunrise.

"It has already been established that some of the equipment seized has a double use and can be used not only for environmental goals," said Markin, without elaborating.

"Narcotic substances" had also been found on board the boat, which preliminary tests suggested were morphine and poppy straws (opium poppy pods), he added. In a final accusation, Markin said a number of activists had deliberately attacked a coastguard boat during skirmishes during the storming of the Arctic Sunrise, thus "endangering the lives and health" of Russian officials.

"Given the information acquired during the investigation of the criminal case, we will have to correct the charges laid against all [the activists]" said Markin. "It is very clear that a number of them will be charged with committing other serious crimes."

Greenpeace dismissed the drugs allegations as a "fabrication, pure and simple" and said the only drugs on board were locked in a safe and carried for medical purposes as dictated by international maritime law.

"There is a strict policy against recreational drugs on board Greenpeace ships, and any claim that something other than medical supplies were found should be regarded with great suspicion," said the environmental organisation in a statement. The ship was searched by Norwegian authorities with a sniffer dog before leaving for the Russian Arctic, said Greenpeace, and no drugs were found.

Earlier on Tuesday, the executive director of Greenpeace, Kumi Naidoo, published a letter to President Pig Putin asking for a meeting with the Russian president. Naidoo said he was ready to travel to Russia and personally guarantee none of the activists would skip bail.

"Were our friends to be released on bail, I offer myself as security against the promise that the 28 Greenpeace International activists will answer for their peaceful protest according to the criminal code of Russia," wrote Naidoo.

• This article was amended on 9 October 2013. A mistranslation resulted in the original article referring to heroin allegedly being found on the ship, instead of morphine. This has been corrected, and the headline and standfirst changed


Edward Snowden's father arrives in Moscow 'hoping to see son'

Lon Snowden lands at Sheremetyevo airport and meets lawyer for intelligence contractor who exposed huge NSA data trawl

Staff and agencies, Thursday 10 October 2013 08.36 BST

Lon Snowden, father of the NSA files leaker Edward Snowden, has arrived in Moscow, according to reports.

The Reuters news agency said Lon Snowden had stated he hoped to see his son but added there had been no direct contact between them. He believed his son had not been involved in any further publication of information about the NSA's electronic surveillance activities since he arrived in Russia from Hong Kong.

Russia Today said Lon Snowden's flight touched down on Thursday morning at Sheremetyevo airport where his son spent five weeks in the transit area before receiving asylum in Russia.

Edward Snowden's Russian lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, was seen in the terminal accompanying Lon Snowden and they later spoke briefly to the media but his son was not seen anywhere near the airport, Russia Today said.

It quoted Lon Snowden as saying his son would probably never return to the US: "I have no idea what [Edward's] intentions are but ever since he has been in Russia my understanding is that he has simply been trying to remain healthy and safe and he has nothing to do with future stories." He thanked Russia and President Pig Putin for sheltering his son.

Edward Snowden was behind a leak of NSA material that allowed the Guardian and other media outlets to expose massive electronic surveillance by the US government and its allies.

The 30-year-old systems analyst has been charged in federal court in Virginia with violations of the US espionage act.

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« Reply #9229 on: Oct 10, 2013, 05:41 AM »

French air traffic controllers' strike leads to dozens of cancelled flights

Travellers face disruption as Ryanair and easyJet scrap some flights to French airports and warn of delays to other destinations

Press Association, Thursday 10 October 2013 10.16 BST   

Thousands of travellers are enduring flight disruption due to a one-day strike by French air traffic controllers.

Ryanair axed more than 70 flights, while easyJet cancelled more than 50 services because of the action, which started at 5am UK time on Thursday and was due to end at 7pm.

Both carriers said they had been asked by aviation authorities in France to reduce their French flights by 30%.

EasyJet said: "We will cancel at least 50 flights to and from Paris Charles de Gaulle, Paris Orly, Basel, Bordeaux, Lyon, Marseille and Toulouse.

"The strike will also impact all flights that over-fly French airspace. More than 60% of our flights operate through French airspace and so there is a risk of delays and late-notice cancellations depending on the scale and effects of the strike action.

"Therefore, flights from the UK to destinations such as Spain, Portugal, Italy, Cyprus, Greece and north Africa face the threat of disruption."

A number of the Ryanair cancellations involved services within continental Europe, but the axed flights also included some between UK and Irish airports and French destinations including Paris, Biarritz, Nimes, Carcassonne, Bezier and Bergerac.

Some Ryanair services to and from Girona in Spain were also cancelled.

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« Reply #9230 on: Oct 10, 2013, 06:07 AM »

Madeleine McCann: new efit of suspect to be issued by UK police

British police issue new appeal for witnesses aimed at identifying man seen near apartment when child disappeared

Sandra Laville, crime correspondent, Wednesday 9 October 2013 15.13 BST

Police are to issue an efit of a suspect in the Madeleine McCann investigation as they make a new appeal for witnesses aimed at identifying a man who was seen near her family's apartment on the evening she disappeared, it is understood.

The British police investigation into the disappearance in May 2007 of the three-year-old child from an apartment in the Portuguese holiday resort of Praia da Luz has identified more than 40 people of interest, but it is known that the inquiry team is particularly interested in one individual, who is being viewed as a possible suspect.

On Monday, BBC Crimewatch will broadcast an appeal for witnesses and the Metropolitan police will release their first efit of a suspect in the case, it is understood. The Met team, led by Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood, has worked with the Crimewatch team to carry out a reconstruction of the events leading up to the child's disappearance, which will be broadcast on the programme.

The Met police would not comment on Wednesday on the significance of the efit, saying: "The MPS will release the relevant material at the relevant time."

The Crimewatch appeal is to be broadcast along with similar appeals in the Netherlands and Germany – the home countries of many of the tourists who were at the resort at the time Madeleine disappeared. Madeleine's parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, will appear on Crimewatch alongside Redwood to make the appeal.

Mobile phone data from the handsets of thousands of people – holidaymakers, staff and local people who were in the vicinity of the McCanns' holiday apartment at the time – which is being examined in a targeted fashion, police say, could hold the key to the girl's disappearance. British police are working on new theories about what happened to Madeleine while her parents were dining with friends in a nearby tapas bar in the holiday resort.

A number of sexual offenders have been identified as being in the area at the time and are being sought as persons of interest to be questioned. Other individuals who were using mobile phones in the vicinity of the resort at the time have yet to be identified and efforts are focusing on putting names to the handsets – many of which are pay as you go, making the police task more difficult.

Forty-one individuals from several countries including 15 from the UK are being investigated as persons of interest by the Met, and official requests for assistance have been sent to 31 countries including Portugal to identify other people whose mobile footprints have emerged in the sifting and resifting of tens of thousands of documents, communications data and eyewitness statements.

The new British investigation began as part of a £5m review of all the evidence after an appeal for help by Madeleine's parents to the UK prime minister, David Cameron.

Redwood has said the analysis of mobile phone data originally collected by the Portuguese has gone beyond the stage of a general trawl, and is now being cross-referenced with other information.

His team have been cross-referencing tens of thousands of documents, communications data and witness statements from the Portuguese investigation, from eight private detectives and from the Leicestershire force. Negotiations are ongoing with the Portuguese authorities to allow a team of British detectives to be permanently based in the country as part of the new inquiry, but as yet the investigation is being handled in Portugal by six detectives from Faro, who are following up inquiries from the Met team.


Madeleine McCann's parents welcome new information about disappearance

BBC Crimewatch is to show reconstruction of events in Portugal as Met police says log of mobile traffic could cast light on case

Press Association, Sunday 6 October 2013 09.39 BST   

Madeleine McCann's parents have said they are "greatly encouraged" by new information about the disappearance of their daughter.

A reconstruction of the "latest, most detailed understanding" of the events around the time she went missing will be shown on BBC Crimewatch on Monday 14 October.

It comes after the Metropolitan police revealed that a vast log of mobile phone traffic could be the key to finding out what happened to the then three-year-old.

Scotland Yard detectives, who have interviewed 442 people as part of their review-turned-investigation into Madeleine's disappearance, hope to track down as many people present in Praia da Luz, Portugal, on or around 3 May 2007 as possible.

Madeleine's parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, said: "We are greatly encouraged by new information coming to light with pieces of the jigsaw now fitting together. We are really hopeful that the forthcoming appeal on Crimewatch will bring further new evidence which will take us a step closer to finding Madeleine and to bringing those responsible for her abduction to justice."

A three-year-old actor is to play Madeleine in the Crimewatch reconstruction. A small production team from the programme spent a week filming abroad for the new appeal.

Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood, the senior investigating officer, said: "We now believe we have the most complete picture to date of the events surrounding her disappearance.

"We are now making targeted and new appeals for help from the public. I truly believe there are people out there who hold the key to Madeleine's disappearance, and that so far they may be completely unaware of that fact."

The Crimewatch presenter Kirsty Young speaks to the McCanns in the new programme, while the presenter Matthew Amroliwala has been to Praia da Luz to explore the new focus of the police investigation. The McCanns and Redwood will also speak to Young live in the studio.

The Crimewatch editor Joe Mather said: "We've been working very closely with the Metropolitan police on a new Madeleine McCann appeal for several months. We're very hopeful that this major reconstruction along with the substantial new lines of inquiry will prompt viewers with vital information to get in touch with the officers in the studio on the night of the programme."

This week Scotland Yard revealed that since it launched its own investigation, 41 people of interest had been identified, including 15 UK nationals, up from 38 people of interest including 12 UK nationals established in July.

Detectives have issued 31 international letters of request (ILOR) to mostly European countries in relation to some of the people of interest, as well as accessing phone records.

A large but "manageable" list of phone numbers identified as being present in Praia da Luz – though not necessarily used to make phone calls – has been drawn up by detectives with a "significant" number unattributed to any named person.

And significantly, police officers are now able to create a log showing calls being made at the time of Madeleine's disappearance.

The latest appeal will also be broadcast in the Netherlands and Germany.

Madeleine went missing from a holiday apartment as her parents dined at a nearby tapas restaurant with friends.

The Portuguese investigation has officially closed but authorities there are backing the Scotland Yard inquiry and officers from both countries will work together in pursuing new leads.

The Metropolitan police now has a team of six Portuguese detectives based in Faro, who are carrying out inquiries on its behalf.

The McCanns are suing the former police chief Goncalo Amaral for libel over claims in the book The Truth of the Lie


Madeleine McCann inquiry focuses on mobile phone data

Madeleine's parents to make appeal on Crimewatch as British detectives cross-reference phone records against other evidence

Sandra Laville, crime correspondent
The Guardian, Friday 4 October 2013   

British detectives say the key to Madeleine McCann's disappearance could emerge from a "targeted attack" on mobile phone data from thousands of people who were around the Portuguese resort of Praia da Luz at the moment she went missing.

The line of investigation was disclosed as it was announced that Madeleine's parents, Gerry and Kate, would appear on the BBC's Crimewatch programme with the British detective in charge of the case.

The programme will broadcast a reconstruction of the events before Madeleine disappeared and the McCanns will make an appeal for anyone who was in the resort at the time, and has yet to come forward, to contact police.

Similar appeals will be broadcast in Germany, the Netherlands and Ireland.

The "footprints" from the phones of holidaymakers, staff and local people who were in the vicinity of the McCanns' holiday apartment in Praia da Luz when the three-year-old disappeared in May 2007 are being examined and cross-referenced with other information coming into the British inquiry team, officers have said.

Forty-one individuals from several countries including the UK are being investigated as persons of interest by the Metropolitan police, and official requests for assistance have been sent to 31 countries including Portugal to identify other people whose mobile footprints have emerged in the sifting and resifting of tens of thousands of documents, communications data and eyewitness statements.

The new British investigation began as part of a £5m review of all the evidence after an appeal for help by Madeleine's parents to David Cameron.

It is not known how many of the 41 individuals – among them 15 Britons – are considered suspects.

Many are people who need to be questioned in order to be eliminated from the inquiry. But detectives are known to have uncovered new leads and theories about what happened to Madeleine while her parents were eating a meal with friends at a restaurant in the resort.

It is known that some of the people of interest are sex offenders who were in the area at the time.Police will analyse mobile phone data to track any calls that might have been made from the resort to others outside it, as they investigate whether there was any kind of ring involved in the girl's suspected abduction.

Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood, who is leading the investigation, said the analysis of mobile phone data originally collected by the Portuguese had gone beyond the stage of a general trawl, and was now being cross-referenced with other information.

His team have been cross-referencing tens of thousands of documents, communications data and witness statements from the Portuguese investigation, from eight private detectives and from the Leicestershire force.

"The mobile phone data is a substantial amount of data and a significant amount of it is unattributed. Putting this with layers and layers of other information, we are carrying out a targeted attack on the information. We are doing this in a focused way, working back from the moment that Madeleine was found to have gone. It is like pulling back the layers of an onion. Every hour my officers work on this case is designed to get to that very moment and find out what happened," he said.

Six detectives in Portugal are working with the Met and making inquiries on their behalf. But the plan to send a team of Met officers to work out of Portugal has yet to be acted upon, as delicate negotiations continue with the Portuguese authorities, who closed their investigation and have refused all appeals to reopen it.


Madeleine McCann's father returns to Portugal to give evidence in libel case

Gerry McCann looks to testify in case against Gonçalo Amaral, who published book about Madeleine's disappearance in 2007

Press Association, Wednesday 2 October 2013 11.30 BST

Madeleine McCann's father has returned to a Portuguese court in the hope that he can give evidence at his family's libel case against a former local police chief who claims Madeleine's abduction was faked.

Gerry McCann wants to testify in the case against Gonçalo Amaral, who published a book about Madeleine's disappearance in May 2007.

The McCanns say the former detective's claims in the book The Truth of the Lie, including suggestions that they hid their daughter's body after she died in an accident and then faked her abduction, damaged the hunt for Madeleine and exacerbated their anguish.

If successful in the case, the family stands to gain around £1m in damages.

Gerry McCann was left frustrated after flying to Portugal last week, when proceedings were adjourned because one of Amaral's lawyers could not be present.

Arriving at the Palace of Justice in Lisbon on Wednesday morning, McCann said he was not sure what would happen "after last week".

"We are here to listen to the judge and hopefully be heard," he told reporters.

He travelled to the Portuguese capital with his sister, Trish Cameron, and his wife Kate McCann's mother, Susan Healy, who are both expected to appear as witnesses in the case.

Kate McCann attended the court last month on the first day of the case, telling reporters she was in Portugal to "stop the damage" she believes is being caused to the search for her daughter.

The court has heard how she had suicidal thoughts after Amaral claimed she had covered up her daughter's death.

Psychologist Alan Pike said that after the publication of the former police chief's book in July 2008, Kate McCann "thought about not being around any more".

Madeleine, who was nearly four, disappeared from her family's holiday apartment in Praia da Luz in the Algarve on 3 May 2007 as her parents dined at a nearby restaurant with friends.

Amaral, who initially led the inquiry into Madeleine's disappearance, was removed from the case in October 2007 after criticising UK police.

British detectives launched a fresh investigation into the youngster's disappearance in July this year and believe she could still be alive.

The Portuguese investigation into Madeleine's disappearance is officially closed.

The case, in which Amaral denies defamation, is expected to finish hearing evidence in November.

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« Reply #9231 on: Oct 10, 2013, 06:18 AM »

Limits on use of North Sea oil vital to protect climate, warns Mary Robinson

Former Irish president criticises Scottish and UK governments for claiming to be greener yet promising more oil and gas

Severin Carrell, Scotland correspondent, Wednesday 9 October 2013 16.42 BST   

Mary Robinson, one of the world's senior diplomats, has warned that Scottish and UK ministers must quickly agree to strict limits on the use of North Sea oil and gas to help the world avoid the worst effects of climate change.

Robinson, the former Irish president and UN high commissioner for human rights, said there was a clear contradiction between the Scottish and UK governments claiming to be greener, while at the same time promising voters they will maximise oil and gas production.

She told the Guardian there was an "urgent" need for faster, tougher action by western, oil-rich governments to agree far stricter limits on carbon emissions after the latest report by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published "unequivocal" evidence linking human activity to global warming.

Robinson said developed countries needed to take a clear lead, cutting carbon emissions and investing in low carbon technologies, when she spoke later in a keynote address to a conference on climate change in Edinburgh.

"Our message is that the time for radical leadership on climate change is now," she told delegates. "Without aggressive, urgent action on climate change, global temperatures are set to exceed 2C warming by the end of this century."

The Scottish and UK governments are currently competing against each other to be seen as the greatest champions of the North Sea oil industry in the run-up to next year's independence referendum, promising investment and tax breaks, even as they promote renewable energy.

Alex Salmond, the Scottish National party leader and first minister, has repeatedly promised Scottish voters that more than 24bn barrels of oil and gas are still in North Sea reservoirs, with a potential value of £1.5tn. An investigation by the Guardian last year established that burning that much oil would mean the release of 10bn tonnes of CO2 over 30 years, dwarfing the saving of 20m tonnes of CO2 from Scotland's 100% renewable electricity target for 2020.

In her interview with the Guardian, Robinson said oil and coal-rich nations needed to quickly sign up to a rigorous and fixed carbon budget to prevent them burning all their fossil fuels, backed up by a price on carbon and much more urgent investment in renewables and low-carbon technologies.

She said that pursuing renewable energy or setting domestic targets to cut CO2 without addressing oil, gas and coal production was "part of the problem and it's a contradiction in a lot of countries".

She added: "I think we have to realise that there's a limited carbon budget; we have to meet the consequences of that and I think that Scotland needs to do more on the renewables side, in the way that it is doing, and realise that they can't have a contradictory policy on the other side."

Last month, she told the Guardian that governments would have to get used to the idea that "major fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground".

Robinson, who runs the Dublin-based Mary Robinson Foundation on Climate Justice, said she and other senior climate scientists, economists, environmentalists and development experts who recently signed a Declaration on Climate Justice, would be pressing developed nations to agree stricter controls at high level meetings before the 2015 UN climate conference in Paris.

"The fifth report (by the IPCC) has clarified, in an important way, how urgent the situation is and how clear it is that we can't continue as we are," she told the Guardian.

The IPCC report had drawn together all the latest evidence on the direct link between oil, gas and coal consumption and climate change: it showed "very clearly, very categorically the most urgent message that humanity could be asked to receive", she said.

"I think the reason why we need clear leadership, and the IPCC report is important here, is because in many countries there are these contradictions; aspiring to one thing and half the policy is going the other direction. It is a problem," she added.

Scottish environment and climate campaigners, and the Scottish Green party, have been putting Salmond's government under increasing pressure to reverse his North Sea oil policies, by admitting oil use had to be limited on climate grounds.

To mark the conference in Edinburgh, Salmond has announced a doubling of his government's climate justice fund to £6m, focusing on overseas aid projects in countries such as Malawi. In a video address, he told the conference "the scale of the injustice is massive".

Paul Wheelhouse, the Scottish environment minister, acknowledged that his government needed to listen to its critics. "I will take away the message that from the environmental point of view we need to be clear about how we will use oil and gas in as sustainable a way as possible," he said.

"I have put it on record that I accept that we can't burn all the fossil fuels that there are, and that applies to Scotland as with every nation. What we are doing as a nation is trying to make our transition as fast as possible, so that we're not responsible for burning fossil fuels."

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« Reply #9232 on: Oct 10, 2013, 06:22 AM »

10/09/2013 03:46 PM

Fortress Europe: How the EU Turns Its Back on Refugees


They come seeking refuge, but when asylum seekers cross into the European Union, they often find little compassion. In Greece, they are held in squalid detention camps, while in Italy they often end up on the street. Here is what they face at entry points across the EU.

They know they are putting their lives at risk. Nevertheless, many people board ramshackle watercraft and set sail from the coast of Africa in the hope of a better life in Europe.

While a few years ago it was predominately North African migrants coming to Italy in search of work, today it is often refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia who are fleeing chaos and violence in their countries. The number of asylum applications in Europe has sharply increased in the past six years.

Refugees are "particularly vulnerable people," warned German President Joachim Gauck after hundreds of people drowned off the coast of Lampedusa on Thursday. "Protecting lives and granting refugees the chance to be heard is at the foundation of our legal and moral codes," he concluded. On Tuesday, the EU interior ministers gathered in Luxembourg to discuss the consequences of the accident, which resulted in around 300 deaths. But despite heavy criticism, they couldn't manage to come to a decision about comprehensive change to European asylum policy.

The expectations of refugees who come to Europe often go unfulfilled. Many must struggle through long asylum application processes or fight against ingrained local prejudice. In some countries, they endure appalling living conditions in refugee camps; in others, they end up on the streets.

The correspondents of SPIEGEL ONLINE report on the situation in various European countries.


By Hans-Jürgen Schlamp

The Lampedusa disaster has shaken the world -- especially Italy. The populace watches the images on television with horror, the body bags lined up across the beach. How can this be? "A disgrace," says Pope Francis. "Yes," agree many, "a disgrace." There is talk of solidarity. Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta awarded posthumous Italian citizenship to the deceased.

Those who survived will now begin an unpleasant process. First, the prosecutor launches proceedings to determine whether they are illegal immigrants. If so, they will have to pay a fine of up to €5,000 (about $6,800). Even judges disagree with this practice. For the refugees, it hardly shows solidarity.

Those who come by sea end up in "reception centers," camps that are at best bleak, if not downright terrible. There are many among them who want to apply for political asylum -- but are not able or allowed to properly articulate their situation.

Others who have fled from war or political persecution accept the backhanded offer of temporary papers and sometimes even a €500 donation to help them head north -- to Switzerland, Germany or Scandinavia. According to official figures, 15,715 new asylum seekers remained in Italy in 2012. That comes to just 260 refugees per million Italian, according to EU statistics.

But Italy is not equipped to deal with even this modest amount. The country's institutional infrastructure for refugees and asylum seekers can hold less than a third of them. The refugees who do make it in are given a roof over their heads for at least six to 10 months. After that, they must leave their meager home.

Some find shelter, but lacking alternatives, most asylum seekers end up on the street. They live in parked trains in abandoned rail yards, condemned houses or on mattresses covered in plastic sheets on fallow land. Few find paying work -- at best, temporary, under-the-table work for €1, €2 an hour.


By Giorgos Christides

For more than a decade, Greece has been the main entry point for illegal immigrants and asylum seekers from Asia and Africa. There, however, they find not the promised land, but a broken immigration and asylum system.

Asylum seekers are detained in overcrowded, squalid camps. Human rights groups and international media have repeatedly criticized this drama.

The situation of Syrian refugees in particular has stirred up debate. In 2012, Greece arrested 8,000 Syrians for entering the country illegally. According to UN data, only two Syrians were granted asylum last year.

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Greece's asylum system is inadequate and degrading. As a result, most EU states have ceased to deport refugees to Greece, despite the fact they are actually obliged to send asylum seekers back to the country where they first entered the EU (according to the to the 2003 EU regulation known as "Dublin II").

In early August, refugees in Amygdaleza, a new camp near Athens, revolted. Dozens fled the site, which the Greek ombudsman for asylum policies himself recognized as being of "a particularly prison-like nature."

Due to growing international pressure, Greece has begun to overhaul its asylum system. But the freeze on new hires and lack of funds due to the country's austerity measures make reforms difficult.

For most Greeks the disastrous refugee situation is hardly an issue. Many are nevertheless of the opinion that the country cannot accept any more foreigners. The beneficiaries of this public mood are far-right groups such as the Golden Dawn party, which is the third-strongest in the Greek parliament.


By Mathieu von Rohr

The major foreign policy topic in France over the past few weeks has been the Roma. Although there are only 15-20,000 of them in the country, they have been linked with criminality and unhygienic living conditions by politicians and the media. Even Socialist interior minister Manuel Valls said recently that it is not possible to integrate the Roma. Just as under former president Nicolas Sarkozy, they are being expelled in large numbers.

The much larger asylum issues, however, are rarely discussed in the French media: The number of asylum applications in France has increased by 73 percent in the past five years to 61,468. The authorities are completely overwhelmed by this influx.

Asylum seekers must lodge their application with the prefecture of the department's administrative center. Even just at this stage, officials need up to 70 days to issue a temporary residence permit -- the entire process takes an average of 20 months. First, the French refugee agency examines applications, with nearly 90 percent being rejected. An appeal is lodged in almost every case. According to a report by the interior ministry, some 37,000 people go underground without papers each year.

Because accommodation is so overcrowded, authorities in the city of Metz in the Lorraine region began housing about 450 asylum seekers in tents in a parking lot. Aid agencies complained about the "degrading" and "hygienically inadequate" conditions. Only in the past few days have authorities, acting under court order, begun to disband the camp.

The country's 271 reception centers have room for 21,400 people, but according to the interior ministry, a total of 35,000 are needed. The state has been housing asylum seekers partly in empty social housing in remote rural communities. This has led to objections from local politicians. Many asylum seekers are even being put up in hotels -- the total cost of housing including financial help for the asylum seekers is €550 million. In the press, the alarming reports have been taken as an indication that the government is planning to put forth a new asylum law.


By Carsten Volkery

British tabloids often grumble that the UK has become a haven for asylum seekers. But in terms of the number of applications for asylum, the country ranks only fourth in the EU -- far behind Germany, France and Sweden. Some 20-25,000 such applications are made each year. The rejection rate is around 62 percent.

The largest source of asylum seekers is Pakistan, followed by Iran, Sri Lanka and Syria. They are not allowed to work in the UK and are dependent on the state. They are provided with furnished accommodation, usually in the form of rented social housing. Because of the lack of available housing, asylum seekers are generally not housed in London and rarely in the densely populated southeast of England. Instead, they are distributed across the rest of the country. For living expenses, each person receives 36.62 pounds (€43.43) per person per week. Access to healthcare is free.

A decision is made on each application for asylum within six months. During that period, the applicants must live at the address assigned to them and must be available to the authorities at all times. About 10 percent of all applicants are put on a fast track: If it is determined during the application process that the case is not complicated, the applicant will be admitted directly to a reception center. On the second day the interview takes place; a decision is made on the third day. The applicant may be deported after just a few days.

Following an asylum crisis in 2006, when the government faced a backlog of 450,000 unprocessed applications, the issue became a top priority. Since then, the authorities have brought the process under control. Nevertheless, the impression regularly made in the British media is that the country is still facing a barrage of applications. According to a study by Glasgow University, asylum seekers are usually referred to in the press as "illegal immigrants." Most of the articles consider how to refuse them access into the country or deport them.


By Katharina Peters

The towns of Ceuta and Melilla are situated in North Africa but belong to Spain -- and therefore act as a magnet to many Africans. Migrants who want to flee to Europe set up camp around the Spanish enclaves. In the middle of September, authorities were surprised by a massive new influx: Dozens of Africans swam to Ceuta, while in Melilla they tore down a barbed wire fence. About a hundred made it onto Spanish territory. Human rights activists complain that border guards often simply send them back -- without checking whether they are entitled to asylum.

In recent years, Spain has massively upgraded its efforts to keep asylum seekers at bay. Six-meter-high wire fences have been erected around the enclaves and infrared cameras monitor the area.

There are also stricter controls in the Medterranean, and the coasts are protected. Some 31,000 boat people, mainly from North and West Africa, arrived in the Canary Islands in ramshackle ships in 2006. Since then the number has dropped dramatically: Just 173 landed in the Canaries in 2012.

Last year also showed a general downward trend: A total of just 2,580 applications for asylum were made in Spain, the lowest figure in 25 years. The applicants come from Syria, Algeria and West African countries like Nigeria and Cameroon.

They are accommodated in detention centers spread across the country. Four such centers are under the direct control of the government. Many others are operated as non-profit organizations, such as the Spanish Commission for the Assistance of Refugees (CEAR).

Those who are granted asylum are entitled to €51.60 a month. There are also extra funds for families as well as payments for public transport, clothing and education.


By Franke Lüpke-Naberhaus

Sweden grants entry to a comparatively high number of asylum seekers. And yet many are not happy. In May, the outside world watched on in amazement at usually placid Sweden as youths in the suburbs set cars on fire and threw stones. Almost all of the residents in the Husby area of Stockholm have foreign roots -- and the unemployment rate is around three times as high as the rest of the city at 9 percent. Sweden has its own word for this alienation or exclusion, utanförskap. Many young people feel marginalized and harassed by the police. Although they are provided for, they feel unwanted and without a productive role in society.

Around 43,900 people sought asylum in Sweden last year, according to the body responsible, the Migration Board. This year the number is again expected to rise significantly: Compared to the same period last year, nearly 20 percent more people have applied for asylum in 2013. Most come from Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan and Somalia. In 2011, applicants had to wait on average 149 days until their application was processed, and Sweden grants asylum to about a third.

The Migration Board provides applicants with housing but they are also allowed by law to organize their own accommodation, with friends or relatives, for example -- about 40 percent did this last year. This law has been repeatedly criticized, for example by Angeles Bermudez Svankvist, the director of Swedish employment services at the time. She told Sveriges Radio at the beginning of the year that asylum seekers had gathered in a few specific areas which resulted in "an incredibly difficult social situation."

Refugees have reported being forced to live like animals in some areas. There are disputes, fires, threats; in two months, police have been called 30 times, according to one asylum seekers in the Örebro municipality. Sometimes there are six or seven people sleeping in the same room. Things are more comfortable, however, for asylum seekers at Wermlandia, a former spa hotel in Eksharad in central Sweden. The owner speaks proudly of the "most luxurious refugee accommodation in Sweden." It follows from this logic that many of the residents of Wermlandia might find it difficult to go elsewhere in Sweden.


By Björn Hengst

The Saualm is history: The former refugee center has long been regarded as an example of questionable asylum policies in Austria. The "special supervision institution for suspected criminal asylum seekers" was set up by the late Jörg Haider, the controversial right-winger who was governor of the state of Carinthia at the time. It was closed last year after reports of rotten food and a lack of access to medical care.

Refugee organizations were relieved. But it did not cause them to sit back and relax. Although in comparison to the rest of Europe, Austria has "not the worst asylum system," according to Anny Knapp of Asylum Coordination Austria (ACA), improvements are still possible in many areas. This includes, for example, legal advice and housing, which is often unsatisfactory. As in Germany, asyslum seekers in Austria are often located in remote areas.

According to ACA, allowances were recently increased, with the daily rate in community housing up to €19 from €17.

Last year, there were around 17,500 applications for asylum in Austria, of which 3,680 were accepted. Most applicants were from Afghanistan, Russia and Pakistan.

Some asylum seekers have already been waiting for more than five years for a final decision on their application. Meanwhile, there is a tendency to make rapid decisions on new applications. This is generally to be welcomed. In the accelerated process, however, individual cases "consistently get left behind," says Knapp.

Starting next year, a more senior body will be responsible for asylum procedures in Austria: the Federal Office for Foreign Affairs and Asylum. It will be under the auspices of the Interior Ministry and will "respond more effectively to the increasing effects of global migration movements," according to a ministry handout.

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« Reply #9233 on: Oct 10, 2013, 06:23 AM »

10/09/2013 01:32 PM

In a Hurry: Merkel Wants Coalition Partner in Two Weeks

By the time the new parliament holds its first meeting on Oct. 22, Chancellor Merkel wants to know which opposition party she'll be governing with. But it could take much longer to complete the actual coalition talks.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a hurry to form a new government after her election victory on Sept. 22, has set herself a two-week deadline for finding a coalition partner.

She told members of her conservative parliamentary group at a meeting on Tuesday that she wants to know which party will be entering formal coalition talks by Oct. 22, when the newly-elected Bundestag lower house of parliament will assemble for its first session.

That doesn't mean a new government will be in place by that date, though. It means she wants to be sure who her likely coalition partner is going to be -- either the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) or the environmentalist Greens. Currently, she is holding exploratory "sounding-out" talks with both parties.

A so-called grand coalition with the SPD is still seen as the most likely option because the two parties are closer in policy terms than the conservatives are with the Greens.

A conservative-SPD alliance would have the added major advantage of dominating not just the Bundestag but the Bundesrat upper house of parliament as well, making it much easier to pass legislation.

Greens Reluctant

The Greens, meanwhile, have embarked on a strategic rethink after they scored just 8.4 percent in the election, a disappointing result that triggered the resignation of the party's entire leadership.

The party chose two new parliamentary group leaders on Tuesday -- centrist Katrin Göring-Eckardt and left-winger Anton Hofreiter -- to lead exploratory talks with the Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU).

Those talks start on Thursday, six days after the first round of talks with the SPD. Merkel, keen to have the option of a deal with the Greens to maximize leverage in negotiations with the SPD, said on Tuesday that the outcome of talks with both parties is open.

But Hofreiter poured cold water on prospects for a conservative-Green government, saying: "We got a very nice invitation from the CDU/CSU to meet for preliminary talks. But when I hear some of the comments from the CSU, I've got my doubts whether such a coalition could last for four full years and not just 100 days."

The Greens and the arch-conservative CSU wouldn't be a marriage made in heaven. CSU leader Horst Seehofer all but ruled out such a coalition shortly after the election. And CSU general secretary Alexander Dobrindt, never one to mince words, made clear this week the CSU would favor the SPD as partner.

Scoffing at the Greens' campaign suggestion that public canteens should introduce a meat-free day, Dobrindt said: "We'd rather talk with the SPD because we don't want to have to listen to the Greens prattling on about 'Veggie Days' and their ideas on telling people how to lead their lives."

Merkel Expected to Make Concessions

Merkel, who led her conservatives to their best general election result since the heady days of reunification in 1990, is just five seats short of an absolute majority. But she's likely to pay a high price for this.

The SPD has said it wants six cabinet posts and may demand the important position of finance minister, currently occupied by CDU heavyweight Wolfgang Schäuble. It may also force concessions on Merkel's European policy by demanding a softer stance on austerity.

But Merkel stressed on Tuesday that the election result didn't amount to a mandate for a change in government policy, only for "certain modifications," members at the parliamentary group meeting reported.

Poll Shows More Support for CDU

Observers say the coalition talks, once they begin in earnest, could drag on to the end of the year or even into January. If they fail, Germany would have to hold a new election. In that case, her conservatives would likely emerge even stronger, an opinion poll released on Wednesday showed.

The Forsa poll showed them at 45 percent, well above their 41.5 percent election result, with the SPD at 24 percent, down 1.7 points from the election.

The pro-business Free Democrats, Merkel's junior coalition partner for the last four years, which failed to gain enough support to remain in parliament for the first time in post-war history, scored just three percent in the Forsa poll, down from 4.8 percent.

And the anti-euro Alternative for Germany, which critics say has xenophobic traits, was up 1.3 points at six percent, according to Forsa -- above the five-percent level needed for parliamentary representation.

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« Reply #9234 on: Oct 10, 2013, 06:27 AM »

10/09/2013 03:54 PM

'You're the Next!': Did Neo-Nazis Target Ex-Chancellor Schröder?

In 2002, the neo-Nazi terrorist group the NSU, which murdered 10 people between 2000 and 2006, made a photo montage of then-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. It showed the politician wearing a Star of David under the words: "You're the next!"

Neo-Nazi terrorist group the National Socialist Underground appears to have had former center-left German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in its sights at one point, according to court testimony given by a policewoman on Tuesday.

Police sifting through computer files found in the NSU's burned-out apartment in the eastern town of Zwickau discovered several photo montages showing Schröder behind bars with a Star of David badge on his chest under the sentence written in English: "You're the next!" Schröder is not Jewish.

The file containing the images was dated 2002, when Schröder was chancellor. They suggest he may have been on their hit list, though they could also just have been designs for a poster or T-shirt.

German media first reported about the Schröder montages in February 2012. They were discussed again on Tuesday in the Munich court where the last surviving member of the group, Beate Zschäpe, is on trial with four alleged accomplices.

Instead of attacking high-profile targets like politicans, the NSU murdered nine immigrants, mostly shopkeepers, eight of them of Turkish descent and one Greek man, as well as a German policewoman in a nationwide killing spree that lasted from 2000 until 2006.

Police long dismissed the possibility that the killings could be racially motivated and got nowhere until the NSU trio was discovered by chance following a bank robbery by two of the members, Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos, in November 2011. They committed suicide before police apprehended them.

Zschäpe went on trial in May on charges of complicity in the 10 murders as well as in two bomb attacks in Cologne and 15 bank robberies.

The group was already known to have a penchant for photo montages, making a macabre video interspersing shots of the Pink Panther cartoon figure with photos of their victims.

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« Reply #9235 on: Oct 10, 2013, 06:30 AM »

Austerity pushing Europe into social and economic decline, says Red Cross

Critique of response to EU debt crisis highlights unemployment, widening poverty gap, and growing risk of social unrest

Ian Traynor in Brussels
The Guardian, Thursday 10 October 2013    

Europe is sinking into a protracted period of deepening poverty, mass unemployment, social exclusion, greater inequality, and collective despair as a result of austerity policies adopted in response to the debt and currency crisis of the past four years, according to an extensive study being published on Thursday.

"Whilst other continents successfully reduce poverty, Europe adds to it," says the 68-page report from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. "The long-term consequences of this crisis have yet to surface. The problems caused will be felt for decades even if the economy turns for the better in the near future … We wonder if we as a continent really understand what has hit us."

The damning critique, obtained exclusively by the Guardian, of the policy response to the debt crisis that surfaced in Greece in late 2009 and raised fundamental questions about the viability of the euro single currency, foresees extremely gloomy prospects for tens of millions of Europeans.

Mass unemployment – especially among the young, 120 million Europeans living in or at risk of poverty – increased waves of illegal immigration clashing with rising xenophobia in the host countries, growing risks of social unrest and political instability estimated to be two to three times higher than most other parts of the world, greater levels of insecurity among the traditional middle classes – all combine to make a European future more uncertain than at any time in the postwar era.

"As the economic crisis has planted its roots, millions of Europeans live with insecurity, uncertain about what the future holds. This is one of the worst psychological states of mind for human beings. We see quiet desperation spreading among Europeans, resulting in depression, resignation and loss of hope. Compared to 2009, millions more find themselves queuing for food, unable to buy medicine nor access healthcare. Millions are without a job and many of those who still have work face difficulties to sustain their families due to insufficient wages and skyrocketing prices.

"Many from the middle class have spiralled down to poverty. The amount of people depending on Red Cross food distributions in 22 of the surveyed countries has increased by 75% between 2009 and 2012. More people are getting poor, the poor are getting poorer."

The survey conducted in the first half of this year "mapped" the 28 countries of the EU plus a further 14 in the Balkans, eastern Europe and central Asia.

In the EU, it found that the grave impact of the crisis was not confined to the crisis-ravaged, bailed-out countries of southern Europe and Ireland, but extended to relative European success stories such as Germany and parts of Scandinavia.

Last year the Spanish Red Cross launched a national appeal to help people in Spain, the first ever. Suicides among women in Greece have at least doubled. Many employed in Slovenia have not been paid for months. In France 350,000 people fell below the poverty line from 2008 to 2011. One in five Finns born in 1987 have been treated for psychiatric or mental disorders, associated with the economic slump in Finland in the 1990s.

Despite Germany's vaunted success in avoiding the high levels of unemployment prevalent across much of the EU, a quarter of the country's employed are classified as low-wage earners, almost half of new job contracts since 2008 have been low-paid, flexible, part-time so-called mini-jobs with little security and usually no social benefits. In July last year 600,000 employed in Germany with social insurance did not have enough to live on.

The problems are also affecting Europe's wealthiest societies, such as Denmark and Luxembourg, the study found.

In the Baltic states and Hungary up to 13% of the populations have left in recent years due to economic hardship. The study reports a mounting trend of intra-European migration, mainly from east to west, in search of work.

The jobs crisis is one of the most debilitating issues facing the EU and the eurozone. Of more than 26 million unemployed in the EU, those out of work for longer than a year stands at 11 million, almost double the level of five years ago when the international financial crisis broke out in the US.

The social impact is immense, the study found. In Greece and Spain adult children with families are moving back in with their parents, several generations are living in single households with one breadwinner between them. It is now a common sight to find formerly prosperous middle-class men and women sleeping rough in Milan, Italy's financial capital.

Youth unemployment figures in a quarter of the countries surveyed ranged from 33% to more than 60%. But as destructive to families, the report said, is the soaring jobless levels among 50-64 year-olds which has risen from 2.8 million to 4.6 million in the EU between 2008 and 2012.

"The rate at which unemployment figures have risen in the past 24 months alone is an indication that the crisis is deepening, with severe personal costs as a consequence, and possible unrest and extremism as a risk. Combined with increasing living costs, this is a dangerous combination," the study said.

Despite the perceived success of Germany, Europe's economic engine, the study takes the EU's biggest country to illustrate the widening wealth gap, raising questions about the longevity of the EU's traditional model, the social market economy. According to Germany's Bertelsmann Foundation some 5.5 million Germans have lost their middle-class social status over the past decade and fallen into the ranks of low-income earners while at the same time half a million others made the grade as high-income earners.

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« Reply #9236 on: Oct 10, 2013, 06:33 AM »

Taliban leader invites Pakistan government to 'serious talks'

Hakimullah Mehsud of the TTP signalled the group's willingness to open negotiations in an interview with a BBC journalist

Jon Boone in Islamabad, Wednesday 9 October 2013 20.03 BST   
The leader of the Pakistani Taliban has used a rare television interview to invite representatives of the government to meet on militant controlled territory for "serious talks" about bringing peace to the country.

Hakimullah Mehsud, the long-haired leader of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), told a BBC journalist he would guarantee the protection of government negotiators in order to start a discreet dialogue rather than trying to negotiate "through the media".

"The proper way to do it is that if the government appoints a formal team, and they sit with us, and we discuss our respective positions," he said during an interview at an undisclosed location in the country's north-west that was quite unlike the carefully staged propaganda videos the militant leader has previously featured in.

The prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, campaigned in this year's election for peace talks to resolve Pakistan's bloody internal conflict but little progress has been made since senior politicians agreed in September to support such a process.

The policy has also been harshly criticised in the media in the wake of a sequence of bloody bomb attacks on civilians.

Although the TTP's spokesman had already signalled the group's willingness to talk, the intervention by the country's most wanted man is likely to further stoke controversy.

It will hearten those who have argued that the TTP is not responsible for some of most horrific terrorist attacks, including the recent bombings of the church and crowded bazaar in the city of Peshawar.

Such attacks on the public were carried about by "spy agencies" Mehsud claimed.

"[The] purpose behind those attacks is to move the masses against Taliban so that public support towards us is stopped," he said.

He complained the government had not yet tried to contact him, highlighting the difficulties of getting talks off the ground.

Imran Khan, the head of a leading opposition party, has called for the TTP to be allowed to set up an office where talks could take place saying the discussions "should not happen in caves".

Mehsud also said neither side should have any publicly announced pre-conditions.

But he made clear that any deal acceptable to the TTP would have to lead to the imposition of Sharia law in the country and an end to CIA drone strikes in Pakistan's troubled borderlands which have killed scores of senior militants.

It is unlikely the government could deliver either demand even if it wanted to.

He said the TTP's campaign would not end after the withdrawal of US combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of next year. Many Pakistanis blame the US presence in the region for the instability that has plagued the country in the last decade.

"America is one of the two reasons we have to conduct a jihad against Pakistan," he said. "The other reason is that Pakistan's system is unIslamic, and we want it replaced with an Islamic system."

Mehsud became leader of the TTP in 2009 which has claimed responsibility for attacks in both Pakistan, Afghanistan and around the world, including a failed bombing of Times Square in New York.

Implicated in many crimes, the US government has offered a $5m reward for assistance leading to his arrest.


Pakistani Taliban say Malala has done ‘nothing’ to earn human rights prize

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, October 10, 2013 8:12 EDT

The Pakistani Taliban Thursday said teenage activist Malala Yousafzai had done “nothing” to deserve a prestigious EU rights award and vowed to try again to kill her.

The European Parliament awarded the Sakharov human rights prize to the 16-year-old, who has become a global ambassador for the right of all children to go to school since surviving a Taliban murder attempt.

Malala survived being shot in the head by a Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) gunman on October 9 last year and is seen as a leading contender for the Nobel Peace prize, to be announced on Friday.

“She has done nothing. The enemies of Islam are awarding her because she has left Islam and has became secular,” TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location.

“She is getting awards because she is working against Islam. Her struggle against Islam is the main reason for getting these awards.”

He repeated the TTP’s threat — made numerous times in recent months — to try again to kill Malala, “even in America or the UK”.

Malala moved to Britain in the wake of the shooting for treatment and to continue her education in safety, and now goes to school in the central city of Birmingham.

Announcing the Sakharov award, the European Parliament’s president Martin Schulz said: “Malala bravely stands for the right of all children to be granted a fair education. This right for girls is far too commonly neglected.”

Feted by world leaders and celebrities for her courage, Malala has addressed the UN, this week published an autobiography, and could become the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate on Friday.

Malala herself told Pakistani radio this week that she feels she has not yet done enough to earn the Nobel and spoke of her desire to do more practical work to promote education.

Her autobiography “I am Malala”, written with journalist Christina Lamb, has gone on sale in Pakistan and Shahid warned the Taliban would target bookshops stocking it.

“Malala is the enemy of Islam and Taliban and she wrote this book against Islam and Taliban,” he said.

Malala first rose to prominence with a blog for the BBC Urdu service chronicling the difficulties of life under the rule of the Taliban, who controlled the Swat valley from 2007 until they were kicked out by the army in 2009.

Though the military operation ended the Taliban’s rule, pockets of militancy remain and it was in Swat’s main town Mingora that Malala was attacked.

In an interview with the BBC earlier this week, Malala dismissed the threats against her life and repeated her desire to return to Pakistan from Britain.


October 9, 2013

Bail for Pakistani Ex-Leader Paves Way for His Exit


A Pakistani court granted bail on Wednesday to Pervez Musharraf, the country’s former military ruler, clearing the way for him to leave the country as early as Thursday, his lawyers said.

Mr. Musharraf, 70, has been under house arrest at his villa outside Islamabad since April, facing criminal charges in three cases related to his nine years in power, from 1999 to 2008. The prospect of a former army chief facing potential imprisonment appeared, for a time, to signal new limits to the unofficial immunity from prosecution that Pakistan’s top generals have long enjoyed.

Mr. Musharraf had already been granted bail in two of the three cases, and the decision on Wednesday to grant bail in the third — related to the death of Akbar Khan Bugti, a Baluch nationalist leader killed in a military operation — opens the door for him to avoid prosecution entirely.

Mr. Musharraf’s lawyers said that his bail payment of $20,000 could be processed as early as Thursday morning; he could then leave Pakistan immediately. Ahmad Raza Khan Qasuri, the vice president of Mr. Musharraf’s political party, the All Pakistan Muslim League, said that Mr. Musharraf might go to see his 90-year-old mother.

“He’s a free person — he can go out whenever he likes,” Mr. Qasuri said in a telephone interview. “His mother, who is a very aged lady, lives in Dubai. He might go tomorrow or the day after to see her. But his base will continue to be in Islamabad.”

Still, Mr. Musharraf has rebuffed previous entreaties from his advisers, and from senior military leaders, to leave Pakistan, particularly if doing so would prevent him from returning to fight his battles in court. Aides say that Mr. Musharraf, a former commando with a famous stubborn streak, insists on clearing his name and does not want to spend his retirement in exile.

But for the military, his case has become an unwelcome distraction, complicating relations among the army, the civilian government and the courts, and raising the prospect of a troubling precedent.

Mohammed Amjad, secretary general of Mr. Musharraf’s party, told reporters outside his home that if Mr. Musharraf leaves Pakistan, it will be only temporarily. “He will not escape from Pakistan,” Mr. Amjad said.

Mr. Musharraf has been detained at his luxurious farmhouse outside Islamabad rather than in prison for security reasons, following Taliban threats to his life. Aides say he has been confined to two rooms in the house, which has a swimming pool and sweeping lawns, and has had limited access to his friends and family.

Still, in a country where senior military officers are generally considered to be above the law, the sight of a former military ruler facing justice in a civilian court is a startling novelty.

Besides the three current criminal cases, Mr. Musharraf faces potential treason charges over his role in suspending the Constitution in 2007, though few analysts believe that the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is likely to go ahead with those charges.

Mr. Musharraf was disqualified from running in the general election in May, in which his party performed poorly. More generally, few Pakistanis have shown much enthusiasm for returning him to power.

One factor in Mr. Musharraf’s present calculation might be the position of his nemesis, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, whom he tried to fire in 2007. With Mr. Chaudhry due to retire in December, analysts say that Mr. Musharraf might be waiting until then to decide whether his long-term future lies in or out of Pakistan.

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« Reply #9237 on: Oct 10, 2013, 06:42 AM »

October 9, 2013

Fairness an Issue, Even After Azerbaijan Votes


BAKU, Azerbaijan — The slogan of Jamil Hasanli’s long-shot campaign to unseat Azerbaijan’s longtime president, Ilham Aliyev, in elections on Wednesday was “Enough!” Or, more specifically, as the red and white stickers plastered all over his headquarters and around this capital city made clear: enough corruption, enough monarchy, enough unemployment, enough stolen oil money, enough low-quality education and health services, enough disrespectful officials, and enough war over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Yet, with early results showing Mr. Hasanli headed to a resounding defeat — a loss that appeared preordained from the moment a referendum was adopted in 2009 clearing the way for Mr. Aliyev to seek a third five-year term — the more relevant issue was fairness, which seemed to be lacking in the election.

In an interview, Mr. Hasanli said his bid was hampered by a rushed campaign calendar, a lack of money and exposure in the state-controlled news media, and the indifference of the rest of the world. International observers indicated they would largely affirm his complaints in a report to be issued Thursday.

“In this election, the biggest shortage we had was time,” said Mr. Hasanli, a historian and history professor. Changes in election rules compressed the campaign to just three weeks. But Azerbaijan, an important American ally perched strategically between Russia and Iran, has 85 regions, most of which can be visited only by long car rides. “Within 21 days, it’s physically impossible to cover all these regions,” Mr. Hasanli said.

His most formidable obstacle, however, was Mr. Aliyev, who inherited the presidency 10 years ago from his father, Heydar Aliyev. Huge pictures of the elder Aliyev can still be found throughout Baku, and each year the younger Mr. Aliyev oversees an elaborate celebration of his father’s birthday on May 10.

“It’s a coronation,” Mr. Hasanli said, with a hint of exasperation.

Supporters of Mr. Aliyev say he has presided over the steady political development of the country after years of Soviet domination, cultivating in one of the world’s few predominantly Muslim nations a secular political tradition and relatively liberal social views.

They also say he has used the country’s oil wealth to raise living standards, including a glittering revival of Baku, which is now dotted with luxury homes built from elegant stone, skyscrapers and an array of new cultural sites.

“I voted for my president,” said a 65-year-old retired doctor leaving a polling station in a Russian-speaking section of downtown Baku. Like many Azerbaijanis, she did not want to give her name when discussing politics, even though she backed Mr. Aliyev. “He is young, energetic; he speaks Russian and English. Those parameters fit my requirements. I do not know other candidates and did not even try to know about them.”

“Look at this city,” she added. “It is beautiful because of him and his wife.”

Critics, however, say Mr. Aliyev is a heavy-handed autocrat in a country that has a poor record on human rights. In February, two political opposition leaders were arrested on charges of inciting riots in the city of Ismayilli, northwest of Baku. Lawyers for the men said the arrests were politically motivated and that their clients were merely visiting the city when protests broke out.

Outside the same polling station in downtown Baku, a 69-year-old retired lawyer said that the fear of political reprisal by the Aliyev government was genuine. “I voted for Jamil Hasanli because his campaign established some trust,” he said. “Ilham Aliyev is fine, but he does not care to gather smart people around him. He ignores corrupted officials.”

After securing the referendum in 2009 that lifted term limits, Mr. Aliyev portrayed his re-election as a foregone conclusion. He did virtually no campaigning and did not participate in debates, sending representatives in his place. In the debates, the 10 candidates each received six minutes, even as Mr. Aliyev dominated the state-controlled news media.

Many voters said they viewed Mr. Aliyev as the only choice. In a poverty-stricken neighborhood in the Yasamal district of Baku, several people displaced from the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which Azerbaijan and Armenia have been at war over for more than 20 years, said they supported Mr. Aliyev.

“Even if Ilham Aliyev’s presidency did not affect the welfare of my family, it did help the nation,” said Vusala Ahmedova, 33, who lives in a room with her husband and three children. “I would like him to get our lands back so that we can move to our land that I left when I was 11.”

With more than 74 percent of precincts counted, the Central Election Commission said Mr. Aliyev had received nearly 85 percent of the vote, and Mr. Hasanli 5.2 percent. Shortly afterward, Mr. Aliyev thanked voters for their trust in a recorded statement on state television.

“I would like to assure the Azeri people that, in the future as well, I will serve them worthily and will always protect the state interests of Azerbaijan,” he said. Mr. Aliyev also praised the election as “free and transparent,” calling it “another serious step toward democracy.”

Even before results were announced, a victory celebration erupted outside the headquarters of Mr. Aliyev’s New Azerbaijan Party. Streets were closed as jubilant supporters danced and waved flags.

Nonetheless, the Hasanli campaign issued a statement accusing the government of widespread election fraud, including accusations of ballot-box stuffing and interfering with election monitors.

Initial reports from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the European Parliament suggested that they would declare the election as failing to meet international standards. The groups scheduled a news conference for Thursday.

Shahla Sultanova contributed reporting.

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« Reply #9238 on: Oct 10, 2013, 06:46 AM »

North Korea says it is ready for a military confrontation

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 9, 2013 15:13 EDT

North Korea took fresh aim at the United States Wednesday over a three-nation naval drill, accusing it of “serious military provocation” and branding the exercise an “attack on our efforts for peace”.

The planned drill in waters around the Korean peninsula involves South Korea, Japan and the United States, which has deployed the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington.

The North’s foreign ministry spokesman hit out at the exercise, which comes after Seoul and Washington last week agreed a joint strategy to address what they described as the mounting threat of a North Korean nuclear attack.

The spokesman said the joint strategy signalled an increase in the “threats of nuclear war against us” and the “completion of plans for a pre-emptive nuclear strike”.

“In these circumstances, the dangerous joint naval drill is a serious military provocation and a frontal attack against our efforts for peace”, the spokesman was quoted as saying by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.

“We want peace but we don’t beg for it. We are ready not only for dialogue but confrontation as well.”

The annual naval drill had been scheduled to take place earlier this week, but was postponed due to an approaching typhoon.

It remains unclear when the drill, which the US and South Korea describe as a search and rescue exercise and humanitarian in nature, will be carried out.

North Korea on Tuesday warned the United States of a “horrible disaster” and put its troops on alert over the drill.

The United States and South Korea have long demanded that Pyongyang show commitment to ending its nuclear weapons programme before six-nation talks on disarmament, which have been stalled since December 2008, can resume.

North Korea has habitually condemned joint military drills south of the border and threatened counter-attacks that have not materialised.

The North held its most powerful atomic test to date in February, sending tensions soaring in the region.

The temperature has been lowered in recent months after a series of conciliatory gestures by Pyongyang towards Seoul.

But acute concerns remain over the North’s nuclear programme, with South Korea’s spy agency telling lawmakers on Tuesday that Pyongyang has restarted its ageing Yongbyon plutonium reactor.

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« Reply #9239 on: Oct 10, 2013, 06:49 AM »

Clive Palmer forms Senate alliance with Motoring Enthusiast party's Ricky Muir

Agreement will form an influential bloc of four senators, further complicating the situation in the upper house for Tony Abbott

Katharine Murphy, deputy political editor, Thursday 10 October 2013 05.37 BST   

Billionaire Clive Palmer has acted to boost his influence in the new Senate by creating an alliance with the Australian Motoring Enthusiast party senator elect Ricky Muir.

The memorandum of understanding between the PUP and the MEP will create an influential bloc of four senators from July 2014, further complicating the post-election Senate picture for Tony Abbott and his upper house leader, Eric Abetz.

Palmer is demanding more resources for his senators, and on Thursday threatened Abetz with a "very, very, very cold winter" if the Liberal Senate leader failed to recognise that he was now negotiating with a group of four crossbenchers in the upper house.

"Erica", Palmer said, would have to negotiate with his team, or "not at all".

Muir confirmed the tie-up with the PUP at a press conference in Sydney. "It is our intention to vote together with the Palmer United party in the senate," the MEP senator elect said. "This will provide the government and the people of Australia with certainty."

Muir said the agreement would see the groups support one another's policies in the Senate. "Together, [we] can do so much more than I could have achieved alone."

Palmer said his senators needed more resources to ensure co-operation on the new government's policy agenda. He warned of "gridlock" along the lines of that currently seen in the United States if this request wasn't taken seriously.

"I think we have to look at what the Greens had," Palmer said. He said the test for resourcing should not be how many senators were elected to parliament, but how much work they had to do.

In Brunei, prime minister Tony Abbott rebuffed the demand for extra staff. Abbott told reporters the government would "adhere to the standard convention when it comes to staffing for minor parties and independents".

Extra resourcing requires a party to have minor party status – which requires five representatives. The Coalition has also signalled its intention to bring staff back in line with pre-2010 levels, a pledge which will mean a reduction in the staff available to the minor parties.

Abbott said he was confident the Senate would not thwart the government's agenda, and his intention was to treat senators and crossbenchers with "courtesy and respect".

"I'm confident that everyone in this parliament very well understand that the new government has a clear mandate to get certain things done," Abbott said.

"We've got a clear mandate to repeal the carbon tax, we've got a clear mandate to repeal the mining tax, we've got a clear mandate to stop the boats, we've got a clear mandate to build infrastructure, to reduce red tape, and I'm confident that minor parties in the senate understand that and will support that."

Palmer said on Thursday it was time journalists started taking the new senators seriously. They had been elected by the voters and Palmer suggested it was unproductive to "deride them personally or individually".

A YouTube video of Muir throwing kangaroo excrement aroused considerable interest shortly after the election result. A boilover within the MEP has also generated publicity in recent weeks.

Muir on Thursday denied he had been hiding because of the conflict within his organisation. "I haven't been hiding. I've been busy trying to get the best deal I can for motoring enthusiasts," he said.

Muir echoed Palmer's call for more resources to consider government legislation.

Palmer remained coy about who would be calling the shots in the new voting bloc. He said further announcements would be made next week.

He suggested if he secured the lower house seat of Fairfax then he would lead the PUP in the same way Tony Abbott led his party. A recount is under way in the Queensland seat.

* Clive-Palmer-010.jpg (25.85 KB, 460x276 - viewed 74 times.)

* Ricky-Muir-010.jpg (17.31 KB, 460x276 - viewed 70 times.)
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