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« Reply #9240 on: Oct 10, 2013, 06:51 AM »

Libyan prime minister kidnapped

Ali Zeidan taken from hotel in Tripoli by gunmen and driven away to an undisclosed location, government confirms

Staff and agencies, Thursday 10 October 2013 08.10 BST   

Armed men have kidnapped the Libyan prime minister, Ali Zeidan, from the hotel in Tripoli where he lives.

"The head of the transitional government, Ali Zeidan, was taken to an unknown destination for unknown reasons," the Libyan government said on its website, attributing the kidnapping to a group of men believed to be former rebels.

The abduction early Thursday comes amid anger among Libya's powerful Islamic militant groups over the US special forces raid on Saturday that seized a Libyan al-Qaida suspect known as Abu Anas al-Libi. Several groups accused the government of colluding in or allowing the raid, though the government denied having any prior knowledge of the operation.

Hours before the abduction Zeidan had met with al-Libi's family, the Associated Press said.

Abu Dhabi-based Sky News Arabia quoted Libyan security sources as saying that Zeidan was seized from the hotel and taken to an unknown destination. Dubai-based al-Arabiya carried a similar report.

According to CNN, armed rebels escorted Zeidan from the Corinthian Hotel in Tripol and took him away in a car. The news service quoted a hotel clerk as saying there was no gunfire and the gunmen "caused no trouble".

Zeidan's office initially denied the abduction on Facebook but later stated the denial was made at the order of the kidnappers.

The Libyan cabinet held an emergency meeting on Thursday morning, headed by Zeidan's deputy, Abdel-Salam al-Qadi.

Reflecting the divided and chaotic state of Libya's government, Zidan's seizure was depicted by different sources as either an "arrest" or an abduction

Abdel-Moneim al-Hour, an official with the country's Anti-Crime Committee, told the Associated Press that Zidan had been arrested on accusations of harming state security and corruption. But the public prosecutor's office said it had issued no warrant for Zidan's arrest.

A government official said two guards abducted with Zidan were beaten but later released.

US state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, travelling in Brunei with the secretary of state, John Kerry, said: "We are looking into these reports and we are in close touch with senior US and Libyan officials on the ground."

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« Reply #9241 on: Oct 10, 2013, 06:53 AM »

War criminal Charles Taylor to serve 50-year sentence in British prison

Ministry of Justice confirms that former Liberian president will be transferred from Dutch prison to serve his sentence

Owen Bowcott, legal affairs correspondent, Thursday 10 October 2013 11.54 BST   

Charles Taylor, the convicted former Liberian president, will serve his 50-year sentence for war crimes in a British prison, the Ministry of Justice has confirmed.

The announcement follows a final ruling by the United Nations-backed special court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) in The Hague last month. The UK is the only country that has publicly offered to accommodate him.

The offer was made in 2006 by the then foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, as part of a diplomatic deal to bring the onetime warlord to justice. For the past seven years Taylor, now 65, has been held in a small Dutch jail pending the last appeal stage of the UN tribunal.

Lawyers for Taylor had pressed the court to allow him to serve out his sentence in an African jail nearer home.

Announcing that he would indeed be coming to the UK, the justice minister Jeremy Wright told parliament in a written statement that, "former President Taylor will now be transferred to a prison in the UK to serve [his] sentence".

It added: "The United Kingdom's offer to enforce any sentence imposed on former President Taylor by the SCSL was crucial to ensuring that he could be transferred to The Hague to stand trial for his crimes.

"The International Tribunals (Sierra Leone) Act 2007, which allows for SCSL sentences to be enforced here, was passed with wide cross-party support in June 2007. During the passage of the bill it was made clear, and accepted by the house, that former President Taylor could serve his sentence in the UK should it be required, and that Her Majesty's government would meet the associated costs.

"International justice is central to foreign policy. It is essential for securing the rights of individuals and states, and for securing peace and reconciliation. The conviction of Charles Taylor is a landmark moment for international justice. It clearly demonstrates that those who commit atrocities will be held to account and that no matter their position they will not enjoy impunity."

The Moj did not identify the prison to which Taylor would be sent. It is likely, at least initially, to be a high security jail.

The average cost of keeping a prisoner in a British jail is around £40,000 a year. Conditions in a British prison are likely to be more restrictive for Taylor than his experiences in Scheveningen jail in the Netherlands, where he has been detained for the past six years: a recent biography, claimed he had fathered a child with his wife during conjugal visits.

The Hague court found Taylor guilty of 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law, including, murder, forced labour and slavery, recruiting child soldiers and rape.

He had been criminally responsible for "aiding and abetting" the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and other factions carrying out atrocities in Sierra Leone between 1996 and 2002.

The court heard that the Liberian leader knew from August 1997 about the campaign of terror being waged against the civilian population in Sierra Leone and about the sale of "blood diamonds" in return for weapons.

Among the atrocities detailed was the beheading of civilians. Victims' heads were often displayed at checkpoints. On one occasion a man was killed, publicly disembowelled and his intestines stretched across a road to form another checkpoint. "The purpose," Judge Richard Lussick said, "was to instil terror."

Taylor was the first former head of state to face judgment in an international court on war crimes charges since judges in Nuremberg convicted Karl Dönitz, the admiral who led Nazi Germany for a brief period following Adolf Hitler's suicide.

The UK's record on holding war crimes inmates is not unblemished. In 2010, the Bosnian Serb general Radislav Krstic, who was serving a 35-year sentence in Wakefield prison, was stabbed in his cell by three Muslim inmates.

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« Reply #9242 on: Oct 10, 2013, 06:58 AM »

How the US raid on al-Shabaab in Somalia went wrong

Navy seals launched a daring night-time raid in Barawe, but were forced to retreat an hour later without their target – why?

Abdalle Ahmed in Mogadishu, Spencer Ackerman in Washington and David Smith in Johannesburg, Wednesday 9 October 2013 13.35 BST

As a mother of young children, Fadumo Sheikh is used to rising early. Last Saturday she was due to prepare their breakfasts before they went to the local madrasa. But the day started earlier than ever when, at around 2am, she was woken by the sound of sporadic gunfire.

Within sight of Sheikh's home in Barawe, Somalia, crack American navy Seals had launched a lightning amphibious assault on the Islamist militant group al-Shabaab. Less an hour later they would be forced to retreat, their mission far from accomplished. Based on interviews with witnesses and members of al-Shabaab, as well as official statements and media reports, the Guardian can present the most comprehensive picture yet of the daring pre-dawn raid – and where it went wrong.

The Americans' target was an innocuous two-storey beachside house in Barawe, a fishing town of about 200,000 people that was a crucial slave trade port in the colonial era. In particular, they had planned the delicate operation of capturing, not killing, Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir, a Kenyan of Somali origin and senior commander of al-Shabaab who was linked to a number of terrorist plots.

The house, about 200 metres from the sea on the town's east side, is understood to be used by foreign extremists who have gone to Somalia to take up al-Shabaab's cause. The group's presence there was not news to Sheikh.

"I live in a house near the beach and I used to see the house every day. There were so many al-Shabaab fighters entering and coming out," she said. "I usually see them going back and forth but I had never thought that so important a person was living inside the house."

Early morning gunfire was unusual, Sheikh continued, except when al-Shabaab was conducting training exercises. "I raised my ears and I continued to hear the gunfire growing. I had no feeling or thought of such an attack from the Americans. I looked at my watch about 30 minutes later and heard one explosion and then, a few minutes later, another explosion occurred, like boom!"

What had been invisible to Sheikh and other residents of Barawe was the stealthy advance of navy Seal team six – the same unit that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan – in a speedboat towards the Somalian coastline before first light. The team consisted of about 20 Seals, according to leaked accounts, and their craft was flanked on the Indian Ocean by three small boats to provide back-up.

'They looked like three big cows'

The Seals swept ashore, but not everyone in Barawe was asleep in those chilly early morning hours. Abdurahman Yarow, a longtime resident of the town, recalled: "I was wrapping my turban on my neck and head to protect against the cold and heading to the mosque. When I had nearly entered it, I heard a sound behind me. I saw what looked like three big cows going towards the north of the mosque – it was dark so I could not identify well what they were.

"After only 10 minutes I heard the first guns – that is, when the gun battle occurred between al-Shabaab fighters in the house and the US forces. I now understand the big cows I saw in the night were the American special forces with their military bags on their backs going in the direction of the house they targeted."

The Seals took up positions inside the house's compound, according to a report by NBC, which continued: "Then a lone al-Shabaab fighter walked out into plain view, smoked a cigarette, and went back inside, one source familiar with the details of the raid said. The fighter played it cool, and gave no indication that he had spotted the Seals. But he came back out shooting, firing rounds from an AK-47 assault rifle."

The element of surprise had been lost and al-Shabaab's fighters unleashed gunfire and grenades in a cacophony that rang out across the town, murdering sleep before dawn prayers. But the Americans continued on the offensive, according to an elder who did not wish to be named. "The attackers from the US divided into two groups," he said. "Group one, comprising six men, stormed the house and began shooting the people inside it, while group two, also of at least six men, were staying outside the house. The worst shooting took place inside where one al-Shabaab fighter was killed. Al-Shabaab had more fighters inside and they fought extremely hard against the Americans."

The elder continued: "The Americans tried to enter room by room into the house to start searching for the big fish but al-Shabaab got reinforcing fighters from other houses and then the situation deteriorated until the Americans retreated."

According to the NBC account, several Seals could see Abdulkadir through windows but he was heavily protected; according to al-Shabaab, he was not in the building. While Pentagon officials have been reluctant to provide a full narrative, they have said US forces retreated from the gun battle out of a concern for potential civilian casualties. Details leaked to the press suggest that the compound contained far more women and children than the Seals expected.

The commandos returned to their boat, grateful for having suffered no casualties, and finally there was calm. Sheikh recalled: "At 3am the call for prayer started, and all the gunfire stopped. A neighbour called me on the phone and said there is an attack against the mujahideen. When it became safe enough to see everything outside, I came out to look around. Outside the house which came under attack there were some fighters of al-Shabaab and some residents come to witness the incident.

"These al-Shabaab fighters were not talking to the people. Some of them were masked and you could not see their faces. I saw one dead man and he was loaded into a car for burial. They were saying 'the martyr', which is the only word that you can understand for an al-Shabaab member who's been killed."

The dead man was Abdulkadir's bodyguard, according to one source in the town. On Tuesday, the Somali defence minister, Abdihakim Haji Mohamud Fiqi, claimed two al-Shabaab members had been killed: "We have found that two senior commanders – one of them foreign – were killed in the attack despite the top target not being found." A UN official in Somalia also said two al-Shabaab figures had been killed: one Sudanese man and another of Somali and Swedish origin.

Sheikh continued: "There were more fighters and supporters of al-Shabaab coming to the house in the morning; they were vowing that they will kill anyone who is found working with the non-believers.

"On the beach, the residents were looking at items left by US forces. I saw a grey military bullet-proof jacket. There was also blood scattered on the ground. There were military boots on the ground which we suspect were those of the Americans."

Local backlash

In the aftermath of the US assault, al-Shabaab deployed more heavily armed fighters to patrol the streets of Barawe, while also posting men and anti-aircraft weapons on the beach. There was also a local backlash with a hunt for suspected informants who helped US intelligence locate the house. A man who frequently used the local internet café was arrested on Sunday and is still being held.

Al-Shabaab took control of Barawe in 2008 and it became a refuge for its senior figures after they lost control of the capital, Mogadishu, and other towns in 2011. These have included the leader Ahmed Godane, who has been described as Africa's most wanted man after the Westgate mall bombing in Nairobi; Omar Hammami, the so-called "jihadist rapper" from Alabama killed last month after falling out with Godane; and Abdulkadir himself.

Barawe is about 135 miles (218km) from Mogadishu. The nearest town where government and African Union forces have control is Shalanbood, only 68 miles (110km) away. To the east is the Ambaresa training camp for al-Shabaab's foreign fighters. Forced marriage is common in Barawe: when al-Shabaab commanders including foreign fighters come for their daughter, few parents can say no, even if the girl is underage.

The events of Saturday 5 October could boost al-Shabaab's confidence in its defences but also give it notice that the world's most powerful military is ready to bring the battle to its doorstep. Speaking at a mosque in Barawe on Monday night, al-Shabaab's military operations spokesman Sheikh Abiasis Abu Mus'ab said: "Western countries … have to bear in mind we know that we are your target, but we will not be caught off guard.

"We know you are sharpening your knives to cut our heads off. We know our enemies. We will not oversleep so you can attack us at once. We are always vigilant and your cowardly attacks will end in failure."

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, who studies Somalia and al-Shabaab at the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies, described Barawe as "right now the strongest area of sanctuary" for the militant group. He said it was likely that al-Shabaab expected something like a foreign raid after it perpetrated the attack on Nairobi's Westgate mall.

Gartenstein-Ross said the probable immediate response by al-Shabaab would centre around strengthening its internal security and grip on Barawe, rather than launching another terror attack.

"The raid has made them very nervous," he added. "In Barawe it's already been reported that al-Shabaab has implemented curfews. There will be an uptick in operational security and they will certainly use the way they repulsed this attack by navy Seals as a propaganda piece."
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks to the traveling press about the U.S. government

But the US defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, said the operation in Somalia, along with a near-simultaneous one in Libya, demonstrated the "unparalleled precision, global reach and capabilities" of US counter-terrorism. "These operations in Libya and Somalia send a strong message to the world that the United States will spare no effort to hold terrorists accountable, no matter where they hide or how long they evade justice," Hagel said.

Pentagon spokesman George Little suggested that more special operations raids against al-Shabaab were yet to come. "Working in partnership with the government of the Federal Republic of Somalia, the United States military will continue to confront the threat posed by al-Shabaab," Little said in a statement on Monday. "The United States military has unmatched capabilities and could rely on any of them to disrupt terrorist networks and plots."

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« Reply #9243 on: Oct 10, 2013, 07:01 AM »

Obama ready to trim military aid to Egypt in sign of US disapproval

Planes and tanks likely to be cut from $1.3bn package in move dismissed as gesture politics by critics

Ian Black, Middle East editor, Wednesday 9 October 2013 20.20 BST   

Egypt is facing new strains in its relations with the United States as Barack Obama prepares to withold part of Washington's longstanding aid as a signal of American disapproval of the army's security crackdown since the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi in July.

US officials have denied reports that the entire $1.3bn aid package is to be suspended. But a distinction looks likely to be made between advanced aircraft and tanks for the Egyptian armed forces and equipment needed for counter-terrorism and border security. An announcement is expected in Washington within days.

The Washington Post quoted unnamed officials as referring to "a significant part of non-essential military aid to Egypt" being withheld.

In Cairo the Egyptian government said on Wednesday that it had not been informed of plans to reduce assistance. But critics dismissed the impending move as gesture politics or a half-measure by the US that would not alter its basically supportive relationship with Egypt, a linchpin of its wider Middle Eastern security strategy. It also seems likely that Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE will step in to help make up any shortfall.

The American president's move is in response to a review announced by the US after General Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi, Egypt's defence minister, removed the democratically elected but deeply unpopular Morsi. The coup won huge popular backing but infuriated supporters of the deposed president's Muslim Brotherhood.

Hundreds of people, many of them Brotherhood supporters, have been killed by state security forces since then. On Sunday, another bloody day, state media reported 57 people dead in Cairo.

It was announced that Morsi and 14 others charged with the killings of protesters outside his palace last December are to stand trial on 4 November. The ministry for social solidarity also said that the Muslim Brotherhood had now been dissolved - a move seen by many as a throwback to the era of Hosni Mubarak, who ruled Egypt for 30 years before he was overthrown in the 2011 revolution.

Morsi's removal created a political dilemma for Obama, as US law requires the suspension of aid if a military coup is deemed to have taken place. Washington went to strenuous lengths to avoid using the "C" word. John Kerry, the US secretary of state, even praised the army for "restoring democracy." But pressure for some action became unavoidable.

Last month Obama said that since Morsi's removal the government had made decisions "inconsistent with inclusive democracy".

Egypt has been among the world's largest recipients of US military and economic aid since its 1979 peace treaty with Israel, under which Israel withdrew from the Sinai peninsula, captured from Egypt in the 1967 war. In recent years the US has given Egypt $1.55bn in annual aid, including $1.3bn in direct military assistance.

According to unconfirmed reports, Washington is to withhold the delivery of Apache helicopters and F16 fighters. Exemptions will reportedly apply to aid for counter-terrorism and security. That clearly applies to the escalating insurgency in Sinai — of major concern to Israel as well as Egypt. Israel is reported to have lobbied the US not to cut its assistance.

It is unclear what the impact will be. "I worry this partial aid 'cut' is to show we're doing something, without actually accomplishing anything," said analyst Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institution in Doha "It's foreign policy by gesture. Once again, our Egypt policy is divorced from any broader strategy or vision for the bilateral relationship."

Nervana Mahmoud, an Egyptian commentator, called the US debate about cutting aid to Egypt "disappointing, and missing the point".

Sisi warned in an interview that Egypt would not tolerate pressure, "whether through actions or hints".

Until now the Obama administration has delayed the delivery of four F16 fighters, cancelled an annual joint US-Egyptian military exercise and announced the review of assistance whose outcome now appears imminent. Britain, facing a similar dilemma, has announced the cancellation of export licences for equipment that could be used for internal repression.

Tamara Coffman Wittes of the Saban Centre for Middle East Policy in Washington said the Egyptian military was unlikely to overreact to the move.

"Having failed to suspend aid right after the coup, despite threatening to do exactly that, the [US] administration was left with little choice but to define its least worst option.

"With this partial suspension, it hopes to make clear that there is some price (largely symbolic and perhaps temporary … ) for ignoring US preferences. The administration hopes to show it won't be overly influenced on Egypt policy by Gulf and Israeli lobbying for total aid resumption. And it hopes to sustain a working relationship with the people who are running Egypt – an objective which has been perhaps the only consistent component of the US approach toward Egypt since the 2011 revolution."

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« Reply #9244 on: Oct 10, 2013, 07:05 AM »

Tanzania ditches plan to evict Masai for Serengeti 'wildlife corridor'

Activists claim victory as plan to annex 1,500 sq km bordering national park to benefit UAE-based luxury safari firm dropped

David Smith, Africa correspondent, Monday 7 October 2013 16.38 BST   

Activists have claimed victory in a campaign to stop Tanzania evicting 40,000 Masai pastoralists from their ancestral land to make way for a big game hunting reserve for Dubai's royal family.

Government officials had planned to annex 1,500 sq km bordering the Serengeti national park for a "wildlife corridor" that would benefit a luxury hunting and safari company based in the United Arab Emirates.

But campaigners said ministers dropped the scheme after visiting the Masai, who complained that their livestock would be cut off from vital grazing pasture, as well as 18 months of co-ordinated protests that included a global petition signed by more than 1.7 million people.

Samwel Nangiria, co-ordinator of the local Ngonett civil society group, said Tanzanian prime minister Mizengo Pinda spent two and a half days with the Masai in Loliondo district late last month. "The Masai said we cannot lose this land at any cost – this land has been ours for centuries.

"The conclusion was that government has turned down the plan to evict tens of thousands of Masai. It's a big success story, not only for the Masai in Loliondo but also in Tanzania and east Africa."

The Masai will now try to renew their legal rights and end long-running disputes over the land with the assistance of the land minister, Nangiria added. He was not aware if alternative arrangements had been made for the Ortelo Business Corporation (OBC), a safari company set up by a UAE official close to the royal family.

"The OBC called last week and wanted a meeting with us," he said. "They are feeling very threatened, for sure."

Nangiria paid tribute to a "very sophisticated, high level" campaign that was mounted in defence of the Masai with the help of methods old and new. It included a protest march, pressuring international donors to Tanzania, and adverts in the East African newspaper that warned that the Masai would reconsider their support for the government at the ballot box.

The international effort was led by the online activism site, whose Stop the Serengeti Sell-off petition attracted 1,775,320 signatures and led to targeted email and Twitter protests. It argued that the Masai would be robbed of their livelihoods if their land was used for the commercial hunting of prize game such as leopards and lions by UAE royals.

Sam Barratt, a spokesman for Avaaz, said: "It's been amazing. The government did all it could to stop this becoming a national story but I think the confidence of the Masai has grown and grown. We helped get it out internationally and it was tremendously successful."

He added: "This is a nomadic tribe thousands of years old that lives by ancient traditions, but modern technology unlocked their cause to the world."

The Tanzanian government did not respond to requests for comment on Monday.

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« Reply #9245 on: Oct 10, 2013, 07:11 AM »

Brazil tribe plagued by one of the highest suicide rates in the world

Land losses blamed as study shows Guarani-Kaiowá are 34 times more likely to kill themselves than Brazil's national average
Jonathan Watts in Rio de Janiero, Thursday 10 October 2013 10.17 BST   

The discovery of an indigenous girl's body hanging from a tree in Bororó de Dourados was as grim as it was familiar for Brazil's Guarani-Kaiowá tribe, which has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, according to a new report.

Ahead of World Mental Health Day on Thursday, figures from Survival International suggest that the Guarani-Kaiowá are 34 times more likely to kill themselves than Brazil's national average.

This has prompted warnings that a "silent genocide" is under way.

The community of 31,000 people, mostly based in the south-western state of Mato Grosso do Sul, is plagued by alcoholism, depression, poverty and violence after losing its ancestral lands to ranchers and biofuel farmers.

The problem is decades-old, but Survival says the rate has increased in recent years. Since the start of the century, one suicide has been reported on average almost every week.

Almost all are hangings, with ropes, belts or cloth. Most are young. The latest victim, on Wednesday, whose name has yet to be released, was a 17-year-old girl. Last week, a 16-year-old, in Dourados reserve and a 19-year-old in Amambai reserve killed themselves.

"The principle reason is their lack of land," said Mary Nolan, a US nun and human rights lawyer. "The Guarani people think their relationship with the universe is broken when they are separated from their land. They feel they are a broken people." Many in the community cosmologically interpret their situation as a symptom of the destruction of the world.

As well undermining their spiritual base, the seizure of their land by farmers has disrupted the social structure of the community. Traditionally, disputes between families were settled by one side moving away and starting again in a new territory. But this is no longer possible now that thousands of Guarani are crammed together in camps.

One camp in Dourados now has a murder rate that is more than 50% higher than that of Iraq. The stressful, violent environment is worsened by beatings and assassinations of indigenous leaders who try to reclaim their land from wealthy farmers.

The suicides began among the first generation to grow up on reservations, which the tribes moved into in the 1970s, according to Guarani ethnologist, Tonico Benites.

"With no land to maintain their ancient cultures, the Guarani-Kaiowá feel ashamed and humiliated. Many feel sad, insecure, unstable, scared, hungry and miserable. They have lost their crops and their hope for a better life. They are exploited and enslaved by sugar cane production for alcohol," he said. "These conditions of despair and misery cause the epidemic of violence and suicide among the young."

The authorities have recognised the community is in the midst of suicide epidemic, but the government is criticised for not doing enough to deal with the cause.

Although courts have ordered the authorities to demarcate land for the Guarani, little progress has been made since the 1990s when a small tranche of land was returned to them – and the suicide rate temporarily declined. Now, however, the process has almost ground to a halt and some fear it could slide into reverse because Brazil's Congress is dominated by the powerful "ruralista" lobby of landowners.

Many other indigenous communities in the world, including the Tiwi Islanders in Australia, Khanty herders in Siberia and Inuits in Greenland, have unusually high suicide rates. Anthropologists say this is closely linked to the loss of land, which is often followed by social disintegration and economic dependence on charity and state handouts. The result is often alcoholism inside the community and racism outside, which leaves the young – in one man's words – "stuck somewhere between a past they don't understand and a future that won't accept them".

"Sadly, the Guarani are not a unique case – indigenous peoples worldwide often suffer far higher rates of suicide than the majority population," Survival's director Stephen Corry said in a statement.

"So-called 'progress' often destroys tribal peoples but in this case the solution is clear: demarcate the Guarani's land, before more innocent lives are lost.'


Illegal gold mining exposing Peru's indigenous tribes to mercury poisoning

Toxic levels of mercury dumped in Amazon rivers gets into food chain, posing serious health risk to children, study finds

Dan Collyns in Lima, Monday 9 September 2013 17.30 BST   

Indigenous children in Peru's south eastern Amazon, an area where tens of thousands of illegal gold miners operate, have unsafe mercury concentrations over three times the level of their non-native counterparts, a study has found.

The artisanal gold miners, who use mercury to extract the precious metal from river silt, dump more than 30 tons of the toxic metal in rivers and lakes in the Amazon region every year.

Native communities had levels of mercury roughly five times that considered safe by the World Health Organisation (WHO), whereas people in urban areas had double the safe limit, the study by the Carnegie Amazon Mercury Project found.

Overall, children were the most vulnerable group with mean mercury levels more than double the safe limit (1ppm – parts per million). Children in native communities had mercury levels more than five times that limit (5.2ppm). Some individuals had levels as high as 34 times the safe limit, according to the research.

Women of childbearing age were also disproportionately affected. Mercury, a neurotoxin, can cause severe, permanent brain damage to an unborn child.

The data was gathered in 2012 from the hair samples of 1,030 people in 25 communities across Peru's Madre de Dios region.

"Native communities rely almost exclusively on fish caught in the rivers and lakes as their primary protein source," said Luis E Fernandez, who led the Carnegie Institute for Science study.

He said mercury levels increased in 10 out of 11 fish species studied in 2009 and then again in 2012. The fish, such as doncella, zungaro and dorado, were the most commonly consumed in the area.

The mercury dumped by miners settles in the sediments at the bottom of the rivers and gets converted into an organic form, Methylmercury, which is absorbed by biological organisms and concentrated up the food chain.

Through the methylmercury in the fish which local people eat they are "exposed to levels which are tens of thousands, up to millions of times more concentrated than the mercury levels in the water in which the fish are swimming," Fernandez told The Guardian.

He added it was a "very serious public health crisis … with very few sources of information for the people to understand what they're being exposed to."

The miners have also deforested around 70sqkm of rainforest, according to official figures. Madre de Dios, known as the "capital of biodiversity," is renowned for its eco-tourism.


Developers risk losing billions if they fail to address land conflicts

Companies who ignore the claims of local communities when buying up land face protests, financial damage and court action

Claire Provost, Thursday 19 September 2013 15.35 BST   
Investors eager to snap up land in developing countries risk losing billions of dollars if they fail to address potential conflicts with local communities, according to research that looks at the extent to which mining, timber and agriculture land deals in Africa, Latin America and Asia encroach on community and indigenous territory.

In a paper published on Thursday by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), a US-based non-profit organisation, researchers found at least 30% of land covered by commercial deals in 12 emerging economies overlapped with community forests, indigenous territory and other local land claims.

Ignoring these claims could cost companies billions of dollars in financial damage, from increased operating costs to the abandonment of projects, says the paper. Investors also risk domestic legal challenges, prosecution in international courts for human rights abuses, protests by communities and public outcry, which can harm companies' ability to do business elsewhere, it says.

Andy White, co-ordinator of the RRI, said conflicts over land deals are not inevitable, but investors need to appreciate that ignoring the interests of local communities is risky business.

"Natural resource developers and their investors face a major challenge. Their profits – along with their ability to meet global demand – can plummet if the situation on the ground becomes unstable," he said. "Investors need to understand that in this day and age, no land is empty. The people living on the land need to be identified, involved and respected. They are striving for a better life; economic development should not bring them harsher poverty instead."

The paper, "Global capital, local concessions: A data-driven examination of land tenure risk and emerging market concessions, examined land deals for agriculture, forestry and mining projects in Argentina, Brazil, Cambodia, Cameroon, Chile, Colombia, Liberia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mozambique, Peru and the Philippines.

Researchers mapped and analysed geospatial data on deals covering more than 153m hectares, finding 3,750 cases in where there is significant overlap with local community lands.

In the most extreme case, researchers found that 84% of soybean concessions in Argentina overlapped with land claimed by communities.

In Cameroon, the data suggests that 83% of all commercial timber concessions overlapped with community forests.

Meanwhile, In Chile, Colombia and the Philippines, 30% of the area covered by mining concessions appear to overlap with indigenous territory. In the Philippines, disputes over the Tampakan copper-gold mine have placed $5.9bn-worth of investment at risk in a project that is projected to add 1% to national GDP, the paper says.

The authors note, however, that not all governments have made the same effort to map and demarcate community and indigenous lands.

"There has been little political or economic incentive for governments to map local populations' land and resource claims, whereas the incentive to map concessions is obvious," says the paper, which warns that the actual extent of overlapping land claims is likely much larger than available data suggests.

The lack of data also means it is difficult, if not impossible, for investors to insure against the risk of conflicts with local communities, it says.

Bryson Ogden, private sector analyst at the RRI, said companies should take matters into their own hands, go into the field and engage communities in mapping exercises to identify potentially competing claims over land. They should also recognise that legal rights are not always implemented, and come up with operational policies to engage with communities and diffuse conflicts before they erupt, he said.

"There needs to be a change in how folks are engaging with communities and dealing with the risk of conflict," said Ogden. "At the end of the day, the world needs resources and people want economic development but this needs to happen in a sustainable manner."

The paper was published to coincide with an international conference on community land rights in Interlaken, Switzerland, where a diverse set of conservationists, land rights activists and companies are meeting to discuss how to deal with disputes.

It follows a report from First Peoples Worldwide, which found that more than 30% of the oil and gas produced by companies listed on the Russell 1000 stock market index is sourced either on or near indigenous people's lands.

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« Reply #9246 on: Oct 10, 2013, 07:15 AM »

Canada’s Alice Munro wins Nobel Literature Prize

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, October 10, 2013 8:09 EDT

Canada’s Alice Munro won the Nobel Literature Prize on Thursday for her short stories that focus on the frailties of the human condition

She is just the 13th woman to win the coveted award, and the first Canadian.

The Swedish Academy described Munro, 82, as a “master of the contemporary short story”, a genre that has only rarely been honoured with the world’s most prestigious literary award.

It hailed her “finely tuned storytelling, which is characterised by clarity and psychological realism. Some critics consider her a Canadian Chekhov.”

“Her stories are often set in small town environments, where the struggle for a socially acceptable existence often results in strained relationships and moral conflicts — problems that stem from generational differences and colliding life ambitions,” it said.

Her works include “Who Do You Think You Are?” (1978), “The Moons of Jupiter” (1982), “Runaway” (2004), “The View from Castle Rock” (2006) and “Too Much Happiness” (2009).

The collection “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage” (2001) became the basis of the film “Away from Her” from 2006, directed by Sarah Polley. Her most recent collection is “Dear Life” (2012).

Born on July 10, 1931 in Wingham, Ontario, she grew up in the countryside.

At just 11 years old, she decided she wanted to be a writer, and never wavered in her career choice.

“I think maybe I was successful in doing this because I didn’t have any other talents,” she once said in an interview posted on YouTube.

“I’m not really an intellectual,” Munro said. “I was an okay housewife but I wasn’t that great. There was never anything else that I was really drawn to doing so nothing interfered in the way life interferes for so many people.”

Her focus on the activity of writing means she is not the kind of writer who revels in book-signing events or other publicity work.

When the Swedish Academy announced it had awarded her the Nobel prize on Thursday, it had still not been able to reach her.

“She is not a socialite. She is actually rarely seen in public, and does not go on book tours,” commented American literary critic David Homel.

Munro herself has said she writes about the “underbelly of relationships”.

She said she sets her stories in Canada “because I live life here at a level of irritation which I would not achieve in a place that I knew less well”.

“There are no such things as big and little subjects,” she has said. “The major things, the evils, that exist in the world have a direct relationship to the evil that exists around a dining room table when people are doing things to each other.”

In 2009, Munro won the prestigious Man Booker International Prize for her body of work

Tipped as one of the favourites in the days before Thursday’s announcement, Munro is just the 13th woman to win the Nobel Literature Prize since it was first awarded in 1901.

The last woman to receive it was Herta Mueller of Germany in 2009.

She is also the first Canadian to win the prestigious honour. Saul Bellow, who won the Nobel Literature Prize in 1976, was born in Canada, but later became a US citizen.

Munro will receive the prize sum of eight million Swedish kronor ($1.24 million, 915,000 euros).

She will be presented with her award at a formal ceremony in Stockholm on December 10, the anniversary of prize founder Alfred Nobel’s death in 1896.

Last year, the award went to Chinese novelist Mo Yan.

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« Reply #9247 on: Oct 10, 2013, 07:17 AM »

Scientists claim that big toes and thumbs evolved in parallel

By Scott Kaufman
Wednesday, October 9, 2013 10:51 EDT

New research from the RIKEN Brain Science Institute indicates that, contrary to current belief, early hominids developed finger dexterity before they became bipedal. The long-standing theory that bipedalism “freed up” the proto-human hand for using tools has been overturned by brain imaging and fossil evidence that indicates that the quadruped brains possess the same potential for manual dexterity as human.

“Evolution is not usually thought of as being accessible to study in the laboratory”, stated Dr. Iriki, one of the researchers, “but our new method of using comparative brain physiology to decipher ancestral traces of adaptation may allow us to re-examine Darwin’s theories.”

The researchers found that monkey toes were combined into a single “somatotopic map,” which indicates the location in the brain responsible for “touch awareness” in fingers and toes. Human toes are also fused into a single map, with the exception of the big toe, which has its own map. This suggests that proto-humans gained fine motor control over their fingers when they were still quadrupeds.

“In early quadruped hominids, finger control and tool use were feasible, while an independent adaptation involving the use of the big toe for functions like balance and walking occurred with bipedality,” the authors wrote.

That thumbs and big toes evolved in a parallel fashion indicates that both were the consequence of adaptive pressures, instead of the latter creating the conditions in which the former could evolve.

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« Reply #9248 on: Oct 10, 2013, 07:19 AM »

Planet found floating alone beyond the Milky Way

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 9, 2013 23:00 EDT

Astronomers said Wednesday they have found a lonely planet outside the solar system floating alone in space and not orbiting a star.

The gaseous exoplanet, dubbed PSO J318.5-22, is just 80 light years from Earth and has a mass only six times that of Jupiter. Having formed 12 million years ago, the planet is considered a newborn among its peers.

“We have never before seen an object free-floating in space that looks like this. It has all the characteristics of young planets found around other stars, but it is drifting out there all alone,” said research team leader Michael Liu of the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

“I had often wondered if such solitary objects exist, and now we know they do.”

The researchers, whose study was published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, identified the planet from its faint and unique heat signature using the Pan-STARRS 1 wide-field survey telescope on the Haleakala volcano of Hawaii’s Maui island.

They suggested the newly found planet may have the lowest mass of all known freely floating objects.

Other telescopes in Hawaii showed that the planet has similar properties to those of gas giants orbiting around young stars, but PSO J318.5-22 lacks a host star.

During the past decade, researchers have found about a thousand extrasolar planets using indirect methods, including planet-induced wobbling or dimming of their host stars.

But only a handful of these planets have been observed directly since most are orbiting around young stars less than 200 million years old and thus very bright.

PSO J318.5-22 “is going to provide a wonderful view into the inner workings of gas-giant planets like Jupiter shortly after their birth,” said co-author Niall Deacon of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #9249 on: Oct 10, 2013, 07:50 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

Are Americans dumb? No, it’s the inequality, stupid

By Sadhbh Walshe, The Guardian
Wednesday, October 9, 2013 13:40 EDT

Are Americans dumb? This is a question that has been debated by philosophers, begrudging foreigners and late night TV talk show hosts for decades. Anyone who has ever watched the Tonight Show’s “Jaywalking” segment in which host Jay Leno stops random passersby and asks them rudimentary questions like “What is Julius Caesar famous for?” (Answer: “Um, is it the salad?”) might already have made their minds up on this issue. But for those of you who prefer to reserve judgement until definitive proof is on hand, then I’m afraid I have some depressing news. America does indeed have a problem in the smarts department and it appears to be getting worse, not better.

On Tuesday, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released the results of a two-year study in which thousands of adults in 23 countries were tested for their skills in literacy, basic math and technology. The US fared badly in all three fields, ranking somewhere in the middle for literacy but way down at the bottom for technology and math.

This shouldn’t be all that surprising as there is a well documented pattern of American school kids failing to keep up with their tiger cub counterparts in other countries. But these results are the first concrete proof that this skill gap is extending well beyond school and into adulthood. The question is, do the study’s results imply, as the New York Post so delicately put it, that “US adults are dumber than your average human“? Hardly, but it does suggest that many Americans may not be putting the smarts they have to good use, or, more likely, that they are not getting the opportunity to do so. Put another way: it’s inequality, stupid.

Just a quick scan of the countries that fared really well in all three categories (Norway, Sweden, Japan, Finland and the Netherlands) compared to the countries that fared really badly (America and Britain) gives a pretty good indication that the inequality that is rampant in the (allegedly) dumber nations might have something to do with their pitifully low scores. A closer look at the results is also revealing. The incomes of Americans who scored the highest on literacy tests are on average 60% higher than the incomes of Americans with the lowest literacy scores, who were also twice as likely to be unemployed. So broadly speaking, the better off the American, the better they did on the tests.

Now this is just a wild guess, but could this possibly have something to do with the fact that the kind of schools a poor American kid will have access to are likely to be significantly inferior to the kinds of schools wealthier kids get to attend? Or that because of this, a poor kid’s chances of getting into a good university, even if she could manage to pay for it, are also severely compromised? And let me go one step further and suggest that the apparent acceleration of America’s dumbing down might be directly connected with the country’s rising poverty rates.

Before I go on, I should say that even I can see some holes in the above theory. You only have to look at certain members of congress (read Republicans who forced the government to shutdown last week), for instance, many of whom attended some of the finest universities (and make bucket loads of money), to see that even an Ivy League education may be of little use to a person who is simply prone to stupidity. I should add also that many people believe that it’s the large immigrant population (of which I’m a member) who are responsible for bringing down the nation’s IQ, which further complicates the dumb American narrative. Indeed one could argue all day about the reasons Americans are falling behind, (Woody Allen blames fast food), but we should at least be able to agree on the remedies.

Here’s the thing, most economists agree that in this technology driven age, a highly skilled workforce is key to any real economic recovery. It doesn’t bode well for the future then that so many American students, particularly low-income and minority students, are graduating high school without basic reading or math skills. Nor does it inspire confidence that students who leave school without basic skills are not acquiring them as adults. So America’s alleged dumbness has a lot to do with inadequate schooling for (poor) children and teenagers and a dearth of continuing education opportunities for low-income adults. By contrast, the OECD study found that in (more equal) countries that fared better in the tests, like Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands, more than 60% of the adult population have engaged in continuing education programs or on the job training.

The smart thing to do then surely would be to pour resources into early and continuing education opportunities so that American adults will be equipped with the necessary skills to compete in the global economy. This is where the dumb argument really gets a boost, however, because the opposite is happening. Those same congressional geniuses I alluded to earlier are also responsible for forcing through the cuts known as sequestration, which among other things cut 5% from the federal education budget. Because federal education funding is doled out according to the number of low-income students in a given school, it is poor children, the ones who most need the help, who are being disproportionately impacted by the cuts. Furthermore since 2010, almost $65m, over one-tenth of the entire budget, has been cut from adult education grants.

So are Americans dumb? The answer appears to be yes, some are. The dumb ones are not the poor minorities or low skilled adults who fared badly on the OECD tests, however, but a certain privileged and selfish elite, who have suffered from no want of opportunities themselves, yet seem to think that denying millions of struggling Americans an equal (or indeed any) opportunity to get ahead is a sensible way forward. The results are in now and clearly it isn’t. The question is will enough Americans be smart enough to do something about it? © Guardian News and Media 2013


Protesting Right Wing Truckers Are Hauling a Load of Constitutional Ignorance

By: Rmuse
Wednesday, October 9th, 2013, 8:24 pm

Conservatives love trumpeting America’s exceptionalism, and there are some aspects of America that are remarkable, but the intelligence level of a segment of the population is certainly not exceptional. In fact, any immigrant that passed the test to become a citizen has a better grasp on the practical aspects of citizenship, and the rights and duties to each other as members of American society than most Americans. More than anything, a naturalized citizen understands how the government operates according to the United States Constitution, and regardless their claim to strictly adhere to its tenets, conservatives have no comprehension of the nation’s founding document. This weekend a group of vigilante truck drivers will set upon Washington to demonstrate that when it comes to Constitutional ignorance, they have few peers outside the Republican Party.

The truckers calling themselves “Truckers for the Constitution” plan to shut down I-495 until law enforcement arrests Democratic legislators who “violated their oath of office” and “disregard the Constitution.” (Editor’s Note: The truckers have since walked back this threat.)The rally’s coordinators say truckers are sick and tired of EPA fuel efficiency standards, the Affordable Care Act, state and local laws regarding idling their trucks, and “insurance companies purportedly requiring technological updates.” The vigilante truckers plan to drive three abreast on the “Beltway” that circles Washington to obstruct traffic except for drivers who have “T2SDA” written on their vehicle. T2SDA is an acronym for the tractor-trailer drivers’ name for their event, “Truckers to Shut Down America.” According to Earl Conlon, a Georgia trucker, “everybody that doesn’t have a supporter sticker on their window, good luck: Nobody in, nobody out” and likely they will incur a response from law enforcement for trapping motorists on a federal highway.

Conlon warned law enforcement in advance that if they do not allow the truckers to obstruct traffic, they will “lock the brakes up, and stop right there, we’re going to be a three lane roadblock.” A country singer affiliated with the truck drivers claimed they will present their demands to congressional representatives and if they agree to the truckers’ demands they will cancel the road block. It is unclear why the truckers believe blocking a major thoroughfare will eliminate EPA regulations, insurance industry requirements, and the health law, or what they have to do with the Constitution or Democrats violating their oath of office, but they “want these people arrested, and we’re coming in with the grand jury to do it. We are going to ask the law enforcement to uphold their constitutional oath and make these arrests. If they refuse to do it, by the power of the people of the United States and the people’s grand jury, [if] they don’t want to do it, we will. … We the people will find a way.” It is the second time in less than a month that extremist conservatives cited vigilante grand juries as a means of clearing Democrats out of government and throwing them in prison.

About three weeks ago another conservative vigilante warned of the impending consequences from the “people’s grand juries” and announced plans to march on the White House sometime close to Thanksgiving and demand that President Obama surrender to religious teabaggers. Larry Klayman believes a million extremists will surround the White House and chant “Mr. President, put the Quran down, get up off your knees, and come out with your hands up” because “Republicans, the judicial system, and government officials lack the will or courage to remove the mullah-in-chief from office.” The tractor-trailer drivers claim they are not demanding the President’s impeachment and only want to arrest legislators such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senator Barbara Boxer because they disregard the Constitution and violate their oath of office according to indictments handed down by “the people’s grand juries.”

A “people’s grand jury” is a non-actionable, non-governmental vigilante organization assuming responsibility to indict an individual or groups of individuals of committing actionable crimes similar to an official grand jury. People’s grand juries are favored by conspiracy theorists like those seated to challenge President Obama’s birth certificate, and are loosely based on the Fifth Amendment premise that “no person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury.”  A band of jurors convened without court approval has no standing or authority to indict or issue arrest warrants for public officials, and law enforcement certainly will not recognize or execute a fake indictment, but that is of no consequence to constitutionally ignorant vigilantes.

It is unclear why conservatives became so obsessed with enforcing their version of the Constitution through vigilantism, but it likely has everything to do with an African American President. One also wonders if the “constitutional genius” truck drivers comprehend that the laws and agencies they so despise were passed and executed according to the real U.S. Constitution, because their not-so-veiled threats imply they have legitimate legal standing to take the law into their own hands.

Like the extremist who intends on marching on the White House, the vigilante truckers’ organizer leveled a veiled threat of violence if they are held to the laws of the road or prohibition on kidnapping U.S. Representatives to Congress.  The man organizing the million person assault on the White House to arrest President Obama said, “I do not advocate violence, but it is time we show Obama that we mean business,” and the vigilante truckers’ spokesperson parroted Klayman only with stronger language. He said, “What we want to do is go in nice and peaceful and keep it as peaceful as possible… but if they decide to get ugly with us we’re going to do what we have to do. If all I get is one or two congressmen walked out of there in handcuffs, that will be a shot across the bow. I hope they are all civil enough and brave enough to step out onto the congressional steps.”

It is highly probable that if a vigilante gang parks in front of the Capital building waiting for congressional representatives to step out on the “congressional steps,” they will be accompanied by federal law enforcement officials who will not take kindly to vigilante truckers attempting to kidnap U.S. Representatives based on phony indictments from an equally phony people’s grand jury. However, at the rate extremist conservatives and so-called constitutional adherents are threatening Democratic representatives and President Obama with arrest, it is entirely possible they will come to Washington heavily armed and looking for trouble. It is, after all, what constitutionally ignorant vigilantes are prone to do and when they do start trouble, they can be certain a real grand jury will hand down real indictments for insurrection against the government of the United States.


Michele Bachmann Comes Even More Unhinged and Blames Obama Thug Dictatorship for Shutdown

By: Jason Easley
Wednesday, October 9th, 2013, 5:52 pm

During a conference call with a tea party group, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Under Federal Investigation) claimed that Republicans shut down the government to stop Obama’s thug dicatorship.

Clip #1 via Right Wing Watch where Bachmann talks about Obama thuggery and dictatorship:

Bachmann said, “I think here we could be on the cusp of seeing some civil disobedience. I’m not saying I want civil disobedience, but people aren’t going to take the thuggery of this president much longer, and that’s part of what we’re trying to do as the people’s voice in the House of Representatives. Give voice to the fact that we see thuggery going on in the White House. We’re not going to take it, we’ve drawn a line in the sand, and we’re telling the president you need to recognize this isn’t just about Article II, the President of the United States. This is also about Article I, the Congress of the United States, and you’ve gotta recognize, you are a co-equal branch of government. You are not a dicatator.”

Clip # 2 also via Right Wing Watch features Bachmann talking about the government shutdown:

Bachmann said, “This fight that we’re in right now is so much bigger than Obamacare. It’s bigger than the out of control debt. What this is about is whether or not we will hold to our constitutional republic, because Barack Obama has decided that he is going to arrogate power to himself, and that we don’t count with our voice in the House. It doesn’t matter that Republicans control. It doesn’t matter that conservatives dominate. Everything has to be his way. That’s why his policy is no negotiations. Well, that is not going to happen. We are going to insist that we are the two branches in the House and the Senate and the Congress, and the president, and we have a voice too. Because let me say this, otherwise, thart means people will only take one vote, and that’s for president, and then congress will be rendered meaningless, and we’ll go on and we’ll talk about more things, but I want the Tea Party to know they made a profound difference and what they’re fighting for is to see if we’re actually going to be a constitutional republic or if we’re going to be totally devolved into a dictatorship under somebody like Barack Obama.”

In the mind of Michele Bachmann, the government shutdown is really all about House Republicans taking a stand against President Obama’s thug dicatatorship. Bachmann’s use of the verb arrogate was an attempt to question Obama’s legitimacy. This is no big surprise, because in the same conference call, Bachmann called for a House impeachment hearing against Obama.

This is all extremely ironic because Rep. Bachmann is under federal investigation by the Department of Justice for possiblly breaking at least 11 laws during the 2012 elections. The real criminal is Michele Bachmann, yet she continues to pretend that President Obama is a thug dicatator who is violating the constitution.

Apparently, the stress of the criminal investigation has pushed Bachmann to a whole new level of crazy. The bad news for America is that lots of tea partiers feel the exact same way that she does. This is why the Democrats can’t negotiate with the House Republicans on the government shutdown and the debt ceiling. People like Bachmann don’t want a negotiation, they want the destruction of President Obama.

Democrats can’t negotiate with crazy, and tea partiers like Michele Bachmann are completely off the ideological deep end.


Ted Cruz is Desperately Unskewing Polls to Claim Republicans Are Winning the Shutdown

By: Sarah Jones
Wednesday, October 9th, 2013, 6:36 pm

Wondering why I was banking on Republicans keeping the government shutdown and being likely to default last week? It’s the level of epistemic closure crazy, also known as a delusional break with reality.

To wit: Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), the “educated” version of Sarah Palin and very new addition to the Senate, is in charge of the GOP and he doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing. He drinks the Kook-Aid and then force feeds it to the rest of his party, who take it from him since it’s delivered through Koch straws. On Wednesday, Cruz was pulling a Romney, unskewing polls for fellow Republicans, claiming that the shutdown bolstered their position.

I kid you not.

Senior Congressional Correspondent David M. Druckner at the Washington Examiner reported that on Wednesday, Cruz “Wednesday argued to his Republican colleagues that the campaign he led to defund Obamacare has bolstered the GOP’s political position in dealing with the government shutdown.”

To accomplish this act of faith, Cruz relied upon a poll that he paid for.

    The survey’s findings mirrored other national polls: More voters blame the Republicans for the government shutdown than blame President Obama or the Democrats. But Cruz argued, based on the poll, that Republicans are in a much better position than they were during the 1995 shutdown because this impasse is defined by a disagreement over funding for the Affordable Care Act as opposed to a general disagreement over government spending.

Drucker got his hands on the Cruz poll and revealed the numbers:

    By a margin of 46 percent to 39 percent, voters blamed Republicans for the shutdown over “Obama and Democrats.” Another 19 percent blamed both sides equally.
    - By a margin of 42 percent to 36 percent, independent voters blamed Republicans for the shutdown over Obama and the Democrats.
    - In November 1995, 51 percent of voters blamed Republicans for the shutdown; only 28 percent blamed then-President Clinton

If Republicans are using the Clinton numbers to ease their fears of being found out by Mommy USA, they are making a grave error. During the Clinton presidency, there was no Fox News. There were no conservative media outlets driving home an often inaccurate, partisan narrative that justifies anything Republicans are doing. There are more misinformed Republicans now, yes.

But Republicans are losing Independents. According to PPP, Democrats now lead Republicans with Independents, 42%-33%. Even in Ted’s own poll, they are losing Independents 42-36. It’s hard to say what Cruz tells himself that allows him to believe he can run for President, but whatever it is, is contagious and lethal to the national ambitions of the GOP.

Republicans don’t believe regular polls, so they probably shouldn’t be allowed to commission them — it only feeds their delusions. They certainly shouldn’t be allowed to commission them from Republican pollsters, and that is what Wilson Perkins Allen is. I’m not suggesting that they aren’t a valid pollster, but rather if I were in charge of the GOP, the first order of business would be to take the hard medicine of reality with no chaser.

The only way they are going to become a viable national party again is if they can face things outside of the Fox bubble. I’d go into enemy territory and see how my party was faring among Dems and Indies. The “Democratic pollster” of PPP was the most accurate during 2012. Wouldn’t you use the most accurate pollster you could if it were your party on the line? Hiding under the covers helps nothing but the GOP ego, which obviously doesn’t need any bolstering.

Also, earth to Ted Cruz: Not everyone hates ObamaCare, so defunding the country over ObamaCare is not the winner you think it is. Publicly snickering at people without insurance isn’t helpful either.

Cruz just admitted again that Republicans shut down the government over ObamaCare, a completely unrelated to the budget law. This means that Republicans are refusing to do their Constitutional duty. Or, “gaining position” according to Ted Cruz.

Remember when Republicans used to be the party of “ideas’? Now they’re a brainwashed cult.


The only thing crazier than the shutdown is Fox News’ coverage of it

By Ana Marie Cox, The Guardian
Wednesday, October 9, 2013 13:45 EDT

Government shutdown theater has given us some surreal moments. Heard of the “trillion-dollar coin“? Obama actually mentioned it on Monday. It’s a half-serious solution that some wonks have floated to solve the debt ceiling crisis, if “floated” is the right word for a coin that figures into most people’s imagination as a giant, sweepstakes-style money cartoon.

Then there’s Senator Ted Cruz reading children’s books on the US Senate floor, a move that will undoubtedly give future historians and/or alien visitors curious ideas about the possible role of star-bellied sneetches (Cruz is a fan of Dr Seuss books) in our legislative process. Constant references to hostage-taking and suicide bombers will provide those same analysts with an exaggerated (though not by much) picture of gun violence in the early 21st century.

But you haven’t witnessed the truly crazy until you turn on Fox News or browse the right-wing websites.

Here’s a piece of absurdism you can appreciate right now: the image of a janus-faced conservative media talking head, with one mouth defiantly denouncing the impact of the government shutdown, and the other wailing at the costs of keeping government going. Sean Hannity, no great advocate of consistency anyway, has sputtered these two thoughts within minutes of each other. “The government is not totally shut down! Seventeen percent is it!” he told listeners Monday, before confiding that he believes the GOP will prevail, since “the public will side with the group that’s willing to talk”.

Laura Ingraham told her listeners that she was “beginning to enjoy” the shutdown; she also tweeted out her apparently earnest concern that the closure of a parking lot on federal land meant that “ppl risk their lives pulling off the GW Pkwy”.

Fox News has been a funhouse of these distorted twin thoughts, not surprisingly, with guest after guest mocking the seriousness of the shutdown; in a particularly Orwellian stroke, someone at the network even did a search-and-replace on AP stories run on the site, replacing “shutdown” with “slimdown”. At the same time, they’ve given breathless coverage to a highly-selective pool of “slimdown” victims: first, the second world war veterans who faced some inconvenience at the war’s memorial, and, more recently privately-funded parks and – incorrectly – the nation’s missing-child “Amber Alert” system.

Let’s unpack this rhetoric, since it’s wholly representative of the coverage that conservative media has given the shutdown. With one side of your head, you need to remember that government is bad, and that the less of it there is, the better. Supporting that thought is the belief that a government “slimdown” won’t disrupt any of the government’s more important functions.

With the other side of your head, you need to dredge up righteous indignation at the loss of some government functions. It almost doesn’t matter which ones, though it’s helpful if they are services that strike a sympathetic chord without being, you know, necessary. The right-wing Washington Examiner has some examples to get you started, including “Lake Mead, NV property owners” and “tourists”.

Now, try to stand up. Do you feel a little dizzy? Seeing double? You better sit back down.

How is it that so many conservatives seem able to not just stand, but stand for hours and hours and hours holding both these thoughts in their heads? It would be easy to dismiss them as cynics, that perhaps they don’t believe either proposition. But as the remarks about “being willing to compromise” caught on a hot mic between Republican Senators Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell show, at least some of their convictions are sincere – maybe especially this part, “I know we don’t want to be here, but we’re gonna win this, I think.”

Conservatives’ problem is not so much that these are two ideas with no basis in fact, but that both ideas have some basis in fact.

That government is unpopular is the easy part. There’s a long and even somewhat honorable history to that tenet of conservative philosophy. In fact, that’s pretty much argument that the leaders of the shutdown strategy made over the summer to skeptical lawmakers and not-so-skeptical Tea Party activists.

There is one important difference between the small-government philosophy as espoused by, say, the Anti-Federalist Papers and the arguments made by the Tea Party Patriots and Heritage Action: the anti-federalists argued from logic, these modern-day PACs used a misleading poll. They asked voters in conservative districts if, “in order to get … Obama to agree to at least have a ‘time out’” before implementing the Affordable Care Act, “would you approve or disapprove of a temporary slowdown in non-essential federal government operations, which still left all essential government services running?”

Well, if you put it that way … And, of course, they did put it that way, and found that voters supported a totally painless shutdown by a 2-to-1 margin.

And this gets us to the half-truth behind the outrage at “slimdown targets”: however much you dislike the faceless bureaucracy of “the government”, there are very few people who truly want to live without the services it provides. The traditional basis for party divisions has been in deciding what services it provides, and to whom. It makes us hypocrites; it makes us human. Most of us don’t really try to argue two different philosophies at the same time, we cave to realism and sentiment. We agree to feed the children of poor families and pay for safety regulations to be enforced. We haggle over the small things because sometimes the big ideas are too large to be contained in a single debate, and it’s foolish to even try.

F Scott Fitzgerald once called “hold[ing] two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain[ing] the ability to function” the “test of a first-rate intelligence”, but when it comes to the GOP, the jury’s out on the “functioning” part. © Guardian News and Media 2013


10/09/2013 12:23 PM

Robert Reich on Shutdown: 'You Can't Negotiate with Extortionists'

An Interview by Gregor Peter Schmitz and Thomas Schulz

In a SPIEGEL interview, political economist and icon of the American left Robert Reich urges President Obama to stand his ground on the country's budget crisis. He also calls for drastic tax increases for the rich to fight growing inequality.

SPIEGEL: The world is mesmerized by the spectacle of the government shutdown in Washington. To you, however, this must seem like déjà vu.

Reich: When I was secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton, we lived through the last shutdown of the US government, in 1995. I had to tell 15,000 people that they had to go home, and I didn't know when they would be paid. It was terrible, and we didn't know how long it would last.

SPIEGEL: Since then, the political culture in the US has become even more radicalized.

Reich: The members of the Tea Party are much more radical and extreme. Some of them really have contempt for the entire process of government. They're followers of people who say that we ought to shrink government down to the size that it can drown in a bathtub. They hate government viscerally. They're not in Washington to govern; they're in Washington to tear it down.

SPIEGEL: The shutdown is hurting the entire country, and there is no telling how this will effect financial markets and still-shaky economic growth. Will President Obama ultimately have to aim for a compromise?

Reich: This bill passed both houses of Congress, was enacted by the president, signed into law by the president, certified as constitutional by the Supreme Court. But instead of going through a normal legislative process of amending a piece of legislation to delay it or change it or even repeal it, the Republicans simply say: "We are going to hold the entire government of the United States ransom unless we get our way." You can't negotiate with extortionists.

SPIEGEL: Clinton won re-election after the last shutdown because the American public largely blamed the Republicans. Could Obama eventually end up the big winner in all of this, as well?

Reich: It's much more difficult. Today, you have many more Republican members of Congress in safe districts, so they're not worried about the voters being angry with them. And many of them are bankrolled by some of the richest Americans, often billionaires. They have the resources to support the demand to shrink the government. America has become the most unequal society among advanced countries, and rich people are now free to spend as much money on political campaigns as they wish.

SPIEGEL: That is the main theme of your documentary "Inequality for All," which is already being touted as an Oscar contender. In it, you paint a grim picture of the US as a country torn apart, and you warn about dramatic consequences for the economy. Are things really that bad?

Reich: The economic divide has rarely been as pronounced. The typical male worker in the US was making $48,078 (€35,400) a year in 1978; now this average annual salary is down to $39,000. At the same, the net worth of the 400 richest Americans is higher than that of 150 million Americans combined.

SPIEGEL: The idea of getting rich used to be a basic element of the "American Dream." Whoever succeeded in becoming a millionaire was admired rather than reviled.

Reich: We used to be so proud that our country offered far more economic opportunities than the feudal system in Great Britain, with its royal family, princesses and dukes. But today, social mobility in the UK is higher than in the US. Our social rift is as big as it was in the 1920s.

SPIEGEL: This didn't happen overnight; it has been decades in the making. Why was the protest against it muted for so long?

Reich: Most Americans stopped looking at what was happening through a variety of coping mechanisms -- starting with women entering paid work and then everyone working longer hours and using their homes for raising equity and generating more money through debt. The typical household basically staved off the day of reckoning. But all those coping mechanisms are now gone, and we have an economy where the median household has got to face the reality that wages are actually declining in real terms adjusted for inflation. The second reason has to do with the direct consequences of wealth in politics. The super-rich not only poured their money into politics directly but poured money into think tanks and public relations campaigns.

SPIEGEL: To say what?

Reich: To tell the public big lies, for example, that if you lower taxes on the wealthy and allow them to become even wealthier, the gains will trickle down to everybody else.

SPIEGEL: But didn't President Kennedy say "A rising tide lifts all boats"?

Reich: Well, that sounds very nice; but it never actually happened. And people are beginning to catch on to the fact that it was a big lie. The super-rich also insisted that income from investments should be taxed less than wages. That is why Warren Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary. And there were related lies, like the message that you have to reduce taxes on corporations and the super-rich for them to create jobs.

SPIEGEL: But the top earners are also responsible for the largest share of tax receipts. And when wealthy people spend more, the whole economy benefits.

Reich: Only that they do not. A super-rich person featured in my movie puts it this way: "Even the richest person sleeps on only one or two pillows." The reality is that the major job creators in any economy are the people who buy, the vast middle class and the poor; if you reduce their share of the economy and yet productivity gains continue, they simply are not going to be able to buy enough to keep the economy going at or near full employment unless you have a huge net export market, which we do not have.

SPIEGEL: Your suggestion is to dramatically increase taxes. But would that not curb demand as well? In Germany, that is one of the strong arguments against government plans to raise taxes on wealthy citizens after the election.

Reich: It is a myth that higher taxes lead to less demand and slower growth. In the first three decades after World War II, US top tax rates on the wealthy were never below 70 percent. Under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, it rose to 91 percent. And the economy grew faster in those years than it has grown after President Reagan radically lowered taxes on the wealthy, partly because we heavily invested in infrastructure and education back then, which is essential to economic growth.

SPIEGEL: These days, the top tax rates are drastically lower, average earners have sinking incomes and the middle class has more and more burdens. Why hasn't a group of fed-up Americans taken to the streets to express their outrage?

Reich: There was one. It was called the Occupy movement.

SPIEGEL: But it petered out quickly, while the Tea Party is still a political factor. Has the American left lost its fighting spirit?

Reich: The Tea Party movement was bankrolled by some very wealthy people. And that bankrolling enabled it to do what the Occupy movement could never do, and that is develop a political strategy and organization. But there is some fatalism, true. One of the goals of the right in America is to make the American public so cynical about government that they give up caring.

SPIEGEL: That strategy appears to be working.

Reich: It works to a point. Social change occurs when the gap between the ideals that people hold and the reality that they see every day gets too large. So even though people may be cynical about government, there will soon be an upsurge of demand for change.

SPIEGEL: Are you trying to accelerate that process with your movie?

Reich: Look. I am a person of short stature; I was bullied constantly when I was growing up. Therefore, I have always wanted to stand up for the little guy. I am not so self-important to believe that I can solve this huge problem alone. The question is if my movie can help catalyze something that's just below the surface. If you look at the mayoral campaign of Bill de Blasio in New York, you'll see social inequality is front and center ...

SPIEGEL: The Democratic candidate has pledged to raise taxes on the rich to finance better schools for everybody else.

Reich: And that in New York, the financial capital of the world! And de Blasio is likely to win! Also, if you look at the strikes of Wal-Mart and fast-food workers around the country, there are a lot of indications that people are fed up with where things are and want fundamental change.

SPIEGEL: Still, that's far from meaning that these sentiments will also lead to political outcomes. Directly after the financial crisis erupted, there was an enormous amount of rage at the complex of Wall Street, corporations and Congress. Obama had a unique opportunity to tackle that complex …

Reich: … and he squandered it. Obama should have put far more conditions on the banks that received the bailouts. He should have told them: "You've got to agree to some severe regulations like resurrecting the Glass-Steagall Act" -- which separated investment from commercial banking -- "and you've got to refrain from providing big bonuses for your executives."

SPIEGEL: Why wasn't Obama able to get his way?

Reich: His administration has been too close to Wall Street. Too many Obama administration officials have worked on Wall Street; too many are leaving to go to Wall Street. And Wall Street is simply not attuned to the needs of average working Americans.

SPIEGEL: Wall Street is no longer the dominant industry in the US. Silicon Valley and brands like Google, Apple and Facebook have become the backbone of the American economy.

Reich: I am not so sure if that is a great development. Look more closely where the jobs are created and the profits flow. You would think that a hugely profitable company like Apple employs hundreds of thousands of people in the US. Actually, it's not even 50,000. You would also think that software giant Microsoft would pay taxes on its profits in the US. But Microsoft just bought Nokia. Why? Well, Microsoft has a huge amount of money offshore. It doesn't want to bring it home because it doesn't want to pay taxes. So buying another company is a better way to spend that money. But that doesn't help American middle class families, and it aggravates inequality here.

SPIEGEL: But isn't a certain degree of inequality also the price a country has to pay for innovation? Doesn't the incentive of great wealth foster risk-taking and creativity?

Reich: A little inequality fosters innovation, true. But there are limits. Does somebody need an annual income of $20 million to be innovative? Somebody's going to be very innovative at $10 million a year. And I am sure Mark Zuckerberg did not create Facebook to become a multi-billionaire.

SPIEGEL: Compared with how things are today, the years when Bill Clinton was president seem downright heavenly. The economy was growing; the budget was balanced. But you resigned after one term as secretary of labor. Do you regret doing so?

Reich: I was frustrated. Even though the economy did really well in these years, we didn't fundamentally change the trend toward wider income inequality.

SPIEGEL: There is a lot of chatter about a potential 2016 presidential campaign by Hillary Clinton. Could she be the kind of progressive president that her husband and Obama were not?

Reich: Perhaps. I worked very closely with her over the years.

SPIEGEL: More than that! You even dated her.

Reich: We once went out to see a movie when we both went to law school at Yale. It was one date which I did not even remember until a reporter called me about it a few years ago. But, honestly, I have enormous respect for her. However, she is wise enough to understand that a president can only lead to some extent.

SPIEGEL: Why is that?

Reich: One of the biggest problems in this country is that we are losing the intermediary organizations, such as strong labor unions. They were the backbone of our economic and democratic system, and now just 11 percent of our workforce is still unionized. Instead, we have national parties that are nothing more than fundraising devices -- and officeholders who are constantly out there trying to sell themselves, literally.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Reich, thank you for this interview.


214 House Republicans Refuse to Come to the White House to Talk to President Obama

By: Sarah Jones
Wednesday, October 9th, 2013, 3:22 pm

Zeke Miller, a political reporter for TIME magazine, tweeted, “Obama invites 232 House GOPers to the White House, 18 will show up.”. This means that 214 House Republicans are refusing (or, even worse, were ordered not to go) to go to the White House to talk to President Obama.

    Obama invites 232 House GOPers to the White House, 18 will show up.

    — Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) October 9, 2013

Adam Jentleson, Communications Director for Senator Harry Reid was unimpressed.

    Let me get this straight: Boehner says he wants to talk, WH offers to talk with every member of his caucus & Boehner bars them from going?

    — Adam Jentleson (@AJentleson) October 9, 2013

Yes, instead of all House Republicans meeting with the President, it’s only going to be leadership and very select committee chairs. Huh.

Let’s see. The “rebels” who think they’re winning this fight have a plan to keep pushing us over the cliff until Obama gives in to them, because they believe that Independents aren’t sure who to blame. This is, of course, inaccurate. Independents are blaming the GOP by a large margin. But, reality – meh.

Byron York at the Washington Examiner reported:

    Now the rebels plan to push President Obama and Democrats hard on their refusal to negotiate the basic issues of funding the government and raising its debt limit. They believe that as days go by, Obama’s my-way-or-the-highway approach won’t play well with the public, particularly independents who are undecided about who to blame for the shutdown.

    Obama and Reid aren’t really the targets. The GOP rebels want to focus on red-state Democrats, particularly those up for re-election in 2014, and make the shutdown a question of support for veterans.”

Yes, folks it’s the old blame the other guy for the results of your actions and gleefully smug it up as you use veterans as political props. Oh, values. RAH RAH TROOPS we love ya’ on election day and after that not so much.

And of course, this is just another way to pretend they won 2012 because they have a plan to refund the programs they like and let the others suffer, just as they did under the sequester that was also supposed to force a compromise but did no such thing.

    They envision a situation in which, for as long as the shutdown goes on, they are able to fund popular government programs while leaving some key Democrat-friendly outposts shuttered. For example, while they want to fund the Pentagon, are the Republican rebels OK with the fact that most of the Environmental Protection Agency is shut down? They are. Are they worried about furloughs at the National Labor Relations Board? Not particularly.

This is called hijacking democracy. Americans aren’t missing the point. A new Gallup poll (yes, the Republican pollster) found that Republican favorability sank to a record low over this mess. RECORD LOW is just like winning only NOT. Even the Koch brothers know better than to touch this turd in public.

This plan is a fail because it’s too transparent. Only the most obtuse will fall for it, which means that only their base will fall for it, which means that they are out of luck since less and less people identify as Republicans, let alone Tea Partiers, these days. Getting elected requires some independents. Of course, they can pull the old stalker routine and try to wear down the public by waiting them out and hoping they forget just how awful it was to be in a relationship with Republicans.

“Let’s talk” apparently means the opposite of “let’s talk”, but then, you probably already knew that because a Republican said it. Speaker Boehner, to be precise, and these days, his untenable position has given him little choice (sans spine) but to try to justify economic terrorism. The only way to do that is to say the opposite of what Republicans are doing and hope the press bites.

When only 18 Republicans are going to show up at the White House tomorrow out of the 232 that were invited, it’s kinda hard to make the case that you want to “talk”. But then, this is the Republican party and reality need not apply.

And since when can Speaker John Boehner negotiate anything? He clearly doesn’t represent the will of the House. He can’t even get the votes for things he proposes. It’s pointless to talk to him, which must be why he’s going.

When the President said he wouldn’t negotiate while Republicans held the country up, he wasn’t refusing to negotiate. He was refusing to be held up at gun point. Meanwhile, Republicans have made default their goal, and they are only willing to not harm the country if they get concessions. This means that Republicans stand against the country, demanding concessions in order to not destroy the country.


The Unusual Suspect: The Surprising Koch Fueled Return of Edwin Meese

By: Michael A Maynard
Wednesday, October 9th, 2013, 4:32 pm

Why was Edwin Meese hired by the Koch Brothers to be a Tea Party strategist?

The New York Times on Saturday reported that the Republican Party has been developing the strategy behind the week-long government shutdown for over two years, shortly after President Barack Obama’s reelection in 2012. That this strategy was poorly conceived and executed, is not surprising. That the probable negative impact of a government shutdown upon the public and the economy was not a concern, is not surprising. That the financiers and impetus behind the Republican’s Tea Party, the Koch Brothers, were involved in the creation of this strategy, is also not surprising. But the man they chose to lead the development of the strategy, former Reagan Administration Attorney General Edwin Meese, is very surprising.

Until recently, the Koch Brothers have been very secretive about their actions, such as their leadership in the formation of the American Legislation Exchange Council (ALEC). Their choice of the scandal-ridden and incompetent Ed Meese as strategist, on the surface, seems perplexing. The notoriety from his past illegalities, views and actions, is what makes him a curious choice. Meese’s past includes:

The National Guard Crackdown: In 1969 students at the University of California at Berkeley were protesting the proposed conversion of “People’s Park” into student dorms. Governor Ronald Reagan called in the National Guard to break up the two week protest. One student was killed and hundreds injured in the crackdown. Meese was Governor Reagan’s chief-of-staff and the chief strategist behind the crackdown.

The Iran-Contra Affair: During his tenure as President Reagan’s Attorney General, Meese was involved in the Iran-Contra affair. Meese’s involvement in the sale of HAWK missiles to Iran, as part of the money-laundering scheme to provide aid to the Nicauraguan rebels as an end-run around Congressional opposition. Meese was investigated by an Independent Counselor, Lawrence Walsh, whose report stated that Meese’s involvement raised “serious legal questions”.

“Meese was conducting the November 21-24 investigation as “counselor” and “friend” to the President, not as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer. Independent Counsel concluded that he was not so much searching for the truth about the November 1985 HAWK shipment, as he was building a case of deniability for his client-in-fact, President Reagan. By this time, Meese knew that the 1985 HAWK transaction, in which the National Security Council staff and the Central Intelligence Agency were directly involved without a presidential covert-action Finding authorizing their involvement, raised serious legal questions.”

Chapter 31, Independent Counsel’s Report to the Iran-Contra Select Committe.

 The Iraq-Jordan Pipeline Scandal: Meese played a central role in the negotiations of the proposed Iraq to Jordan natural gas pipeline.

“The Bechtel Group offered to sell oil at reduced rates to Israel for 10 years – a reduction worth $650 million to $700 million – in exchange for an Israeli pledge not to attack a proposed oil pipeline from Iraq to Jordan, an aide to Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said today.

The assertion follows the disclosure of a memo written to Attorney General Edwin Meese 3d in 1985 that Israel would receive $650 to $700 million in proceeds from the pipeline and that some of those proceeds would ”go directly” to the Labor Party in Israel, headed by Mr. Peres.”

Meese was part of the team, including Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres and National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane, that negotiated this illegal deal, even though Meese was never indicted for his involvement.

The Westech Scandal – It was his involvement in the Westech scandal that finally forced Meese to resign as Attorney General in 1988. Westech, a defense contractor was awarded $250M in no-bid Department of Defense contracts as a minority owned business, even though, the company’s major stockholder was not a minority. Meese, a former lobbyist for the company, was cited for complicity by another independent counsel.

It is also likely that Meese’s involvement with the right-wing think-tank Freedom Works’ efforts to defund Obamacare hat led to the Koch Brothers’ choosing him to be the strategist. He was primary signatory to the Freedom Works’ “Blueprint to Defunding Obamacare”:

“Obamacare’s funding mechanisms are as complicated as the law itself, but they can be stopped through the appropriation process, which includes the upcoming continuing resolution.

1 Federally Backed Exchanges: An appropriations rider must eliminate the refundable tax credits for premiums and the cost sharing subsidies that are essentially used to support insurance purchased in the Obamacare exchanges, which starts January 1, 2014.

2 Medicaid Expansion; An appropriations rider must eliminate the enhance match funding for the Medicaid expansion, which takes effect January 1, 2014.

3 Permanent Appropriations: Obamacare contains items called “permanent appropriations” which guarantee funding for the Community Health Center Fund (CHCF) and Prevention and Public Health Fund (PPHF). An appropriations rider turns off funds for these so-called permanent appropriations, which are already in effect.

4 Implementation: An appropriations rider must block the implementation of Obamacare, covering salaries, rulemaking, enforcement, etc.

5 Life and Religious Liberty: Obamacare is an unprecedented attack on life and religious liberty. An appropriations rider must repeal the HHS mandate that attacks the religious values and principles of countless Americans.

6 Miscellaneous Programs: An appropriations rider must block all funding for newly authorized discretionary programs contained in Obamacare and return reauthorized programs back to their pre-Obamacare levels.


Edwin Meese III
Former Attorney General
President Ronald Reagan

(Note: Meese was the primary signatory. The usual right-wing suspects also signed this letter.)

On November 15, 1985, Meese delivered a speech calling for a “jurisprudence of original intent” and criticizing the Supreme Court for straying from the original intention of the U.S. Constitution. In the speech before the District of Columbia chapter of the Federalist Society’s Lawyer’s Division, Meese said:

“Our approach to constitutional interpretation begins with the document itself. The plain fact is, it exists. It is something that has been written down. Walter Berns of the American Enterprise Institute has noted that the central object of American constitutionalism was “the effort” of the Founders “to express fundamental governmental arrangements in a legal document-to ‘get it in writing’.” Indeed, judicial review has been grounded in the fact that the Constitution is a written, as opposed to an unwritten, document. In Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803), John Marshall rested his rationale for judicial review on the fact that we have a written constitution with meaning that is binding upon judges. “t is apparent,” he wrote, “that the framers of the Constitution contemplated that instrument as a rule for the government of courts, as well as of the legislature. Why otherwise does it direct the judges to take an oath to support it?” The presumption of a written document is that it conveys meaning. As Thomas Grew of the Stanford Law School has said, it makes “relatively definite and explicit what otherwise would be relatively indefinite and tacit.”

What this means is that the Constitution is to be taken literally and not subject to change by legal interpretation or the differences in society since the Constitution was written. The words of the Constitution are what the authors of the document said they meant, despite that it has been 226 years since it was written. Current Justices Alito, Scalia and Thomas, and Chief Justice Roberts are believers in original intent. This is the main reason why there are so many 5-4 decisions by the current court.

It is not just the Affordable Care Act at stake, it is also other federal government programs and agencies not specifically enumerated in the Constitution: Medicare/Medicaid, Social Security, the Department of Education or the Koch Brothers’ other biggest bugaboo, the Environmental Protection Agency. What is really at sake is democracy. That a former United States Attorney General would attempt to undermine a law at the request as his rich benefactors is reprehensible, but in Ed Meese’s sorry case, is not surprising.

Correction 6:41 PM: Updated to correct the date of President Barack Obama’s reelection.


The GOP Is Losing Their Shutdown War as Independents Favor Democrats by 9 in 2014

By: Sarah Jones
Wednesday, October 9th, 2013, 1:56 pm

The government shutdown has caused Independents to flee the Republican Party. According to PPP, Democrats now lead Republicans with Independents, 42%-33%.

In July, Republicans led against generic Dem by 12% among Independents. Now, post-GOP shutdown of the government and mid-debt ceiling hijacking, they are losing by 9%, according to a new Public Policy Polling poll. This leaves Republicans with a 5% deficit against a generic Democrat. This is very bad news for Republicans.

President Obama is holding steady in public opinion post shutdown, with an approval rating of 45/52, “almost identical to his 45/51 numbers before the shutdown in our last national poll.” Among registered voters, 53% blame Congress, while only 43% blame Obama.

But Republicans aren’t faring nearly so well. If the House election were today, 46% would choose Democrats over 41% for Republicans. Republicans trail Democrats by 5% overall, in no small part due to the defection of Independents, who would go 42% for Democrats right now and 33% for Republicans. That’s a 9 point loss.

The reason for the shift is that Independents blame Republicans more than Democrats for the shutdown by 51% to 37%. In July, Independents were 39% for Republicans and 27% for Democrats.

Independents have shifted 21 points on the generic ballot from July when Republicans had a 39/27 advantage with them.

Registered voters approve of Congressional Democrats at 39/56 (almost identical to their numbers of 39/57 before the shutdown), 10 points higher than Republicans, at 29/65. One of the things that Republicans are counting on for 2014 is that the tradition of Independents voting against the president’s party in his second term midterm election holds. (This has happened in 5 of 6 second term midterm elections since World War II.)

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll taken before the government shutdown revealed that Independents favored Republicans over Democrats by 18 points, 43%-25%. The fact that this Republican advantage has morphed into a double digit deficit reflects the damage that the government shutdown has done to Republicans already.

The piecemeal funding strategy that Ted Cruz put in place for House Republicans is doing nothing to stop the hemorrhaging of support away from the GOP. Voters agree with the Democratic position that the government shutdown is unnecessary. President Obama has built a reputation of reasonableness with voters, so it is bordering on insane that Republicans who have obstructed this president from day one would adopt a strategy where they portray themselves as the reasonable ones.

Republicans have managed to unify most of the country around the concept that they are unfit to hold the House majority. Independents have turned their backs on the Republican message, and the longer House Republicans continue this fight, the greater the risk to the future of their majority.


October 9, 2013

Business Groups See Loss of Sway Over House G.O.P.


WASHINGTON — As the government shutdown grinds toward a potential debt default, some of the country’s most influential business executives have come to a conclusion all but unthinkable a few years ago: Their voices are carrying little weight with the House majority that their millions of dollars in campaign contributions helped build and sustain.

Their frustration has grown so intense in recent days that several trade association officials warned in interviews on Wednesday that they were considering helping wage primary campaigns against Republican lawmakers who had worked to engineer the political standoff in Washington.

Such an effort would thrust Washington’s traditionally cautious and pragmatic business lobby into open warfare with the Tea Party faction, which has grown in influence since the 2010 election and won a series of skirmishes with the Republican establishment in the last two years.

“We are looking at ways to counter the rise of an ideological brand of conservatism that, for lack of a better word, is more anti-establishment than it has been in the past,” said David French, the top lobbyist at the National Retail Federation. “We have come to the conclusion that sitting on the sidelines is not good enough.”

Some warned that a default could spur a shift in the relationship between the corporate world and the Republican Party. Long intertwined by mutual self-interest on deregulation and lower taxes, the business lobby and Republicans are diverging not only over the fiscal crisis, but on other major issues like immigration reform, which was favored by business groups and party leaders but stymied in the House by many of the same lawmakers now leading the debt fight.

Joe Echevarria, the chief executive of Deloitte, the accounting and consulting firm, said, “I’m a Republican by definition and by registration, but the party seems to have split into two factions.”

While both parties have extreme elements, he suggested, only in the G.O.P. did the extreme element exercise real power. “The extreme right has 90 seats in the House,” Mr. Echevarria said. “Occupy Wall Street has no seats.”

Moreover, business leaders and trade groups said, the tools that have served them in the past — campaign contributions, large memberships across the country, a multibillion-dollar lobbying apparatus — do not seem to be working.

“There clearly are people in the Republican Party at the moment for whom the business community and the interests of the business community — the jobs and members they represent — don’t seem to be their top priority,” said Dan Danner, the head of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, which spearheaded opposition to President Obama’s health care law among small businesses. “They don’t really care what the N.F.I.B. thinks, and don’t care what the Chamber thinks, and probably don’t care what the Business Roundtable thinks.”

The lawmakers seem to agree. Representative Randy Neugebauer, Republican of Texas and a Tea Party caucus member, said in an interview on Wednesday that if American corporations wanted to send their money elsewhere, that was their choice.

“We have got to quit worrying about the next election, and start worrying about the country,” said Mr. Neugebauer, who sits on the House Financial Services Committee and is a recipient of significant donations from Wall Street.

Few of the most conservative House lawmakers draw substantial support from business political action committees, and business lobbyists acknowledged that the mere suggestion they were considering backing primary challenges next year could enhance grass-roots support for the very lawmakers they want to defeat. But the dysfunction in Washington has now turned so extreme, they said, that they had few other options.

“What we want is a conservative business person, but someone who in many respects will be more realistic, in our opinion,” said Bruce Josten, the top lobbyist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the single biggest lobbying organization in Washington.

In the two previous battles over the debt limit, many chief executives were reluctant to take sides, banding together in groups like Fix the Debt, which spent millions of dollars on a campaign urging Democrats and Republicans to work toward a “grand bargain” on the budget. But with shutdown a reality, and the clock ticking toward default, some of those same executives now place the blame squarely on conservative Republicans in the House.

“It’s clearly this faction within the

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Guardian's NSA revelations: spies to go under spotlight

Deputy PM Nick Clegg says public accountability and trust to be examined in review of surveillance powers

Patrick Wintour, Rowena Mason and Dan Roberts in Washington
The Guardian, Thursday 10 October 2013 21.43 BST   

British deputy prime minister Nick Clegg is to start conversations in government about how to update the legal oversight of the UK's security services in the light of disclosures by the Guardian that powerful new technologies appear to have outstripped the current system of legislative and political oversight.

Clegg's aides said he would be calling in experts from inside and outside Whitehall to discuss the implications of the new surveillance technologies for public accountability and trust. It is the first time such a senior figure in government has conceded that the revelations published in the Guardian have highlighted concerns about the accountability of the security services.

Clegg hinted at his plans in his weekly phone-in on London's LBC radio, saying: "I think it is right to ask whether there is anything more we can do to make sure the public feel accountability is working in this area properly. There is a totally legitimate debate about the power of these technologies, about how you get the balance right, how you do make sure these technologies are used in an accountable and proportionate way."

But Clegg also joined Prime Minister David Cameron and the head of MI5, Andrew Parker, in declaring that the Guardian had published information, passed to the paper by the American whistleblower Edward Snowden, that was not in the public interest. He said: "I don't think just giving technical secrets to those who wish to do us harm serves any purpose."

Clegg's aides did not give specific examples of details published by the Guardian that would give this help to terrorists.

Cameron said: "When you get newspapers who get hold of vast amounts of data and information that is effectively stolen information and they think it's OK to reveal this, I think they have to think about their responsibilities and are they helping to keep our country safe."

The prime minister acknowledged that the paper had destroyed some information at his request. He also hinted at movement on the issue, saying: "I am satisfied that the work these agencies do is not only vital but it is properly overseen. That is what this debate needs to be about. If people want to suggest improvements about how they are governed and looked after, I am happy to listen to those."

In the wake of Parker's speech this week attacking the Guardian's disclosures, some British newspapers, notably the Daily Mail, accused the Guardian of being a newspaper that helps Britain's enemies. The Mail said the paper had "crossed a line with lethal irresponsibility".

But more than 20 leading newspaper editors from a dozen countries rallied to defend the Guardian's handling of the Snowden files. Many insisted that journalists were quite capable of deciding which information is too dangerous to publish – and which information the public has a right to knew. "Journalists have only one responsibility: to keep their readers informed and educated about whatever their government is doing on their behalf," said Aluf Benn, editor-in-chief of Israel's Haaretz.

Several editors expressed disappointment that the Guardian had come under attack from other journalists. Javier Moreno, director of El País in Spain, said: "What's sad, baffling and dangerous is that the attacks now come not only from governments but from other newspapers too. We need newspapers wiling to do their job, rather than those ready to cheer on the self-interested deceptions of the powerful."

Wolfgang Büchner, editor-in-chief of Der Spiegel, in Germany, said: "It is a tragedy that media outlets aligned with governments are now accusing the journalists uncovering these abuses of 'lethal irresponsibility.' " It had not been known that Clegg was to take active steps to review the issue, a route apparently closed off by the parliamentary watchdog, the Intelligence and Security Committee.

The ISC had declared, following a short investigation in private, that the security services were not bypassing the current systems of ministerial oversight.

But the deputy prime minister's aides said: "We are completely supportive of you lifting the lid on a lot of this, and starting a debate to which he is trying to contribute."

Clegg himself said: "There is a totally legitimate debate to be had, and in my experience from speaking to people in the security services they recognise this, about the use of these incredibly powerful technologies. We have legislation – regulations – that were designed for an age that is quite different now. Both terrorist states and security services conduct this battle online in a way that was quite unimaginable just a few years ago.

"What that means for privacy and proportionality is a totally legitimate area for debate. How you hold the secret parts of any state to account is an incredibly important issue.

"We have to defend the principle of secrecy but you can only really make secrecy legitimate in the eyes of the public if there is a proper form of accountability."

The first public indications of government disquiet in the UK came as a new drive started in the United States to bring the National Security Agency to account.

The conservative Republican who authored the US Patriot Act is preparing to unveil bipartisan legislation that would dramatically curtail the domestic surveillance powers it gives to intelligence agencies.

Congressmen Jim Sensenbrenner, who worked with president George W Bush to give more power to US spies after the 11 September terrorist attack, said they had misused it by collecting telephone records on all Americans and claimed it was time "to put their metadata programme out of business".

Many lawmakers have agreed that new legislation is required owing to the collapse in public trust following Snowden's disclosures that the NSA was collecting bulk records of all US phone calls in order to sift out potential terrorist targets.

• This article was amended on 11th October. We originally stated that the ISC had declared that the security services were bypassing systems of ministerial oversight. In fact they had declared that these systems were not being bypassed. This has been changed.


Editors on the NSA files: 'What the Guardian is doing is important for democracy'

On Thursday the Daily Mail described the Guardian as 'The paper that helps Britain's enemies'. We showed that article to many of the world's leading editors. This is what they said


Patriot Act author prepares bill to put NSA bulk collection 'out of business'

Exclusive: Bipartisan bill pulls together existing efforts to dramatically reform the NSA in the wake of Snowden disclosures

Dan Roberts in Washington, Thursday 10 October 2013 20.37 BST       

The conservative Republican who co-authored America's Patriot Act is preparing to unveil bipartisan legislation that would dramatically curtail the domestic surveillance powers it gives to intelligence agencies.

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, who worked with president George W Bush to give more power to US intelligence agencies after the September 11 terrorist attacks, said the intelligence community had misused those powers by collecting telephone records on all Americans, and claimed it was time "to put their metadata program out of business".

His imminent bill in the House of Representatives is expected to be matched by a similar proposal from Senate judiciary committee chair Patrick Leahy, a Democrat. It pulls together existing congressional efforts to reform the National Security Agency in the wake of disclosures by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Sensenbrenner has called his bill the Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet-Collection, and Online Monitoring Act – or USA Freedom Act, and a draft seen by the Guardian has four broad aims.

It seeks to limit the collection of phone records to known terrorist suspects; to end "secret laws" by making courts disclose surveillance policies; to create a special court advocate to represent privacy interests; and to allow companies to disclose how many requests for users' information they receive from the USA. The bill also tightens up language governing overseas surveillance to remove a loophole which it has been abused to target internet and email activities of Americans.

Many lawmakers have agreed that some new legislation is required in the wake of the collapse in public trust that followed Snowden's disclosures, which revealed how the NSA was collecting bulk records of all US phone calls in order to sift out potential terrorist targets.

In July, a temporary measure to defund the NSA bulk collection programme was narrowly defeated in a 217 to 205 vote in the House, but Sensenbrenner said the appetite for greater privacy protections had only grown since.

"Opinions have hardened with the revelations over the summer, particularly the inspector general's report that there were thousands of violations of regulations, and the disclosure that NSA employees were spying on their spouses or significant others, which was very chilling," he told the Guardian in an interview.

Instead, the main opposition to Sensenbrenner and Leahy's twin-pronged effort is likely to come from the chair of the Senate intelligence committee, Dianne Feinstein, who is supportive of the NSA but who has proposed separate legislation focusing on greater transparency and checks rather than an outright ban on bulk collection.

Sensenbrenner and other reformers have been scathing of this rival legislative approach, calling it a "fig leaf" and questioning the independence of the intelligence committee. "I do not want to see Congress pass a fig leaf because that would allow the NSA to say 'Well, we've cleaned up our act' until the next scandal breaks," he said.

"[Party leaders] are going to have to review what kind of people they put on the intelligence committee. Oversight is as good as the desire of the chairman to do it."

Sensenbrenner also called for the prosecution of Obama's director of national intelligence, James Clapper, who admitted misleading the Senate intelligence committee about the extent of bulk collection of telephone records.

"Oversight only works when the agency that oversight is directed at tells the truth, and having Mr Clapper say he gave the least untruthful answer should, in my opinion, have resulted in a firing and a prosecution," said the congressman.

Clapper has apologised for the incident, but reformers expect a fierce backlash to their proposals to rein in his powers in future. "I anticipate a big fight, and Senator Feinstein has already basically declared war," said Sensenbrenner. "If they use a law like Senator Feinstein is proposing, it will just allow them to do business as usual with a little bit of a change in the optics."

His twin effort with Leahy to introduce legislation via the House and Senate judiciary committees is partly intended to circumvent such opposition among intelligence committee leaders.

But there is plenty of support among other intelligence committee members. Democratic senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, who were first to seize on Snowden's disclosures as a way to make public their longstanding concerns, recently teamed up with Republican Rand Paul and colleague Richard Blumenthal to propose similar reforms of the NSA in their own bill.

Sensenbrenner insisted the different reform efforts were likely to converge, rather than compete. "I wanted to get a bill passed, and the best way to get a bill passed is to have the chairman of the judiciary committee and the most senior US senator [Leahy] co-sponsoring it," he said. "We need to change the law, and we need to change the law quickly."

Publication of the House version of the USA Freedom bill, jointly sponsored by Democrat John Conyers, has been held up by the government shutdown, which has furloughed a number of congressional legal staff, but is still expected within the next few days.

A spokesman for Leahy's office told the Guardian on Thursday that the senator was still on track to introduce his version of the legislation through the Senate judiciary committee once the shutdown effects had passed.

The main thrust of the bill would tighten section 215 of the Patriot Act to limit the collection of business records such as telephone metadata, to instances where the NSA was able to convince courts set up under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (Fisa) that the target was "an agent of a foreign power", was "subject of an investigation" or thought to be "in contact with an agent of a foreign power".

Sensenbrenner said this tighter definition was needed because previous language had been improperly interpreted by Fisa courts. "Having the three qualifications would make it very clear that they have to find out who a bad person is first, get the Fisa order, and then see who that bad person was contacting to get the information rather than find the needle in a very large haystack, which is what the metadata was," he said.

"We had thought that the 2006 amendment, by putting the word 'relevant' in, was narrowing what the NSA could collect. Instead, the NSA convinced the Fisa court that the relevance clause was an expansive rather than contractive standard, and that's what brought about the metadata collection, which amounts to trillions of phone calls."

This approach has been justified by intelligence agencies as the only way to get enough data to allow them to sift through it looking for connections, but Sensebrenner claimed that NSA director general Keith Alexander only pointed to 13 possible suspicious individuals found through this method during his recent Senate testimony.

"The haystack approach missed the Boston marathon bombing, and that was after the Russians told us the Tsarnaev brothers were bad guys," added Sensenbrenner.

Another important aspect to the bill, in the draft seen by the Guardian, is a set of measures that would prevent the NSA using other legal powers to carry on collecting bulk data – even if the Patriot Act language is tightened.

"The concern that I have had is that if the shoe starts pinching on what the NSA is doing, they will simply try to use another mechanism to try to get the metadata and national security letters is the one that would rise to the top," said Sensenbrenner, who described ways to close this potential loophole.

"I have always had a lot of questions about administrative subpoenas such as national security letters, and the bill adds a sunset date for national security letters, which were originally authorised in 1986."

Staff members have been holding discussions behind the scenes about how to make sure the NSA can continue to get access to individual phone records when they do have specific concerns about terrorism activity.

"We will have to figure out some kind of way for the NSA to get records, wether through a Fisa court order or a grand jury subpoena," said Sensenbrenner.

This is likely to be opposed by the security services, who argued in recent congressional testimony that such a system would impose unacceptable delays in obtaining records.


October 10, 2013

C.I.A. Warning on Snowden in ’09 Said to Slip Through the Cracks


WASHINGTON — Just as Edward J. Snowden was preparing to leave Geneva and a job as a C.I.A. technician in 2009, his supervisor wrote a derogatory report in his personnel file, noting a distinct change in the young man’s behavior and work habits, as well as a troubling suspicion.

The C.I.A. suspected that Mr. Snowden was trying to break into classified computer files to which he was not authorized to have access, and decided to send him home, according to two senior American officials.

But the red flags went unheeded. Mr. Snowden left the C.I.A. to become a contractor for the National Security Agency, and four years later he leaked thousands of classified documents. The supervisor’s cautionary note and the C.I.A.’s suspicions apparently were not forwarded to the N.S.A. or its contractors, and surfaced only after federal investigators began scrutinizing Mr. Snowden’s record once the documents began spilling out, intelligence and law enforcement officials said.

“It slipped through the cracks,” one veteran law enforcement official said of the report.

Spokesmen for the C.I.A., N.S.A. and F.B.I. all declined to comment on the precise nature of the warning and why it was not forwarded, citing the investigation into Mr. Snowden’s activities.

Half a dozen law enforcement, intelligence and Congressional officials with direct knowledge of the supervisor’s report were contacted for this article. All of the officials agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity because of the continuing criminal investigation.

In hindsight, officials said, the report by the C.I.A. supervisor and the agency’s suspicions might have been the first serious warnings of the disclosures to come, and the biggest missed opportunity to review Mr. Snowden’s top-secret clearance or at least put his future work at the N.S.A. under much greater scrutiny.

“The weakness of the system was if derogatory information came in, he could still keep his security clearance and move to another job, and the information wasn’t passed on,” said a Republican lawmaker who has been briefed on Mr. Snowden’s activities.

Mr. Snowden now lives in Moscow, where he surfaced this week for the first time since receiving temporary asylum from the Russian government over the summer. On Wednesday night, he met with four American whistle-blowers who have championed his case in the United States and who presented him with an award they said was given annually by a group of retired C.I.A. officers to members of the intelligence community “who exhibit integrity in intelligence.”

In a television interview, one member of the group, Jesselyn Radack, a former Justice Department official, said that Mr. Snowden “looked great.”

“He seemed very centered and brilliant,” Ms. Radack said. “Smart, funny, very engaged. I thought he looked very well.”

Another of the whistle-blowers, Coleen Rowley, a former F.B.I. agent who testified before the Senate about missteps in the agency’s investigation of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, said, “We talked about prior examples of great people in history that had themselves been under this kind of pressure, and he’s remarkably centered.”

On Thursday, Mr. Snowden’s father, Lon, arrived in Moscow to see his son after assurances from Mr. Snowden’s legal aide that there would be “no complications” in organizing a meeting with his father. But in a telephone interview later in the day, Lon Snowden said he had not yet been able to meet with his son.

“I can’t tell you the where and the when,” the elder Mr. Snowden said. “I have no idea. I hope something happens.”

It is difficult to tell what would have happened had N.S.A. supervisors been made aware of the warning the C.I.A. issued Mr. Snowden in what is called a “derog” in federal personnel policy parlance.

“The spectrum of things in your personnel file could be A to Z,” said Charles B. Sowell, who until June was a top official in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence working on improving the security clearance process. “There’s a chance that that information could be missed and might not be surfaced.”

Mr. Sowell, now a senior vice president at Salient Federal Solutions, an information technology company in Fairfax, Va., emphasized that he left the government before Mr. Snowden’s disclosures became public.

Intelligence and law enforcement officials say the report could have affected the assignments Mr. Snowden was given, first as an N.S.A. contractor with the computer company Dell in Japan and later with Booz Allen Hamilton in Hawaii, as well as the level of supervision he received.

The electronic systems the C.I.A. and N.S.A. use to manage the security clearances for its full-time and contracted employees are intended to track major rule-based infractions, not less serious complaints about personal behavior, a senior law enforcement official said. Thus, lesser derogatory information about Mr. Snowden was unlikely to have been given to the N.S.A. unless it was specifically requested. As a result of Mr. Snowden’s case, two law enforcement officials said, that flaw has since been corrected and such information is now being pushed forward.

The revelation of the C.I.A.’s derogatory report comes as Congress is examining the process of granting security clearances, particularly by USIS, a company that has performed 700,000 yearly security checks for the government. Among the individuals the company vetted were Mr. Snowden and Aaron Alexis, who the police say shot and killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard last month.

“We have a compelling need to monitor those trusted with this sensitive information on a more regular basis and with broader sets of data,” said Kathy Pherson, a former C.I.A. security officer who belongs to an intelligence industry task force that is expected to issue a report on the matter by year’s end.

While it is unclear what exactly the supervisor’s negative report said, it coincides with a period of Mr. Snowden’s life in 2009 when he was a prolific online commenter on government and security issues, complained about civil surveillance and, according to a friend, was suffering “a crisis of conscience.”

Mr. Snowden got an information technology job at the C.I.A. in mid-2006. Despite his lack of formal credentials, he gained a top-secret clearance and a choice job under State Department cover in Geneva. Little is known about what his duties were there.

Mavanee Anderson, who worked with Mr. Snowden in Geneva and also had a high security clearance, said in an article in The Chattanooga Times Free Press of Tennessee in June that when they worked from 2007 through early 2009, Mr. Snowden “was already experiencing a crisis of conscience of sorts.”

“Anyone smart enough to be involved in the type of work he does, who is privy to the type of information to which he was privy, will have at least moments like these,” she said.

Later, Mr. Snowden would tell the newspaper The Guardian that he was shocked and saddened by some of the techniques C.I.A. operatives in Geneva used to recruit sources. “Much of what I saw in Geneva really disillusioned me about how my government functions and what its impact is in the world,” he told The Guardian. “I realized that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good.”

There were other signs that have since drawn investigators’ attention. In early 2009, someone using Mr. Snowden’s screen name expressed outrage at government officials who leaked information to the news media, telling a friend in an Internet chat that leakers “should be shot.”

“They’re just like WikiLeaks,” Mr. Snowden — or someone identified as him from his screen name, “TheTrueHOOHA,” and other details — wrote in January 2009 about an article in The New York Times on secret exchanges between Israel and the United States about Iran’s nuclear program.

He later told The Guardian he was disappointed that President Obama “advanced the very policies that I thought would be reined in.”

“I got hardened,” he said.

Michael S. Schmidt contributed reporting from Washington, and Andrew Roth from Moscow.


Edward Snowden given ‘integrity in intelligence’ award

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, October 10, 2013 23:07 EDT

US fugitive Edward Snowden has been honored with a prize awarded annually by former CIA staff for exhibiting “integrity in intelligence,” the group said.

The 30-year-old, currently in Russia, is wanted by Washington on espionage charges after disclosing details about the vast scope of the US government’s surveillance operations.

The Government Accountability Project said Snowden received the Sam Adams Award — a “symbolic candlestick” — at a ceremony in Moscow late Wednesday.

Those present included former National Security Agency senior analyst Thomas Drake, former Department of Justice ethics advisor Jesselyn Radack, former FBI agent Coleen Rowley and former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, the group said.

In a statement on its website, the group said the award is “given annually by a group of retired CIA officers for members of the intelligence community who exhibit integrity in intelligence.”

Word of the prize surfaced the same day that Snowden’s father landed in the Russian capital hoping to meet his son for the first time since the former US spy agency contractor became a fugitive.

In comments heavily dubbed into Russian from English, he admitted he still didn’t know where his son was staying.

Snowden’s whereabouts have been a mystery ever since Russia granted him temporary asylum.

The group — which says its mission is to promote corporate and government accountability — did not disclose any details about where in Moscow Wednesday’s ceremony took place.

However, Radack, now with the Government Accountability Project, was quoted as saying that “Edward looks great. He’s centered, articulate, and closely following the issues, both in the United States and globally.”

“He loves America and wants to see it returned to its democratic ideals, which are completely antithetical to a closed and secret society that make for turn-key tyranny,” Radack added.

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Psych ward verdict for Russian protester ‘a return to Soviet psychiatric persecution of dissidents’

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, October 10, 2013 8:58 EDT

The condemnation this week of protester Mikhail Kosenko to forced psychiatric treatment has sparked debate that Russia is returning to the Soviet practice of punitive psychiatry to silence its critics.

Kosenko, who had been taking medication for several years for a mild form of schizophrenia, was given a new, more serious diagnosis during his 16-month arrest, and declared dangerous and in need of indefinite isolation from society in a report cited by prosecution.

Russian veteran rights campaigner Lyudmila Alexeyeva called Tuesday’s verdict against 38-year old Kosenko “a return to Soviet psychiatric persecution of dissidents” and said she will complain to the World Psychiatric Association.

Amnesty International also condemned the verdict as “abhorrent use of punitive psychiatry to silence dissent” and a breach of trial procedure.

Kosenko, who was convicted of assaulting a police officer at an anti-Vladimir Putin protest on May 6, 2012, was declared insane and dangerous due to his “paranoid schizophrenia” by Russia’s Serbsky Institute in July 2012.

The same institute was behind a wave of diagnoses used to lock-up Soviet dissidents in the Soviet era, with the practice becoming especially widespread between mid-1960s and the breakup of the Soviet Union.

“The psychiatrists of the Serbsky Institute… are as unprincipled as in the Soviet times, and are also carrying out political orders, which is even more dangerous,” wrote Natalia Gorbanevskaya, who herself was committed into asylum for over two years after protesting the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

‘Worse than prison’

Kosenko’s conviction was the third handed down against protestors who took part in the protest on Bolotnaya Square in central Moscow on the eve of Putin’s inauguration for a third term.

Over a dozen more accused are still awaiting their verdicts, in a trial denounced by activists as a throwback to Soviet repression.

Kosenko had been diagnosed with light mental illness since 2001 after suffering a concussion in an army hazing incident. He had not been committed full-time into an institution before his verdict, however.

The term ‘sluggish schizophrenia’ used to describe Kosenko’s mental state is not an internationally classified diagnosis. It was first coined by Soviet psychiatrist Andrei Snezhnevsky and was used against dissidents with “reform delusions”.

Snezhnevsky, who also served as the director of the Serbsky Psychiatric institute in the Stalin era, personally confirmed diagnoses for several dissidents, and even Nobel laureate poet Joseph Brodsky who later recounted torture-like treatments like sulphur shots and said that such punishment was worse than prison.

Russian punk rock singer Yegor Letov, who was sent to a psychiatric clinic for five months in 1985 wrote after that he was given antipsychotic drugs in doses so high that he temporarily lost his vision.

The extensive report by European Parliament this year concluded that Russia’s opaque system of psychiatric care barely reformed since the Soviet time and officials in recent years “feel they have the liberty to revert to using psychiatry as a tool of frightening their opponents”.

“If the person is outspoken, it’s easier to explain his non-agreement with authorities on psychiatric illness,” said lawyer Irina Khrunova who had several recent clients condemned to forced treatment, including a blogger in the Altai region who criticised a local governor.

“In the Bolotnaya trial they want to show that only marginals and psychos protest,” she said.

The head of Russia’s independent psychiatric association Yury Savenko, who dismissed the Serbsky Institute’s report on Kosenko as unprofessional, said the number of politically motivated diagnoses has been growing during Putin’s rule, though the trend has not yet approached the massive scale of the Soviet years.

“It’s the triumph of Soviet style,” he told AFP. “It’s a reprisal and a signal to society, they are shaking a finger and saying, this is what will happen if you don’t stop protesting.”


Two Britons arrested on Greenpeace boat refused bail on piracy charges

Activist Phil Ball and freelance journalist Kieron Bryan were among 30 people detained by Russians on board Arctic Sunrise

Tom Balmforth in Moscow, Friday 11 October 2013 13.09 BST   

A court in the northern Russian city of Murmansk has rejected bail appeals from two British nationals – a Greenpeace activist and a freelance journalist – before their trial on charges of piracy.

Phil Ball, 42, and Kieron Bryan, 29, a freelance videographer, were among 30 people on board a Greenpeace vessel detained by Russian coastguards in the Arctic Pechora Sea after two activists tried to scale an oil rig as part of an environmental protest.

Investigators accuse the group of trying to seize the Prirazlomnaya oil rig operated by state gas company Gazprom. They could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

The Murmansk court has already rejected bail requests from four Russian nationals including Denis Sinyakov, a freelance photographer. On Monday the court will consider appeals from four people from Argentina, Italy, New Zealand and the United States.

The group of 30, comprising people from 18 countries, including six Britons and two journalists, could face new charges. On Wednesday investigators said they had found narcotics including morphine and poppy seeds on board the ship. Greenpeace said the drugs were maritime regulation standard and stored for medical purposes.

The Pig has publicly said he sees no grounds to classify those detained as pirates. The president's spokesman has cited this as evidence that Russia's courts are impartial.

John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said Friday's court ruling "flies in the face of all reason. We have offered the Russian courts significant sureties that would guarantee the return of all those accused if and when a trial took place. The decision of the court to refuse bail looks increasingly like the Russian authorities are meting out unnecessarily harsh punishment even before any trial.

"In the case of Kieron Bryan, he is a professional journalist, travelling on the Greenpeace ship, witnessing a peaceful protest against oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean. He has committed no crime and should be released immediately."

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2,700-year-old portico unearthed in Greece is one of the oldest structures in the region

By David Ferguson
Thursday, October 10, 2013 14:12 EDT

Archeologists digging at the site of the ancient city Argilos in Northern Greece found a 2,700-year-old structure known as a portico, a row of shops and other businesses. According to a news release from the University of Montreal, the find is unique in northern Greece and one of the oldest such structures known to man.

Jacques Perreault, Professor at the University of Montreal’s Centre of Classical Studies, said, “Porticos are well known from the Hellenistic period, from the 3rd to 1st century BC, but earlier examples are extremely rare. The one from Argilos is the oldest example to date from northern Greece and is truly unique.”

Perreault and Zisis Bonias, an archaeologist with the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports, are leading the excavation of Argilos together. The city flourished in the 5th century BC, a wealthy seaside trading city located on the Aegean Sea.

Roughly 40 yards of the portico — or “stoa” in Greek — have been unearthed this year. There were 7 open rooms to the portico, five of which have been excavated. Initially, archeologists expected to find that the rooms of the portico were all identical, but in fact, they’re all different from each other.

“The construction techniques and the stones used are different for one room to another, hinting that several masons were used for each room,” said Perreault. “This indicates that the shop owners themselves were probably responsible for building the rooms, that ‘private enterprise’ and not the city was the source of this stoa.”

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10/10/2013 04:47 PM

Lavish Bishop: Catholic Leader Accused of Making False Statements

The bishop of Limburg was already under fire for cost overruns on his luxurious new headquarters, and on Thursday he suffered another setback. Prosecutors have accused him of making false statements in affidavits.

He's drawn criticism for his lavish lifestyle and cost overruns on his luxurious new residence, and now the Bishop of Limburg in Germany faces penal measures in a court case against SPIEGEL.

Prosecutors claim he made false statements in affidavits submitted in two civil claims against the magazine after it accused the cleric of flying first class during a trip to visit the poor in India. Prosecutors have since determined the statements he made were false and have now called for punitive measures, possibly including fines.

The decision comes just days after Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst was forced to admit earlier this week that the total price on his new bishop's headquarters in Limburg, in the western state of Hesse, had risen to a whopping €31 million ($41.9 million).

Earlier this week, Hubertus Janssen, a retired Limburg priest who has remained close to the congregation, called on 53-year-old Tebartz-van Elst to step down, warning that the bishop had become a burden to Limburg and possibly to the Catholic Church. Priests and members of the church alike have been outraged by Tebartz-van Elst and his involvement in the lavish new bishop's headquarters. The building, located adjacent to the city's cathedral, was initially supposed to cost €2 million. Then, partly as the result of special requests made by Tebartz-van Elst, costs ballooned to €5 million. The cost of the bishop's three and a half room apartment within the complex alone reached a cost of €2 million. The local Nassausische Neue Presse sparked further outrage on Wednesday when it reported that the bishop's bathtub alone came at a cost of some €15,000.

'I Don't Need a Grandiose Lifestyle'

On Wednesday, the mass-circulation Bild newspaper quoted Tebartz-van Elst defending the cost overruns. "I can understand how a figure like that might scare people," he said. But he also pointed to the sustainable construction measures used for the diocesan headquarters and also noted that officials had sought to list the building as historically important -- an application that has already been rejected by state authorities. "Those who know me, know that I don't need any kind of grandiose lifestyle," Tebartz-van Elst said, responding to his critics. But past reporting on the bishop suggests otherwise.

For many critics, it is clear that Tebartz-van Elst is indeed the man responsible for allowing costs to get out of control. Jochen Riebel, the spokesperson for the diocesan finance council, told a local radio station that the bishop had been partly responsible for the cost overruns with his constant changes to the planning, "which led to considerable additional costs."

He also claimed that Tebartz-van Elst didn't present information about the budget or individual projects for 2012 or 2013, despite multiple requests and his obligation to do so. "The only way I can explain it is that the Bishop of Limburg is either a sophisticated deceiver or that he's just plain sick," Riebel told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.

'I Carry the Responsibility'

Tebartz-van Elst responded by saying, "As bishop, I carry the responsibility." He added, however, that the diocesan finance council had been closely involved in the project since early 2011. "But I don't want to shift responsibility to others," he said.

The bishop is highly controversial as a result of his almost authoritarian leadership style, and a growing number of church members are calling for his resignation. Even the priests on his own Diocesan Synod say they have lost trust in him. So far, Tebartz-van Elst doesn't seem prepared to step down, though. "Many church members know very well that there's a difference between the mistakes that were actually made and that which the media has made out of them," he said.

A commission set up by the governing body of the Catholic Church in Germany is expected to investigate the cost overruns in Limburg, but it has not yet set a date for delivering its conclusions. "People should wait until this review before they make snap judgements against me," Tebartz-van Elst said.

The cost overruns are a significant scandal for the Catholic Church in Germany, even though the new headquarters has been funded from the diocese's own assets. Many fear that Tebartz-van Elst's excesses are driving members away from the church.

dsl -- with wires

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« Reply #9254 on: Oct 11, 2013, 06:41 AM »

10/11/2013 01:43 PM

Lost in Germany: Spanish Jobseekers Lured with False Promises

By Claus Hecking

They were promised new jobs in Germany -- but their hopes have now been quashed. Nearly 130 would-be Spanish workers are stranded in Erfurt after private employment agencies apparently failed to follow through.

When night falls in Erfurt, Diego Lopez has to go into the "hole." That's what the 21-year-old Spaniard calls the cellar of an old school where he and 20 of his countrymen have been sleeping in recent weeks. Bunk beds are crammed next to each other in two small rooms, which smell like sweat and dirty socks, Lopez says. The ventilation system doesn't work properly, and they all have to share a single shower, he adds.

But unlike their last accommodations, at least the heat works and they don't have to sleep on the floor. Furthermore, Lopez can still afford to stay here. A night in the "hole" costs €3.50 ($4.74).

A trained geriatric nurse, he is one of 128 Spaniards who have been stranded in Erfurt after being promised jobs that didn't come through. Full of hope, they struck out for Germany two weeks ago to take part in a program that the Federal Employment Agency calls "The job of my life." The new initiative promises young people from ailing southern European countries either dual vocational training or employment as a skilled worker, along with language courses and lodging -- all subsidized by the German state. And it was this program that two private job placement agencies used to lure the Spaniards to the eastern German state of Thuringia.

Their dream jobs never materialized, though. "They deceived us shamelessly," Lopez says. He's talking about Kerstin S. and Sven K., the heads of the agencies X-Job and Sphinx Consulting. "Sven told me that I would earn €818 per month and live in a four-bedroom shared apartment," he says.

'Germany Is Not Paradise'

Instead of a work contract at an Altenburg care facility and a flat share, however, he was placed in a grim building with no running water. The companies put other fellow jobseekers in unheated barracks in an industrial part of town. Some program participants report having to spend the night in cars. Meanwhile, they haven't seen a cent of the funding they were promised.

But far worse for the Spanish jobseekers was finding out that there weren't jobs waiting for them after all. Hardly any of them received the job contracts they were promised, and often the companies had been given hardly any information about the newcomers at all. The applicants, companies and politicians all agree: Both placement agencies failed.

"Fundamental due diligence was obviously violated," says Matthias Machning, Thuringia's economy minister. Machning, of the center-left Social Democratic Party, is alarmed: Spanish journalists are coming to Erfurt by the dozen to report on their fellow countrymen. "Germany is not paradise," the radio station Cardena Ser called one of its segments. On Wednesday, Machning convened an initial crisis summit with representatives of the region's business community and the Spanish Embassy. "This is about the image of Thuringia and of Germany," said the politician.

"These agents overreached hopelessly," says Dirk Ellinger, head of the German Hotel and Restaurant Association (Dehoga) in Thuringia. "They didn't even manage to produce accurate name lists of the program participants." Kerstin S. set out to place 70 Spanish trainees with restaurants, hotels and large-scale culinary companies. For a nominal premium of €250 the agent pledged a comprehensive, worry-free package: from the pre-selection of qualified candidates, to the organization of German classes, to accommodation in Thuringia.

But Kirsten S. repeatedly botched appointments with the businesses, missed deadlines and made false claims, says Ellinger. "And then when the first Spanish person arrived, she sent me an email asking how quickly I could draw up an internship contract" -- ostensibly to enable her to apply for the government subsidies of several hundred euros per month held out as a prospect to the "Job of my life" participants.

Agencies Trade Blame

Kerstin S. denies everything. "Dehoga lies," she says. All the companies "had the knowledge that these young people were coming," adding that many training contracts fell through because of poor language skills. "A lot of these people have no interest in learning German," she says. The young Spaniards had apparently been wrongly informed about the program by her partner Sven K., she adds. He in turn blames her for the debacle.

Politicians and businesses are now trying to find a common solution. Minister Machnig called on Friday for a second emergency summit to which he invited all the young people involved. The Dehoga companies have also begun hiring on their own, and have already signed 50 internship or training contracts. "In the end, we'll take on maybe 80 Spaniards," says director Ellinger. And the government subsidies could come through in the end as well. "This is a matter of extreme hardship that we are following with great attention," says a spokeswoman for the Federal Employment Agency.

Diego Lopez fervently hopes he might end up with a job in the promised land after all. His money is almost gone. And the €150 for his German course in Spain, airfare, rail travel and accommodation that the agents promised would be reimbursed to him by the German government? He'll probably never see any of it. To receive the funds, the agents would have had to submit applications in advance to the Federal Employment Agency. To date, no single such document has been received.

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