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« Reply #9600 on: Oct 28, 2013, 06:06 AM »

Sinosphere - Dispatches From China
October 28, 2013, 4:10 am

Hopes of Market Reforms in China Tempered by Political Realities


China’s leaders head toward a major policy-setting conference next month bearing heady expectations that they have encouraged, and a proposal from a prominent government research organization has magnified speculation that they will embrace bold pro-market overhauls.

The grinding realities of politics, however, are likely to force proponents of such overhauls to settle for more modest changes, experts said.

The head of the Chinese Communist Party, Xi Jinping, has repeatedly said a Central Committee conference next month will inaugurate far-reaching economic changes. Other senior officials have also encouraged ambitious hopes for the third full gathering, or plenum, of the current Central Committee, a body with just more than 200 central and local officials as full members. The government has said the meeting will take place in November, but has not given a precise date.

China’s leaders widely acknowledge that unless they overhaul policies, the national economy will not be able to maintain the growth needed to satisfy citizens’ expectations of better jobs, incomes and opportunities. They also say that the government’s long-standing recipe for growth — relying on high levels of investment in heavy industry and infrastructure — must make way for a more equitable economy and stronger social safety net so that ordinary farmers and workers feel more confident about spending.

“The plenum will mainly be about considering how to comprehensively deepen reform,” Yu Zhengsheng, a member of the Standing Committee, the seven-member innermost circle of party power, said at a meeting over the weekend, according to state media reports. “This round of reforms will be unprecedented in its broad scope and intensity.”

But party leaders have not given details about what they have in mind. In the absence of clear explanations from them, investors, diplomats, journalists and less senior officials parse leaders’ comments, state media reports and government think tank studies for clues about what changes may be coming. Among the raised expectations, one particular proposal, known as Plan 383, from a government research center, has created a hubbub of excitement from the media and investors in recent days.

That plan comes from the State Council Development Research Center, which advises senior officials, and Chinese newspaper reports have said Liu He, an official who advises Mr. Xi and other leaders on economic policy, initiated preparations for the proposal. Mr. Liu is also helping oversee preparations for the Central Committee conference. Here, it seems to some, is a bold plan for pro-market liberalization and limiting government power of the kind that many economists say China needs.

Plan 383 lays out three broad ideas for overhauls, eight specific areas for change and three approaches for coordinating the changes.

“The objective of this new round of reform is to build a socialist market economy that is energetic, innovation-oriented, inclusive and orderly and protected by rule of law,” says a summary of the plan. It was first made public this month, but has generated widespread attention from investors and the Chinese financial press since last week, when the Development Research Center issued it through its own newspaper.

“The reasonable scope of the government’s role changes along with changes in the economic stage of growth,” the summary says.

The policy changes proposed by the report are also strikingly forthright and specific, especially in a political system whose lifeblood is opaque slogans.

The proposed changes include much greater government transparency, reining in monopolies by state-owned companies, encouraging private investment in the energy and power sectors, and land reforms allowing farmers to lease out their land more easily and earn more when their land is taken for commercial development. Under the plan, China’s financial sector would also get a jolt of liberalization.

“Promote interest rate liberalization, force financial institutions to raise their competitiveness and capacity for innovation, and lay the foundation for convertibility of the renminbi capital account,” it says.

Achieving capital account convertibility would knock away one of the main state controls on transactions using China’s renminbi currency, making it easier for money to move in and out of the country.

But the public excitement, reflected in intense Chinese media coverage and commentary, must be set against the constraints of Chinese politics, several analysts said. China’s leaders are likely to adopt a much more cautious and limited program. And in any case, the Central Committee conference next month will probably give only broad outlines of that program, not a definitive blueprint.

Zhang Jianjing, the chief editor of China Reform magazine, which first published the plan, said the proposal offered a window into currents of official thinking, but should not be read as a government blueprint. He said he was surprised by the public excitement about the plan, one of many that researchers have offered to officials.

“My view is that it should not be over-read,” Mr. Zhang said in a telephone interview from Beijing. “In fact, it’s one of many studies that have been done. It doesn’t represent a draft of the Third Plenum report.”

“It does have some reference value, because at least it represents the Development Research Center, and that’s a think tank directly under the State Council,” Mr. Zhang added. The State Council is China’s equivalent of the central government cabinet. “I’m sure its research is important, but this is not at all a Communist Party document.”

Many of the proposals in the Development Research Center plan and similar ones that have circulated in recent months all involve reining in state control over the arteries of economic life: capital, land, the movement of people, and energy and natural resources. For China’s leaders, dedicated to preserving one-party rule, those are politically contentious choices that they are likely to either shy away from or accept only in diluted form, said Wu Wei, a former government official who was heavily involved in the market overhauls that China pursued in the 1980s.

“Without political reforms, it will be impossible to push through these reforms,” Mr. Wu said in a telephone interview from Beijing. “The great majority of them will be pushed back by entrenched interests.”

China Business News, a Chinese-language newspaper, quoted an unnamed government adviser as saying that Plan 383 is just one of many research reports submitted to officials preparing for the Central Committee meeting next month. Qiu Xiaohua, a Chinese economist who once ran the National Bureau of Statistics, told the paper that investors should cool their excitement with a dose of political realism.

“On the one hand, this shows the powerful expectations that the market has for reform,” Mr. Qiu said. “But on the other hand, it shows that the market is impulsive and doesn’t understand Chinese political realities.”


A Culture of Bidding

Forging an Art Market in China


In China’s growing art market, now the second largest in the world, outsize auction results often overshadow false sales data and forged art.

Click to read and view:

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« Reply #9601 on: Oct 28, 2013, 06:13 AM »

October 27, 2013

Syria Meets Deadline for Submitting Destruction Plan for Chemical Weapons


GENEVA — Syria submitted a formal declaration of its chemical weapons program and its plans for destroying its arsenal three days ahead of the deadline, the international chemical weapons watchdog said Sunday.

The watchdog, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which has been charged with monitoring and destroying Syria’s chemical weapons program, said that it had received the Syrian submission on Thursday and that the agency’s Executive Council would review the declaration’s “general plan of destruction” by Nov. 15.

It was not immediately clear, however, whether the declaration’s listing of chemical weapons sites was exhaustive, an important test of President Bashar al-Assad’s willingness to cooperate with the program to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons infrastructure and arsenal.

Saying that such declarations are confidential, the chemical weapons agency declined to disclose or discuss the contents of the Syrian document.

American officials said in September that Syria’s chemical weapons program included at least 45 sites. But when Syria submitted a preliminary declaration of its chemical weapons program that month, it declared only 23 sites.

The State Department has never fully explained the discrepancy. Some of the gap, American officials have suggested, may reflect efforts by the Syrians to consolidate their chemical weapons stocks, as well as the haste in which the Assad government compiled the initial list.

But American officials have also suggested that Syria’s preliminary declaration was not complete and stressed the need for the Assad government to do better in the formal declaration.

“It is of the greatest importance that that document be complete,” a senior State Department official said this month.

The United States has a number of ways to make its concerns about Syrian compliance known, including by direct contact with Syrian officials. In the main, however, the Obama administration is counting on Russia, Syria’s main ally, to use its influence with Mr. Assad to persuade him to comply.

The initiative to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons program came from the Russians, who were looking for a way to avert American military action against the Assad government. The White House had threatened to launch airstrikes after a chemical weapons attack killed hundreds of civilians in a suburb of Damascus on Aug. 21.

American and Russian officials hammered out the details of a disarmament plan in Geneva in September. Later that month, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution that required Syria to give up its arms.

That measure noted that if Syria failed to cooperate, the Security Council could take measures under Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter, the strongest form of a Council resolution. Such steps could include economic sanctions or even military action. Before any action could be taken, the issue would have to return to the Security Council for further deliberations; Russia, like the other permanent members, holds a veto on the Council.

Syria’s declaration arrived as the chemical weapons agency, which is based in The Hague, said its inspectors had visited 19 of the 23 chemical weapons sites that Syria initially listed and had completed the destruction of equipment for mixing chemical agents and loading weapons at the sites.

Michael Luhan, a spokesman for the agency, told reporters last week that by Thursday, Syria would “no longer have the capability to produce any more chemical weapons, and it will no longer have any working equipment to mix and to fill chemical weapons agent into munitions.”

Patricia Lewis, the research director for international security at Chatham House in London, said in a telephone interview that “the priority for the inspectors was to prevent another mass attack” using chemical weapons.

“They have clearly achieved a large proportion of what they needed to do in that respect,” she added.

The goal of eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal and capabilities by mid-2014, however, remains a formidable one.

With inspectors nearly completing the first round, attention is shifting to the task of destroying an arsenal estimated to include 1,000 tons of precursor chemicals and nerve agents.

The United States has proposed shipping part of Syria’s chemical stocks for destruction to other countries and has approached a number of governments.

The complexity of such arrangements became apparent last week, when Norway said it had turned down an American request that it participate, citing “time constraints and external factors, such as capacities, regulatory requirements.”

Norway’s foreign minister, Boerge Brende, said the country lacked the necessary equipment and the mid-2014 deadline was too tight.

Nick Cumming-Bruce reported from Geneva, and Michael R. Gordon from Washington.

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« Reply #9602 on: Oct 28, 2013, 06:19 AM »

G4S-run prison in South Africa investigated over abuse claims

Jail operated by UK security firm allegedly used forced injections and electric shock treatment to subdue inmates

Ruth Hopkins in Bloemfontein
The Guardian, Monday 28 October 2013      

Link to video: G4S prison in South Africa 'torturing inmates'

A South African prison run by the British security company G4S is under investigation for allegedly using forced injections and electric shock treatment to subdue inmates.

Prisoners, warders and health care workers said that involuntary medication was regularly practised at the Mangaung Correctional Centre near Bloemfontein. G4S denies any acts of assault or torture.

The revelations come just weeks after the South African government took over operations from G4S after finding it had "lost effective control over the prison" in the wake of a series of stabbings, riots, strikes and a hostage taking.

The latest allegations follow a year-long investigation by the Wits Justice Project (WJP) – part of the journalism department of the University of Witwatersrand – which uncovered damning video evidence apparently showing forced medication. A staff member at the prison hospital, who did not wish to be named, alleged that inmates were injected with Clopixol Depot, Risperdal, Etomine and Modecate. These anti-psychotic drugs can cause memory loss, muscle rigidity, strokes and other serious, potentially life-threatening side effects.

A video shot on 24 May by the prison's emergency security team (EST), which is legally required to film all its actions, shows inmate Bheki Dlamini being injected involuntarily. "I am not a donkey," Dlamini protests loudly, yelling: "No, no, no," while five men grab him, twist his arms behind his back and drag him to a room where they wrestle him on a bed and a nurse is called.

The staff member said Dlamini's medical files do not indicate he is psychotic or schizophrenic. Egon Oswald, a human rights lawyer representing Dlamini, said: "He told me that he got into an argument with a warder about the prison food and the EST was called."

Fourteen recently dismissed EST members, who spoke to the WJP on condition of anonymity, said they would restrain inmates so they could be forcibly medicated up to five times a week.

The EST members said they had no idea what the inmates were injected with. They claimed that inmates with psychiatric problems or who were being difficult or aggressive received the involuntary treatment.

Inmates also alleged that they were subjected to electric shocks by prison officials. Former inmate Thabo Godfrey Botsane was held in a single cell for four months in 2009. He claims the security team visited him one day because a cell in his unit had been set alight. "They stripped me naked, poured water over me, electroshocked and kicked me. They left me naked and bleeding on the floor. A guy from the prison intelligence unit – not a nurse – came back and he injected me in my buttocks."

Former warders Pule Moholo, Dehlazwa Mdi and Themba Tom worked in a block at the prison with single cells, known as Broadway. All three say they remember the sound of inmates screaming. Tom said: "There was a sound-proof room called the 'dark room'. EST members would bring inmates there, strip them naked, pour water over them and electroshock them. We would try not to hear the crying and screaming. It was awful." G4S denies the room's existence.

A former G4S employee, who did not wish to be named, said electric shields were necessary because he and his colleagues were hopelessly outnumbered by dangerous prisoners. "We use them sometimes because we are understaffed and we are expected to bring out the results and also to install fear on the inmates," he told the BBC. "We went overboard, so to say: sometimes you go and shock them individually in a segregation unit just to make sure they could be afraid of us."

"The management was very happy with the results and with some of the incidents if it was during the week then the official was there at the centre and they would respond with us and we do these things with them, in their presence," he said.

He admitted using an electric shield on inmates to make them talk. "Yeah, we stripped them naked and we throw with water so the electricity can work nicely … Again and again. Up until he tell you what you want to hear, even if he will lie, but if he can tells you what I want to hear. He can tell the truth but if that's not the truth that I want, I will shock him until he tells the truth that I want even if it's a lie."

Asked by the BBC interviewer if using electroshocking to get answers from prisoners constitutes torture, the EST member replied: "Yes in a simple way … Yes it was common practice."

British law firm Leigh Day – which recently secured compensation for Kenyan victims tortured by British colonial forces – has been instructed to investigate the claims against G4S in the UK.

Mangaung Correctional Centre is the second largest private prison in the world, and 81% of shares are owned by G4S Care and Justice, one of G4S's three operating companies.

Sapna Malik, partner at Leigh Day, said: "The allegations raised are shocking in the extreme and require urgent and thorough investigation. If proved to be true, prompt restitution, accountability and lessons learned must follow."

Egon Oswald added: "We have signed affidavits of five inmates who allege that they have been injected and we think more will come forward. My firm is collaborating with Leigh Day to litigate their claims."

Forced medication is subject to stringent rules in South Africa. The head of a health institution can decide to treat a patient involuntarily if two clinicians have assessed the patient and if a family member, guardian – or if they are unavailable, a health worker – has approved. Involuntary medication is then only permissible if the patient is a danger to himself or others and if he is incapable of making an informed decision.

South Africa's correction services minister, Sibusiso Ndebele, said an investigation would be launched into the allegations, saying he viewed them "in a very serious light".

"We will leave no stone unturned in this investigation, in order to ensure that those implicated in such inhumane acts face the consequences of their actions," he said on Friday.

G4S denied any acts of assault or torture, either by means of electroshocking or medical substances, against inmates. "G4S has a zero tolerance policy against the use of undue or excessive force," it said. "Inmates have unrestricted and confidential access to the DCS controller, employees from the office of the inspecting judge, the director, healthcare personnel and psychologists, with whom they can log complaints and raise concerns. Should any laws have been broken, DCS would have strongly acted against G4S."

Andy Baker, the president of G4S Africa, denied any abuse had taken place and said inmates were given injections if they required medication "for their own good".

"It is important to note that the G4S people do make the decision to medicate, the medical staff do not work for G4S, they are a completely independent entity," he told the BBC.

G4S was awarded a 25-year contract in 2000 for the construction, maintenance and running of the jail. The DCS will hand back the prison if and when G4S can prove its ability to run it again.


Former South African government minister detained in New York

Tokyo Sexwale said to be on terrorism watch list dating back to the struggle against apartheid

David Smith in Johannesburg
The Guardian, Monday 28 October 2013   

A former South African government minister has been detained in New York apparently because his name is on a terrorism watch list dating back to the struggle against racial apartheid.

Tokyo Sexwale, a former Robben Island prisoner turned millionaire businessman, was stopped for questioning at John F Kennedy airport while attempting to enter the United States on a recent business trip.

In the 1970s and 80s, the African National Congress (ANC) and various other groups were officially designated terrorist organisations by South Africa's ruling white minority.

Other countries, including the US, followed suit. After the end of apartheid in 1994, certain names remained on the US terrorism watch list. Even Nelson Mandela was only removed in 2008.

Ebrahim Rasool, the South Africa ambassador to the US, was forced to intervene with the US state department to secure Sexwale's release, according to a tweet by the South African public broadcaster SABC's US correspondent, Sherwin Bryce-Pease.

"Amb Rasool says appears no longer sufficient to alert authorities ahead of time to activate override when VIP visits USA," he added.

Sexwale now intends to take legal action through the American courts, the national broadcaster SABC reported.

"He has instructed us to take the matter up with the authorities of the US so we will address the letter to the US embassy in South Africa," his lawyer Lesley Mkhabela was quoted as saying.

Soweto-born Sexwale is one of the country's richest men and hosted the South African version of The Apprentice.

In 1975 he went into self-imposed exile to the then Soviet Union, where he underwent military officer training.

A year later, on his return to South Africa, he was arrested, charged with conspiracy to overthrow the government and sentenced to 18 years in prison.

After his release in 1990 he pursued careers in both politics and business. He made millions as the owner of Mvelaphanda Holdings, a major player in the diamond industry, but was sacked as housing minister in a cabinet reshuffle earlier this year. He has served on various committees at Fifa, the governing body of world football.

The ANC reacted angrily to Sexwale's treatment by US authorities. "If indeed it is true, we think it is totally unacceptable," said Jackson Mthembu, the party's national spokesman.

"We are living in a democracy and Tokyo is not a terrorist, he is a member of parliament and responsible businessman. He is a leader of the ANC.

"We would have thought the Americans would have taken all credible struggle heroes off the list. This is very disappointing. It makes us very worried. If Tokyo can be arrested, who will not be?

"You could have other people fall foul of this terrible law of the United States of America. It's a wake-up call: we must take the matter up. We wouldn't to see another leader of the ANC going through something like this."

Zakes Mda, a leading South Africa writer now based in the US, tweeted: "What happened to Sexwale in the USA is outrageous. Our government should be lodging a complaint, not just Tokyo as the affected individual."

Even after South Africa's first democratic election in 1994, ANC members applying for a visa to the US were flagged for questioning and needed a waiver to gain entry to the country. Sexwale was reportedly denied a visa in 2002.

In 2008 Condoleezza Rice, the then US secretary of state, described it as "embarrassing" that Nobel peace laureate Mandela remained on the terrorist watch list and needed special permission to visit the country.

Later that year Mandela was removed under a bill signed by president George Bush but it is unclear if this applied to other ANC leaders.

A former US diplomat, who did not wish to be named, said on Sunday: "During the apartheid era the ANC and other organisations ended up being listed as terrorist organisations and it was difficult to get them removed because of various senatorial pressures. I was not aware there were still people whose names are specifically listed on such an index."

The ex-diplomat added: "I don't think it's damaging relations but it is more than a bit embarrassing."

Clayson Monyela, spokesman for South Africa's international relations department, said it had been told that a resolution is needed in the US Congress to remove all the names.

"It is a matter that American government is aware of and is dealing with."

Jack Hillmeyer, a spokesman for the US embassy in Pretoria, said: "We are aware of the media story going around. I can't confirm anything about it."

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« Reply #9603 on: Oct 28, 2013, 06:21 AM »

Morocco warned of crackdown on freedom of speech as editor faces trial

Terrorism charges follow article on al-Qaida video as claims of violence elsewhere are used to gag critics

Paul Hamilos in Rabat, Sunday 27 October 2013 19.40 GMT   

Human rights groups have warned of a crackdown on freedom of speech in Morocco as one of the country's few independent journalists prepared to appear in court this week on charges of aiding and abetting terrorism.

Ali Anouzla, the editor of the Arabic news website Lakome, faces up to 20 years in prison if found guilty, in what Amnesty International described as a "worrying setback for freedom of expression".

He was arrested last month after posting an article on the terrorist threat in Morocco which included a link to an al-Qaida video criticising the wealth of King Mohammed VI and calling for an uprising. He was held in a high-security prison until last Friday, when he was released on bail before a court hearing on Wednesday.

Anouzla is charged with providing material support to, and apologising for, terrorism, but his supporters say these claims are a gross distortion of the truth. His colleague, and long-term campaigner for freedom of speech, Aboubakr Jamaï, told the Guardian: "The state is using all its resources to put an independent journalist in prison on horrific charges in order to destroy his reputation and that of Lakome."

The editor has remained silent since being released on bail, when he was greeted by a small gathering of friends and supporters, but his lawyer said that he continued to maintain his innocence.

Morocco's relative calm and popularity as a tourist destination have earned it a reputation as a beacon of stability in north Africa, but critics say this belies rampant corruption, chronic unemployment and a growing disparity between a gilded elite and a largely illiterate poor.

Jamaï said it suffered from the "curse of the bad neighbourhood", because the bloody uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia and Syria have allowed the king to present himself as leading the fight against Islamist extremism, while cracking down on his opponents and buying off the elite to keep them on side. He added that Anouzla's arrest "sent a clear message to the rest of the press as to what would happen to them" if they dared to investigate the monarchy, the country's much-criticised policy in the western Sahara, or the under-reported Islamist threat.

This year, Reporters Without Borders ranked Morocco 136th out of 179 countries in its annual Freedom Index, three places behind Zimbabwe. The group has called for charges against Anouzla to be dropped.

"The Anouzla case shows that the judicial system is entirely under the orders of the monarchy. Rather than being the protectors of freedom, many judges serving the regime are its gravediggers," wrote Columbia university professor Youssef Belal .

This message was reinforced at a packed press conference in Rabat last week, where Khadija Ryadi, head of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights, called for "all the charges [against Anouzla] to be dropped because we are convinced of his innocence. This is not just for Ali ... we are fighting for freedom for all". In a move that earned him the admiration of many of Morocco's pro-democracy activists, Jamaï flew in to Rabat from self-enforced exile to lead the campaign for Anouzla's release, despite fears he too would be arrested.

Lakome is at the forefront of an expansion of online news media in Morocco, regularly falling foul of the authorities for its investigative journalism, which has covered the king's botched handling of the release of a Spanish paedophile from prison, his lavish holidays to France, and corruption among his inner circle.

Jamaï said he feared the harassment of Anouzla represented an attempt to "destroy an emerging business model" for web-based journalism which is much harder to control than traditional print media.

Lakome's Arabic and French sites reach an estimated three million users. Its servers are based in Canada, while Anouzla stayed in Morocco as its Arabic-language editor. "With the cost base for online journalism low compared to print, we are hoping to exist with little need for advertising," he has said.

But Mehdi Bensaid, of the Authenticity and Modernity party, which was created by the king's closest adviser, said the real problem was a lack of press regulation. "Morocco can't allow a website to show a 45-minute video praising terrorism, when it will be seen by many people. The [al-Qaida] video was shown without any editing or commentary to contextualise it. This is unacceptable. I am thinking of the one in a million people who see it who may believe that terrorism is the answer."

While the country has largely avoided the Islamist-led violence that has erupted across the region, foreign intelligence services are concerned by the growing number of Moroccans who have gone to fight in Syria.

"Morocco is threatened by al-Qaida like many other countries, and we need to be careful on our borders, with weapons coming in from Libya and Mali," said Bensaid. "We should have freedom of the press, but we have to balance that against the terrorist threat."

But others believe that, in curbing the press, the authorities are merely shooting the messenger. "The real measure of freedom of the press is editorial diversity," said Jamaï, adding that it was almost impossible to investigate the power of the king, and that very few reporters even tried. According to Forbes, Mohammed VI has personal holdings worth around $2.5bn, with eight palaces, numerous vast estates, and is by far the biggest player in the Moroccan stock market, in a country where the average income is less than $5,000.

Following protests in 2011 that saw tens of thousands take to the streets during the early days of the Arab spring, the king introduced limited reforms in an attempt to prevent the kind of uprisings that saw the fall of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. In a much-heralded speech in June 2011, he proposed sweeping constitutional reforms, and new guarantees of human rights.

The Islamist Justice and Development party won the first ever free elections, held that year. But the king has maintained a tight grip on power, and remains the head of the council of ministers, the Ulama council, as well as running the military, security forces and intelligence service. This month, when one of the parties pulled out of the governing coalition, he placed allies in posts at the interior, finance and foreign ministries, reminding everyone of his ultimate authority.

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« Reply #9604 on: Oct 28, 2013, 06:23 AM »

Saudi Arabian women vow to keep up campaign against driving ban

Another woman posts video online of herself behind the wheel, a day after dozens defied police to demonstrate for right to drive

Reuters in Riyadh, Sunday 27 October 2013 18.24 GMT   

Saudi women demanding the right to drive said they would keep up their campaign a day after government warnings and a heavy police presence thwarted their call for many women to get behind the wheel.

Activists are asking Saudi women to go on driving in public and posting online photographs or films of themselves doing so, after putting dozens of such videos on YouTube in recent weeks.

A video posted online on Sunday showed Azza al-Shamasi, wearing the black headscarf typically worn by Saudi women, driving with her son to and from Kingdom hospital in north Riyadh earlier in the day.

"The campaign continues, in order to normalise driving in our country, whose laws allow the practice of this right," said a post on the campaign's Twitter feed.

The activists say that no specific law in Saudi Arabia bans women from driving, although women cannot apply for driving licences. Government officials say a ban is in effect because it accords with the wishes of society in the conservative kingdom.

Activists posted 12 films on YouTube said to be of women driving on Saturday, and said some other women had also driven but without recording their exploits on video or in photographs.

Those who did drive were defying government admonitions backed up by a hefty police presence in the capital, Riyadh. Interior ministry employees had also contacted leaders of the campaign individually to tell them not to drive on Saturday.

"Yesterday there were lots of police cars so I didn't take the risk. I only took the wheel for a few minutes. Today I drove and nobody stopped me. For sure I will drive every day doing my normal tasks," Shamasi told Reuters.

In Riyadh, police erected impromptu roadblocks on Saturday and peered through car windows to ensure women were not driving. Many traffic patrols were also in evidence as the authorities tried to foil any defiance of the men-only road rules.

A report on, a Saudi news website, late on Saturday said six women had been stopped for driving by Riyadh police.

In Jeddah, Samia el-Moslimany, a half-Egyptian half-American woman married to a Saudi for 27 years, said she had been briefly held and made to sign a pledge that she would not drive again.

"I drove around the neighbourhood in Jeddah," she said.

When she drove in the kingdom's second city earlier in the evening, several cars followed with young men waving at her. Minutes after she relinquished the wheel to her driver, police surrounded her car and took her into detention, she said.

Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and a US ally, is an absolute monarchy that forbids political protests.

The Saud family, which has ruled with the aid of clerics from Sunni Islam's strict Wahhabi school, finances the religious establishment and allows it significant control over Saudi law.

Saudi Arabia is the only country to bar women from driving. It also forbids them from travelling abroad, opening a bank account or working without permission from a male relative.

King Abdullah has pushed some cautious reforms to give women more employment opportunities and a greater public voice but has often faced resistance from senior clergy.

Last week some ultra-conservative clerics staged a protest outside the royal court against the campaign for women to drive.

A YouTube film made by male Saudi comedians went viral on Saturday, parodying the Bob Marley song No Woman No Cry as No Woman No Drive, to support the women's driving campaign.

In the short film, the comedian Hisham Fageeh sings, whistles and dances. The lyrics include: "I remember when you used to sit in the family car but backseat … in this bright future you can't forget your past, so put your car key away".

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« Reply #9605 on: Oct 28, 2013, 06:26 AM »

October 27, 2013

Caught Between Sudans, Region Tries to Pick Side


KHARTOUM, Sudan — Residents of the disputed Abyei region, on the border of Sudan and South Sudan, began voting in a referendum Sunday on which country to be part of. Though the voting was largely symbolic, and likely to be heavily one-sided, it could have very real consequences if it raises tensions and prompts further conflict in an area plagued with violence.

Abyei has been in limbo for more than two years since South Sudan declared independence, and as a result the border between Sudan and South Sudan, roughly 1,250 miles long, has not been settled.

The region is shared uneasily by two ethnic groups: the more-settled Ngok Dinka and the nomadic Misseriya. The Ngok Dinka, who have links to the south, were expected to vote in favor of joining South Sudan. The Misseriya people, who cross in and out of the district with their livestock, fear that if they join South Sudan their movements may be restricted and their way of life threatened — but they were not expected to take part in the referendum.

Luka Biong, a spokesman for the Abyei Referendum High Committee, which organized the vote, told The Associated Press that there would be three days of voting. “This was a special moment, a historic moment,” he said. “This was like crowning the history of the struggle of the people of Abyei. I saw my people so determined.” Results are expected on Thursday.

Residents described the balloting as peaceful and organized, with people waiting patiently in line for their chance to vote.

Much of the tension over the referendum turns on who qualifies as a resident of Abyei, and thus a voter. The African Union does not regard the Misseriya as residents because they are in Abyei only during the dry season.

“Legally, the vote has no value, since most of the engaged parties have decided not to recognize it,” said Al-Tayib Zainalabdin, a political-science professor from the University of Khartoum. But politically, he said, it will have consequences.

Elements of both ethnic groups are heavily armed; clashes between them were especially severe in 2008, leaving hundreds of casualties. Analysts say the referendum could prompt renewed violence.

“It can cause more tension between the Ngok Dinka and the Misseriya,” Mr. Zainalabdin said, “who could take up arms and fight on their own despite the Sudanese government.”

On Sunday, the African Union accused the Sudanese government of preventing its delegation from visiting the disputed area, expressing “its deep disappointment.” It said that “Sudan must refrain from obstructing its work and extend full cooperation in support of the African Union’s efforts to manage and resolve the situation in Abyei.”

Both countries have struggled to find footing since South Sudan seceded two years ago. The Sudanese capital, Khartoum, was rocked by protests last month after the government, trying to make up for the loss of oil revenue when South Sudan broke away, stopped subsidizing gasoline, nearly doubling its price at a stroke.

South Sudan has tried to build a modern state after decades of fighting. But with little infrastructure, high infant mortality rates and ethnic divisions, the challenge has proved enormous.

President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan and President Salva Kiir of South Sudan met last week in Juba, the South Sudanese capital, and promised to go ahead with plans to establish a local government and police service for Abyei, but the Ngok Dinka have grown impatient.

“The international community is not serious,” said the Rev. Biong Kuol, a Catholic priest in Abyei, in a telephone interview. He said he had voted to join South Sudan because people there were suffering and the plans for local administration were taking too long to implement.

“It is not the right of Khartoum or Juba” to decide the region’s course, he said, “but the right of the Ngok Dinka.”

The United Nations Security Council expressed “grave concern about the highly volatile situation in Abyei area” on Thursday and called on both sides not to take unilateral action. Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman, called on “Abyei community leaders to refrain from actions that could increase tensions in Abyei.”

Oil fields in the 4,000-square-mile region once provided an important share of Sudan’s oil exports and have been a source of tension between the two countries. But oil production in Abyei has significantly declined.

Much of the region is swamp and scrub brush, but there is also coveted pastureland, and a river that the two ethnic groups cannot agree how to name. The Misseriya call it the Bahr al-Arab, and the Ngok Dinka the Kiir.

Isma’il Kushkush reported from Khartoum, Sudan, and Nicholas Kulish from Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo.

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« Reply #9606 on: Oct 28, 2013, 06:28 AM »

Cristina Fernández's party loses ground to former ally in Argentina's election

President's chances of revising constitution to gain third term and continue decade-long rule evaporate

Jonathan Watts and Uki Goni in Buenos Aires, Sunday 27 October 2013 23.59 GMT

Argentina began counting down to the end of the decade-long rule of the Kirchners on Sundayas mid-term elections dealt a near fatal blow to President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's prospects of running for a third term.

Three weeks after undergoing brain surgery, the 60-year-old president was unable to campaign and could only watch as her Peronist Front for Victory party looked certain to fall far short of the two-thirds majority that would have been needed to revise the constitution so she could seek re-election when her current term expires in 2015.

While the president's star has fallen, her erstwhile cabinet minister, Sergio Massa, rose to prominence after quitting the government four months ago and running as a candidate for the Renewal Front, a breakaway faction within Fernández's party.

Exit polls suggested Massa's slate of centrist candidates were 10 percentage points ahead of Martin Insaurralde, who was handpicked by Fernández to fight the key Buenos Aires district, which accounts for more than one in three of the nation's voters.

"Sergio will be the most-voted-for leader in the entire country with this election. This is an overwhelming response by the people to our times," said Dario Giustozzi, who is also standing for the Renewal Front. "This is the end of an era, a new space. Now the people have a place where they can be heard."

Final results are still to be announced, but the ruling block is struggling to hold on to the majority it has enjoyed in both houses since Fernández was re-elected in 2011.

Although the economy has grown at a steady clip of about 3% this year, public concerns have focused on high inflation, estimated to be two to three times higher than the official rate of 10%, and foreign exchange controls that have created a black market for dollars at twice the government's formal rate.

The mid-term elections gave ample opportunity for the public to punish the government. Up for grabs were 124 of the 257 seats in the lower house and 24 of the 72 seats in the senate, as well as provincial deputies, senators and a governor.

Observers said the exit polls suggested a blow to the ruling camp. "The opposition not only won but it increased its margin over the government's candidates with respect to previous elections," said political analyst Rosendo Fraga.

Despite the likely fall in its representation in the legislature, the Front for Victory said they would remain the dominant political force.

"The Front for Victory remains the most voted party in the country," said defence minister Agustin Rossi.

The outcome is unlikely to result in a short-term policy change in Argentina, which is Latin America's fourth most populous nation, third biggest economy and entangled in a sovereignty dispute with Britain over the Falkland Islands.

But the next two years are likely to see fierce jostling to succeed a president who has won two elections since succeeding her husband, Néstor Kirchner, in 2007 but suffered a series of setbacks this year.

In an earlier set of polls in August, her Front for Victory party notched up the worst performance in its 10-year existence, losing in 14 of the country's 23 provinces. Health has also been an issue. Earlier this month, the 60-year-old president underwent surgery to remove blood that pooled on her brain after a fall in August.

Although the operation is said to have gone well, Fernández has been unable to campaign during her 30-day convalescence and doctors forbade her from flying to Santa Cruz where she normally casts her vote. Since her surgery, polls suggest the president's popularity has improved and now stand at about 44%, but it does not appear to have been enough to lift her party.

Doctors have ordered Fernández to be isolated from newspapers and TV reports to ease stress. Juliana Di Tulio, leader of the government's bloc in the lower house said she did not not know if the president was being updated with the results. "I don't know if she is being told," said Di Tulio. "I don't speak to the president personally."

Di Tulio insisted the Front for Victory was not worried about the poor results. "This is nothing, tomorrow we go back to work as usual and we will still hold the majority in both houses of congress."

But the results look likely to mark the end of an era. Although Fernández has never publicly stated a desire to run for a third term, her supporters wanted to amend the constitution so she could stand again. That cannot be ruled out completely, but it now appears an extremely difficult goal even for such a wily political operator as Fernández, who may have to concentrate on her health and her legacy, while her party looks for a new candidate.

Massa, 41, now looks likely to run against Buenos Aires governor Daniel Scoili in the 2015 presidential poll. "We are very satisfied and very proud of the overwhelming support we have got from the people," Massa spokesman Dario Giustozzi said after the results started flooding in.

The opposition is deeply fragmented, but was encouraged by the prospects for change. "This makes us a real alternative for the presidential elections in 2015,"said Diego Santilli of the PRO conservative party at a colourful celebration to mark the 40% projected vote for its one of its candidate for senator. The right-of-centre party hopes this will be a springboard for Buenos Aires mayor Mauricio Macri to run against the Front For Victory in 2015.

Sunday's election broke new ground for Argentinian democracy with the franchise being extended for the first time to 16- and 17-year olds. The vote for this youthful tranche of the electorate was voluntary. For the rest of the 30.5 million eligible voters, the trip to the polling booths was mandatory.

The runup to the election was not without incident. Last week, a train crash on one of the main rail lines left 68 people injured and raised questions about the government's competence. Santa Fe also saw one of the most violent attacks on a politician since the end of the military dictatorship in 1982, when gunmen fired on the residence of the governor, Antonio Bonfatti. The assault is believed to have been drug-related.

-But no major unrest was reported on the day of the vote.Police monitored the ballot boxes and more than 91,000 troops, eight helicopters and seven naval vessels were deployed to ensure stability.

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« Reply #9607 on: Oct 28, 2013, 06:30 AM »

Peru's UFO investigations office to be reopened

Air force to revive office that lay dormant for five years after increased sightings of 'anomalous aerial phenomena'

Dan Collyns in Lima, Sunday 27 October 2013 18.30 GMT

Peru's air force is reopening an office responsible for investigating UFOs due to "increased sightings of anomalous aerial phenomena" in the country's skies.

The Department of Investigation of Anomalous Aerial Phenomena (DIFAA), first created in 2001, is being revived after lying formant for five years because more UFO sightings have been reported to the media, said Colonel Julio Vucetich, head of the air force's aerospace interests division.

The unit will bring together sociologists, archaeologists, astronomers, meteorologists and air force personnel to analyse these events, Vucetich told the Guardian. "Many people don't report UFO sightings because they fear they will be labelled mad or made fun of, but nowadays with new technology – cellphone videos, Facebook, Twitter – they can be much more open, without feeling that they are the only ones who have seen what they've seen," he said.

"This new office needs those people to come and report their sightings so we can open a file and, using their information, do the respective analysis and investigation," he added, flicking through a hefty scrapbook of newspaper cuttings recording Peruvian UFO sightings dating from 1950 to the present day. Peru's Institute for Studies of Historic Aerospace is turning it into a book.

Vucetich said the office had responded to increased sightings of natural and artificial phenomena, from meteorites to "space junk" in Peru. "When you present evidence of UFOs, people can react with terror or hysteria, so we have to be very careful how we present it," he stressed.

UFO sightings are not uncommon in Peru. Two weeks ago, local media reported that villagers in Marabamba, in Peru's central Huanuco region, watched luminous balls of light in the sky over several days. Numerous reported sightings of UFOs have been made in Chilca, a beach resort 59km south of Lima. The unexplained sightings have attracted UFO investigators from around the world. One former resident, Paulina Jimenez, 82, told the Guardian how 16 years ago she saw "a huge number of flashing lights" over a bluff overlooking the resort's Yaya beach, the most regular location for UFO sightings among local residents.

"There are various locations in Peru where there are regular sightings. What's bad is that those reports have never been proven so I can't, on behalf of the air force, verify those," Vucetich said.

He added that he, too, had seen what he could only describe as "anomalous aerial phenomena". "On a personal basis, it's evident to me that we are not alone in this world or universe."

The UFO office has a telephone hotline, an email address ( and a website for reports of UFO sightings.

The revival of the UFO office will allow Peru to compare and share information with similar agencies in Uruguay, Chile, Brazil, Ecuador and Argentina.

Last week, Antonio Huneeus, a Chilean UFO investigator, told Open Minds UFO Radio that the Peruvian move responded to greater interest in such phenomena in the region.

"There are a few cultural reasons too, the public is more open-minded about the phenomenon of UFOs," he added.

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« Reply #9608 on: Oct 28, 2013, 06:33 AM »

Mexico drug cartel in conflict with self-defence groups in Michoacán state

Escalating dispute involving Knights Templar cartel triggers shootout in major city and attacks on region's power stations

Jo Tuckman in Mexico City, Monday 28 October 2013 09.41 GMT   

The escalating conflict between self-defence groups from the western Mexican state of Michoacán and the Knights Templar drug cartel triggered a shootout in the centre of a major city and attacks on power stations leaving hundreds of thousands without electricity over the weekend.

The clashes were sparked on Saturday when self-defence groups formed in several outlying towns in the Tierra Caliente, or Hot Lands, region marched on Apatzingán, the biggest city in the area and a key bastion of the cartel.

The groups said they were marching because residents had asked for their support to set up a vigilante organisation to protect them from the extortion rackets, kidnappings and extreme violence meted out by the cartel, which acts as a de facto local government across much of the region. The protesters were stopped by the military at the entrance to Apatzingán, asked to leave their weapons behind and proceed unarmed, but promised protection.

Once in the centre of town, however, the marchers were showered with gunfire, some of which reportedly came from snipers positioned on the roof of the cathedral. A video of the events shows people running for cover while the federal police appear to fire back at the attackers. There were also reports of grenades thrown and at least three vehicles set alight.

The marchers withdrew at the end of the day, reporting three injuries. The movement's main leader, José Mireles, announced they had negotiated an agreement with the army promising more patrols around the city, as well of the inclusion of observers from the self-defence groups.

"We are going to make sure that organised crime is expelled from Apatzingán," he said. "They will try to respond."

The response began quickly with near simultaneous attacks on power plants around the state soon after midnight. At least four petrol stations were also torched, including two in the state capital, Morelia.

According to a report in the national Reforma newspaper, the attacks left more than 420,000 people without power, half of whom had their connection restored by the afternoon.

On Sunday, another group of counter-demonstrators took to the streets of Apatzingán and marched on the local army base demanding the withdrawal of federal support for the vigilante self-defence groups. Some held a large banner that read: "Violence and chaos has arrived in Apatzingán. The army brought it and has accompanied it all the way."

Simultaneously, reports emerged of five young men found shot dead in outlying areas of the city. The national newspaper El Universal cited local authorities saying they were wearing self-defence group T-shirts.

Two more people were shot dead elsewhere in the region, reportedly in a shootout between the army and gunmen in a vehicle.

A statement released by the interior ministry on Sunday night, however, made no mention of the reported shootings. The ministry has been co-ordinating a major deployment of federal forces in the region since May that has so far failed to bring the peace it promised.

The ministry statement instead focused on Saturday's march by the self-defence groups: "The opportune intervention of the army, the federal police and the local authorities was able to re-establish public order.

"The actions of the criminals will not stop the actions of the government to protect the population," it said.

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« Reply #9609 on: Oct 28, 2013, 06:37 AM »

Giant mirrors bring winter sun to Norwegian village for the first time in its history

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, October 27, 2013 11:13 EDT

Residents of a remote village nestled in a steep-sided valley in southern Norway are about to enjoy winter sunlight for the first time ever thanks to giant mirrors.

The mountains that surround the village of Rjukan are far from Himalayan, but they are high enough to deprive its 3,500 inhabitants of direct sunlight for six months a year.

That was before a century-old idea, as old as Rjukan itself, was brought to life: to install mirrors on a 400-metre (437-yard) high peak to deflect sunrays towards the central square.

“The idea was a little crazy, but madness is our middle name,” said Oeystein Haugan, a local project coordinator.

“When Rjukan was founded, it was a bit crazy to start a community in the middle of nowhere with this massive hydroelectric plant, huge pipes and a railway line to transport fertiliser to the rest of the world,” he added.

It was first mooted by Norwegian industrialist Sam Eyde, at whose behest Rjukan was established.

Eyde founded Norsk Hydro and wanted to take advantage of an enormous waterfall to produce chemical fertilisers.

From just 300 inhabitants spread out across scattered farms in 1900, the population grew to 10,000 by 1913 and the ambitious industrialist endorsed a project to deflect sunrays into the village.

“It’s one of the few projects that Eyde was unable to complete, due to a lack of appropriate technology,” mayor Steinar Bergsland said.

Instead he built a cable car, which is still in use, to allow his employees to recharge their vitamin D levels with sunlight on a mountain top.

An artist Martin Andersen, who arrived in the village from Paris, picked up the idea around ten years ago.

“The further we got into winter, the further we had to drive out of the valley to enjoy sunlight. So I asked myself: why not move the sunrays instead of moving ourselves?” he explained.

The idea was challenged by other residents who questioned the appropriateness of investing public money in the project instead of in nurseries and schools.

“Some labelled it a Mickey Mouse project and it’s true it’s a little insane, but we have to think out of the box and explore new paths,” the mayor said.

Five million kroner (615,000 euro, $849,000) was raised for the project — four million from sponsors — and now three 17-square-metre (183-square-feet) mirrors tower over the north side of Rjukan village.

A computer will control the mirrors so that they follow the sun to reflect the light on the market square, lighting up a 600-square-metre (6,459-square-feet) elliptical area.

The inauguration is scheduled for sometime next week, depending on weather conditions.

“After basking in the sun, people are beaming themselves,” Haugan said after the final tests.

Besides getting more cheerful citizens, local authorities hope to capitalise on the extensive media coverage of the feat to bring in more tourists.

Encouraged by its expected tourist revival, Rjukan even hopes to be included in the Unesco World Heritage List by 2015, as an example of human industrial genius.

“We have already recovered our investment dozens of times over. Maybe not in cold, hard cash for the local council but in publicity and marketing value,” administrative head of the municipality Rune Loedoeen said.

“Now it’s up to us to manage this asset properly.”

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« Reply #9610 on: Oct 28, 2013, 06:59 AM »

Mozilla’s Lightbeam Firefox tool shows who's tracking your online movements

Browser firm says its new browser add-on will be 'a step forward in the fight for greater openness across the internet'

Samuel Gibbs, Monday 28 October 2013 11.27 GMT   
Mozilla Lightbeam allows users to see who is tracking their movements online. Mozilla Lightbeam is a free tool that allows users to see who is tracking their movements online. Photograph: Mozilla

Mozilla has released a free tool called Lightbeam that aims to help users of the Firefox browser see who is tracking their browsing habits.

Lightbeam is a browser add-on that creates a real-time graph of all the tracking information that is deposited in the form of cookies on your computer as you browse the internet. It will enable users to identify third-party companies tracking their online behaviour for targeted advertising and other purposes.

The launch was described as a "watershed moment" by Mozilla, which is hoping to capitalise on growing awareness among internet users of how their online activities are tracked for commercial purposes. The company started work on the add-on in 2012 under the name Collusion.

Lightbeam is aimed at a mainstream audience, producing a real-time visualisation charting every site a user visits, and every third-party that operates on those sites that could be collecting and sharing user data. Mozilla is keen to stress that cookies in themselves aren't bad: it's just that internet users should be aware of who they're being used by, and for what purposes.

"Third parties are an integral part of the way the Internet works today. However, when we’re unable to understand the value these companies provide and make informed choices about their data collection practices, the result is a steady erosion of trust for all stakeholders," wrote Mozilla's privacy and public policy lead Alex Fowler in a blog post announcing Lightbeam's launch.

Mozilla's Lightbeam allows users to identify which companies are tracking your online movements.
Crowdsourcing a ‘Wizard of Oz moment’

Click to watch:

Lightbeam will also optionally send anonymised information about which sites and third parties are tracking your movements to Mozilla for inclusion in a crowd-sourced database of trackers, shining a light on the hidden world of data tracking and privacy.

The add-on has already been welcomed by Till Faida, co-founder of popular ad-blocking browser extension Adblock Plus. “Mozilla’s latest Lightbeam tool represents a step forward in the fight for greater openness across the internet. We are delighted to see that the industry is waking up to the demand for a more user-determined internet experience," said Faida.

"It is crucial that web users are educated on their online rights and informed about what is actually happening when they spend time online. This ensures that they are the ones in control of their online experience," said Faida.

Lightbeam will also help reveal the sources of images, scripts and adverts displayed on web pages that originate from third-party domains and service providers with the ultimate aim of identifying those that may not be necessary or welcome.

Lightbeam is an open-source tool that is available to view on Github and download direct from Mozilla.

Click to download:

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« Reply #9611 on: Oct 28, 2013, 07:24 AM »

In the USA..United Surveillance America

Rep. Mike Rogers: France should be ‘popping champagne’ over NSA spying

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, October 27, 2013 13:32 EDT

US intelligence is better than in Europe, and snooping at the heart of a widening scandal helps keeps the world safe, a top US lawmaker declared Sunday amid a widening spying row.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers also suggested there was nothing surprising in revelations that the United States was monitoring communications of several dozen world leaders and ordinary citizens, and blamed the news media for getting the story wrong.

“I think the bigger news story here would be… if the United States intelligence services weren’t trying to collect information that would protect US interests both (at) home and abroad,” the Republican told CNN’s “State of the Union” program.

“We need to make sure that we’re not collecting information we don’t need. But we should collect information that is helpful to the United States’ interests.”

While declining to comment on the latest revelations, White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden told AFP: “We have made clear that the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations.”

Media reports in Germany on Sunday said that US President Barack Obama was personally informed of phone tapping against German Chancellor Angela Merkel, which may have begun as early as 2002, as the damaging espionage scandal widened.

Another German news report quoted US intelligence sources as saying that the head of the National Security Agency chief (NSA) briefed Obama on the operation against Merkel in 2010.

Dick Cheney, the former US vice president who wielded vast influence on intelligence matters during the George W. Bush administration’s “war on terror,” said US spying on allies was nothing new.

“It’s something that we have been involved in a long time,” he told ABC television’s “This Week.”

The spying row prompted European leaders late last week to demand a new deal with Washington on intelligence gathering that would maintain an essential alliance while keeping the fight against terrorism on track.

But Rogers said that French citizens would celebrate US phone intercepts in their country if they realized how the practice keeps them safe.

“If the French citizens knew exactly what that was about, they would be applauding and popping champagne corks. It’s a good thing. it keeps the French safe. It keeps the US safe. It keeps our European allies safe,” he added.

“This whole notion that we’re going to go after each other on what is really legitimate protection of nation-state interest, I think is disingenuous.”

Rogers called for improved intelligence oversight in European capitals, contrasting allies’ approaches to the United States, where he stressed the government must first obtain approval from a special court to monitor communications.

European countries “don’t have necessarily the same type of oversight of their intelligence services that we do,” Rogers said.

“They need to have a better oversight structure in Europe. I think they would be enlightened to find out what their intelligence services may or may not be doing.”

The Republican lawmaker said the news media was “100 percent wrong” in suggesting that the NSA monitored up to 70 million French telephone records in a single month.

“They’re seeing three or four pieces of a 1,000-piece puzzle and wanted to come to a conclusion,” he added, insisting the records collection was a counterterrorism program that did not target French citizens.

Rogers also suggested that US leaders failed to foresee the rise of fascism and communism in early 20th century Europe because American spies were not spying extensively on European allies’ communications.

“In the 1930s, we had this debate before. We decided we were going to turn off our ability to even listen to friends,” he said.

“Look what happened in the 30s, the rise of fascism and communism. We didn’t see any of it. It resulted in the death of really tens of millions of people.”

But the lawmaker stressed that any intelligence activities between allies should remain “respectful” and “accurate,” as well as be subjected to proper oversight.


Google suspected builder of enormous floating data center discovered in San Francisco Bay

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, October 27, 2013 9:50 EDT

An enormous floating barge has emerged in the San Francisco Bay, which tech-savvy sleuths suspect is a massive data center being constructed by Google, the CNET blog reported.

The huge floating structure “stands about four stories high and was made with a series of modern cargo containers… Locals refer to it as the secret project,” CNET wrote, adding that Google did not respond to requests for comment.

“It’s all but certain that Google is the entity that is building the massive structure that’s in plain sight, but behind tight security,” the online tech site wrote.

CNET noted that Google “has a history of putting data centers in places with cheap cooling, as well as undertaking odd and unexpected projects like trying to bring Internet access to developing nations via balloons and blimps.”

The barge is located off Treasure Island, an artificial island between San Francisco and Oakland in the San Francisco Bay.

CNET said the barge is 250 feet (76 meters) long, 72 feet (21 meters) wide and 16 feet (4.8 meters) deep.

“Although Google has not confirmed any projects on Treasure Island, which is owned by the US Navy and subleased by the city of San Francisco, ample evidence suggests that the company is behind whatever is going on… on the barge,” as well as inside a huge hangar on the island, CNET wrote.


October 27, 2013

Health Site’s Woes Could Dissuade Vital Enrollee: the Young and Healthy


WASHINGTON — Sean Jackson, like tens of thousands of other Americans, has had trouble signing up for medical coverage using the insurance marketplace, despite several attempts.

“I was able to create an account on Oct. 2, and I haven’t been able to get into there since,” said Mr. Jackson, a sports journalist living in Ohio, a note of annoyance in his voice. “I’ll try at random times, like late at night or early in the morning. I sign in. It just goes to a blank screen.”

The economists and policy wonks behind the Affordable Care Act worry that the technical problems bedeviling the federal portal could become much more than an inconvenience. If applicants like Mr. Jackson decide to put off or give up on buying coverage, rising prices and even a destabilized insurance market could result.

The enrollment of people like Mr. Jackson, who is 32, is vital for the health care law — and, for that matter, the entire health care system — to work. Younger people, who tend to have very low anticipated medical costs, are supposed to help pay for the medical costs of older or sicker enrollees. Without them, so-called risk pools in Ohio and other states might become too risky, forcing insurers to raise premiums. Those higher premiums could dissuade more of the young and healthy from signing up, forcing insurers to raise prices again.

Economists call the process “adverse selection” and warn that in its worst iteration it could lead to a “death spiral” of falling enrollment and climbing prices.

Economists and health analysts said the chances of such a spiral were slim in most states because Americans who go without insurance would face penalties, starting next year. But they said that the endemic problems with the Web site posed a serious question about the enrollment balance in many state plans.

“If there are significantly more of the older and higher-cost people purchasing coverage than are expected, that’s going to have a significant impact on premiums for the following year,” said Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, a lobbying group for insurers covering 200 million Americans. He added, “It could ultimately destabilize the market.”

The young and healthy have always been seen as crucial to making the health law work, and the Obama administration and many state governments have focused on getting them to sign up.

For the White House, that has meant using the demographic microtargeting techniques used during the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns to identify and reach young people in the hope that they would make up about 40 percent of new enrollees in the health exchanges. For Colorado, it has meant creating an advertisement showing “bros” drinking beer while celebrating insurance coverage. “Keg stands are crazy,” the ad reads. “Not having health insurance is crazier.”

But getting “young invincibles,” as insurers sometimes call them, to sign up for insurance is an uphill climb. Even with the public campaigns, only about one in four 19- to 29-year-olds is even aware of the exchanges where they might buy affordable insurance, and the ignorance is especially acute among the uninsured, according to a survey this year by the Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit research group.

“There’s very low awareness among young adults,” said Sara R. Collins, an economist with the Commonwealth Fund. “It’s a concern in states that aren’t actively promoting these exchanges. People might remain unaware,” she said, referring to the 36 states that have opted to let the federal government run their exchanges for them. They include Texas and Mississippi, where public officials are campaigning against the health law.

That lack of awareness makes it all the more important that those who do know about — and try to purchase insurance there — are not dissuaded because of the glitches, the analysts said. Older and sicker Americans have a stronger incentive to keep trying to sign up despite the clunky site, they said.

Though economists, insurers and health analysts are concerned about the problems with, which the Obama administration has promised to fix by Nov. 30, they said it was too early to tell whether the problems would cause an underenrollment of the young and healthy.  Insurers would have a good sense of any problems by next spring, they said.

No statistics are available on how many of them have signed up. States are providing no demographic details on enrollees. And the Obama administration has declined to say how many people have purchased insurance in the 36 states where it runs the exchanges.

Jonathan Gruber, an economist with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who helped create the Affordable Care Act, said lessons could be drawn from Massachusetts, which in 2006 implemented a similar law to provide near-universal coverage in the state.

Many Massachusetts residents waited until just before the state law’s tax penalty kicked in before signing up for insurance, he said. Just 123 people signed up for subsidized insurance in the first month of enrollment, and only about 2,000 in the second month.

Ms. Collins, of the Commonwealth Fund, also said the federal requirement to buy insurance might compel the young and healthy to sign up. “As people learn about the provisions, and become aware of them, enrollment increases,” she said. “It may be that healthy people procrastinate longer than unhealthy people.”

Gary Claxton, a policy expert with the Kaiser Family Foundation, noted that provisions in the law help ease the costs to insurers if the enrollment mix raises medical costs more than expected, so they might not increase premiums too sharply.

“If insurers are convinced the people that they’ve enrolled are going to continue to be sicker than expected, premiums will go up,” he said. “But if they believe people who didn’t enroll in the first year will show up in the second, it might not have that big an impact on premiums.”

For now, the Obama administration is rushing to make signing up as smooth as possible to ensure that the young and healthy enroll. Mr. Jackson, of Ohio, intends to see his application through.

“At this point, I’m just printing it out and sending it in,” he said, referring to one of the offline options for signing up. “I’ll probably have it done by the end of the month.”


Red State Gov. Tells Media to Chill Out Because ObamaCare Is Going to Work

By: Sarah Jones
Sunday, October 27th, 2013, 11:39 am

On Meet the Press Sunday morning, Kentucky Democratic Governor Steve Beshear gave the press some excellent advice that they will most certainly not heed, “Everybody needs to chill out because it (ObamaCare) is going to work.”

Beshear advised the news media to take a breath, “The advice I would give the news media and the critics up here is, take a deep breath. This is a process. Everybody wants to have a date where they can declare victory or defeat, or success or failure. That’s not what this is going to be all about. It took us about three years to get Medicare really working.”

Beshear pointed out that the President is taking responsibility and they are fixing the problems, “I’m not going to give the president advice on hiring and firing, but when things go wrong, like they go wrong in our state, I take responsibility for it and I fix it. That’s what secretary Sebelius and the President are doing, they’re taking responsibility for a bad rollout. They’re going to fix it.”

Then the Democratic Governor explained what the real problem is, and that is that ObamaCare is directed toward wellness and prevention, which are the future of healthcare, “These plans and Medicaid are directed toward prevention and wellness, and that is the future of health care, and I think everybody knows it.”

What he didn’t say but inferred is that Obamacare leaves Republicans nowhere to go on the subject of healthcare reform if they ever get around to actually debating the issue between witch hunts. This is exactly why Republicans never, ever debate the actual issue of healthcare reform – they have no suggestions to fix it, they just want to stop Obama from fixing it.

As the governor of Kentucky, the top state for enrollment in ObamaCare and a state where they did their own exchange as states were supposed to, Beshear is pretty sure people are going to want to sign up, “People are going to sign up for this; it will take us a while to get it in process. But I’ll guarantee you we’re going to make it work because it is good for the American people and it’s good for Kentucky.”

In Kentucky, where 1 in 6 people is uninsured, Gov. Beshear said they’ve enrolled 26,000 people so far, 21,000 of which signed up for Medicaid under the expansion. Host David Gregory pointed out that they need more young, healthy enrollees if the program is going to work, to which Beshear said it takes longer to get signed up for insurance than it does to sign up for Medicaid. (Gregory is a reliable source for Republican talking points, and thus it would have been delicious if Beshear had suggested that if it’s speed and costs to individuals that Republicans are so allegedly worried about, we should start discussing single payer — Medicare for all.)

It’s thanks to Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear that the place that Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell call home loves their ObamaCare, especially including the Medicaid expansion so reviled by Republicans. This is ironic since both Paul and McConnell have been trying to kill ObamaCare for years now.

The Republican base loves their big government so long as it’s not called big government. And that fact is what the Republican party is hoping to keep buried.

Beshear is a bold man who took on the Republicans in his state in order to implement ObamaCare. Now he’s telling the press to chill out. If only they would listen, we could all be spared their hysterical attempts to create a drama in which both parties are at equal risk of self destruction. But they won’t because Meet the Press was very busy this morning falsely equating a bad website rollout with Republicans shutting down the government.


GOP Hypocrites Criticize The ACA Website But Stood By Bush’s Medicare Part D Roll Out

By: Rmuse
Sunday, October 27th, 2013, 8:30 pm

It is likely that Americans waiting for a new software release or application have experienced delays and even glitches that keep technicians working overtime to satisfy new and existing customers. In fact, it is not unusual for tech companies to update their software for up to a year fixing bugs that only surfaced after customers complained about issues the company’s testers may have missed. Despite technical issues and bugs in software, customers hardly abandon the new software or application simply because they comprehend that consumer-oriented high tech is never perfect right out of the gate whether it is a small internet start-up or a giant government program.

When hundreds-of-thousands of Americans attempted to enroll in a new online government health care program, they expected the government website to be perfect because it was touted as an easy way to study and choose the best option for their situation. However, there were “glitches,” errors, slow response times, and the site crashed that elicited frustration and anger prompting government officials to respond to complaints from prospective customers with promises to quickly assess and fix the problems.

That is precisely what happened during the Bush administration’s implementation of the Medicare prescription drug benefit in 2005 and 2006, and instead of decrying the Medicare prescription plan as an abject failure, Republicans denouncing the Affordable Care Act’s rollout a reason to abandon the entire law asked Americans to be patient and not to pre-judge the Medicare prescription plan based on a few technical problems. Some of the same Republicans claiming the ACA’s website issues prove the  health law is a failure and that the government cannot do anything right were ardent defenders of the Bush healthcare reform’s shaky implementation they claimed did not taint an otherwise good plan.

The chorus of criticism against the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchange rollout was summed up best by Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers in a column on Friday asking, “If the government can’t build a functioning website to support the most important initiative of the president’s administration, then how can it be trusted to do anything? This failure is a double whammy: it puts the future of Obamacare in even greater peril while placing Obama’s case for activist government on life support,” The administration had to know it had only one shot to launch the exchanges, and it blew it.” Republicans concur with Powers assessment and claimed the website’s glitches are a preview of the mountain of their imagined problems in the ACA.

On Thursday the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on the Affordable Care Act’s implementation, and some Republicans defaming the government rollout had an entirely different assessment when a white President’s healthcare reform experienced technical difficulties. For example, Representative Joe Barton (R-TX) said of the Bush glitches, “This is a huge undertaking and there are going to be glitches. My goal is the same as yours: Get rid of the glitches. The committee will work closely to get problems noticed and solved.”  Representative Phil Gingrey (R-GA) said, “I delivered 5,200 babies, but this may be the best delivery that I have ever been a part of, Mr. Speaker, and that is delivering, as I say, on a promise made by former Congresses and other Presidents over the 45-year history of the Medicare program, which was introduced in 1965 with no prescription drug benefit. And what we have done here is add part D, the ‘D’ for ‘drug’ or, if you want, the ‘delivery’ that we have finally provided to our American seniors.”

Another Republican representative, Tim Murphy (PA) pleaded for patience and compared parenting with Bush’s Medicare technical issues; “Any time something is new, there is going to be some glitches. All of us, when our children were new, well, we knew as parents we didn’t exactly know everything we were doing and we had a foul-up or two, but we persevered and our children turned out well. No matter what one does in life, when it is something new in learning the ropes of it, it is going to take a little adjustment.” Texas Republican representative Michael Burgess said, “We can’t undo the past, but certainly they can make the argument that we are having this hearing a month late and perhaps we are, but the reality is the prescription drug benefit is 40 years late and seniors who signed up for Medicare those first days back in 1965 when they were 65 years of age are now 106 years of age waiting for that prescription drug benefit, so I hope it doesn’t take us that long to get this right and I don’t believe that it will. And I do believe that fundamentally it is a good plan.”

Eventually the Medicare Part D technical glitches were sorted, but half of those who signed up for prescription insurance did not enroll until after the healthcare law had been enacted for a year.  In fact, at first only 21% of qualified seniors viewed the law favorably and 66% had no idea what the program entailed, but within a year over half of seniors said the program worked well or only needed very minor fixes. However, there was no cacophony of Democratic voices lambasting the program, or Bush for that matter, like Republicans and their conservative belief tanks and pundits are doing with the Affordable Care Act and the double standard only has one reasonable explanation. President Obama is not white.

Of course, Republicans, teabaggers, conservative belief tanks and pundits will claim citing the President’s race as the reason the right is up in arms over the health law is racist, but there is no other reasonable explanation. One of the biggest critics of the ACA is the once-respected Heritage Foundation that proposed healthcare reform the Affordable Care Act is patterned after including the individual mandate conservatives now claim is extreme government intrusion into Americans’ lives. Heritage touted the Massachusetts healthcare reform Willard Romney championed as a raging success because a white governor followed the Heritage plan, but they became devout enemies of the President’s plan immediately after it was proposed and have ramped up attempts to scuttle the law with teabagger Jim DeMint leading Heritage. Why? President Obama is not white.

Republicans are attempting to portray President Obama’s administration as a complete failure nearly as stridently as they depict all government programs as catastrophic, and it is to teach Americans that an African American man cannot lead the nation successfully. For example, Republicans fought the President’s stimulus tooth and nail as wasteful spending, but they made impassioned speeches for Bush stimulus to keep the economy running smoothly. Republicans have opposed raising the debt ceiling without Democratic concessions as a matter of course, but they raised it for Bush seven times unconditionally as crucial for America’s solvency and economic health. Regardless of any of the President’s proposals that Republicans once championed, the GOP opposes them out of hand because the President is not white.

It has been four-and-a-half years since Barack Obama has been President and throughout his tenure Republicans opposed, blocked, and obstructed every single one of his proposals to the detriment of their constituents and the nation’s economy even when their actions kill millions of Americans’ jobs. The racial element cannot be ignored any longer and Republicans cannot explain away their knee-jerk opposition to the President with any legitimate policy argument. Their opposition to the ACA does have a basis in their desire to keep Americans sick, but it is also based on their hatred for an African American man as President.

If a white president went to the Heritage Foundation for a blueprint for a new health law, Republicans would have passed it without question, and if the rollout’s website experienced glitches, they would have urged the public to be patient because “this is a huge undertaking and there are going to be glitches.” But with an African American man as President, the Heritage healthcare reform plan is toxic, the individual mandate is trampling on Americans’ liberty, and website glitches are existential threats because the man sitting in the Oval Office is African American.


Granholm Guts the False Equivalency of a Broken Website with a Broken Political Party

By: Sarah Jones
Sunday, October 27th, 2013, 12:45 pm

On Meet the Press, the narrative of the morning was naturally another desperate or clueless attempt to falsely equate the Republicans shutting down the government over ObamaCare to the ObamaCare website not working as it should.

Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm (D-MI) was on the scene to put an end to that false equivalency. “This is an argument about a broken website versus a broken political Party.”

As Meet the Press tried to advance the argument that while there is backlash now against the GOP over the shutdown, Democrats better beware because — glitches! Glitches are just like shutdowns, only NOT. They don’t cost 24 billion dollars, hurt innocent Americans by robbing them of their paychecks, and they didn’t kill 120,000 private sector jobs. They also weren’t deliberate.

Gov. Granholm pointed out that if Republicans are so unhappy with the federal rollout of, then they should have stepped up in the states (as the law called for originally, but many Republicans refused to do) like Kentucky Governor Beshear, “If the republican party doesn’t like the federal government, then the governor should step up like Steve Beshear did to get this done.”

The party of “personal responsibility” doesn’t want to discuss how their refusal to do their parts could be one reason the site is overburdened.

Then Granholm gutted the false equivalency, “This is an argument about a broken website versus a broken political party.” Gov. Granholm noted that Obama is really mad about the tech problems, and has vowed to get them sorted, “The president is so mad about this that he himself will go down and supervise the writing of code if this is not fix bid the end of November. This will get fixed.”

Ms Granholm has never been a shrinking violent, so she laid waste to the silly narrative meant to distract from the fact that while the ObamaCare website has problems, Republicans just shut the government down in order to deny millions of Americans access to affordable health insurance. She said, “The Republicans have many opportunities to conflate the website with ObamaCare because they have to justify why they shut down the government for weeks.”

See, in Republican world, even though they were planning to shutdown the government long before the website opened, the website’s failures justify their shutdown.

The President keeps explaining to the media and Republicans that ObamaCare is more than a website, but they seem loath to digest this salient fact. They insist on making one of the most egregious logic fails of an argument since Mitt Romney tried to explain that he had nothing but contempt for 47% of America but wasn’t an elitist.

The Republican shutdown of government is not the equivalent of the ObamaCare website issues. It’s interesting that the media keeps making this argument in spite of having no facts or data to back it up. In fact, ObamaCare keeps rising in polls, rather than falling, whereas the Republican Party brand is at an all time low in polls.

Never mind that one was a deliberate attempt at sabotage and the other was a technical miscalculation. Never mind that one was an effort to deny millions access to affordable healthcare insurance and the other was an attempt to right that wrong. Never mind that Republicans shut the government down, hurting innocent Americans, over a law that was passed years ago and vetted by the Supreme Court. And never mind that the GOP shutdown cost us 24 billion dollars but ObamaCare is lowering the deficit.

And never mind that while the President wants to fix the websites, the Republican Party is talking about shutting the government down again in a few months. The Republican Party has no solutions or ideas – they’re just here to destroy government and the social safety nets for the people, and they’re proud of that, so no, the two events are not the same. At all.

Also, too bad there’s an ObamaCare phone number and email to use in addition to the website, otherwise this would totally be the same as a deliberate attempt to defund a law passed properly.

The media and GOP keep trying to make this an argument over liberalism; i.e., if the website fails, it means government is worthless. Of course, that is a silly move of the goal posts. If people get health insurance that keeps them healthy or gives them access to life-saving medical help, they will surely think government was helpful. Sorry, but they’re not going to be sitting around bemoaning the website delays.

The reason we are having this discussion is because Republicans are terrified that you will figure out that government actually did something good, and then you will wonder why they shut it down and fear-mongered about ObamaCare for the last four years. You might ask for your 24 billion back. You might not be so prone to believe their boogeyman stories about Big Government.

You might figure out that the Republican Party is broken and they know it. But unlike the ObamaCare website, the Republican Party won’t be fixed any time soon.


Reality Messing with your Narrative? Invent a More Congenial World

By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Monday, October 28th, 2013, 8:23 am

    A conservative figure would be $70 million. A more modest figure would be $125 million to $150 million.” Kessler noted that the cost for the entire health care project beyond the website would be “at least $350 million.

Yet the Republicans are outraged that the website cost $600-odd million and still doesn’t work. Rep. David Camp (R-MI), Chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means is even holding a hearing to determine why the government spent $600 million on a website that doesn’t work even though the government didn’t spend $600 million on a website.

There won’t be any hearings about the $24 BILLION they spent of taxpayer money to shut down the government, but they are angry about a non-existent $600 million.

What gives? Well, give me a few minutes here to ridicule the Republican Party and I will tell you what I think is going on.

Every fan of fantasy/Sci-Fi or role playing games knows about something called world-building. The author in the former and in the latter, the game master, creates a believable, internally consistent world to which the reader/view/gamer reacts.

Keep in mind, these worlds are created for entertainment purposes.

The Republican Party has engaged in a little world building as well, creating a fantasy world to which the base reacts. This fantasy world includes not only a past, or history, which is fleshed out by dime-a-dozen fable-peddlers like David Barton, but a present, supported by a noise machine led by Fox News, which reports not actual, facts-on-the-ground news but fantasy news about events in this fantasy world.

This world has been created because Republicans don’t like the real world, because the real world, the world of our shared reality, has been found to be uncongenial to right-wing ideological claims.

This alternate world on the other hand justifies every single Republican position. In this alternate world, President Barack Obama is a Kenyan Muslim terrorist sympathizer. This is a problem because in this world, “real Americans” are white Evangelicals who have not shifted gears mentally since the last crusade. Any contrary information that comes from outside this world, or echo-chamber, will of necessity be ignored because it does not fit the established storyline.

We saw an example of how this closed system functions yesterday when Dick Cheney employed the myth of the Obama Apology Tour on ABC’s This Week. This mythic event was also a driving force behind the so-called Benghazi scandals. But there is more at work than simply a rejection of President Obama.

In the Republicans’ fantasy world, they can wave Confederate flags, engage in racist rhetoric and somehow not be racists. They can preach religious freedom while denying it to everyone outside of themselves. They can be pro-life while denying life to mothers and on a wider scale, necessary healthcare to millions. They live in a world where President Obama, even had he been born in Kenya, is not American but Ted Cruz, born in Canada, is.

The problem is, none of us live in their carefully constructed fantasy world.

Liberals, reacting to real world events – to things that are actually done or said – are typically befuddled and often horrified by claims coming out of the conservative fantasy America, an America in which the Constitution is based on the Ten Commandments and written by Christians for Christians, a world in which the Founding Fathers were modern-day Evangelical Christians, where white Europeans did not steal land from the Native Americans, where slavery was not really such a bad thing, and the American Revolution was fought by conservatives for religious freedom.

On a psychological and philosophical – not to mention religious – level, it is a world in which the European Enlightenment never took place and the Dark Ages never ended. It is a world in which what was known to be true to Bronze Age tribesmen remains true today despite 3,000 years of scientific and technological advancement.

That is the depth of the divide between Democrats and Republicans in 2013.

Unfortunately, this leaves us with an absurd situation where Republicans can talk about things that never happened as though they did, but Democrats cannot talk about things that DID actually happen.

Let’s take a prominent and significant example:

We live in a world where the Civil War was about slavery, where the Confederate flag represents what Confederates of the 1860s say it represented: racism, at least according to the Vice President of the Confederate States of America, Alexander H. Stephens and all those who applauded him:

    But not to be tedious in enumerating the numerous changes for the better, allow me to allude to one other-though last, not least: the new Constitution has put at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institutions-African slavery as it exists among us-the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution… The prevailing ideas entertained by [Jefferson] and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old Constitution were, that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally and politically…This idea, though not incorporated in the Constitution, was the prevailing idea at the time. The Constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly used against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the idea of a Government built upon it-when the “storm came and the wind blew, it fell.”

    Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition. [Applause.] …Those at the North who still cling to these errors with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind; from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is, forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics: their conclusions are right if their premises are. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights, with the white man….They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.

Note to tea partiers: That is what the Confederate flag means. It is about states’ rights only to the extent that the right in question was the right to own other human beings.

Conservatives shake their heads and say liberals are rejecting facts, drinking Kool-Aid and so forth because we don’t fall over ourselves agreeing with them. But how can we when what they’re talking about exists only in their own imaginations. It would be like George R.R. Martin suddenly becoming angry with his readers and viewers for refusing to shape their choices according to what’s taking place in Westeros.

Martin would never do this. He knows perfectly well what world he lives in and that the world of his fantasy novels and miniseries has nothing to do with our shared reality. Republicans cannot because they will not make this distinction, and never the twain shall meet.

We were headed down this fantasy road already when Barack Obama took office. There is no denying the rot had already set in. But since 2008 they have dug themselves an even deeper hole. They have based their entire platform, every word spoken and every action taken, on delegitimizing our first black president. If they backed down now they would be admitting that they have wasted not only their time but ours, and billions of dollars ($24 billion on the shutdown alone) on an ideology that is based on the rejection of something that does not exist in the real world: a Kenyan Muslim terrorist-sympathizing president.

If Republicans had to acknowledge the real world, they would see their arguments and objections evaporate. They would discover that the things they are saying are, in fact, untrue. Suddenly Kenyan birth would be as valid as Canadian, Muslim as valid as Christian. Their endless parade of manufactured scandals would crumble like the lies they are. They would discover that facts do matter.

Why do they reject reality? Why do they not embrace our shared reality? Simply put, there is nothing in it for them.


Textbooks at Houston charter schools use existence of Loch Ness Monster to disprove evolutionary theory

By Scott Kaufman
Friday, October 25, 2013 15:00 EDT

A charter school in Houston that accepts taxpayer funding is using anti-science textbooks in its classrooms. According to a parent of one of its former students, iSchool High is using textbooks that explicitly link evolutionary theory with genocide:

    [Hitler] has written that the Aryan (German) race would be the leader in all human progress. To accomplish that goal, all “lower races” should either be enslaved or eliminated. Apparently the theory of evolution and its “survival of the fittest” philosophy had taken root in Hitler’s warped mind.

iSchool, which according to Alan Wimberley, a “chief learning officer” with its parent company Responsive Education Solutions, or ResponsiveEd, is designed “to get kids college — and career-ready.”

However, ResponsiveEd was founded by Donald R. Howard, former owner of Accelerated Christian Education (ACE), which made headlines last year when one of its textbooks claimed that evolutionary theory can’t be accurate because the Loch Ness Monster is real:

    Have you heard of the ‘Loch Ness Monster’ in Scotland? ‘Nessie,’ for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur.

    Could a fish have developed into a dinosaur? As astonishing as it may seem, many evolutionists theorize that fish evolved into amphibians and amphibians into reptiles. This gradual change from fish to reptiles has no scientific basis. No transitional fossils have been or ever will be discovered because God created each type of fish, amphibian, and reptile as separate, unique animals. Any similarities that exist among them are due to the fact that one Master Craftsmen fashioned them all.

Instead of acquiring “career-ready” levels of scientific information, students at iSchool are receiving an education even educators at the fundamentalist Bob Jones University believe is inadequate. As historian Adam Laats wrote, “according to BJU writers, the ACE and A Beka curricula failed to adequately educate their students academically or spiritually by neglecting … higher-order thinking skills.”


October 28, 2013 09:00 AM

Poor Kids About To Get Even Hungrier With Food Stamp Decrease

By Susie Madrak

I really and truly despise every last one of the politicians who created this cruel and inhuman situation, and I hope there's a hell, because I want them to go there. Michael Hiltzik from the L.A. Times:

    If you've been following the food stamp debate in Washington, you know it's about whether to cut food stamp benefits for the disadvantaged by $4 billion a year (the House proposal) or only $400 million a year (the Senate plan).

    Here's what you may not know: By its pure inaction, Congress is about to impose a cut in food stamp benefits that beats both. Next week, on Nov. 1, benefits will be cut by $5 billion for this fiscal year alone.That number may be hard to grasp, but here's what it means on the ground.

    It means a loss of 21 meals a month for a family of four on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP (the formal name for food stamps).

    About 47 million Americans will be affected by the coming 15% reduction in benefits across the board.

    Sounds like a crisis needing immediate relief, doesn't it? Not to our Congress. "Congress would have to take action, and there's no pending legislation to do that," said Dorothy Rosenbaum, a SNAP expert at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

    Even if there was, time is obviously tight. The lawmakers only come back to work on Tuesday, having taken a long weekend to recover from their horrific workload during the, er, government shutdown. (Posturing for the TV cameras in front of the shuttered World War II Memorial takes a lot out of you, don't you know.)

    The coming benefit cut is the perverse result of the fiscal stimulus legislation of 2009, followed by a couple of other stimulus measures enacted later. The 2009 stimulus measure increased monthly food stamp benefits by about $20 to $25 per month as a spur to economic recovery. For an eligible family of four, the increase of just over $80 a month raised the maximum benefit to $668, from $584.

    The idea was that the increase would fade away over time, as inflation increases brought the basic benefit up to that $668 level. The original estimate was that the increase would be completely eaten away by late 2014.

    But Congress accelerated the sunset. In 2010, lawmakers moved up the expiration date to April 2014 to help pay for the Education Jobs Act, which raised federal funding for school districts to keep teachers on the job. Four months later, Congress moved up the expiration further, to this Oct. 31, to pay for the reauthorization of child nutrition programs. That's known as taking away with one hand what you give with the other, and it's where things stand today.

    It bears repeating that the food stamp program provides the No. 1 opportunity for members of Congress to display their hypocritical side. We've documented at length, here and here, the spectacle of conservative lawmakers voting to slash benefits, which amount to $1.40 per meal per day, while collecting millions of dollars in farm subsidies for themselves.

Click to watch:

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David Cameron makes veiled threat to media over NSA and GCHQ leaks

Prime minister alludes to courts and D notices and singles out the Guardian over coverage of Edward Snowden saga

Nicholas Watt, chief political correspondent
The Guardian, Monday 28 October 2013 18.10 GMT   
David Cameron has called on the Guardian and other newspapers to show "social responsibility" in the reporting of the leaked NSA files to avoid high court injunctions or the use of D notices to prevent the publication of information that could damage national security.

In a statement to MPs on Monday about last week's European summit in Brussels, where he warned of the dangers of a "lah-di-dah, airy-fairy view" about the dangers of leaks, the prime minister said his preference was to talk to newspapers rather than resort to the courts. But he said it would be difficult to avoid acting if newspapers declined to heed government advice.

The prime minister issued the warning after the Tory MP Julian Smith quoted a report in Monday's edition of the Sun that said Britain's intelligence agencies believed details from the NSA files leaked by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden had hampered their work.

The Sun quoted a "top surveillance source" as saying that terrorists had "gone quiet" after the publication of details about NSA and GCHQ operations.

Cameron told MPs: "We have a free press, it's very important the press feels it is not pre-censored from what it writes and all the rest of it.

"The approach we have taken is to try to talk to the press and explain how damaging some of these things can be and that is why the Guardian did actually destroy some of the information and disks that they have. But they've now gone on and printed further material which is damaging.

"I don't want to have to use injunctions or D notices or the other tougher measures. I think it's much better to appeal to newspapers' sense of social responsibility. But if they don't demonstrate some social responsibility it would be very difficult for government to stand back and not to act."

The Guardian agreed to allow officials from GCHQ to oversee the destruction of hard drives in July, after the government threatened to use an injunction to block publication of information from the NSA files.

Alan Rusbridger, the editor-in-chief of the Guardian, said the destruction of the hard drives allowed the Guardian to continue reporting on the NSA files from its New York office.

The D-notice system is a voluntary code between government departments with responsibility for national security and the media. A notice can be issued to the media to prevent "inadvertent public disclosure of information that would compromise UK military and intelligence operations and methods".

Cameron had earlier indicated that the oversight of Britain's intelligence agencies may have to evolve in light of the revelations about the reach of new technology. He told MPs: "We have parliamentary scrutiny of our intelligence agencies through the intelligence and security committee and we have strengthened that oversight.

"Our agencies operate under the law and their work is overseen by intelligence commissioners. Of course as technology develops and as the threats we face evolve so we need to make sure that the scrutiny and the frameworks in place remain strong and effective."

Parliament's intelligence and security committee announced earlier this month that it is to scutinise the extent of mass surveillance in response to the concerns raised by the Snowden leaks.

The prime minister issued his warning to newspapers after Ed Miliband raised concerns about the reports last week that the US has monitored the mobile phone of the German chancellor Angela Merkel.

Miliband said: "I join the prime minister in his support for the work of our intelligence services. It is vital, it keeps us safe and, by its very nature, it goes unrecognised. I join the prime minister in applauding the men and women who work for our intelligence agencies.

"We can all understand the deep concerns that recent reports have caused in some European countries, especially Germany. As well as providing that support for intelligence services it is right that every country ensures proper oversight of those activities."

Julian Smith, who recently wrote to the Metropolitan police to assess whether the Guardian has broken the law in publishing details from the NSA files, asked the PM in the Commons: "Following the Sun's revelations this morning about the impact of the Snowden leaks, is it not time that any newspaper that may have crossed the line on national security comes forward and voluntarily works with the government to mitigate further risks to our citizens?"


10/28/2013 06:08 PM

Appearances and Reality: Merkel Balks at EU Privacy Push

By Gregor Peter Schmitz in Brussels

Chancellor Merkel has put on a good show of being outraged by American spying. But, at the same time, she has impeded efforts to strengthen data security. Does she really want more privacy, or is she more interested in being accepted into the exclusive group of info-sharing countries known as the 'Five Eyes' club?

One particular point of clarification was especially important to Angela Merkel during the EU summit in Brussels last week. When she complained about the NSA's alleged tapping of her cellphone, the German chancellor made clear that her concern was not for herself, but for the "telephones of millions of EU citizens," whose privacy she said was compromised by US spying.

Yet at a working dinner with fellow EU heads of state on Thursday, where the agenda included a proposed law to bolster data protection, Merkel's fighting spirit on behalf of the EU's citizens seemed to have dissipated.

In fact, internal documents show that Germany applied the brakes when it came to speedy passage of such a reform. Although a number of EU member states -- including France, Italy and Poland -- were pushing for the creation of a Europe-wide modern data protection framework before European Parliament elections take place in May 2014, the issue ended up tabled until 2015.

Great Britain, itself suspected of spying on its EU partners, and Prime Minister David Cameron, who has former Google CEO Eric Schmidt as one of his advisors, put up considerable resistance. He pushed instead for the final summit statement to call simply for "rapid" progress on a solid EU data-protection framework.

A Setback for ' Europe 's Declaration of Independence '

Merkel also joined those applying the brakes. Over the weekend, SPIEGEL ONLINE gained access to internal German Foreign Ministry documents concerning the EU leaders' final summit statement. The "track changes" feature reflects a crucial proposed change to item No. 8 under the subject heading "Digital Economy" -- the suggestion that the phrase "adoption next year" be replaced with "The negotiations have to be carried on intensely."

Ultimately, the official version of the final summit statement simply called for "rapid" progress on the issue -- just as Great Britain was hoping for.

This amounts to a setback for proponents of the proposed data-protection law, which EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding has called "Europe's declaration of independence."

The European Parliament recently began drafting stricter regulations in this area, including potential fines running into the billions of euros for any Internet company caught illegally passing private data to US intelligence agencies. Such proposed legislation has the support even of some of Merkel's fellow conservatives in the European Parliament, including Manfred Weber of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), who says: "We need to finally summon the political will for more data protection."

American tech corporations could hardly believe their luck at having Merkel's support. Now they're hoping for more leeway to water down the data-protection law as soon as the furor over the latest spying scandal has subsided. One high-ranking American tech-company executive told the Financial Times: "When we saw the story about Merkel's phone being tapped … we thought we were going to lose." But, he added: "It looks like we won."

Indeed, the EU leaders' anger was already starting to dissipate during their sessions in Brussels. Summit participants say leaders pointed out that Europe is not exactly on the side of the angels when it comes to government spying. Luxembourg's prime minister, Jean-Claude Juncker, cautioned his fellow leaders, questioning whether they were certain their own intelligence agencies had never violated data privacy themselves.

Code of Conduct for Intelligence Agencies

The concerns of the tech industry, in particular, received an attentive ear among Europe's leaders. One summit participant relates that restructuring data-protection laws was portrayed as a "laborious" task that would require more time to complete, and that Merkel did not push for speed on the matter, to the surprise of some of her counterparts.

According to summit participants, the German chancellor seemed far more interested in the "Five Eyes" alliance among the US, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. The top-level allies within this exclusive group, which began in 1946 as a pact between London and Washington, have agreed not to spy on one another, but instead to share information and resources. In Brussels, Cameron stressed to his fellow leaders how many terrorist attacks had been prevented by successful intelligence work.

Merkel, meanwhile, stated: "Unlike David, we are unfortunately not part of this group." According to the New York Times, Germany has sought membership in the "Five Eyes" alliance for years, but has been turned down due to opposition, including from the Obama administration. But this could now change, the paper speculates.

French President François Hollande, on the other hand, made clear in Brussels that he has no interest in joining such an alliance, calling instead for a European code of conduct for intelligence agencies, something Great Britain rejects.

France wouldn't be welcome in the "Five Eyes" alliance in any case, a former top US official told SPIEGEL ONLINE: "Germany joining would be a possibility, but not France -- France itself spies on the US far too aggressively for that."

Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein


NSA oversight dismissed as 'illusory' as anger intensifies in Europe and beyond

Condemnation by Latin American panel comes as US fields worsening outrage from Spain and Germany over surveillance

Spencer Ackerman in Washington, Monday 28 October 2013 17.43 GMT   

The Obama administration's international surveillance crisis deepened on Monday as representatives from a Latin American human rights panel told US diplomats that oversight of the programs was "illusory".

Members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an arm of the Organization of American States, expressed frustration and dissatisfaction with the National Security Agency's mass surveillance of foreign nationals – something the agency argues is both central to its existence and necessary to prevent terrorism.

"With a program of this scope, it's obvious that any form of control becomes illusory when there's hundreds of millions of communications that become monitored and surveilled," said Felipe Gonzales, a commissioner and Chilean national.

"This is of concern to us because maybe the Inter-American Committee on Human Rights may become a target as well of surveillance," said Rodrigo Escobar Gil, a commissioner and Colombian citizen.

Frank La Rue, the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, told the commission that the right to privacy was "inextricably linked" to free expression.

"What is not permissible from a human rights point of view is that those that hold political power or those that are in security agencies or, even less, those in intelligence agencies decide by themselves, for themselves, what the scope of these surveillance activities are, or who will be targeted, or who will be blank surveilled," La Rue said.

While the US sent four representatives to the hearing, they offered no defence, rebuttal or elaboration about bulk surveillance, saying the October government shutdown prevented them from adequate preparation. "We are here to listen," said deputy permanent representative Lawrence Gumbiner, who pledged to submit written responses within 30 days.

All 35 North, Central and South American nations are members of the commission. La Rue, originally from Guatemala and an independent expert appointed by the Human Rights Council, travels the world reporting on human rights concerns – often in countries with poor democratic standards.

Spying on foreigners is the core mission of the NSA, one that it vigorously defends as appropriate, legal and unexceptional given the nature of global threats and widespread spycraft. Monday's hearing suggested that there are diplomatic consequences to bulk surveillance even if there may not be legal redress for non-Americans.

Brazil has already shown a willingness to challenge Washington over bulk surveillance. President Dilma Rousseff postponed a September meeting with President Obama in protest, and denounced the spying during the UN general assembly shortly thereafter. Brazil is also teaming up with Germany at the UN on a general assembly resolution demanding an end to the mass surveillance.

The commission's examination of the NSA's bulk surveillance activities suggested a potential southern front could open in the spy crisis just as the administration is attempting to calm down Europe.

The Obama administration has been fielding a week's worth of European outrage following media reports that the NSA had collected a similarly large volume of phone calls from France – which director of national intelligence James Clapper, who recently apologised for misleading the Senate about domestic spying, called "false" – and spying on German chancellor Angela Merkel's own cellphone, which US officials have effectively confessed to.

Brazil and Mexico are also demanding answers from US intelligence officials, following reports about intrusive acts of espionage in their territory revealed by documents provided to journalists by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The White House has said it will provide some answers after the completion of an external review of its surveillance programs, scheduled to be completed before the end of the year.

The Guardian reported on Thursday that the NSA has intercepted the communications of 35 world leaders.

International discomfort with NSA bulk surveillance is not the only spy challenge the Obama administration now confronts.

Congressman James Sensenbrenner, the Wisconsin Republican and key author of the 2001 Patriot Act, is poised to introduce a bill this week that would prevent the NSA from collecting phone records on American citizens in bulk and without an individual warrant. The National Journal reported that Sensenbrenner's bill, which has a companion in the Senate, has attracted eight co-sponsors who either voted against or abstained on a July amendment in the House that would have defunded the domestic phone records bulk collection, a legislative gambit that came within seven votes of passage.

Sensenbrenner's bill, like its Senate counterpart sponsored by Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, would not substantially restrict the NSA's foreign-focused surveillance, which is a traditional NSA activity. There is practically no congressional appetite, and no viable legislation, to limit the NSA from intercepting the communications of foreigners.

An early sign about the course of potential surveillance reforms in the House of Representatives may come as early as Tuesday. The House intelligence committee, a hotbed of support for the NSA, will hold its first public hearing of the fall legislative calendar on proposed surveillance legislation. Its chairman, Mike Rogers of Michigan, has proposed requiring greater transparency on the NSA and the surveillance court that oversees it, but would largely leave the actual surveillance activities of the NSA, inside and outside the United States, untouched.

Alex Abdo, a lawyer with the ACLU, which requested the hearing at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, warned the human rights panel that the NSA could "target the foreign members of this commission when they travel abroad", as well as foreign dissidents of US-aligned governments; foreign lawyers for Guantánamo detainees; and other foreigners.

"If every country were to engage in surveillance as pervasive as the NSA, we would soon live in a state … with no refuge for the world's dissidents, journalists and human rights defenders," Abdo said.


October 28, 2013

Obama May Ban Spying on Heads of Allied States


WASHINGTON — President Obama is poised to order the National Security Agency to stop eavesdropping on the leaders of American allies, administration and congressional officials said Monday, responding to a deepening diplomatic crisis over reports that the agency had for years targeted the cellphone of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany.

The White House informed a leading Democratic lawmaker, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, of its plans, which grew out of a broader internal review of intelligence-gathering methods, prompted by the leak of N.S.A. documents by a former contractor, Edward J. Snowden.

In a statement on Monday, Ms. Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said, “I do not believe the United States should be collecting phone calls or emails of friendly presidents and prime ministers.” Ms. Feinstein, who has been a stalwart defender of the administration’s surveillance policies, said her committee would begin a “major review of all intelligence collection programs.”

The White House said Monday evening that no final decision had been made on the monitoring of friendly foreign leaders. But the disclosure that it is moving to prohibit it signals a landmark shift for the N.S.A., which has had nearly unfettered powers to collect data on tens of millions of people around the world, from ordinary citizens to heads of state, including the leaders of Brazil and Mexico.

It is also likely to prompt a fierce debate on what constitutes an American ally. Prohibiting eavesdropping on Ms. Merkel’s phone is an easier judgment than, for example, collecting intelligence on the military-backed leaders in Egypt.

“We have already made some decisions through this process and expect to make more,” said a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, Caitlin M. Hayden, adding that the review would be completed in December.

Disclosure of the White House’s proposed action came after the release on Monday afternoon of Ms. Feinstein’s statement, in which she asserted that the White House had told her it would cease all intelligence collection in friendly countries. That statement, senior administration officials said, was “not accurate,” but they acknowledged that they had already made unspecified changes in surveillance policy and planned further changes, particularly in the monitoring of government leaders.

The administration will reserve the right to continue collecting intelligence in friendly countries that pertains to criminal activity, potential terrorist threats and the proliferation of unconventional weapons, according to several officials. It also appeared to be leaving itself room in the case of a foreign leader of an ally who turned hostile or whose actions posed a threat to the United States.

The crossed wires between the White House and Ms. Feinstein were an indication of how the furor over the N.S.A.’s methods is testing even the administration staunchest defenders.

Aides said the senator’s six-paragraph statement reflected exasperation at the N.S.A. for failing to keep the Intelligence Committee fully apprised of such politically delicate operations as eavesdropping on the conversations of friendly foreign leaders.

“She believes the committee was not adequately briefed on the details of these programs, and she’s frustrated,” said a committee staff member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “In her mind, there were salient omissions.”

The review that Ms. Feinstein announced would be “a major undertaking,” the staff member said.

The White House has faced growing outrage in Germany and among other European allies over its surveillance policies. Senior officials from Ms. Merkel’s office and the heads of Germany’s domestic and foreign intelligence agencies plan to travel to Washington in the coming days to register their anger.

They are expected to ask for a no-spying agreement similar to what the United States has with Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which are known as the Five Eyes.

The United States has historically resisted such agreements, even with friendly governments, though it explored a similar arrangement with France early in the Obama administration. But officials said they would give the Germans, in particular, a careful hearing.

“We have intel relationships that are already very close,” said a senior official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the subject. “There are other types of agreements you could have: cooperation, limits on intelligence, greater transparency. The countries on the top of the list for those are close European allies.”

The National Security Agency has said it did not inform Mr. Obama of its reported monitoring of Ms. Merkel, which appears to have started in 2002 and was not suspended until sometime last summer after the theft of the N.S.A. data by Mr. Snowden was discovered.

“At that point it was clear that lists of targeted foreign officials may well become public,” said one official, “so many of the interceptions were suspended.”

The N.S.A.’s documentation on Ms. Merkel’s case authorized the agency’s operatives in Germany not only to collect data about the numbers she was calling, but also to listen in on her conversations, according to current and former administration officials.

It was unclear whether excerpts from Ms. Merkel’s conversations appeared in intelligence reports that were circulated in Washington or shared with the White House. Officials said they had never seen information attributed to an intercept of Ms. Merkel’s conversations. But they said it was likely that some conversations had been recorded simply because the N.S.A. had focused on her for so long.

In both public comments and private interchanges with German officials, the Obama administration has refused to confirm that Ms. Merkel’s phone was targeted, though it has said that it is not the subject of N.S.A. action now, and will not be in the future.

The refusal to talk about the past has further angered German officials, who have said the surveillance has broken trust between two close allies. The Germans were particularly angry that the operation appears to have been run from inside the American Embassy or somewhere near it, in the heart of Berlin, steps from the Brandenburg Gate.

None of the officials and former officials who were interviewed would speak directly about the decision to target Ms. Merkel, saying that information was classified. But they said the legal distinction between tapping a conversation and simply collecting telephone “metadata” — essentially the kind of information about a telephone call that would be found on a telephone bill — existed only for domestic telephone calls, or calls involving United States citizens.

To record the conversation of a “U.S. Person,” the intelligence agencies would need a warrant. But no such distinction applies to intercepting the calls of foreigners, on foreign soil — though those intercepts may be a violation of local law.

That means that the intercepts of other world leaders could have also involved both information about the calls and the conversations themselves.

Dennis C. Blair, Mr. Obama’s first director of national intelligence, declined to speak specifically about the Merkel case. But he noted that “in our intelligence relationship with countries like France and Germany, 90 to 95 percent of our activity is cooperative and sharing, and a small proportion is about gaining intelligence we can’t obtain in other ways.”

He said he had little patience for the complaints of foreign leaders. “If any foreign leader is talking on a cellphone or communicating on unclassified email, what the U.S. might learn is the least of their problems.”

In addition to the Germans, European Union officials and members of the European Parliament are descending on Washington to deliver a tough message: The N.S.A.’s surveillance is unacceptable and has eroded trust between the United States and Europe.

“The key message is there is a problem,” said Silvia Kofler, a spokeswoman for the European Union. “We need to re-establish the trust between partners. You don’t spy on partners.”

One potential threat, Ms. Kofler said, was to the negotiation of the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, one of Mr. Obama’s major trade initiatives. European Union officials, she said, were anxious to keep those talks on track but would require unspecified “confidence-building measures” to restore trust between the two sides.

An administration official said the White House would take these visits seriously, having senior officials from several government agencies and the White House meet with the Germans, though no meetings have yet been scheduled.

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.


Obama sidesteps questions on NSA spying and what he knew – video

President Barack Obama sidesteps questions over whether he knew the cellphones of world leaders were being monitored by the National Security Agency. Speaking during an interview in the grounds of the White House, Obama said: 'I'm not confirming a bunch of assumptions that have been made in the press'


NSA faces sweeping review into extent of surveillance

Senate intelligence committee chair Dianne Feinstein, who has been a loyal defender of the NSA, demands a 'total' surveillance review

Paul Lewis and Spencer Ackerman in Washington
The Guardian, Tuesday 29 October 2013     

The chair of the Senate intelligence committee, who has been a loyal defender of the National Security Agency, dramatically broke ranks on Monday, saying she was "totally opposed" to the US spying on allies and demanding a total review of all surveillance programs.

California Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein strongly criticised the NSA's monitoring of the calls of friendly world leaders such as German chancellor Angela Merkel.

Feinstein, who has steadfastly defended the NSA's mass surveillance programs, added that both Barack Obama and members of her committee, which is supposed to received classified briefings, had been kept in the dark about operations to target foreign leaders.

"It is abundantly clear that a total review of all intelligence programs is necessary so that members of the Senate Intelligence Committee are fully informed as to what is actually being carried out by the intelligence community," Feinstein said in a statement to reporters.

"Unlike NSA's collection of phone records under a court order, it is clear to me that certain surveillance activities have been in effect for more than a decade and that the Senate Intelligence Committee was not satisfactorily informed.

"With respect to NSA collection of intelligence on leaders of US allies – including France, Spain, Mexico and Germany – let me state unequivocally: I am totally opposed," she said..

Feinstein also provided the first official confirmation of a German report that indicated Merkel's phone had been monitored for more than a decade. "It is my understanding that President Obama was not aware Chancellor Merkel's communications were being collected since 2002," Feinstein said. "That is a big problem."

The senator's dramatic intervention comes as the White House struggles to contain the diplomatic fallout from a series of revelations about the NSA's spy operations abroad. They include a report in the Guardian, based on documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, that at least 35 world leaders have been monitored by the agency.

"Unless the United States is engaged in hostilities against a country or there is an emergency need for this type of surveillance, I do not believe the United States should be collecting phone calls or emails of friendly presidents and prime ministers. The president should be required to approve any collection of this sort," Feinstein added.

"The White House has informed me that collection on our allies will not continue, which I support. But as far as I'm concerned, Congress needs to know exactly what our intelligence community is doing. To that end, the committee will initiate a major review into all intelligence collection programs."

Feinstein's statement comes at a crucial time for the NSA. Legislation will be introduced in Congress on Tuesday that would curtail the agency's powers, and there are the first signs that the White House may be starting to distance itself from security chiefs. On Monday, the White House's chief spokesman, Jay Carney, said the administration "acknowledged the tensions" caused by Snowden's disclosures.

"The president clearly feels strongly about making sure we are not just collecting information because we can, but because we should," Carney said. "We recognize there needs to be additional constraints on how we gather and use intelligence."

Obama told ABC News on Monday evening that he would not discuss classified information but accepted that security operations were being reassessed to ensure proper oversight of the NSA's technical abilities.

He said: "The national security operations, generally, have one purpose and that is to make sure the American people are safe and that I'm making good decisions. I'm the final user of all the intelligence that they gather. But they're involved in a whole wide range of issues.

"We give them policy direction. But what we've seen over the last several years is their capacities continue to develop and expand, and that's why I'm initiating now a review to make sure that what they're able to do doesn't necessarily mean what they should be doing."

On Tuesday morning, James Sensenbrenner, the Wisconsin Republican and author of the 2001 Patriot Act, will introduce a bill called the USA Freedom Act that will ban warrantless bulk phone metadata collection and prevent the NSA from querying its foreign communications databases for identifying information on Americans. Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who chairs the Senate judiciary committee, will introduce the bill's Senate counterpart that same day.

Also on Tuesday, the two most senior intelligence leaders are due to testify before the House intelligence committee. Both are now expected to be grilled on why they appear not to have informed either the White House or congressional oversight committees about the spying activities directed at foreign leaders.

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence who is under fire for misleading Congress on bulk domestic collection, will testify about surveillance reform Tuesday afternoon. He will be accompanied by General Keith Alexander, the director of the NSA, who last week mused to a Pentagon blog that "we ought to come up with a way of stopping" reporters' stories about the NSA's bulk collection programs.

Their performance is likely to be influential towards members of Congress on the fence about bulk domestic collection ahead of a vote on Sensenbrenner's bill. A July predecessor came within seven votes of passage.

Feinstein's shifting position was not the only emerging challenge confronting the NSA late Monday. A new disclosure from the Electronic Frontier Foundation added to the agency's woes by suggesting that it began testing means to gather location data on cellphones inside the US before informing the secret surveillance court that oversees it.

A short document apparently written in 2011 by an NSA lawyer discussed a 2010 "mobility testing effort" involving "cell site locations." The lawyer, whose name was redacted in a document obtained by the group under the Freedom of Information Act, said that the Justice Department was believed to have "orally advised" the so-called Fisa Court that "we had obtained a limited set of test data sampling of cellular mobility data (cell site location information) pursuant to the Court-authorized program" under section 215 of the Patriot Act, which the NSA uses to justify collecting Americans' phone records in bulk.

Alexander recently conceded that the so-called "pilot program" for cellular geolocation collection existed and said it was potentially a "future requirement for the country." It was previously unknown that the pilot program proceeded before the Fisa Court knew of it.

Just a month ago, in her own committee, Feinstein, delivered a full-throated and unequivocal defence of every surveillance activity conducted by the NSA.

"It is my opinion that the surveillance activities conducted under FISA, and other programs operated by the National Security Agency, are lawful, they are effective, and they are conducted under careful oversight within the NSA, by the Department of Justice and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and by the FISA Court and the Congress," Feinstein said on September 26.

In August, following disclosures that the NSA had improperly collected data on thousands of Americans, Feinstein accused the Washington Post of misquoting her, saying her committee "has never identified an instance in which the NSA has intentionally abused its authority to conduct surveillance for inappropriate purposes".

Feinstein is bringing her own legislation to enable superficial reforms of the NSA and the secret court system, but stops short of curbing the intelligence community's powers, is being marked up at her committee on Tuesday.

Feinstein's about-face presents the major challenge for the White House, which perceives the California Democrat as a key Senate surrogate on surveillance issues.

Obama has yet to take a position on the Leahy and Sensenbrenner bills. Congressional aides expect a major push by the NSA to defeat the bills, but are unsure how vigorously the White House will oppose them.

Carney's remarks on Monday, prompted by a growing sense of diplomatic backlash against the US over the NSA, provide additional uncertainty. US officials have distanced Obama from the foreign-leader spying in anonymous comments to the Wall Street Journal.


NSA review panel to present Obama with dossier on surveillance reforms

Classified document will also detail consequences of domestic and foreign spying revelations as anger mounts abroad

Paul Lewis in Washington
The Guardian, Monday 28 October 2013 18.48 GMT   

Barack Obama will receive a classified dossier in the next two weeks that will lay out the consequences for US foreign relations of the National Security Agency's powerful surveillance apparatus and provide the White House with a raft of possible reforms.

The document is being drafted by a top-level group of experts appointed by the president to conduct an external review of US surveillance capabilities and the damage to public trust resulting from the Edward Snowden disclosures.

The review, parts of which will be declassified and released to the public, will be completed by mid-December. However, a senior administration official familiar with the process said a secret "interim report" will be shared with the president shortly.

The group's work has been delayed slightly because of the recent US government shutdown, but it is expected to submit the report to the president via the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, in the week beginning 11 November.

The review is being carried out by a panel that includes Richard Clarke, a former White House counter-terrorism chief, and Michael Morell, the previous deputy director of the CIA.

Its importance has been amplified over the last week, after a series of revelations about the nature and scope of monitoring activities abroad, particularly against US allies.

On Monday, the US ambassador to Spain, James Costos, was summoned by the prime minister after reports in the El Mundo newspaper that the NSA had spied on 60 million phone calls in the country during one recent 30-day period.

The Spanish government called on the US to hand over all necessary information concerning "supposed eavesdropping carried out in Spain". Spain joins Brazil, Mexico, Germany and France on a list of countries demanding answers from the administration. On Monday, a delegation from the European parliament arrived in Washington to discuss the spy allegations with US lawmakers.

Last week the Guardian revealed that the NSA monitored the phone conversations of at least 35 world leaders. Separately, Angela Merkel called Obama to protest that her phone had been monitored, with Der Spiegel reporting on Sunday that the surveillance on the German chancellor began as early as 2002.

Asked about the reports on Monday, the White House's chief spokesman, Jay Carney, said the administration "acknowledged the tensions" caused by Snowden's disclosures. "We understand this has caused concern in countries that represent some of our closest relationships internationally," he said, "and we are working to allay those concerns and to discuss these issues."

"The president clearly feels strongly about making sure we are not just collecting information because we can, but because we should," Carney said. "We recognize there needs to be additional constraints on how we gather and use intelligence."

Jen Psaki, spokeswoman for the the State Department, which is managing the diplomatic fallout, added that the US was "not naive" about the impact of the disclosures on foreign relations.

The White House has declined to say whether Merkel's phone was monitored in the past. But according to the Wall Street Journal, the Obama administration ordered the NSA to cease the surveillance of her and other leaders after the program emerged over the summer in a separate, internal review of the agency's activities.

Carney said that internal review, led by the White House with input from agencies across government, will also also be completed before the end of the year. It contains what Carney described as a "separate" component dedicated to dealing with issues relating to "some of the very specific things with regard to intelligence gathered, including matters that deal with heads of states and other governments".

The external review, which will feed into the White House's internal assessment of surveillance, has itself been criticised for being too close to the Obama administration.

In addition to Clarke and Morell, the panel, which first met on 27 August, includes a law school professor, Geoffrey Stone, the former White House official Cass Sunstein and Peter Swire, who advised Obama and former president Bill Clinton on privacy.

The group has been tasked with reconsidering surveillance capabilities "in light of advancements in technology", seeking to find the right balance between national security interests and maintaining standards of privacy and civil liberties.

When he announced the review in early August, Obama specifically said it should consider "how surveillance impacts our foreign policy – particularly in an age when more and more information is becoming public".

The foreign policy component of its work has now provided a renewed focus. The extent of anger among foreign countries, particularly in Europe, has taken some administration officials by surprise. The most furious reaction has come from Germany, which is planning to send a delegation to Washington in the coming days.

The delegation is expected to include the directors of Germany's foreign and domestic intelligence services, who will expect to meet their counterparts, including the director of the NSA, General Keith Alexander, according to a source with knowledge of the trip.

The delegation, which will arrive late this week or early next, will also include high-ranking officials from Chancellor Merkel's office who will meet with counterparts on the White House's national security council.

Separately, a group of European Union parliamentarians arrived in Washington on Monday to meet with US lawmakers and senior national security officials and discuss what the White House called "privacy issues".

US representative Mike Rogers, a Republican, said afterward they discussed the need to rebuild trust and share intelligence.

Rogers, a staunch defender of US intelligence agencies, acknowledged the parliamentarians have brought legitimate concerns, according to Reuters.

"It's important to understand that we're going to have to have a policy discussion that is bigger than any individual intelligence agency of either Europe or the United States," he said.


Guardian US interactive team, Monday 28 October 2013 15.58 GMT     

An excerpt from our upcoming project NSA Files: Decoded

Three degrees of separation: breaking down the NSA's 'hops' surveillance method
You don’t need to be talking to a terror suspect to have your communications data analysed by the NSA. The agency is allowed to travel “three hops” from its targets – who could be people who talk to people who talk to people who talk to you. Facebook, where the typical user has 190 friends, shows how three degrees of separation gets you to a network bigger than the population of Colorado. How many people are three “hops” from you?

Click to view this:


10/28/2013 03:42 PM

US on Spying Scandal: 'Allies Aren't Always Friends'

By Marc Pitzke in New York

Many commentators in the US see surveillance like the NSA's alleged tapping of Chancellor Merkel's phone as a necessary fact of life. The White House is trying to limit the damage -- but the snooping will go on.

Jon Stewart knows how to twist the knife. "So you guys are all upset we're spying on you," America's most popular TV satirist told an imaginary European audience. "But I just have one question: Have you met us? Meddling in your affairs for our national self-interest is kind of our thing."

That's no joke -- especially not this week when the tremors of the alleged US surveillance of Chancellor Angela Merkel will finally reach Washington. A German intelligence service delegation is traveling to the US capital to find answers to the array of question this scandal has thrown up.

The main ones are: What did President Barack Obama know? How can the crisis of confidence in the trans-Atlantic alliance be repaired? And what will really change in the end?

That last question can already be answered: not a lot. Over the weekend, senior members of Congress strongly defended the NSA's actions and dismissed the White House's efforts at appeasement as nothing more than superficial politeness.

Take Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, which on Tuesday plans to discuss the NSA and, probably, SPIEGEL's latest revelations. The Republican from Michigan left little doubt of how little he thinks of radical change. Mutual surveillance, he told CNN, served the "legitimate protection of nation-state interest."

Peter King, chairman of the House subcommittee on counter-terrorism and intelligence, said "the president should stop apologizing, stop being defensive." The New York Republican added that the NSA had "saved thousands of lives, not just in the United States but also in France and Germany and throughout Europe." And Germany, he continued, was a legitimate target for espionage, anyways, partly because "that's where the Hamburg plot began, which led to 9/11."

The NSA itself predictably showed the least contrition. "Would I stop doing any of that?" outgoing NSA chief Keith Alexander said in an interview with a Department of Defense blog. "Well, there's policy decisions that policymakers can do, but nobody would ever want us to stop protecting this country against terrorists, against adversary states, against cyber."

'That's Just Life and International Politics'

It's an attitide that newspaper editorialists shared. "Allies aren't always friends," wrote Stewart Baker in the New York Times. Steward was the assistant secretary for policy at the US Department of Homeland Security under George W. Bush, who was president when the NSA began tapping Merkel's phone back in 2002, according to information obtained by SPIEGEL. Without spying, the US wouldn't be able to carry out ts role in the world, he said. "That's just life and international politics. As German Chancellor Angela Merkel too knows quite well."

Such opinions are drowning out critical voices from people such as Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen, of New Hampshire. On Sunday, she told CBS that recent revelations had inflicted "significant damage" to our bilateral relations with overseas allies, adding that Americans have "repair work to do."

"And I think we have hard questions we need to ask of the NSA about what's really going on in this program," she said.

When Did Obama Know What?

There is also confusion about what and when Obama knew about the operation against Merkel. On Sunday, the NSA said in a statement that Alexander "did not discuss with President Obama in 2010 an alleged foreign intelligence operation involving German Chancellor Merkel, nor has he ever discussed alleged operations involving Chancellor Merkel. News reports claiming otherwise are not true."

The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday evening that the NSA had stopped monitoring Merkel's phone after an "internal Obama administration review started this summer revealed to the White House the existence of the operation."

According to the newspaper, officials said the internal review turned up NSA monitoring of some 35 world leaders. The White House cut off some monitoring programs after learning of them, including the one tracking Merkel and some other world leaders, the paper said, citing information provided by a senior U.S. official. Other programs have been slated for termination but have yet to be phased out completely, officials told the paper.

In the summer, Obama announced two NSA reviews, an internal and an external one. But that was just a reaction to the monitoring of US citizens. SPIEGEL's revelations give these reviews new relevance.

Did the NSA Decide on Its Own?

Even if Obama didn't know, it wouldn't look good. A government leader who doesn't know what his intelligence agencies are up to looks weak. "These decisions are made at NSA," the government official told the Wall Street Journal. "The president doesn't sign off on this stuff," the official added, noting that the protocol was under review.

Even former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton doesn't appear to have been informed about the spying. In a a speech at Colgate University in New York last Friday, she called for a "full, comprehensive discussion" but added that the revelations were "in bits and pieces" that weren't "in context."

The White House remains tight-lipped. It confirmed that there are some ongoing internal investigations regarding intelligence surveillance operations in allied countries, but it didn't go into detail. Obama remained silent and spent his Sunday with a visit to church and a four-hour golf game.

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« Last Edit: Oct 29, 2013, 05:25 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #9613 on: Oct 29, 2013, 05:14 AM »

10/28/2013 01:23 PM

European Reform: Merkel's Surprising New Ally in Brussels

By Peter Müller, Christoph Pauly, Christian Reiermann, Michael Sauga and Christoph Schult

In her third term, Chancellor Angela Merkel hopes to shape her legacy -- by reforming the European Union and reinvigorating the Continent's economy. Now she's found an unexpected ally in Social Democrat Martin Schulz, but the two have a long road ahead of them. 

It happened over dessert at a recent dinner in the European Council building in Brussels. Just before midnight, German Chancellor Angela Merkel did what European leaders have wanted her to do for months: She showed leadership. The chancellor said the euro countries must become more competitive, and argued the European Commission's controls have been insufficient, that "a stronger commitment" is needed. Furthermore, the "social dimension" could not be ignored, she said. Europe needs a "qualitative leap."

In her third term, Merkel -- who is also the head of Germany's center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and will soon rule her country in a coalition with Germany's second-biggest party, the Social Democrats (SPD) -- is determined to become the chancellor of Europe. In the recent German elections, more Germans voted for her party than ever before. The Economist has called her "Europe's dominant politician." Merkel is convinced that she is now favorably positioned to advance the project that she hopes will become her political legacy: the reform of the European Union.

For the time being, the threat of the euro's collapse has been averted and, for the first time in years, the economy in the euro zone is showing new signs of life. But Merkel also knows the crisis could reignite at any time -- from France to Italy, parties skeptical of the euro are gaining ground; reforms are faltering in many debt-ridden countries; banks are hesitant to lend money.

This has prompted the chancellor to prepare a European reform offensive, and she already knows how to achieve her goal. Together with her likely new coalition partners, the SPD, she now intends to tackle more social issues with her European policy. There is talk of programs to address issues ranging from youth unemployment to tax evasion, and of the creation of a separate euro-zone budget to promote growth. In return, Brussels would receive more rights and thus greater control over the fiscal and economic policies of member states. Merkel intends to carry on with her controversial doctrine of demanding reforms in exchange for money, albeit with a Social Democratic -- ie. progressive -- tint.

An Unexpected New Ally

She has already set her sights on who will be her most important ally in this project: European Parliament President Martin Schulz. Schulz who is a member of the SPD, is now carrying out coalition negotiations on European policy with an eye to both SPD interests and his next career move. First, Schulz wants to become the socialists' top candidate in the European elections next May. And if he secures enough votes, he plans to seek the powerful position of European Commission president.

If this happens, Merkel would finally be rid of the current, unpopular Commission President José Manuel Barroso, whom she formerly supported. At the same time, she and Schulz could then jointly initiate reforms aimed at promoting growth and competition.

The reforms are urgently needed. At an early October preparatory meeting for the Brussels summit, Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut, Merkel's European policy advisor, made it clear that things must change in Europe. A representative of the European Central Bank (ECB) presented a series of charts showing a significant decline in the competitiveness of many EU countries in the last seven years. Crisis-ridden countries like Greece, Cyprus and Portugal are among those who have dropped down, whereas, in the same period, Germany advanced from eighth to fourth place, putting it just behind Switzerland, Singapore and Finland.

A total of 131 recommendations for improving economic dynamism were made to the member states of the monetary union last year. But, as ECB Director Jörg Asmussen said at a meeting of top officials from the member states in early June, implementation has been lacking. "Last year, only 10 percent of the European Commission's country-specific recommendations were implemented," Asmussen now says publicly.

The European Commission, on the other hand, is defending the current system. "It works," says EU Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn, noting the euro zone has achieved "an unparalleled deepening of economic integration." He adds, "In the last three years, we have made a quantum leap toward more coordination of economic policy."

Cash to Encourage Cooperation

The German government does not agree with the ECB and Asmussen says the lack of implementation shows "the processes of economic policy coordination, which are correct in principle, aren't working properly." Europe needs more coordination and better implementation, Asmussen argues. "It makes little sense to constantly come up with new ways to coordinate economic policy if the existing ones aren't being applied."

Chancellor Merkel now intends to use financial incentives to encourage member states to follow the recommendations. Under a proposal she and French President François Hollande unveiled last May, countries that signed agreements to implement extensive programs would be enticed with fresh money from a new fund.

Officials at the German Finance Ministry are working feverishly on finding ways to ensure the new "solidarity mechanism" could work. The aid payments would be tied to strict conditions while also being "limited and degressive." In other words, payments would decline as the reforms become increasingly successful.

Where Does the Money Come From?

The experts are considering two monetary sources for the new fund. Revenues from a planned tax on financial transactions could be sent to Brussels, and a portion of the EU's own funds could also be diverted.

No decisions have been reached yet on the proposal, or on the amount of money in the new fund. However, Finance Ministry officials are aware such far-reaching resolutions could lead to a separate budget for the euro zone -- a step which, for Merkel, was long a taboo.

That could now change, partly because it will make the SPD more compliant in the upcoming coalition negotiations. Given recent policy papers by the two sides of the negotiations, the new Berlin coalition government's policy will likely involve no euro bonds -- proposed government bonds jointly issued by euro zone nations -- but more money for growth programs and additional powers for Brussels.

Two Secret Friends

And thus Merkel -- affectionately known in her ranks as Mutti (Mommy) -- has chosen European Parliament President Schulz as a new favorite. Openly, the SPD politician claims "Angela Merkel is not by best friend." But when the microphones are switched off, the two politicians speak with one another with great respect.

Schulz meets the chancellor regularly in Berlin, and they exchange text messages, hammering out compromises, most recently over the EU supplementary budget. They are even in general agreement over the path to a stronger monetary and economic union.

Last Wednesday, Schulz met with Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble in Berlin. The CDU politician advocated expediting cooperation among the euro countries in economic policy and changing the Lisbon Treaty - an agreement which amended the constitutional treaties of the EU and was implemented in 2009 - to do so. Schäuble wants to give the European Commission more power and appoint a European finance minister with the power to intervene in nation budget decisions. He also favors the establishment of a euro parliament in which representatives from the countries of the monetary union and members of the national parliaments monitor the decisions of the European Commission, making a time-consuming constitutional convention and referendums unnecessary.

An Important Connection

As European Commission president, Schulz would be an important connection for the grand coalition. He is a close friend of SPD Chairman Sigmar Gabriel, but could also benefit Merkel. Next year's European Parliament election will be the first held under the terms of the Lisbon Treaty, meaning its outcome must be taken into account when nominating the Commission president from among the member states' 28 heads of government.

Having assiduously collected allies, the 57-year-old Schulz is a favorite for the position. He expects broad support in the European Parliament and the European Council, well beyond the ranks of the family of social democratic parties. Merkel knows this and, given that Schulz has the confidence of French President François Hollande, hopes he could help restart the stuttering German-French relationship.

Complicated Politics

Merkel has only one problem: As head of the CDU, she cannot openly support the SPD politician. Although they are future coalition partners, the CDU/CSU and the SPD will still campaign separately in the European elections.

The leaders of the conservative European People's Party met last Thursday to discuss the upcoming European election and many advocated sending their own conservative candidate into the race against Schulz. But Merkel, together with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, expressed reservations over this approach. She wants to leave the door open to deciding who will be her favorite for the influential Commission post.

It is clear that Merkel will need the help of German Social Democrats to achieve her agenda in Europe. At the EU summit last week, European leaders debated for more than an hour over which economic and social criteria will figure in the planned agreements to foster competition.

But many politicians from the European left are unhappy with the overall direction of the debate. As Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann put it, "The Austrian parliament will not agree to an oppressive contract, merely because of the prospect of a reward."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


10/28/2013 06:13 PM

Coalition Talks: SPD May Drop Demand for Finance Ministry

Clinching the powerful post of finance minister in coalition talks would be a major coup for the center-left Social Democrats. But they may drop the demand in return for policy concessions -- and due to tactical considerations by SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel.

The center-left Social Democrats appear to be ready to drop their demand for the key post of finance minister in coalition talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives, SPIEGEL has learned.

He's being tight-lipped about the allocation of cabinet posts, and has tried to silence discussion of the topic in party meetings. But it seems certain that he will no longer insist on the SPD clinching the prestigous post that would give the party major power to shape European policy. He plans to extract a high price for forgoing the finance ministry in terms of policy concessions, though.

Those in the SPD who have the necessary experience to be finance minister don't want the job. And those who want the job don't have the right resumé.

Besides, Gabriel, who currently has a firm grip on the SPD despite its poor showing in the Sept. 22 election, doesn't want to see a strong finance minister from his own ranks installed as the most important politician between him and Merkel.

He could imagine himself heading a new energy ministry, which could be furnished with responsibilities taken from the transportation and environment ministries. That would put him in charge of the most important domestic project -- the energy revolution, or Energiewende -- and would put him in pole position to run for the chancellorship in the next general election in 2017.

Meanwhile, Merkel appears to be ready to drop her party's opposition to dual citizenship in a move that would help hundreds of thousands of people of Turkish origin born in Germany who currently have to decide by the age of 23 whether they want to be German or Turkish citizens. Dropping the requirement to choose would finally acknowledge that Germany is a country of immigration, and has been for years.

The two parties launched formal talks last week to form a so-called "grand coalition." They plan to reach a deal by the end of November. That would give the SPD leadership two weeks to sell the coalition deal to its 472,000 members in time for Merkel to be formally sworn in as chancellor in the last parliamentary session of 2013, the week before Christmas.

Reporting by Horand Knaup and Gordon Repinski

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« Reply #9614 on: Oct 29, 2013, 05:16 AM »

10/29/2013 11:51 AM

France's 'Leftist Sarko': Popular Minister Rankles Ailing Socialists

By Mathieu von Rohr

While President Hollande's authority crumbles, his interior minister, Manuel Valls, has become France's most popular politician -- much to the chagrin of his own party.

It's not a good Monday morning for Manuel Valls, France's interior minister and star of its Socialist government. He looks tense as he sits in the studio of the Europe 1 radio station. His suit is perfectly tailored, as always, but his handsome face seems tired. He is frowning and looks irritated.

Valls has come to the station to defend his boss, French President François Hollande, who has damaged his own reputation in an absurd way in recent days. Hollande already has hardly any enthusiastic supporters anymore. The French economy is ailing, and the president is seen as indecisive. And now even the small amount of authority he still has is in jeopardy, all because of a Roma girl named Leonarda Dibrani.

The 15-year-old was deported to Kosovo in early October after her family's asylum application was rejected. The police had picked up Leonarda from a school outing, which triggered outrage among the left. Valls, on the other hand, defended the police's actions.

Once again, Hollande was forced to resolve a deep conflict within his government: His choice was to either allow the family to return and not support Valls, or to confirm the legality of the deportation and arouse the ire of his party's left wing.

The president managed to choose a third -- and even worse -- option. In a televised address from the Elysée Palace, of the sort normally reserved for important affairs of state, he declared that Leonarda, "and only she alone," would be allowed to return to France. The family, however, would be denied re-entry.

After airing Hollande's statement, the TV stations went live to Leonarda in Mitrovica, as if the whole thing were a giant reality show. She responded that the president was "heartless" and that she wasn't a "female dog." Once again, in trying to satisfy all parties involved, Hollande had only infuriated everyone.

The only person Hollande could send before the media last Monday was Valls. Paradoxically, the country's most popular politician was being forced to defend France's highest-ranking and most unpopular man, along with the decision that he secretly believes to be completely absurd.

The interior minister sits out his 12 minutes in the studio, praises Hollande's "generous gesture" to the girl and says: "I think the criticism of the president is very unfair." If he weren't visible on camera, and if the audience could only hear his deep, reassuring voice, he would almost sound believable. Valls is a professional who was in charge of communication in Hollande's election campaign. At a certain point, the show's host says: "It's really great that you're doing this here today."

On the Far-Right of the Left

The story of Manuel Valls is one of a rapid ascent. In a country whose political class is now despised, the interior minister still manages to garner high approval ratings, most recently at 56 percent. Hollande is stagnating at a historical low of 23 percent, while Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and the rest of Hollande's government aren't faring much better.

For months, Valls' fellow cabinet ministers have had to endure positive media stories about him. The weekly news magazine Le Nouvel Observateur dubbed him the "vice president" on its cover, though France's parliamentary system has no such office. According to a new poll, Valls stands a better chance of winning the 2017 election than Hollande does. This is the kind of news that arouses envy among his fellow Socialists.

They are suspicious of Valls because one source of his popularity is his general disregard for the traditionalist mainstream of the French left. Many Socialists doubt that he is even one of them in spirit. In Germany, Valls stances would make him one of the many conservative members of Germany's center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD). But, in France's Socialist Party, he is viewed as a right-winger in disguise.

In 2008, a collection of interviews with Valls was published under the title "Enough With the Old Socialism. It's Time to Finally Be a Leftist!" When he ran in the Socialist Party presidential primary in 2011, he proposed removing the word "socialist" from the party's name, abolishing the 35-hour workweek and lowering labor costs. The result: He only captured 6 percent of the vote.

When the party came into power in May 2012, it had spent years in the opposition, and yet the renewal of the party Valls had championed largely failed to materialize. This is one of the reasons the Socialist Party is struggling so much in the government today. "The problem with the left is that once it is in power, it starts theorizing over what it should do," Valls once said. "I wish it had done that beforehand."

Valls, on the other hand, sees himself as a hands-on politician, especially when it comes to dealing with immigration, which is naturally part of his job as interior minister. Indeed, with his tough stance on immigrants, he often sparks disagreements within the government. In many respects, he differs only slightly from his conservative predecessors. "Security is neither left nor right," he says.

His uncompromising approach to the Roma is especially controversial. Although there are only 15,000 to 20,000 Roma living in France, they are a perennial issue in domestic politics. Like the government under former President Nicolas Sarkozy did, Valls has had the authorities destroy illegal Roma camps and expel their residents, a policy for which the European Court of Human Rights recently condemned France. In September, Valls said that "only a minority of Roma want to integrate," and that their lifestyle conflicts with that of the French population. According to a survey, 77 percent of the French agreed with Valls.

Minister of Territorial Equality and Housing Cécile Duflot, a member of Europe Ecology - The Greens, promptly accused him of jeopardizing "the republican pact." As is always the case when there is strife, Hollande chose not to comment on the spat within the left, which went on for days.

Hollande knows that he cannot do without his only minister still capable of mustering enthusiasm. He needs Valls to fend off the right-wing populist National Front, which could become the strongest force in the 2014 European and communal elections. And this explains why Valls is currently spending so much time on the road.

Charisma through Seriousness

It's early October in a gray suburb of Chambéry, in the Alpine foothills of the Savoy region. As Valls walks along a street lined with concrete blocks and concrete towers, women wave to him enthusiastically from balconies, while men shake his hand below. A woman in a headscarf forces her way through the crowd and shouts: "I voted for you!"

The minister holds his folded hands in front of him like a shield. He is surrounded by dozens of reporters and members of his delegation, and is protected by beefy bodyguards. It's the kind of excitement that only a president usually generates.

Valls isn't a tall man, but he looks significantly younger than 51. With his black hair, penetrating gaze and strong chin, he exudes the virility of a police officer. In the kind of survey that can only exist in France, the magazine Elle asked its female readers in July which minister they would like to sleep with. Valls emerged victorious, with a 20 percent lead over Arnaud Montebourg, the flamboyant minister of industrial renewal.

Although he rarely smiles, Valls exudes the air of a reliable father and family man. He has four children, is divorced and has been married to the attractive violinist Anna Gravoin for three years. In August, a photo of the attractive couple kissing appeared on a spread in Paris Match.

The minister can be harsh in his interactions with others and isn't particularly outgoing. When he was working as the press spokesman of former presidential candidate Ségolène Royal, he sometimes pushed aside photographers as forcefully as if he were Royal's bodyguard.

A Divisive Mayor

Valls never seems entirely relaxed in his interactions with the public. On this day in Chambéry, he wants to demonstrate that security is one of his priorities. He visits a police station and then a shopping arcade, where he shakes hands with a woman who runs a kiosk, a barber and an Arab butcher. "How are you?" he asks. "Good, until now," says the butcher. Then Valls walks over to the pharmacist, who complains about the fact that there are too few customers and too many foreigners.

"You can't lose touch with the reality of people's lives," Valls says.

A year ago, he installed a "priority security zone" in Chambéry, where police officers are now patrolling with video cameras around their necks. In a nearby administrative building, citizens dutifully give the visitor from Paris their accounts of local successes on such issues as integration, vandalism and Islamism.

But then a woman blurts out that there is still great insecurity in the city, and that the drug trade and vandalism have actually not subsided. The city representatives try to stop her, but she is undeterred. "And Mr. Minister, what you said about the Roma was right." Valls thanks the woman for speaking her mind. And then he says to the group: "You don't have to claim that everything is going well just because the minister is here!"

Before becoming a cabinet minister, Valls was mayor of Évry, a city on the outskirts of Paris. It has a large population of young people, immigrants and blue-collar workers. A video from his days as mayor shows Valls walking through the local flea market. There are many dark-skinned people in the picture, and Valls says: "Now this is a nice picture of Évry. Come on, give me a few whites, a few blancos."

The video caused a stir, but Valls didn't apologize. Instead, he said that he was opposed to ghettoization, that the population had to be mixed, and that there should also be blacks living in white upper-class neighborhoods. Indeed, Valls describes himself as "one of those leftists who speaks the truth," or part of the "efficient left." He earned a reputation as a law-and-order politician in Évry, where he doubled the size of the police force. He also fought plans to build a supermarket offering halal products.

The 'Leftist Sarko'

Perhaps one reason Valls is so uncompromising toward immigrants is that he is one himself. He was born in Barcelona to a Catalan father and a Swiss mother from the Italian-speaking Swiss canton of Ticino, and he only became a French citizen at 20. He grew up in France, he notes, at a time when it "wasn't as hip to be Spanish as it is today." He changes the subject, seemingly unwilling to offer insights into his personality.

Thanks to his parents and the French republican school system, he learned to be a Frenchman, and he doesn't stop declaring his love for his adopted country. "You have to be proud to be a Frenchman, to be part of this nation, with its great history," he says. As mayor, he introduced ceremonies for new citizens in which the French national anthem, "La Marseillaise," was sung.

Despite his patriotism, Valls is proud of his origins and doesn't try to hide them. Unlike other French ministers, he also gives interviews in Spanish and Catalan. When he was recently asked on a Barcelona radio station whether a Catalan could become France's president, he replied that "it is possible" although the question isn't being raised. He did note, however, that Nicolas Sarkozy "was of Hungarian origin."

Valls is often compared with Sarkozy, and some even call him the "leftist Sarko."

They both have foreign roots and a penchant for law and order in common. But they also share another important trait: Both launched their careers without having attended France's elite École Nationale d'Administration (ENA). When Valls was once asked what he and Sarkozy had in common, he replied: "Energy."

At the moment, Valls is doing his best to veil his big ambitions. But it's quite possible that Hollande will appoint him prime minister soon if he tries to embark on a new beginning. Hardly anyone doubts that Valls will run for the presidency again one day. But if Hollande runs again, Valls will have to wait until 2022.

At the end of the day in Savoy, Valls visits a national firefighters' convention, where he is greeted with great enthusiasm. The men demonstrate their skills, using a helicopter to simulate a rescue from the roof of a building. When he walks into a concession stand, they don't let him leave without a beer in his hand. The interior minister feels at ease in this world.

When he arrives in front of the convention building, the firefighters stand at attention for him, there is marching music and he inspects the rows of firefighters like a commander in chief. He looks a little like someone practicing for a future role.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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