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« Reply #9390 on: Oct 17, 2013, 07:49 AM »

Biggest known star in the universe is ripping itself apart

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 16, 2013 14:26 EDT

The biggest known star in the cosmos is in its death throes and will eventually explode, astronomers said on Wednesday.

Using a telescope at the European Southern Observatory in Chile, the astronomers said they had spotted telltale signs in a star called W26.

Located about 16,000 light years away in the constellation of Ara, or The Altar, the star has a diameter 3,000 times that of the Sun.

W26, first observed in 1998, is a “red supergiant”, a term for a star that is as big as it is short-lived.

Stars of this kind typically have lifetimes of less than a few million years before they exhaust their nuclear fuel and explode as supernovae.

W26 is becoming unstable and shedding its outer layers, a key step in the death process, according to the paper, published in the British journal Monthly Notices of Britain’s Royal Astronomical Society (RAS).

W26 is “the largest known star in the Universe”, the RAS said in a press release.

The observations suggest “W26 is coming towards the end of its life and will eventually explode as a supernova”.

W26 is surrounded by a cloud, or nebula, of glowing hydrogen gas whose atoms have been stripped of their electrons.

A similar cloud was found around the remnant of a star that became a supernova in 1987.

“The presence of the nebula, high stellar luminosity and spectral variability suggest that W26 is a highly evolved RSG [red supergiant] experiencing extreme levels of mass loss,” says the paper.

W26 is located in a star cluster called Westerlund 1, home to hundreds of thousands of stars. It is the most massive stellar group in our galaxy, the Milky Way.

Observing Westerlund 1 can be a problem because light from it is affected by clouds of gas and dust.

But the ionised gas around W26 is a boost for visibility, which should make it easier to monitor what happens next.

When a red supergiant sheds its outer layers, it does so after enriching the material from nuclear reactions deep within the star.

The stuff that is spewed out includes many elements, such as magnesium and silicon, that are necessary for forming rocky planets like Earth.

“How this material is ejected and how this affects the evolution of the star is however still a mystery,” the RAS said.

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« Reply #9391 on: Oct 17, 2013, 08:20 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

October 16, 2013

Door May Open for Challenge to Secret Wiretaps

By CHARLIE SAVAGE
NYT

WASHINGTON — Five years after Congress authorized a sweeping warrantless surveillance program, the Justice Department is setting up a potential Supreme Court test of whether it is constitutional by notifying a criminal defendant — for the first time — that evidence against him derived from the eavesdropping, according to officials.

Prosecutors plan to inform the defendant about the monitoring in the next two weeks, a law enforcement official said. The move comes after an internal Justice Department debate in which Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. argued that there was no legal basis for a previous practice of not disclosing links to such surveillance, several Obama administration officials familiar with the deliberations said.

Meanwhile, the department’s National Security Division is combing active and closed case files to identify other defendants who faced evidence resulting from the 2008 wiretapping law. It permits eavesdropping without warrants on Americans’ cross-border phone calls and e-mails so long as the surveillance is “targeted” at foreigners abroad.

It is not yet clear how many other such cases there are, nor whether prosecutors will notify convicts whose cases are already over. Such a decision could set off attempts to reopen those cases.

“It’s of real legal importance that components of the Justice Department disagreed about when they had a duty to tell a defendant that the surveillance program was used,” said Daniel Richman, a Columbia University law professor. “It’s a big deal because one view covers so many more cases than the other, and this is an issue that should have come up repeatedly over the years.”

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose internal discussions. The Wall Street Journal  previously reported on a recent court filing in which the department, reversing an earlier stance, said it was obliged to disclose to defendants if evidence used in court was linked to warrantless surveillance, but it remained unclear if there were any such cases.

The debate was part of the fallout about National Security Agency surveillance set off by leaks by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor. They have drawn attention to the 2008 law, the FISA Amendments Act, which legalized a form of the Bush administration’s once-secret warrantless surveillance program.

In February, the Supreme Court dismissed a case challenging its constitutionality because the plaintiffs, led by Amnesty International, could not prove they had been wiretapped. Mr. Verrilli had told the justices that someone else would have legal standing to trigger review of the program because prosecutors would notify people facing evidence derived from surveillance under the 2008 law.

But it turned out that Mr. Verrilli’s assurances clashed with the practices of national security prosecutors, who had not been alerting such defendants that evidence in their cases had stemmed from wiretapping their conversations without a warrant.

Jameel Jaffer, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who argued in the Supreme Court on behalf of the plaintiffs challenging the 2008 law, said that someone in the Justice Department should have flagged the issue earlier and that the department must do more than change its practice going forward.

“The government has an obligation to tell the Supreme Court, in some formal way, that a claim it made repeatedly, and that the court relied on in its decision, was simply not true,” he said. “And it has an obligation to notify the criminal defendants whose communications were monitored under the statute that their communications were monitored.”

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment. The department’s practices came under scrutiny after a December 2012 speech by Senator Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee. During debate over extending the 2008 law, she warned that terrorism remained a threat. Listing several terrorism-related arrests, she added, “so this has worked.”

Lawyers in two of the cases Ms. Feinstein mentioned — one in Fort Lauderdale and one in Chicago — asked prosecutors this spring to confirm that surveillance under the 2008 law had played a role in the investigations of their clients so they could challenge it.

But prosecutors said they did not have to make such a disclosure. On June 7, The New York Times published an article citing Ms. Feinstein’s speech and the stance the prosecutors had taken.

As a result, Mr. Verrilli sought an explanation from national security lawyers about why they had not flagged the issue when vetting his Supreme Court briefs and helping him practice for the arguments, according to officials.

The national security lawyers explained that it was a misunderstanding, the officials said. Because the rules on wiretapping warrants in foreign intelligence cases are different from the rules in ordinary criminal investigations, they said, the division has long used a narrow understanding of what “derived from” means in terms of when it must disclose specifics to defendants.

In national security cases involving orders issued under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, or FISA, prosecutors alert defendants only that some evidence derives from a FISA wiretap, but not details like whether there had just been one order or a chain of several. Only judges see those details.

After the 2008 law, that generic approach meant that prosecutors did not disclose when some traditional FISA wiretap orders had been obtained using information gathered through the warrantless wiretapping program. Division officials believed it would have to disclose the use of that program only if it introduced a recorded phone call or intercepted e-mail gathered directly from the program — and for five years, they avoided doing so.

For Mr. Verrilli, that raised a more fundamental question: was there any persuasive legal basis for failing to clearly notify defendants that they faced evidence linked to the 2008 warrantless surveillance law, thereby preventing them from knowing that they had an opportunity to argue that it derived from an unconstitutional search?

The debate stretched through June and July, officials said, including multiple meetings and dueling memorandums by lawyers in the solicitor general office and in the national security division, which has been led since March by acting Assistant Attorney General John Carlin. The deliberations were overseen by James Cole, the deputy attorney general.

National security lawyers and a policy advisory committee of senior United States attorneys focused on operational worries: Disclosure risked alerting foreign targets that their communications were being monitored, so intelligence agencies might become reluctant to share information with law enforcement officials that could become a problem in a later trial.

But Mr. Verrilli argued that withholding disclosure from defendants could not be justified legally, officials said. Lawyers with several agencies — including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the N.S.A. and the office of the director of national intelligence — concurred, officials said, and the division changed the practice going forward.

National Security Division lawyers began looking at other cases, eventually identifying the one that will be publicly identified soon and are still looking through closed cases and deciding what to do about them.

But in a twist, in the Chicago and Fort Lauderdale cases that Ms. Feinstein had mentioned, prosecutors made new court filings saying they did not intend to use any evidence derived from surveillance of the defendants under the 2008 law.

When defense lawyers asked about Ms. Feinstein’s remarks, a Senate lawyer responded in a letter that she “did not state, and did not mean to state” that those cases were linked to the warrantless surveillance program. Rather, the lawyer wrote, her point was that terrorism remained a problem.

In a recent court filing, the lawyers wrote that it is “hard to believe” Ms. Feinstein would cite “random” cases when pressing to reauthorize the 2008 law, suggesting either that the government is still concealing something or that she had employed the “politics of fear” to influence the debate. A spokesman for Ms. Feinstein said she preferred to let the letter speak for itself.

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The Obama administration doesn’t want the Supreme Court to look at NSA spying

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 16, 2013 14:20 EDT

President Barack Obama’s administration is urging the Supreme Court not to take up the first case it has received on controversial National Security Agency cybersnooping.

US government attorneys argue that the Supreme Court does not have the jurisdiction to take the case, filed in July by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).

EPIC believes the NSA overstepped its authority by carrying out broad communications monitoring and surveillance worldwide, and demanded the program be stopped.

A US Supreme Court decision to take the case would be “a drastic and extraordinary remedy that is reserved for really extraordinary causes,” argued Donald Verrilli, an administration lawyer, in a statement released late Tuesday.

The US administration also believes the EIPC suit cannot move forward because it argues the court lacks authority under the 2001 Patriot Act to weigh in on the legality of NSA activities.

“This court lacks jurisdiction to issue a writ of certiorari to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court,” the secret intelligence affairs court, Verrilli added.

In mid-August President Barack Obama pledged to overhaul US spy programs amid a debate sparked by the leaks of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, which revealed vast telephone and Internet surveillance programs.

Obama promised a new era in intelligence with more supervision, transparency and safeguards in the NSA’s collection of electronic information.

His administration has however maintained a hard line against the leaking of such information, and is seeking to prosecute Snowden on espionage charges.

After the disclosures Snowden fled to Hong Kong and then to Russia, where he has been granted one year’s temporary asylum despite Washington’s demands that he be returned.

The National Security Agency is gathering email and instant messenger contact lists from hundreds of millions of ordinary citizens worldwide, many of them Americans, The Washington Post reported late Monday.

The US agency’s data collection program harvests the data from address books and “buddy lists,” the newspaper said, citing senior intelligence officials and top secret documents provided by the fugitive NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

During a single day last year, the NSA’s Special Source Operations branch collected 444,743 e-mail address books from Yahoo, 105,068 from Hotmail, 82,857 from Facebook, 33,697 from Gmail and 22,881 from unspecified other providers, the Post said, according to an internal NSA PowerPoint presentation.

The figures, described as a typical daily intake of the document, correspond to a rate of more than 250?million a year, according to the report, which was published on the newspaper’s website.

The NSA declined to confirm the specific allegations in the Post report but defended its surveillance activities as legal and respectful of privacy rights.

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October 16, 2013

Republicans Back Down, Ending Crisis Over Shutdown and Debt Limit

By JONATHAN WEISMAN and ASHLEY PARKER
NYT

WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans conceded defeat on Wednesday in their bitter budget fight with President Obama over the new health care law as the House and Senate approved last-minute legislation ending a disruptive 16-day government shutdown and extending federal borrowing power to avert a financial default with potentially worldwide economic repercussions.

With the Treasury Department warning that it could run out of money to pay national obligations within a day, the Senate voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday evening, 81 to 18, to approve a proposal hammered out by the chamber’s Republican and Democratic leaders after the House on Tuesday was unable to move forward with any resolution. The House followed suit a few hours later, voting 285 to 144 to approve the Senate plan, which would fund the government through Jan. 15 and raise the debt limit through Feb. 7.

Mr. Obama signed the bill about 12:30 a.m. Thursday.

Most House Republicans opposed the bill, but 87 voted to support it. The breakdown showed that Republican leaders were willing to violate their informal rule against advancing bills that do not have majority Republican support in order to end the shutdown. All 198 Democrats voting supported the measure.

Mr. Obama, speaking shortly after the Senate vote, praised Congress, but he said he hoped the damaging standoff would not be repeated.

“We’ve got to get out of the habit of governing by crisis,” said Mr. Obama, who urged Congress to proceed not only with new budget negotiations, but with immigration changes and a farm bill as well. “We could get all these things done even this year, if everybody comes together in a spirit of, how are we going to move this country forward and put the last three weeks behind us?”

After the House vote, officials announced that the federal government would reopen on Thursday and that federal employees should return to work.

The result of the impasse that threatened the nation’s credit rating was a near total defeat for Republican conservatives, who had engineered the budget impasse as a way to strip the new health care law of funding even as registration for benefits opened Oct. 1 or, failing that, to win delays in putting the program into place.

The shutdown sent Republican poll ratings plunging, cost the government billions of dollars and damaged the nation’s international credibility. Mr. Obama refused to compromise, leaving Republican leaders to beg him to talk, and to fulminate when he refused. For all that, Republicans got a slight tightening of income verification rules for Americans accessing new health insurance exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act.

“We fought the good fight,” said Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, who has struggled to control the conservative faction in the House, in an interview with a Cincinnati radio station. “We just didn’t win.”

In a brief closed session with his Republican rank and file, Mr. Boehner told members to hold their heads high, go home, get some rest and think about how they could work better as a team.

Two weeks of relative cohesion broke down into near chaos on Tuesday when Republican leaders failed twice to unite their troops behind a last-gasp effort to prevent a default on their own terms. By Wednesday, House conservatives were accusing more moderate Republicans of undercutting their position. Representative Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, a leading Republican voice for ending the fight, said Congress should have passed a bill to fund the government without policy strings attached weeks ago.

“That’s essentially what we’re doing now,” Mr. Dent said. “People can blame me all they want, but I was correct in my analysis and I’d say a lot of those folks were not correct in theirs.”

Under the agreement to reopen the government, the House and Senate are directed to hold talks and reach accord by Dec. 13 on a long-term blueprint for tax and spending policies over the next decade. Mr. Obama said consistently through the standoff that he was willing to have a wide-ranging budget negotiation once the government was reopened and the debt limit raised.

Mr. Boehner and his leadership team had long felt that they needed to allow their restive conference to pitch a battle over the president’s health care law, a fight that had been brewing almost since the law was passed in 2010. Now, they hope the fever has broken, and they can negotiate on issues where they think they have the upper hand, like spending cuts and changes to entitlement programs.

But there were no guarantees that Congress would not be at loggerheads again by mid-January, and there is deep skepticism in both parties that Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and Senator Patty Murray of Washington, who will lead the budget negotiations, can bridge the chasm between them.

“This moves us into the next phase of the same debate,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democrat. “Our hope is now that Speaker Boehner and his caucus have played out their scenario with a tragic outcome, perhaps they’ll be willing to be more constructive.”

As Republican lawmakers left the closed meeting Wednesday, some were already thinking of the next fight.

“I’ll vote against it,” said Representative John C. Fleming, Republican of Louisiana, referring to the Senate plan. “But that will get us into Round 2. See, we’re going to start this all over again.”

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader who was instrumental in ending the crisis, stressed that under the deal he had negotiated with the majority leader, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the across-the-board budget cuts extracted in the 2011 fiscal showdown remained in place over the objections of some Democrats, a slim reed that not even he claimed as a significant victory.

The deal, Mr. McConnell said, “is far less than many of us hoped for, quite frankly, but it’s far better than what some had sought.”

“Now it’s time for Republicans to unite behind other crucial goals,” he added.

Chastened Senate Republicans said they hoped the outcome would be a learning experience for the lawmakers in the House and the Senate who shut down the government in hopes of gutting the health law, Mr. Obama’s signature domestic achievement. Instead of using the twin issues of government funding and borrowing authority to address the drivers of the federal deficit, conservatives focused on a law they could never undo as long as Mr. Obama is president, several lawmakers said.

“Goose egg, nothing, we got nothing,” said Representative Thomas H. Massie, Republican of Kentucky.

Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina took a swipe at his fellow Republican senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, as well as House members who linked government financing to defunding the health care law, which is financed by its own designated revenues and spending cuts.

“Let’s just say sometimes learning what can’t be accomplished is an important long-term thing,” Mr. Burr said, “and hopefully for some of the members they’ve learned it’s impossible to defund mandatory programs by shutting down the federal government.”

While Mr. Cruz conceded defeat, he did not express contrition.

“Unfortunately, the Washington establishment is failing to listen to the American people,” he said as he emerged from a meeting of Senate Republicans called to ratify the agreement.

For hundreds of thousands of federal workers across the country furloughed from their jobs, the legislative deal meant an abrupt end to their forced vacation as the government comes back to life beginning Thursday.

In a statement late Wednesday, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, made the reopening official.

“Employees should expect to return to work in the morning,” she said, adding they should check news reports and the Office of Personnel Management’s Web site for updates.

For Mr. Boehner, who had failed to unite his conference around a workable plan, Wednesday’s decision to take up the Senate bill proved surprisingly free of conflict. Hard-line Republican lawmakers largely rallied around the speaker.

Representative Raúl R. Labrador of Idaho, said he was “really proud” of how Mr. Boehner had handled the situation. “I’m more upset with my Republican conference, to be honest with you,” he said.

Michael D. Shear contributed reporting.

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Republicans Have Been Crushed and Humiliated Because President Obama Said No

By: Jason Easley
Wednesday, October 16th, 2013, 2:01 pm
PoliticusUSA

The fact of the matter is that it wasn’t Ted Cruz or John Boehner who caused the latest Republican crushing defeat. It was President Obama steadfastly saying no.

The seeds of the most embarrassing Republican defeat in decades were planted when congressional Republicans and their corporate billionaires made the mistake of misjudging President Obama’s character.

Republicans have long been torn on Obama. Republicans alternate between paranoid visions of the president as some sort of socialist superman who is out to destroy America, and the idea that the president is a weak and inept bumbler. When the Koch brothers and congressional Republicans got together in January to plot their government shutdown strategy, they fatally made the decision that Obama could be bullied. This would turn out to be their greatest miscalculation.

Jim DeMint, Ted Cruz, and the right wing billionaires knew that they could bully Boehner and the House leadership. They spent the month of August doing exactly that through a series of pressure tactics and political ads. (Cruz and DeMint tried the same strategy in the Senate, but all they got for their efforts was a whole lot of new enemies within their own party.) After they had successfully deposed John Boehner as Speaker of the House, the Cruz coup machine thought that they could easily bend the President of the United States to their will by threatening to destroy the economy.

Sen. Cruz stuck to this gameplan until the very end. Cruz thought that he could splinter the Democratic Party by targeting red state Democrats with a tidal wave of anti-ACA outrage. It was going to be 2010 all over again. Once the red state Democrats cried for mercy, the Democratic Party would fracture, and Obama would weakly sign the death certificate for his own signature legislative achievement.

The Cruz fantasy was based on the caricature of President Obama that is prevalent in conservative media. However, the real Obama, like most second term incumbents, had grown into and mastered the power of the presidency. Unbound from concerns about reelection, President Obama was free to do the one that he was not able to do in 2011. Barack Obama was free to say no.

If Obama would have said no back in 2011 and caused the nation to default, we would be talking about President Romney today. What Cruz and company never comprehended was that once President Obama won reelection, the scales of power tipped. A group of House Republicans assumed that they held all the cards. After all, they controlled whether or not the government stayed open and if the nation defaulted. They assumed that President Obama would have to see this and give in.

President Obama and Majority Leader Harry Reid saw the opposite. They viewed this as a disincentive to give the Republicans anything. As soon as the House Republicans made harming the ACA their top demand, the Democratic Party expressed a solitary resolve and said no, but the president had the power to override them and make a deal.

This president wouldn’t make a deal. He said no. He said no daily. He said no everytime that he was asked. The Republicans were stunned. They always assumed that President Obama would never play the game on their level. Obama was supposed to be an aloof president who liked to stay above the fray, but here he was saying no.

The government shutdown came, and Obama still said no. Days turned into weeks, and the president’s answer was always the same. He’d be happy to talk, but first the Republicans had to do their jobs by opening the government and raising the debt ceiling. The president was never unreasonable, but he was unyielding.

President Obama was the backbone of the Democratic stance. Harry Reid and Senate Democrats were the heart, but Obama was the steel spine. Obama made the Republicans blink first and cave to his will.

President Obama deserves credit. Obama has redefined the perception of his presidency. He has made it clear that if Republicans want to shutdown the government in January or risk default in February 2014, he is going to make them pay a heavy political price.

The Republican Party has been damaged, crushed, and humiliated all because President Obama kept saying no.

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Petition Demands that John Boehner and Ted Cruz Be Tried for Seditious Conspiracy

By: Tim From LA
Wednesday, October 16th, 2013, 6:35 pm
PoliticusUSA

With the closing of the government, costing us millions if not billions of dollars, there may be a little caveat that even the Congress cannot ignore or face prison 18 USC § 2384 – Seditious conspiracy. The law reads:

    If two or more persons in any State or Territory, or in any place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof, they shall each be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both.

Since John Boehner and his Tea Party members have conspired to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, they are in violation of the law. Just because they are the lawmakers, they are not immune to their own laws. Still public pressure is needed to enforce 18 USC § 2384. Just because Boehner et al may not agree on certain issues, the role of government MUST be kept going, instead of shutting down the government and sitting in a fetal position clutching their toys.

The Republicans are realizing that their popularity is failing badly and may go the way of the Whig; are shifting the blame from them to the Democratic Party by telling WWII vets that because they are not cutting benefits and giving the 1% their tax breaks, the monuments dedicated to them are closed. U.S. Veterans are angered and the Republicans are grasping at straws. So how do the grassroots end this partisan stalemate? By collectively demanding every law enforcement: local/county, state and federal to enforce 18 USC § 2384 or face 18 USC § 4 – Misprision of felony charges themselves.

18 USC § 4 – Misprision of felony reads:

    Whoever, having knowledge of the actual commission of a felony cognizable by a court of the United States, conceals and does not as soon as possible make known the same to some judge or other person in civil or military authority under the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

Since 18 USC § 2384 or Seditious conspiracy is a federal felony, We the People can actually walk to any law enforcement agency, who also enforce federal laws, demand the arrest of the Republicans in Congress under 18 USC § 4 because of their violation of 18 USC § 2384. Logically, it will be impossible to make such arrest as an individual, but collectively, we can make a difference. There is a petition floating around demanding such justice. It is called: Prosecute The Conspirators Who Plotted The Government Shutdown In Violation Of 18 USC § 2384.

By signing the petition as well as doing grassroots work of enforcing 18 USC § 2384, by compelling law enforcement using 18 USC § 4 – Misprision of felony, the shut down may end. Impossible? It’s more plausible to arrest the right wingers in Congress and create a political shake up than arming yourself with thousands of round of ammunition and going up against the Department of Defense as well as the Department of Justice… sadly look at Waco Texas.

We as citizens of the United States on both sides of the aisle must work together to force the Republicans to allow the government to work at full-speed. Ironically, the right-leaning states who rely on government support will be hit the hardest, and the people are realizing that President Obama cannot control this madness.

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Meet The 18 Senate Republicans Voted to Crash The Economy By Causing a Default

By: Jason Easley
Wednesday, October 16th, 2013, 8:22 pm
PoliticusUSA

When the given the choice of voting for raising the debt ceiling or a default, 18 Senate Republicans chose to vote in favor of destroying the US economy.

The final vote was 81-18, but it is amazing that 18 Republican senators would vote no.

The 18 Republicans who voted for a default were Coburn, Cornyn, Crapo, Cruz,Enzi, Grassley, Heller, Johnson-WI, Lee, Paul, Risch, Roberts, Rubio, Scott, Sessions, Shelby, Toomey, and Vitter.

Ted Cruz took the Senate floor to repeat his comments from earlier in the day, and urge his colleagues to cause a default by voting against the bipartisan agreement. Cruz criticized the Senate, “I am saddened to say that today, the Senate did nothing to help them. Washington did nothing. This town has created all the problems they are facing and refuses to do a single thing about it.”

On the Senate floor, Mike Lee vowed to keep fighting, “Today, Washington has the upper hand, but the American people will always have the last word. This is not over. We have an obligation to fight for the American people. And I do not intend to let the people down.”

When these senators were given an opportunity to show unity by voting for reopening the government and raising the debt ceiling, they voted no. It didn’t matter to them that a no vote was actually a vote in favor of causing a global economic crisis.

Of course, these senators — especially the ones eying up a 2016 run at the White House — were playing politics. If anyone seriously believes that the Republicans have learned anything from this fiasco, the fact that 18 Republicans still voted in favor of a default after taking a political beating over a government shutdown should shatter the dreams that this short term agreement will bring a time of political stability.

No one should be surprised if sometime in early 2014, the nation is pushed to the brink again. The right wing ideologues haven’t learned anything, because for them threatening to destroying the US economy is considered good politics.

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Country Last: 144 House Republicans Voted To Destroy The US Economy With a Default

By: Jason Easley
Wednesday, October 16th, 2013, 10:28 pm
PoliticusUSA

Now we know how many House Republicans want to destroy the US economy. 144 House Republicans voted for default, and against raising the debt limit.

House Republicans finally waved the white flag of surrender by passing the Democratic bill to raise the debt limit and reopen the government, 285-144.

144 House Republicans voted against raising the debt limit and for default. 85 Republicans voted for raising the debt limit and opening the government. Nancy Pelosi delivered all the Democrats in support of the bill.

Pelosi was no fan of the legislation. She called the spending levels too low, but she urged House Democrats to vote for passage. During the 30 minutes of debate before the final vote, House Republicans continued to rant and rave against everything from Obamacare to raising the debt ceiling, but like the ramblings of an old man yelling at cars on a busy street corner, no one gave them much attention.

Everyone knew that this was the end for the House Republicans. Their boastful floor speeches about defunding the ACA had melted into the bitter complaining of those too delusional to understand why they were defeated. If anything was made clear today, it was that House and Senate Republicans have learned nothing.

I suspect that the upcoming budget conference may go nowhere. Paul Ryan may stomp off in a huff after Patty Murray tells him that The Fountainhead is not a budgetary document. The country may find itself back in this very same position in January or February of 2014. The message to all Democrats is that they are going to have to remain united, and stay prepared to confront the same House Republicans again in a few months.

These House Republicans will be plotting from this moment forward to defund or repeal the ACA. They are obsessed with the healthcare reform law. They aren’t going to stop, just because Democrats stood up to them once.

The ultimate humiliation for John Boehner was that he not only had to pass a clean CR and increase in the debt ceiling, but that he passed a bill that was written by Senate Democrats. House Republicans remained absolutely blind to the needs of the country that they are supposed to be serving. These 144 members of the House love to wrap themselves in the flag, but the flag they were wearing tonight was definitely not the Red, White, and Blue.

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Bernie Sanders, ‘Extremists Like Cruz Have Already Done This Country Irreparable Harm.’

By: Jason Easley
Wednesday, October 16th, 2013, 5:03 pm
PoliticusUSA

Sen. Bernie Sanders is warning that Sen. Ted Cruz has already harmed the country. Sanders said, ‘The right wing extremists like Cruz have already done this country irreparable harm.’

MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts asked Sen. Sanders if he thought Ted Cruz was going to muck up the works. Sanders answered, “I have no idea, but all I can say is that the right wing extremists like Cruz have already done this country irreparable harm. All of the world, people are looking at the strongest economy in the world, at the international leader, and they are saying what is going on in this country. And I think it’s going to take us many, many years on the international level to recover from this fiasco.”

Now that a deal is finally in place, it is time to think about much damage Cruz and the Republican Party have caused this country. There will not be a full accounting of the economic damage caused by the Republican shutdown and debt ceiling threats for months, but a rough estimate by Think Progress suggested that the shutdown had cost the economy $2 billion one week ago. Double that number plus a bit more and it looks like the shutdown has cost the economy between $4-$5 billion.

Ted Cruz unleashed the equivalent of a natural disaster on the U.S. economy, and the end result will be that the Republicans will pass the same legislation that they could have passed before they shutdown the government.

Sen. Sanders other point was that this shutdown was also a waste of time. Instead of debating serious issues, the country has spent weeks catering to extremists who decided that they wanted to shutdown the government, and not pay our bills.

The only things accomplished by the government shutdown are that Sen. Cruz has raised a few million dollars and his national profile before the 2016 election. Sen. Sanders was right. Each manufactured Republican crisis hurts the global credibility of the United States of America. Republicans think they are hurting Obama and scoring political points, but they are damaging the credibility of the entire country.

Since they no longer have the ability to start wars in our name, Republicans have moved on to destroying our credit and credibility. Long after this latest debt ceiling deal is history, the damage caused to the national economy by Ted Cruz and his extremist political cult will live on.

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Things Are So Bad for GOP That Conservatives Are Rooting for Dems To Take Back the House

By: Sarah Jones
Wednesday, October 16th, 2013, 2:50 pm
PoliticusUSA

Things are so bad in Dreher’s mind that he writes that he can’t believe he’s saying this, “but I hope the House flips to the Democrats in 2014, so we can be rid of these nuts. Let Ted Cruz sit in the Senate stewing in his precious bodily fluids, and let Washington get back to the business of governing.”

There’s more. The conservative pundit was less than impressed that his party was destroying the portfolios of hard working Americans who have been saving their money all because they refused to pay our debt.

Yes, Dreher has the intellectual honesty to admit that it is not conservative to refuse to pay your bills. He also correctly notes that standing against food stamps for the poor is not a Christian value. I note that he has suggested that people who want to live traditional moral values might want to live in “intentional communities”, which sound a lot like the kind of communities raging liberals endorse where resources are shared, so that would be an interesting debate – maybe “traditional” values are actually close to the values Jesus advocated for, after all, and are not actually determined by the amount of gay hate one spouts. Huh.

But Dreher was most appalled by the fact that House Republicans sang Amazing Grace yesterday as they stood firm against fiscal responsibility and the American people:

From the American Conservative:

    The Republican Party has driven the country to the brink, and this morning, House Republicans bolstered their ranks by … standing together and singing Amazing Grace. It’s Strangelovian. Maybe there won’t be a long-term fallout from this, but I tell you, it’s very hard to see entrusting power to a party that behaves this way, that manufactures crises like this for its own short-term political gain. The Republicans, having lost their mind, have destroyed their brand.

    Amazing Grace. They cause this looming disaster — which, make no mistake, would be a global disaster — and then stand there singing a freaking hymn amid the ruins of their party, and the potential crash of our economy! Raving loonies, the lot.

A new PPP poll shows that Mr. Dreher is not alone among conservative Republicans, “(V)oters strongly opposed to the shutdown in every state we polled, even though most of them voted for Mitt Romney last year.”

Dreher’s column makes clear a point that’s been driving me nuts. We are not debating ideology here. We are at war with a corporate coup attempt over our Government masquerading as the GOP.

Their agenda has nothing to do with traditional “conservatism”. They’ve allied themselves with racists and bigots because it’s hard to sell corporate policies that hurt the very people they need to vote for them unless the policies are disguised well. It’s hard to keep things disguised among the informed, who tend to be less bigoted because they know that power tries to divide the people against one another for a reason.

Have I been unrelenting in my criticism of the modern day Republican Party? Yes. But it’s not because I don’t appreciate the value of a good debate with a real conservative. I personally value fiscal conservatism. But I don’t see that in the GOP. In fact, for fiscal responsibility, President Obama wins.

I know that hurts Republicans, but if they face it, they can start the process of getting better.

I criticize because Republicans have let their party be taken over by corporations and big money, which is why their messages are so ridiculous and contradictory, and why they are represented by people like Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin – sociopathic con artists of the highest order, taking advantage of the misinformed and vulnerable.

The Republican Party should listen to criticism from conservatives like Rod Dreher if they want to save their party. Traditionalism and conservatism have an important role to play in our national debate. But bigotry and corporate whoredom dressed up as “traditional values” do not.

In the end, though, what’s really happening is a realignment of values and labels for those values. What Dreher describes as conservative is, in many ways, the modern day Democratic Party. A party based on the values of tolerance and taking care of our most vulnerable, fiscal conservatism (paying for “social” programs passed), and upholding American values like equal opportunities for all who are willing to work hard.

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Southern Democrats Outraise Republicans in Nearly Every Competitive Senate Contest

By: Sarah Jones
Wednesday, October 16th, 2013, 12:28 pm
PoliticusUSA

“In nearly every competitive Senate contest, southern Democrats outraised their Republican counterparts this quarter,” reported National Journal. These numbers are for the quarter, which ran from July 1- September 30, they reflect money raised before the Republican government shutdown and GOP threat to default.

Sarah Mimms at the National Journal reported:

    In nearly every competitive Senate contest, southern Democrats outraised their Republican counterparts this quarter, which ran from July 1 to September 30. The South will be home to some of the party’s most difficult races next year, including three vulnerable Democratic-held seats they’re trying to hang onto — in Louisiana, Arkansas and North Carolina — and two potential, if difficult, pickup opportunities in Kentucky and Georgia.

    Two of the party’s most vulnerable incumbents, Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu and North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan both outraised their top Republican challengers by more than a two-to-one margin. Landrieu raised $1.35 million in the third quarter, while Rep. Bill Cassidy brought in around $700,000, according to their respective campaigns. Hagan, meanwhile, raised nearly $1.9 million, while North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis, the current frontrunner for the Republican nomination, brought in about $700,000 as well.

The Democratic challenger to Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Alison Grimes, raised more money than McConnell in the third quarter:

    Lundergan Grimes reported raising a total of $2.5 million from July to the end of September while McConnell raised $2.3 million. McConnell’s campaign manager, Jesse Benton, said that fundraising quarter was his best so far, according to the Associated Press. Grimes’s campaign said 13,328 unique contributors donated to her campaign.

Of course, McConnell as the long time incumbent has more cash on hand than Grimes, $10 million to her estimated $2 million.

“She’d better get busy. She said she needs $25 or 30 million to beat him, and at this fundraising clip, she’s not going to get that much,” said WDRB columnist John David Dyche.

Outraising doesn’t translate to winning an election, but it’s a good start.

It’s tough to say how the Republican shutdown and default threat will impact the races. McConnell released a radio ad blaming Democrats for it, so clearly it’s not something he wants to own at home. Even Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) is being eviscerated at home for his shutdown antics.

It’s not good news for Republicans that even Southern Democrats are outraised them in the third quarter, and it’s even worse news that this happened before the government shutdown, which started October 1 (funding ended September 30). Without the South, the Republican Party is officially dead.

The GOP has been relying on the Southern strategy for so long that for the last few election cycles, they had to face the inevitable results of that strategy — a shrinking tent, a reputation for bigotry, and an alliance with noxious brands like the KKK, the Birchers/Birthers/Tea Partiers, and the Confederate flag.

If they lose the South, it’s over.

Maybe the South will actually rise again one day, to be less of a breeding ground for poverty, less dependent upon the federal government and more labor/middle class friendly.

The South is full of good people, who deserve better than the government they currently have that tells them to pray when they’re starving (Mark Sanford). They deserve policies that will reward hard work instead of functioning to keep the privileged status quo. Who knows, stranger things have happened.

Update: A new PPP poll shows that the shutdown will make taking the senate back much harder for Republicans.

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

October 16, 2013 03:00 PM

Historian: Tea Party Rise Tied to 'Continuing Abandonment' Of Responsibility By Media

By Susie Madrak
CrooksAndLiars

Historian Sean Wilentz, in the latest issue of Rolling Stone, looks at the history of Republican extremism. But this is the part that struck me, because it aligns so closely with why Crooks and Liars exists:

    How has a faction consisting of no more than four dozen House members come to exercise so much destructive power? The continuing abandonment of professional responsibilities by the nation's mainstream news sources – including most of the metropolitan daily newspapers and the television outlets, network and cable – has had a great deal to do with it. At some point over the past 40 years, the bedrock principle of journalistic objectivity became twisted into the craven idea of false equivalency, whereby blatant falsehoods get reported simply as one side of an argument and receive equal weight with the reported argument of the other side.

    There is no shortage of explanations for the press's abdication: intimidation at the rise of Fox News and other propaganda operations; a deep confusion about the difference between hard-won objectivity and a lazy, counterfeit neutrality; and the poisonous effects of the postmodern axiom that truth, especially in politics, is a relative thing, depending on your perspective in a tweet. Whatever the explanation, today's journalism has trashed the tradition of fearless, factual reporting pioneered by Walter Lippmann, Edward R. Murrow and Anthony Lewis.

    A press devoted to searching for and reporting the truth, wherever it might lead, would have kept the public better informed of the basic details of the government shutdown and debt-ceiling showdowns. It also would have reported seriously the hard truths of the Tea Party "insurgency," including how it was largely created and has since been bankrolled by oil-and-gas moguls like David and Charles Koch of Koch Industries, and by a panoply of richly endowed right-wing pressure groups like Dick Armey's FreedomWorks and Jim DeMint's Heritage Foundation. It also would have reported on the basic reason for the hard right's growing domination of the Republican Party, which has been the decay of the party at every level, including what passes for its party leadership. No figure exemplifies the problem better than the GOP's highest-ranking official, Speaker John Boehner, whose background and politics have largely escaped scrutiny.

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October 16, 2013 06:00 PM

NBC News Designates Liberals as 'Bleeding Hearts' In New Poll

By John Amato
CrooksAndLiars

It's bad enough when David Gregory and other news programs use false equivalency narratives to paint the left as being as radical as the Tea party is, but then they flatout show their utter Beltway contempt for liberals in their new NBC/Esquire feature poll: The New American Center. I didn't see these ideological designations in the Esquire article on the poll, but Chuck Todd and NBC sure flogged it all day yesterday.

In their eyes, conservatives are the 'Righteous Right,' while liberals are 'Bleeding Hearts.' Isn't that an adequate description of both parties? One party is bleeding all over your floor defending trees over humans and the other party has been graced by GOD to always do the right thing. Their breakdown of the second part of the left was almost as ridiculous. Did you know we have a 'Gospel Left' section in the left? WTF is that anyway? They adequately designate other righties as the 'Talk Radio Heads.'

Check out Chuck Todd explaining how the New (yet again) Middle has emerged to tell both political parties what to do, again. And how bleeding hearts are losing out in the big political picture.

The New American Center: Why our nation isn't as divided as we think

A new NBC News/Esquire poll shows that a majority of Americans are now in the political center. NBC News political director Chuck Todd discusses the findings with Matt Lauer.

By Tony Dokoupil, Senior Staff Writer, NBC News

It’s the most conventional wisdom in Washington, the unchallenged idea that America is a divided nation, a country ripped into red and blue factions in perpetual conflict. The government shutdown this fall would seem like only the latest evidence of this political civil war. But is the idea of two Americas even true? Not according to a new Esquire-NBC News survey.

At the center of national sentiment there’s no longer a chasm but a common ground where a diverse and growing majority - 51 percent  - is bound by a surprising set of shared ideas.

“Just because Washington is polarized doesn’t mean America is,” says Robert Blizzard, a partner at Public Opinion Strategies, the lead pollster for Mitt Romney in 2012. His firm co-created the survey with the Benenson Strategy Group, pollsters for President Obama, and the result is a nation in eight distinct segments: two on the far right ("The Righteous Right" and "The Talk Radio Heads"), two on the far left ("The Bleeding Hearts" and "The Gospel Left"), and four in the middle that represent nothing less than a new American center ("Minivan Moderates," "The MBA Middle," "The Pick-up Populists, and "The #WhateverMan.")

The people of the center are patriotic and proud, with a strong majority (66 percent) saying that America is still the greatest country in the world, and most (54 percent) calling it a model that other countries should emulate. But the center is also very nervous about the future, overwhelmingly saying that America can no longer afford to spend money on foreign aid (81 percent) when we need to build up our own country.

Pluralities believe that the political system is broken (49 percent), and the economy is bad (50 percent) and likely to stay that way a while (41 percent). Majorities fear another 9/11 or Boston-style bombing is likely (70 percent), and that their children’s lives will be more difficult than their own (62 percent), which are either stuck in place or getting worse (84 percent) — while the rich keep getting richer at the expense of everyone else (70 percent).   

The new American center has a socially progressive streak, supporting gay marriage (64 percent), the right to an abortion for any reason within the first trimester (63 percent), and legalized marijuana (52 percent). Women, workers and the marginal would also benefit if the center had its way, supporting paid sick leave (62 percent); paid maternity leave (70 percent); tax-subsidized childcare to help women return to work (57 percent); and a federal minimum wage hike to no less than $10 per hour (67 percent).

But the center leans rightward on the environment, capital punishment, and diversity programs. Majorities support offshore drilling (81 percent) and the death penalty (64 percent), and the end of affirmative action in hiring and education (57 percent). Most people in the center believe respect for minority rights has gone overboard, in general, harming the majority in the process (63 percent). And just one in four support immigration reforms that would provide a path to citizenship for those who came here illegally.

Explore Esquire magazine's coverage of the exclusive survey. 

Such data provide the richest and most useful portrait available of the modern political mind, complete with hidden affinities primed to sway elections in 2014, 2016 and beyond. “All you hear in Washington is that there’s nothing in the middle of the aisle,” said Daniel Franklin, a principal at the Benenson Strategy Group and Obama’s pollster during the 2012 campaigns. “But it turns out that’s not true. We have a massive American center, and it’s probably been there for years, just waiting to be found.”

But Washington beware: The people of the new American center aren’t united by easy labels. Some are Republicans (28 percent). Others are Democrats (36 percent). Still others are Independents (36 percent). The people of the center self-describe as liberals (20 percent), conservatives (25 percent), moderates (55 percent) — and 15 percent support the Tea Party.

Culturally, the center could be the butt of any joke in America, with lives that encompass Duck Dynasty and NPR, baby arugula and all-you-can eat Fridays. The center includes suburban mothers, rural working class men, rich city-dwelling business-people and relatively disaffected young people.

Yes, the center is mostly white (78 percent) but so is most of the American voting public (72 percent) — and the center is changing. Already it contains a fifth of African-American voters, one in two Latino voters, and half the women in America. The center is roomy, or in other words, welcoming.

The much-exaggerated death of the center can be traced to the 2000 presidential race, and its famous election night map: the endlessly red heartland, bracketed by blue on the coasts. Pundits rushed in with polls and data, declaring the arrival of two tribes driven apart by geography, cultural and cynical campaigns.

But the problem was partly an artifact of the polls themselves, which shunted voters into dueling camps, emphasizing difference and measuring ideology in relation to political parties. The Esquire-NBC News survey, conducted nationwide with 2,410 registered voters, took a less common approach to the electorate, measuring a range of opinion, searching for overlap and gauging ideology by issue, not party (see "Methodology," below).

Read the full survey results, take an interactive quiz to learn your own ideological niche, or read deeper dives into the crack-up of American optimism, the rise of class as a national concern and the complexities facing both parties in the run-up to 2016.

Bottom line: The center is real, passionate and persuadable. It leans Democratic but a majority of those in the center agree with a mix of Republican and Democratic ideas, and about the same percentage self-describe as neither liberal nor conservative.

The center, in other words, is ready to swing — and in the years ahead a nimble political platform could swing along with it.


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« Reply #9392 on: Oct 18, 2013, 05:36 AM »

PIG PUTIN'S RUSSIA ....

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
10/17/2013 06:48 PM

Organized Crime: Moscow Protests Spark Crackdown on Markets

By Benjamin Bidder

Following the alleged murder of a young Russian by a foreigner, angry protesters rioted at a nearby wholesale market known to employ immigrants. Now authorities have cracked down on the market, believed to be controlled by criminal gangs.

When the TV cameras arrive at the huge Pokrovskaya fruit and vegetable market in Moscow, those who are really in control of the market send their saleswomen out to talk to the reporters, while they watch from a distance in their dark SUVs.

The women talk about tomatoes from southern Russia and grapes from Moldova. Moscow authorities have kept the market closed for the past few days, and plans are to keep it closed much longer.

Larissa, a farmer's wife from Astrakhan, wanted to sell her harvest in Moscow. "I've got 13 tons of red bell peppers in the truck, and they've been rotting there since Sunday," she said.

That's when an angry crowd of residents from the nearby West Biryulyovo district and aggressive neo-Nazis from other areas stormed the market. The trigger was the death of a young man named Yegor Sherbakov, who was knifed in the immediate vicinity of the market.

Witnesses described the alleged perpetrator as a "non-Russian." An Azerbaijani man has been arrested for the crime, and Russian officials say he confessed to killing the man in self-defense.

But to many it seemed obvious that the murderer would be connected to the wholesale market. Gangs originating in Central Asia and the Caucasus have controlled the fruit and vegetable trade in Moscow for the past two decades and Pokrovksaya is the largest of the Russian capital's wholesale markets. The complex extends over 35 hectares (86 acres) and has over 1,600 spaces for trucks to park. Some 40 to 50 percent of all Moscow vegetable deliveries pass through Pokrovskaya, with annual sales of $9 billion (€6.6 billion).

Risky and Lucrative

It's a lucrative business. Moscow fruit and vegetable prices are on average significantly higher than those in Germany. One reason for the higher prices might be the cuts demanded by criminal intermediaries. Merchants are obligated to pay the mafia 100,000 rubles ($3130) per ton they process. But the risks are as high as the profits. Since 2007 approximately 20 murders have been considered linked to the struggle for control of Pokrovskaya.

In a bid to control public anger following the riots, hundreds of police were dispatched to raid the market, backed up by armored vehicles. About 1,200 migrant workers were temporarily detained and when they were searched investigators found some knives and pellet guns. Public health authorities initially closed the market for a "cleaning day," which was later extended to five days. On Wednesday, that was extended to 90 days.

This enrages Larissa, who is waiting at the market gates to sell her vegetables. "We condemn the murder like everyone else," she says, "but why should we suffer for a deed that has nothing to do with the market?"

Initial investigation results seem to support that theory. Russian television broadcast images of Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev viewing the suspects. The man arrested for the crime is a native of Azerbaijan who had worked as a taxi driver. Kolokoltsev says his arrest proves that "the police are capable of meeting the tasks expected of them by the people."

Unclear Ownership

It will be far harder for Russian authorities to reorganize Moscow's wholesale markets than it was to arrest a suspect in the killing, but that reorganization is something which has long been demanded by wide portions of the public.

The ownership of such markets is often unclear: Officially Pokrovskaya belongs to two businessmen from Dagestan, Aliaskhab Gajiev and Igor Isayev. Recent reports that the two are brothers, despite different last names, led to considerable surprise in Moscow. The Russian edition of "Forbes" reports that Isayev had changed his last name because it was featured in police databases. Neither has commented publicly since the riots.

Magomed Tolboyev, a former test pilot for the Soviet "Buran" space shuttle project, a recipient of the country's highest honor and the "honorary president" of the market, came forward as a spokesperson for the market. Tolboyev is a proven networker: during the last presidential election he acted as one of Vladimir Putin's 500 official representatives.

But while Tolboyev represents the Pokrovskaya market to the outside world, the true beneficiaries of the business are likely to be "thieves-in-law," as mafia bosses are known in Russia. Last year authorities apprehended a gang that had kidnapped market traders for ransom. Incidents like these have led the Moscow press to brand the market a "black hole."

A Bloody Struggle for Control

Criminal gangs have been engaged in a bloody struggle for control of the Pokrovskaya market for years. In 2007, Raguf Rustamov, who controlled Pokrovskaya at the time, was hit by eight bullets in a Moscow café and survived before escaping to Baku, where he was eventually murdered.

Pokrovskaya's current bosses also have their opponents. In 2011 Ilgar Jabrailov, an associate of the influential Moscow mob boss Aslan Usoyan, tried to gain control of the market. However, Jabrailov failed and was killed in an attack by hitmen in April 2012, as was Usoyan, known as "Uncle Hassan," who was shot by a sniper in central Moscow in early 2013.

For years Moscow authorities seemed unconcerned by what was happening at the Pokrovskaya market. Local residents wrote complaints to no avail, and their complaints were put off with references to the wholesale market as a "strategically important part of the food distribution chain."

That all changed last Sunday. Since then Moscow bureaucrats have tried to outdo each other in discovering infringements of the law at the market. The Investigative Committee has unearthed "serious violations of immigration and labor law," while public health authorities uncovered workers who were handling food without the necessary health permits.

In addition to the temporary closure of the market being extended, it has also been suggested that the market move outside the city limits.

A man in sunglasses standing next to an SUV outside the market introduces himself as Nadir. Asked what would happen if Pokrovskaya fails to reopen, he says: "That would mean war."

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Pussy Riot member resumes hunger strike at Russian penal colony

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, October 18, 2013 6:50 EDT

Pussy Riot punk Nadezhda Tolokonnikova has resumed a hunger strike after being transferred back to her penal colony from hospital, her husband said on Friday.

Tolokonnikova, 23, is serving a two-year sentence in a penal colony in the Mordovia region of central Russia for the band’s protest against President Pig Putin in a Moscow church.

On September 23 she began an eight-day hunger strike demanding to be moved to another penal colony over “slave-labour” conditions. It ended with her being taken to a civilian hospital and placed on a drip.

“Currently Nadezhda is in the sick bay of Penal Colony Number 14 and as she promised earlier, she is resuming her hunger strike over her transfer back to the colony,” her husband Pyotr Verzilov said in a letter sent to AFP.

The regional prison service confirmed Verzilov’s comments, saying in a statement on its website that “on Friday Tolokonnikova wrote a statement saying that she was refusing to take food.”

It said she had been transferred back to the penal colony from a civilian hospital on Thursday and was now under observation of prison doctors.

Her bandmate Maria Alyokhina, 23, on Friday refused at a court hearing to proceed with a request for a softening of her punishment. She said she was doing this in solidarity with Tolokonnikova.

Tolokonnikova began last month’s hunger strike after releasing a letter complaining that women at the penal colony were treated like “slaves” and worked 17-hour days in a sewing workshop.

Tolokonnikova also said the deputy prison governor had hinted she could be killed by inmates if she complained about abuses.

The two women, both of whom have young children, are due to be released in March.

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Pussy Riot member withdraws plea for early prison release

Maria Alyokhina declines to participate in court hearing in show of support for bandmate who has been on hunger strike

Reuters in Nizhny Novgorod
theguardian.com, Friday 18 October 2013 11.01 BST   

The jailed Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina has withdrawn her plea for an early release in a show of support for a bandmate who is in hospital after going on hunger strike to protest over prison conditions.

Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova are serving two-year sentences for what critics termed a profanity-laden protest against Pig Putin in Moscow's main cathedral.

"I do not have any moral right to take part in this court hearing at a time when my friend and fellow convict Nadezhda Tolokonnikova does not have such opportunity," Alyokhina told the court in Nizhny Novgorod. "She is currently in hospital or back in that same prison which we have heard horrible things about."

Tolokonnikova was admitted to a prison hospital last month after going on a hunger strike to protest against what she called "slave labour" at Corrective Colony No 14 in the Mordovia region, south-east of Moscow, where she is serving her sentence.

Tolokonnikova and two other band members were convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for a protest in February 2012 in which they burst into Christ the Saviour Cathedral and prayed to the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of Pig Putin. Kremlin critics say their trial was part of a crackdown on dissent since Putin started a third term at the Kremlin in May 2012.

Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova are both due for release in March. A third band member received a suspended sentence.

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 SPIEGEL ONLINE
10/17/2013 06:07 PM

'Pseudo-Art': Russian Ambassador Slams Wartime Rape Sculpture

The brief appearance of a concrete sculpture in Gdansk last Saturday depicting a Red Army soldier raping a pregnant woman has sparked ire on both the Polish and Russian sides. Now the artist could be facing two years in prison.

He wanted to depict the tragedy and "the whole suffering" of rape victims. But now Jerzy Bohdan Szumczyk is facing up to two years in prison. Prosecutors have launched an investigation into a possible charge of inciting racial or national hatred against the 26-year-old artist, even though his concrete sculpture was only in place for one night. It was erected without permission in the northern port city of Gdansk next to a Soviet tank, a communist-era memorial to Red Army soldiers who liberated the city from Nazi forces in 1945.

The reason for the heated reaction is the theme of Szumczyk's life-sized sculpture: It shows a soldier -- identifiable as Russian by his helmet -- kneeling between the legs of a heavily pregnant woman lying on the ground. He is holding her hair in his left hand as he puts a pistol into her mouth with his right. The title of the piece, "Komm, Frau," is a German phrase meaning "Come, woman."

Police removed the sculpture just a few hours later -- but the deed had already been done. According to the English-language Moscow Times, Russia's ambassador in Warsaw, Alexander Alexeyev, said he was "deeply outraged" and that Szumczyk had "defiled by his pseudo-art the memory of 600,000 Soviet servicemen who gave their lives in the fight for the freedom and the independence of Poland." Alexeyev also called for an "appropriate reaction" from Polish authorities.

The incident has stirred up much controversy in the media and on Internet forums. One person wrote that the sculpture is not an insult to Russian soldiers, but a silent scream of the victim. Others emphasized that sexual violence had occurred on all sides, and not just in World War II.

Journalist Marek Gorlikowski also spoke out critically in a commentary for the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, writing: "Such a monument is absolutely not the way to commemorate the victims of rape." A proper memorial should be established, he added, perhaps at the Museum of World War II in Gdansk, but such nighttime happenings do not do them justice.

Soviet soldiers' rape of women was especially frequent in the last months of the war, although exact figures are unknown. In Gdansk, the victims were largely made up of German women as well as Russians and Poles who had been Nazi prisoners. Before the war, the free city of Gdansk -- or Danzig, in German -- had a mostly German population. In Russia, discussing the crimes of the Red Army during World War II has remained largely taboo.

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

Edward Snowden: I brought no leaked NSA documents to Russia

US whistleblower says he handed over all digital material to journalists he worked with in Hong Kong

Ed Pilkington in New York
theguardian.com, Friday 18 October 2013 09.12 BST   
  
Edward Snowden, the source of US National Security Agency leaks, has said he left all the leaked documents behind when he flew from Hong Kong to Moscow and there is no chance of them falling into the hands of Russian or Chinese authorities.

In an interview with the New York Times, Snowden said he had decided to hand over all digital material to the journalists he had met in Hong Kong because it would not have been in the public interest for him to hold on to copies. "What would be the unique value of personally carrying another copy of materials onward?"

Snowden disputed speculation that he had run the risk of China and Russia gaining access to the secret files. He said he was so familiar with Chinese spying operations, having himself targeted China when he was employed by the NSA, that he knew how to keep the trove secure from them. "There's a 0% chance the Russians or Chinese have received any documents," he said.

The 30-year-old said he had previously been reluctant to disclose that he no longer had the files for fear of exposing the journalists – Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill of the Guardian, and the independent filmmaker Laura Poitras – to greater scrutiny.

Snowden conducted the interview over the past few days, communicating from Russia, where he has been granted a year's asylum, with an NYT journalist in the US via encrypted email. He took the opportunity to try to quash several of the most widely aired criticisms of his actions.

Snowden said he had decided to become a whistleblower and flee America because he had no faith in the internal reporting mechanisms of the US government, which he believed would have destroyed him and buried his message forever.

One of the main criticisms levelled at Snowden by the Obama administration has been that he should have taken up an official complaint within the NSA rather than travelling to Hong Kong to share his concerns about the agency's data dragnet with the Guardian and other news organisations. But Snowden dismissed that option as implausible.

"The system does not work," he said, pointing to the paradox that "you have to report wrongdoing to those most responsible for it". If he had tried to sound the alarm internally, he would have been "discredited and ruined" and the substance of his warnings "would have been buried forever".

Snowden's comments go to the heart of the dichotomy within the Obama administration's policy towards whistleblowers. It has introduced new protections for whistleblowers uncovering corruption and inefficiency, including a presidential order that extends the safeguards to the intelligence services. But contract workers such as Snowden are not protected by the executive order, and the government has pursued official leakers with an aggression rarely seen before.

Eight leakers, including Snowden, have been prosecuted under the 1917 Espionage Act – more than twice the number under all previous presidents combined.

Snowden singled out one of those eight, Thomas Drake, a former senior NSA executive who turned whistleblower, after he became alarmed about the agency's choice of tools for intelligence-gathering. Drake, who was prosecuted but had all the charges dropped, was in Moscow last week to honour Snowden with an award.

The author of the NYT article, James Risen, is himself at odds with the Obama administration. Risen uncovered the original warrantless wiretapping of phone calls by the Bush administration, for which he won a Pulitzer prize. He is under intense pressure to divulge the name of one of his sources at the criminal leak trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA agent who is another of the Espionage Act eight. Risen is refusing to reveal his source, and is likely to appeal right up to the US supreme court.

Snowden said it was a report on the wiretapping programme that Risen uncovered that had first piqued his curiosity.

He said he was shocked when he came across a copy of a classified report from 2009 dealing with the NSA's warrantless wiretapping under Bush. "If the highest officials in government can break the law without fearing punishment or even any repercussions at all, secret powers become tremendously dangerous."

He said his main objection to the NSA dragnet of data was that it was being conducted in secret. "The secret continuance of these programmes represents a far greater danger than their disclosure. It represents a dangerous normalisation of 'governing in the dark', where decisions with enormous public impact occur without any public input."

Snowden would not discuss the conditions of his life in Moscow. His father, Lon Snowden, returned to the US this week from a visit to see him and reported that "he's comfortable, he's happy, and he's absolutely committed to what he has done".

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Greenpeace activist arrested in Russia raises alarm over Arctic Sunrise ship

Dutch engineer of Greenpeace ship tells court that vessel's condition and lack of attention by Russian officials poses risk

Shaun Walker in Murmansk
theguardian.com, Thursday 17 October 2013 16.43 BST     

The Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise being towed into Murmansk after Russian coastguards stormed it
Greenpeace's Arctic Sunrise being towed into Murmansk after Russian coastguards stormed the vessel during a protest over oil drilling. Photo: Igor Podgorny/AFP/Getty

The Greenpeace ship seized by Russian authorities last month poses a threat to its surroundings and needs proper maintenance, according to the ship's chief engineer, who appeared in a Murmansk court on Thursday to request bail so that he could tend to the vessel.

Mannes Ubels was arrested along with 27 other Greenpeace activists and two freelance journalists last month, when armed Russian coastguards stormed the Arctic Sunrise during a protest over offshore oil drilling at the Gazprom-operated Prirazlomnaya rig.

"The condition of the ship is worsening, and the security currently guarding the ship is not taking as good care of it as I would," Ubels, a Dutch national, said via a translator during his court hearing.

Ubels and the other activists are being held in pre-trial detention in the Arctic port of Murmansk, and face charges of piracy, which carries a sentence of 10 to 15 years in prison. The activists come from 18 different countries and include six Britons. Investigators also claim that they found drugs on board the ship and have hinted that new charges could be forthcoming.

All of the activists have been refused bail, despite bail securities being pledged, and the head of Greenpeace International, Kumi Naidoo, offering in an open letter to President Vladimir Putin to come to Russia as a human bail guarantee ahead of trials. On Thursday, 11 Nobel peace laureates also wrote to Putin, calling on him to drop the "excessive" charges of piracy.

Russian officials do not appear ready to compromise, however. On Thursday, a judge at Murmansk regional court turned down the bail appeal from Ubels, saying that while he was not likely to commit further crimes, he was a "flight risk". He also dismissed the suggestion that Ubels needed to be out of prison to maintain the Arctic Sunrise.

The ship has been moored in a military harbour outside Murmansk, but was towed into the city's main port this week after an alarm went off on board. Dmitry Kuzmin, a lawyer for Greenpeace in Murmansk, said on Thursday that 200 tonnes of oil were on board the ship, and the organisation remains worried that left unmanned, the ship poses a risk even when docked. Greenpeace activists do not know why the alarm went off, and are worried that the ship has been left untended.

Ubels wrote a letter to Russian investigators from prison this month, raising alarm over the state of the ship.

"Soon, if not already, the generator that provides the ship's electricity will stop running," Ubels told the judge yesterday in a handwritten letter. "With this, all the ship's main functions will stop working ... The ship will no longer have an alarm system and common leakages of sea water into the engine room will no longer raise alarms."

Ubels was taken to the Arctic Sunrise by Russian officials on one occasion, but told the court that there was not enough time for him to explain everything that was wrong with the ship, and added that basic maintenance tasks were not being carried out.

Martin Groenstege, the Dutch consul in St Petersburg, said: "He [Ubels] told me that he has the feeling that the Russians don't know who is responsible for taking care of the ship.

"The investigative committee says the coastguard is in charge, and the coastguard says the investigative committee is in charge," said Groenstege, who is in Murmansk to provide consular assistance.

In brief remarks after the hearing, Ubels told the Guardian that there was a real chance that the ship could sink.

"If it's not properly monitored, then definitely yes," he said, before being ushered away in handcuffs by guards to the holding facility where he and the other activists are being held pending trial.


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« Reply #9393 on: Oct 18, 2013, 05:38 AM »

French schoolchildren protest at migrant expulsions with Paris march

Anger erupted after 15-year-old Kosovar girl was detained in front of classmates as part of government crackdown

AP in Paris
theguardian.com, Thursday 17 October 2013 14.43 BST  

Hundreds of French teenagers have erected barricades outside their schools and marched through Paris to protest against the police expulsions of immigrant families – including some of their classmates.

A few students clashed with police firing teargas but most marched peacefully, some climbing on bus shelters to shout demands for the interior minister's resignation.

Anger erupted this week over the treatment of a 15-year-old Kosovar girl who was detained in front of classmates on a field trip. The government says eight of her family had been denied asylum and were no longer allowed to stay in France.

Such expulsions occur regularly around France as the government tries to limit illegal immigration. But the treatment of the girl touched a nerve, with critics saying police went too far and betrayed France's image as a champion of human rights.

The students, saying the expulsions are unfair to children, hope to pressure France's Socialist-led government into allowing the girl and a recently expelled Armenian boy to return to France.

At one high school in Paris students piled green garbage cans in front of the entrance and hung a banner saying "Education in danger".

"Everybody should have a chance. Everybody should have a job, work and have a family. When children try to achieve that, France refuses, and that is not my country," said protester Romain Desprez.

The Kosovar girl, Leonarda Dibrani, told the Associated Press from the northern Kosovo city of Mitrovica that she wants to return to France. Activists say her Dibrani family fled Kosovo about five years ago because they are Roma and faced discrimination and few opportunities.

"My home is in France," Dibrani said in French. "I don't speak the language here [in Kosovo] and I don't know anyone. I just want to go back to France and forget everything that happened."

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French mayors can’t refuse to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies because of their religious beliefs: top court

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, October 18, 2013 5:52 EDT

France’s top court ruled Friday that mayors cannot refuse to conduct same-sex marriages on the ground it goes against their religious or moral beliefs.

The Constitutional Council’s ruling followed an appeal by mayors and registrars opposed to pathbreaking legislation legalising gay marriage on May 18.

A five-page judgement said their contention was not valid as the “freedom of conscience” clause they evoked as a constitutional right was not present in the legislation.

The recalcitrant mayors, who claim the backing of some 20,000 elected officials, had claimed the lack of such a clause in the bill goes against the French constitution.

The mayors have said they will take the case to the European Court of Human Rights if they are snubbed in France.


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« Reply #9394 on: Oct 18, 2013, 05:46 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
10/17/2013 06:01 PM

The Exception: How Denmark Saved Its Jews from the Nazis

By Gerhard Spörl

Denmark was the only European country to save almost all of its Jewish residents from the Holocaust. After being tipped off about imminent roundups by prominent Nazis, resisters evacuated the country's 7,000 Jews to Sweden by boat. A new book examines this historical anomaly.

They left at night, thousands of Jewish families, setting out by car, bicycle, streetcar or train. They left the Danish cities they had long called home and fled to the countryside, which was unfamiliar to many of them. Along the way, they found shelter in the homes of friends or business partners, squatted in abandoned summer homes or spent the night with hospitable farmers. "We came across kind and good people, but they had no idea about what was happening at the time," writes Poul Hannover, one of the refugees, about those dark days in which humanity triumphed.

At some point, however, the refugees no longer knew what to do next. Where would they be safe? How were the Nazis attempting to find them? There was no refugee center, no leadership, no organization and exasperatingly little reliable information. But what did exist was the art of improvisation and the helpfulness of many Danes, who now had a chance to prove themselves.

Members of the Danish underground movement emerged who could tell the Jews who was to be trusted. There were police officers who not only looked the other way when the refugees turned up in groups, but also warned them about Nazi checkpoints. And there were skippers who were willing to take the refugees across the Baltic Sea to Sweden in their fishing cutters, boats and sailboats.

A Small Country With a Big Heart

Denmark in October 1943 was a small country with a big heart. It had been under Nazi occupation for three-and-a-half years. And although Denmark was too small to have defended itself militarily, it also refused to be subjugated by the Nazis. The Danes negotiated a privileged status that even enabled them to retain their own government. They assessed their options realistically, but they also set limits on how far they were willing to go to cooperate with the Germans.

The small country defended its democracy, while Germany, a large, warmongering country under Hitler, was satisfied with controlling the country from afar and, from then on, viewed Denmark as a "model protectorate." That was the situation until the summer of 1943, when strikes and acts of sabotage began to cause unrest. This prompted the Germans to threaten Denmark with court martials and, in late August, to declare martial law. The Danish government resigned in protest.

At this point, the deportation and murder of European Jews had already been underway for some time in other countries that had submitted to Nazi control. In the Netherlands, Hungary, Greece, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland, the overwhelming majority of Jews, between 70 and 90 percent of the Jewish population, disappeared and were murdered. The Nazis deported and killed close to half of all Jews in Estonia, Belgium, Norway and Romania. About a fifth of French and Italian Jews died. As historian Peter Longerich writes, the Holocaust was dependent, "to a considerable extent, on the practical cooperation and support of an occupied country or territory."

The Danes provided no assistance to the Nazis in their "Jewish campaign" in Denmark. They viewed the Jews as Danes and placed them under their protection, a story documented in "Countrymen," a new book by Danish author Bo Lidegaard. "The history of the rescue of the Danish Jews," writes Lidegaard, "is only a tiny part of the massive history of the Shoah. But it teaches us a lesson, because it is a story about the survival instinct, civil disobedience and the assistance provided by an entire people when, outranged and angry, it rebelled against the deportation of its fellow Danes."

Ten Years Documenting the Danish Resistance

Lidegaard, born in 1958, is a tall intellectual with many talents. As a diplomat, he represented his country in Geneva and Paris. After that, he served as an adviser to two succeeding Danish prime ministers and, in 2009, he organized the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen. He has been the editor-in-chief of Politiken, Denmark's large, left-liberal daily newspaper, since April 2011.

He worked on his book for 10 years. During a conversation in Hamburg, Lidegaard said that he was interested in finding out why Denmark had wanted to save the Jews -- and why the Nazis allowed them to be saved. Two men played a key role in the affair -- two German Nazis, each with his own story.

One of the Germans was named Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz. He was from a merchant's family in the northern port city of Bremen and joined the Nazi Party in 1932. Duckwitz was a Nazi and an anti-Semite out of conviction. He worked for Alfred Rosenberg, one of Hitler's race ideologues, who was sentenced to death in Nuremberg in 1946 and executed.

Duckwitz gradually developed an aversion to the Nazis' brutishness and bloodlust. Because he was familiar with Denmark from his earlier days and had a fondness for the country, he went to Copenhagen in September 1939, working as a shipping expert for the German Reich's Ministry of Transport.

Germany occupied Denmark on April 9, 1940, but the protectorate was allowed to direct its internal affairs. It kept a certain amount of latitude and rejected the Nazis' demand that it introduce the death penalty and segregate Jews. The country asserted itself as much as it could.

Germany declared Denmark a model for the protectorates that Hitler intended to establish in Western Europe after the end of the war. The Nazis initially sent only 89 officials to the country, and they were responsible for 3.8 million Danes. By contrast, Berlin sent 22,000 officials to France. Unlike France, Denmark was small and had only a small Jewish population. The country also had no raw materials of importance to the war effort. Denmark supplied agricultural products to Germany, but its economic role was relatively small.

An Enemy from Within

Duckwitz wrote a manuscript describing his official and unofficial activities in Copenhagen. The document, which remains in the political archive of the German Foreign Ministry today, both complements and contradicts Lidegaard's account.

Part of Duckwitz's job was to manage German ships calling at Danish ports. He signed agreements with Danish government agencies that regulated "the reciprocal use of tonnage." He was also required to report to Berlin when the Danish underground committed acts of sabotage against ships.

In addition, Duckwitz established ties with Social Democrats and young labor leader Hans Hedtoft, and he assisted Danes who had fallen into the Germans' clutches. Duckwitz's office soon became unofficially known as "the office for rescuing people."

A Nazi himself, Duckwitz became an opponent of the Nazis who simultaneously had good connections in Berlin. The Nazis could hardly have failed to notice the change. They threatened to recall him several times but never followed through.

Duckwitz exemplified what the German philosopher Hannah Arendt called "the role played by the German authorities in Denmark, their obvious sabotage of orders from Berlin," a phenomenon that she found astonishing. "It is the only case we know of in which the Nazis met with open native resistance, and the result seems to have been that those exposed to it changed their minds.

The 'Bloodhound of Paris'
The second German was and remained a staunch Nazi and anti-Semite. Werner Best was a senior official at the Reich Main Security Office, where he worked closely with SS leader Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the agency. But then Best quarreled with Heydrich and fell from favor. He left Berlin and joined the German military administration of France, where he managed the internment and persecution of Jews, earning the nickname "Bloodhound of Paris."

In the summer of 1942, Best was sent to Denmark as Berlin's new plenipotentiary, which made him the highest authority in the protectorate. "Best was to play a key role in the fate of the Danish Jews, but exactly what that role was is still debated today," writes Lidegaard.

Lidegaard believes that Best was an opportunist who, in the fall of 1943, was smart enough to recognize that the war was lost for Germany. He tolerated what Duckwitz was doing, because he assumed that he would be treated more leniently after the war if he had turned a blind eye to Duckwitz's activities. But Duckwitz would have disagreed with Lidegaard. He saw Best as a man who had changed his mind in Copenhagen, in the way Hannah Arendt described.

In his manuscript, Duckwitz writes that the Nazis had intended from the beginning to proceed eventually against the Jews in Denmark. In early September 1943, Best and Duckwitz received word from Berlin that Hitler's cohorts were pushing to have the Danish Jews deported. This prompted Best to take initiative, writes Duckwitz. On Sept. 8, the plenipotentiary sent a telegram to Berlin in which he proposed that the German military, the Wehrmacht, should take action against the Jews in Denmark -- in effect appropriating what had, until then, only been a rumor.

But that was only a trick, suggests the well-meaning Duckwitz, who asserts that Best had believed "that his suggestion to launch a campaign against the Danish Jews would be rejected outright. He saw a great benefit in taking the initiative away from those groups that wanted Hitler to persecute the Jews in Denmark."

As Duckwitz tells it, Best had never meant the Nazis to take up his suggestion. He had bluffed and miscalculated. But Lidegaard doesn't buy that assessment. He believes it was an earnest request.

In any case, the response arrived from Berlin on Sept. 19, 1943. Hitler approved of Best's proposal and had ordered Himmler to execute the plan.

Preempting the 'Jewish Campaign'

Duckwitz promptly notified his Danish informants in the government, among the Social Democrats and within the Jewish community. He traveled to Sweden and told Prime Minister Per Albin Hansson what was about to happen. The Swedish government instructed its envoy in Copenhagen to freely issue passports to Danish Jews and made preparations to accept refugees at home.

The "Jewish Campaign" began on the night of Oct. 1. The German security forces consisted of 1,300 to 1,400 police officers, together with Danish volunteers and the Schalburg Corps, an SS unit consisting of Danes. Several hundred Jews fell into their hands, and 202 were designated for deportation and taken, along with 150 Danish communists, to the Wartheland, a ship with the capacity to hold 5,000 passengers.

Neither the German Wehrmacht nor the police "proved to be especially eager to help the Gestapo hunt down the Danish Jews," writes Lidegaard. The campaign was declared over at 1 a.m., and Best wrote in his report to Berlin that Denmark had been "de-Jewed."

"De-Jewed?" One can hardly assume that the Nazis failed to notice that only a few hundred people had been transported on the large ship, while at the same time, thousands of Jews were fleeing to the coast in order to escape to Sweden. It is also difficult to imagine that Duckwitz's conspiratorial activities remained completely unnoticed in Berlin. So why didn't the Nazis do anything about it?

Denmark simply wasn't that important to them, Lidegaard said during the conversation in Hamburg. Besides, he added, the Nazis knew that the Danes would protect their Jews from mass deportation. They had opted to present Denmark to the world as a model protectorate, so they decided for once to dispense with violent reprisals.

Aftermath

What about Duckwitz and Best? Lidegaard believes they acted in the knowledge that Berlin had only a moderate interest in Denmark. One of the oddities of the Danish situation, he says, is that Adolf Eichmann traveled to Copenhagen in November 1943 and expressed his satisfaction with the "Jewish Campaign."

In the end, 7,742 Jews were able to flee to Sweden across the Baltic Sea. Each of the refugees received government support in Sweden if it was needed. The Danish government also advocated on behalf of those who had been deported. After negotiations with Himmler, 423 Danes were released from the Theresienstadt concentration camp in early 1945.

How many Danish Jews were killed? An estimated 70, or one percent of the country's Jewish population at the time. Denmark is a shining exception in the history of the European Holocaust.

Both Best and Duckwitz survived the war in Copenhagen. Best was arrested, testified in the Nuremberg War Crimes trial and was later extradited to Denmark. The Copenhagen Municipal Court sentenced him to death on Sep. 20, 1948, but in appeal proceedings his sentence was reduced to 12 years in prison. He was given credit for his behavior in the fall of 1943, and in response to pressure from the new German government in Bonn, he was released on Aug. 24, 1951.

After that, he worked in the office of Ernst Achenbach, a politician with the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP), for the rehabilitation of former Nazis. He provided the defense with exonerating material in many Nazi trials without making an appearance himself.

Honor, Dishonor

In Germany, Best lived undisturbed for two decades. Only in the late 1960s did documents and witnesses turn up to shed light on his past in the Reich Main Security Office. But his trial was repeatedly postponed for health reasons. Best, an eternally colorful but sinister figure, died in June 1989.

Duckwitz remained in Copenhagen after the war, initially working as a representative of the West German chambers of commerce. He entered the diplomatic service when the Foreign Ministry was rebuilt in West Germany. He returned to Denmark as the West German ambassador in 1955. Ten years later, he chose to retire early, because he disagreed with Bonn's policy of marginalizing East Germany.

But soon Chancellor Willy Brandt brought him back and made him his chief negotiator for the Treaty of Warsaw, which was designed to reconcile Poles and Germans.

Soon after the end of the war, Denmark honored Duckwitz, the converted Nazi, for his role in the rescue campaign. In 1971, two years before his death, Yad Vashem, Israel's memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, presented him with its "Righteous Among the Nations" award.


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« Reply #9395 on: Oct 18, 2013, 05:51 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
10/17/2013 05:18 PM

Sales Over Safety: Medical Device Makers Battle Tougher EU Laws

By Nicola Kuhrt

The European Parliament is set to vote next week on stricter laws for licensing medical devices. Fearing a drop in sales, manufacturers have launched a major PR and lobbying campaign that exaggerates potential risks to patients.

A terminally ill woman teeters weakly along a hospital corridor. Her face is ashen, and she is wearing a white bathrobe over her diseased body. Her name is Florence. She has to wait three years to receive a life-saving implant merely because some bureaucrats in Brussels want to change the rules governing medical devices. But Florence doesn't have three years left. Her time is running out.

In reality, Florence is an actress. The short film in which she plays a suffering patient can be found on an elaborately produced website called "Don't lose the 3!" The website allows users to send an email to their representative in the European Parliament to protest the allegedly life-threatening plans of the European Union.

Eucomed, the umbrella organization of European medical device companies, is behind the campaign. The organization represents 25,000 manufacturers and suppliers that sell devices such as artificial heart valves, breast implants and stents. As varied as their products are, they are united in the fear that the EU could ruin their business.

The truth is that the Brussels plans will not threaten the health of patients, but they will curtail the use of overly risky medical devices. Nevertheless, the industry's lobbyists have already scored an important victory: In late September, the health care committee of the European Parliament rejected a proposal to introduce a centralized licensing process.

"I've been in Brussels for more than 20 years, but I've never experienced this much pressure from lobbyists," says Dagmar Roth-Behrendt, a Social Democrat from Germany and one of the vice presidents of the European Parliament. As a rapporteur of the parliament, Roth-Behrendt also advocates for the establishment of a central office for medical device licensing within the European Medicines Agency.

Europe 's Loose Licensing Processes

There are currently more than 80 private licensing institutes in Europe. In Germany, for example, both the TÜV and Dekra technical inspection organizations offer licensing services. In other EU member states, the quality of examiners varies widely, and many are relatively docile. Throughout Europe, a manufacturer can freely select the examiner that will license its device. In other words, institutes are discouraged from making their examining processes too stringent lest they risk losing customers.

"The system is very difficult to monitor. We can't even say how many high-risk devices are now on the market," says Deborah Cohen of the British Medical Journal. According to Cohen, it is currently easier to get a dangerous device onto the market in Europe than in the United States, Japan or even China.

In its fight against new rules, the lobbying organization Eucomed claims that stricter licensing takes up too much time -- time that sick people often don't have. According to Eucomed, Europe risks forfeiting one of its key advantages over the United States and China, where it can take years for new devices to reach the market. This is a misleading argument, however, because many devices that are approved for medical use in Germany would not have been approved in the United States in any case owing to its stricter and more time-consuming approval process. In 2012, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a list of the 12 "most unsafe and ineffective medical devices." All of them had already been approved in Europe.

What's more, patients are not left without treatment alternatives owing to stricter regulations. There are almost always more than enough options.

Organized Opposition

The German Medical Technology Association (BVMed) is spearheading the resistance movement in Germany. From his annual budget of €3 million ($4.1 million), BVMed director Joachim M. Schmitt pays for lobbying activities on behalf of member companies, such as Carl Zeiss Meditec, Fresenius and Johnson & Johnson. There are also supporters among chambers of commerce and industry, the German Hospital Federation and the business committee of the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), which often host joint dinners in Brussels.

Medical device manufacturers have also found a sympathetic ear for their complaints in Volker Kauder. The parliamentary floor leader of the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), has his election district in Rottweil-Tuttlingen. Tuttlingen, a tranquil town in the Black Forest, also happens to be home to the corporate headquarters of more than 400 medical device manufacturers, which have joined forces to form "Medical Mountains," a well-known lobbying group. At the "Quality and Safety Initiative -- Endoprosthetics 2013" convention, organized by BVMed, Kauder spoke out against a central, governmental licensing system. He has also spoken on the phone with fellow conservative Peter Liese, who sits on the European Parliament's Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, where he is responsible for the issue.

Following the rejection by the Christian Democrats, the European Parliament is now expected to vote on a lukewarm compromise next Tuesday. Under the proposed rule, in the future, only those licensing institutes that specialize in risky products will be authorized to approve devices such as cardiac pacemakers.

But even that is too much control for many manufacturers. In the hopes of watering down the compromise even more, "Medical Mountains" has invited select lawmakers to a breakfast this week ahead of the vote.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


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« Reply #9396 on: Oct 18, 2013, 05:52 AM »

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10/17/2013 06:25 PM

Moving Ahead: Party Leaders Agree to Start Coalition Talks

Coalition talks can now officially begin as soon as next Wednesday after Chancellor Merkel's conservatives and their rival Social Democrats agreed on Thursday to move forward on building a governing coalition together.

Coalition talks can now officially begin as soon as next Wednesday now that Chancellor Merkel's conservatives and their rival Social Democrats have agreed to move forward on building a governing coalition together.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) have agreed to recommend taking up official talks to form a coalition government, party leaders said on Thursday afternoon.

"Beginning coalition negotiations makes sense," SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel told the press after the two parties concluded their third round of exploratory discussions. "We believe that we can find a common foundation with the CDU."

Though no concrete compromises on the parties' differences have yet been made, the SPD delegation decided unanimously to move forward with coalition talks, he added.

The next meeting could be as soon as next Wednesday if both party committees agree on taking the next step in creating a so-called grand coalition.

Horst Seehofer, head of the CDU's Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), said he was also quite happy with the result of Thursday's meeting.

'Mutual Trust'

The two parties must still reach an agreement on contentious issues such as the introduction of a minimum wage and tax levels, but CDU General Secretary Hermann Gröhe said that "paths to agreement" are at hand.

"Today's discussions were marked by mutual trust," said Gröhe's SPD counterpart Alexander Dobrindt. "We have the impression that we can find solutions to these big issues during coalition talks."

Before Thursday's talks began, there had already been some clear signals that both sides may be willing to compromise. Conservative leaders said they might agree to institute a minimum wage in exchange for no new taxes, while SPD leaders indicated this might indeed be an option.

Merkel's only option is forming a grand coalition after talks with the environmentalist Greens broke down on Wednesday. The chancellor said last week she wants to know by Oct. 22 which party she will be entering formal coalition talks with -- that's when the newly elected Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament, assembles for its first session. She led her conservatives to their best general election result since reunification in 1990, coming in just five seats short of an absolute majority.


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« Reply #9397 on: Oct 18, 2013, 05:57 AM »


Stockholm's homeless now accept donations - by debit card

Sweden's equivalent of the Big Issue has launched a scheme with tech firm iZettle that lets sellers accept payment by card on their smartphones

Samuel Gibbs   
theguardian.com, Friday 18 October 2013 08.00 BST      

Stockholmers can now support their city's homeless population in the most technologically sophisticated way possible, thanks to an initiative by Swedish payment firm iZettle.

The firm has been working with Situation Sthlm - Sweden's answer to the Big Issue - supplying the magazine sellers with smartphones and card readers that allow debit and credit card payments to be taken on the spot.

iZettle provides a small unit that plugs into the smartphones, allowing cards to be swiped. The card owner then writes then signature on the screen, or enters their pin in the reader.

A successful month-long trial saw five sellers, each equipped with a smartphone and iZettle card reader, sent out onto the streets of Stockholm to sell their Situation Sthlm magazines, costing just under £5 per issue.

Situation Sthlm, like the Big Issue in the UK, publishes professional writing in a magazine sold by the homeless or disadvantaged on the streets of Stockholm. It is the first organisation of its kind to offer card payments.

The phones and card readers are kept and charged at Situation Sthlm’s main offices, and are collected each day when sellers pick up their magazines.
Sweden's cashless society

Sweden is edging closer to a "cashless society" where barely anyone below the age of 40 carries cash on a routine basis, said iZettle chief executive Jacob de Geer, who said that the public were happy to trust their card details to homeless people because they trusted the credit card chop system.

“The banks have done a great job with the card infrastructure so that it is so robust, secure and trusted, that people don’t really mind where they use their cards these days with the chip,” said de Geer. “It was extremely well received. All the phones were returned safely and are still in use."

EMV smart card technology, better known as Chip and PIN in the UK, was trialled in Northampton in 2003 and rolled out nationwide in the UK in 2004. It replaced the magnetic swipe and signature authorisation previously used with a secure chip authenticated by the input of a user’s PIN.
Who are iZettle?

iZettle is a market leader for mobile payments in the UK with a Bluetooth chip and PIN card machine, which started life in 2010 in Sweden releasing its first mobile payment solution in 2011. Since then it has rolled out to nine markets including seven in Europe, as well as Mexico and Brazil in South America.

iZettle launched in the UK in 2012 after meeting regulatory requirements and being certified as a payment providers both in the EU and UK.

“Simplify, simplify, simplify is our core ethos,” explained de Geer. "Regulation is the biggest challenge to mobile payments in most countries – we spend a lot of time and effort meeting criteria and gaining certification. We’re regulated almost like banks."

The UK is one of iZettle’s strongest growth markets with thousands of card readers and accounts being set up every month.
Changing the payments market

The UK is being used as a test bed for iZettle’s progressive simplification of payments. It recently rolled out a new smart rate system, where the percentage of each transaction kept by iZettle is variable from 2.75% to 1.5% dependent on how many transactions you’ve had over a month.

“We’re trying to change the payments market,” said de Geer. "We first started with the mobile card reader that could accept payment anywhere, but we also tackled the highly complex fees that traditional card processors and banks charge merchants."

After an initial set-up fee of £99 for each reader device, iZettle charges a percentage of each transaction in commission. There is no long-term contract or monthly fee.

“We want to help our customers grow their businesses. From electricians and carpenters, everyone should be able to take card and make money,” said de Geer.

 • Mobile payments - they're doing our heads in


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« Reply #9398 on: Oct 18, 2013, 05:59 AM »

October 17, 2013

Europe Moves to Shield Citizens’ Data

By JAMES KANTER
IHT

BRUSSELS — Lawmakers here have introduced a measure in the European Parliament that could require American companies like Google and Yahoo to seek clearance from European officials before complying with United States warrants seeking private data.

The measure, an amendment to a broader electronic privacy law pending in Parliament, is a response to Prism, the secret spying program led by the National Security Agency that came to light in June. Europeans were outraged by the revelations that some of the biggest American Internet companies, many of whose users live in Europe, were required by the United States authorities to share information in e-mail, Web searches and other online data.

Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs may vote on the amendment as soon as Monday, said Jan Philipp Albrecht, the German member who is responsible for steering the legislation through the Parliament. His office later clarified that the vote could be delayed until Thursday. Once it wins approval by the committee, Mr. Albrecht may begin negotiations on the Parliament’s behalf with European governments, which are discussing their own version of new privacy rules.

But a European Union official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the vote could be further delayed if the United States intervened or if there was heavy lobbying by tech industry groups that oppose the bill.

The American government successfully lobbied against a similar move by European officials two years ago. The reports about the N.S.A.’s activities gave European privacy rights proponents new incentive to pursue the matter again.

Mr. Albrecht briefed reporters on the amendment on Thursday, saying it was meant to end a system in which European citizens have scant data protection from American law enforcement agencies.

“What happens today is that companies transfer personal data from Europe to a third state like the United States without having a legal base in European Union law,” he said. If the measure becomes law, Mr. Albrecht said, companies “will be forbidden to do that.”

A spokesman for the United States mission to the European Union declined to comment on Thursday. Messages seeking comment from Yahoo received no response. Google declined to comment.

The measure would obligate companies not based in the European Union to nonetheless comply with European data protection rules if they operate in Europe. Violators could face fines of as much as 5 percent of a company’s global annual revenue.

The amendment would require companies to seek approval from a “supervisory authority” in a bloc country before transferring data on a person’s individual electronic communications, whether phone calls, e-mails, Web searches or social media interactions, outside the union at the request of a foreign government or court.

The broader privacy legislation has been debated for more than two years. Mr. Albrecht said he would like a final draft of the legislation to be approved by the spring and to go into effect two years later.

That plan could be stymied by intense lobbying by Silicon Valley companies and other powerful groups in Brussels — and by sparring among European governments about how far to go in protecting privacy.

Ireland, Britain and other countries are concerned that the European Union is failing to take advantage of growth opportunities from Internet businesses that might help revive the economy. Apple, Facebook and Google all have European headquarters in Dublin.

Even if the new rules are approved, existing bilateral agreements between individual European governments and the United States might keep data flowing across the Atlantic as part of efforts to fight terror and crime.


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October 16, 2013

Examining the Status of Iran’s Nuclear Program and Talks

By RICK GLADSTONE
IHT

Negotiators in Iran’s protracted nuclear dispute reported “substantive and forward looking negotiations” on Wednesday and said they would reconvene Nov. 7 to 8 for further talks. The following covers some questions about Iran’s nuclear program.

Q. What is the current status of Iran’s nuclear program?

A. Iran’s ability to refine uranium, the fuel for peaceful nuclear energy and weapons, has grown significantly, according to the most recent inspection reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the nuclear-monitoring arm of the United Nations. Since last February, Iran has roughly quintupled, to more than 1,000, the advanced centrifuges at its main nuclear facility in the central city of Natanz. Iran also appears to have equipped a formerly secret subterranean facility known as Fordo, near the holy city of Qum, with 3,000 older-model centrifuges

According to the most recent I.A.E.A. report, Iran has accumulated 185.8 kilograms, or about 410 pounds, of uranium enriched to about 20 percent purity, which is considered a short technical step away from refinement to bomb-grade material. Experts differ on the amount of 20 percent uranium Iran would need to make a bomb. But Israel, which has said it would regard a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat, has dropped numerous warnings that Iran should not exceed 240 kilograms, or 529 pounds.

Nonproliferation experts have also expressed concern over Iran’s construction of a thermal heavy-water research reactor in Arak, about 200 miles southwest of Tehran, because it could be a source of plutonium, another fuel for a weapon.

While Iran has promised more transparency in its nuclear program and repeatedly asserted its peaceful nature, the I.A.E.A. has expressed concern about unanswered questions over some aspects. The most prominent is Iran’s refusal to allow inspectors to visit Parchin, a highly restricted military site just south of Tehran suspected of having been the site of experiments, years ago, in testing triggers for nuclear weapons.

Two days of discussions between Iran and six world powers ended on Wednesday. They were the first talks on Iran’s nuclear program since Hassan Rouhani’s election as president.

Q. What was accomplished in the latest round of talks?

A. No breakthroughs were reported, but for the first time, Iran and the group of six major powers seeking to curtail the Iranian program — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — described the discussions as frank and detailed. The Iranians proposed what they called a compromise that would put unspecified limits on the program in exchange for an acknowledgment that the country has a legal right to enrich its own uranium. In addition, the Iranians want an early end to the economic sanctions imposed by Western nations, most notably constraints on Iran’s banking and oil industries. The major powers described Iran’s proposal as “an important contribution,” suggesting that they would respond with a counterproposal.

Aides to Hassan Rouhani, the country’s new president, have said Iran wants an agreement in six months.

Q. Why is Iran so insistent on an easing of the economic sanctions, which it used to routinely belittle as meaningless and ineffective?

A. Aides and supporters of Mr. Rouhani, who took office in August, have publicly expressed concern at what they called the economic disaster created by his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose eight-year tenure was punctuated by the defiance of Western pressure. Under Mr. Ahmadinejad, the sanctions grew increasingly onerous, most notably Iran’s expulsion from a global electronic banking system, a European oil embargo, and American threats to punish Iran’s oil customers. Taken together, those halved the country’s oil exports, severely weakened its currency and caused soaring inflation and unemployment. By some assessments, Iran’s government has access to only about $20 billion, a fraction of what Mr. Ahmadinejad had claimed. Iran has lost virtually all ability to transfer and borrow money internationally.

The pressure on Mr. Rouhani to take immediate steps to fix the economy is enormous and explains his wish to reach a deal before Iran runs out of money. At the same time, supporters of the sanctions argue that their success is precisely what has made Mr. Rouhani appear more accommodating, so the sanctions should not be eased before a final agreement is reached.

Q. Why are critics of Iran — Israel in particular — so suspicious of Iran’s motives?

A. A main underlying reason is what they call Iran’s past deceptions, its reluctance to show I.A.E.A. inspectors everything they want to see and its successful ability to engage in prolonged negotiations with no end result — all the while increasing the number of centrifuges spinning uranium. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has been the most vocal critic and has accused Mr. Rouhani of essentially being no different in substance on the nuclear issue than his predecessor.

Iranian officials point out that their country is a signatory to the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, which Israel is not, and that Israel has its own undeclared arsenal of nuclear weapons. The Arms Control Association, a nonproliferation advocacy group based in Washington, has estimated that Israel has 100 to 200 nuclear warheads.

Q. How much time would Iran need to achieve “breakout capacity,” the ability to quickly construct a nuclear weapon if it chose?

A. Nonproliferation experts differ on the amount of time, but many agree that Iran’s major challenge would be to purify enough uranium to bomb-grade level — above 90 percent — undetected by I.A.E.A. inspectors, to make a dash for a bomb before its adversaries could take pre-emptive action. The Institute for Science and International Security, a nonproliferation monitoring group based in Washington that has been highly skeptical of Iran’s peaceful claims, has said the country’s centrifuges theoretically could produce enough bomb-grade uranium to achieve so-called breakout capacity by the middle of 2014.

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

October 17, 2013

White House Weighs Easing Iran Sanctions’ Bite With Slow Release of Assets

By MARK LANDLER
IHT

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration, in the wake of a promising first round of nuclear diplomacy with Iran, is weighing a proposal to ease the pain of sanctions on Tehran by offering it access to billions of dollars in frozen funds if the Iranian government takes specific steps to curb its nuclear program, a senior administration official said Thursday.

Such a plan, under which the United States could free up Iran’s frozen overseas assets in installments, would avoid the political and diplomatic risks of repealing the sanctions, which had been agreed to by a diverse coalition of countries, the official said. It would also give President Obama the flexibility to respond to Iranian offers that emerge from the negotiations without unraveling the global sanctions regime the administration has spent years cobbling together.

The official likened the plan, which is still being debated inside the White House and the State Department, to opening and closing a financial spigot.

While the two days of talks in Geneva this week did not produce a breakthrough, Iranian officials were more candid and substantive than in previous diplomatic encounters, officials said, particularly in direct negotiations between Iranian diplomats and the senior American representative, Wendy R. Sherman.

Now, though, the administration faces a complex calculation on the future of the sanctions, which have been crucial in bringing the Iranians back to the bargaining table. Administration officials said they would urge the Senate to hold off on voting on a new bill to strangle Iran’s oil exports further until after the next round of talks on Nov. 7.

That may be a tough case to make to lawmakers, given that Iran did not pledge to freeze its enrichment of uranium and offered no plan, publicly at least, to dismantle facilities, which State Department officials cited as a justification for holding off on a sanctions vote before the first meeting. Several senators issued statements saying the sanctions should go ahead.

Still, the positive tone of the talks — a senior American diplomat who took part characterized them as “intense, detailed, straightforward, candid conversations” — has prompted new thinking in Washington about how to ease the pressure on Tehran, if not immediately, then down the road, if the Iranians make real concessions.

The proposal on freeing up funds has been championed by Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a public policy institute known for its hawkish views on Iran. “My biggest concern is that if the administration takes out a brick from the sanctions regime, you won’t be able to put it back together,” Mr. Dubowitz said. He called the plan “a way to provide nonsanctions financial relief to give the administration flexibility during the negotiations.”

If Iran refused to make concessions, the United States, he said, could pair its offer to free Iranian money with a new sanction that would immediately freeze all of its foreign exchange reserves by cutting off from the American financial system any bank that gives Iran use of those funds.

A Senate Republican aide said the proposal was preferable to an earlier offer by the West — rejected by Iran — to lift a ban on trading in gold if Iran agreed to shut down its Fordo enrichment facility, which is built in a mountain near Qum.

“We thought that was a bad idea because it replenishes Iran’s coffers,” said the aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the subject. “In this case, the administration could come to Congress and ask, ‘Is closing Fordo worth $1 billion?’ ”

While the proposal is tailored and flexible, skeptics say it might not satisfy the Iranians, whose goal is to get out from under all the sanctions that have devastated their currency, cut their oil exports in half, and left their economy with sky-high inflation and unemployment.

“The Iranians are looking for fundamental sanctions relief,” said Ray Takeyh, an expert on Iran at the Council on Foreign Relations. “I’m not sure whether they’d accept phased access to their own money.”

A spokeswoman for the White House, Bernadette Meehan, said early on Friday that it was “premature and speculative” to discuss types of sanctions relief, adding, “Iran will have to agree to meaningful, transparent, and verifiable actions before we can seriously consider taking steps to ease sanctions.”

As the administration tries to devise new ways to relax the pressure on Iran, it faces another tightening of the vise, a Senate bill that aims to drive Iran’s oil exports to zero. The House passed similar legislation in July, by a vote of 400 to 20. Senator Tim Johnson, a Democrat from South Dakota who is the chairman of the banking committee, told the administration he could not hold the bill beyond the end of October.

“Given Iran’s refusal to halt its illicit nuclear and ballistic missile programs,” said Senator Mark S. Kirk, an Illinois Republican and Iran hawk, “the Senate should immediately move forward with a new round of economic sanctions targeting all remaining Iranian government revenue and reserves.”

With the Senate on recess in the aftermath of the government shutdown, however, Congressional aides said they now expected that the sanctions bill would not emerge from the committee and be ready for a floor vote until the eve of the next round of talks in Geneva.

That could allow the administration to use the specter of new sanctions as a prod to the Iranians to present more concrete proposals then. “It’s always nice to go into these negotiations with some coercive leverage,” Mr. Takeyh said, “because the Iranians have their own leverage: They’re not stopping enrichment.”

Ms. Sherman, the State Department under secretary who is leading the talks, plans to brief lawmakers in the coming days on the progress made in Geneva. The administration is clearly concerned about preserving a united front on sanctions. The State Department and the Treasury Department are sending officials to Europe on Friday to discuss technical aspects of the sanctions regime, an official said.

“Congress has been a very significant partner in putting that sanctions regime and architecture in place,” a senior administration official told reporters in Geneva on Wednesday. “None of us want to undo it before we know we have some results that answer our concerns.”

Despite the inconclusive nature of this week’s talks, former administration officials urged Congress to wait another few weeks to give diplomacy a chance. Prematurely imposing punitive measures, they say, could provoke a backlash from Iran’s hard-liners, who for now are backing President Hassan Rouhani’s diplomatic overture.

“While additional sanctions may well prove necessary, we should hold off for now,” said Robert Einhorn, a former State Department official who helped devise the sanctions. “We should remember that the existing sanctions are already having a devastating impact and provide substantial incentive for the Iranians to show the necessary flexibility.”

There was no immediate reaction to the idea from the Israeli government, which views an Iran with a nuclear bomb as a threat to Israel’s existence. An official in the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to comment on Friday, saying that the reported proposal had not yet been articulated as official American policy.

But Mr. Netanyahu has fervently pressed the case in recent weeks that there should be no premature easing of the economic pressure on Iran, arguing that it would be a “historic mistake” to do so when the sanctions are so close to achieving their goal.

Giora Eiland, a former Israeli national security adviser, said, “It was expected that the Americans would try to be forthcoming toward the Iranians, not only to create a good atmosphere, but also because the Americans realize that Rouhani has political constraints. He too comes in for criticism for being overly moderate, so he has to be given some achievements.”

Still, he said in an interview with Israel Radio, the steps being considered were “more than showing good will and changing the atmosphere and symbolic — this helps the Iranian economy. Doing this even before the Iranians have promised anything, or done anything, seems to me to be very problematic American overzealousness.”

He added, “Israel doesn’t like it, but it doesn’t seem that anyone is listening to us.”

Isabel Kershner contributed reporting from Jerusalem.

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

October 17, 2013

Hopeful City, Buoyed by Campaign Vows, Waits for Change in Iran

By THOMAS ERDBRINK
IHT

TEHRAN — During his presidential election campaign, Hassan Rouhani excited Iranians’ expectations by promising to get suffocating Western sanctions lifted and revive the economy while increasing personal freedoms: opening up access to the Internet and taking the much-hated morality police off the streets, among other things.

Their hopes soared once again with President Rouhani’s visit to New York, when he spoke of détente with the West and took a historic phone call from President Obama, ending a taboo on direct talks between the nations. And yet again when the first round of talks on Iran’s disputed nuclear program ended this week on a resoundingly upbeat note.

Four months after Mr. Rouhani’s election and two months after his installation as president, people here in the capital are still waiting for the great changes that most of them are longing for. But even if their immediate hopes have been dampened, most here say they are relieved to see the last of the previous president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and his confrontational policies, and are savoring an emotion that had been absent for years: hope.

“We Iranians are optimistic people,” said Maryam Salehi, 48, an art teacher in a poor area in south Tehran. “We may wait for 10 years for something and nothing happens, but still we keep on waiting. What else can we do?”

There have been a few promising signs. More than 90 political prisoners were released, though for the most part their names have not been announced. Those who are known to be free, like the prominent human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, are staying out of sight, avoiding interviews or refusing to take public stands on the issues they once went to jail for.

“Most of them were eligible for release, as they had passed half of their sentences,” said one former prisoner who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Before you can go out you have to sign a form promising you will be a good citizen, or return to prison.”

A particularly antediluvian university president was fired. With the advent of autumn and cooler temperatures, the morality police are less noticeable but still present at central crossroads and shopping centers, warning and arresting women who show too much hair or wear clothes that are too tight or revealing.

The new culture minister, Ali Jannati, son of a prominent conservative cleric, complained Tuesday to his staff that it should be more lenient when censoring books, saying, “Some would have censored the Koran if the holy book hadn’t been handed down to them by God.”

The formerly independent House of Cinema, an organization supporting film that was closed under Mr. Ahmadinejad, is to be reopened. But even that small step comes with a twist — it will now be government-controlled, and board members will have to sign papers that they are loyal to the Constitution.

At times Mr. Rouhani himself has expressed doubts about whether he can satisfy the hopes he has roused. “I feel a big burden when I look into the hopeful eyes of people,” he said during his campaign in June. “Sometimes I doubt if I am able to lead all of this to its end. I do not know why, but I am very hopeful.”

On the whole, Iranians are realistic about the prospects for change. “I don’t expect the president to fulfill all his promises,” said Hadis Bagheri, 28, who has been unemployed since the previous administration closed down the Association of Poets, where she had an administrative job.

“I did vote for Rouhani because he promised that women like me would be able to go on the streets without being bothered over our clothes,” said Mrs. Bagheri, who said she had been arrested several times by the morality police. “At least the patrols are less for now.”

Just over 50 days into his presidency Mr. Rouhani preaches patience, saying it will take time to convince well-entrenched hard-liners that their actions are hurting their relationship with the Iranian people.

Having consolidated their power over the past eight years during Mr. Ahmadinejad’s two terms, the conservatives control the judiciary, a majority in Parliament, all security forces, the state broadcaster and the influential Friday Prayer venues, where they insist on shouting “Death to America” during prayers.

Nowhere is the emerging battle among the factions more evident than on Iran’s extensively filtered Internet. Despite the fact that Mr. Rouhani does not lose an opportunity to emphasize how much trust and faith he has in his people, and how information must be free, he seems powerless to get Facebook and Twitter unblocked.

On Tuesday, Iran’s telecom minister, Mahmoud Vaezi, one of the many responsible for the filtering, was first quoted by the Iranian news media as saying there would be “no way” the two sites would be freely available to the public. Hours later his ministry gave out a statement denying Mr. Vaezi’s comments and saying that groups “were looking into” opening them up.

Almost immediately, a top judiciary official emphasized that his Committee of Identifying Criminal Content was solely responsible for Iranian Web access and would never unblock Facebook and Twitter.

“Due to the espionage nature of this Web site and its criminal content, the Facebook filter will remain in place,” the official, Abdolsamad Khoramabadi, told the semiofficial Mehr news agency. “Any news of unblocking these sites is a lie.”

The fact that conservatives are starting to push back does not mean Mr. Rouhani and his cabinet members are backtracking on their promises for more personal freedoms. Last week, the vice president of legal affairs, Elham Aminzadeh, said that the government would soon present a manifesto on civil rights for all citizens.

“This is not propaganda,” Mrs. Aminzadeh said. “People need to be informed about their rights using their own language, explicitly and transparently.”

Following complaints by the hard-line news media about Mr. Rouhani’s phone call with Mr. Obama, the government has announced that it will conduct a rare opinion poll to assess Iranians’ reaction to the outreach. “We will see what the people have to say,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said.

While it is true that there are many promises to be fulfilled, said Reza Raesi, the editor in chief of the pro-Rouhani Web site Khordadnews.ir, the real change is the current “calmness” in Iranian society.

“Before we would be depressed every day by the news of the national currency losing ground, of prices going higher and higher and threats of war,” he said in his office. “We didn’t see a future, but now we do.”

Mrs. Salehi, the art teacher, said that even the slightest changes would make a difference in her life. She has cancer, she said, and the sanctions at times make her medication very expensive. Her 24-year-old son has a college degree but, like most young people in Iran, is unemployed.

“Yes, we will have patience, again,” she said, echoing Mr. Rouhani. “His words are beautiful, but we really want to see action.”

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

Ayatollah: Iranian man who survived execution should not be hanged again

Lotfollah Safi Golpaygani says his own fatwa should not be applied in case of drug smuggler Alireza

Saeed Kamali Dehghan   
theguardian.com, Thursday 17 October 2013 19.05 BST   

An Iranian grand ayatollah who issued a fatwa ordering the re-execution of convicts who come back to life has said his religious ruling should not be applied in the case of the man who revived in the morgue earlier this month.

Alireza, a 37-year-old father of two, was hanged two weeks ago for possessing a kilo of crystal meth and was certified as dead by medics after lingering for 12 minutes from a rope tied around his neck.

He was sent for burial but a day later morgue workers realised he was still alive after spotting steam in the plastic cover he was wrapped in. Following his arrest three years ago, a revolutionary court had found Alireza guilty of drug smuggling and sentenced him to death.

Media reports in Iran have said the judicial authorities are planning to hang him again on the basis that he was sentenced to lose his life, rather than just to be hanged. A fatwa issued by the Shia grand ayatollah Lotfollah Safi Golpaygani has been cited as justification for re-executing him.

However, a statement issued on behalf of Golpaygani on Thursday said his religious ruling should not be applied to Alireza's case and the ayatollah had "another view" about his destiny.

According to the semi-official Mehr news agency, Golpaygani has a fatwa in the second volume of his religious rulings, which says: "After the execution and before the burial, if the convict comes back to life while in the morgue or at the coroner's office and recovers after treatment, the verdict for Qisas (retribution) or Had (punishment) remains viable."

A statement issued on Golpaygani's official website said: "The issue that has been raised on [his book] has nothing to do with [this man's] case and the ayatollah has another view about his issue." The statement did not elaborate on what the ayatollah's view was about Alireza's fate.

Golpaygani reacted after a number of people contacted his office asking him to intervene or clarify his position over Alireza's case. The state-run Jam-e-Jam newspaper, the first media organisation to break the news about Alireza's ordeal, said many of its readers had asked for his life to be spared.

The references to Qisas and Had in Golpaygani's fatwa mean it only applies to sentences for certain crimes, called Hodud in the Islamic terminology, that are not at the discretion of the judge but are defined by sharia law.

Under Iranian sharia law, certain crimes such as sodomy, rape, theft, fornication, apostasy and consumption of alcohol for the third time are considered to be "claims of God" and therefore have a mandatory death sentence.

Alireza is instead condemned to Tazir, a punishment that can be administered at the discretion of the judge, raising hopes that the judiciary might be able to change its mind over his case.

"Alireza's case is extraordinary and very exceptional," said Amnesty's Drewery Dyke. "There's no complainant in his case and the chief of Iran's judiciary, Ayatollah Larijani, should intervene so that his life is spared."

Mohammad Mostafaei, an Iranian lawyer who has defended many convicts on death row in Iran in the past, said Alireza's case was unprecedented in Iran but the judiciary could spare his life since it was a Tazir punishment.

"Iran's judiciary has previously intervened to seek clemency for offenders like Alireza who have committed a Tazir crime," Mostafaei told the Guardian. "In his case, too, the judiciary chief can write to the supreme leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] and ask him to spare his life."

Farideh Gheyrat, another prominent Iranian lawyer, echoed Mostafaei, telling the New-York-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that Alireza's life should be spared under Iran's sharia law.

"According to the sharia law, if a convict survives execution his life is spared and they have not hanged twice anyone before as far as I know," she said.

Amnesty International has called on Iran to halt any plan to hang Alireza twice.

"The Iranian authorities must immediately halt Alireza's execution and issue a moratorium on all others," said Amnesty's Philip Luther.

"It is natural that the Iranian authorities must combat the serious social, security and economic problems relating to drug trafficking and drug abuse, but the reliance on the death penalty to combat drug trafficking is misguided and in violation of international law.

"People want to be protected from crime, but the death penalty does not make societies safer."

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

Poll: Most Israelis back Netanyahu stance on Iran

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, October 18, 2013 6:56 EDT

Most Israelis support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s stance on the Iran nuclear issue after the Islamic republic met world powers in Geneva this week, an opinion poll showed on Friday.

Some 58 percent of respondents to the question “how would you rate Netanyahu’s recent performance in the global arena vis-a-vis Iran?” said it was good (41 percent) or very good (17 percent), said the poll published in Haaretz newspaper.

Netanyahu and his government expressed bitter skepticism over nuclear talks in Geneva between Iran and the P5+1 countries — the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia plus Germany — warning his Western allies they risked being duped into easing sanctions prematurely.

The prime minister said Israel reserved the right to carry out a unilateral military strike to prevent Iran obtaining nuclear weapons capability.

The P5+1 and Israel, Iran’s arch foe, fear that Tehran’s atomic program is a disguised effort to develop nuclear weapons capability, a claim it denies vehemently.

Netanyahu’s tough stance on foreign affairs — including Iran and negotiations with the Palestinians — and his sidelining of domestic issues since his re-election in January have been working to his advantage, the poll said.

It said 63 percent of respondents thought Netanyahu was the best person for prime minister, compared with 56 percent who said the same thing in a July survey.

The poll was carried out on October 15 by the Dialog Institute under the supervision of Professor Camil Fuchs of Tel Aviv University, and questioned 501 people with an error margin of 4.4 percent.





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Maid’s story of torture shines a light on India’s slave labor trade

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, October 18, 2013 5:31 EDT

Sitting on a hospital bed with a thick bandage around her head, an Indian teenager recounts what she says was four months of horrific torture at the hands of her employer.

“She would pull my hair out, violently hit me over the head… most of the times she got angry out of the blue,” the 18-year-old told AFP, as she recovered in a New Delhi hospital.

The girl says she was beaten with belts, brooms and chains while locked in the home where she was hired to work as a maid in an upscale neighbourhood in the capital.

“She wouldn’t give me any money, make any phone calls, interact with anyone. She ripped all my papers that had phone numbers (of her relatives) into bits,” said the girl, whose left cheek and chest are covered in scars.

Her story made headlines this month after she was rescued by police and social rights campaigners who said she had been slashed with knives and bitten by dogs.

The case is far from unique in a country home to almost half of the world’s slave population. A report released this week called the Global Slavery Index found an estimated 13.95 million people in India are victims of forced labour.

“People are controlled by violence,” said Nick Grono, chief executive of the Walk Free Foundation, which published the report.

“They are tricked or they are forced into jobs or situations where they are economically exploited. They live on no pay or base subsistence pay and they’re not free to leave.”

The girl, who only completed three years of school, came to the teeming capital from the impoverished eastern state of Jharkhand searching for work to send money back home.

The teenager, who cannot be named for legal reasons, worked in several homes before a maid agency placed her with her current employer, who was arrested and has denied charges of abuse. The case is still before the courts.

In India, mainly women are trafficked, coerced or tricked into different forms of slavery ranging from domestic service to prostitution and forced marriages. Desperately poor parents also sell their children, who are then forced into begging rackets, sexual exploitation and manual labour such as working in coal mines, according to other experts.

Still more are kidnapped and brought to Delhi, according to the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC).

“Delhi is a destination and transit point for victims” trafficked from throughout India as well as neighbouring Nepal and Bangladesh, a UNDOC report released in July said.

The report warned that trafficking in the capital, in particular, was worsening, with criminal gangs expanding their operations by disguising them as businesses such as placement agencies and massage parlours.

Snatched from the streets

Weeks after her daughter was snatched from a village in a remote corner of India, Rabia Bibi found herself in the seedy backstreets of Delhi.

With no money and little knowledge of life outside her village, Bibi travelled to the capital in a desperate bid to find her. For weeks she shadowed police during raids on the city’s squalid hotels.

Bibi said she had little choice after 17-year-old Ranoo, her youngest of nine children, disappeared without trace on her way to buy food in West Bengal.

“Three fishermen saw my daughter screaming inside a speeding car,” said Bibi, offering AFP what little information she had about the kidnapping.

Navin Haro, a poor labourer, had been equally determined to find his daughter, 13-year-old Jyoti Mariam. She was taken in broad daylight earlier this year from their village in Chhattisgarh state as she returned from school.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, some 38,200 women and children were reported kidnapped last year in India, compared with 35,500 the year before. Rights groups say the actual number is probably much higher.

For Bibi, each police raid brought more despair, as officers rescued girls with a similar age as her daughter, but never her own.

Although both girls were victims of trafficking, their fates turned out to be very different. Ranoo was finally found weeping but alive by police, locked in a shabby hotel room.

Haro, however, discovered Mariam’s body about one week after she went missing, wrapped in plastic, in a hospital morgue.

“I lost my daughter because I had no money to even trace her,” Haro said, as he prepared to bury his daughter in a Christian cemetery.

“Tell me: how would I have traced her in this big country?”

Mariam’s official cause of death was listed as malaria, giving police little incentive to treat her case as a criminal one and find her kidnappers.

Armed with laws against trafficking and slavery, police are arresting those behind such rackets, but experts say more coordinated action is needed.

“The crime knows no jurisdiction, it knows no borders between one country and another or one state and another state,” said Bhamati, who has worked for the federal government to develop anti-trafficking policies.

Shakti Vahini (Power Brigade), an organisation working with police to rescue victims, says India’s recent economic growth has fuelled the problem.

“Rich people are willing to pay any amount of money to get servants who can clean their houses, survive on left-over food,” said the organisation’s Rishi Kant.

“Illegal placement agencies offering house maids have mushroomed in every city across India.”

For the 18-year-old rescued in Delhi, life should slowly return to normal. Her mother travelled to the capital and planned to take care of her at home.

“I’ll put her back in school again,” the mother told AFP. “There is no need to do this kind of work.”

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Indian treasure hunt sparked by holy man's dream

Digging begins under 19th-century fort after Hindu swami Shobhan Sarkar told of treasure trove by dead king in a dream

Associated Press
theguardian.com, Friday 18 October 2013 09.05 BST   

Archaeologists have begun digging for treasure beneath a 19th-century fort in northern India, after a Hindu holy man said a king had appeared to him in a dream and told him about the cache.

The treasure hunt began after Shobhan Sarkar, a Hindu swami, relayed his dream to a government minister who visited Sarkar's ashram last month.

The swami said the spirit of King Rao Ram Baksh Singh, who was hanged in 1858 after rising up against British colonial forces, had told him to take care of the 1,000-ton treasure worth almost £30bn hidden under the fort in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

Indian geological and archaeological officials who surveyed the area on Sunday found evidence of metal about 20 metres underground, district magistrate Vijay Karan Anand said.

The Archaeological Survey of India said it would begin digging under a temple contained within the ruins of the old fort.

A host of interested parties have already lined up to stake a claim to the treasure, believed to be in gold, silver and precious gems. One of the king's descendants, Navchandi Veer Pratap Singh, said: "If gold is really found there, we should get our share."

Uttar Pradesh state authorities, as well as local officials, also said they had a right to the wealth.

"The treasure trove should be used for the development of the state," the local MP Kuldeep Senger said. Uttar Pradesh, with a population of 200 million, is one of the poorest and least developed states in India.

Residents of the impoverished Daundia Khera village, who have no access to electricity, said they had long known about the treasure from stories told by their elders. "Everyone in the village knows about it," said 60-year-old Vidyawati Sharma, who learned the stories from her father-in-law.

Locals have found silver and gold coins in Unnao district, according to the swami's disciple Om Ji. No one knew exactly where the treasure was until the late king visited the swami in his sleep, he said.

Authorities set up barricades as thousands of people descended on the village. People were offering prayers at the temple within the fort's ruins.

Locals said they hoped Sarkar's vision turned out to be real, as he was "revered as God in this area because he has done a lot for this place," said Chandrika Rani, a schoolteacher.

Indian officials are also unearthing another treasure trove found two years ago in a 16th-century Hindu temple, and have barred the media and public from the excavation site in the southern state of Kerala.

The discovery made the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple the richest known religious institution in India, with bagfuls of coins, bejewelled crowns and golden statues of gods and goddesses. The supreme court has ordered a full inventory of the treasure.

The former royal family that has remained the temple's trustees since India's 1947 independence has said the treasure belonged to the Hindu deity Vishnu, who is also known in the region as Padmanabhaswamy.


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« Reply #9401 on: Oct 18, 2013, 06:16 AM »


Tibet self-immolations: Tsering Woeser and Ai Weiwei collaborate on book

Tibetan poet and Chinese artist publish Immolations in Tibet: The Shame of the World, after more than 120 such protests

Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing
theguardian.com, Thursday 17 October 2013 16.05 BST   

Tibetan poet Tsering Woeser and dissident artist Ai Weiwei have collaborated on a book about Tibetan self-immolations, attempting to explain the suicidal protests that have gripped the Himalayan region since 2009.

The book, Immolations in Tibet: The Shame of the World, is written by Woeser with cover art by Ai. A French-language first edition was published on Thursday.

"I think [the self-immolations] are an earth-shattering thing," Woeser said in a telephone interview from Lhasa. "Yet people are silent. Why are they silent? In China, one reason is that the government blocks information, they block the truth, so a lot of people don't know that this is happening. Yet in a lot of places – even in China – people know this is happening, but don't really care."

She continued: "In this book, I want to write about why people self-immolate – to help people understand, to break the silence."

Since February 2009, at least 122 Tibetans have set themselves on fire as a grimin protest and most have died from their wounds. The protesters have been a diverse group, comprised of men and women, monks and lay people, elders and teenagers. There are many reasons behind self-immolations, from the trauma of forced resettlement to surveillance cameras in monasteries. "Self-immolation is the most hard-hitting thing that these isolated protesters can do while still respecting principles of non-violence," Woeser writes.wrote in the book.

Beijing condemns the protests as terrorism and blames them on "hostile forces from abroad" – particularly the Dalai Lama, who has lived in India since 1959.

Woeser, one of the few Tibetan authors to write in Chinese, grew up in Tibet but now lives under close surveillance in Beijing. Since she moved to the capital a decade ago, she has posted volumes of poetry and essays online, many of them openly critical of the Chinese government's regional policies. In the book, Woeser describes Tibet as a "giant prison criss-crossed with armed soldiers and armoured vehicles".

After Tibet was racked by riots in 2008, Woeser was placed under house arrest with her husband Wang Xilong, also a prominent writer and activist. Authorities once again confined her to her home in 2012, to prevent her from receiving an award at the Dutch embassy.

Woeser called the book short – about 20,000 words – and said she wrote it quickly, between April and June of this year. Ai's minimalist cover depicts the swirling outline of orange-and-yellow flames; its white background is subtly inlaid with each self-immolator's name, written in Tibetan.

Woeser said that she considers Ai a friend, and called his views on Tibetan issues, which she had seen on Twitter, "very pertinent, and very precise". She asked him to design the cover in late August. "He agreed immediately," she said. "He said of course, the meaning of these self-immolations, whether on a philosophical or a religious level, is beyond what us living people can ordinarily understand. But he said he'd be willing to try."

Woeser said that while publishing the book may carry risks, she refuses to be cowed, drawing inspiration from the people she writes about. "Their courage gives me courage," she said.


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« Reply #9402 on: Oct 18, 2013, 06:23 AM »


China criticises Spanish court's Hu Jintao genocide indictment

Ruling could lead to moves to seek former president's arrest in Spain or other countries with which it shares extradition treaty

Reuters in Beijing
theguardian.com, Monday 14 October 2013 14.48 BST

China has denounced a Spanish criminal court's decision to indict the former Chinese president Hu Jintao for genocide as part of an investigation into whether his government committed abuses in Tibet.

The Spanish national court last week accepted a Tibetan advocacy group's appeal in a case asserting
that Hu supported genocidal policies when he was Communist party secretary in the Himalayan region from 1988-92 and after he took over as China's head of state in 2003.

The ruling could lead to moves to seek Hu's arrest in Spain or other countries with which it shares an extradition treaty, though in practice he is unlikely ever to face a Spanish court.

"We firmly oppose any country or person attempting to use this issue to interfere with China's internal affairs," the foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular briefing.

Communist Chinese troops took control of Tibet in 1950. China says it "peacefully liberated" the remote mountainous region, which it says was mired in poverty, exploitation and economic stagnation.

Tibet's Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, fled to India in 1959 after an abortive uprising against Chinese rule. Exiled Tibetan groups are campaigning for the return of the Dalai Lama and self-rule for their region.

Hua said the group that launched the legal case was trying to damage the "extremely friendly" relations between China and Spain.

"The Tibetan group's purpose is extremely obvious and its political motives are sinister – to destroy the relations between China and the relevant country and to attack China's government," Hua said.

Hu was succeeded as president in March by Xi Jinping.

China's human rights policy will come up for scrutiny at the universal periodic review by the United Nations in Geneva on 22 October, when groups and governments will be given the chance to press China on issues ranging from the death penalty to the treatment of dissidents.

The Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet called the Spanish ruling groundbreaking. It says China's policies in Tibet have led to "a climate of terror" in which people face torture and pressure to denounce the Dalai Lama.

More than 120 Tibetans have set themselves alight in protest against Chinese rule since 2009, mainly in the heavily ethnic Tibetan areas of Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai provinces rather than in what China terms the Tibet Autonomous Region. Most of those who set themselves on fire have died.

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Nuclear expert raises concerns about Chinese role in UK's new nuclear plants

UK government adviser John Large says Chinese firms are rooted in state system without independent safety regulators

Terry Macalister and Jennifer Rankin   
The Guardian, Thursday 17 October 2013 20.19 BST   

One of Britain's leading nuclear engineering consultants has raised serious concerns about the safety implications of handing over some of Britain's nuclear plants to Chinese operators.

John Large, a government adviser, said he felt uncomfortable with the lack of transparency around the Chinese atomic industry, which has been drafted in to help the UK by George Osborne on the chancellor's trade mission to China. Osborne has given the green light to Chinese nuclear firms taking majority stakes in the UK's next generation of nuclear plants.

The first deal is likely to be unveiled next week, with China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGNPC) taking a minority stake with the main operator, France's EDF, to build the new Hinkley Point C power station in Somerset. No UK firms are involved after Centrica pulled out.

Large, who has advised the UK government on nuclear issues, said: "We can see that even with the French operatorship of UK nuclear power stations [through EDF] that there are differences in the regulatory regimes in France and the UK.

"But these problems would be much more profound with the Chinese, who like the Russians, are rooted in a government system without independent [safety] regulators," he said.

His warning came as a report from the anti-corruption organisation Transparency International highlighted Chinese firms as some of the most secretive within the world's fastest-growing markets.

Large said it would be quite easy to supervise a US company working in Britain because they were used to operating under the American safety regime, which is noted for its openness.

But he said he was very wary of the "totally non-transparent" Chinese regulatory system, which left outsiders with almost no idea how it really worked.

Large feared that the Treasury's enthusiasm for winning and keeping foreign investment might mean pressure being brought to bear on the UK's Office for Nuclear Regulation to gloss over problems encountered with a Chinese operator.

The reaction from Large, who in the past also helped the Russian government raise the stricken nuclear submarine Kursk, comes after Osborne endorsed Chinese firms' purchase of stakes in British reactors, including majority ownership.

The Treasury said: "While any initial Chinese stake in a nuclear-power project is likely to be a minority stake, over time stakes in subsequent new power stations could be majority stakes."

But it added: "Any investment from any country has to comply with rigorous regulatory standards for safety and security."

The government is expected to agree a deal over a generous 35-year subsidy regime to enable EDF and CGNPC to proceed with building a new Hinkley C reactor.

There has always been unease in some quarters about the security issues around inviting China to take a close role in certain industries such as telecoms and power. A leader from the GMB union recently told the Independent it was "almost Orwellian" to allow a country like China, which has been linked to allegations of corporate hacking, to be allowed access to highly sensitive energy infrastructure.

The concerns came as a report showed that China has the least transparent companies operating in the major emerging economies of Brazil, India, Russia and South Africa. In a survey of 75 companies across the Brics by Transparency International, Chinese companies were the least likely to publish financial information and vital details about corporate structure that allows them to be held to account.

Of 33 Chinese firms surveyed, including Chery Automobile and China National Offshore Oil Corporation, none has made any public statements on outlawing bribery.

Robert Barrington, executive director of Transparency International, said: "There is a lack of transparency about some global companies in emerging markets, particularly in China. As they expand, that is a problem because the citizens of the countries in which they are operating will want to know some basic things about them. And indeed we think they have a right to know."

"Part of the quid pro quo of coming into the international arena is that you have to play by international norms."

Barrington said Osborne had to ensure that Chinese firms operating in the UK met British legal and company standards. "[Osborne] hasn't sent that message out publicly – I hope he is doing it privately."

• This article was amended on 18 October 2013 to correct the spelling of the Russian submarine Kursk

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

China's investment in UK: Osborne pushes the nuclear button

Chancellor determined to welcome Chinese investment across the board, but critics sound warning on firms' transparency

Tania Branigan in Beijing
The Guardian, Thursday 17 October 2013 19.24 BST   

The announcement that Chinese companies can take a stake in British nuclear plants was hardly a surprise: George Osborne had already told reporters that the UK welcomed Chinese investment in all its infrastructure – citing the sovereign wealth fund CIC's existing investment in Thames Water and Heathrow.

China has massively increased investment in Europe in recent years. One study this spring, by private equity firm A Capital, found that Chinese state-owned companies invested more than $12.6bn (£7.8bn) in the continent last year: a year-on-year increase of about 20%. Cash-strapped European countries have proved relatively welcoming.

Involvement in critical infrastructure – and particularly the nuclear sector – is a more delicate issue. Jonathan Fenby, director of the China team at research service Trusted Sources, said: "The question is whether people in Britain will say, 'Our electricity is being sold to the Chinese and if something happens and we say something we shouldn't, they will turn off the lights.' I think that's pretty unlikely, but nuclear brings a level of sensitivity."

But on the Chinese side, the same concerns – diversifying holdings, gaining technical knowledge and turning a profit – apply. The UK is expected to guarantee a generous price for nuclear-generated electricity to ensure more plants are built.

"All these deals have a commercial logic to them. In this case they will get, they hope, some technological expertise which is what they have wanted for their domestic nuclear programme. Then, if it is a successful investment, that helps them vis-a-vis joint ventures elsewhere in the world or selling on their technology," said Fenby.

China already has 17 nuclear reactors and another 28 plants under way at home, although construction has been held up by a moratorium that was imposed after the Fukushima crisis.

If firms manage to meet Britain's strict regulatory requirements, it will give them credibility as they seek to sell their technology elsewhere, experts say. The memorandum of understanding also includes training for Chinese technicians in Britain in radioactive waste management.

Osborne's determination to welcome the Chinese across the board was underscored by his visit to the HQ of telecoms equipment firm Huawei in Shenzhen. Its founder is a former officer with the People's Liberation Army, and despite its insistence that it is not tied to the military or Chinese government, it has faced hostility or outright bans on its involvement in projects in the US, Australia and Canada.

"There are some western governments that have blocked Huawei from making investments. Not Britain. Quite the opposite. That is why I was pleased to welcome Huawei's opening of a flagship office in our country in June, and of £1.3bn of investment that came with it," the chancellor said.

But while Osborne this week praised Chinese firms as "very straightforward partners", others are more wary and say greater openness is crucial.

The nuclear announcement came on the same day that anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International gave Chinese companies the worst ratings in a survey of the openness of firms in Brics economies. Eight of the 10 worst-performing companies – including Huawei – were Chinese, scoring zero on a scale where 10 indicated the greatest transparency.

"Results show that companies from China lag behind in every dimension with an overall score of 20%," Transparency said in the report.

"Considering their growing influence in markets around the world, this poor performance is of concern."


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« Reply #9403 on: Oct 18, 2013, 06:30 AM »


Central African Republic's sectarian violence forces thousands to hide

Médecins Sans Frontières' Dutch director reports on the horrific injuries being treated by MSF staff in the latest 'failed state'

Arjan Hehenkamp, Médecins Sans Frontières
theguardian.com, Thursday 17 October 2013 15.00 BST   

Central African Republic is in danger of becoming the world's latest failed state, with increasing sectarian violence sparking a humanitarian disaster. Médecins Sans Frontières' Dutch general director, Arjan Hehenkamp, has recently returned from the country. He sent this harrowing report:

I'm just back from Bossangao, a town of 45,000 people 330km northwest of the capital, Bangui. From the air, you can see tin rooftops and big compounds, and it looks like a prosperous and bustling regional centre. But then you start looking for people and you see that there's no one there – all the houses are deserted. Most of Bossangao's inhabitants have gathered in a church compound, an area the size of nine football pitches, where 30,000 people are enclosed by their own fear.

The country has been gripped by violence since the coup d'etat in March, and religion is becoming a part of the conflict – basically everyone is scared of being targeted by everyone else.

The church compound is like an open-air prison. People don't even dare to go and fetch the wood they need for cooking. They don't dare to go out of that protected zone back to their houses – where they would have a roof over their heads and some proper facilities – even though their houses are sometimes only a few hundred metres away.

When you walk into the compound, you're faced by a teeming mass of people, and you have to navigate through all the families that have set themselves up there. They're living, they're cooking, they're defecating, all in the same compound, and they've been there for three weeks. They've recently got some shelter materials, but otherwise they're living in the open air, surrounded by mud and garbage.

Our medical teams are working in the compound, and we've set up water and sanitation facilities. We're pulling out all the stops to provide them with basic amenities and medical care, but at the end of the day it's an untenable situation. It's just not suitable for a 30,000-strong group of people – the risk of disease outbreaks is too great.

There are 1,000 to 1,500 people, also mostly Christians, staying in another protected zone around the hospital – they have slightly more space, but in essence it's the same thing. And there's a 500-strong group of mostly Muslims in a school nearby – testament to the religious divisions that have crept into the conflict.

We are working in the church compound, and also in the hospital, with both international and local staff. The hospital provides inpatient, outpatient and surgical services, and is functioning at a reasonable level, but it needs to be cranked up in order to deal with the numbers of patients we're seeing and the kinds of injuries they're arriving with – injuries which are quite horrific and difficult to treat.

One of our patients was a man who had been shot four times in the back, and his head had been partially hacked off by a machete. The surgeon tried to sew it back on and save the patient, but sadly he died.

Another was a child from a village outside Bossangao. His parents had tied him to the house with chains because he had diabetes and was prone to running around and having fits. But they lost the key to the padlock, so when they had to flee into the bush they couldn't take him with them. When they came back he was still alive, but he had been slashed badly across his arms when he held them up to protect himself.

This is the level of brutality and violence that is affecting people, and we are probably only seeing a part of it. Outside Bossangoa, we know there are troops and local defence groups going around and seeking people out, engaging in targeted killing or small-scale massacres. Our teams have come across sites of executions, and some have actually witnessed executions.

The villages along the road from Bossangao to Bangui are deserted. For 120km, there's no one there – 100,000 people have disappeared and fled into the bush. We can't reach them, and they can't reach our services. This is a major humanitarian and medical concern.

Compared to last year, when there was already a chronic humanitarian crisis in Central African Republic, the crisis has doubled, the capacity of the state has vanished completely, and the humanitarian capacity has halved.

There's an acute need for aid organisations to deploy themselves with an international presence outside the capital, and in particular for the UN to lead the way in doing so. An international presence has a protective effect – I'm pretty sure that if MSF had not been present in Bossangoa, the level of violence and killings would have been much higher than it was.

Since the armed takeover in March, the violence hasn't really abated. There have been violent reprisals and counter-reprisals. The violence continues, but now it is just more targeted and out of sight.


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« Reply #9404 on: Oct 18, 2013, 06:32 AM »


US prosecutor condemns Hague trials of Kenyan leaders

David Crane says international criminal court prosecutors have ignored political realities and created a lose-lose situation

Daniel Howden in Nairobi
theguardian.com, Friday 18 October 2013 07.52 BST      

A former chief prosecutor of the international criminal court has condemned its cases against Kenya's president and vice-president, warning that the indictments could damage the fledgling international justice system.

David Crane, the US lawyer who built the case against Liberia's former president Charles Taylor, said his successors at The Hague had ignored political realities in pursuing the Kenyan prosecution, which he said "could be the beginning of a long slide into irrelevance for international law".

Uluru Kenyatta, Kenya's president, is due to stand trial next month at the ICC, the first time a sitting head of state will have done so. Along with his deputy, William Ruto, whose separate but related trial has already begun, Kenyatta is accused of masterminding the violence that killed at least 1,300 people in the wake of a disputed election at the turn of 2007-08.

Last week the African Union passed a resolution calling for immunity for all serving African heads of state.

"I would never have indicted or gotten involved in justice for the Kenyan tragedy," said Crane, a former chief prosecutor of the special court for Sierra Leone, a precursor to the ICC. "It's placed them in a situation where they are damned if they do or damned if they don't."

The African Union has called on the Kenyan leaders not to attend hearings at The Hague until the UN security council, which oversees the ICC, has responded to its recent demands.

France is working on a UN resolution that would defer the Kenyan cases for 12 months, according to a senior diplomat in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

Human rights groups have said giving in to AU demands for immunity would set a terrible precedent that would encourage heads of state to trample constitutional term limits, cling to power and rig elections. "It's become a lose-lose situation," said Crane.

Crane said the cases he built during three years of investigations in west Africa from 2002-05 had taken into account local politics as well as the law. "Politics is the bright red thread of modern international law, a successful prosecution must factor in the international stage."

After ad hoc tribunals dealt with the fallout from civil wars in the Balkans and west Africa, as well as the genocide in Rwanda, the ICC got a permanent home in the Netherlands and issued its first arrest warrants in 2005.

Under the Argentinian lawyer Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the prosecutor's office pursued high-profile African leaders, including Sudan's Omar al-Bashir – who has ignored the warrant – and a number of alleged warlords in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Crane said Moreno-Ocampo had a "political tin ear" and had been overly ambitious in his indictments.

When Kenya came close to a civil war and as many as 400,000 people lost their homes after a contested election result in 2007, mediators brokered a deal under which a national tribunal was meant to be set up to try the guilty. The ICC stepped in as a court of last resort when the Kenyan parliament could not agree on a local alternative.

Moreno-Ocampo became a celebrity in Kenya, with minibus taxis named after him, but his initial popularity waned, and this was exacerbated by his decision to name Kenyatta and Ruto, political rivals whose supporters had fought during the violence, among the indictees. The pair united in a "coalition of the accused" and won elections this year in a campaign that portrayed the ICC as a colonial throwback.

Moreno-Ocampo was replaced last year as chief prosecutor by Gambia's Fatou Bensouda.

Crane said the ICC should have used the threat of its intervention to nudge for reform rather than launching prosecutions that the Kenyan elite would never support.

"It's a question of some justice versus no justice," he said. "If it's perceived that Kenyatta and Ruto have won then we're thrown back to the pre-Taylor era in Africa."


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