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« Reply #9405 on: Oct 18, 2013, 06:35 AM »

October 17, 2013

Syrian Official Says Peace Talks Could Be Held in Late November


LONDON — A Syrian government official said on Thursday that long-postponed peace talks under international auspices — known in diplomatic shorthand as Geneva II — could be held in late November, raising speculation about who would attend and who would represent the fractured Syrian opposition, which is seeking to topple President Bashar al-Assad.

The official, Qadri Jamil, a deputy prime minister, said in Moscow that the discussions could be held in Geneva on Nov. 23, according to SANA, the official Syrian news agency. Some reports from Moscow quoted him as saying the talks could extend into Nov. 24. His remarks were the first to publicly mention a specific date.

Diplomacy surrounding Syria has gathered pace since September, when Russia and the United States brokered a deal for the Syrian government to give up its chemical weapons. But as the fighting continues, the question of which countries and which Syrian factions would take part in new talks remained unanswered.

At the United Nations, Martin Nesirky, a spokesman for Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, said that he could not confirm the dates mentioned by Mr. Jamil, and hinted that talk of a date was premature. “When it is time for an announcement, the secretary general will make one,” Mr. Nesirky said.

Russia, an important backer of the Syrian government, also indicated that there was no deal on the talks. Reuters quoted Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Alexander Lukashevich, as telling reporters, “We shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves.”

SANA said Mr. Jamil spoke on Thursday after talks with Russia’s Middle East envoy, Mikhail Bogdanov, that the agency said were fruitful.

Mr. Jamil is one of two Syrian government ministers from officially tolerated opposition parties who have been appointed since the civil unrest in the country mushroomed into a full-blown civil war. While he is often seen as having little or no authority over government policy, the fact that his remarks on Thursday were carried by the state news agency suggested they had some kind of imprimatur.

In the first round of discussions in Geneva in June 2012, major world powers failed to reach a consensus on the central question of whether to call for the ouster of Mr. Assad, a demand advanced by opposition groups in return for their participation in any peace negotiations. The nine nations at the meeting agreed instead on a plan for a political transition in Syria, with Russia and China blocking attempts by other participants to require Mr. Assad’s removal from power.

Mr. Jamil said the proposed Geneva II conference would aim to establish “a government that represents the basic sides of the government and the opposition,” SANA reported. Any groups that “fail to attend will lose,” he was quoted as saying.

The United States and Russia have been trying to convene the gathering since May. Mr. Jamil said the Syrian opposition was responsible for the delays, SANA reported.

Ahmad Assi al-Jarba, president of the Syrian opposition coalition, said at a news conference in New York in late September that he was prepared to participate in new peace talks, but that he wanted assurances of a “clear timetable” for achieving results, not “an open-ended dialogue with the regime.”

Mr. Jarba’s coalition has suffered some defections over the last month, as a number of rebel groups inside Syria broke their ties with the coalition and accused its members, living in exile, of being detached from the fighting and the hardships inside the country.

In other Syria-related news on Thursday, a Canadian legal adviser to the United Nations peacekeeping force in the Golan Heights area between Syria and Israel, who was abducted eight months ago and apparently was held by rebel groups, escaped. The Canadian, Carl Campeau, was quoted by SANA as saying that his abduction had been a “nightmare and terrifying experience” and that he had fled his captors after they apparently forgot to lock his room.

At the United Nations, Mr. Nesirky said “obviously we’re delighted” that Mr. Campeau was now safe and that he appeared to be in good health.

In another indication of the extreme danger inside of Syria, the Arabic channel of the Sky News network said that three of its journalists had been kidnapped outside of the northern city of Aleppo.

Antigovernment activists in the area said they were abducted outside of the town of Anadan on their way to Aleppo, although it was unclear who had taken them.

The area has fighters from many rebel factions, an extremist group linked to Al Qaeda and criminals who kidnap foreigners to earn ransoms, said Mohamed al-Hadi, an activist in Aleppo, via Skype.

At least five Americans are believed to be held in Syria. Four are journalists, including Austin Tice, who worked for McClatchy Newspapers and The Washington Post, who has been missing since Aug. 13, 2012; and James Foley, who worked for GlobalPost, a Web news site based in Boston, missing since Nov. 22, 2012. Names of the others have been withheld at the request of their families.

Diane and John Foley, the parents of Mr. Foley, who turns 40 on Friday, have become increasingly active in the effort to at least determine who may have captured him. Mr. Assad and other Syrian officials have repeatedly asserted that he is not in government custody and is probably a prisoner of one of the armed rebel groups concentrated in the north.

On Thursday the Foleys were granted an unusual meeting in New York with Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Jaafari, who spent 45 minutes with them and expressed empathy, the parents said later in an interview. “He was warm and collegial,” Mrs. Foley said.

Mr. Jaafari is highly critical of the Obama administration for its support of the insurgency in Syria, arguing that it has helped to empower Al Qaeda and similar groups that hate the United States.

Rick Gladstone contributed reporting from New York, and Ben Hubbard from Beirut, Lebanon.


October 17, 2013

Erdogan, Syrian Rebels’ Leading Ally, Hesitates


ISTANBUL — From the start of Syria’s civil war, rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad have had no better ally than Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He has effectively kept Turkey’s border with Syria open, allowing fighters a haven in the south of his country as weapons, cash and other supplies have flowed to the battlefield.

He has even fired on Mr. Assad’s forces.

But now, Turkey finds itself in the same position as many of the rebels’ early backers, including the United States — concerned that Islamist radicals have come to dominate the ranks of the Syrian opposition. It shelled rebel positions this week for the first time since the war started, in yet another positive turn for Mr. Assad, who has found his position increasingly stable, if not secure.

Mr. Erdogan was one of the first world leaders to call for Mr. Assad to step down, and from the start he provided a lifeline to the rebels. But with radical Islamists controlling territory along the Turkish border, and the United States working with the Assad government to rid it of chemical weapons, his policy is in turmoil and his country without a viable ally in Syria. Mr. Erdogan has himself been criticized for allowing weapons to get into the hands of jihadists.

The shelling of rebel positions this week “was a signal that they wanted to show everybody that they wanted to take a different line on this,” said Henri J. Barkey, an expert on Turkey and a professor of international relations at Lehigh University. “It’s just symbolic. It’s a way of telling the rest of the world that we are taking a stand against these Al Qaeda-type guys.”

While many countries — including the United States, which recently contemplated military strikes against Syria in response to the use of chemical weapons there — have called for Mr. Assad to go, the focus has lately shifted to seeking and carrying out a political solution, or what Washington has referred to as an orderly transition of power.

On Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry reinforced that position when he said in an interview with NPR that a political solution would seek to “maintain the institutions of state.” At the same time, a Syrian government official said that long-delayed peace talks might finally be held in Geneva next month.

The shift in international sentiment has been particularly challenging for Mr. Erdogan, who continues to support the rebels but is concerned about security along the border as a flurry of Turks have crossed into Syria to join the ranks of the jihadists. At the same time, Turkey is struggling with cascading crises that have undermined its regional role, forcing it to look more inward.

At the height of the Arab Spring, Mr. Erdogan offered Turkey as a model of democracy and Islam for Egypt and other nations that had cast off dictators. But he has had to confront widespread demonstrations at home criticizing his authoritarian style, and abroad he has seen allies in Egypt ousted by the military.

The strikes by the Turkish Army this week, in response to a shell that landed inside Turkey without causing damage, seemed aimed at countering criticism that Turkey had fostered the growth of jihadist groups.

But they also seemed to underscore Turkey’s troubled Syria policy as it seeks to recalibrate its tactics, supporting yet targeting the rebels, all while calling for Mr. Assad to step down.

“They still feel that the only way to solve the crisis is to force Assad from power, and that the only way to do that is to funnel weapons to the opposition,” said Aaron Stein, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies who writes on security issues in Turkey. “They only have buyer’s remorse because they depended on the Obama administration to come to the rescue.”

By now, Turkey had expected that the United States and its Western allies would have increased military support for the rebels. While the United States has provided some training and arms, Mr. Obama called off the missile strikes he had threatened in response to a chemical attack in August. Turkey was angered when the tide shifted from imminent military action to diplomacy, Mr. Stein said, because the chemical weapons pact suggests that Mr. Assad “will be around a long time to implement the deal.”

He added that Turkish leaders “felt they were hung out to dry” when the Obama administration shelved its plans for military action.

Turkey’s Syria policy is also deeply unpopular among the Turkish public and has become a domestic political challenge for Mr. Erdogan, who has been in power for more than a decade and is considering a campaign for the presidency next year. Nearly from the beginning of the Syrian uprising, Turkey has sought to shape its outcome by pushing Mr. Assad to liberalize the political process. But when the rebellion turned violent, Turkey opened its borders to Syrian refugees, whose ranks within Turkey have swelled to more than 500,000, earning the country praise from the international community but raising ethnic tensions in the border region.

In contrast to countries like Jordan, which has kept its border tightly controlled, Turkey initially allowed the free flow of fighters and weapons to support the opposition, which was dominated at first by moderate groups but eventually overtaken by more experienced, and more extreme, jihadist fighting groups.

“They weren’t necessarily arming Al Qaeda, but they just weren’t policing their borders,” Mr. Stein said.

Kadri Gursel, a political analyst here and a columnist for the newspaper Milliyet, said, “Turkey continues to deny any support for the Al Qaeda rebels, but the fact that so few precautions have been taken against them, and no obstacles have been put into place, is support in and of itself.”

Referring to the strikes on Islamist militant positions in Syria, Mr. Gursel said, “With this latest move, Turkey is trying to rebuild the image of its Syria policy and show that no security threats will be tolerated from anyone.”

More broadly, many analysts here see the failure of Turkey’s policy to result in a peaceful outcome in Syria as a rebuke to the efforts by Mr. Erdogan’s Islamist governing party — the Justice and Development Party, known by its Turkish initials, A.K.P. — to present Turkey as a pivotal player in shaping regional affairs. Particularly when seen alongside events in Egypt, where the military overthrew a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government that had close ties to the A.K.P., many say the course the Syrian conflict has taken represents a severe blow to Turkey’s regional aspirations.

“It seems that Turkey’s influence in the region is not being viewed positively in the wake of the Syrian and Egyptian crises,” Fuat Keyman, a columnist, wrote this week. “The Turkish model is not being discussed anymore. And in the context of the Arab Spring and ongoing developments in the Middle East, that means Turkey risks losing its place and role in regional politics.”

Ceylan Yeginsu and Sebnem Arsu contributed reporting from Istanbul, and Alan Cowell from London.

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« Reply #9406 on: Oct 18, 2013, 06:36 AM »

Saudi Arabia declines security council seat, citing failure to tackle conflict

Foreign ministry says council has failed in its duties toward Syrian people and Palestinian-Israeli conflict

Associated Press in Riyadh, Friday 18 October 2013 10.55 BST      

Saudi Arabia is rejecting its rotating seat on the UN security council and says the 15-member body is incapable of resolving world conflicts.

The move came just hours after the kingdom was elected as one of the council's 10 non-permanent members.

In a statement made on Friday by the official Saudi press agency, the Saudi foreign ministry says the council has failed in its duties toward Syria.

"The kingdom sees that the method and work mechanism and the double standards in the security council prevent it from properly shouldering its responsibilities towards world peace," the foreign ministry said in a statement carried by state news agency SPA.

It says this alleged failure enabled Syrian president Bashar Assad's regime to perpetrate the killings of its people, including with chemical weapons, without facing any deterrents or punishment.

The ministry also says the council has not been able to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict over the past decades and has failed to transform the Middle East into a zone free of weapons of mass destruction.

It is the second time this month that Saudi Arabia has publicly expressed discontent over what it sees as the security council's failure to take action to stop a civil war in Syria that has killed more than 100,000 people.

Saudi Arabia, along with Chad and Nigeria, were elected by the UN general assembly on Thursday to serve a two-year term on the UN security council as human rights groups called for all three countries to improve their records.

The Saudi foreign ministry said it was unable to take its seat until reforms were introduced, but did not specify what reforms it wanted.

US-allied Saudi Arabia has been angry over what it says is the failure of the international community to help either Syrian rebels fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad or Palestinians seeking an end to more than four decades of Israeli occupation.

The security council has been split on how to handle the civil war in Syria, with western powers pushing for stronger sanctions against Assad and Russia vetoing resolutions to that end. Saudi Arabia has backed the rebels in that conflict.

The Saudis, along with other Arab states, have also often criticised the US for blocking international action to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands seized in the 1967 Middle East war.

Earlier this month, the Saudi foreign minister cancelled a speech at the UN general assembly in frustration over the international inaction on Syria and the Palestinian issue, a diplomatic source said.

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« Reply #9407 on: Oct 18, 2013, 06:38 AM »

Mali's fight with militants is far from over

The rebel groups that were driven out of northern Mali by French-led troops in January are once again on the rise

Afua Hirsch in Gao
The Guardian, Thursday 17 October 2013 14.52 BST   
Sitting in front of her house on a quiet street in Gao, Bintou Yatarra, 28, pokes a feathered bird in a pot of hot water. Beside it, two small fowl have been skinned, their wings and feet neatly tied together with string. Yatarra, heavily pregnant with a white T-shirt stretched over her belly and red cloth wrapped at her waist, is preparing for Tabaski – the local name for Eid al-adha.

But Yatarra says she is not in the mood for celebrating. Only a metre away from where she is sitting, a crater – now piling up with litter – marks the spot where a rocket landed last week. One person was injured and Yatarra was taken to hospital suffering from shock. The walls of her house are now scarred with jagged gashes; inside there is a hole in the ceiling.

Gao spent almost a year under jihadist rule during Mali's recent civil war, when first Tuareg rebels then Islamic militants took over parts of the north. A French-led African and Malian military intervention in January liberated the region, but a spate of recent attacks has shown that the conflict is far from over.

"We are still scared," says Yatarra. "We sit outside because we are too are afraid to sit indoors, and when we do, we don't even want to close the door in case it makes it harder to get out."

Gao's latest rocket attack, believed to have been launched from 10 miles outside the town, came as clashes have continued in the far northern region of Kidal – a stronghold of Tuareg rebels from the Mouvement National pour la Libération de l'Azawad (MNLA). Last month, Timbuktu was also hit by the latest in a series of suicide bomb blasts.

The UN envoy to Mali said on Wednesday that the recent terror had highlighted the ongoing volatility in the region. Albert Koenders told the UN security council that the renewed violence was a wake-up call to the international community, and called for more troops and equipment to support the UN peacekeeping force, known as Minusma. "We are faced with severe challenges," he said.

At a hotel in central Gao which has been turned into a makeshift command centre by the army, Major Colonel Abdoulaye Coulibaly – in charge of northern operations – says the terrorist groups from across the African continent are far from defeated.

"There is still insecurity, and it will take time to root it out," says Coulibaly. "We have jihadists from Sudan, we have Boko Haram, we have Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, we have the Mujao [Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa] … all these groups are here, they have sleeper cells here and there.

"We need to find these cells and dismantle or destroy them. It's not only in Gao, its spread over the whole country. This is a whole endeavour that doesn't take only one year. It's a long-term task." The military's major concern now is the infiltration of urban areas by jihadist groups, collaborating with those integrated back into the civilian population in order to launch attacks.

"My greatest worry is to clean this band of jihadists from the desert, and those within the towns whom they control," says Coulibaly. If you take the example of the suicide bombings in Timbuktu, or the rockets that fell in Gao recently, this could not have happened without the complicity of those inside and around Gao."

"The welder who manufactured the platform for launching the rockets from the desert, or the truck driver who delivered it, these people are inside the towns, they are among us. And somebody is their brother, or son, or mother – we need those people to work with us."

Fears about both security in the desert and the infiltration of towns is also affecting humanitarian work. Aid agencies struggle to reach communities in a region which was already one of the world's poorest, and who are now under pressure from internal displacement and shortages of food.

"Insecurity in still critical in some areas, especially the areas bordering Kidal and Menaka," says a senior humanitarian source, who did not want to be named. "Even local organisations cannot get access there.

"We are receiving information about the infiltration of jihadists in Gao – we believe that people who are recognised as active members of the Islamist groups are coming back, and planning attacks."

The need to root out jihadist conspirators from within civilian populations sits uneasily with the need for reconciliation, espoused by Mali's newly elected president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, who is expected to reopen negotiations with some rebel groups in the coming weeks.

Under the terms of a peace agreement signed in neighbouring Burkina Faso – so far only partially upheld – the deadline for talks expires in November. Earlier this month 23 MNLA prisoners were freed in an effort to foster reconciliation.

But frustration at the perceived ease with which people who joined the rebel groups are able to come back into the town has sparked protests in Gao, where earlier this week large areas were deserted and markets closed as residents marched to demand more action.

"We don't want the MNLA members who were arrested by the government forces to be released," says Moussa Boureima Yoro, one of the protesters. "And we demand to be represented at all levels of the negotiations with the rebels."

MNLA rebels – whose goal is ostensibly the creation of a secular state of Azawad in the Sahara – and al-Qaida-linked jihadists, who seek to impose sharia law, joined forces during the occupation, and many believe that the lines between the various factions are either blurred or non-existent.

A report by Oxfam (pdf) earlier this month found that community relations in northern Mali remain severely affected by the conflict, characterised by "restricted interactions and … feelings of fear and mistrust".

"We have known about wahhabists [followers of an ultra-conservative form of Islam] in Bamako and Gao for 25 years – they have created schools … and during the occupation they recruited disciples," says Sadou Harouna Diallo, mayor of Gao.

"These disciples are still here. They live among us. And everyday our lives are in danger. I have cousins who have worked for the Mujao. And they still work for the Mujao until now. And if they lay their hands on me in the village they will kill me."

At one end of Gao's Independence Square, a group of tall, lean youths are dribbling basketballs in the relative cool of the desert dusk. All wear shorts and vests, emblazoned with logos.

They are playing metres away from the site where, only a year ago, Islamist extremists who controlled this part of northern Mali carried out amputations and lashings for what they said were breaches of sharia law.

"What they did right here was unbelievable, it was terrifying," says Konesse, 11, standing in line to shoot hoops, wearing a matching dark blue and lime green vest and knee-length shorts, with the words "Real Madrid" running down her leg. "During the occupation, boys could still play sport, but we girls couldn't."

Konesse speaks of one girl, 15, who was arrested, drugged and raped by the Islamists when she went to the market alone, and has since fled to Bamako where she remains too scared to return to her hometown.

Since the militants fled in January, girls such as Konesse have been able to return to the freedom to which they are accustomed. But Konesse says she cannot support forgiveness or negotiation with any of those who turned her life, and the lives of her family and neighbours, upside down.

"They ruined our town, they raped our sisters, destroyed our houses, and beat our mothers," says Konesse. "We will never let them come back."

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« Reply #9408 on: Oct 18, 2013, 06:40 AM »

Chilean men carved swastikas into body of gay man they killed

Four men convicted of murder of Daniel Zamudio that sparked national debate in Chile about hate crimes

Associated Press in Santiago, Friday 18 October 2013 10.58 BST   

Four Chilean men have been convicted of first-degree murder for beating to death a gay man and carving swastikas into his body.

Daniel Zamudio's death set off a national debate in the country about hate crimes that led Congress to pass an anti-discrimination law.

As the judge read the guilty verdict, Zamudio's mother sobbed. Her son's killers stood motionless and stared blankly at the floor.

Judge Juan Carlos Urrutia said Patricio Ahumada Garay, Alejandro Angulo Tapia, Raul Lopez Fuentes and Fabian Mora Mora were guilty of a crime of "extreme cruelty" and "total disrespect for human life".

The judge said the attackers burned Zamudio with cigarettes, beat him with glass bottles and broke his right leg with a heavy stone before they abandoned him in a park in the Chilean capital on 3 March 2012.

The sentence will be read on 28 October Prosecutors are asking for jail terms ranging from eight years to life in prison.

"We're satisfied with this ruling. There's a before and an after the Zamudio case," said Rolando Jimenez, president of the Gay Liberation and Integration Movement.

"It generated such outrage because of the brutality, the hate, that it helped raised awareness," he said. "We've witnessed a cultural change that finally led to an anti-discrimination law."

The law had been stuck in Congress for seven years, but President Sebastian Pinera put it on the fast track after Zamudio's murder. The law adopted last year enables people to file anti-discrimination lawsuits and adds hate-crime sentences for violent crimes.

Zamudio, a clothing store salesman, was the second of four brothers. He had hoped to study theatre.

"Nothing can change the tremendous pain suffered by Daniel's parents," presidential spokeswoman Cecilia Perez said. "But there's no doubt that today some tranquility has finally reached their hearts. It's the tranquility that comes with justice."

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« Reply #9409 on: Oct 18, 2013, 06:43 AM »

The Christian Science Monitor

Scientists discover world's earliest known brain

The 520-million-year-old fossil of an extinct marine animal sports the oldest central nervous system to ever be found intact.

By Elizabeth Barber, Contributor / October 16, 2013 at 4:21 pm EDT

Scientists have described the oldest complete central nervous system to ever be found: the brain of a 520-million-year-old fossil of an extinct marine animal.

The find, published this week in the scientific journal Nature, would be remarkable just as a simple superlative. But what makes the report all the more stunning is that this hundreds of millions years old brain looks, well, like a brain that is much more evolved than that of something hundreds of millions of years old.

In fact, the layout of this ancient fossil’s central nervous system resembles the organization of the brain in a modern scorpion, or spider, or horseshoe crab.

“This was a very big surprise for us,” says Nicholas Strausfeld, a neuroscience professor at the University of Arizona and an author on the paper, “that such an ancient animal had such a sophisticated brain.”

The described fossil is a linchpin in scientists’ effort to piece together the evolutionary tree of the arthropods, the broad taxonomic group that includes modern insects, arachnids, and crustaceans and encompasses about four fifths of all known animal species.

It is a tree as complicated and nuanced as the veins in an insect’s wing, but one that, over the last year, is becoming ever clearer. Now, the new find, coupled with a similar find made last year, suggests that the two major branches that form the arthropod tree split from each other to develop their own complex brain systems as early as the early Cambrian period, or even earlier.

In other words, the brains in both groups of modern arthropods have obvious roots in the neural layout of organisms from half a billion years ago.

This week’s paper comes just one year after the same team published in Nature a description of another 520-million-year-old fossil with a complex brain. The fossil, Fuxianhuia protensa, had the primitive body plan expected of something dating to the Cambrian period, some 233 million years before the Triassic period when dinosaurs appeared. But it had a brain much more complex than the one that scientists had expected to find in something so old – a brain, in fact, like that of a mandibulate, the branch of the arthropod tree that includes modern shrimp and insects.

This meant that animals with mandibulate-like brains split from the arthropods to form a separate tree branch at least 520 million years ago. But what about the other, major group of arthropods, the chelicerates, which include modern spiders, ticks, horseshoe crabs, and scorpions? Might the forerunners to this big group of modern crawlers have also existed some 520 million years ago?

There was some evidence that they did. For years, scientists had been unsure where in the evolutionary tree to place an extinct group of marine animals known as the megacheirans, or “mega claw,” after the pair of scissor-like appendages at their heads. Scientists had suggested that these animals could be the ancestors to the chelicerates, since the elbow joint in the appendages at their head resembled the joint in the biting mouthparts of modern spiders and scorpions.

Still, that morphological evidence was not sufficient to prove that megacheirans were the chelicerates’ ancestors. That would require more substantial proof – it would require, in fact, a find as extraordinary as the Fuxianhuia protensa fossil: the scientists needed a megacheiran with a preserved brain.

As chance would have it, the fossil the team was hoping was found, plumbed from the Chengjiang formation in southwest China.

“To our extraordinary surprise, this fossil turned up,” says Dr. Strausfeld.

The 3-centimeter-long fossil, of an Alalcomenaeus, a member of the megacheiran group, contained what Strausfeld called “a beautifully preserved brain” – or, rather, three clusters of nerve cells, called ganglia, fused together as a brain and connected to other nerves running through the animal’s appendage-fringed torso.

The animal’s neural organization, mapped after combing a CT scan and a laser scan, left little doubt that the it was ancestral to the chelicerate group: Alalcomenaeus, more than half a billion years old, had a brain organized like that of modern chelicerate. That is, the animal had one optic sensor outside the brain mass and two sensors inside the brain mass. A mandibulate central nervous system, in contrast, has three optic sensors, all outside the brain mass.

“Our work has proved that, yes, it’s a chelicerate,” says Stausfeld. “There is no doubt about it.”

This fossil, coupled with last year’s fossil, means that arthropods must have diversified into the ancestors of both modern chelicerates and mandibulates much earlier than 520 million years ago. One estimate, based on plotting rates of genetic change over time, puts the split at about 545 million years ago, says Greg Edgecombe, a researcher at the London Natural History Museum and a co-author on the paper.

“Some of the geologically earliest arthropods had a nervous system organised in a way that is readily interpreted based on living arthropods,” says Dr. Edgecombe. “The basics of arthropod nervous systems evolved in the main burst of the Cambrian explosion.”

The team plans to return to China this May to look for a fossil with the ancestral central nervous system from which both the mandibulate and chelicerate brains derive. The hope, says Stausfeld, is that this ancestral group survived to live contiguously with the two more evolved groups.

“We hope that the ancestral type persisted,” says Strausfeld. “We have no idea if it did, but we’re looking.”

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« Reply #9410 on: Oct 18, 2013, 06:47 AM »

Skull of Homo erectus throws story of human evolution into disarray

A haul of fossils found in Georgia suggests that half a dozen species of early human ancestor were actually all Homo erectus

Ian Sample, science correspondent, Thursday 17 October 2013 19.00 BST   
Link to video: Fossil skull challenges understanding of human evolution

The spectacular fossilised skull of an ancient human ancestor that died nearly two million years ago in central Asia has forced scientists to rethink the story of early human evolution.

Anthropologists unearthed the skull at a site in Dmanisi, a small town in southern Georgia, where other remains of human ancestors, simple stone tools and long-extinct animals have been dated to 1.8m years old.

Experts believe the skull is one of the most important fossil finds to date, but it has proved as controversial as it is stunning. Analysis of the skull and other remains at Dmanisi suggests that scientists have been too ready to name separate species of human ancestors in Africa. Many of those species may now have to be wiped from the textbooks.

The latest fossil is the only intact skull ever found of a human ancestor that lived in the early Pleistocene, when our predecessors first walked out of Africa. The skull adds to a haul of bones recovered from Dmanisi that belong to five individuals, most likely an elderly male, two other adult males, a young female and a juvenile of unknown sex.

The site was a busy watering hole that human ancestors shared with giant extinct cheetahs, sabre-toothed cats and other beasts. The remains of the individuals were found in collapsed dens where carnivores had apparently dragged the carcasses to eat. They are thought to have died within a few hundred years of one another.

"Nobody has ever seen such a well-preserved skull from this period," said Christoph Zollikofer, a professor at Zurich University's Anthropological Institute, who worked on the remains. "This is the first complete skull of an adult early Homo. They simply did not exist before," he said. Homo is the genus of great apes that emerged around 2.4m years ago and includes modern humans.

Other researchers said the fossil was an extraordinary discovery. "The significance is difficult to overstate. It is stunning in its completeness. This is going to be one of the real classics in paleoanthropology," said Tim White, an expert on human evolution at the University of California, Berkeley.

But while the skull itself is spectacular, it is the implications of the discovery that have caused scientists in the field to draw breath. Over decades excavating sites in Africa, researchers have named half a dozen different species of early human ancestor, but most, if not all, are now on shaky ground.
Homo erectus skull found in Georgia The most recently unearthed individual had a long face and big teeth, but the smallest braincase of all five H erectus skulls found at the site. Photograph: Georgian National Museum

The remains at Dmanisi are thought to be early forms of Homo erectus, the first of our relatives to have body proportions like a modern human. The species arose in Africa around 1.8m years ago and may have been the first to harness fire and cook food. The Dmanisi fossils show that H erectus migrated as far as Asia soon after arising in Africa.

The latest skull discovered in Dmanisi belonged to an adult male and was the largest of the haul. It had a long face and big, chunky teeth. But at just under 550 cubic centimetres, it also had the smallest braincase of all the individuals found at the site. The dimensions were so strange that one scientist at the site joked that they should leave it in the ground.

The odd dimensions of the fossil prompted the team to look at normal skull variation, both in modern humans and chimps, to see how they compared. They found that while the Dmanisi skulls looked different to one another, the variations were no greater than those seen among modern people and among chimps.

The scientists went on to compare the Dmanisi remains with those of supposedly different species of human ancestor that lived in Africa at the time. They concluded that the variation among them was no greater than that seen at Dmanisi. Rather than being separate species, the human ancestors found in Africa from the same period may simply be normal variants of H erectus.

"Everything that lived at the time of the Dmanisi was probably just Homo erectus," said Prof Zollikofer. "We are not saying that palaeoanthropologists did things wrong in Africa, but they didn't have the reference we have. Part of the community will like it, but for another part it will be shocking news."

David Lordkipanidze at the Georgian National Museum, who leads the Dmanisi excavations, said: "If you found the Dmanisi skulls at isolated sites in Africa, some people would give them different species names. But one population can have all this variation. We are using five or six names, but they could all be from one lineage."

If the scientists are right, it would trim the base of the human evolutionary tree and spell the end for names such as H rudolfensis, H gautengensis, H ergaster and possibly H habilis.

The fossil is described in the latest issue of Science.

"Some palaeontologists see minor differences in fossils and give them labels, and that has resulted in the family tree accumulating a lot of branches," said White. "The Dmanisi fossils give us a new yardstick, and when you apply that yardstick to the African fossils, a lot of that extra wood in the tree is dead wood. It's arm-waving."

"I think they will be proved right that some of those early African fossils can reasonably join a variable Homo erectus species," said Chris Stringer, head of human origins at the Natural History Museum in London. "But Africa is a huge continent with a deep record of the earliest stages of human evolution, and there certainly seems to have been species-level diversity there prior to two million years ago. So I still doubt that all of the 'early Homo' fossils can reasonably be lumped into an evolving Homo erectus lineage. We need similarly complete African fossils from two to 2.5m years ago to test that idea properly."

The analysis by Lordkipanidze also casts doubt on claims that a creature called Australopithecus sediba that lived in what is now South Africa around 1.9m years ago was a direct ancestor of modern humans. The species was discovered by Lee Berger at the University of Witwatersrand. He argued that it was premature to dismiss his finding and criticised the authors for failing to compare their fossils with the remains of A sediba.

"This is a fantastic and important discovery, but I don't think the evidence they have lives up to this broad claim they are making. They say this falsifies that Australopithecus sediba is the ancestor of Homo. The very simple response is, no it doesn't."

"What all this screams out for is more and better specimens. We need skeletons, more complete material, so we can look at them from head to toe," he added. "Any time a scientist says 'we've got this figured out' they are probably wrong. It's not the end of the story."

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« Reply #9411 on: Oct 18, 2013, 07:09 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

10/17/2013 12:47 PM

System Failure: US Democracy Is Nearing its Limits

A Commentary By Sebastian Fischer and Marc Pitzke

The United States has temporarily avoided federal default. As the Republicans lick their wounds, the Democrats are triumphant. But no one should be happy, because the debacle has exposed just how broken the American political system truly is.

The president kept things short, speaking for only three minutes on Wednesday night to praise the debt compromise reached by Congress. After he finished, a reporter called after him: "Mr. President, will this happen again in a couple of months?" Barack Obama, who was on his way out the door, turned and answered sharply, "No."

But such optimism has proven to be unrealistic in the past. With his re-election in 2012, Obama thought he could break the Republican "fever." Instead, the conservatives paralyzed the government and risked a federal default just so they could stop Obama's signature project: health care reform. And this despite the fact that "Obamacare" had been approved by a majority of both houses of Congress, was upheld by the US Supreme Court, and was endorsed by the American people in the voting booths.

No, the democratic process cannot reduce this "fever," and probably won't during the next fight, either. On the contrary, the political crisis has turned out to be a systemic crisis.

America's 237-year-old democracy is approaching its limits. Its political architecture was not designed for long-lasting blockades and extortion, the likes of which have been enthusiastically practiced by Tea Party supporters for almost the last four years. The US's founding fathers proposed a system of checks and balances, not checks and boycotts.

In hardly any other western democracy are the minority's parliamentary rights as strongly pronounced as they are in the US, where a single senator can delay legislation, deny realities, and leverage the system.

Non-Representative Democracy

In Germany, the government is built from a majority in parliament. In America, the president and his allies in Congress have to organize majorities for each new law. But for a long time Obama has hardly been able to find any -- not for immigration reform, or new gun control laws, or even for the budget, as the world's largest economy has been making do with emergency spending measures since 2009.

Scarcely 50 right-wing populists, led by Tea Party Senator Ted Cruz, have been pushing their once proud Republican party into a kamikaze course. Why are the other Republicans letting them do this? They are afraid of radical challengers within their own party in their local districts.

Meanwhile, the Democrats hardly pose a threat, because over the past several years the borders of the congressional districts have been manipulated in such a way that they almost always clearly go Republican or Democratic. As a result, America loses the representative nature of its representative democracy. In the congressional elections in 2012, Democrats won 1.17 million more votes than Republicans, but Republicans got 33 more seats in the House of Representatives.

Changes in majority rarely exist anymore. Not even 10 percent of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives are considered competitive. As a result, those who would be willing to compromise in Washington are already punished during the primary seasons back home, which was how the last moderates were pushed out of Congress.

Name Calling in Congress

During the recent debt ceiling fight, Tea Party hotheads called their colleagues who were willing to talk with Democrats the "surrender caucus." Anybody who would vote for a compromise "would virtually guarantee a primary challenger," Kansas Republican Tim Huelskamp threatened on Tuesday.

The once civil political discourse in Washington has long since turned into a fight of bitter rivals trying to inflict the worst possible wounds. One is no longer respected as a worthy opponent, but attacked like an enemy. This behavior is in turn egged on by talk radio personalities, for whom compromise is a sign of weakness and lies are just another form of reality.

Adding to this is the almost unlimited flow of campaign contributions, which finance the increasingly brutal mudslinging during congressional elections every two years. Behind those donations are often radical groups or interested billionaires, such as the brothers David and Charles Koch, who have financed the Tea Party and are thought to have helped plan and direct the most recent crisis.

At the same time, the US is undergoing huge demographic shifts, which were recently evident in Obama's re-election. The old "white majority" is slowly shrinking into a minority. One of the consequences has been the rise of the Tea Party, which is loudly pushing back against change, Obama and the government itself.

Tea Party protagonists such as former Alaska governor Sarah Palin beguile their followers with folksy language they can understand and proudly hold up ignorance and stupidity as badges of honor in their battle against the "elite" and their intellect.

The results were evident during this most recent debt ceiling crisis. A federal default by the US would not be so bad, romanticized Florida Republican Ted Yoho, demonstrating a happy ignorance of economic issues. "I think, personally, it would bring stability to the world markets," he said.

This time around the US has just barely avoided testing out such crazy theories. But as the system limps along, the next crisis already has a deadline: Jan. 15, 2014, when the bill agreed to on Wednesday expires.


If you want to see how grossly money can distort democracy, just go to the state of Virginia

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship
Friday, October 18, 2013 1:16 EDT

If you want to see how grossly money can distort democracy, just go to the state of Virginia, where there are no limits on how big a check can be written for statewide office. Groups and individuals from outside the Old Dominion are taking full advantage, pouring millions into a governor’s race they see as a dry run for the tactics they’ll use in the 2014 midterms and the 2016 presidential race – sort of the way the Spanish civil war turned out to be a testing ground for many of the deadly weapons of World War II.

Billionaires like environmentalist Tom Steyer on the left and the Koch Brothers on the right are placing their bets, but as they say at the track, the horses they’re backing are just a couple of hay burners. Once the home of Washington and Jefferson, James Madison and Patrick Henry, Virginia now has a choice between two mediocrities slavishly devoted to their wealthy contributors.

The Democrat, Terry McAuliffe, has been in training for years as courtier to the rich. He has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for the Democratic National Committee, which he chaired for four years, and the campaigns of his – Best Friends Forever – Bill and Hillary Clinton, who now are shaking down donors for him. Along the way, according to The Washington Post, this gregarious bagman used government programs, his huge Rolodex of political connections, and wealthy investors from both parties to enrich himself. He organized a company to build electric cars and promoted it to investors with a prospectus featuring photographs and ample references to his Clinton ties. He even got the former President to show up at the opening of the plant in Mississippi, along with that state’s former Republican governor, Haley Barbour, who made his fortune as a lobbyist in Washington for the tobacco industry.

Strange bedfellows, these crony capitalists – you may remember that Hillary Clinton’s brother, Tony Rodham was involved, too, searching out foreign investors for the electric cars. When the spotlight of scrutiny crossed their path, McAuliffe resigned from the company, which is now under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The Washington Post also reports that one of McAuliffe’s top twenty donors – at $120,000 — is the Liberian International Ship and Corporate Registry, which issues flags of convenience to shipping companies that want to dodge taxes and labor regulations, and that McAuliffe invested in an alleged insurance scam that stole identities from the terminally ill. His campaign says that like other investors, McAuliffe was deceived. The fellow in charge of the scheme donated more than $25,000 the last time McAuliffe ran for governor, in 2009. Hmmm…

In a recent debate, his Republican opponent, state attorney general and right wing zealot Ken Cuccinelli, said that if McAuliffe’s elected, they’ll have to change the state’s motto from “Sic Semper Tyrannis” to “Quid Pro Quo.” That’s Latin for you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.

But Cuccinelli is in no position to talk. The candidate was drawn into that Virginia money scandal in which Jonnie R. Williams, Sr., CEO of Star Scientific, a company that manufactures dietary supplements, showered lavish presents and perks on the current governor and his wife. Cuccinelli also received a sprinkling of Williams’ largesse. He recently donated the value of what he says he got — $18,000 – to charity.

What’s more, his donor list includes considerable checks from big tobacco and big coal, including Murray Energy Corporation, which has often been fined for endangering the health and safety of its miners. Last year, its boss, Bob Murray, was discovered insisting that employees contribute time and money to his favorite anti-regulatory candidates – including Mitt Romney – or else.

Now Cuccinelli’s touting a major tax cut for the rich, with a plan that, according to the liberal Center for American Progress, would give 47% of a proposed tax reduction to the top five percent of Virginians. The state would lose nearly a billion and a half dollars in revenues so the rich can be even richer.

Not surprising, Cuccinelli’s a major climate change denier, as well as a fractious opponent of Obamacare, a woman’s right to choose and gay marriage. He once wanted to make it legal for employers to fire an employee if they were heard speaking Spanish. No wonder he’s the favorite of Citizens United – yes, that Citizens United, the right wing group that got the conservatives on the Supreme Court to give corporations the same free speech rights as real people.

So come Election Day, pity the voters of Virginia. Whether they choose the glad-handing Democrat or the self-righteous Republican, once again, the real winner will be Big Money.


October 16, 2013

Republican Collapse


Congress has finally worked out a deal to end the government shutdown and dodge default, but not before the Republican Party demonstrated to Americans just how conflicted and dangerous it is.

Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, this week described our current Congress as a greater danger to national security than Al Qaeda, writing, “We don’t tend to talk about Congress as — at this stage — what it plainly is: the clearest and most present danger in the world to the national security of the United States.”

That is what the G.O.P.-led House has brought us. Conservatives outside the chamber know defeat when they see it, and want to live to fight another day. But they beat their chests in vain as their laments fall on the deaf ears of the far-right political death squads.

On Tuesday, the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial pages blasted:

“This is the quality of thinking — or lack thereof — that has afflicted many GOP conservatives from the beginning of this budget showdown. They picked a goal they couldn’t achieve in trying to defund ObamaCare from one House of Congress, and then they picked a means they couldn’t sustain politically by pursuing a long government shutdown and threatening to blow through the debt limit.”

Senator John McCain said this week, “Republicans have to understand we have lost this battle, as I predicted weeks ago, that we would not be able to win because we were demanding something that was not achievable.”

Senator Lindsey Graham put it more bluntly: “We really did go too far. We screwed up.”

But, far-right elements of the House cannot be reasoned with. They prefer to go down in a blaze of glory — or at least take the country down in one.

And arguably no one is more the face of this disaster than Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, labeled by one New York Republican representative, Peter King, as a “fraud” and “false prophet,” who helped orchestrate it.

The Houston Chronicle editorial board on Tuesday took the extraordinary step of trying to withdraw its endorsement of Cruz, an endorsement that no doubt helped get him elected. An editorial posted to the paper’s Web site began, “Does anyone else miss Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison?”, the senator Cruz replaced. It went on:

“When we endorsed Ted Cruz in last November’s general election, we did so with many reservations and at least one specific recommendation -- that he follow Hutchison’s example in his conduct as a senator. Obviously, he has not done so. Cruz has been part of the problem in specific situations where Hutchison would have been part of the solution.”

It seems everyone is waking up to what a disaster this current Republican contingent of extremists has become and how poisonous they are to the functioning of our democracy. Better late than never, I suppose.

Cruz’s favorable ratings are underwater in Pew’s, Gallup’s, Fox News’ and Quinnipiac’s polling.

But then, Cruz doesn’t put much stake in polls, with their pesky numbers.

According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll taken last week, views of the Republican Party sank to record lows and 70 percent of respondents thought Republicans in Congress were putting their own political agenda ahead of what was good for the country.

The poll also found that negative feelings about the Tea Party had risen, with 47 percent saying they had negative feelings about the group, including 34 percent who described their feelings as “very negative.” Just 21 percent of Americans now say they feel positive about the group.

But when Cruz was asked Friday about the poll, he dismissed it as having a problematic methodology. He said: “If you seek out liberal Obama supporters and ask them their views, they’re going to tell you they’re liberal Obama supporters. That’s not reflective of where this country is.” In fact, it is Cruz’s methodology that is flawed. His grandiloquence may well be the undoing of the Grand Old Party.

According to a Pew Research report released Tuesday:

“A record-high 74% of registered voters now say that most members of Congress should not be reelected in 2014 (just 18% say they should). By comparison, at similar points in both the 2010 and 2006 midterm cycles only about half of registered voters wanted to see most representatives replaced.”

The report also found:

“An early read of voter preferences for the 2014 midterm shows that the Democrats have a six-point edge: 49% of registered voters say they would vote for or lean toward voting for the Democratic candidate in their district, while 43% support or lean toward the Republican candidate.”

Republicans terribly misplayed a weak hand on the government shutdown and the debt ceiling. There was never any chance of success other than scaring the president and the Democrats into caving. President Obama and Harry Reid called their bluff and they were left with no real options.

This is an embarrassment for the country, yes, but it’s also an embarrassment for the Republican Party that lays bare their motives, tactics and intention. It may not be so easy for voters to forget this come next November.

As the conservative Matt Drudge tweeted on Wednesday: “Speaker Pelosi Part 2: Opening Jan 5, 2015.” If only.


October 17, 2013

Two Parties Start Work to Avoid Repeat Crisis


WASHINGTON — With the government reopened and a debt default averted for now, Congressional negotiators on Thursday plunged into difficult budget talks to avoid a repeat crisis within months, and quickly agreed to lower their sights from the sort of grand bargain that has eluded the two parties for three years.

After approval late Wednesday of the agreement ending the standoff, the deal-making mantle shifted overnight from the leaders of the Senate to the Budget Committee leaders, Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, and Representative Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, two less senior lawmakers who nonetheless could make very effective salespeople since they command loyal followings in their parties. The political pressure lifted as well, for now.

But the need for a bipartisan breakthrough, even a modest one, was amplified by the economic costs wrought by the 16-day shutdown and near-default on government obligations.

“The key now is a budget that cuts out the things that we don’t need, closes corporate tax loopholes that don’t help create jobs, and frees up resources for the things that do help us grow — like education and infrastructure and research,” President Obama said Thursday from the White House, setting ambitious goals for Congress even as his own role in the bargaining was unclear.

The question of what a new House-Senate budget conference can deliver by its Dec. 13 deadline — in time for Congress to act by Jan. 15 on funding to keep the government open — remained the subject of deep skepticism, well earned by past failures at reaching so-called grand bargains for deficit reduction and spending investments in the past three years.

With the scope of the talks narrowed for now, on the table are ideas left over from past, failed bargaining: possible reductions in other programs — like farm subsidies, federal pensions, the Postal Service and unemployment insurance — and relatively minimal tax loophole closings, possibly as little as $55 billion.

While there is nonetheless hope on both sides for a defining budget deal, the three-week budget crisis scrambled Washington’s power structure.

Democrats, united throughout, believe they enter this next round far stronger, backed by a president who proved his own resolve. Republicans, having played their trump card by shutting down the government, are weakened and more divided than ever.

Reflecting his party’s chastened state heading into the next phase, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, told the conservative National Review on Thursday, “A government shutdown is off the table.”

Even so, Republicans enter these new talks with one advantage: if the negotiations fail, the next round of across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration will hit automatically, even deeper than the first. Democrats want to avoid that far more than Republicans do.

Both Mr. Ryan and Ms. Murray struck positive notes.

“Our goal is to do good for the American people, to get our debt under control, to do smart deficit reduction, and to do things we think can grow the economy and get people back to work,” Mr. Ryan said.

Ms. Murray said, “We believe there is common ground.”

By definition, common ground suggests no grand bargain, which would require a much more difficult trade-off where they fundamentally differ — higher tax revenues that Republicans oppose, in exchange for reductions in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security that Democrats vow they will not entertain without curbs on tax breaks for wealthy individuals and corporations.

With the last-minute settlement, Washington found itself battered, exhausted and about where it was back in March in terms of budget progress. That month, Congressional Republicans and the White House failed to prevent the sequestration cuts from taking effect across military and domestic programs.

The Republican-led House and Democratic-controlled Senate passed vastly different budgets, but Republicans blocked Democrats’ repeated efforts to convene a conference committee to reconcile the differences — until this week.

Congress not only reopened the government through Jan. 15 and raised the nation’s borrowing limit effective to Feb. 7 on Wednesday. It also mandated the formal budget negotiations in a separate parliamentary motion.

“Nobody can guarantee success, but what we can say is that if we don’t make the effort and get together and talk, that would guarantee failure,” said Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, House Democrats’ chief negotiator.

To improve the prospects for some success, the negotiators largely agreed at a closed-door breakfast on Thursday that a deal involving significant new tax revenues and large-scale changes to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, whose growth in an aging population is driving long-term projections of growing debt, is not going to happen.

Instead, they agreed, the talks will aim at a more modest, confidence-building measure to replace the sequestration cuts in 2014. Negotiators could aim higher, for a deal saving at least $1 trillion over the next nine years to substitute completely for the arbitrary sequestration cuts. But neither side was hopeful of that.

Even with lower sights, negotiators face the same hurdle over taxes that has ended a series of bipartisan talks in 2011 — between Mr. Obama and Speaker John A. Boehner; between Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Representative Eric Cantor, the House majority leader; and between lawmakers on a so-called supercommittee.

“The old bugaboo that has made other conferences fail is revenues,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Democrat.

Tea Party-infused lawmakers seemed unbowed and still uncompromising despite their loss over the debt limit and government funding for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. So did the conservative groups like Club for Growth and Heritage Action that goaded them on.

Like the Congressional actors, the White House is not expecting a grand bargain, as much as Mr. Obama — and Mr. Boehner, for that matter — would like to have that as a legacy. But it is determined to see an end to sequestration, and is counting on the cooperation of Republican leaders since the military is in line for greater automatic reductions than domestic programs in January.

Rank-and-file Republican lawmakers and the party base, however, have come to see sequestration as a victory.

By his televised remarks at the White House, Mr. Obama sought to project a tone of compromise, aides said, though some Republicans heard some partisan gloating. He also described a budget goal more expansive than the Congressional negotiators are setting, but one that neither party’s leaders rule out.

“This shouldn’t be as difficult as it’s been in past years because we already spend less than we did a few years ago,” Mr. Obama said. “Our deficits are half of what they were a few years ago. The debt problems we have now are long term, and we can address them without shortchanging our kids, or shortchanging our grandkids, or weakening the security that current generations have earned from their hard work.”


Ted Cruz still defiant: ‘I will continue to do anything I can’ to stop Obamacare

By Arturo Garcia
Thursday, October 17, 2013 21:33 EDT

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) refused to deny the possibility that he would engineer another shutdown of the federal government in an interview published by ABC News on Thursday, seemingly putting him at odds with his own Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

“I would do anything, and I will continue to do anything I can, to stop the train wreck that is Obamacare,” Cruz told correspondent Jon Karl.

Cruz then told Karl that the “true test” of Obamacare — the nickname for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — was whether lawmakers were doing anything for people who are “getting hurt” by it, a statement resembling previous remarks that have been rated as False by Politifact.

“Cruz’s comments don’t take into account the many people with modest incomes who will get subsidies as they shop on the health care marketplaces,” Politifact has stated. “These people should see substantial decreases in their premiums thanks to the new regulations and subsidies.”

The Tea Party senator then criticized the agreement McConnell made with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) on Tuesday, which he voted against.

The bill, which provides $986 billion in government funding, enabling government agencies affected by the shutdown to be open until Jan. 15, also includes funding for the law and was passed by the House and Senate Wednesday night.

“Washington focuses on the politics all day long,” Cruz argued. “That’s what this town does. But what we saw in the deal last night is that the U.S. Senate is not concerned about all the people out of a job, all the people in part-time work, all the people whose health care premiums are skyrocketing, all the people who are losing their health insurance.”

When specifically asked if he would push for another shutdown as the current deal expired, though, Cruz ducked the question.

“I know you want to nail down all sorts of future tactical decisions,” Cruz told Karl. “What I intend to do is continue to stand with the American people working to stop Obamacare.”

But McConnell did, in fact, rule that kind of gambit out in a separate interview with The Hill, saying the 16-day impasse — which was accompanied by a drop in his party’s approval rating — taught his younger colleagues that it was a losing strategy.

“One of my favorite old Kentucky sayings is there’s no education in the second kick of a mule,” McConnell was quoted as saying. “The first kick of a mule was when we shut the government down in the mid 1990s and the second kick was over the last 16 days. There is no education in the second kick of a mule. There will not be a government shutdown.”


Ted Cruz *Is* The New Republican Party

By Amanda Marcotte
Thursday, October 17, 2013 9:28 EDT

By the way, even when Ted Cruz is smiling, he looks like he’s whining. I guess your face really does stick that way if you do it too much.

I’m sure this has happened before, but not in my memory: The Houston Chronicle retracted its endorsement of Sen. Ted Cruz , in light of the entire shutdown debacle. They say they “miss” Kay Bailey Hutchinson, and indicate two places where Cruz has failed to follow in her footsteps. The most obvious is this entire shutdown debacle. They believe, and I have no doubt that this is true, that Hutchinson would have been part of the female-led-and-heavy team of senators that led the deal on ending the shutdown. (Not to be too nostalgic, however. She would have definitely tried to get all sorts of fucked up budget concessions.) This part, however,  is something that’s less discussed, which is that Cruz appears to be an utter failure at his primary job of representing the interests of Texas:

    For one thing, Hutchison had an unswerving commitment to the highest and best interests of Texas at all times. This revealed itself in a thousand different ways. Hereabouts, we miss her advocacy for NASA, the Port of Houston and the energy industry. And we know she worked just as hard for Dallas, San Antonio and a hundred smaller Texas cities and towns.

I have no doubt that Cruz’s concerns for the well-being of his home state could fit into a thimble, and probably thinks that shit is beneath him anyway. He’s part of a new, Tea Party-driven Republican party that exists purely as an ideological hate hard-on for liberalism and modernity, and that’s it. I bet he’s rolled his eyes at least once when his aides brought up the concept of constituent services.  This is how it’s going to be, especially in states where the Republican seat is safe. Republican voters have made it clear that they’d burn this country to the ground rather than share it with Those People, and so we shouldn’t be surprised that their representatives are finally taking them at their word. For the Ted Cruzes of the world, the voters back home are nothing but a bunch of rubes who you can rile up with race-baiting, sexist, anti-government horseshit to gain power. I don’t imagine he believes he owes those rubes diddly-squat.

I get why the Houston Chronicle endorsed the Republican in that race. He was going to win anyway, and there’s often no point with safe seats doing otherwise than endorsing the clear winner. It helps keep your paper on their good side and may even make sure that they read some of your other opinions on what they might do. Or, that’s how it was in the old days. I hope the lesson is learned now: There isn’t an upside to endorsing Republicans anymore. They don’t care if you love them or hate them. They’ve got another appointment to go on Fox and explain how taxation is theft and Obama is trying to kill your children by getting them health insurance now. They don’t care about you anymore. So, next time around, Chronicle, just endorse the Democrat. No need to play games anymore, and in your heart of hearts, you know they’re going to be the better candidate for Texas.


Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and House Republicans Are Plotting Another Government Shutdown

By: Jason Easley
Thursday, October 17th, 2013, 1:07 pm

As soon as the bill was passed to reopen the government, the same Republican extremists who carried out the first government shutdown were already plotting round two. Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) told The New York Times, “I’ll vote against it, but that will get us into Round 2. See, we’re going to start this all over again.”

On top of Fleming’s explicit threat, here is what Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) had to say when Sean Hannity said that it looks like they aren’t going away.

Sen. Lee said, “We’re not going away, and neither are the many millions of Americans who have joined this dialogue, who have made their voices heard by Washington, D.C. And not only are we not going anywhere, but they aren’t either, because their numbers are growing, because more people are hurting as a result of this law every single day. And as they continue to call in and ask for help, we’re going to continue to do everything that we can to help them. And the way that we can help them is to stop this law, and to stop the implementation, and enforcement…We’re not going to fund it. That’s what we said then, and that’s what we still think we should do.”

Sen. Cruz said that, “This is going to be multi-staged extended political battle.”

Democrats and Republicans who thought that Cruz, Lee, and their House Republicans would learn anything from the political spanking that just delivered to the by the American people were wrong. What President Obama tried to do in his speech this morning was build a coalition of Democrats and Republicans that will work around Cruz and the House extremists to get things done.

It is up to House and Senate Republicans to get their fringe under control. President Obama and congressional Democrats are the last firewall of defense to prevent the far right Republicans in Congress from wrecking the economy, but Democrats have been placed in this role only because the House Republican leadership can’t control their own people.

Unless the same coalition that prevented a default last night continues to work together, Ted Cruz and his lemmings will shutdown the government or try to force a default in early 2014. House Republicans can avoid a future shutdown by taking the budget conference seriously and working with Senate Democrats, but Ted Cruz and quest to the use the ACA to get elected president in 2016 aren’t going anywhere.


October 18, 2013 06:00 AM

Ted Cruz Is A Grifter Who Believes In Divine Wealth Transfers

By karoli

You haven't lived until you've seen a little anointing by megachurch pastors of politicians. In this short video, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are anointed by pastors at Texas megachurch New Beginnings Church. In this case, it's particularly creepy because of Papa Cruz's prophetic fantasies of what his son Rafael Edward Cruz is destined to do.

The father, speaking of his son's anointing as "king":

    "There are some of you, as a matter of fact I will dare to say the majority of you, that your anointing is not an anointing as priest. It's an anointing as king. And God has given you an anointing to go to the battlefield. And what's the battlefield ? The battlefield is the marketplace. To go to the marketplace and occupy the land. To go to the marketplace and take dominion. If you remember the last time I was in this pulpit, I talked to you about Genesis chapter 1, verse 28, where God says unto Adam and Eve, "Go forth, multiply, TAKE DOMINION over all creation." And if you recall, we talked about the fact that that dominion is not just in the church. That dominion is over every area - society, education, government, economics...

    "Kings who are anointed for a totally different reason than priests. Kings who are anointed to take dominion. Kings who are anointed to go to war, win the war, and bring the spoils of war to the priests. So the work of the kingdom of God could be accomplished. And I'll tell you - the king needed the blessing of the priest in order to be successful in battle... [in Deuteronomy] Before the king went to battle, the priest came and blessed the king and blessed the warriors. And the king needed the blessing of the priest in order to be successful in battle... Now, the priest also needed for the king to be successful in battle, because the priest needed the spoils of war in order to repair the temple, in order to carry out the ministry that God had entrusted him. So the king and the priest complimented each other, and they were both very, very interested in blessing one another.

Sounds like claptrap, right? Kings, priests, blah blah blah. What does this really have to do with Ted Cruz and his crazy behavior on Capitol Hill?

For Papa Cruz, this is all about a wealth transfer from your pocket to theirs.

    So to pull all this logic together, God anoints priests to work in the church directly and kings to go out into the marketplace to conquer, plunder, and bring back the spoils to the church. The reason governmental regulation has to disappear from the marketplace is to make it completely available to the plunder of Christian "kings" who will accomplish the "end time transfer of wealth." Then "God's bankers" will usher in the "coming of the messiah." The government is being shut down so that God's bankers can bring Jesus back.

    And here's the thing. When you get a lot of people together in a megachurch, you can do some pretty impressive things with your mission projects. You can feed thousands of people and host ESL classes and job training programs and medical clinics. And I imagine that seeing your accomplishments could give you the hubris of thinking we don't need a government at all to make our society run; our church can be the new government.

How very revealing. Papa Cruz and his son are doing this for money. For a wealth transfer from everyone to grifters who twist the Bible into something never, ever intended. They're no better than snake oil salesman, except they're selling the snake's venom and calling it balm.

It's all just a big con to pull some money out of your pocket and slip it into theirs. Of course Ted Cruz will never stop. The combination of greed, hubris and his own narcissism make him King Grifter, but little else.

Click to watch the insanity:


Alan Grayson, ‘John Boehner has got to go.’

By: Jason Easley
Thursday, October 17th, 2013, 9:42 pm

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) spoke for the nation when he declared that John Boehner is useless, and he has got to go.

After discussing how appalled the American people are with the tea party, Rep. Grayson said that the Republican Party is on the way out,

    I think it’s already clear to people that the Republican Party is on its way out. The Republican Party is going to go the way of the Whig Party. The way the Whig Party disappeared in the 1830s in America, and the reason is simple. They simply won’t do anything useful for ordinary people. Whether the issue is jobs, or housing, or healthcare, or transportation, whatever the issue might be, they’ve got nothing, and it’s not our fault, but they’ve got nothing. They simply want to bring about the end of days as soon as possible. That is the ultimate tea party Republican desire, bringing about the end of days. The Republican Party’s become the largest suicide pact in history, and I hope that they don’t take us with them.


    Listen, Boehner has to go. Boehner dragged this country with his tea party allies through the mud for two weeks and a half completely unnecessarily. There was no purpose to this whatsoever. The bill we voted on late last night was the same bill that we could have voted on two weeks ago, two months ago, two years ago. And the fact is that John Boehner’s become a short order cook for the far right wing. Would you like some French fries or cheese with that? That’s what he does. He takes whatever they want, and lays it out there as if that’s the right thing to do.

Rep. Grayson argued that Boehner’s status as the errand boy for the tea party House Republicans has made him completely useless, so he has to go. In the same interview, Grayson also claimed that the tea party is about as popular as the KKK, and that Democrats must remain vigilant because tea partiers are going to continue to try to destroy the country by wrecking the economy.

Grayson is correct. Boehner has to go, but the problem is that there is no one that Republican Party could replace him with who wouldn’t face the same pressures. This is why the only solution is for voters to replace John Boehner and the Republican House majority with Nancy Pelosi and a new Democratic House in 2o14.

Alan Grayson loves his fiery rhetoric, but beneath the headline making quips was a very profound point. Unless Speaker Boehner reinvents himself, he is completely useless to the country. When push came to shove during the latest House Republican caused economic crisis, Mitch McConnell, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi did their jobs. The weak link that nearly broke the chain, and the nation’s economy, was John Boehner.

More than anything else, the biggest lesson learned is that John Boehner has to go.


How the Koch brothers’ beer offensive against Obamacare fell flat

By Sadhbh Walshe, The Guardian
Thursday, October 17, 2013 17:11 EDT

A Koch-funded front is using free beer to entice students away from health exchanges. But Obamacare is made of stronger stuff

What’s a family values conservative to do when every effort to protect millions of Americans from the scourge of affordable healthcare fails?

Break out the beer, of course. The latest campaign to kill off Obamacare in its infancy is now playing out on college campuses where a conservative group known as Generation Opportunity (GO), who are funded in part by the billionaire Koch brothers, is using the lure of free beer and “opt out” beer koozies to persuade young students not to buy health insurance – or, at least, not to buy it from the Obamacare exchanges.

Traditionally, one might expect God-fearing conservatives to be warning youth about the dangers of alcohol consumption, rather than plying them with free liquor, but these are desperate times. The determined Koch brothers have already spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to derail the president’s healthcare law. So far, though, despite their best efforts, Obamacare has proved as “invincible” as the young people it needs to enroll. While it’s unlikely that the beer exchanges, shall we call them, will be the game-changer, the Kochs may well end up driving many of us to drink with their relentless and futile vendetta to undo the law – not just the college students.

Nearly every movement to “educate the public” about the “dangers” of Obamacare can be linked in some way to the Koch brothers, and this latest college campus effort is no different. Last month, Politico revealed that GO has received $5.04m from the Koch-funded entity known as Freedom Works. This “grassroots” movement is now about to embark on an “Opt Out” tour of 20 college towns across the country as part of its effort to steer young people away from the Obamacare exchanges. As GO’s 29-year-old president, Evan Feinberg, put it:

    What we’re trying to communicate is, ‘No, you’re not actually required to buy health insurance’ … you might have to pay a fine, but that’s going to be cheaper for you, and better for you.

After coming under criticism for this statement, Feinberg (who previously worked at the Charles Koch Institute) has since clarified that GO is not trying to persuade young people to opt out of buying insurance altogether, just from buying it through the healthcare exchanges.

Maybe, I’m naive to think that most young Americans will not fall for this cynical ploy, no matter how much free beer they are plied with. It seems to me that any campaign that is based on a false premise – in this case, that young people could get cheaper insurance before Obamacare or since – seems destined for failure.

According to a report released in September by the Department of the Health and Human Services, 56% of the people who are applying for health insurance today will be able to get coverage through the health insurance marketplace for less than $100 a month. This means that a large percentage of the youth market that GO are targeting would be able to get comprehensive health coverage under Obamacare for a very low rate.

If Feinberg or any other GO employee genuinely knows about better insurance deals than that for students, it would be really helpful if they listed them on their Opt Out website. Surely, that would be a far better use of their Koch dollars than buying more crates of beer?

As it is, the Opt Out website contains no information beyond vague and unsubstantiated claims about Obamacare being a “bad deal”, and two embarrassingly poorly made ads featuring a “Creepy Uncle Sam” character who pops up between a woman’s legs as she undergoes a gynaecological exam and asks a young man to roll over while he pulls on a surgical glove. The message – that government should stay out of healthcare – is about as subtle as Miley Cyrus’ recent sledgehammer licking antics.

Whether Creepy Uncle Sam and his creepier backers will succeed in bringing down the Affordable Care Act (ACA) remains to be seen, but the prognosis is not good. Since the ACA was signed into law in 2010, it has miraculously managed to withstand “Hitler death panel” comparisons, state by state efforts to block its implementation, a US supreme court challenge to its constitutionality and, most recently, a defunding effort that led to the federal government shutdown.

As the New York Times recently reported, the Koch brothers have been heavily involved in all of these separate efforts through their generous funding of groups like Americans for Prosperity, FreedomWorks, Heritage Action and, of course, Generation Opportunity. But so far, their efforts have been in vain. Not only is Obamacare still the law of the land, but the law has actually gained a major bump in support since the shutdown stand-off.

As it happens, even the Koch brothers have begun to realize that their attempts to stop the ACA are getting them nowhere. Last week, a representative of Koch Industries sent a letter to members of the Senate distancing the company from efforts to defund Obamacare, while still making it clear that Koch really does not like the law.

Does this mean the Koch brothers are done with their various and multifaceted efforts to bring it down? Probably not, but if they at least scale back their efforts to just distributing free beers, that might not be such a bad thing.

After what they have put us all through, we deserve one.

© Guardian News and Media 2013


Obama Movingly Tells House Republicans That Disagreement Can’t Degenerate Into Hatred

By: Jason Easley
Thursday, October 17th, 2013, 11:31 am

President Obama schooled House Republicans on why they can’t let their disagreement with him turn into hatred that breaks the government, and offered three policy areas where he thinks both sides can agree.

The president said that Republican tactics have repeatedly hurt the economy. He told Congress, “How business is done in this town has to change.” The president said the political class needs to stop focusing on the bloggers, the talking heads, the lobbyists, and the professional political activists that profit from conflict. President Obama said that there are many obstacles, but that doesn’t mean that both sides can’t make progress.

The president laid out three areas where Democrats and Republicans can agree. His first area was passing a balanced budget. President Obama said that, “We shouldn’t approach this process of creating a budget as an ideological exercise.” We need both cuts and growth. The president said that the challenge now isn’t deficits, but protecting Medicare and Social Security for future generations. Obama suggested closing corporate tax loopholes to raise revenue. He repeatedly said the deficits we have are shrinking, and the nation’s problem is long term debt.

His second area was immigration reform. President Obama said that there is a broad coalition of support on both sides for comprehensive immigration reform. Obama spoke directly to the House. The Senate passed their bill, and he said if the House had ideas, let’s hear them.

The president’s third area was passage of a Farm Bill. Once again, he noted that the Senate passed a bipartisan Farm Bill, but it just sitting in the House.

The President said that these things can be done if we focus on the American people.

President Obama was speaking to all of the country, but his remarks were specifically directed at House Republicans. His message to them was to stop holding back on things that both sides agree on because the extremists in their party don’t like compromise.

Obama told House Republicans to stop breaking government because they disagree with a policy, or don’t like him. President Obama told House Republicans that if they don’t like his policies, go win elections. The president correctly noted that this isn’t the way the Founders intended our government to work.

The president said that House Republicans can’t let disagreement degenerate into hatred. He thanked furloughed workers, and closed by quoting the Pledge of Allegiance.

President Obama’s message was Republicans have to stop breaking the government when they disagree. This speech was offering Republicans an alternate route to the path that they have been on. He laid out three policy areas where Republicans can join with him to do good for the country.

The president is offering Republicans a chance to redeem themselves. Whether or not they choose to accept his offer, will be determined by whether or not party leadership continues to let the extremists steer the ship. Obama isn’t offering House Republicans anything, but a chance to get their act together and do the right thing.

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« Last Edit: Oct 18, 2013, 07:17 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #9412 on: Oct 19, 2013, 05:48 AM »

Greeks commemorate musician murdered by neo-Nazis

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, October 18, 2013 17:00 EDT

Greeks on Friday commemorated anti-fascist musician Pavlos Fyssas in an Athens rally, a month after his murder by a neo-Nazi supporter prompted a huge backlash against the far-right Golden Dawn party.

Around a thousand people gathered in the working-class neighbourhood of Keratsini in west Athens where the 34-year-old was fatally stabbed by a self-confessed neo-Nazi supporter on September 18, following a brawl outside a cafeteria.

The ensuing outcry forced authorities to take a closer look at the activities of Golden Dawn, which had long been suspected of orchestrating assaults, mainly against migrants, that police failed to properly investigate.

Mourners left candles and carnations on the spot where Fyssas fell, outside a private education centre, and the word “Revenge” was written on the wall above.

“In the past month, since Pavlos’ murder, more people have been taking to the streets over issues of anti-fascism,” Constantina, a university student studying law, told AFP.

“They have placed these issues first on their agenda because they understand that in a society living in misery, the fight against (austerity) and the system that feeds them is a fight against fascism,” she said.

A Supreme Court report has linked Golden Dawn, which had 18 MPs in parliament since last year’s elections, to two murders, including the stabbing death of Fyssas, three attempted murders and numerous assaults.

Golden Dawn leader Nikos Michaloliakos, his deputy Christos Pappas and lawmaker Yiannis Lagos have been indicted over the violence and are being held in Athens’s high security Korydallos prison to face trial.

Six other Golden lawmakers have also been tied to the case.

The revelations have halted Golden Dawn’s meteoric rise in opinion polls, which had been boosted by the party’s strong stance on political corruption, austerity and illegal immigration.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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Posts: 28602

« Reply #9413 on: Oct 19, 2013, 06:06 AM »

Greenpeace activists await trial among harsh winds, tears and no sympathy

Briton Alexandra Harris and 29 others face 15 years in jail for Arctic Sunrise protest, but Russians have their own problems

Interactive: who are the 30 Greenpeace activists held in Russia

Shaun Walker in Murmansk and Sam Jones   
The Guardian, Friday 18 October 2013 18.30 BST      

Locals call Radishchev Street the "street of tears". On one side is Murmansk's biggest funeral parlour; on the other is pretrial detention centre No 1, a foreboding facility fronted by rusting metal gates and crumbling walls.

It is here that the 28 activists and two freelance journalists detained aboard Greenpeace's ship the Arctic Sunrise are being held pending trial.

Friday marked 30 days since Russian coastguards descended from helicopters to take the Arctic Sunrise by storm during Greenpeace's protest against the Prirazlomnaya oil rig.

The environmentalists were brought to the Arctic port city of Murmansk and have been charged with "piracy as part of an organised group" – an offence which carries a jail sentence of 10-15 years.

Throughout the week, activists have been brought one by one from the detention centre to courtrooms in central Murmansk, asking to be released on bail ahead of the pending trials.
Greenpeace vessel Arctic Sunrise after being seized by Russian authorities Greenpeace vessel Arctic Sunrise after being seized by Russian authorities during a protest against drilling in the Arctic. Photograph: Igor Podgorny/AFP/Getty Images

On Friday morning, it was the turn of Devon-born Alexandra Harris at the Oktyabrsky district court, which still proudly displays a huge bust of Vladimir Lenin on its exterior.

Harris, wearing a purple sweater and blue jeans, was led into court in handcuffs then locked inside a steel cage for the duration of the hearing.

"I feel like all my rights have been denied," she told the Guardian during a brief break in the hearing. She said she is kept in solitary confinement and allowed outside "into a concrete block" for an hour a day.

Lawyers for Harris presented the court with a guarantee that Greenpeace would put up bail funds of 1m roubles (£20,000), and book her a hotel room in Murmansk ahead of trial, if the court would agree to release her on bail from the detention facility. A number of character references were also provided, and it was noted that Harris has no previous criminal convictions.

She told the court, through a translator, that she was innocent, and complained that when she had serious stomach pains, no doctor was sent to her – despite her asking both a Russian human rights official and a visiting British diplomat to tell the prison she required a doctor.

As has been the case in all 18 of the bail hearings that have so far come to court, the judge flatly refused all of the defence's arguments and refused even to allow Harris to be moved to a guarded hotel room, saying she did not have a Russian visa and could also prove a flight risk. She was led away in handcuffs fighting back tears.

In a handwritten letter to her parents, seen by the Guardian, Harris wrote that she is "trying very, very hard not to lose hope" and says she is nervous about having to spend the winter in Murmansk.
Greenpeace activists in prison uniforms stage a protest in front of the Alhambra in Granada Greenpeace activists in handcuffs and prison uniforms stage a protest in front of the Alhambra in Granada, in support of the 30 detained in Russia. Photograph: Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/AFP/Getty Images

Harris said in court that her cell is heated but when the wind blows it is freezing, as there are many gaps in the windows.

Already, the temperature is well below zero in this forbidding Arctic town of prefabricated apartment blocks and decaying industrial infrastructure; from now on it will only get colder and darker, as the days become shorter and the round-the-clock blackness of the polar winter draws closer.

The Olympic flame, supposed symbol of peace and harmony among nations, passed through Murmansk this week. It will travel close to where the 30 detainees, nationals of 18 countries, are being held when it returns to the city in two weeks.

The flame, journeying through Russia ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi next February, has been put aboard a nuclear icebreaker to voyage to the North Pole and back from Murmansk.

The mission is led by the same polar explorer who in 2007 planted a Russian flag on the seabed underneath the North Pole, suggesting that the Olympic torch is being used to cement Russia's claim to the Arctic.

The tough treatment of the Greenpeace activists has been seen as another sign that Russia will tolerate no interference in what it sees as its interests in the Arctic region.

In the queue outside the centre, there is little sympathy for Greenpeace among relatives of other detainees, as they wait to deliver packages. "We have a saying in Russia: you shouldn't go into someone else's house and try to live by your own rules," said one middle-aged woman who had bought a parcel of food for her 33-year-old daughter, who had been inside for five months on charges she did not want to reveal. She had been waiting in freezing temperatures since 4am to ensure she was among the lucky few who got to deliver her package.

Another man, waiting to deliver a package to his brother, suggested the Greenpeace activists were paid by western oil corporations to undermine Russia and should be "shot, or at least sent to a camp". The opinions reflect surveys which show that the majority of Russians support the piracy charges.

Veronika Dmitriyeva, 43, had travelled to Murmansk from Moscow to give a suitcase full of clothes and food to her husband Andrei Allakhverdov, a Greenpeace press officer. She had brought only food and clothes, after a novel that she tried to send to her husband previously, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, was rejected by prison authorities as potentially subversive. "He served in the army, so he's used to hard conditions," said Dmitriyeva. "His main problem is boredom. There is nothing to do."

The men are kept in cells with other Russian inmates, while the women are in solitary confinement. Consular visits are limited to two per month, which a Dutch diplomat in Murmansk said possibly violated the Vienna convention.

While Greenpeace has a long history of scuffles with authorities across the globe, it is clear that none of the activists expected it to come to this. Lawyers say that given the number of people involved, it could be months before the case even comes to trial, and authorities are currently preparing applications to extend the detention of the activists beyond the two months initially allotted by the court.

Russia's investigative committee, rather than retreating, has raised the stakes, suggesting it is preparing new charges against some of the activists over drugs it claims were found during a search of the boat, and attempts by some of the Greenpeace activists to damage coastguard boats and put coastguards' lives at risk. Greenpeace has called all the accusations fabrications.

To mark the 30 days since the boat was seized, Greenpeace had planned a one-man protest outside the courtroom in Murmansk, with an activist due to stand in a cage to complain about the detention of the 30.

However, the picket went ahead without the cage after six masked men broke into the Greenpeace office where the cage was being kept overnight, and stole it.

"I'm worried about what's going to happen," wrote Harris to her parents. "I have moments of feeling panicky but then I try to tell myself there's nothing I can do from in here and what will be will be so it's pointless worrying.

"But it's hard. Surely my future isn't rotting in a prison in Murmansk?! Well, I really hope it isn't."


Who are the Greenpeace Arctic 30? - interactive

The 30 men and women aboard the Greenpeace Arctic Sunrise ship were arrested for trying to board or document the first Russian oil rig to drill in the pristine Arctic environment and now face charges of piracy. But who are they and what inspired them?

Click here:

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« Reply #9414 on: Oct 19, 2013, 06:09 AM »

French MP clucking at woman in parliament sparks anger over sexism

Female politicians call for action to counteract wave of machismo sweeping through French politics

Kim Willsher in Paris, Friday 18 October 2013 17.57 BST   

It's raining machismo in France. Chucking it down, in fact.

From parliament to local councils, via national media and regional newspapers, storms have erupted as French men indulge in misogynist outbursts that could have come from the cave age.

Now, thanks to the name-and-shame tactics of social media networks, France's long-suffering women, who might previously have shrugged off such attacks as everyday sexism and machismo, are hitting back.

The backlash came after a banal enough event: a male member of the UMP opposition in the Assemblée Nationale humiliated a female opponent by making clucking noises as she spoke during a late-night debate on the Socialist government's controversial pension reforms.

The noise suggested she was a poule, an insult that can be translated as bird, but conveys in French a woman who is, among other things, an airhead.

The man had apparently returned to the house of parliament after a "well-oiled" dinner with male colleagues who were laughing and egging him on.

Véronique Massonneau, who was speaking at the time and was the subject of the insult, insisted the fowl noises stop. Philippe Le Ray, the MP making them, carried on, until the furious speaker of the house called for an adjournment for tempers to cool.

"He was a complete idiot. He just kept on making these animal sounds, even after he was asked to stop," Massonneau told the Guardian.

"During the suspension I went over to where he was sitting and asked him why he was being such an idiot. He didn't reply. He was clearly, how can I say, uninhibited."

The parliamentary session resumed and there the matter might have rested, as so many have before.

The newly appointed housing minister, Cécile Duflot, of Europe-Ecologie-Les Verts (EELV), has also been the target of sexist behaviour. She was lambasted by centre-right female MPs for "lacking respect" by wearing jeans for her first cabinet meeting, then jeered and wolf-whistled in the Assemblée National when she turned up in a flowered dress. Duflot told the Guardian she was shocked and surprised at the "mediocrity" of the behaviour.

"To be honest, I found it quite incredible that this was the level of behaviour. But the reaction that there has been has shown that sexism is not acceptable.

"I think the political milieu is behind society on these things. In real life, it would be hard to imagine that a woman in business would be treated as a poule when she spoke."

Former sports minister Chantal Jouanno, then a UMP member, has claimed she was subjected to smutty comments whenever she wore a skirt to parliamentary sessions. Female ministers have become used to being asked about their hair and makeup, often by female television and radio presenters.

However, something about Poulegate captured the public imagination. The following day a group of mainly leftwing female MPs decided to arrive late for the sitting as a mark of solidarity. The opposition UMP accused them of using "theatrics", and staged their own walkout.

"The invective and insults I suffered were no worse than normal, but it symbolised a general fed-up-ness at the way women are treated. The moment was badly chosen. We were discussing a serious subject, pensions, that concerns everyone and he did that," said Massonneau.

"If it is about what I am saying, or someone disagrees with me, I have no problem with that at all. It's different when it's about physical looks, dress, or way of speaking just because you are a woman."

Le Ray, 45, apologised and was fined one quarter of his monthly salary – a rarely used, thus symbolic, penalty.

A few days later, Éric Zemmour, a writer and political journalist, went on France's equivalent of Radio Four's Today programme, on France Inter, to discuss the incident and dismissed sexism as "feminist nonsense". He also suggested women had slept their way into parliament.

"How did women get into the Assemblée Nationale and the Sénat? … By laws of parity that forced people to put them on [voting] lists … and they put friends, women, mistresses, etc."

Then Bernard Ronsin, conseiller général of the canton of Crécy-sur-Serre in the Aisne, made clear he was vehemently opposed to the law making gender parity in local election lists obligatory from 2015.

"Parity, it's bullshit," Ronsin told his local newspaper. "We're going to force women to go into politics when they don't necessarily want to. In my profession [blacksmith], I deal with more and more women. There are some who are very competent, but they ruin our lives. They'd be better off with pans making jam."

Parity in parliamentary elections has been the rule in France for 13 years but the parties prefer the fines to more women. In the 2012 election, the UMP ended up with just 14% female MPs and lost €4.5m. The Socialist party had 45% and was fined €500,000. EELV had 50%. Of the 577 deputies in the Assemblée Nationale, only 155 are women (Britain is only slightly better with 503 male and 147 female MPs). Of the 348 seats in the upper house, the Sénat, only 77 are occupied by women.

The former justice minister Rachida Dati, who served under the previous president, Nicolas Sarkozy, faced immense scrutiny of her private life after refusing to name the father of her daughter.

"Politics is a very masculine universe, like all places of power," said Dati, adding that the default masculine attitude was that women were "a priori incompetent until they proved otherwise. We don't 'convince', we 'seduce'; we are not 'ambitious', we are 'conspiring'. If we wear clothes that are slightly feminine, we are attacked.

"I am the only UMP vice-president out of 20. That is regrettable for the first party in France."

Duflot suggested the answer is to bring more women into politics by strengthening the rules on parity by making the fines levied against parties who do not conform even higher.

Julie Muret of the feminist group Osez le Féminisme, which advises the government, agreed that parity is the answer.

"It's a necessary evil because you have to have penalties as a stick to beat them. We'd rather not have to do this, but it seems we must. The parity law is generally a good thing, the penalties are there and it hits parties where it hurts. Unfortunately, some prefer to pay.

"Where there is less parity, women feel vulnerable. Where there is more parity, it encourages women. The poule incident was particularly important because it made the headlines and it was quite clear to the whole world who was in the wrong. People were shocked, mainly thanks to Twitter."

At the news website Mediapart, the political journalist Lénaïg Bredoux has been instrumental in setting up Machoscope, an attempt to name and shame those guilty of sexism in public life.

"People have finally woken up to this machismo, which is very much a French thing. I am sure it is recurrent, permanent, and structural in politics in France. There is a tolerance of this machismo and sexism. I worked in Germany and I can't see it happening there."

France's Socialist government has appointed a women's rights minister, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, and announced that all ministers will attend an hour-long course on "male-female equality" in order to do away with stereotypes.

"Many ministers have announced they want to reduce inequalities but certain figures might have escaped them," said Vallaud-Belkacem at the time.

However, for Esther Benbassa, a Turkish-born EELV representative in the Sénat, the bias in parliament only represents the prejudice of society as a whole – deeply ingrained preconceptions that only women themselves can change.

"My male colleagues respect me because I stand up to them and shout at them. That's the only way. You stand up to them and they back down," said Benbassa. "The only way forward is with education and more women in parliament. There's no miracle solution. That's it."


October 18, 2013

Father of Roma Girl Expelled From France Speaks Out


MITROVICA, Kosovo — The father of a Roma immigrant girl who has become a cause celebre in France said Friday he pretended his family was from Kosovo in hope of gaining pity — and political asylum.

The lie didn't work, and he and his family were expelled as illegal immigrants. His revelation is the latest twist in a tale that has shaken the French government and sent thousands of French high school students into the street, protesting on behalf of deported classmates.

The girl, 15-year-old Leonarda Dibrani, was taken by police from a school field trip last week, then sent to Kosovo with her family. While such expulsions occur regularly as France tries to stem illegal immigration, the circumstances of the arrest — in front of Leonarda's classmates and teachers — shocked many.

France's Socialist government is investigating. Interior Minister Manuel Valls said he would get the results of the investigation Saturday.

Meanwhile, questions have surfaced over the Dibrani family history.

Activists who worked with the family initially said they had fled Kosovo because of discrimination against Roma, or Gypsies, and limited opportunities.

But Leonarda's father, Reshat Dibrani, told The Associated Press on Friday that the Kosovo story was a lie aimed at achieving a better life for his six children.

Presenting copies of their birth certificates, he said he was born in Kosovo but moved to Italy years ago, and that his children were born in Italy but don't have Italian citizenship. He believed they had a better chance at permanently settling in France than Italy, so he moved the family to France, claiming the whole family was from impoverished, post-war Kosovo.

"We said in France that we had come from Kosovo so that we could get the papers," he said in Mitrovica in northern Kosovo. "If I had told them that I am Kosovar and that (the children) were born in Italy, then France would say go back to Italy."

He said many immigrant families try similar stories. "You look to do what's best for the family," he said.

The case of the Dibrani family and an Armenian high school student expelled last weekend prompted protests by high school students around Paris. Thousands of teenagers, saying the expulsions are unfair to immigrant children trying to get an education and a better life, rallied peacefully at the Place de la Bastille. A few threw stones and pens at riot police trying to slow down their march, and were met by tear gas.

Leonarda Dibrani said she's "very grateful" for the students' support.


Angela Charlton and Nicolas Garriga in Paris contributed to this report.

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« Reply #9415 on: Oct 19, 2013, 06:11 AM »

90-year-old former Nazi soldier handed life sentence for role in Greek massacre

The massacre took place on Cephalonia – the setting for the bestselling novel Captain Corelli's Mandolin

Lizzy Davies in Rome, Friday 18 October 2013 17.51 BST   

A 90-year-old former Nazi soldier has been handed a life sentence for his role in a wartime massacre on the Greek island of Cephalonia, the setting for the bestselling novel Captain Corelli's Mandolin.

Alfred Stork, a German ex-corporal, was sentenced in absentia by a military court in Rome which found him guilty of taking part in the execution of at least 117 Italian officers who had surrendered to the Nazis.

The massacre on 24 September 1943 was just one bit of a far bigger and bloodier German massacre of Italian troops, whom they regarded as traitors for having switched sides after Italy signed an armistice with the Allies.

Around 5,000 Italian soldiers from the Acqui division on Cephalonia were rounded up and killed by the Nazis after surrendering following a bloodthirsty, week-long battle.

The atrocity – one of the worst examples of Nazi brutality – was described in Louis de Bernières's novel, Captain Corelli's Mandolin, which was subsequently turned into a film starring Penelope Cruz and Nicolas Cage.

The hero, Captain Antonio Corelli, is a gregarious officer in the Acqui division. He narrowly escapes being killed in the massacre.

Stork's defence had argued that he should be cleared of the charges due to a lack of proof and the fact that, in any case, as a corporal he would have had to have followed orders.

But the military prosecutor said witness testimony had proved beyond reasonable doubt that Stork had taken part in the incident.

In 2005 the ageing German allegedly admitted he had formed part of an execution squad that killed some of the officers, but the evidence was not admissible in the Italian court.

The prosecutor Marco de Paulis told the court Stork "did not have the courage" to stick to his admission, instead "staying comfortably" in his house in Germany.

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« Reply #9416 on: Oct 19, 2013, 06:13 AM »

Kenya's Westgate attack: Norway's Progress party faces its first test

If an Islamist Norwegian was involved in the terrorist attack, all eyes will be on how the populist rightwing party deals with it

Frøy Gudbrandsen, Friday 18 October 2013 19.15 BST   

Two days after the populist rightwing Progress party entered the Norwegian government, it is already facing its first test of how to handle controversial immigration issues now it has power and responsibility.

The facts are still uncertain, but there could be a link between Norwegian radical Islamist activists and the terrorist attack on the Westgate mall in Kenya. If proved, this would not be the first time radical Islamism had made its presence felt in Norway. Islamist individuals and groups have received substantial attention from the security police. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Norway on 22 July two years ago, the police were criticised for having prioritised these groups over radical rightwing extremists. Radical Islamism has been one of several issues in the Norwegian immigration debate, but has never been the dominant theme. That said, Progress party politicians have frequently criticised the Norwegian government for being too soft on people with links to radical networks such as Profetens Umma. Earlier this year, Robert Eriksson, now the minister of labour, was furious that a central person in that group had been in receipt of benefits and demanded an immediate halt to all social security payments to persons with extremist connections.

Under normal circumstances, it is safe to say that any allegation of terrorist activities by a Norwegian citizen would lead to a strong reaction from the Progress party. If the suspicions turn out to be true, the party will have to deal with the issue from a different angle. They now have control over the ministry of justice.

This means that the populist right party also has responsibility for immigration regulation. Progress's entry into government received international attention, and to get rid of its reputation as a radical rightwing party, it even organised a press conference for foreign correspondents in Norway, to clarify the "misunderstanding" that they were anti-immigrant.

There is no doubt that the immigration issue has been central to the rise and popularity of the Progress party. The rhetoric has been unmistakably anti-immigrant. However, the party has a broad portfolio of other policies, such as the lowering of taxes and improving healthcare. It is moderate when compared with other groups of its ilk. Since the shift of leadership in from Carl I Hagen to Siv Jensen in 2006, it has taken further steps in that direction. And the terrorist attacks by Anders Breivik have seen it tone down the anti-immigration rhetoric down to a bare minimum.

The new government's immigration platform is also far more moderate than many had feared. It includes some restrictions, such as on family immigration, but also clear instances of liberalisation for other categories of migrant.

Progress cabinet members are all from the moderate wing of the party, an indication that they are attempting to take on the mantle of a serious and responsible party of the right.

But despite the moderate leadership, certain outspoken politicians make it difficult to paint a credible picture of Progress as a mainstream party. We are yet to see how they will respond to the possibility of terrorist links to Norway.

So far the story has received more attention in Britain than in Norway. Political reaction must come when the security services have concluded their investigation. Has the Progress party matured into a responsible mainstream party, or have we simply witnessed a superficial makeover for the purpose of entering office?

What moves it now makes will give us the very first test score.

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« Reply #9417 on: Oct 19, 2013, 06:15 AM »

Archaeologists uncover Sweden’s largest pre-Christian Iron Age monument

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, October 18, 2013 14:32 EDT

Swedish archaeologists said Friday they have discovered the country’s largest Iron Age monument in Old Uppsala, a pre-Christian religious site in central Sweden.

The remains of two rows of wooden pillars appeared as researchers dug before the construction of a new railway line.

Lena Borenius-Joerpeland, archaeologist at the Swedish National Heritage Board, said the monument, found about 200 metres (660 feet) from an important Iron Age burial site, is likely to be from the 5th century.

The larger row stretches about one kilometre (0.6 miles), with 144 pillars, and the shorter one is at least half as long.

“We believe the pillars were high, maybe even up to 8 or 10 metres (26 to 32 feet),” said Borenius-Joerpeland.

“They were visible from a long distance and might have flanked the access to Old Uppsala.”

Only some wooden remains of the pillars and the holes they were inserted in are left today.

The researchers have found horse, cow and pig bones in the postholes, which indicates animal sacrifices took place there.

Who built the monument and to what purpose remains unclear however.

“It could be a territorial mark or a religious demarcation,” Borenius-Joerpeland said.

During the Iron Age, Old Uppsala was a major centre for trade, religion, handicraft and justice administration.

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« Reply #9418 on: Oct 19, 2013, 06:17 AM »

10/18/2013 02:06 PM

Scathing Report: Turkish Kids 'Put in State Care Illegally'

By Hasnain Kazim in Istanbul

Politicians in Ankara have accused several European countries -- including Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands -- of illegally taking children of Turkish origin from their families and putting them into foster care. The children are being alienated from Turkish culture, the report claims.

Turkish lawmakers are making their displeasure known in unusually strong terms: "Thousands of Turkish children" living in several European countries have been illegally removed from their families, according to a report by the Turkish Parliament's Human Rights Inquiry Committee (IHIK). Around 5,000 children and young people throughout Europe have supposedly been affected.

The report attacks Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands in particular, according to an article in the English-language Turkish newspaper Today's Zaman. The committee members also write that judges in family courts are regularly attaching greater significance to the allegations of youth services than to what the parents have to say. It is becoming apparent, they state, that judges usually decide against the parents. The principle that every action taken must be for the sake of the children is being "interpreted arbitrarily."

The report also points out that some parents are "uneducated" or cannot speak the language of the country where they live, and so are unable to defend their rights and oppose the decision to take away their children. They would neither turn to lawyers with Turkish roots nor make use of help from Turkish consulates. Instead, they would simply cease all communication with the youth welfare offices.

The committee ordered an investigation in June in response to complaints originating from three countries. It subsequently found that most instances of children of Turkish nationals being taken into care have been over alleged abuse, financial problems "or other false allegations." That in turn has led to the "break up of families" and to an "assimilation of the children into European culture" and away from their own traditions. In many cases, the children have lost contact with their families. All in all, the report claims, they have been "alienated" from Turkish culture.

Children 'Forced' Into Different Lifestyle

The chairman of the commission, Ayhan Sefer Üstün of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK), voiced criticism in the spring over three similar cases in Belgium. The Belgian authorities had housed children from families of Turkish origin with homosexual couples. For Üstün, this was a clear violation of the children's human rights, because the lifestyle and beliefs of homosexual couples were not compatible with those of Turkish families. The children, he said, were being "forced" into an alternative lifestyle.

In general, the report determined that not enough consideration had been given to the cultural and religious values of the affected families. "Although close relatives stand ready to care for the children, they are not being taken into consideration," it said. In problem cases, children should be put with relatives or at least "families with a similar cultural background," where they would have the ability to maintain their native language.

The criticism echoes the aggressive tone that has long been used by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It is reminiscent of his speech in Germany nearly three years ago when he told his compatriots "yes, integrate yourselves into German society but don't assimilate yourselves" and demanded that Turkish, not German, should be the first language of the children of Turkish parents. "You are my fellow citizens," he told them.

But observers also detect some wounded pride behind the critical report, -- perhaps due to the fact that negotiations around Turkey's ascension to the European Union have stagnated. The EU progress report presented on Wednesday did stress that talks should continue, but it also criticized the crackdown by the Turkish police against anti-government protesters.

The criticism of the treatment of Turkish children marks another low point in relations between the EU and Turkey. Erdogan's deputy, Bekir Bozdag, recently declared that Turkey would set "all diplomatic wheels in motion" to remove the children in question from state custody in foreign countries and return them to their families. Bozdag again cited the reason that most children's homes and foster parents do not share the same values as Turkish families.

Strict Legal Requirements

Following an inquiry from SPIEGEL ONLINE, the German ministry responsible for child protection said that there were no statistics on how many young people with Turkish citizenship are taken into state custody in Germany each year -- the figures merely distinguish between German and non-German citizens. In 2011 a total of 38,456 children and young people were taken into care, of whom 5,627 did not hold German citizenship.

The placement of children in homes or with foster families is the responsibility of Germany's federal states and is subject to strict legal requirements. In line with these regulations, Germany's youth welfare offices are entitled and obligated to take a child or young person into custody in the following situations:

• If the minor requests to be taken into custody

• If the child is in imminent danger and the adults with custody do not object

• If there is a family court ruling to that effect.

In urgent cases, children may be taken into custody without a court ruling. Observations by teachers, doctors and neighbors often prompt the youth welfare offices to intervene. According to the report, Turkish families criticize the fact that their children are often mistakenly suspected of being mistreated, just because they dress differently to non-Turkish children.

German social welfare legislation stipulates that in cases of abuse and child endangerment, they should be placed "with a suitable person" or "in a suitable institution." But Germany and Turkey are still a long way off from agreeing on what "suitable" actually means.

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« Reply #9419 on: Oct 19, 2013, 06:23 AM »

10/18/2013 01:00 PM

Coalition Face-Off: Tough Negotiations Lie Ahead

By Veit Medick and Philipp Wittrock

Chancellor Merkel's conservatives and their rivals, the center-left Social Democrats, are likely to begin official government coalition talks next week. It's a positive development, but things could get hairy once they start arguing over their key issues.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives finally reached an agreement on Thursday to start coalition talks with their Social Democratic rivals next week. But any euphoria is likely to be tempered by persistent disagreements between and within the parties.

The Christian Democratic Union (CDU), its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) know that this alliance will not be one born of love. The following weeks will see difficult negotiations, and both sides will undoubtedly have to make painful compromises. The exploratory talks were already confrontational, but the real grappling is probably yet to come.

In any case, the SPD will most likely get the least joy out of any agreement. Entering into another so-called grand coalition with conservatives, like the one that governed Germany from 2005 to 2009, is a hard pill to swallow. Hannelore Kraft, the SPD's deputy head and governor of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany's most populous state, stressed on Thursday evening that the SPD didn't want to let itself be pigeonholed as a junior partner in any possible new government. "We made it clear on essential points where things are headed," she said, according to the public broadcaster ZDF.

Horn-Locking Ahead

SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel was markedly more matter-of-fact when he briefly spoke to reporters late Thursday afternoon. "We believe we can find a common foundation," he said. Then he added that the SPD's negotiating group had "unanimously" decided to recommend that the party enter talks with conservatives.

Gabriel's note about unanimity was not extraneous. The SPD is scheduled to hold a party convention on Sunday at which leaders hope the rank and file will sign off on moving forward with coalition talks. But there is major opposition to forming another grand coalition among party members. To counter any resistance, it will be crucial for Gabriel and the rest of the leadership team to present a united front. Indeed, although unlikely, a rejection of the plan would be a vote of no confidence in the entire party leadership.

In any case, Sunday's meeting will probably involve some horn-locking over the key points that would make a coalition agreement acceptable and how the negotiation team should prioritize its tasks. It also remains unclear what the makeup of this team should look like.

Give and Take

The conservatives, on the other hand, need not worry about such questions. The CDU and the CSU might follow whatever line is set by Angela Merkel and Horst Seehofer, the respective party leaders, even though there is little enthusiasm within conservative ranks to enter another grand coalition. But after the environmentalist Green Party quashed talk of teaming up with conservatives earlier in the week, the SPD offers the last chance of forming a majority government. Still, this is an option that Chancellor Merkel can deal with. The fact that the conservatives are only five seats short of having a majority in the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament, means that she can steer the ship with relative ease.

That doesn't mean that her conservatives won't have to make a few difficult compromises, though. Seehofer, whose CSU has presented the most obstacles to compromise, has already announced his intention to yield ground on some key SPD goals, such as introducing a comprehensive minimum wage, allowing dual citizenship and easing immigration restrictions related to refugees. But the SPD won't get concessions without paying a price, such as having to abandon efforts to raise taxes and repeal benefits for stay-at-home parents.

There will be plenty of other things to wrangle over during negotiations, too. Particularly contentious will be talks over energy policies (such as how much consumers should subsidize the planned switch to renewable energies) and the future of the health insurance regime (such as whether to continue with the parallel public and private systems).

Thursday's announcements answered the question of whether both sides are willing to give talks a chance. But things will get more complicated in the coming days. A number of key issues need to be ironed out: Times and venues for the talks must be selected, and both sides will have to agree on how to structure the meetings and the key working groups.

Talks could already get underway as soon as next Wednesday, a day after the new Bundestag assembles for its first session.


10/18/2013 06:57 PM

Collective Excess: Forty Years of Berlin Nightlife

By Thomas Hüetlin

In four decades, Berlin's nightlife has grown from a small scene of West German misfits into a global party mecca. By cultivating its underground mythos, the German capital achieved one of its greatest and strangest success stories -- but not without paying a price.

It's 4:30 p.m. on a Sunday and the party at Berghain has been in full swing for 16 and a half hours. The Berlin nightclub is as steamy as a ship on stormy seas.

It's a full house on the upstairs dance floor, where shirtless gay men pop pills, down shots, fling their glasses to the floor and make out with each other. It's a full house here in the belly of this dimly lit former power station, where at least 400 people are dancing, gyrating and gasping for air. From the bathrooms comes the sound of moaning. It's another 16 and a half hours until Berghain closes.

Berlin's nightlife is one of the German capital's greatest and strangest success stories, a modern postwar legend that has grown over the course of the past four decades, making the city an object of longing for those in search of nightlife adventure -- music, dancing, exhilaration, drugs and excess.

Of the 11 million tourists who visit Berlin each year, around one-third come for the nightlife, a study by Berlin tourism organization visitBerlin found. According to the Wall Street Journal, this brings €1 billion ($1.4 billion) in revenue into the city each year.

These visitors arrive like clockwork via budget airlines and check themselves into hostels, yet despite this neatly structured sequence of events, Berlin manages to sell its theme park of clubs, discos and lounges as a kind of anti-Disneyland.

The Eternal Underground

This made-in-Berlin fun shouldn't feel like that great evil, capitalism -- not the cold breath of money but the eternal underground: wild, exhilarating, dirty, dark and unpredictable.

"Berlin cleaves, self-consciously, to underground principles," wrote Tony Naylor in Britain's Guardian newspaper in 2011. "It is seen as deeply uncool to brashly promote yourself, commercialize your art, or chase the money, and Berlin's clubs are products of that ethos."

The clubs are the stars of this underground scene, which has transformed itself again and again over the decades. The legends that swirl around clubs such as Risiko, Tresor, Berghain, Bar 25 and Watergate have brought Berlin the fame that now draws a global hedonistic mass market.

The underground scene is now available in coffee table book format as well. "Nachtleben Berlin. 1974 bis heute" ("Berlin Nightlife. 1974 to Today") is the title of a new book of pictures and recollections published by Metrolit Verlag. It offers an exhilarating record of the evolution of this heaving contemporary form of collective excess.

'No Excuse for Sitting Down'

The story begins in the mid-1970s in a walled-in city full of retirees, German shepherds and young people on the run from the ceaseless commercialism of booming West Germany. It continues in a reunited city full of ruined and abandoned buildings transformed overnight into party venues. And these days, Berlin's nights take place in a well-managed underground environment populated by EasyJet tourists.

"Risiko didn't have tables and chairs, because there was no excuse for sitting down and resting. And there was no food, because you had alcohol and drugs," Hagen Liebing, former bass player for German punk band Die Ärzte, writes of those pioneering nights in Berlin's underground, in the new coffee table volume. Risiko didn't make money back in the 1980s, with the bartenders handing out 80 percent of the club's drinks for free. Most of the time, in fact, within a few hours of opening, the staff had to dash out to the nearest snack bar to stock up on beer by the crate. Drugs from speed to cocaine, on the other hand, were evidently easy to come by.

There were always people within this scene who managed to consolidate the atmosphere in the capital into something more tangible, providing a platform for the parties, the pleasures, the excesses. In the 1980s, that person was Gudrun Gut, member of the all-female band Malaria!, owner of the clothing store Eisengrau and proprietor of a venue called m-club. In the 1990s, it was Dimitri Hegemann, with his club Tresor. In the 2000s, it was Steffen Hack, known by the nickname Stoffel, with Watergate. These individuals brought new life into Berlin's nights and drove the underground scene forward. Their story is the story of how the city became the nightlife magnet it is today, beaming the dusky light of its appeal around the world.

Like most people who brought new life into Berlin, Gudrun Gut came here from elsewhere, escaping the boredom of West Germany, running away from the rural Lüneburg Heath area of northern Germany. "Berlin smelled of kebab and coal briquettes in those days, and people had loud conversations on the street. It was lively," Gut says, sitting on the patio of her home in a former manor house in the Uckermark region northeast of Berlin. She's baked a plum tart and the sun is shining.

From Big Eden to the Dschungel

Up until the mid-1970s, there was no particularly notable nightlife culture in Berlin, just a number of bars for older men and prostitutes. There was also Rolf Eden's Big Eden disco, where more or less the same things took place, only without money changing hands. Romy Haag was the first to offer a counterpoint, with her eponymous drag club. This was followed in short order by Dschungel, Metropol, Knast, Risiko and Ex'n'Pop, forming a new nightlife influenced by punk and new wave music and radically different from Big Eden, with its conservative, provincial patrons. "You just went ahead and did it," Gut says. "Better chaotic than boringly perfect. And please, no four-hour discussions over doing the dishes."

There wasn't much that Gut and those like her considered worth holding onto. They brought about a complete aesthetic renewal, with electronic music instead of endless guitar solos, neon instead of candlelight, angular shoulder pads instead of practical, hand-knitted sweaters and -- an aspect that was apparently quite important -- new hairstyles. "Long hair," Gut says, "was absolutely out. At any good party, there would be a hairdresser somewhere, snipping away."

Gut herself played in Einstürzende Neubauten and Malaria!, bands whose clear-cut, electronic songs formed the basis of a musical style that left a deep impression on Berlin. Gut also opened her clothing store Eisengrau because "all around us was a wasteland, nothing but C&A." She made clothes from plastic bags and in the middle of the store stood a knitting machine on which she produced asymmetrical sweaters. She modeled her nightclub, the m-club, after Area, in New York City.

'Everyone Was More or Less Broke'
"Berlin wasn't a global city then," she says, "but more a center where the underground scene could take it easy and experiment -- filmmakers, musicians, visual artists, gallery owners. All the important things happened at night. It went so far that eventually my skin developed a sensitivity to light."

The cash registers at Eisengrau and m-club, though, stayed mostly empty. Commerce belonged to West Germany, and people in Berlin felt shielded from the capitalism of Hamburg or Munich in part by the Berlin Wall, which protected the new boheme and kept the cost of living low. "Everyone was more or less broke," Gut says, "but things worked even with very little money. Drinks were free, we wore clothes we sewed ourselves, rent for a one-room apartment with a shared toilet was just 110 marks and I didn't pay for electricity because I'd stopped the meter."

But youth and enthusiasm alone weren't enough to keep people going for nights on end. For that, they needed other fuel, found in the form of speed, cocaine and beer. "Speed helped all the activism," Gut says.

It was a lifestyle that took energy to maintain. Some artists, such as Spliff, Nina Hagen and Ideal found success as part of the Neue Deutsche Welle, while others burned out. Gut herself considered moving to Barcelona. But then the Berlin Wall fell, bringing with it salvation, although at first it felt more like the conquest of a walled-in island.

Buried Treasure

Dimitri Hegemann is sitting in front of a former power station on Berlin's Köpenicker Strasse. This is the new location of his club Tresor, the most important club in the past 40 years of Berlin nightlife. Hegemann is no longer interested in money. These days he's interested in healthy eating, having switched to a raw foods diet three months ago.

But in the early 1990s, Hegemann had other concerns. The Berlin Wall was gone and the old calm, manageably sized Berlin was gone as well, replaced by a city like an enormous anthill. Ruined buildings, barracks and bunkers everywhere transformed into clubs, but he, Hegemann, the self-styled "space researcher" had nothing, not even a dilapidated basement room somewhere.

Hegemann had been among the pioneers of Berlin's counterculture, ever since first washing up here in 1978, from Münster in the far west of West Germany. He had started a club called the Fischbüro in a former shoemaking workshop and in the 1980s set about finding out about the scene in the eastern half of the city. When the drinks ran out during a party, Hegemann would go out to get more. One time when there was nothing else on hand, he emptied out an aquarium and used that to transport beer. Hegemann also wrote about the punk movement in East Germany and about the East German police, who slapped black paint over the "no future" slogans many young punks wore on their jackets. Hegemann's writings got him banned from entering East Germany.

Yet despite all that, Hegemann found himself penniless and without direction. Then one day, he was stuck in traffic with two colleagues when they spotted an old shack near Leipziger Platz. The three got out of the car and went up to the building. They saw a door, so they marched inside. They saw a dark staircase, so they descended it. And when they reached the bottom, they discovered the vault of a former department store called Wertheim, preserved just as it had been since World War II. This was the crown jewel among all the lost places brought to light with the end of East Germany.

'The Hour of Eccentric Intelligence'
"I had a real hit with that basement," Hegemann says. He named his club Tresor, the German word for "vault." The euphoria of a reunited city, two decades of West Berlin counterculture and now the East Berlin scene as well -- night after night, all these things melded together in the former department store vault.

"It was the hour of eccentric intelligence, of cultural movers and shakers who thought in nontraditional ways, who didn't have a dollar in their pockets, but were prepared to take on these open spaces," Hegemann says.

Hegemann had already discovered, in Detroit, what he called "the sound for this new freedom" -- cool, reduced, electronic disco music. Imported to Germany by Hegemann, this style metamorphosed into a success story known by the name of techno. It wasn't just the sound that was new to Berlin. So was the concept of collaborating with partners from the business world, something that was previously scorned. Hegemann got the 20,000 deutsche marks he needed as start-up capital for Tresor from a manager at Philip Morris. "At the time, he was the only one who believed in our idea," Hegemann says.

Tresor became the most important influence on the Berlin nightlife of the 1990s, leaving its mark on clubs such as WMF, the Bunker, Cookies and E-Werk, as well as on the Love Parade, the street festival that would soon exceed all previously know dimensions, with well over 1 million attendees and sponsorship from the kinds of companies and individuals that Gudrun Gut and the staff of Risiko would never have shaken hands with, even after a crate of beer and a whole bag of speed.

Following a series of short-term rental contracts, the building that housed Tresor was eventually demolished and a faceless office building erected in its place. Hegemann, meanwhile, had built up a food service empire of bars and restaurants, ambitious projects that cost a lot of money and from which he has since moved on. What he still has is the former power plant building on Köpenicker Strasse. The building costs him millions to maintain, which Hegemann does using both usual and unusual methods. He plans to open a bar there soon as well, on the top floor. He recently had the space, which is as high-ceilinged as a church, ritually purified by Buddhist monks, who diagnosed an accumulation of troubled souls.

Clubland's Branded Third Wave

Many clubs suffered the same fate as the old Tresor, ground down by the rising real estate prices of a reunited city. But in their place, a third wave of Berlin nightlife grew up: Weekend, on the uppermost floors of a high-rise near Alexanderplatz in the former East Berlin; Berghain, in a former power plant near Ostbahnhof, once East Berlin's central train station; Watergate, in two stories of an office building in Kreuzberg, part of the former West, with a wall of windows looking out on the Spree River and a terrace on the water.

Steffen Hack opened Watergate in 2002. A former squatter convicted of throwing stones and hitting the outside of a Deutsche Bank branch building with a sledgehammer, Hack has been running Watergate for 11 years now.

It's 2 a.m. on a Saturday and eight security guards are attempting to manage tonight's onslaught of club patrons. "Watergate is an international brand," Hack says. In the early years, he tried out a rotating program of reggae, hip-hop and other styles, and the club almost went broke. Then he switched to house music. "People want to go places where the things they expect to happen, happen," Hack says. "It's sad, but true."

Many evenings, he sees much of Europe, the United States and Asia represented on his two dance floors. These partygoers come to experience the service Hack and his team offer, and they come seeking that legendary Berlin underground, of which there is often little left to find beyond a joint smoked on the street, a couple beers enjoyed while walking around outside and walls drenched in graffiti. It is only when compared with truly regimented cities such as London, New York or Paris that Berlin can still be seen as an island of freedom.

As an added benefit, Berlin remains cheap compared to other major cities. Prices here still meet the standards of the "socialist nightlife culture" Hack prides himself on having achieved, although nowadays he also talks of "pyramid marketing," and Philip Morris, Red Bull and drinks conglomerate Anheuser-Busch Inbev, which pay him for the privilege of having their umbrellas on his terrace and their bottles in his refrigerators.

Sometimes it seems to Hack as if he's created a "monster" with Watergate, one that helps fuel the hype surrounding Berlin and draws people who destroy the very things that once made things in the city seem so easy -- the free spaces, the cheap rent and the feeling that being part of the underground here meant always being a few beats ahead of cold capitalism.

These days, when Hack does stay in for the night, he sometimes sleeps badly. He worries about his rental apartment in Kreuzberg and is bothered by the traffic noise. Then there's the matter of the rental contract for his club, which runs out in 2018. Investors keep bothering the building's owner, Hack says, wanting to tear it down and build a new one in its place two stories higher. "That doesn't exactly make it easy to plan ahead," he says.

Planning ahead -- another term no one ever expected to be a part of Berlin's exhilarating nights and freedom.

Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein


10/18/2013 05:02 PM

DreamWorks Chief: On Changes and Challenges in the Film Business

Jeffrey Katzenberg has had a phenomenally successful career bringing animated films to the big screen. In a SPIEGEL interview, the CEO of DreamWorks Animation discusses why movies are more popular than ever, the rise of the Chinese market and how Germans prefer movies stars with four legs.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Katzenberg, these days, your animation productions cost nearly as much as major blockbuster movies, or rarely less than €150 million ($205 million). Why have computer-generated films gotten so expensive?

Katzenberg: The movies we've been making are among the most complex films being made anywhere and by anyone in the world today. Animated films take four to five years to make and involve between 400 and 500 artists. On average, our movies have 130,000 frames a piece. Each frame has to go through 12 different stages of production in the course of making the movie, And, in each stage, each frame goes through anywhere from 10 to 100 revisions. If you do the math, that's about half a billion frames for making each one of our movies.

SPIEGEL: Can you cut down on costs by outsourcing a lot of the work to Asia?

Katzenberg: No. We have a studio in India, but it's not low-budget. We are there because there is great talent, and not because of the costs.

SPIEGEL: With animated films, do you always have to have children as the target audience? The 2011 Western comedy Rango, for example, was everything but a children's movie, but still very successful.

Katzenberg: Successful? Not really. It didn't make money. I don't know how you gauge success. It won an Academy Award, and it appealed to adults. But the movie lost money.

SPIEGEL: At what point are you able to estimate how much money your movie will make?

Katzenberg: In the US market, usually after a day or two. In the international market, it's much more complicated. You have movies that play differently in different parts of the world. But in the US market, you don't always know exactly the size and scale, but you do know if you're a success or a failure within literally two or three days.

SPIEGEL: Do traditional feature films without animation elements have any change of surviving in the future?

Katzenberg: I'm no spokesperson for the movie industry. But, if you ask me as somebody who loves and goes to movies, I think the answer is: yes. Let's not forget that 2013 is on track to be one of the biggest, if not the biggest year in box-office history. The movie business has its challenges; but it's very, very popular. People all over the world are going to the movies.

SPIEGEL: Macau recently hosted the equivalent of the Chinese Oscars. How important is the region for you financially?

Katzenberg: China is a tremendous market. Five years from now, it will be the biggest market in the world.

SPIEGEL: How does Germany differ from other countries as a market for animated films?

Katzenberg: It's a fantastic animation market and particularly one of the strongest for DreamWorks. Our movies have been wildly popular in Germany. I would say that one of the things that is clearly distinctive and stands out in Germany is that there is a great preference for movies that are fables. And fables are films that have animals as the main characters. So they much prefer animated films with animals as the main characters as oppose to humans.

SPIEGEL: Does it worry you that Netflix and other online movie platforms are overtaking the market?

Katzenberg: No. Netflix has been a blessing for DreamWorks. We were one of the first movie companies to make a deal with them. We also recently made a so-called "Blockbuster TV" deal with them, which means our new TV productions will be exclusively available on Netflix. It's one of the biggest deals in the history of the television business.

SPIEGEL: Which of your animated films came to you as the biggest surprise?

Katzenberg: I would say Shrek. When we made Shrek, we were doing something that was so different from anything that anybody had ever tried before. It basically took the whole concept of a fairy tale and turned it upside down and inside out. It was very risky enterprise for us, but it obviously paid off.

SPIEGEL: Legend has it that, at the beginning of your career, you would start your mornings with several hours on the phone in order to gather all the relevant information about deals, scripts and productions in the industry. Is that true?

Katzenberg: I used to spend a lot of time on the telephone. I don't have that kind of time anymore; it's just not how the world works today. Today, there are many ways to communicate and collaborate besides the telephone. But the telephone is still very effective.

SPIEGEL: After all your time in Hollywood, have you gotten tired of all the big egos?

Katzenberg: No, not at all. Hollywood is a place that actually has a lot of really nice, very normal people. Not everybody is the cartoon exaggeration that mythology has made up. I'm a family man. I've been married for 38 years and have two amazing kids. They're over 30, have great careers and are doing wonderful work. Not everybody in Hollywood is cuckoo.

Interview conducted by Martin U. Müller

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