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« Reply #9465 on: Oct 21, 2013, 07:06 AM »

India pushes to change WTO subsidy rules so it can stockpile food

India says paying farmers higher prices will help boost food security, but critics say it will hurt poor producers elsewhere

Paige McClanahan, Monday 21 October 2013 09.29 BST

India is pushing hard for a change to global trade rules that would allow governments in developing countries more leeway to pay poor farmers above-market prices for food for national stockpiles. Critics warn, however, that such a policy shift – which India is pursuing in the name of food security – could end up hurting poor producers in other parts of the world.

The proposed rule change was officially put forward by the G33 coalition of developing countries last November, but India is widely acknowledged to be the driving force behind the bid. Debate on the issue is heating up as negotiators prepare for the World Trade Organisation's (WTO) next high-level meeting, which is due to take place in Bali in December.

Officials in India, which is home to about one-quarter of the world's hungry, insist that the rule change is essential to the country's development.

"The farmers [need] some sort of a price guarantee," says Jayant Dasgupta, India's ambassador to the WTO. "If you can't give this price guarantee, then many of the farmers who are on the margins may quit farming … Food production will go down, lands will lie fallow, and the unemployment problem will increase."

In August, India's parliament voted to expand the country's wide-ranging agriculture subsidy programme significantly. The new food security act, which took effect in September, aims to provide subsidised rice, wheat and millet to two-thirds of the country's 1.2 billion people.

But if India pays its farmers above-market prices to build those stockpiles of grain, then analysts say the scheme is likely to cause the country to breach its subsidy limits at the WTO. That would leave it open to challenges from other countries, which could sue India under the WTO's dispute settlement body for violating its subsidy commitments.

Ten years ago, India spent nearly $15bn on domestic farm support (in the 2003-04 market year). The country hasn't reported any subsidy data to the WTO since, but analysts say that the figure has certainly grown (pdf).

The WTO rules on farm subsidies are designed to prevent domestic policies from distorting the price of food on the international market. India claims that the food it procures for its stockpiles is intended for domestic consumption, but analysts say that once those stocks are released into the market, they could very well be shipped overseas. Critics warn that a flood of cheap food imports from India could threaten the livelihoods of farmers in other countries, who may suddenly be forced to compete with the heavily subsidised Indian grains.

Relatively rich developing countries such as Indonesia, China and the Philippines are rumoured to support India's request, but opposition to the proposed rule change is strong and widespread.

"It is ironic that this proposal comes under a title of 'food security'," Michael Punke, the US ambassador to the WTO, told a meeting of trade officials in April. "Even if it did contribute to food security for the two or three countries that can afford the costs to support such a system – and this is debatable – it will certainly create volatility and insecurity for the vast majority of others."

Even within the G33 coalition, which officially submitted the proposal last year, opinions are now divided.

"Providing market price support to a large number of farmers is not [in the interest of] food security for everyone," said Aisha Moriani, a trade official from Pakistan, which is a G33 member. "It can lead to unsustainable production and also affect the competitiveness of other producers. If the world's biggest rice exporter is seeking exemptions which will destroy small farmers in the rest of the world, I think that's a very unreasonable request."

But the true economic impact of the proposed change may not be so clear cut, says Jamie Morrison, a senior economist at the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and co-author of a recent analysis, published by the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (pdf), on the potential impacts of the Indian-backed proposal.

"It's not necessarily the case that it will be bad for food security in other countries," says Morrison. "A lot comes down to the way in which the scheme is designed [and] how it's implemented … Taking a little bit more time with this, I think, would make a lot of sense."


October 19, 2013

The Good Men of India


BANGALORE, India — IN India today, the rapes of women, from children to grandmothers, are daily news. Frothy television programs on sentimentalized family values are interrupted by advertisements for a new smartphone app: VithU, which allows women in danger, at a double press of a power button, to send an S O S alert with their location to predesignated friends and family members.

Universities are debating requiring students to abandon jeans and adopt formal dress codes, as though the trappings of civilization are needed to hold at bay the anarchy of sexual violence. Twelve-year-old schoolgirls are attending rape awareness seminars, in a death of innocence.

Indian cities are awash with feral men, untethered from their distant villages, divorced from family and social structure, fighting poverty, exhausted, denied access to regular female companionship, adrift on powerful tides of alcohol and violent pornography, newly exposed to the smart young women of the cities, with their glistening jobs and clothes and casual independence — and not able to respond to any of it in a safe, civilized manner. This is the world of women under siege, the medieval world of the walking undead, the rise of the zombies, targeting females rich and poor. For women, at least, winter is coming.

In this context, it might appear odd to examine any other variant of the Indian male. But it is important to do so and to do so now. To bear witness to an alternate male reality that also pervades India on a daily basis.

This is what I witnessed on a recent flight from Kolkata to Bangalore. The plane was typical of budget air travel: full of businessmen and mothers. The smart flight attendants were young men. The pilot, captain of the flight deck, was a woman. This is not an uncommon combination in India these days. I was struck instead by the behavior of the male passengers.

In most countries, a woman clambering aboard a plane with a fretful infant and turning a crowded row of six into a de facto row of seven is usually met with hostility. Here, every other row seemed larded with these women and their babies. But those stuffy Indian businessmen — men of middle management, dodging bottles and diaper bags and carelessly flung toys — they didn’t grumble. Instead, up and down the plane, I saw them helping. Holding babies so that mothers could eat. Burping infants and entertaining toddlers. Not because they knew these women, but because being concerned and engaged was their normal mode of social behavior. So, I will say this — Indian men can also be among the kindest in the world.

Women know this. When I asked my friends and acquaintances — both Indian and expatriate — about their perceptions of Indian men, they mentioned intelligence, wit and a reverence for learning. Others described gregarious partners who knew how to relax and enjoy themselves. All of them talked about commitment and caring. One said, “I love that he is deeply concerned about his parents.” An Englishwoman said of her long-term Indian partner, “He makes me feel cherished and taken care of in a manner I never experienced in the U.K.” Another said of her father, “He supported my mother through their marriage, through her job, with the kids, her health, everything.” A 16-year-old schoolgirl echoed this: “You feel safe with them. No matter what, they will see you home safely.”

Strong familial commitment is not a phenomenon restricted to the urban middle classes. Migrant laborers care for wives and children, and still send money home to their parents. The young woman who was gang-raped on a New Delhi bus on Dec. 16 had a village-raised father who supported her ardently. This part of the story is so unsurprising, it rarely makes the news.

Let me introduce the Common Indian Male, a category that deserves taxonomic recognition: committed, concerned, cautious; intellectually curious, linguistically witty; socially gregarious, endearingly awkward; quick to laugh, slow to anger. Frequently spotted in domestic circles, traveling in a family herd. He has been sighted in sari shops and handbag stores, engaged in debating his spouse’s selection with the sons and daughters who trail behind. There is, apparently, no domestic decision that is not worthy of his involvement.

There is a telling phrase that best captures the Indian man in a relationship — whether as lover, parent or friend: not “I love you” but “Main hoon na.” It translates to “I’m here for you” but is better explained as a hug of commitment — “Never fear, I’m here.” These are men for whom commitment is a joy, a duty and a deep moral anchor.

At its excessive worst, this sensibility can produce annoyances: a sentimentalized addiction to Mummy; concern that becomes judgmental and stifling; and a proud or oversensitive emotional landscape.

But when it is at its best, the results, in women’s lives, speak for themselves. If the image of the Indian female as victim is true, so, too, is its converse: the Indian woman who coexists as a strong survivor, as conqueror, as worshiped goddess made flesh. Indian women have served as prime minister and president. They head banks and large corporations. They are formidable politicians, religious heads, cultural icons, judges, athletes and even godmothers of crime.

Modern India has a muscular democracy and a growing economy, both of which have significantly transformed the lives of women. But female success, in a place like India with complicated social structures and a tradition of the Old Uncle Network, doesn’t happen in isolation. A successful woman is very likely to have had a supportive male in her life: a father, a spouse, a friend, a mentor.

For his part, the Indian male, when nested in family and community, is part of a domestic tapestry that is intricately woven and vital, it seems, to his own sense of well-being. Take that away from him, hurl him away — and a possible result is a man unmoored, lost, adrift and, potentially, a danger to himself and to his world. Disconnection causes social disengagement and despair — and the behavior that is the product of alienation and despair.

Lavanya Sankaran is the author of the novel “The Hope Factory.”

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« Reply #9466 on: Oct 21, 2013, 07:14 AM »

October 20, 2013

China’s Arms Industry Makes Global Inroads


BEIJING — From the moment Turkey announced plans two years ago to acquire a long-range missile defense system, the multibillion-dollar contract from a key NATO member appeared to be an American company’s to lose.

For years, Turkey’s military had relied on NATO-supplied Patriot missiles, built by the American companies Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, to defend its skies, and the system was fully compatible with the air-defense platforms operated by other members of the alliance.

There were other contenders for the deal, of course. Rival manufacturers in Russia and Europe made bids. Turkey rejected those — but not in favor of the American companies. Its selection last month of a little-known Chinese defense company, China Precision Machinery Export-Import Corp oration, stunned the military-industrial establishment in Washington and Brussels.

The sale was especially unusual because the Chinese missile defense system, known as the HQ-9, would be difficult to integrate with existing NATO equipment. China Precision is also subject to sanctions from the United States for selling technologies that the United States says could help Iran, Syria and North Korea develop unconventional weapons. A State Department spokeswoman said this month that American officials had expressed to the Turkish government “serious concerns” about the deal, which has not yet been signed.

Industry executives and arms-sales analysts say the Chinese probably beat out their more established rivals by significantly undercutting them on price, offering their system at $3 billion. Nonetheless, Turkey’s selection of a Chinese state-owned manufacturer is a breakthrough for China, a nation that has set its sights on moving up the value chain in arms technology and establishing itself as a credible competitor in the global weapons market.

“This is a remarkable win for the Chinese arms industry,” said Pieter Wezeman, a senior researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which tracks arms sales and transfers.

In the past, Chinese companies have been known mainly as suppliers of small arms, but that is changing quickly. From drones to frigates to fighter jets, the companies are aggressively pushing foreign sales of high-tech hardware, mostly in the developing world. Russian companies are feeling the greatest pressure, but American and other Western companies are also increasingly running into the Chinese.

“China will be competing with us in many, many domains, and in the high end,” said Marwan Lahoud, the head of strategy and marketing at European Aeronautic Defense and Space, Europe’s largest aerospace company. “Out of 100 campaigns, that is, the commercial prospects we have, we may have the Chinese in front of us among the competitors in about three or four. They have the full range of capabilities, and they are offering them.”

The Stockholm institute released a report this year on global weapons transfers that found the volume of Chinese conventional weapons exports — which included high-end aircraft, missiles, ships and artillery — jumped by 162 percent from 2008 to 2012, compared with the previous five years. Pakistan is the leading customer. The institute now estimates that China is the fifth-largest arms exporter in the world, ahead of Britain. From 2003 to 2007, China ranked eighth.

China’s foreign arms sales are also rising fast in dollar terms. According to IHS Jane’s, an industry consulting and analysis company, Chinese exports have nearly doubled over the past five years to $2.2 billion, surpassing Canada and Sweden, and making China the world’s eighth-largest exporter by value.

The total global arms trade revenue in 2012 was estimated to be $73.5 billion, and the United States had a 39 percent share, according to IHS Jane’s.

Xu Guangyu, a retired major general in the People’s Liberation Army and director of the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, said in an interview that the push by Chinese companies to develop and sell higher-tech arms was “a very normal phenomenon.”

“In arms manufacturing, China is trying to increase the quality and reduce price,” he said. “We’re driven by competition.”

Mr. Xu said that besides pricing, Chinese companies had another advantage: they do not “make demands over other governments’ status and internal policies.” He added: “Our policy of noninterference applies here. Whoever is in the government, whoever has diplomatic status with us, we can talk about arms sales with them.”

Chinese officials know that China’s encroachment on Western-dominated military markets raises concerns. When asked about the missile-defense sale to Turkey, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said, “China’s military exports do no harm to peace, security and stability,” and do not “interfere with the internal affairs of recipient countries.”

The largest Chinese arms production companies, all state-owned, declined interview requests. Their finances are opaque, though there are some statistics on their Web sites and in the state news media.

The China North Industries Group Corporation, or the Norinco Group, said on its Web site that its profits in 2012 were 9.81 billion renminbi, or about $1.6 billion, a 45 percent increase from 2010. Its revenues in 2012 were 361.6 billion renminbi, or about $59 billion, a 53 percent increase over 2010. Another company, the China South Industries Group Corporation, or CSGC, said on its Web site that it had profits of about $1 billion in 2011, on revenue of about $45 billion, both big increases over 2008.

China’s investment has been heaviest in fighter planes — both traditional and stealth versions — as well as in jet engines, an area in which China had until now been dependent on Western and Russian partners, said Guy Anderson, a senior military industry analyst in London with IHS Jane’s.

“China has been throwing billions and billions of dollars at research and development,” he said. “They also have a strategy of using the gains they get from foreign partnerships to benefit their industrial sector. So they should not have any trouble catching up with their Western competitors over the medium term, and certainly over the long term.”

He estimated that China was still a decade away from competing head-to-head with Western nations on the technology itself. But Chinese equipment is priced lower and could become popular in emerging markets, including in African and Latin American nations.

“We are in an era of ‘good enough’ — the 90 percent solution that will do the job at the best possible price,” Mr. Anderson said. “In some cases, that may even mean buying commercial equipment, upgrading it slightly and painting it khaki.”

New customers for Chinese equipment include Argentina, which in 2011 signed a deal with the Chinese company Avicopter to build Z-11 light helicopters under license. Mass production for the Argentine military began this year, and 40 helicopters are expected to be built over the next several years. The value of the contract has not been made public.

Companies selling drones, another focal point in the Chinese arms industry, are ubiquitous at arms and aviation shows. At an aviation exposition in Beijing in late September, one Chinese company, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, had on display a model of a CH-4 reconnaissance and combat drone, with four models of missiles next to it.

Though the drone had been “designed for export,” one company representative said, there were no foreign buyers yet. The company was still being licensed by the government to sell the aircraft abroad. He added that the drone was not yet up to par with some foreign models, and that the engine was a foreign make, though other parts — including the missiles — had been developed in China.

The Aviation Industry Corporation of China, or AVIC, had on display a model of a Wing Loong, the best-known Chinese drone export, which sells for about $1 million, less than similar American and Israeli drone models. An article in People’s Daily said the export certificate for the Wing Loong, or Pterodactyl, was approved in June 2009, and it was first exported in 2011.

At the Paris Air Show in June, Ma Zhiping, president of the China National Aero-Technology Import and Export Corporation, told Global Times, another state-run newspaper, that “quite a few countries” had bought the Wing Loong, which resembles the American-made Predator. Clients were in Africa and Asia, he said.

Two fighter jets made by Chinese companies are being closely watched by industry analysts and foreign companies for their export potential. One is Shenyang Aircraft’s J-31, a fighter jet that Chinese officials say has stealth abilities. A People’s Daily report last month said that the J-31 was being made by Shenyang, an AVIC subsidiary, mostly for export, citing an interview with Zhang Zhaozhong, a rear admiral in the Chinese Navy. In March, the airplane’s chief designer, Sun Cong, told People’s Daily that the J-31 could become China’s main next-generation carrier-borne fighter jet.

The other jet is the JF-17, a less-sophisticated aircraft that an American official said had been in the works for about two decades in an “on-again, off-again” project. The jet was ostensibly the product of a joint venture between Pakistan Aeronautical Complex and China’s Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation, also an AVIC subsidiary, but China did the real work, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the secrecy surrounding military projects. So far, Pakistan is the only client, and the official said he believed Pakistan had made a “political decision” to buy it.

China is Pakistan’s biggest ally, and each relies on the other to help counter India. Besides the JF-17, the two nations have had official joint production agreements on a frigate, a battle tank and a small aircraft.

A defense official from Japan, a territorial rival of China that monitors its arms trade closely, said Chinese jets still had big shortcomings that could hurt international sales; most notably, China cannot make reliable engines or avionics, he said. The JF-17 uses a Russian engine.

“I believe they can make a few very good engines in the laboratory, but they can’t make it in the factory, kind of mass produce it in factories, because of lack of quality control and maybe experience,” he said.

He added that Chinese engineers had been trying to develop an engine, the WS-10, a copy of a Russian model, but had been having problems.

It is not uncommon for customers to overcome weaknesses in Chinese manufacturing by buying Chinese platforms and outfitting them with better Western equipment. Algeria placed an order last year for three Chinese corvettes, but is outfitting the ships with radar and communications equipment from Thales Nederland, a unit of the Thales Group, based in France. Thailand has been awarding contracts to the Saab Group, based in Sweden, to upgrade Chinese-built frigates, said Ben Moores, a senior analyst at IHS Jane’s.

This year, a Chinese company was competing against foreign counterparts, including at least one American company, for a $1 billion Thai contract for naval frigates, but lost to Daewoo of South Korea.

As China moves to catch up with established Western rivals, competing not only on price but also with comparable technology, Hakan Buskhe, chief executive of Saab, said his company and others would be likely to find themselves under pressure to cut their own research and development costs to lower pricing — a trend that could benefit North American and European governments looking to squeeze more ability out of shrinking defense budgets.

“We need to be able to develop more for less,” he said.

Edward Wong reported from Beijing and Tokyo, and Nicola Clark from Paris. Gerry Doyle contributed reporting from Hong Kong. Patrick Zuo and Bree Feng contributed research from Beijing.


Chinese authorities arrest wealthy activist Wang Gongquan

Wang, a venture capitalist, was detained last month on suspicion of 'gathering crowds to disturb public order'

Associated Press in Beijing, Monday 21 October 2013 10.32 BST

Chinese authorities have formally arrested a wealthy Chinese businessman who was a key supporter of a civil society group targeted in a wide-ranging crackdown this year, his lawyer said on Monday.

Beijing prosecutors approved the arrest of venture capitalist Wang Gongquan on Sunday, according to Chen Youxi, Wang's lawyer, who said prosecutors notified him by phone of the decision on Monday.

Wang was detained in mid-September on suspicion of "gathering crowds to disturb public order" but had not been formally arrested until Sunday. The vaguely defined charge has been used to prosecute many members of a loosely organised movement that's been pushing for greater public participation in Chinese political issues.

The notification of Wang's formal arrest underscores the seriousness with which Chinese authorities are treating his case. When Chinese prosecutors approve an arrest, it usually indicates that police have gathered enough evidence – or are in the process of doing so – to proceed with an indictment and perhaps trial.

Chen declined to comment further but Chen Min, a veteran journalist and close family friend of Wang', said the businessman's family had not yet received notice of the arrest.

Wang has been a supporter of the New Citizens Movement, a loose network of activists that has come under official scrutiny this year, with an estimated 30 members rounded up since March.

"Gongquan has mainly been trying to promote efforts to turn this country toward democracy and constitutionalism from the perspective of a citizen," said Chen, who is better known in China by his pen name Xiao Shu.

"If these types of actions are deemed intolerable by this country then they are warning all Chinese that this government does not allow its people to be citizens."

The group's members have done little more than lobby for rights of rural children and public disclosure of officials' assets, although they have urged people to hold peaceful street demonstrations and dinner meetings to discuss such issues.

Beijing is wary of anything it sees as having the potential to develop into a force that can challenge Communist party rule.

Beijing prosecutors did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


Chinese professor sacked amid free speech crackdown

Peking University denies that dismissal of Xia Yeliang, a prominent pro-democracy advocate, was for political reasons

Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing, Monday 21 October 2013 08.42 BST

One of China's most prestigious universities has sacked an outspoken economics professor, raising concerns about the extent of a continuing crackdown on free speech and dissent.

Xia Yeliang, an associate professor at Peking University's school of economics since 2002, was notified on Friday that his contract would not be renewed. Rumours of his dismissal had been circulating for weeks.

In an online statement, the school denied that the 53-year-old economist – a long-time advocate for constitutionalism and democracy – was fired for political reasons, adding that a faculty committee decided to sack him for "poor teaching" in a 30-3 vote. The university said Xia was the school's "worst-ranked teacher for many years in a row", adding that he had been the subject of 340 student complaints since 2006. His contract will expire on 31 January.

Xia rose to prominence in 2008 after helping Liu Xiaobo, the imprisoned Nobel peace prize laureate, draft Charter 08, a petition demanding sweeping reforms to China's authoritarian one-party system. In 2009, he wrote a widely circulated blog criticising the then-propaganda minister Liu Yunshan for overseeing a draconian censorship regime. Liu is now a member of China's highest ruling body, the seven-person Politburo Standing Committee.

He claims that the school sacked him under pressure from high-level authorities.

"Of course I'm angry, but I'm trying to control myself – not only because they dismissed me, but because they tried to smear me," Xia said in a phone interview. He called the statement full of "errors and contradictions".

"If they dismiss the worst teachers, that would mean over many years, hundreds of faculty members would have been dismissed," he said. "But over the past 30 years, no single teacher has been dismissed like this."

Xia added that university authorities have warned him against speaking to foreign media. "My wife has been depressed, and I've to comfort her; my family members and friends have tried to comfort both of us," he said. "One of my students cried over the phone."

Xia's expulsion comes amid a nationwide crackdown on even moderate forms of dissent. Since the summer, Communist party-backed media have launched a united charge against "western values"; authorities have detained scores of outspoken bloggers and activists for "spreading online rumours" and organising small-scale demonstrations.

Last month, 136 faculty members at the Wellesley College, Massachusetts, which is planning an academic partnership with the university, protested against Xia's expected dismissal in an open letter to its president, Wang Enge. "We believe that dismissing Professor Xia for political reasons is such a fundamental violation of academic freedom that we, as individuals, would find it very difficult to engage in scholarly exchanges with Peking University," it said.

Xia has been a visiting professor at Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley.

"I'd like to make a call to universities nationwide," Xia tweeted to his 36,000 followers on Sunday night. "If your honorable university doesn't believe that I'm qualified for a teaching post, please give me an administrative position at your library. Peking University's School of Economics has once more emphasized that the termination of my contract has nothing to do with politics, so please don't worry about the hire."


Huawei denies ever being told to spy on customers

Chinese telecoms company has 'never received any instructions' from the Chinese government to spy on customers, says deputy chairman

Alex Hern, Monday 21 October 2013 10.22 BST   

Chinese tech firm Huawei has sought to dispel rumours that it spies for the Chinese government.

In a foreword for a cybersecurity paper issued by his company, deputy chairman of the board Ken Hu writes that Huawei has “never received any instructions or requests from any government or their agencies to change our positions, policies, procedures, hardware, software or employment practices or anything else, other than suggestions to improve our end-to-end cyber security capability.

“We can confirm that we have never been asked to provide access to our technology, or provide any data or information on any citizen or organization to any Government, or their agencies."

Hu’s statement comes after an American congressional report from last October that labelled Huawei a security risk. The chairman of the committee which authored the report, Mike Rogers, told US corporations to “find another vendor if you care about your intellectual property, if you care about your consumers’ privacy, and you care about the national security of the United States of America”.

In July this year, Huawei issued a rebuttal to such rumours, pointing out that no hard evidence had ever been provided to back up hacking allegations, and accusing those who perpetrated them of “racism”. In a statement to US tech site the Verge, the company said that allegations from the former CIA head Michael Haden were “tired nonsense we’ve been hearing for years…”

“Misdirecting and slandering Huawei may feel okay because the company is Chinese-based – no harm, no foul, right? Wrong. Huawei is a world-proven multinational across 150 global markets that supports scores and scores of American livelihoods, and thousands more, indirectly, through $6 billion a year in procurements from American suppliers.

“Someone says they got some proof of some sort of threat? Okay. Then put up. Or shut up. Lacking proof in terms of the former, which seems clearly the case, this is politically-inspired and racist corporate defamation, nothing more.”

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« Reply #9467 on: Oct 21, 2013, 07:33 AM »

Egypt: gunmen open fire at Coptic Christian wedding in Cairo

Four people, including an eight-year-old girl, killed in suspected sectarian attack on minority which makes up 10% of population

Patrick Kingsley in Cairo, Monday 21 October 2013 12.34 BST

Gunmen shot dead at least four Egyptians outside a Coptic Christian church on the edge of Cairo on Sunday evening as worshippers left the building after a wedding, state media reported. Two adults and two girls aged eight and 12 were killed, and at least 12 others injured, after the gunmen sprayed bullets seemingly at random.

The perpetrators, and their motives, are unknown as they left the area quickly on motorcycles, according to witnesses. But there are strong concerns that the shootings mark the latest sectarian attack on Egypt's Coptic Christian minority, which makes up around 10% of Egypt's population of 85 million.

Copts were scapegoated by some Islamist hardliners for the July overthrow of ex-president Mohamed Morsi – over 40 churches were attacked following the brutal army-led clearance of two pro-Morsi protest camps in August. State officials have done little to prevent the attacks, or bring their instigators to justice, although Egypt's prime minister called Sunday's attack a "callous and criminal act" and pledged to prosecute those responsible.

The Muslim Brotherhood – the Islamist group to which Morsi belongs – also strongly condemned the most recent attack in an English-language statement released overnight, while their allies have frequently blamed assaults on Christians on unaffiliated criminals, or even the state itself. But their opponents argue that some Islamists at the very least incited the violence with sectarian speeches made during pro-Morsi protests this summer, and in their Arabic-language websites.

This weekend's killings constitute the latest outburst of the widespread violence that has characterised Egypt's summer. Over a thousand Morsi supporters have been killed by security officials since his removal in July, while dozens of soldiers and policemen have been killed in a series of revenge attacks by Islamist extremists, largely in the northern Sinai peninsula. Earlier on Sunday the campus of al-Azhar, Egypt's oldest university, was the site of skirmishes between pro-Morsi students and riot police.

Egypt is currently polarised between a sizable minority of Islamists furious at Morsi's overthrow and the crackdown on his supporters – and a larger group of Egyptians who have given wholesale backing to the army that ousted him. A small minority refuse the authoritarianism of both groups; they are glad to see Morsi leave but fearful that the army-backed government heralds the return of counter-revolutionary, Mubarak-era governance.

The latter group is currently alarmed about new legislation that may severely stifle street protest, after Egypt's interim cabinet drafted a new law that would significantly curtail demonstrators' rights to free assembly.

"Why are these people deciding what's best for us?" asked Mohamed Hashem, a publisher and leading light of Egypt's revolutionaries who has threatened to leave the country in despair at recent events. "Did all the martyrs sacrifice their souls for nothing?"

But other Egyptians may not be so upset, with many yearning for a return to stability following nearly three years of turmoil, and hoping for an end to the almost daily pro-Morsi protests.


Egypt's army chief rides wave of popularity towards presidency

Growing numbers of Egyptians applaud General Abdel Fatah el-Sisi's hardline approach to Muslim Brotherhood

Patrick Kingsley and Marwa Awad in Cairo, Sunday 20 October 2013 20.09 BST   

Egyptian chocolate-maker Bahira Galal does not hide her support for Egypt's army chief, General Abdel Fatah el-Sisi. Customers at her plush boutique in central Cairo are offered a choice between chocolates coated with his face and others embossed with messages of adulation. One carries his official portrait. Another shows him in sunglasses. "Thank you, Sisi, from the bottom of our hearts," reads a third.

Galal had the idea back in August, shortly after Sisi's troops cleared a camp of Muslim Brotherhood supporters, killing up to 1,000. There was outcry abroad, but many Egyptians "wanted to show support in whatever way they could", said Galal, a representive of a large chunk of the Egyptian population who view the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation.

Galal's chocolates are just one manifestation of a huge wave of popular support for General Sisi, the intensity of which has not been matched in Egypt since the days of Gamal Abdel Nasser, the widely loved autocrat who ruled the country during the 50s and 60s. "I don't know how to make anything but chocolates. So that's how I show my support. It's my way of participating," she said.

Many Egyptians laud Sisi for rescuing the country from ex-president Mohamed Morsi, an Islamist whose opponents felt was trying to rob Egypt of its moderate character. After nearly three years of post-revolutionary chaos, they also see Sisi as the restorer of stability – despite a rise in state-sponsored killing since Morsi's ousting.

"There's this feeling that the country was a little bit lost. There haven't been any stable institutions for quite a while – and the military was seen as the last bastion of stability and recourse," said Bassem Sabry, a prominent Egyptian columnist.

"So when Sisi stepped forward and did what he did, it was seen as a heroic act, taking a last-step measure to save the country from an ailing economy and a religious autocracy."

Love for Sisi is visible on most streets in Cairo. Posters of the general hang in shop windows as businesses take advantage of the Sisi mania by rebranding their products in his image. A jewellery maker designs necklaces that incorporate his name.

A kebab company sells the Sisi sandwich, according to a new blog – Sisi Fetish – that documents much of the adulation. One photographer's wedding business went viral after he circulated an image of a bride and her bridesmaids wearing army-branded gowns and holding pictures of the general. A man in Suez even named his newborn son after Sisi, reported one newspaper, which printed a copy of what was said to be the baby's birth certificate as proof.

"Staff at the hospital where the baby was receiving his vaccines were so delighted with the name that they refused to take money from the father," El Fagr reported.

Some hope the mania persuades Sisi to run for president in Morsi's place. The general says he has no plans to do so, but such is his popularity that few dare announce their own run until Sisi rules himself out for certain.

"We will not accept anyone except Sisi," said Refaei Nasrallah, the head of one several groups gathering petitions calling on Sisi to run.

"The next president must have at least 70% of the population backing him, otherwise political divisions will ensue just like last time. Sisi is the only man with that much backing in the country," added Nasrallah, collecting signatures near where Sisi grew up. "No one else has his clout."

Between a fifth and a third of the country still back Morsi. A small minority openly criticise the authoritarianism of both the Brotherhood and the army.

But the vast majority of Egyptians back Sisi despite the many failures of the military junta (known as Scaf) that governed Egypt following Mubarak's exit in 2011, and despite activists' warnings that a Sisi presidency would be likely bring a revival of Mubarak-era authoritarianism.

The situation is due in part to the army's decades-old popularity, argues Bassem Sabry, and the fact that many Egyptians – following a turbulent two-year democratic experiment – remain more comfortable with a strongman at the helm.

"Egypt hasn't had a strong democratic experience, except for a brief period in the 20s and 30s when there was some experimentation. But for quite a while there was this idea where you had one central figure at the top that parliament and state institutions were subordinate to," said Sabry.

He has three further explanations why Scaf's unpopularity has not affected Sisi: "Many of the people associated with the revolution itself, who were the biggest critics of Scaf, lost popularity along the way. Second, the year under the Brotherhood was seen as worse than the year under Scaf. And third and most important, [Scaf's] leaders have changed."

Back at Galal's chocolate shop, buoyed by the success of their Sisi franchise, the owners will soon unveil a new series of chocolates coated with the face of Anwar Sadat – Egypt's strongman during the 70s. But they are in no doubt which will prove most popular.

"Sisi, of course," said Galal's husband, Sherif. "You can't compare them."

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« Reply #9468 on: Oct 21, 2013, 07:35 AM »

10/21/2013 01:18 PM

The 'German Camp': Jihadists from Germany Set up Base in Syria

A growing number of German jihadists are heading to Syria to join the rebels in their fight against President Bashar Assad. According to German intelligence, some 200 Islamists from across the country have gathered in northern Syria in what's been dubbed the "German Camp."

German intelligence has observed a sharp increase in the number of German Islamists traveling to Syria to aid the opposition in the civil war there. With some 200 Islamic fundamentalists from Germany either on their way to Syria or already there, the war-torn country is currently "by far the most attractive location for jihadists," says a classified report by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) that has been seen by SPIEGEL.

The 71-page document sheds light on the full-range of support within Germany's Muslim population for the Syrian opposition movement, from humanitarian aid charities and fundraisers that have amassed hundreds of thousands of euros to what intelligence agencies dub "trigger events," where imams collect funds for weapons acquisitions and call on young men to join the jihad.

Some are heeding the call. But with anti-Assad militias tending to recruit German volunteers for suicide missions, mainly because they lack combat experience and cannot speak Arabic, German intelligence agencies have noted that German jihadists are increasingly keeping to themselves.

A "German Camp" has been set up in northern Syria and now serves as a collection point and possibly also a training center for German-speaking fighters. The majority of these young men come from the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, home to one third of Germany's Muslim population, but others come from the states of Hesse, Berlin, Bavaria and Hamburg. Over half of them are thought to have German nationality.

Online Recruitment

Germany is also concerned by indications that German Islamists are building up media centers in Syria to wage a recruitment campaign on the Internet and with social media.

In late July, the "Shamcenter" website was launched in five languages, including German, to boost what it terms "social jihad." According to the German intelligence report, such projects could act "as a significant catalyst for radicalization in Germany."

The trend could also be spurred by veterans trained in battle who return home. The BfV estimates that around a dozen of them are now back in Germany and says they pose a "particular threat."

Security authorities estimate that around 1,000 volunteer jihadists from across Europe are now in Syria -- compared to just 250 in late 2012. Around 90 allegedly come from Britain, 120 from Belgium, 50 from Denmark and approximately 150 from Kosovo. According to their latest statistics, German intelligence agencies believe that eight German jihadists have already died on the frontline in Syria.

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« Reply #9469 on: Oct 21, 2013, 07:44 AM »

Israel PM Netanyahu calls on US to pressure Iran in nuclear negotiations

Treasury secretary Jack Lew stops short of endorsing requested hard line in talks set to resume next month

Associated Press in Jerusalem, Sunday 20 October 2013 21.10 BST   

Just days after the first round of global nuclear talks with Iran, a rift appears to be emerging between Israel and its closest ally, the United States. Israel's prime minister on Sunday called on the US to step up pressure on Iran, even as American officials hinted at the possibility of easing tough economic pressure.

Meanwhile, a leading Israeli newspaper reported the outlines of what could be construed in the West as genuine Iranian compromises in the talks.

The differing approaches could bode poorly for Israel, as talks between six global powers and Iran continue. Negotiators were upbeat following last week's talks in Geneva; the next round of negotiations is set to begin on 7 November.

The prime minister of Israel, Binyamin Netanyahu, believes Iran is trying to trick the West into easing economic sanctions while pushing forward its nuclear program. Iran insists its program is for peaceful purposes.

"I think that in this situation as long as we do not see actions instead of words, the international pressure must continue to be applied and even increased," Netanyahu told his cabinet on Sunday. "The greater the pressure, the greater the chance that there will be a genuine dismantling of the Iranian military nuclear program."

Israel considers a nuclear-armed Iran a threat to its very survival, citing Iranian references to Israel's destruction. Netanyahu says pressure must be maintained until Iran halts all enrichment of uranium, a key step in producing a nuclear weapon; removes its stockpile of enriched uranium from the country; closes suspicious enrichment facilities and shutters a facility that could produce plutonium, another potential gateway to nuclear arms.

There are growing signs that any deal with Iran will fall short of such demands. Over the weekend, US officials said the White House was debating whether to offer Iran the chance to recoup billions of dollars in frozen assets if it scales back its nuclear program. The plan would stop short of lifting sanctions, but could nonetheless provide Iran some relief.

In an interview broadcast Sunday on NBC, treasury secretary Jack Lew said it was "premature" to talk of easing sanctions. But he stopped short of endorsing the tough Israeli line and suggested the US would take a more incremental approach in response to concrete Iranian gestures.

Details from last week's talks in Geneva have remained tightly guarded, but short-range priorities have been made clear. The Israeli daily Haaretz on Sunday reported what it said were the key Iranian proposals last week. Citing an unidentified senior Israeli official who had been briefed by the Americans, the newspaper said Iran was ready to halt all enrichment of 20%, limit lower-level enrichment of 5% and scale back the number of centrifuges it is operating for enrichment. It also claimed that Iran expressed willingness to reduce the operations of its most controversial nuclear facilities, and perhaps open them to unannounced inspections.

Netanyahu's office declined comment on the report, though it confirmed the US has kept it updated on the nuclear talks.

The Yediot Ahronot daily newspaper said an "explosion" between Netanyahu and President Barack Obama appears to be inevitable. While Israeli officials are intrigued by the Iranian offer, it said "officials in the prime minister's inner circle harbor a deep concern … that the American president is going to be prepared to ease sanctions on Iran even before the talks have been completed."

Yoel Guzansky, an Israeli Iran expert at the Institute for National Security Studies and a former national security aide in the prime minister's office, said there would always be a gap between the US and Israel due to their different military capabilities and the level of threat they face. Guzansky said Israeli officials realize they will not get everything they seek, and are pressing a maximalist view in hopes of getting as many concessions out of Iran as possible.

"It appears that the Americans are interested in a scaled approach," he said. "Israel is very concerned about this and it has good reason to. It's afraid the deal will become a slippery slope."

However, Guzansky said Israel has little choice but to rely on the US. If there is a deal, it will all but rule out the possibility of unilateral Israeli military action, he said.

"Israel really only has one option," he said. "The chance it will act alone after the Americans make a deal is miniscule."


October 20, 2013

Mayoral Race Threatens to Shake Up Tradition Where Jesus Grew Up


NAZARETH, Israel — Ramiz Jaraisi has been the mayor of this bustling Arab city in northern Israel for nearly 20 years. For 20 years before that, he served as deputy mayor. The local party slate he heads, the Nazareth Democratic Front, a coalition of the Communist Party and other groups, has been running the city since 1975.

Mr. Jaraisi, 61, greets visitors to City Hall in a conference room lined with glass cases displaying glass from the Roman and Byzantine era, Umayyad period coins and Mameluke ceramic bowls. On the wall outside are framed photographs of previous mayors of Nazareth going back to 1875, all male, many of them with mustaches and wearing Turkish-style fez hats.

There is a lot to be said for tradition and continuity in a city revered by Christians as the childhood home of Jesus. Though the city’s population of 80,000 is now about 70 percent Muslim, much of the economy of Nazareth, considered the capital of Israel’s Arab minority, depends on the tourism generated by its Christian past.

“This is one of the most well-known cities in the world, the place where Christianity started,” said Mr. Jaraisi, a Christian, whose hair and mustache have turned white on the job.

But others in Nazareth say it is time for change. Mr. Jaraisi has been elected mayor four times, with the votes of both Muslims and Christians, he is quick to point out. Now, in the municipal elections scheduled for Israel’s local authorities on Tuesday, he is facing a serious challenge.

Ali Salam, Mr. Jaraisi’s former deputy, is one of four candidates running against him. Another strong contender is Haneen Zoabi, 44, a Muslim woman and a firebrand member of the Israeli Parliament representing Balad, an Arab national party.

Known as one of Israel’s feistiest Arab politicians, Ms. Zoabi gained widespread notoriety in Israel for being on board the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish ship that was raided by Israel as it tried to breach the naval blockade of Gaza in 2010. Nine activists were killed as Israeli commandos met with violent resistance as they landed on the deck. Israeli right-wingers have since tried to get Ms. Zoabi thrown out of Parliament.

But, Ms. Zoabi said, the flotilla episode has helped her by showing her constituents that she acts on her beliefs and not according to political calculations.

“I would do the same with the municipality, and this gives people confidence,” she said in a recent meeting with reporters at her party headquarters here, where the wall decorations include a photocopy of the masked image that represents Anonymous, the shadowy international computer hacking network.

“I represent another generation, a younger generation,” she added. “I think it is a phenomenon in the Arab world.”

Municipal elections are mostly dull affairs in Israel, but this time, a few of the races are gaining national attention. In Jerusalem, the incumbent, Nir Barkat, a secular rightist who has increased cultural activities and attracted numerous international events to West Jerusalem in the past few years, is being challenged by Moshe Lion, a former civil servant who recently moved to the city from a Tel Aviv suburb. Mr. Lion was recruited to run by Avigdor Lieberman of the ultranationalist party Yisrael Beiteinu, with the backing of the ultra-Orthodox Sephardi Shas Party.

That race and another, in Elad, an ultra-Orthodox town in central Israel, are seen as a test of Shas’s strength after the death of its spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, this month.

In Tel Aviv, an openly gay lawmaker from the leftist Meretz Party, Nitzan Horowitz, is running against the incumbent, Ron Huldai, and in Beit Shemesh, a town troubled by social tensions and struggles over religious extremism, the ultra-Orthodox incumbent is being challenged by a moderate candidate.

In Nazareth, which is dominated by the Church of the Annunciation and is rich in other Christian pilgrimage sites, the argument is about modernizing the city’s services and cultural offerings.

One of the challenges that Mr. Jaraisi is facing is what Wadie Abu Nassar, an Arab Israeli political analyst, calls “the Arab Spring argument — that it is time to change.” Another is an accusation of mismanagement, Mr. Abu Nassar said.

Mr. Jaraisi is hoping to draw at least 40 percent of the vote and win in the first round. If not, Mr. Abu Nassar said, he might face an alliance of opponents in a runoff.

Residents of Nazareth complain that there are no safe playgrounds for children, no movie theaters and not enough housing. More than 1,000 residents a year move out, many of them to Upper Nazareth, an adjacent town established in the 1950s, even though the Jewish mayor insists on retaining its Jewish character to the point where he has refused to consider opening an Arabic-language school.

Despite some signs of modernity — a mall at the entrance of the city with stores like Zara and American Eagle Outfitters, and a car accessory store called Pimp My Car — the main commercial street is a traffic-clogged artery lacking proper sidewalks or adequate parking. People complain that the town center goes dead by 8 p.m. Most tourists spend only a few hours in the city.

“Nazareth is stuck in the 20th century — in the 1970s or ‘80s,” said Ola Najjar, 41, a Christian administrative director of a company and a mother of two who is running on Ms. Zoabi’s slate for the town council. “We want to live in the year 2013.”

Both Mr. Jaraisi, who is known for his good relations with the Israeli establishment, and Ms. Zoabi say many of the city’s problems are the result of decades of state discrimination against the Arab citizens, who make up about 20 percent of Israel’s population of eight million.

But Ms. Zoabi also blames Mr. Jaraisi, whom she describes as “lazy” and lacking vision. He has good ties with the establishment, she said, “because he doesn’t demand anything, so we do not benefit from this love affair between the state and the mayor.”

Nazareth, Ms. Zoabi said, should be a cultural center for the 1.6 million Palestinian citizens of Israel. “Nazareth is not just a city,” she said. “It is a symbol of the homeland that we lost.”

Mr. Jaraisi, who helped calm Christian-Muslim tensions in the city after a dispute in the late 1990s over plans to build a large mosque in the plaza in front of the Church of the Annunciation, said Ms. Zoabi knew nothing about administering a municipality.

“I asked her, ‘What did you do for your city as a member of Parliament?’ ” he said.

Another criticism is that Ms. Zoabi is not running for the City Council; if she loses the mayoral race, she intends to go back to Parliament, she said.

Mr. Jaraisi is promising to build new neighborhoods and said construction on a cultural center with an auditorium, one of the largest in the north, will begin in 2014.

Ms. Zoabi’s campaign brochure complains that Mr. Jaraisi and the Democratic Front have been promising to build the cultural center for the past 10 years.

“Life is to struggle,” Ms. Zoabi said, adding that even if the Israeli authorities hate her, as mayor she could go to court and mobilize “80,000 Haneen Zoabis” to demonstrate.

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« Reply #9470 on: Oct 21, 2013, 07:45 AM »

October 20, 2013

Vigilantes Defeat Boko Haram in Its Nigerian Base


BENISHEIK, Nigeria — The men from Boko Haram came tearing through this rural town, setting fire to houses, looting, shooting and yelling, “God is great!” residents and officials said. The gunmen shot motorists point-blank on the road, dragged young men out of homes for execution and ordered citizens to lie down for a fatal bullet.

When it was all over 12 hours later, they said, about 150 people were dead, and even one month later, this once-thriving town of 35,000 is a burned out, empty shell of blackened houses and charred vehicles.

Boko Haram, Nigeria’s homegrown Islamist insurgent movement, remains a deadly threat in the countryside, a militant group eager to prove its jihadi bona fides and increasingly populated by fighters from Mali, Mauritania and Algeria, said the governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima.

But about 40 miles away in Maiduguri, the sprawling state capital from where the militant group emerged, Boko Haram has been largely defeated for now, according to officials, activists and residents — a remarkable turnaround that has brought thousands of people back to the streets. The city of two million, until recently emptied of thousands of terrified inhabitants, is bustling again after four years of fear.

For several months, there have been no shootings or bombings in Maiduguri, and the sense of relief — with women lingering at market stalls on the sandy streets and men chatting under the shade of feathery green neem trees in the 95-degree heat — is palpable.

Boko Haram has been pushed out of Maiduguri largely because of the efforts of a network of youthful informer-vigilantes fed up with the routine violence and ideology of the insurgents they grew up with.

“I’m looking at these people: they collect your money, they kill you — Muslims, Christians,” said the network’s founder, Baba Lawal Ja’faar, a car and sheep salesman by trade. “The Boko Haram are saying, ‘Don’t go to the school; don’t go to the hospital.’ It’s all rubbish.”

Governor Shettima has recruited the vigilantes for “training” and is paying them $100 a month. In the sandy Fezzan neighborhood of low cinder block houses, where the informer group was nurtured over the past two years, the walls are pockmarked with bullet holes from shootouts with the Islamists, a visible sign of the motivations for fighting the insurgents.

“The suffering of our people was just too much,” said the group’s third-in-command, Mr. Ja’faar’s younger brother Kalli, standing on a street corner in Fezzan as others nodded.

The elder Mr. Ja’faar moves around discreetly, as people are afraid to be seen with him.

“People will run away from me because I am catching the Boko Haram,” the elder Mr. Ja’faar, 32, said, smiling during a nighttime interview indoors. But he seemed unafraid of the danger, lifting his bright yellow polo shirt to reveal a thin leather strip around his waist, which bore an amulet. He explained that he carried “plenty of magic,” 30 charms, to protect himself.

The network’s intimate knowledge of the community enables it to quickly recognize Boko Haram members and turn them over to the Nigerian military; dozens have been turned over, members of the informer group said.

The military, known as the Joint Task Force, or J.T.F., has been unable to defeat the Boko Haram on its own despite four years of a bloody counterinsurgency campaign that has been widely criticized for the indiscriminate detention and killing of civilians.

By contrast, the vigilante group’s leaders say, some of their recruits are repentant former Boko Haram members, making it easier to correctly identify and catch the insurgents. The vigilante group now calls itself the “Civilian J.T.F.”

For years, analysts have urged Nigerian officers not to conduct deadly crackdowns and wide arrests, but instead to recruit civilians in the destitute northern neighborhoods where Boko Haram has gained ground. That outcome appears now to have occurred spontaneously, urged on by the governor, according to interviews here.

Mr. Ja’faar calmly boasted, “I catch more than 900 people,” a number that could not be confirmed independently. But the army’s own large-scale roundups and killings of young men have tailed off recently, officials and activists in Maiduguri said.

The evolving strategy of utilizing the Civilian J.T.F. echoes the tactic that quelled the long-running insurgency in southern Nigeria, where rebels preyed on oil installations for years, shaking the Nigerian government, before they were bought off by the federal authorities in 2010.

“The Civilian J.T.F. has driven Boko Haram into the bush,” said Maikaramba Saddiq of the Civil Liberties Organization in Maiduguri, a frequent critic of the military.

Indeed, some activists wonder whether the military is more committed to preserving, not ending, the conflict with Boko Haram in order to perpetuate the government spending that comes with it. In a point gingerly acknowledged by some officials, the country’s security services have grown accustomed to a $6 billion-plus national security budget, one-quarter of the government’s total budget, and have shown a surprising lack of alacrity in responding to some recent atrocities.

The killings inside and outside Benisheik, for example, inexplicably went on unimpeded for more than 10 hours before the army arrived, these activists say. Most of those killed were travelers waylaid by gunmen on the now-deserted and dangerous main highway from Maiduguri, bound hand and foot, and then shot in the head. The road is still littered with charred vehicles.

A senior official in Maiduguri said the army could now crush Boko Haram “in three weeks,” as the insurgents had been “cornered in one axis of the state.” Insisting that he not be identified for fear of retribution, he expressed puzzlement that the army had not yet eradicated Boko Haram, acknowledging that “at the top echelons they might be making money out of the insurgency.”

Before the Benisheik attack, the Islamists had been gathering for several days, and military officials were aware of it, asserted Mohammed Benisheikh, a lawyer whose brother was shot in the leg in the violence. He said that his family, one of the town’s most prominent, lost numerous vehicles and that its property had been burned in the attack.

The Nigerian Army declined to make its commanding officer in the Maiduguri sector available for an interview, and senior officers in the capital, Abuja, did not respond to phone calls or text messages.

For their part, the Civilian J.T.F. members said they were not in it for the money, but to protect their communities. On the city’s streets, ragged youths wielding machetes, sticks, garden implements and cutlasses can be seen checking traffic.

“There’s no going back,” said Mousbaf Adamu, 23, who sells ice at a roundabout near Government House in Maiduguri and was carrying a long, rough stick. “I’m ready to sacrifice my life for my people to be protected.”

The real work of the vigilante group occurs out of sight, in the identification of Boko Haram members that often occurs door to door.

“We know them by just looking at them,” said Hamisu Adamu, 40, who sells leather bag and is in charge of “discipline” for the group.

“Some of them may be our brothers, and we hand them to the military,” he said. So many, he claimed, that there are few Boko Haram members left in the city. “Inside of Maiduguri, it would be very difficult” for the insurgents to circulate, he said.

The governor, Mr. Shettima, agreed.

“The Civilian J.T.F. are a real game-changer,” Mr. Shettima said as he toured road construction projects in the sweltering low-rise city, cheered on from the roadside by groups of the young men to whom he handed out cash. “Now the Boko Haram are seeing the civilian population as their greatest enemy. These are local people who truly know who the Boko Haram are.”

In fact, some residents said the Benisheik attack of Sept. 17 was retaliation over an earlier confrontation between the Boko Haram and the Civilian J.T.F. in which eight insurgents were killed. Armed with weapons from the looted arsenals of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya, like militant groups in Mali, the young Islamists went door to door that evening, looking for prey, the governor said.

“They said I should have to come lie down in front of them,” said Alhadji Jiji Abdallah, the brother of Mr. Benisheikh, the lawyer. “This is their system of killing.” But he refused, and ran. In the darkness, they shot him at close range, hitting him in the leg. They thought he was dead, he said.

“They don’t have any reason at all” for attacking us, he said from his hospital bed.

Boko Haram’s efforts in rural Nigeria are not likely to be finished, the Civilian J.T.F. notwithstanding. Twelve days after the Benisheik attack, gunmen killed more than 40 students at an agricultural college nearby, officials say. Once again, the gunmen went about unimpeded by the military, even though the region is under a state of emergency and secular state schools have been targeted by the Islamists many times before, angry residents said. Officials expect the group to strike again. “The only way they can gain respect in the international circle of jihadism is by unleashing such mayhem,” Mr. Shettima said.

On Sunday, Boko Haram militants killed 19 people, mostly traders, near the town of Gamboru Ngala on the border with Cameroon, according to residents and survivors. The gunmen, wearing military uniforms, set up a barricade early in the morning on the highway, about 60 miles Maiduguri. They forced people out of their vehicles and shot them at close range or slit their throats.

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« Reply #9471 on: Oct 21, 2013, 07:49 AM »

Scientists discover DNA body clock

By Ian Sample, The Guardian
Sunday, October 20, 2013 20:27 EDT

A U.S. scientist has discovered an internal body clock based on DNA that measures the biological age of our tissues and organs.

The clock shows that while many healthy tissues age at the same rate as the body as a whole, some of them age much faster or slower. The age of diseased organs varied hugely, with some many tens of years “older” than healthy tissue in the same person, according to the clock.

Researchers say that unraveling the mechanisms behind the clock will help them understand the ageing process and hopefully lead to drugs and other interventions that slow it down.

Therapies that counteract natural ageing are attracting huge interest from scientists because they target the single most important risk factor for scores of incurable diseases that strike in old age.

“Ultimately, it would be very exciting to develop therapy interventions to reset the clock and hopefully keep us young,” said Steve Horvath, professor of genetics and biostatistics at the University of California in Los Angeles.

Horvath looked at the DNA of nearly 8,000 samples of 51 different healthy and cancerous cells and tissues. Specifically, he looked at how methylation, a natural process that chemically modifies DNA, varied with age.

Horvath found that the methylation of 353 DNA markers varied consistently with age and could be used as a biological clock. The clock ticked fastest in the years up to around age 20, then slowed down to a steadier rate. Whether the DNA changes cause ageing or are caused by ageing is an unknown that scientists are now keen to work out.

“Does this relate to something that keeps track of age, or is a consequence of age? I really don’t know,” Horvath told the Guardian. “The development of grey hair is a marker of ageing, but nobody would say it causes ageing,” he said.

The clock has already revealed some intriguing results. Tests on healthy heart tissue showed that its biological age – how worn out it appears to be – was around nine years younger than expected. Female breast tissue aged faster than the rest of the body, on average appearing two years older.

Diseased tissues also aged at different rates, with cancers speeding up the clock by an average of 36 years. Some brain cancer tissues taken from children had a biological age of more than 80 years.

“Female breast tissue, even healthy tissue, seems to be older than other tissues of the human body. That’s interesting in the light that breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. Also, age is one of the primary risk factors of cancer, so these types of results could explain why cancer of the breast is so common,” Horvath said.

Healthy tissue surrounding a breast tumor was on average 12 years older than the rest of the woman’s body, the scientist’s tests revealed.

Writing in the journal Genome Biology, Horvath showed that the biological clock was reset to zero when cells plucked from an adult were reprogrammed back to a stem-cell-like state. The process for converting adult cells into stem cells, which can grow into any tissue in the body, won the Nobel prize in 2012 for Sir John Gurdon at Cambridge University and Shinya Yamanaka at Kyoto University.

“It provides a proof of concept that one can reset the clock,” said Horvath. The scientist now wants to run tests to see how neurodegenerative and infectious diseases affect, or are affected by, the biological clock.

“These data could prove valuable in furthering our knowledge of the biological changes that are linked to the ageing process,” said Veryan Codd, who works on the effects of biological ageing in cardiovascular disease at Leicester University. “It will be important to determine whether the accelerated ageing, as described here, is associated with other age-related diseases and if it is a causal factor in, or a consequence of, disease development.

“As more data becomes available, it will also be interesting to see whether a similar approach could identify tissue-specific ageing signatures, which could also prove important in disease mechanisms,” she added. © Guardian News and Media 2013

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« Reply #9472 on: Oct 21, 2013, 08:23 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

The Reasons Why Ted Cruz Dreams of Economic Armageddon

By: Adalia Woodbury
Monday, October 21st, 2013, 8:51 am

Ted Cruz and the sedition caucus never intended to raise the debt ceiling.  The 144 Republican House members and 18 Republican Senators voted against reopening the government and raising the debt ceiling because default was their goal.  Sure, they wanted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. However, that was an added sugar coating to their objective of destroying our credit rating and ultimately, repudiating our debt.

Debt repudiation originated with Confederates who resented taxation to repay the Union’s war debt, while the Confederate debt was repudiated. That resentment is why section 4 was added to the 14th Amendment of the Constitution that the Tea Party always says it loves, but prefers to ignore.

Bruce Barlett explains the connection between the post-war South and today’s debt repudiators.

    The Columbia University historian Eric Foner, an expert on the Civil War, recently recounted the debate over the postwar debt and demands by Southerners for repudiating the Union debt, which are echoed by many default advocates today. In those days, it was Democrats who supported default while Republicans opposed it; today it is the reverse.

    There are still many in the South, where the Republican Party is now based, whose hostility to the national debt traces back to those days.

Cancelling the debt was always popular among far right wing economists and members of the fringe.  Default enjoys support from 69% of the Tea Party.

In 1988,  Pat Robertson used religion to advocate for debt repudiation.  He wanted to  declare  a year of jubilee in which the debt would be cancelled. Newt Gingrich advocated default when he tried to crash the economy during the Clinton years. When Dick Cheney said the debt doesn’t matter, he was chanting the debt repudiator’s mantra.

The idea of debt repudiation enjoyed a dramatic increase in popularity when Barack Obama won the presidential election in 2008. Aside from achieving economic Armageddon, the debt repudiators fantasized about history blaming the black guy.

In fact, Donald Trump said it during a 2011 interview on Fox and Friends.

    When it comes time to default, they’re not going to remember any of the Republicans’ names. They are going to remember in history books one name, and that’s Obama.

The idea gained legitimacy within the Tea Party because, according t0 Bartlett, it was espoused by Nobel Prize winning economist James Buchanan. Buchanan asserted that much debt based government financing and taxing people to pay for it is immoral.  The Tea Party got its argument that default would force the government to balance the budget from Buchanan.

    In his essay on The Ethics of Default Buchanan made an argument often repeated by libertarians and Tea Party members: if the Treasury were to default, no one would ever lend it money again, thus imposing a balanced budget; the government could only spend as much as tax revenue permitted.

That’s why Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and their House counterparts are trying again. They will keep trying just as their predecessors did as long as they are in Congress.

Ted Cruz and the sedition caucus are the latest to try to achieve what Gingrich couldn’t and what Robertson and Trump dreamed about.

There is nothing new about Ted Cruz or his approach.  Cruz claims to be fresh and bold.  However, he exploits ideas and resentments dating back to the Civil War. With these old ideas and resentments, he justifies his equally dated strategy of sedition.


Of Reasons and Treasons – Why Ted Cruz is the Common Enemy of Humanity

By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Monday, October 21st, 2013, 7:44 am

We may never know with any certainty what makes Texas Senator Ted Cruz tick, but by his actions it seems pretty clear that he cares only for making a name for himself and that he will put his overweening ego over the welfare of any one person, or even any country.

And when he says he is going to shut down the government and then shuts down the government and then says he never shut down the government but he will do it again, dammit, you better listen.

Because sometimes you just need to laugh, I laughed the other day at Andy Borowitz’s quip in The New Yorker about Cruz finally getting around to actually read the ACA and oh by the way the U.S. Constitution. But laughter won’t protect us from our shared reality. It won’t save Ted Cruz and it won’t save us FROM Ted Cruz.

The fact that Cruz seems bound and determined to destroy the American economy over a single law that has been upheld by the United States Supreme Court, ought to outrage every American. We’re out $24 billion we’re never going to see again and he plans to spend more money he says we don’t have when February rolls around. And he’s not planning to use even a single dime of it to create a by-God-actual-job.

Nossir. And given the threat to the world economy, Cruz’s antics ought to outrage every citizen of every country in the world. Cruz and his tea party seditionists threatened the health, wealth, and livelihood of not only every American but of EVERYONE so he could be a hero to a few gun-totin’ homophobic, Islamophobic, racist whack jobs who have lost the last two national elections.

The Cuban anarchist, who, by the way, owes Americans that $24 billion he squandered through petty self-aggrandizement, spoke Saturday at the Texas Medical Association’s fall conference about his “(t)reasoning.”

What you don’t know CAN hurt you. But as the old saying goes, it’s not what you don’t know that will get you but what you THINK you know, and the tea party Republicans think they know an awful lot of things that are pretty much all in their own minds. The trouble is, those things they think aren’t supported by facts.

America does not exist in a vacuum. America is tied to a complex global economy. If the United States economy had crashed, it would have dragged the world economy down with it. Cruz’s demagoguery is a threat to the whole planet. And he promise us he is not through.

But Republicans – especially tea party Republicans – don’t think about basic facts like this. Cruz scared not only people – liberals AND conservatives – but fake people – organizations and corporations. He scared the staunchly Republican U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has responded by saying, “Enough silliness.” Scott Reed, who is senior political strategist for the chamber said Friday that, “The need is now more than ever to elect people who understand the free market and not silliness.”

Gee. Ya think? Good luck with that, by the way. We’ve been dangerously exposed to your talent pool.

Republicans say they want to run the United States government like a business – after they sell most of it in a yard sale – but Republicans don’t understand business; they don’t understand the free market.

So now we have Ted Cruz saying he “would do anything” to stop Obamacare and we have John McCain and Mitch “Hey, I got a 2-week paid vacation out of it” McConnell saying there will not be another shutdown over Obamacare. It’s not that McCain and McConnell like Obamacare; they don’t. But in their odd little ways they seem to like America more, at the least understand that if Cruz succeeds in his Cruzade to destroy the federal government they won’t have paying jobs anymore.

Cruz is doing what the American people want him to do, he insists. MSNBC put it thusly:

    Cruz insisted he was acting on behalf of Americans who share his position. While his statement is not necessarily supported by national polls, he is able to assert enough anecdotal support, particularly in Texas, to form the basis of a critique of some of his Washington colleagues.

But even Texas Governor Rick Perry, who sought Obamacare funding for Texas before calling Obamacare a criminal act before finally encouraging Texans to enroll in Obamacare, is now essentially endorsing Obamacare and there is anecdotal evidence that Texans LIKE Obamacare.

If he really wants a war, shouldn’t Cruz instead begin his Cruzade in Texas, if all his evidence (sorta) comes from Texas?

Besides being gratuitously greedy and selfish, Cruz is being childish. Not only is he ignoring facts but he is painting himself as some sort of fearless messiah-like character persecuted on all sides not only by his enemies but the allies that have betrayed him.

Why those terrible liberals are even threatening to kill him, he says, and each Republican who says no to him only raises himself higher, at least in his own estimation. He says things like “I don’t work for the party bosses in Washington” and “I’m not serving in office because I desperately needed 99 new friends in the U.S. Senate.”

He’s not even doing it because the American people want him to do it because he knows how to read as well as the rest of us, and the polls clearly demonstrate that the American people do not want him to do it. He is doing it for himself, pure and simple, because in his twisted way he thinks this will somehow position him for the presidency in 2016.

We know this won’t happen because unlike Ted Cruz, we don’t reject the world of facts, but another old adage is to never underestimate the stupidity of your enemies. Yet another even more important adage is, never interrupt your enemy while he is making a mistake.


An Insane Ted Cruz Claims He Had Nothing to Do With the Government Shutdown That He Caused

By: Jason Easley
Sunday, October 20th, 2013, 2:22 pm

Seeing disaster and falling poll numbers, Sen. Ted Cruz is changing is story and claiming that he had nothing to do with the government shutdown that he caused.

Transcript via ABC News:

    KARL: People hated this shutdown, they hated this impasse and this was seen as the Ted Cruz shutdown. You more than any single individual were seen as the one that triggered this crisis to begin with.

    CRUZ: Jon, I agree that a lot of D.C. politicians tried to call it that and a lot of the media did, too. But –

    KARL: We’re talking about public opinion nationally.

    CRUZ: But look, I — I — let me be very clear. I said throughout this, we shouldn’t have a shutdown. I don’t want a shutdown. I repeatedly voted to open the government.

    KARL: But there never would have been a shutdown if you hadn’t gone with the strategy of saying we’re not even going to fund the government for six weeks –


    CRUZ: And you know what?

    KARL: — unless we can defund ObamaCare.

    CRUZ: — you know what, John, there never would have been a shutdown if Harry Reid and President Obama hadn’t said we will not compromise, we will not negotiate, shut the government down.

    KARL: How much do your colleagues just despise you right now on the floor? I mean, I hear some really strong language from your own fellow Republican senators.


    SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZ.: I think it’s obvious that we are now seeing the end of this agonizing odyssey. It’s one of the more shameful chapters that I have seen.


    CRUZ: Listen –

    KARL: You made — you made some enemies in this battle.

    CRUZ: There is an old saying that politics, it ain’t beanbag. And you know, I’m not serving in office because I desperately needed 99 new friends in the U.S. Senate. Given the choice between being reviled in Washington, D.C., and appreciated in Texas, or reviled in Texas and appreciated in Washington, I would take the former 100 out of 100 times.

    KARL: You did a radio interview where you compared Senate Republicans to an Air Force going over and bombing their own troops, bombing conservatives, bombing House conservatives.


    CRUZ: And when you have got half the Senate Republican caucus firing their cannons at the House Republicans, it sabotages the effort.


    CRUZ: The reason this deal, the lousy deal was reached is because, unfortunately, Senate Republicans made the choice not to support House Republicans.

In Ted Cruz’s mind the people who are to blame for the government shutdown are Harry Reid, Barack Obama, Senate Democrats, Senate Republicans, and Mitch McConnell. Cruz has never blamed himself, and the tea party House Republicans that he advised for causing the shutdown. Ted Cruz spent all of August and September traveling the country urging a government shutdown. Sen. Cruz made speeches on the Senate floor calling for a government shutdown. Cruz was caught holding multiple secret meetings with tea party House Republicans where he plotting the government shutdown strategy.

The government shutdown belongs to Ted Cruz, and the Republicans who caused and enabled it. Sen. Cruz is demonstrating sociopathic behavior. The Texas Senator has shown no sense of responsibility or conscience over the damage that he has done. His blame of everyone that isn’t Ted Cruz or his allies reeks of a dangerous personality.

Sen. Cruz doesn’t care that he put millions of people in economic jeopardy and cost the US economy $24 billion. He only seems concerned with personal enrichment and growing his anti-government cult. Like all sociopaths Ted Cruz is never going to take responsibility for his actions, and he isn’t going to stop trying to destroy the government as long as he that this behavior is his ticket to the White House.


Ted Cruz Is Just the Figurehead of The Koch/DeMint Destroy Government Conspiracy

By: Rmuse
Sunday, October 20th, 2013, 10:22 am

It is completely normal for human beings to focus their rage and anger at one person whom they feel assaulted them; especially if they think the person jeopardized their country’s economic health and shut down their government. It is doubtful there are many decent Americans who are not outraged at Ted Cruz for his role in the government shutdown, and it is likely he relishes the increased attention as conservatives’ messiah. Cruz appeared to be the de facto Republican leader who shut down the government and threatened a credit default as leverage to eliminate the Affordable Care Act, but the teabag hero was little more than a figurehead of a much larger conspiracy whose real leaders are teabaggers Charles and David Koch and Jim DeMint.

While Cruz-led Republicans are plotting their next fiscal crisis to avenge their failure to tank the economy unless the President and Democrats paid a ransom, the Koch brothers and DeMint have been waging a ferocious battle to take the health law down in the states as well as in Congress. Americans should make no mistake that Republicans and their masters the Kochs and Jim DeMint will go to any lengths to derail the health law, because when all is said and done, they intend to deprive Americans from having access to healthcare regardless the cost to the nation’s economy or the people they lust to dominate.

Americans have a two-and-a-half month respite until Republicans in Washington enact their next fiscal crisis to eliminate the health law, but Virginia residents are feeling the full effect of the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity crusade to stop a key feature of the health law, Medicaid expansion, to deny poor Virginians access to healthcare. The primary target of the Koch-funded AFP is a long-time Republican tasked with leading a commission to decide if Virginia will expand Medicaid and provide the poorest residents with basic health care services. The man, Republican state senator Emmett W. Hanger Jr. reports he is coming under heavy fire from Americans for Prosperity and their army of operatives deployed to spread Koch propaganda that expanding Medicaid is tantamount to ceding America to Adolf Hitler.

Hanger said the Koch acolytes are waging what he called “an attempt to intimidate me in Richmond and at home,” and he reported that AFP operatives have telephoned his constituents, distributed leaflets, and knocked on 2,000 doors in his rural district to warn of the impending disaster if poor Virginians get access to healthcare. Hanger also said when the Republican town committee met Monday night in his home county, Augusta, Americans for Prosperity was there. On Tuesday, AFP field organizers bused in hundreds of volunteers in green shirts and provided Subway sandwiches for lunch as recompense for attending the Hanger-led commission hearing on the benefits of expanding Medicaid.

The president of Americans for Prosperity, Tim Phillips, said “This has been one of those trench warfare kind of efforts for a year now, and I think it is one of those hidden stories of the whole fight against Obamacare. It’s not flashy; it’s just in a whole bunch of state capitals and in the districts of a whole lot of state legislators, but it’s such a crucial aspect of the overall long-term effort to destroy Obamacare.” The war plans to go state-by state is a shift from co-conspirator Jim DeMint and the Heritage Foundation’s tactics that drove the shutdown and default effort in Washington DeMint said “will now be the issue for the next few years,” and the Koch’s Americans for Prosperity concurred that Americans will be lambasted with anti-Obamacare propaganda for years. The Pennsylvania leader of AFP said “this is going to be an issue all through 2014 for us. I don’t believe this fight is in Washington or ever was. I think this is a street fight. It’s a man to man, so to speak, fight of going door to door.”

If Americans thought pundits’ assertions that Republicans are waging war for domination to hurt Americans were exaggerations, the language the Koch and Heritage acolytes use are war parlance. Trench warfare, fighting door-to-door, and street fighting are war terms that make the point that picking on hapless Ted Cruz as the be all, end all, target for his role to eliminate the healthcare reform law is erroneous. Without the money, fear-mongering, and electoral pressure from the Koch brothers and DeMint, it is likely more Republicans would abandon the seditious conspiracy to prevent, obstruct, or delay execution of an established law like the ACA. It is true the great majority of Republicans harbor enough hatred for the American people, especially poor American people, to drive their anti-healthcare crusade, but few of them would risk enraging voters with a shut down and credit default without the support, funding, and direction from Koch and DeMint’s anti-American organizations.

The effort to eliminate the established healthcare insurance reform law is a conspiracy, and not the act of one man or even one faction of the conservative movement. Every Republican in Congress who voted to keep the United States government shut down and crash the economy are just as culpable as Cruz, the Kochs, and DeMint’s Heritage Foundation, and every last one deserves the people’s wrath because they were elected to help Americans, not keep them sick, shut down their government, or tank the economy.

The media and many pundits are wont to excuse incompetent Speaker John Boehner because he cannot rein in recalcitrant teabagger extremists in the House, but it was Boehner who allowed 40-plus votes to repeal the ACA that he asserted “was the law of the land” after President Obama’s re-election last November. It is important to remember that seditious conspiracy is two or more persons preventing, hindering, and obstructing execution of a United States law, and as such it means nearly all Republicans in Congress are guilty of a crusade that has no goal other than preventing Americans from having access to health care.

It is easy to focus on one man like Cruz as the culprit in the fight to eliminate the healthcare law, and he certainly is worthy of Americans’ rage for his role as spokesman and de facto leader of the anti-Obamacare movement, but losing sight of the effort’s real masterminds is why there is no public outcry against the Kochs, Americans for Prosperity, Jim DeMint, or the Heritage Foundation. In fact, in an unscientific survey over the past three weeks, only one person out of 22 had ever heard of the Koch brothers, AFP, Jim DeMint, or the Heritage Foundation and it is why they wield inordinate power over Republicans; they are virtually invisible to the public. There is no doubt whatsoever that if the American people knew who controlled Republicans in Congress and the states, and what their agenda for this country entails, they would abandon the Republican and teabag party en masse and frankly, that is the only scenario that is going to save this country and help all Americans have access to healthcare.


Sen. Ted Cruz Holds Wheeler Appointment Hostage to Protect Koch Money

By: Adalia Woodbury
Saturday, October 19th, 2013, 2:47 pm

Since holding hostages to get what the far right wants worked so well for the Koch brothers and their corporate allies when they tried to deny Americans access to affordable Healthcare by blowing up the economy, they’re trying it again.  This time, the Kochs’ lead hostage taker in the Senate is blocking Tom Wheeler’s nomination to be chairman of the FCC.  Ted Cruz’s office confirmed that Cruz would release Wheeler’s nomination in exchange for a stop to transparency in spending on political ads, like that creepy Uncle Sam ad the Koch Brothers bought in their failed attempt to deny Americans access to doctors.

Of the secret $311 million dollars spent on campaigns in 2012, 85% favored the Republican Party.

Cruz first demanded the ransom  during Wheeler’s confirmation hearing back in June.

Transcript from 6:11-7:36 of the video

Cruz: As you know there are few if any issues that inspire more passionate partisan divisions in this body this body has repeatedly failed to pass the DISCLOSE Act because a substantial number members of this body believe it is unconstitutional and bad policy in your judgment does the FCC have the authority to implement the DISCLOSE Act heard otherwise regulate political speech

    Wheeler: I’m as I have said before on that’s an issue that I look forward to learning more about there is a pending proceeding on that exact question arm and and I need to look at that proceeding and become informed but I do not miss the expression on both sides love this DS as to the strong feelings and I know this is that this is an issue of tension

    Cruz: Well mister wheeler as you know every Republican on this committee along with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell sent a letter to your predecessor on this issue and you and I visited in my office you said you need to study the issue more I would ask you to submit in writing an answer to this question and I would notice you and I visited privately this is the one issue that in my opinion has the potential to derail your nomination

Wheeler’s nomination was on the Senate’s calendar Thursday, but remains blocked because Ted Cruz is protecting the Koch Brothers and their use of dark money for deceptive political ads.   Cruz’s office confirmed  that he was responsible for the obstruction. His spokesman, Sean Rushton,  admitted the reason was to protect the Koch brothers from ad funding transparency.

    Yes, the Senator is holding the nominee until he gets answers to his questions regarding Mr. Wheeler’s views on whether the FCC has the authority or intent to implement the requirements of the failed Congressional DISCLOSE Act

In other words,  Wheeler handed the Koch’s and Ted Cruz another fail by refusing to meet their ransom demand so they’re going to retaliate by stalling the FCC’s ability to decide on issues like a planned auction of government television airwaves.

Obviously, preserving dark money advertising is so important to the Koch brothers, even the complete collapse of Republican and Tea Party support isn’t going to stop them.


The Debt Ceiling Hike was Just a Pause in Right Wing Anti-Government Efforts

By: Dennis S
Sunday, October 20th, 2013, 7:55 pm

Tearing myself away from “Nashville” and Deacon’s latest conquest and the question of whether Rayna Jaymes voice would be restored, I watched the obscenity Wednesday night called the House of Representatives vote on the bill to reopen government and hike the debt ceiling through next February 7th. We all know the final tally; 285 in favor, including, to their credit, no matter their motives, 87 Republicans.

A total of 144 Republicans felt that kicking hundreds of thousands of government workers, plus an additional number of those working for government contractors to the curb and savaging various agency services was a wonderful reflection of democracy. The Senate vote was 81-18 with the predictable likes of Republicans Cruz, Coburn, Lee, Rubio, Paul and Scott among those balking at the idea. The final deal was shamefully struck about 100 minutes before assorted government defaults became a very real possibility. For Republicans, it was poll-struck, not a matter of civic conscience. The president and Harry Reid had held their ground.

But know this is in no way a victory. It’s a political pause. Knowledgeable observers recognize that this is the briefest of fixes extending a few months that are bound to be as contentious as the three year span since the Tea Party took over an arm of our government with a minority of the vote. Yes, a minority. As pointed out by a feature in The Nation magazine, Republicans took over the House even while losing the total margin by 1.7 million votes to the Democrats. District gerrymandering had carried the day for the radicals.

As early as January 2014, Tea Party shutdown and debt ceiling fecal matter will once again hit the fan and, on schedule, as they have done before, the radicals will parade out a series of heartless and senseless cuts trying to barter the continued demolition of the federal government. Then things will get worse.

In case you missed it, here’s the Tea Party strategy. Mess up the government to the extent it’s unrecognizable as a democratic institution. That would entail withholding funding from every worthwhile program and agency in DC. In addition to ACA, the other targets for elimination or virtual worthlessness are the Department of Education, the Energy Department, the Commerce Department and certainly the EPA and any other departments or agencies that have anything to do with regulation and oversight, especially financial and environmental. The National Labor Relations Board is also in the political crosshairs.

Destruction of the Postal Service continues unabated with no citizen pushback. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will be (already is) weighted down with so many demands, restrictions and requirements as to be unworkable for most. Billions are being diverted from SNAP by religious zealots who see nothing unholy in letting children and the elderly go hungry.

Let’s not forget continued tax cuts for the wealthy so there are no revenues save the lucre to keep our military machine oiled with, ironically, veterans as victims hugely underserved. So what are we left with going into the 2014 and 2016 elections? A chaotic mess that’s what. A mess of the doing of one party, or more correctly, an extremist faction of one party. Follow closely the strategy these extremists hope to pull off. After they destroy the federal government and for all practical purposes grind it to a halt, they’re going to BLAME THE DEMOCRATS. That’s because they have several things going for them at the polls. The first is a low-information constituency that can’t see beyond Rush and Fox News.

Then there’s the icing on the sleazy Republican contribution cake compliments once again of the right-wing Supreme Court. In McCutcheon vs. the Federal Election Commission, currently before the court, an attempt is being made to raise the two-year limit of an individual contribution from the current $123,200 to as much as $3.5 million or thereabouts. FOR SALE! Every election in America. An earlier similar case brought in September of 2012 before the U.S. District Court for DC by Shaun McCutcheon (an Alabama businessman) and the Republican National Committee (RNC) was dismissed.

But with the right-wing cuckoos sitting on the Supreme Court bench, the next obvious move was to bump the case up a judicial notch to the Supremes. And one of the guys making the decision believes the devil is a smart and successful “real” person. Do you suppose Antonin Scalia makes his decisions based on his perceived input from “SAAATAN!!! (as Church Lady used to say)?” Having read some of his decisions, I’m absolutely convinced the devil is a real person. And how about Clarence Thomas, the strong, silent type who is married to a woman who works 24/7 to rip apart ACA? No conflict of interest there in cases relating to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act or health care in general.

No matter the outcome, we’re in for at least a couple of more years of ludicrous political turbulence on the federal and state levels. Until the Republican Party rids itself of any meaningful Tea Party influence, nothing the GOP does matters. By that I mean their platform will have no positive influence on the country or its people. Keeping minorities, the poor and the LGBT community in their places isn’t public service for the people, it’s bigoted repression. Bowing to the demands of billionaires has nothing whatsoever to do with Democracy. Obsession with entitlement cuts to deflect a percentage of SS money to Wall Street and trashing Medicare and Medicaid will do great harm to the majority of citizens and ignoring the fact that government cannot function without revenue is just plain stupid.

The “new” Republicans have done this nation an enormous disservice. In my next submission I’m going to give you an example of what a number of members of one profession are going through that would make the most rabid of fascist proud. And the horrific consequences can all be traced back to the right-wing.

There is an obvious answer that I’ve repeated in my PoliticusUSA offerings over and over. GOTV! Get Out The Vote, then get out AND vote. Get your kin, friends and neighbors out to vote and your fellow workers and every other Democrat and moderate Independent and moderate Republican. Explain in easily understood terms what a continuation of Tea Party dominance is doing to them, their families and future generations. Reasonable, informed votes trump huge, dirty money every and radicalism every time.


Graham opposes Obamacare because his ‘friend’ owns 52 Wendy’s and has to insure employees

By David Edwards
Sunday, October 20, 2013 14:38 EDT

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said on Sunday that he opposed President Barack Obama’s health care law because a “friend” would have to pay more to insure the employees at his 52 Wendy’s restaurants — but the South Carolina Republican did not offer another solution to provide heath care for the 60 percent of those workers that did not currently have insurance.

Speaking to CBS host Bob Schieffer, Graham admitted that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-SC) had hurt the Republican Party by pushing the government shutdown as a tactic to defund the Affordable Care Act.

“But Ted Cruz can’t shut the government down,” he added. “What shuts the government down is when the House and the Senate can’t agree on a funding number. And our president has been virtually AWOL. This idea, ‘I won’t negotiate.’ The president of the United States needs to get involved with [House Speaker John] Boehner and [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid to try to bring us together.”

Graham continued: “After this debacle called the shutdown, our party’s been hurt, our brand name is at the lowest ever, Obamacare actually got a bump in polling and we got in the way of a disastrous roll-out. So from my point of view, this was a tactical choice that hurt us. But the good news is for the Republican Party is the debacle is over — if we don’t do it again — and Obamacare is a continuing debacle.”

To make his point, the South Carolina Republican told a story of a “friend” who had been personally impacted by the health care law.

“Friend of mine owns 52 Wendy’s, he’s put pen to paper, he has 40 percent of his workforce insured today,” Graham explained. “Under Obamacare, if 20 percent choose insurance, his insurance costs will double. That story is repeating itself throughout the economy. Obamacare is a debacle that will go into 2014.”


October 20, 2013 06:00 PM

To GOP and Media, Obama's Lack of 'Leadership' Means Lack of 'Capitulation'

By Nicole Belle

No matter which of the Republican-dominated Sunday shows you opted to subject yourself to, there was a common refrain: no matter how seditiously the Republican Party acted, the problem was the lack of leadership on the part of President Obama.

Of course, on Meet the Press, where no Republican meme is too inane or self-serving to not parrot as conventional wisdom, that was a recurring variation on a theme, brought up over and over again.

While interviewing Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, the intellectually lazy David Gregory uses Ron Fournier's article criticizing President Obama for the shutdown to ask if Obama needs to "absorb" his part of the governing by crisis, as if he's doing this all on his own and it has nothing to do with Republican obstruction.

    DAVID GREGORY: Well, to that point, the National Journal has a headline, piece has a headline says, "Obama Wins! Big Whoop. Can He Lead?" Isn't the crisis management that the president decries, isn't that a lasting part of his own legacy here? Doesn't he have to absorb a big part of the responsibility for that?

Right, Dancin' Dave. Ron Fournier (who has NEVER been anything but a spin doctor for the Republican Party and who shrugged off criticism for once telling Karl Rove to "keep up the fight") is worried about Obama's legacy, donchaknow? The overwhelming suicidally stupid tendencies of the tea party-enslaved Congress should not be of concern nor should they worry about their legacy, right?

But bless EJ Dionne, who took up Gregory's promotion of right wing memes later during the roundtable and called it for what it is:

    The president, a lot of times, though, when people say the president should lead, what they want him to do is adopt Republican positions and then push for those. That's not leadership, that's capitulation. I think we should stop talking about a grand bargain and try to have normal government in the next two months. Let's just get rid of some of this sequester, which is hurting the economy, and which a lot of Republicans don't like.

That's it in a nutshell. The call for "leadership" by concern trolls like Fournier and Gregory means nothing more than capitulating to the temper tantrums of the Republican Party. And we all know what happens when you give into temper tantrums, right? Unmanageable brats who make everyone miserable.

If it's all the same to Fournier and Gregory and their miserable excuse for journalism, I'll pass. No one will be better off with their version of "leadership".


Rep. Edwards schools ABC analyst who says Obama poisoned tone by blaming GOP for shutdown

By David Edwards
Sunday, October 20, 2013 13:11 EDT

Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) on Sunday pushed back against President George W. Bush’s former chief strategist Matthew Dowd, who now works as an analyst for ABC News, after he accused President Barack Obama of poisoning the tone in Washington, D.C. by faulting Republicans after they forced a government shutdown.

“It’s really easy to cast this off on the president, but the fact is when you have now what looks to be a majority of Republicans in Congress who stop the president at any point, who want say, you know, ‘We want to undo your signature health care act and shut down government over that and not pay our bills over that,’ I mean that really is very extreme,” Edwards explained. “And this president, in my view as a progressive Democrat, has bent over backwards to try to accommodate the Republican Party and try to construct support.”

Dowd, however, argued that the “real problem” was that “we need to redefine winning differently.”

“We define winning today as ‘us vs. them… I’m going to score points and if I don’t score points, I’m going to decide who the winner and loser is,’” Dowd said. “We just define everything as a battle, everything as a civil war. The president, I think, has tried to balance this tension, but I think he constantly falls into — I think he wants to bring the country together and be accommodating and do all that. He ran on that just like Bush ran on that. The end result of Bush’s didn’t turn out well, the end result of President Obama’s didn’t turn out well.”

He continued: “But I think President Obama lapses back into this sort of dualistic thing that, ‘Okay, I wasn’t able to do it, I’m going to point fingers.’ And you watched his speech last week. And his speech last week was a perfect microcosm of it.”

“Let’s change the tone but maybe not?” ABC’s Martha Raddatz asked.

“Let’s change the tone but they’re at fault!” Dowd agreed. “Whenever you say ‘they’re at fault,’ you can’t fix it.”

“Come on,” Edwards interrupted. “It is really important here, we don’t want to do a rewrite here. And in order not to do a rewrite, you have to actually understand who was at fault and there was real fault here. We had a majority of Republicans and Democrats who wanted to keep the government open.”


Rubio: House Republicans ‘deserve’ to dictate immigration reform after government shutdown

By David Edwards
Sunday, October 20, 2013 11:50 EDT

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) on Sunday said that President Barack Obama must cave to House Republicans’ demands on immigration reform because he had “undermined” the effort by refusing to defund his signature health care reform law.

During an interview with Fox News, Rubio reasoned that since the Obama administration had delayed parts of the Affordable Care Act, it could also decide to selectively enforce parts of any new immigration reform law.

“Certainly, the president has undermined this effort because the way he’s behaved over the last three weeks [during the government shutdown],” he explained to Fox News host Chris Wallace.

But even after House Republicans shut the government down in an attempt to defund the Affordable Care Act and took the country to the brink of default by threatening to raise the debt limit, Rubio argued that those same lawmakers might have the best immigration reform solution.

“This notion that they’re going to get into a room and negotiate a deal with the president on immigration is much more difficult for two reasons,” he explained. “Number one, because the way the president has behaved towards his opponents over the last three weeks as well as the White House and the things that they’ve said and done. And number two, because what I have outlined to you… So, I certainly think that immigration reform is a lot harder to achieve today than it was just three weeks ago because of what’s happened here.”

“Again, I think the House deserves the time and space to have its own ideas on how they want to move forward on this, let’s see what they come up with. It could very well be much better than what than the Senate has done so far.”


JPMorgan Reaches Tentative $13 Billion Settlement With Justice Department: WSJ

The Huffington Post/Reuters  |  Posted: 10/19/2013 2:44 pm EDT  |  Updated: 10/20/2013 3:34 am EDT

JPMorgan Chase has reached a tentative $13 billion settlement with the Justice Department over a number of investigations related to to the bank's residential mortgage-backed securities business, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Tweets from The Wall Street Journal and CNBC broke the news Saturday.

    Breaking: J.P. Morgan has reached a $13 billion tentative deal with the Justice Department.
    — Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) October 19, 2013

    BREAKING: J.P. Morgan Chase has reached a $13 billion tentative deal with the U.S. Justice Department. (via @JohnJHarwood)
    — CNBC (@CNBC) October 19, 2013

News of the deal comes just a day after a JPMorgan was reported to have reached a tentative $4 billion settlement with the Federal Housing Finance Agency over claims it sold bad mortgages to government agencies ahead of the financial crisis

At $13 billion, the potential settlement with the Justice Department exceeds estimates in September that JPMorgan would end up paying as much as $11 billion over the allegations. If finalized, the settlement would be the largest the U.S. government has ever made with a single company, according to WSJ.

JPMorgan may still also face criminal charges, according to a tweet by CNBC reporter John Harwood:

    Source familiar w/negotiations: JP Morgan $13-B tentative settlement w/Justice Dept does NOT absolve company of potential criminal charges
    — John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) October 19, 2013

More from Reuters:

    WASHINGTON, Oct 19 (Reuters) - JPMorgan Chase & Co has reached a tentative $13 billion agreement with the U.S. Justice Department to settle government agency investigations into bad mortgage loans the bank sold to investors before the financial crisis, a source said on Saturday.

    The tentative deal does not release the bank from criminal liability for some of the mortgages it packaged into bonds and sold to investors, a factor that had been a major sticking point in the discussions, the source said.

    As part of the deal, the bank will likely cooperate in criminal inquiries into certain individuals involved in the conduct at issue, the source, who declined to be identified, said.

    Officials at JPMorgan and the Justice Department declined to comment.

    Another source close to the discussions characterized a deal as likely, but cautioned that parts of the agreement are still being hammered out, and the settlement could conceivably fall apart.

    The record settlement could help resolve many of the legal troubles the New York bank is facing. Earlier this month JPMorgan disclosed it had stockpiled $23 billion in reserves for settlements and other legal expenses to help cover the myriad investigations into its conduct before and after the financial crisis.

    The deal is being hammered out by some of the most senior officials at the Department of Justice and the largest U.S. bank. Attorney General Eric Holder and JPMorgan Chief Executive Jamie Dimon spoke on the phone on Friday night to finalize the broad outlines of the broad deal, the first source said.

    The bank's general counsel Stephen Cutler and Associate Attorney General Tony West are negotiating a statement of facts that will be part of a final agreement, the source said.

    Long considered one of the best-managed banks, JPMorgan has stumbled in recent years, with run-ins with multiple federal regulators as well as authorities in several states and foreign countries over issues ranging from multibillion-dollar trading losses and poor risk controls to probes into whether it manipulated a power market.

    In September, as the Justice Department prepared to sue the bank over mortgage securities that the bank sold in the run-up to the financial crisis, JPMorgan tried to reach a broader settlement with DOJ and other federal and state agencies to resolve claims over its mortgage-related liabilities stemming from the bust in house prices.

    Dimon went to Washington to meet with Holder on Sept. 25, and discussed an $11 billion settlement at that point.

    Some of the problems relate to mortgage bank Washington Mutual and investment bank Bear Stearns, two failing firms that JPMorgan took over in 2008.

    The bank and the Justice Department have been discussing a broad deal that would resolve not only the inquiry into mortgage bonds it sold to investors between 2005 to 2007 that were backed by subprime and other risky residential mortgages, but also similar lawsuits from the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the National Credit Union Administration, the state of New York and others.

    The broader settlement is a product of a government working group created nearly two years ago to investigate misconduct in the residential mortgage-backed securities market that contributed to the financial crisis. Officials from the Justice Department, the New York Attorney General and others helped to lead the group.

    Reuters reported late Friday that JPMorgan and FHFA had reached a tentative $4 billion deal. That agreement is expected to be part of the larger $13 billion settlement.(Full Story)


October 20, 2013 02:16 PM

Maria Bartiromo Complains JP Morgan Settlement Will Harm Job Creation

By Heather

If there is one thing you can always count on from CNBC anchor Maria Bartiromo,it's the fact that she is always going to carry water for her buddies over on Wall Street and her appearance on this Sunday's Meet the Press was no exception.

Bartiromo is apparently very distraught about the news that JP Morgan Chase is on the verge of having to pay a $13 billion fine, and may be facing criminal charges and other law suits as well. The reason she gives... job creation. That's right, never mind whether or not they broke the law and the damage that was done by the financial crisis. Laws are for little people, don't you know. According to Bartiromo, this is yet another reason for businesses to sit on their hands and hoard their cash -- they're all afraid of being prosecuted like Jamie Dimon and JP Morgan Chase. Who knew so many more of them had a reason to worry about going to prison or being sued as well?

Bartiromo had some help from her enabler David Gregory, who also did his best to take up for poor downtrodden Jamie Dimon. How terrible that all of the mean old hippies are picking on him:

    DAVID GREGORY: I wanted to introduce something, Maria. You know, we talk about big accomplishments in the administration, a second term agenda. Part of that agency we're seeing play out real-time with this big news people are waking up to about JP Morgan. A huge settlement, $13 billion with a B, in a tentative deal with JP Morgan to settle a lot of the civil litigation that responds to whether they sold subprime loans into the marketplace to Fannie and Freddie. But this goes to a larger point, which is this reckoning for Wall Street that's finally happening that a lot of liberals have been cheering for.

    MARIA BARTIROMO: Yeah. I think that reckoning continues. This is worse than people expected. A lot of people thought it was $11 billion. It ended up at 13. Also very important here is the fact that they did not do away with the possibility of criminality.

    DAVID GREGORY: Criminal-- yeah.

    MARIA BARTIROMO: This is a major issue.

    DAVID GREGORY: And this is JP Morgan, this is Jamie Dimon as CEO, who was viewed, frankly, as one of the most responsible players in the whole sub-prime mess, did not need federal bailout money, was a leader, did things the government wanted him to do in buying Washington Mutual and Bear Stearns. And yet, they become a big target here.

    MARIA BARTIROMO: Well, this has been one of the repercussions of the financial crisis. And that is the pendulum swinging a little far in terms of regulation. And this is the cost on business. And this is one of the reasons business sits on cash and is not creating jobs, because they worry what's around the corner.

    As far as JP Morgan is concerned, this is going to be a big negative, I would say, because of that opening up to massive amounts of civil lawsuits, and more lawsuits, as a result of this potential for criminality. But certainly the regulation bite has become a lot bigger. And that has been a big issue for business. And that has kept business in its place in terms of the ability to hire more people.

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French anger over NSA surveillance dents diplomatic relations

Knock-on effects of Edward Snowden revelations starting to affect US and UK trade relationships in Europe and beyond

Julian Borger, diplomatic editor
The Guardian, Monday 21 October 2013 23.46 BST   

French outrage at the scale of NSA espionage is the latest in a series of aftershocks around the world triggered by Edward Snowden's revelations about US and British espionage that have shaken relations with their allies and partners.

However, in France as in other cases, distinguishing short-term embarrassment from long-term damage is complicated. Much of the backlash has been rhetorical, often from countries with well-developed electronic intelligence capabilities of their own, without immediate concrete consequences for political and economic ties.

But there are prominent exceptions to the general rule, and in many ways the knock-on effects for trade and investment relationships, in Europe and beyond, are only now beginning to make themselves felt.

Long-stalled European privacy legislation has been dusted off in the wake of revelations by Snowden – a former NSA contractor now living under temporary asylum in Russia – about the bulk collection of the private phone and internet communications of European consumers, and the targeting of EU missions in New York and Washington for surveillance.

Brazil has meanwhile made itself a rallying point for global opposition to the long reach of US electronic espionage, after it emerged that the NSA had bugged President Dilma Rousseff and her aides, and targeted the country's state-run oil company, Petrobras. Rousseff put off a trip to Washington due to take place and delivered a stinging denunciation of US surveillance from the podium of the UN general assembly in New York last month, minutes before Barack Obama addressed the world from the same spot.

While the economic and security fallout from the Snowden spy scandal has yet to crystallise fully, there is little doubt that the US and Britain's soft power, their ability to build alliances on the claim of moral leadership for example, have suffered a tangible blow.

The initial European reaction to the exposure of the US Prism and the British Tempora programmes was muted.

With Prism, the NSA had a window on the everyday internet communications of millions of users of the world's biggest email and social media service providers. The Tempora program, meanwhile, allowed Britain's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) to tap directly into the backbone of the global internet infrastructure, the transatlantic fibre-optic cables, scooping up phone and internet data of much of the world, including millions of Europeans.

European leaders like François Hollande and Angela Merkel voiced displeasure and unease, but then let the matter drop. The German interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, said he accepted US assurances the spy programs would not affect ordinary citizens.

In the European parliament, however, the revelations lit a slow-burning fire. After two years on the shelf, new regulations on European data protection standards have been revived that could impose multibillion-dollar fines on US internet providers if they transfer European data abroad in contravention to European law, which is far stronger on privacy than its US counterpart.

It seems likely the new legislation will further entangle the already fiendishly complicated negotiations over a new transatlantic trade and investment partnership under way between the US and Europe which both sides had been counting on for an economic boost.


Ankara reacted furiously to the emergence of GCHQ documents that the UK had spied on its finance minister and up to 15 others in the Turkish delegation visiting Britain for G20 meetings in 2009, calling the economic espionage operation against a Nato ally "scandalous". The UK ambassador was summoned and reprimanded, but there has been little sign of fallout since, in part because both countries have more immediate shared concerns over the fate of Syria. However, the fact that GCHQ set up internet cafes at the London summit to spy on foreign diplomats has done nothing to enhance its reputation as a reliable host for international conferences.


The news that GCHQ had tapped then President Dmitry Medvedev at the 2009 G20 summit, has done limited long-term harm to the bilateral relationship, but for very different reasons. UK-Russian ties were at such a low ebb already, as a consequence of previous spy rows and a deep rift over Syria, that the Medvedev tapping story caused no perceptible ripples.


Brazil qualifies as the most persistently outraged victim of the western electronic espionage laid bare in the Snowden files. President Rousseff's snub to Obama and withering indictment of US surveillance at the UN general assembly was not just a deep embarrassment for Washington but a significant rift in relations between the biggest economies in the North and South American continents.

Rousseff appears determined that there should be real world consequences for the spy scandal. She has called for the construction of a national internet infrastructure in Brazil that would not be so vulnerable to foreign tapping, raising the prospect of fragmentation of the world wide web.

She has also summoned a global meeting on internet governance for next April, aimed at diminishing the US's dominant position as the world's internet hub.

As a rising global power, Brazil's leadership has brought others along in its wake. India, which had been muted in its response to the revelations, this week joined the challenge to US-based internet regulating agencies like the non-profit International Cooperation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which governs internet resources such as domain names.


Allegations that the NSA hacked the email account of Mexico's then president Felipe Calderon in 2010 prompted an angry response from the current government, which said such actions were unacceptable and violate international law.

Reiterating a call for Washington to conduct an exhaustive investigation of NSA conduct, the Mexican foreign ministry said: "In a relationship between neighbours and partners, there's no room for the practices that allegedly took place."

The German current affairs magazine, Spiegel, reported at the weekend on an operation that was said to have been called Flatliquid and allegedly involved the NSA using a server to gain access to Calderon's account and the Mexican presidential domain used by cabinet members for diplomatic and economic communications.

Citing documents from the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the Spiegel report suggested that the US has been systematically eavesdropping on the Mexican government for years.


Barack Obama calls François Hollande following NSA revelations in France

White House highlights intelligence review after Le Monde published details from Edward Snowden which suggest the NSA has intercepted French phone traffic on a massive scale

Paul Lewis in Washington and Angelique Chrisafis in Paris, Monday 21 October 2013 23.24 BST    

The French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, says he has summoned the US ambassador to the Quai d'Orsay after allegations published in Le Monde that the NSA spied on French citizens.

The White House conceded on Monday that revelations about how its intelligence agencies have intercepted enormous amounts of French phone traffic raised "legitimate questions for our friends and allies".

In a statement released after a phone call between Barack Obama and his counterpart, François Hollande, the White House made one of its strongest admissions yet about the diplomatic impact of the disclosures by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The French government had earlier summoned the US ambassador in Paris on Monday to demand an urgent explanation over claims that the National Security Agency had engaged in widespread phone and internet surveillance of French citizens.

The French daily Le Monde published details from the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, suggesting the NSA had been intercepting French phone traffic on what it termed "a massive scale".

"The president and President Hollande discussed recent disclosures in the press – some of which have distorted our activities, and some of which raise legitimate questions for our friends and allies about how these capabilities are employed," the White House said in a statement.

"The president made clear that the United States has begun to review the way that we gather intelligence, so that we properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share. The two presidents agreed that we should continue to discuss these issues in diplomatic channels."

Le Monde said more than 70m French phone calls had been recorded in one 30-day period late last year. Techniques included the automatic recording of conversations from certain numbers, and sweeping up text messages based on keywords. Le Monde warned that the interceptions were likely to have targeted not just those with suspected terrorist links but also people in business and politics.

Earlier on Monday, the French government summoned the US ambassador in Paris, Charles Rivkin. A French official said Rivkin was met by the foreign ministry's chief of staff, who reminded the US "that these types of practices between partners are totally unacceptable, and we must be assured that they are no longer happening". The French demanded that Washington provide a full explanation "and a tangible response to our concerns as soon as possible".

The French prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, said he was shocked, and demanded the US provide "clear answers, justifying the reasons these practices were used, and above all creating the conditions of transparency so these practices can be put to an end".

Before Obama's call, the White House responded to the claims in Le Monde by saying that the US "gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations".

Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council at the White House, said: "We've begun to review the way that we gather intelligence, so that we properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share."

The French foreign minister Laurent Fabius held talks with US secretary of state John Kerry early on Tuesday morning about Syria, but also raised the issue of the NSA's mass surveillance of French

A French official said Fabius used the meeting to reiterate Paris's "demands for an explanation over spying practises that are unacceptable between partners and which must stop."

On Monday night, Kerry said Washington would continue "bilateral consultations" with France, one of "our oldest allies", to address the question of reports of the US government "gathering information from
some of the agencies".

He said: "Protecting the security of our citizens in today's world is a very complicated, very challenging task, it is an everyday 24-7, 365-day task, unfortunately, because there are lots of people out there seeking to do harm to other people." He added: "Our goal is always to try to find the right balance between protecting the security and the privacy of our citizens."

Prior to the meeting, Fabius had warned: "This sort of practice between partners that invades privacy is totally unacceptable, and we have to make sure, very quickly, that this no longer happens."

Fabius added: "We co-operate in a useful way in the fight against terrorism, but that does not justify everything."

The reports in Le Monde, which were co-written by the outgoing Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald – who worked with Snowden to lay bare the extent of the NSA's actions – claimed that the NSA recorded 70.3m phone calls in France between 10 December 2012 and 8 January 2013

According to the paper, the documents show that the NSA was allegedly targeting not only terrorist suspects but also politicians, businesspeople and members of the administration under a programme codenamed US-985D. The paper said "French interests" were "targeted on a daily basis".

Le Monde highlighted what it called "techniques used to violate the secrets or simply the private life of French people". The paper said: "The agency has several collection methods. When certain French phone numbers are dialled, a signal is activated that triggers the automatic recording of certain conversations. This surveillance also recovered SMS and content based on keywords."

Such methods, it added, allowed the NSA to keep a systematic record of the history of each target's connections. Le Monde said the unpublished Snowden documents it had seen showed "intrusion, on a vast scale, both into the private space of French citizens as well as into the secrets of major national firms".

The most recent documents cited by Le Monde, dated April 2013, indicated the NSA's interest in email addresses linked to Wanadoo, once part of France Telecom. About 4.5 million people still use email addresses in France. Also targeted was Alcatel-Lucent, a French-American telecoms company that employs more than 70,000 people and works in the sensitive sector of equipping communication networks.

One of the documents instructed analysts to draw not only from the electronic surveillance programme, but also from another initiative dubbed Upstream, which allows surveillance on undersea communications cables.

Le Monde said one document it consulted showed that between 8 February and 8 March 2013 the NSA collected, worldwide, 124.8bn telephone data items and 97.1bn computer data items. In Europe, only Germany and the UK exceeded France in terms of the numbers of interceptions.


After General Alexander, Obama should split the NSA to make us all safer

The NSA's aggressive pursuit of Big Data has not only invaded our privacy, but also left us more vulnerable to cyber attack

Marcy Wheeler, Monday 21 October 2013 16.33 BST

The NSA is one of its own biggest adversaries in its fight to keep America safe from cyber attacks. To fight this considerable adversary, the president should use the replacement of NSA Director Keith Alexander and his deputy, John Inglis, as an opportunity to split off NSA's defensive function and rebuild necessary trust.

Commentators have long recognized the NSA had two conflicting missions: one to defend key American networks, and one to collect intelligence on our adversaries. As Wired explained three years ago:

    NSA headquarters … in Fort Meade, Maryland, is actually home to two different agencies under one roof. There's the signals intelligence directorate, the Big Brothers who, it is said, can tap into any electronic communication. And there's the information assurance directorate, the cyber security nerds who make sure our government's computers and telecommunications systems are hacker- and eavesdropper-free.

The addition of US Cybercommand to this mix made things still worse: General Alexander has warned of attacks on the US's electrical grid that might rely on vulnerabilities similar to the ones the US exploited to attack Iran's nuclear program.

Documents leaked by Edward Snowden have exposed more details about how the NSA's dual missions undermine each other. The agency uses court orders to oblige Google to turn over its users' data under the Prism program, while finding ways around Google's encryption when compiling contact lists of unsuspecting Google users in collection supervised by no court.

While the NSA points to vulnerabilities of American business networks and communications, it works with companies to "insert vulnerabilities into commercial encryption systems" and "influence policies, standards and specification for commercial public key technology". Even as NSA and other national security leaders warn that cyberattacks (pdf) present the biggest threat to the country, NSA is leaving open or even creating vulnerabilities that our adversaries can exploit.

As security expert Bruce Schneier described:

    Finding a vulnerability – or creating one – and keeping it secret to attack the bad guys necessarily leaves the good guys more vulnerable.

The NSA is violating the trust needed to accomplish its goal of protecting America's networks. The NSA has exacerbated this trust problem in a slew of ways.

Last year, Alexander donned a hacker costume and went to the computer security DefCon convention to schmooze hackers. While there, he made a series of misleading statements – denying the NSA collects data on millions of Americans – that set up James Clapper's more famous repetition of the same lie in March of this year. This year, Alexander attended Black Hat conference (this time, without a hacker costume) and warned of the "terrorist walk[ing] among us". That same day, another Snowden-leaked document revealed the NSA considered encryption – used by many computer security professionals – indication of a potential terrorist under Xkeyscore.

More recently, an illustration on a slide (pdf) reviewing the NSA's efforts to crack Tor – a sophisticated encryption system used by many security experts – identifies Tor users as terrorists. In fact, the NSA's minimization procedures allow it (pdf) to keep all encrypted communication, effectively targeting those who try to protect themselves. Effectively, NSA treats hackers, who should be key allies, as terrorists.

Corporations, too, appear to be growing wary of the NSA. Shane Harris reported that "many corporate participants" in an cyber security information-sharing effort say:

    General Alexander's primary motive has not been to share what the NSA knows about hackers. It's to get intelligence from the companies.

Cloud storage and security firms worry about losing business to other countries or to private storage because of NSA's snooping.

The NSA has also proven unworthy of the general public's trust for a key scheme it wants to use to catch hackers. Alexander has sought the authority for the NSA to "live on the networks", copying and analyzing data that travels within the US to find any malicious code that might indicate a cyber attack. They already conduct similar analysis (in search of cyber attacks, but also terrorists) with data presumed to be foreign that nevertheless traverses the United States. Only after three years of conducting such collection did the NSA explain what it was doing to the Fisa court. In response, in a 2011 opinion (pdf), the court not only determined the collection had been deliberate (not unintentional, as the NSA and its defenders still claim), but had also violated the fourth amendment.

Yet, despite of being caught breaking the law protecting Americans, the NSA refuses to reveal the extent of this deliberate collection of Americans' data to either the Fisa court or Congress. The NSA did not provide such information in response to a request from the Fisa court, and the NSA has blown off Senator Ron Wyden's multiple requests by claiming that to do so would infringe on Americans' privacy and threaten its ability to conduct this collection. There are even hints that the NSA relies on a secret, fairly shocking DOJ opinion to conduct some of its cyber security collection.

In short, because the NSA has prioritized collecting vast amounts of information – and getting it in bulk, rather than based on particularized suspicion – and even preparing offensive attacks, it has taken actions that increase our exposure to network attacks, all while insisting cyber attacks are the biggest threat to the country. And that has enabled it to demand new authorities to protect against the attacks it has made easier.

Metaphorically, the NSA has pursued its search for intelligence by partly disabling the locks to all our front doors. Having thus left us exposed, it demands the authority to be able to enter our homes to look around and see if those disabled locks have allowed any nasty types to get in.

Given the way the NSA's data retention procedures have gone beyond the letter of the law to allow them to keep Americans' data if it presents a threat to property (rather than just a threat of bodily harm), while the NSA is looking for nasty types, they might also make sure you don't have any music or movies for which you don't have a receipt. Thus it has happened that, in the name of preventing invaders, the NSA has itself invaded.

President Obama has claimed he welcomes a debate about the proper balance between security and privacy – though it's not at all clear privacy and security present a real tradeoff. But there is a real tradeoff between security by defense and security by aggression – the latter as currently practised by the NSA.

With all functions of the NSA and Cybercommand under "big data" enthusiast Keith Alexander, there was no debate. He inherited the Bush administration's dragnet approach, and has made it his own, claiming – despite evidence to the contrary – each dragnet program has been critical for defending against terrorism. And that approach demands access to as much data as possible with minimal technical challenge.

But now, with the need to replace Alexander, Obama has an opportunity to consider defense over "big data".

At the very least, Obama should consider breaking out the NSA's defensive and offensive functions to create competing champions, one fighting to create holes, and one fighting to plug them. The Department of Homeland Security – an agency far better prepared to defend against threats – might be a better home for such a defensive function.

Preferably, the defensive function could operate transparently, with the ability and trust to share information about vulnerabilities. Sure, that might well result in the offensive fighters hoarding their data, even from those empowered to protect the country. But that, at least, would highlight the problem.

So long as the NSA prioritizes exploiting data that should be shared for the defense of the country, the agency will be one of America's most formidable adversaries in the effort to keep the US safe from cyber attacks.


MEPs tighten up data privacy rules after Snowden revelations

New regulatory regime to block transfer of personal data to US corporations comes as French newspaper details US spying methods on French diplomats

Ian Traynor in Brussels and Angelique Chrisafis in Paris, Tuesday 22 October 2013 12.04 BST   

Members of the European parliament have overwhelmingly backed draft rules on data privacy in the first concrete EU response to the revelations of mass digital surveillance by the Americans and the British. The new regime would curb the transfer of personal data to US corporations.

In a vote on Monday evening, MEPs in the parliament's civil liberties and justice committee supported the draft new regime, which will form a framework for further negotiations with the 28 governments of EU member states.

The legislation has been gridlocked for almost two years following US pressure to dilute the package.

Disclosures by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden about mass digital surveillance in Europe by the Americans and the British have changed the political climate on data privacy, lending greater urgency to attempts to frame new EU rules.

"The vote is a breakthrough for data protection rules in Europe, ensuring that they are up to the challenges of the digital age," said Jan-Philipp Albrecht, the German Green MEP steering the legislation through the parliament in Strasbourg. "This legislation introduces overarching EU rules on data protection, replacing the current patchwork of national laws."

British Conservative party sources denied accusations by EU diplomats that they were seeking to filibuster on the vote. The government has a keen interest in the proposed legislation, not least since the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) is viewed as a partner of the US's National Security Agency (NSA) in the mass digital surveillance operations disclosed by Snowden.

Part of the draft rules tightly regulating the transfer of data from Europe to America, dropped previously under intense US lobbying, have been reintroduced to proscribe the practice unless explicitly allowed.

US companies providing data services in Europe but not based here would need to obtain special permission before they could transfer to, and store information in, the US where it may be tapped by the NSA. They would face swingeing fines if found to be in breach.

The draft supported by MEPs on Monday forms the basis for further negotiation with the 28 EU governments and the European commission, meaning it is likely to be altered substantially before coming into force.

The aim is to have the new regime agreed by next spring and in force by 2016, but that looks unlikely. The 28 governments are still trying to reach a common negotiating position.

The proposals have been dubbed the most intensely lobbied piece of legislation in the EU and the pressure from politicians, security services, internet companies, e-commerce, and media associations will now get stronger as the various parties seek to reach a consensus.

Tension between Paris and Washington over claims that the NSA engaged in widespread phone and internet surveillance of French citizens persisted on Tuesday after Le Monde detailed US spying methods on French diplomats in Washington and at the UN in New York.

In a second day of stories based on disclosures by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the French daily said NSA internal memos detailed "the wholesale use of cookies by the NSA to spy on French diplomatic interests at the UN and in Washington".

The paper said that a two-page, top secret, internal NSA memo dated 10 September 2010 referred to the surveillance of the French embassy in Washington under the codename, "Wabash" and the surveillance of the French delegation to the UN under the code name "Blackfoot". In June, the Guardian revealed how the US intelligence services had targeted European diplomatic missions under a series of codenames.

Le Monde said: "The document specifies the techniques used to spy on the communications of the French diplomats: 'Highlands' for pirating computers using remotely delivered cookies; 'Vagrant' for capturing information from screens; and finally 'PBX' which is the equivalent of eavesdropping on the discussion of the French diplomatic service as if one was participating in a conference call."

The paper said a document dated August 2010 showed that "confidential information thus stolen from foreign chanceries, and in particular from France", played a major role in obtaining the vote, on 9 June 2010, of a UN resolution imposing new sanctions on Iran for not respecting obligations over its nuclear programme.

This espionage operation was described in the NSA memo, as a "silent success" which helped "to shape US foreign policy".

Le Monde said that to vaunt its merits, the intelligence agency even quoted the American ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, about the work carried out on this occasion by the NSA: 'Helped me to know ..... the truth … revealed their real position on sanctions ... gave us an upper hand in the negotiations …"


German telecommunications increasing efforts to profit from NSA damage

Email Made in Germany campaign contrasts 'insecure' reputation of US companies with secure German providers

Philip Oltermann in Berlin, Monday 21 October 2013 17.29 BST   

German telecommunications providers are increasing efforts to profit from the reputation damage to their US counterparts in the wake of the NSA scandal by planning an email service secure from foreign snooping.

In August, a grouping of larger companies – including state-owned Deutsche Telekom, GMX and – had started a marketing campaign called Email Made in Germany, which contrasted the "insecure" reputation of US companies with that of providers based in Germany – famed for its strict data security laws. Now Deutsche Telekom has put forward new plans for a national internet network, where emails between German users would no longer have to go via foreign servers.

Thomas Kremer, Telekom's management board member responsible for data privacy, legal affairs and compliance, tells the Guardian that his company has "recommended internet traffic be kept within Schengen countries where possible. A basis for this solution would be a 'national routing' just like in the US. Intelligence services of countries outside this area would then find it much more difficult to access this data traffic."

The strategy among Germany's IT giants is mirrored by a new dynamism within the German IT startup scene. Hamburg-based startup Protonet, who build small local servers for company-wide social networks, experienced an 850% increase in concrete enquiries from June to July this year. Their new clients include lawyers, advertising agencies and tax advisers who are worried about the safety of their data. "There is a sense that we are stepping out of the shadow of the US startup scene," said Protonet co-founder Christopher Blum.

Another small company, Secomba from Augsburg, experienced a run on their BoxCryptor encryption service in July and August. But talk of a "German internet" is premature, said co-founder Robert Freudenreich. The "Email Made in Germany" initiative, he argued, "was above all a marketing excercise". Telekom merely started using an encryption service that had been widely available for years – and which had been adopted as standard procedure by many US providers years ago.

For now, the German internet is merely a commercial fantasy, according to Kilian Froitzhuber of the critical blog Netzpolitik. "What about the millions of young people who have got used to the convenience of Facebook and Google? If they were told they couldn't access those services because we now have a German internet, there'd be riots on the streets."

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« Reply #9474 on: Oct 22, 2013, 06:05 AM »

10/21/2013 04:29 PM

Angela's Agenda: A Grand, Controversial Plan for Europe


Angela Merkel's domestic policy in her third term will likely be confined to higher spending. But she has grand plans for Europe. SPIEGEL has learned she wants Brussels to have far more power over national budgets. It's a risky move that EU partners and the Social Democrats are likely to oppose.

In the end, the atmosphere became downright festive in the Berlin Hall of the Parliamentary Society, a building next to the Reichstag. Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) had met there three times in the last three weeks to sound out whether they could form a coalition government. The decision was still up in the air.

Merkel gave SDP Chairman Sigmar Gabriel a questioning look, and said: "Would you like to say something?" But Gabriel beckoned to her to speak. "I have my delegation's support for what we discussed," she said. "So do I," Gabriel replied.

The grand coalition took shape shortly before 3 p.m. last Thursday. For the third time in postwar German history, Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, together with its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the SPD are preparing to form a coalition government. The talks are expected to begin this Wednesday. The chancellor is in a hurry because she wants to have a new government by Christmas at the latest. "Christmas will be here sooner than you think," she told fellow members of the CDU executive board on Friday afternoon.

At the beginning of her third term, Merkel has more power in Germany and Europe than any chancellor before her. There hasn't been such a strong majority behind a government in Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, since the first grand coalition half a century ago. In the midst of the European crisis, Germany has become the undisputed dominant power in Europe.

The grand coalition will hand Merkel a majority she could use to shape Germany and Europe and address major issues, including constitutional reforms in Germany and the reform of European Union institutions.

Merkel, unlike SPD Chairman Gabriel, has been unchallenged in her own party since her election victory. Little is left of the accusations that critics had leveled at Merkel, except one: That she is a chancellor without an agenda, plan or vision; that her style of government is reactive rather than proactive; and that she doesn't know where she wants to take her government and Germany.

Big Plans for Europe

In the past, Merkel has treated governing primarily as repair work. The major issues of her first two terms in office, the financial crisis and the fight to save the euro, were suitable for that approach. Will that change, now that she has the necessary power and means? Hardly at all, when it comes to Germany. There are no major reforms in the works at government ministries, and the grand coalition will focus on increasing spending to fulfil some of the parties' campaign promises.

In contrast, officials at the Chancellery are forging plans for Europe that are practically visionary for someone like Merkel. If she prevails, they will fundamentally change the European Union. The goal is to achieve extensive, communal control of national budgets, of public borrowing in the 28 EU capitals and of national plans to boost competitiveness and implement social reforms. The hope is that these measures will ensure the long-term stability of the euro and steer member states onto a common economic and fiscal path. This would be the oft-invoked and ambitious political completion of Europe's monetary union -- a huge achievement.

It isn't a new goal, but what is new is the thumbscrews Brussels will be allowed to apply if Merkel has her way, including sooner and sharper controls and veto rights, as well as contractually binding agreements and requirements. In short, this would amount to a true reconstruction of the euro zone and a major step in the direction of an "economic government" of the sort the SPD too would like to see put in place.

Germany's current economic strength helps to explain these visions for Europe, since stricter budget controls wouldn't pose a threat to Berlin at the moment. Jobless levels are so low that the country has almost reached full employment, and the budget is in good shape, at least at the national government level. In fact, public coffers are so full that the government can afford to boost domestic spending.

More Money to Spend

And that's precisely what the members of that coalition intend to do. The first item on their agenda is to hand out benefits and spend money. Thanks to the strong economy, this won't even require raising taxes. In his financial planning for the medium term, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble anticipates growing national budget surpluses from the year after next: €200 million ($274 million) in 2015, €5.2 billion in 2016 and €9.6 billion in 2017.

In other words, the government will have an additional €15 billion at its disposal in the coming years. This gives Merkel and Schäuble the necessary leeway to fulfill the desires of the CDU/CSU and the SPD for more investment in infrastructure and education without having to raise taxes. There is talk of an €11 billion fund for infrastructure alone.

Prior to the election, Merkel and Schäuble had announced their intention to use the surpluses to pay off old debts. That won't happen now, and yet the conservatives are not plagued by a guilty conscience, noting that despite the additional spending plans, the country will still remain within its debt limit requirements.

The reorganization of the financial relationships between the national and regional state governments, which is on the agenda in this term, will likely be costly for the national government. Many states would have to cut billions from their budgets so that they can make do without new borrowing starting in 2020. Many state governors complain that it's a burden their states can't handle without national government assistance. They are hell-bent on demanding financial support from Berlin in return for agreeing to a reform of the system of transfer payments from richer to poorer German states.

The states' ability to block legislation in the Bundesrat, the legislative body that represents the states, will likely become costly for the new administration long before that. Merkel is worried at the way in which preliminary coaltion talks in recent weeks turned into haggling over money between the national and state governments. "We just had a national parliamentary election, not 16 state parliamentary elections," an irritated Merkel recently told the CDU/CSU parliamentary group.

There may also be a major restructuring in the way transport projects are funded, due to the states' lack of money. The CSU's pet project, the automobile toll, stands a good chance of being approved, since it would generate new revenues.

More Powers For European Commission

During the negotiations, CSU Chairman Horst Seehofer presented a plan for how the toll could become a reality. It calls for drivers to pay an "infrastructure fee" in the future. Germans would be able claim the fee as a credit against the motor vehicle tax, so that the cost could ultimately be imposed on foreign drivers. According to the document, prepared by Transportation Minister Peter Ramsauer, this would be possible under European law.

The new coalition won't face serious resistance to its spending policies, not even from the opposition. With the elimination of the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) from the Bundestag, the voice of moderation in budget policy has disappeared. Only the economic wing of the CDU/CSU is likely to put up weak resistance.

So Seehofer will get his toll, the states will be kept happy with financial gifts and the social security offices will hand out benefits. This doesn't exactly sound like an ambitious program for Merkel's second coalition government with the Social Democrats. Instead, it feels like more of the same, or a program of minor improvements, at least on the home front.

But regarding Europe, Merkel is heading for strategic decisions -- and is likely to show more courage to take political risks than usual.

Schäuble, the last dyed-in-the-wool European among Germany's top policymakers, can be pleased. Merkel wants tangible amendments to the European Union treaties: more power for Brussels, and even more power for the much-criticized European Commission. "Unfortunately, there is no other option," say government officials.

Carrot-And-Stick Approach

Last Thursday, after the final round of exploratory talks with the SPD, Merkel brought European Council President Herman Van Rompuy into the loop in a private conversation at the Chancellery. It was a back-door initiative of the kind so typical in EU policymaking. Documents are already being put together at the German Finance Ministry over how "Protocol 14" of the EU Treaty could be beefed up. It currently contains a few general statements on cooperation in and control of the euro zone. But now, if Berlin is able to implement its carrot-and-stick approach, tangible powers for the European Commission will be added to the protocol.

For instance, the Commission could be given the right to conclude, with each euro country, an agreement of sorts to improve competitiveness, investments and budgetary discipline. Such "contractual arrangements" would be riddled with figures and deadlines, so that they could be monitored and possibly even contested at any time. In return, a new, long-discussed Brussels budget will become available to individual countries, an additional euro-zone budget with sums in the double-digit billions for obedient member states.

Protocol 14 could also be used to install the full-time head of the Euro Group. The influential job is now held by one the member states' finance ministers, currently Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem. Devoted Europeans like Schäuble have long dreamed of installing a "euro finance minister."

Resistance Against Merkel's European Plans

If Chancellor Merkel is focusing on an amendment of this central part of the EU treaties, it is a remarkable about-face. Still, the new course is risky, and it has many detractors and an uncertain outcome. None of this is to the chancellor's taste, at least not the chancellor we know. But Merkel has already deployed her key European strategist. The relevant department head in the Chancellery, Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut, outlined the German plan at a Brussels meeting in early October. It didn't go down very well.

Opponents of the common currency are rapidly gaining popularity in almost all euro countries. Every change in the balance of power in Europe and every upgrading of the European Commission make governments more vulnerable to domestic political attacks. More power for "Brussels?" No way.

There are even growing doubts in the European Parliament, albeit for completely different reasons. Both leftists and conservatives fear that anyone who opens the door to amending the treaties "won't be able to close it again that quickly," says a top Christian Democrat. Especially the British government, driven by the radical, anti-European UK Independence Party (UKIP), could use the opportunity to retrieve powers from Brussels, essentially renationalizing the European Union.

The SPD could raise objections. "The SPD won't support any arrangements if Merkel conducts parallel negotiations with Britain's David Cameron to transfer EU powers back to member states," Axel Schäfer, deputy leader of the SPD's parliamentary group, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. He added that the SPD won't accept any treaty changes that relate to referendums in individual EU states.

The president of the European Parliament, German Social Democrat Martin Schulz, has already warned Merkel privately that he won't back any change in EU treaties. He wants national governments to make the euro zone resilient to future crises by using the instruments created step-by-step over the last three years -- without treaty changes. Schulz fears that a treaty change would take too long and that referendums necessary in some countries couldn't be won given current poor public sentiment regarding the EU. "We will check all the chancellor's proposals to see whether they can be implemented in all EU states," says Schulz, who will be part of the SPD's negotiating team in the coalition talks, responsible for all issues pertaining to Europe.

But Merkel seems undaunted by these obstacles. And she already has a timetable. First she wants to wait and see what happens in the May 2014 European parliamentary election. Then the new president of the European Commission will have to be chosen once the second term of the current incumbent, José Manuel Barroso, ends in 2014. Merkel got him the job and ensured he got a second term. But these days, she doesn't even bother disguising her contempt for Barroso.

Once the new European Commission is in office, the political window for Merkel's European vision is expected to open. It doesn't seem to bother her that she will be in a clear minority when she embarks on her reform plans. She is familiar with this position from the first days of the euro debt crisis, when she wanted to include the International Monetary Fund as a key authority in distributing aid packages, and almost all other euro countries were against the idea. At the time, she said privately: "I'm pretty much alone here. But I don't care. I'm right."


Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #9475 on: Oct 22, 2013, 06:09 AM »

10/21/2013 03:25 PM

Migration Debate: Deportation Scandal Grips France

Controversy surrounding the deportation of a 15-year-old Roma girl and her family continues to undermine the government of French President François Hollande. The scandal is the latest flare-up in the country's deeply divisive immigration debate.

French Interior Minister Manuel Valls on Sunday defended his decision to deport a 15-year-old Roma girl and her family to Kosovo after they lost their bid for asylum. The deportation has prompted calls for the minister's resignation by students and leftist groups.

Valls, the point person on immigration policy in François Hollande's Socialist government, has been assailed in the French media ever since police detained Leonarda Dibrani in front of her classmates while on a fieldtrip on Oct. 9. Dibrani and the rest of her family, who were living in Levier in eastern France, were all flown to Kosovo that day.

Thousands of secondary school students demonstrated in Paris and across the country last week against the government, while some politicians have backed students' demands that Valls step down, according to French media.

"We should be proud of what we are doing, rather than feeling sorry for ourselves," Valls told the French weekly Journal de Dimanche. He added, "Nothing will make me deviate from my path. The law must be applied and this family must not come back to France"

The interior minister has taken a hard line on illegal immigration, causing a rift within his own center-left party. Valls argued last month that France's 20,000 Roma migrants were "different" and not capable of integrating into French society, suggesting they should be returned to their countries of origin.

Criticism from Left and Right

Valls' most recent comments came a day after an internal investigation by the Interior Ministry found that the deportation of the Debrani family was legal, even if the manner in which it was conducted lacked judgment. Hollande echoed the findings of the report after it was released on Saturday, while indicating that Dibrani could return to France to continue her schooling. "If she makes a request, and if she wants to continue her studies, she will be given a welcome, but only she," Hollande said on live French television.

Hollande was criticized on both the left and the right for the move. The leader of the center-right opposition Union for a Popular Movement accused the prime minister of undermining the "authority of the state," while the Left Party called the decision not to allow her family to join her one of "abject cruelty."

For her part, Dibrani reportedly declined the offer. "I will not go to France, I will not abandon my family. I'm not the only one who has to go to school, there are also my brothers and sisters," she said, according to French newswire AFP. The girl's father, Resat Dibrani, added that his family, which had been living in France since 2009, would fight to return together, saying his "children were integrated in France."

The Interior Ministry report, however, determined that the father had shown "no real interest in integrating into French society." He apparently also turned down job offers, was arrested, and physically abused Leonarda and her elder sister, news website France 24 reported.

Moreover, Resat Dibrani confirmed to the AFP that he had misled French authorities by saying that his entire family had been born in Kosovo in order to boost their asylum prospects. In reality, only he was born in Kosovo, while his wife and five of his six children were born in Italy.

The Dibrani case appears to have further damaged the popularity of the embattled Hollande. A new poll published Sunday by the Journal de Dimanche gave him a record low approval rating of 23 percent. However, a survey conducted by French pollster BVA, published in Saturday's Le Parisien, showed that around 77 percent of the French public support Valls' stance on the situation, indicating continued French unease with immigration.

Over 10,000 Roma -- mostly from Romania, Bulgaria and the former Yugoslavia -- were forcefully evicted from informal settlements in France during the first half of 2013, according to a recent report by Amnesty International.


Deported Roma girl begs France to let her return to her family

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, October 21, 2013 16:25 EDT

A Roma schoolgirl whose deportation to Kosovo caused an outcry in France on Monday begged the government to allow her to return with her family.

French President Francois Hollande said on Saturday Leonarda Dibrani could go back to France to continue her schooling after she was deported to Kosovo, but she has refused to return without her family.

“France should accept us back. I beg it to allow us back as soon as possible because our home is not here,” the 15-year-old told AFP in Kosovo.

Neither Leonarda, her mother or her five siblings were born in the former Serbian province, which proclaimed independence from Belgrade in 2008. They were all born in Italy and only her father, Resat, is of Kosovan origin.

He has admitted lying about his family’s Kosovo origins and providing a forged marriage certificate to try to win asylum in France.

The deportation of Leonarda and her family from France after being denied asylum touched off mass student protests around the country, demanding that the Dibranis be allowed to return.

Resat Dibrani said the French president had “made a mistake refusing to let us return”.

“But he is a father too. He is our president as well and he will be even greater politician if he admits the mistake and accepts to get us back,” he said.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #9476 on: Oct 22, 2013, 06:16 AM »

Court jails couple accused of abducting 'Maria'

Lawyer representing the couple tells Greek court it was an adoption, but 'not exactly legal'

Helena Smith in Athens
The Guardian, Monday 21 October 2013 20.31 BST   

Five days after a blonde, blue-eyed girl was found living in a Roma camp in Greece, the couple accused of abducting her were imprisoned on Monday pending trial, as police released a picture of the child seated between the couple.

As representatives from Greece's Roma community gathered outside the courthouse in Larissa, central Greece, specialists continued the painstaking business of trying to identify the girl known only as Maria.

"From medical examinations conducted by a forensic pathologist we now know that she is older than we thought and is probably five or six," said Panaghiotis Partelis at Smile of the Child, the charity tasked with looking after her. "She is still in hospital but she seems to be happy and playing with her toys, doing what all girls of her age do."

The philanthropic organisation was still receiving thousands of calls from around the world, often from people whose children had gone missing, as part of a wider campaign to trace the girl's real parents, he said.

Authorities released the photograph, which portrays the pale-skinned child wedged between the couple and clasping a water bottle, after a court announced there was enough evidence to suggest she had been kidnapped.

DNA tests have proved conclusively that the girl bears no relation to either the 40-year-old woman or 39-year-old man. But the pair, arrested when police conducted a wider crackdown on illegal activities in the Roma community and raided the camp outside Larissa, continued to deny allegations that they had abducted her.

They told a magistrate on Monday they took the girl under their wing within days of her birth because her real mother had been unable to take care of the baby. "It was an adoption that was not exactly legal but took place with the mother's consent," said Constantinos Katsavos, a lawyer representing the couple.

A senior Roma representative supported that claim, telling reporters the girl's biological mother was Bulgarian. "This family got the child from Bulgarians. I know them personally. All the rest they are saying, that they snatched her because she is blonde and blue eyed to beg on the streets, are lies," said Manolis Sainopoulos, the deputy head of the Panhellenic Federation of Roma. "Right now she is in hospital and suffering because she misses the woman she regards as her mother."

With the discovery of the little girl gripping the country, the case has highlighted the profound mistrust between the Roma community and Greeks. In a society that takes pride in its homogeneity, Roma are among Greece's most marginalised minorities.

But sources insisted on Monday that court officials were not persuaded by the couple's assertions. The father, who has a criminal record, has given conflicting accounts of how the pair, who have 14 offspring, came to possess the child. The mother, who was found to have two identities, raised further suspicions when it was discovered she had claimed to have given birth to six of her children in the space of 10 months. Panayiotis Beis, Athens's deputy mayor, said: "This is a clear-cut example of people exploiting a gap in the law to obtain falsified birth certificates." Municipal officials say the couple could have claimed up to €2,700 (£2,290) in welfare benefits for the children.

Police are also investigating whether the girl, who speaks almost no Greek and converses in the Roma dialect, ended up in the couple's hands as a result of a child-trafficking network in the Balkans. Bulgarian women have been targeted as part of a wider operation of children being stolen to order. Greeks are known to have procured such babies for about €25,000.

The girl, who has come to embody the plight of missing children internationally, is expected to remain in hospital until experts, including an anthropologist, conduct further tests to determine her origins. Although there are lingering doubts, officials say her features suggest she is northern European.

"At first she was in shock and very reluctant to even smile," said Maria Petropoulou, a psychologist with Smile of the Child. "It has taken time for her to gain our trust as it will take time for her to adapt to her new surroundings."

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« Reply #9477 on: Oct 22, 2013, 06:18 AM »

Portugal promises tax-friendly regime

By 2016, Portugal hopes to have a corporation tax rate of 17% but Lisbon still needs the support of Germany, which is sensitive to countries low-balling for business

Phillip Inman, economics correspondent
Tuesday 22 October 2013 09.45 BST     

Portugal, like Ireland, resembles a middleweight boxer after a diet. According to the normal economic rules, it should be fighting lower down in the featherweight division, but the politicial elite is convinced the country need only drop one division, not three. With so much muscle wastage, Lisbon knows punching anything near its former weight will be difficult. So it's time for steroids. This comes in the form of international investment and exports.

Portugal's economy minister António Pires de Lima is touring Europe and the US to drum up business and win the favour of global firms, promising a tax-friendly regime. Among a range of tax credits and cuts to red tape, he wants to reduce corporation tax to somewhere between Ireland's 12.5% and the UK's objective of 20%. By 2016, Portugal hopes to be at 17%.

Could Lisbon be joining a tax race to the bottom? De Lima says he had no choice but to reduce a headline corporation tax rate that was one of the highest in Europe. But as he said on Monday, the headline rate is just the start. A multinational looking for a base in Europe's periphery could avoid tax altogether once Portugal's other tax write-offs are deployed.

This capitulation before the rampaging needs of capital is a depressing development. Tax is no longer something big companies will tolerate paying. Those that still pay believe they are mugs, or at least their investors think so.

The pattern is repeated across the Mediterranean in Turkey, where its vast expanse of free zones allows multinationals to manufacture and export without paying tax. Only national insurance applies. Ankara goes so far as to allow employees zero income tax if they work for major exporters. Portugal has not gone that far. A 20% flat income tax rate is the top offer for exporters.

Like Ireland, Portugal must nod to the requirements of Brussels and its paymasters. The Germans in particular are sensitive to countries low-balling for business. The SPD opposition has made then crackdown on Ireland's tax concessions explicit in its terms for a coalition with Angela Merkel's CDU. The Portuguese, in not following the Irish example, appear to have done enough to avoid Berlin's gaze.

Yet Portugal needs Berlin to pay attention as its bailout ends next summer. Growth will barely reach 1% in 2014. The country will still be going backwards should the private markets insist on charging a premium for loans. The yield on Portugese bonds, which is a proxy for the interest rate Lisbon must pay, is still above 6%. It could fall to 4% by next June if all goes well. But that leaves a gap and a growing debt pile. Only with a big Brussels backstop, the kind that promises emergency loans and liquidity via the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), can there be any hope of growing faster than the debts accumulate. Another plank of the SPD's negotiation is a desire for Berlin to support growth in the eurozone. An SPD/CDU coalition could put in place all the pieces of the jigsaw Portugal needs to escape recession and punch above its weight. The only problem is that big business will reap most of the rewards.

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« Reply #9478 on: Oct 22, 2013, 06:20 AM »

UK economy finally set for sustained growth, says Bank of England deputy

But Charlie Bean warns austerity, household debt and shaky confidence mean recovery will be modest by historical standards

Larry Elliott, economics editor, Tuesday 22 October 2013 10.17 BST   

Britain is finally set for a sustained period of growth but the recovery will be modest by historical standards, Charlie Bean, the deputy governor of the Bank of England, has said.

Speaking at a conference in London, Bean said the two big factors holding the economy back – the lack of credit from troubled banks and the crisis in the euro area – were now less of a headwind.

But he warned that the government's austerity programme, weak spending by households with high debts, and the continued nervousness of businesses about the durability of the recovery would ensure the pace of the recovery was modest.

Bean, the Bank deputy governor responsible for monetary policy, said that in August 2010 Threadneedle Street had forecast that the economy would grow by a cumulative 9% by now. Instead, it had managed a "miserable" 2%.

"But there are at last signs that a recovery may be gaining traction. In the UK, output rose by a little more than 1% in the first half of the year", Bean told the Society of Business Economists. "And business surveys point to something closer to 2% for the second half of this year, somewhat faster than the economy's historical average rate of expansion. That is good news."

Bean said that UK banks were now in better financial shape and funding costs had come down sharply in the past year. Meanwhile, the threat of a breakup of the single currency had receded.

"But while some headwinds are abating, others remain. The need to restore the public finances to sustainability means that fiscal consolidation will continue for some years yet. And, for some households, the past accumulation of debt may weigh on spending.

"Finally, even though the cloud of uncertainty may be lifting, businesses are likely to remain cautious about increasing their investment spending until it is clear that the recovery in demand will be sustained. So the pace of the recovery is likely to remain fairly modest by historical standards.

"That will mean that it is likely to be some time before the economic slack that built up during the recession has been brought back into use."

Bean said there was some evidence that businesses and households had "got the message" that the Bank would only tighten policy once the recovery was entrenched. Under the forward guidance announced in August, Threadneedle Street said it would only consider raising interest rates once unemployment had fallen to 7%.


UK nuclear power plant contract: £80bn deal or no deal?

Political parties and industry groups welcome low-carbon project as academics and campaigners question cost and waste

Fiona Harvey and Patrick Wintour   
The Guardian, Monday 21 October 2013 20.53 BST   

The British energy secretary, Ed Davey, has signed the first new nuclear contract with French state-backed utility firm EDF, admitting only a clairvoyant could know the true cost to the taxpayer of the 35-year contract because of the uncertainty of future energy prices.

Energy academics said on Monday that the deal was a gamble, but estimated the cost would be at least £80bn over the life of the two new reactors to be built in Somerset, or roughly £3.5m a day for each reactor at current rates. The cost will depend on how energy prices move over the next 30 years.

Ministers made it clear that future governments would be locked into the contract, set to run until 2058, or face large penalties to compensate EDF. The Treasury has also been forced to offer loan guarantees to underwrite the finance for the investment, which is being undertaken by a consortium of French and Chinese investors.

The contract – which was signed as npower became the third major energy supplier to announce inflation-busting price rises – attracted strong criticism from some environmental groups, who said the price was excessive and the issue of waste unresolved.

But industry groups and the front benches of all three political parties welcomed the deal as providing low-carbon power, belated investment certainty and up to 25,000 jobs. David Cameron said the deal kick-started a new generation of energy investment, a point likely to be underlined on Tuesday when Danny Alexander, the chief secretary to the Treasury, announces a raft of smaller energy infrastructure investments.

Davey said consumers would pay £92.50 per megawatt hour once electricity was generated from the two reactors at Hinkley Point, falling to £89.50 if another contract is signed for a site at Sizewell. This "strike price" will rise in line with inflation, and will be paid for 35 years after its building, subject to periodic reviews to scrutinise wholesale energy prices.

Davey said the money to be paid to EDF – twice the current wholesale price of electricity – represented fair value.

The coaliton agreement signed in 2010 opposed providing nuclear industry with any public subsidy, a position reaffirmed by the Liberal Democrats at their conference this autumn. The conference also ended the party's opposition in principle to nuclear power.

Davey effectively redefined the coalition's "no subsidy" policy at a press conference: "Our policy is that [we will] not provide a public subsidy unless similar support [is given] for other suppliers of low-carbon generation. Nuclear is getting no special favours." Renewable energy is also receiving a larger subsidy, albeit for a shorter period. Davey argued that the consumer, not the taxpayer, would pick up the tab.

David Boyle, a Lib Dem adviser to Nick Clegg, said: "Everyone knows that nuclear energy would be impossible without some kind of guarantee, and I seriously doubt whether EDF will ever make money even on that one. But that was not what we promised ourselves, let alone anyone else. The party's embarrassing new policy repeats the same glib non-position – no nuclear subsidies – when that is precisely what is now being agreed."

Insisting he had struck a good deal, Davey said EDF had been forced to accept the costs of decommissioning nuclear waste in the strike price, and if the plant was constructed for less than the projected costs, the taxpayer and EDF would share the savings. He said that between now and 2023, EDF and its partners, including Chinese state-owned firms, would invest £16bn in the UK. The companies expect to make at least a 10% return on their investment.

However, the number and quality of UK jobs at the site remains in doubt. Vincent de Rivaz, chief executive of EDF in the UK, made it clear that only up to 57% of the 25,000 jobs in the construction phase could go to British workers. Hinkley Point C will come onstream in 2023 and will be the UK's first new nuclear power station since 1995.

Antony Froggatt, from the Chatham House thinktank, said EDF's costs projection had already increased markedly. "In 2006, its submission to the government's energy review stated [the type of reactor to be used, a European pressurised water reactor] would cost £28.80 per megawatt-hour in 2013 values," he said. "This more than threefold increase [to £92.50], over eight years, puts the cost of nuclear electricity at about double the current market rate – higher than that produced by both gas and coal-fired power stations, and more costly than many renewable energy options."

Projects to build new reactors in France, Finland and elsewhere have run into delays and cost increases. Robert Gross, of Imperial College, told the Guardian: "Reactors have been built on time and in budget in some parts of the world but recent experience in Europe is not encouraging. What we do not yet know is whether [nuclear] will turn out to be a low-cost, low-carbon option. You could say that the UK government is helping the world find out."

Davey rejected this, saying other countries such as France, Finland and China, were also pursuing nuclear options. He said EDF and its partners had a vested interest in completing the project on time, because they would not be paid until they started generating electricity, and that they would carry any cost overruns. Energy consumers would pay £77 less a year by 2030, because of the nuclear investment.

John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said: "Hinkley C fails every test – economic, consumer and environmental. It will lock a generation of consumers into higher energy bills via a strike price that's nearly double the current price of electricity, and it will distort energy policy by displacing newer, cleaner technologies that are dropping dramatically in price."

Nina Skorupska, chief executive of the Renewable Energy Association, said the nuclear deal would not solve the short-term problem of keeping the lights on as current nuclear and many coal-fired power stations were expected to shut down in the next few years, long before Hinkley C started operating.

"[It] is a major development for the UK energy mix, but does nothing to address the looming capacity crunch. Hinkley will still be a construction site when old coal and nuclear capacity is shut down," she said.

John Cridland, director general of the CBI, said: "New nuclear plants must be a fundamental feature of our future energy landscape. This investment will help mitigate the impact of increasing costs. Energy prices are going to have to go up to replace ageing infrastructure and meet climate targets unless we build new nuclear as part of a diverse energy mix."

Henri Proglio, group chairman of EDF, was scathing of energy policy under previous governments. "One of the most tragic aspects of the past few years has been the way you have approached the debate on energy policy," he said.


October 21, 2013

Plan Aims to Fix Sewers, but Its Cost to Residents Leaves a Bad Taste


LONDON — On a particularly hot summer day in 1858, the smell of raw sewage from the River Thames became so unbearable that legislators had the curtains of the Houses of Parliament soaked in chloride of lime. When that failed to repel the odors, members of Parliament simply abandoned the place.

The leader of the House and chancellor of the Exchequer, Benjamin Disraeli, “was seen fleeing from the chamber, his handkerchief to his nose,” according to Stephen Halliday in his history, “The Great Stink of London.”

At the time, nearly all of London’s sewage ended up in the Thames, which was also one of the city’s main sources for drinking water, and the city endured three cholera epidemics, which killed more than 31,000 people. The Thames stank famously, and many doctors and politicians believed that it was the stench itself that caused cholera.

Pressure grew to follow the recommendation of a prominent civil engineer, Joseph W. Bazalgette, to build a system of tunnels that would catch the sewage and divert it farther downstream, below the capital, and construction soon got under way. The tunnels of the 1,100-mile system — lined with 314 million bricks meticulously laid by Victorian masons — remain in surprisingly good condition today.

Built for a city half London’s current size, however, the system is now overflowing. As often as once a week, raw sewage is forced into the Thames, a sharp change from the 19th century, when the newly built system overflowed less than once a year.

The increasing flow of raw sewage — the result of the loss of green spaces to absorb rainwater as much as population gain — violates European environmental law, the European Commission said in 2009, and the government has promised to act.

But in an era of austerity and strained budgets, it is not the government that is paying the $6.6 billion bill but Thames Water, a private company with shareholders. The government is to underwrite the risk, which means that it will act as the financier of last resort in the case of major problems during the construction, but it will otherwise not pay for the new system.

There is a catch, of course: it is actually the customers of Thames Water who are paying for the project with higher water bills, a prospect almost as horrendous to today’s Londoners as the river’s stench was to their 19th-century forebears. Water bills for Thames Water’s 14 million customers in and around London are to rise to as much as $700 annually from $570 for the foreseeable future, the company said. The money will be used to repay the initial investors, who will also own the new system. And even then, the tunnel will remain the property of the company, a prospect that further rankles.

A variety of local politicians and industry experts say the plan is akin to pouring money down the drain, that construction estimates are far too low, and that there are cheaper and less disruptive alternatives. “The costs might end up at 10 billion pounds,” or about $16.16 billion, said Nicholas Botterill, council leader of Hammersmith and Fulham, districts in southwest London, “and I don’t want the country to waste that much money.”

It would also be unpleasant for people living close to the construction sites, he said. Even the engineer who initially planned the new sewage tunnel, Chris Binnie, is now saying two smaller and far less costly tunnels might suffice.

Mr. Bazalgette’s system cost about $6 million, now the equivalent of about $6 billion, according to Thames Water, but it transformed central London. For example, he narrowed the Thames by building Victoria Embankment, an elegant road and walkway that housed not only the sewerage tunnel but also one of the first subways.

The scope of today’s planned project is no less intimidating. The new tunnel would run mainly beneath the Thames to intercept sewage before it reached the river and to transport it to sewage treatment plants. The tunnel would be more than 15 miles long, more than 200 feet deep and large enough to fit three London double-decker buses next to one another.

Ann Rosenberg, a retired BBC journalist, lives a block away from one of the planned construction sites for the sewer in Parsons Green. “The thing that sticks in my throat,” she said, “is that I will be paying for this until I die, and then my children will pay for this tunnel, which none of us will own but which will go into the asset base of Thames Water and its investors.”

Ms. Rosenberg is also concerned about other problems. “It’s going to be intolerable and will affect people’s health,” she said from her three-bedroom house, where she has lived for 30 years. “They talk about large vehicles every 15 minutes. It will impact our air quality.”

Michael Gerrard, the managing director of the sewerage project for Thames Water, said Londoners have to contribute to their city’s future. “If you want London to grow you must invest in the infrastructure,” he said. “If nothing is done you’ll have a public health issue.”

Thames Water does not deny that there will be some disturbance and said it would pay for the double glazing of residents’ windows to protect against the noise or even move residents should the construction become unbearable. But details of when and under what circumstances such help would be offered remained vague.

“There will be disruptions and costs and people want it to go away, but I don’t have the power to do that,” Mr. Gerrard said. “I wish there were alternatives.”

Ms. Rosenberg and others say there are. Mr. Binnie, who recommended the new sewer in 2006, now argues that two smaller sewers would suffice and cut costs by about $2.4 billion. New ways to treat sewage and prediction of total sewage flows have changed over the last six years, and Thames Water should at least revisit its options, he said.

One of those options, according to Clean Thames Now and Always, a nonprofit organization that opposes the supersewer, is to create more green spaces in the city that could naturally absorb rainwater instead of pushing it down the sewer. Another is to improve the water quality by injecting oxygen into the river.

“We want the project to be looked at again,” said Mr. Botterill, the council leader. “We want a better environmental, social and economic solution. Everybody who looks at this seriously comes to the conclusion that it’s not the best solution.”

Thames Water has said that such ideas are both ineffective and short term. It would take new green spaces the size of 40 Hyde Parks to start alleviating the sewage problem, the company said. “And anyway,” said Phil Stride, a Thames Water executive, “you’re not going to make everyone happy all the time.”

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Enda Kenny confirms December date for Ireland's bailout exit

Republic's prime minister says country is on course to 'retrieve economic sovereignty and independence'

Henry McDonald, Ireland correspondent, Sunday 13 October 2013 01.23 BST   

Ireland will leave the international bailout programme run by Europe and the IMF on 15 December, the republic's prime minister has promised.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the country was now on course to "retrieve our economic sovereignty and independence".

The exit from the IMF/EU bailout will fulfill one of the key goals of the Fine Gael-Labour coalition since it came to power. The last Fianna Fáil-led government had to go cap in hand to the IMF and the EU back in November 2010 to seek a multibillion euro rescue package and save the country from national bankruptcy.

Kenny told his Fine Gael party's annual conference in Limerick on Saturday night: "There's still a long way to go. But at last, the era of the bailout will be no-more. The economic emergency will be over. "

Warning that there was still a long way to go to rebuild the Irish economy after the Celtic Tiger's collapse, Kenny said: "Ireland is at long last on the road back to recovery and to work. Yes, our competitiveness has improved. We have 34,000 new jobs in the last year alone."

He said: "Yes, there are too many people still out of work. Yes, there are too many people still leaving the country. But you know something, there's a change happening.

"Job creation is now at its highest level in five years. The live-register number has fallen every month for 15 consecutive months. That's progress.

"Before we came to office, Ireland was losing 7,000 jobs a month. Now we're creating 3,000 new jobs every month."

The Irish premier added: "After some disastrous years, confidence is gradually being restored. Despite a tough international environment, our economy has started to grow … Across the world, investors are watching Ireland and they like what they see."

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